It was mighty hard coming up with that title. But I realized I wanted to be blunt and to the point. I celebrate this day every year to remember where I have been and how far I have come. I often shy away from talking about my faith on my blog for fear I will offend someone. Which is silly since I am pretty up front about it . But I figured you might find it interesting to know how I came to believe what I do and why my life needed saving.
So let's travel back to the night of October 26, 1996.
I was a junior in college, 20 years old and that year I was the Resident Assistant for my dorm hall. And when you are an RA, you have some weekends where you are on duty and can not leave your room since I had to do rounds and check the halls and such. Someone can visit you but you can not leave. It can get BORING.
But one particular weekend, my friend Ben was on duty and he invited me to watch a movie.
Ah yes, but Ben was my secret crush and this invite meant that maybe...possibly...perhaps...my crush had decided to crush me back and we would partake in some kissy kissy-smoochie smoochie.
Let us rewind some more...
My first 20 years of life were typical and normal. My parents divorced when I was 6 months old and I lived with my mother and stepfather who married when I was 3. My father was VERY much a part of my life and though he lived 3 1/2 hours away, he traveled every other weekend to pick me up and drive me back to his house. We are still incredibly close and I love my father so much.
But as I grew up I was a normal girl. I could be shy but I could be bossy too. But starting around 2nd grade, I became an easy target. As I got older, I was always on the cusp of popularity but never quite "a popular girl." There was always a few girls who bullied me and I will never forget the day I said...no more. I was 13 when I decided that I was going to get tough. I don't know how or what happened but I became kind of a bully of bullies. It was not right but it was a survival mechanism that seemed to work. But with it, came a very outspoken sometimes volatile attitude. This was due to other factors in my life but the main point was I was someone who would rather strike first them be beaten down...one more time. This was also the time I first started smoking...getting high...and drinking in the woods after school.
This went with me into high school but then I began to grow up a bit more. I even started standing up for myself in a more dignified fashion. I had lots of friends, played field hockey and lacrosse, wrote for the school newspaper, tutored...you name it...I did it. But I was also kind of a loner. Self inflicted isolation. Oh, I had the friends. But I walked alone, hung out with people from all walks of life yet never committed to a group of friends. I was never quite able to fit in anywhere. I seldom dated but I thought a boy...any boy...would be my knight in shining armor and whisk me away to bliss and happiness. I knew if someone loved me...really loved me...I would find meaning in this daily fog I trudged through. This system of life that seemed to be pointless yet I pressed on because what else do you do?
Then. during high school I lost my virginity.
There it is. The beginning of my belief that I was worthless. I had clung to my purity merely because my parents told me I was supposed to. But following the mandate of fallible man is difficult since parents let us down, disappoint us, become shockingly imperfect, and for me, the catalyst to drive me towards rebellion.
I cringe at the thought that my parents do occasionally visit this blog. And may read this. This is not the holiday topic of conversation that is revisited for nostalgia's sake. Nope, this is just not discussed. No one wants to think of their little girl making choices that were not their choices for her.
But I was craving something and looking for it in the depths of the pit and mire. I wanted to be...Wanted. Loved. Accepted. Pursued. Cherished.
So I gave away the only thing that should have been given to the man reading his book behind me. I was on a quest. And I kept looking and giving away chunks of me. Over and over. Because I believed I was worthless yet I kept searching for the one who would tell me otherwise.And giving myself away in the process.
During my junior year of college, something began stirring within me. And early in October I started going to the church nearby that was the denomination I grew up in. I felt joy and peace while there yet when I left, I felt bereft of the pure joy I had. I somehow could not take it with me. For weeks, I felt on the verge of something life changing but I had no idea what it was.
So back to the night of October 26, 1996.
I arrive at Ben's room, looking cute and knowing that this may well be the night I conquer my crush. He shall be mine because why else does a BOY invite a GIRL over to watch a movie?
First thing that happened...he left the door open. Say what? Where is our privacy to talk? Anyone walking down the hall could walk right in.
You see, Ben was probably the most popular guy at our small little college. He was outgoing, CRAZY, fun, sweet, and nice to everyone, smart (pre-med biology major) and more importantly IN LOVE WITH JESUS. Some would say he was a FREAK for Jesus. He would probably concur.
Well, on this night we got silly and began dancing to this song a friend of mine had just introduced to me. Some band called DC TALK singing a song about being In the Light. After we jumped around the room like 3 year olds, he sat down next to me and asked me if I understood what it meant to be in the light as He is in the light.
Um, no. But I answered yes anyway because, helllooo? I needed to look smart and make an impression here. But he explained what it means for Jesus to be my light and salvation. And funny as it seems, my eyes did not glaze over. But my spiritual interrogation began. And sadly, I must confess it was not because I was on the verge of a Holy Spirit Awakening. It was because I needed to find out if he would date someone who did not believe as he did. Oh, the humiliation.
