Let me tell you a story. It’s a new story; it only really began on August 2, 2017. But there was a preface, of course. The story couldn’t exist without a preface, and there’s no way to understand the story without the preface. I like to say that the story begins on August 2, because that’s neat and simple. The preface is harder. Harder to tell, and harder to know where to begin telling. I have to look back, far back. Really, it begins long before I even existed, because it begins with the culture into which I was born.
It’s a constricted culture, highly religious with a long list of traditions. One of the traditions goes like this: you graduate from school after the 8th grade, and within the following year you are baptized and you become a member of that church. Somewhere in there you become a Christian, I suppose.
When my sister was that age, she refused. There was general horror and terror because apparently she was going to hell now, and what my ten-year-old self understood was simple: once you graduate from school, you are no longer safe. And once I reached that age I was terrified, to the point of not being able to sleep at night. So I tried to pray myself into being safe and I was baptized and became a member of the church, and I tried to convince myself that I was saved. Was I? I don’t know.
I do know I had no relationship with God, but then no one taught me what it meant to have one, or how to have one. Sometimes I read my Bible and prayed, sometimes I didn’t. It didn’t seem to matter. I think I did always want to be a Christian, but really only because I was afraid of what it would mean if I was not.
And time passed. I grew, and so did my mind. Introspective by nature, I spent a lot of time alone and read many books. When I was a teenager, my parents took us out of that culture and I began to meet people whose view of God wasn’t fear-stained. I was lonely, always searching for someone who could really understand me, never finding them. More time passed, and by marrying quite literally the man of my dreams, I learned that no matter how good a husband he was, he could not fill my every need. I was still lonely.
But I was also still growing and learning, and I was searching with increasing desperation. I felt that there had to be more to this God thing than I was experiencing, and I began to doubt if I was a Christian at all. Had I ever been? I felt lost and I wanted someone to see it, but I was too terrified to ask for help and I had been so well-versed in what a Christian is supposed to look like that it was easy for me to hide. In the Mennonite world, being a Christian is supposed to be the default. It’s not okay to be anything else, and it’s your job to assume everyone else is one. If anyone saw where I really was, they never told me.
On July 30, 2017, a man named Jacob Peters preached the gospel message in a little country church. I was there. I had known that message all my life, but I had never heard it as a message of love. It gave me courage, and that evening I sat next to a river and I told his wife something I had not said out loud to anyone besides my husband: I didn’t know if I was a Christian.
She was kind. She did not gasp. She simply told me that I could be, if I wanted to. And I did want to, but I was afraid. Afraid of asking and receiving nothing, feeling nothing. Afraid there would be no change, and it would all seem fake. She said that I just had to trust, that God wanted to give me this. I said, but what if He didn’t, though?
And I realized that I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough to be saved. Afraid that there was something I was still holding above God, something I was doing wrong without knowing it.
God is kind, even before you trust Him to be. Kind enough to show me where I had been hurt, why I carried that fear. Kind enough to make understanding translate into release.
The next morning I decided that I was going to start over. I was exhausted of not knowing, so I just decided. I would say I’m not, and I would start over, and then maybe I could be and know I am. I asked God for a sign: to show me He wanted to be in my life, to make me brave. And then I ordered a new journal, because that is how I deal with life crises.
The following evening I sat on my kitchen floor and I said to my husband, “I am not a Christian.” He seemed a little surprised. But we talked about it, and he helped me untangle my thoughts in that way he has.
The next morning was August 2 and my day off from work, but I got up early enough to have coffee with him before he left. After he was gone I read book for a little while, but there was this song stuck in my head so I stopped to look it up and listen to it. It turned out to be Matt Maher’s ‘Lord, I Need You’, and the lyrics were the words of my heart.
At that time, I didn’t really feel like I had gotten a sign, but almost without my realizing it those words gave me the courage. I walked into my prayer closet, I lit my candles, and I started to pray. And I started to cry. Tears are always a powerful and precious thing to me because they do not come easily, but for these I was especially grateful. They meant I was feeling something. They made me feel like it mattered. I cried and I prayed until I was empty, and I stopped. I felt less peaceful than I did scraped out and hollow. I started YouTube on autoplay, beginning with ‘Lord, I Need You’ again, and I curled up on the floor and I said, “I’m just going to wait here, God.” So I lay there and the music played and I breathed and I waited, and about halfway through ‘Because He Lives’ something started growing deep in me.
When it had grown too big to hold inside me, I sat up and spilled it out across paper. And as I wrote and the music kept playing, there was a line that sealed it for me.
“Blessed are the people hungry for another start…”
This was a wonderful day for me but the best part came later, when the days passed and became weeks, and the weeks began to be months, and this thing is still with me, still real. Again and again, I am amazed at just how deep inside me it has grown. I’ve heard hundreds of times that God gives His sons and daughters a new heart, but I never grasped just what that means for me. But I have a new heart. And it loves without loneliness, without grasping, because it has been filled.
I have been given so much. A new heart, a new story. It’s full of wonder and power and beauty, because it’s not mine. He is writing a story bigger and deeper than I can yet imagine, but I can’t wait to see where this will go. Do you want to read with me?