But my very first question that came out of my mouth surprised even me. "Ben? Why do you have so much joy?" I don't have that.
His answer? Simply and succinctly. "Jesus Christ."
And so began the conversation that changed my life. At one point he asks me a poignant question that I answered as a complete lie because again...my hope was to appear smart. He asked me if I believed in heaven and hell. So I told him I believed in heaven but only a personal hell (whaaaat?) of your own making.
As I am talking I am thinking, "Well how philosophically ridiculous of you, Jessica. You don't even believe that." I had no idea what I was talking about yet this pseudo intellectualism kept rolling off my tongue.
And Ben's response still gives me goosebumps.
"I can assure you there is a hell." Y'all, he said it with such authority that I became absolutely still. My heart beat slowed and I remember wondering why he stopped me in my tracks. If you have ever read about Jesus in the bible, you know that people kept wondering at how Jesus could talk with such authority. And I believe right then and there that Jesus got my attention through this man.
And Ben told me all about what it means to know God personally. And I remember in the midst of it asking Ben the very question I wanted to know..."Could you ever be with someone who did not share your faith?"
His answer? One so chilling and brutally honest that I thought him incredible to utter such words. He said, "No I could not. I could not imagine a life with someone where whenever I laid down next to her each night, I would cry myself to sleep knowing that our eternities were different."
Wow. If he had not captured my attention before...he had it then. Could I really be destined for an eternity APART from God? Why? I was a good person. I made mistakes but I was no different from anyone else. I lived morally. Trustworthy. I did not shoot people for fun. I had a heart for the elderly for crying out loud! Why would I be lumped with murderers, rapists, and thieves?
Because I cherished my sin and never let Jesus pay for it for me.
As Ben began explaining what it means to be saved, I began realizing that this was not for me. I began thinking about my list of wrongs. All the things I had done up to that point. Drugs. Drinking. Sacrificing my purity. My anger. My selfishness. My poor decisions. Why on earth would God want me?
Ben actually took one of those little tract things to explain it to me. To this day, I wonder at his methods since he was someone who not only knew verses...he could quote chapters of the bible. He was wise beyond his years and God blessed him in area of exhortation and truth. Yet, he used a little book to explain to me that God loved me.
When he got to the end where there was an example of a prayer to receive salvation from Christ, He asked me to read it 3 times to really understand the words. Then asked if he could pray for me. I said of course, since who turns down prayer?
What I did no realize was he was going to pray for me in that moment and then he did the most courageous thing I have ever seen...right then and there he got on his knees in the middle of the room.
For me. I was so stunned. I kept thinking, I could laugh at him. I could walk out. I could even become angry. But I was incredibly moved by an act so selfless.
And as I read that prayer I sensed a change. The first time I read it, I knew Jesus would not want me. Why would he? I was filthy with sin and undeserving.
And Ben still prayed. On his knees, head bowed, eyes closed. For me.
The second time I read it, I thought, "Could God really want me? Sin and all?"
And Ben still prayed.
The third time I read it I knew. I wanted Jesus. Not because of Ben and my little crush. Not to impress anyone. I just knew I wanted what Jesus was offering. Jesus was assuring me that I was...
Wanted. Loved. Accepted. Pursued. Cherished.
Ben raised his head from prayer and said..."Do you want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?"
"I just did."
And I began to sob this cleansing sobbing that comes from being renewed. It was the most exhilarating, precious moment of my life. Suddenly all the chaos and aimlessness of life vortexed into the truth that Jesus Christ died for my sins. And loved me. Just as I was. I needed no prepping, no fixing up. He took me as I was. I then knew the true meaning of peace.
And Ben cried. He cried! For me! And all of a sudden I knew my life would never be the same.
I told Ben not to tell anyone what happened. So he told everyone because he was BEYOND excited. You see, I found out the next day from my friend Pete that Ben had told a bunch of people to be praying for me. He had said that God spoke clearly that I was going to know Christ and be His. Still gives me God bumps. So for 2 weeks, all these people on campus, who I only knew a little...prayed for me.
And I can assure you my life has NEVER, EVER been the same. I want so desperately to explain in detail what I was delivered from. My story seems so mild. Yet my parents do not believe as I do and breaking their hearts is something I do not want to do. But I am a changed person. Drastically changed. You would not have wanted to know me. I had an edge about me that Jesus softened. I was guarded. Constantly held high expectations for friends. Easily angered. So selfish that it bordered on narcissistic. Obnoxious.
But God tempered me when I realized He made me for a purpose. And that people were not who I was to live for. But for Him. Now I rejoice that I am no longer a slave to sin but a slave to righteousness. That I have life eternal with my heavenly Father who has never, ever let me down. I am as imperfect as they come. A constant work in progress. But no one in this world can 100%, every second of the day and night make me feel...
Wanted. Loved. Accepted. Pursued. Cherished.
Like my Jesus does.