Monday, May 30, 2011

From "Kind of..." to Seminary

I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't believe in God. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't born a Christian (you can't's a choice you have to make), I just don't remember a time when I didn't believe. But at eight years old I told Him that He could have my heart and a few weeks later I stood in water up to my chest with knees knocking as I looked out at a packed Sunday night service from the baptismal of a small church in south Mississippi. I remember nothing about being baptized other than my feelings right before and after as I stood, dripping, in a tiny dark changing room somewhere behind the sanctuary. I was so young. There was no possible way that I could fully grasp it (I still can't, can anyone?) and there was a lot that I had wrong and got wrong (and still do). I knew what had been done for the world, myself included. Jesus was my Savior and I was going to try to live a good life and obey all of the rules. Those 10 commandments shouldn't be too hard to keep, right? And keeping the Golden Rule should be a breeze.

I made it through the rest of elementary and middle school without too much trouble and except for that piece of candy I stole from the local drug store once (or twice), I had the commandments pretty much covered (and maybe that happened before my 3rd grade year..if so, we'll forget I ever mentioned it). Junior high wasn't easy, but I tried the best I could and I walked into high school a relatively good girl. For the most part I stayed that way, with the exception of weekend nights that usually included wine coolers and back roads with my bad influence boyfriend (hey Danny) and my new friend Mr. Marlboro Lights. I rarely opened my Bible (in fact, I think it went untouched for years), prayed only when something was going wrong (which was often, so at least I was praying a lot though it was more like begging for what I thought needed to happen) and by then went to church only when I felt like it which was seldom. But I still tried to be good and I would have told anyone that I was a Christian if they asked. I was, just one that was sliding downhill rapidly without even realizing it because I had never fully gotten it. I loved hard and could make a list pages long of good things I did for others. I spent more hours volunteering at a nursing home, working with children that have special needs, helping young Girl Scouts and thinking up ways to help low income families in town than I did anything else. Doing good was good enough, or so I thought.

At 19 I found myself married to someone that was also a Christian though he was much further down that hill than I was and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't drag him back up to even my spot on the downward slope. So, for once, I truly turned to God for help. My new marriage was going to end before it had a chance to begin and we needed some kind of intervention. In walked religion.

Looking back, I am totally embarrassed by my behavior during those days. I became one of those people that gives Christianity a bad rap. I finally dusted off that Bible, read it cover to cover in less than a month and acted like I was a theologian because of it. I assumed the role of judgement passer. I went to church every Sunday out of requirement instead of desire and spent about 10 minutes of my day in "quiet time". I would never have even looked at one of those wine coolers and made sure those that did knew how wrong it was. I had new checks made with different Bible verses on them so everyone would know where we stood. I traded in loving hard and doing good for long nights of studying college algebra and the New Testament after long days at school and work. There just wasn't time to do it all. I don't understand how so many people can live that way their entire lives because it didn't take me long to crash. About a year and a half was all I could take. The only good that came of it was my marriage was on stronger ground, though it had nothing to do with me and my religiously obsessed self. Either God worked a miracle or we just started to grow up. All I was during that time was a modern day Pharisee and one with little knowledge at that.

From one extreme to the other, I put the Bible back on the shelf, skipped a few Sundays here and there which led to skipping months at a time because it was my only day to sleep late and the list goes on and on.

I even answered, "Kind of...," when someone asked me if I was a Christian once. It was an all out Peter moment. Kind of? As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted them, but didn't try to take them back. Had I known the guy asking was a pastor, he would have gotten a different response for sure. Who was I? I didn't know myself and while I knew of God, I didn't know Him. I said I trusted Him, but I didn't.

By this time my only prayer was for a baby and I wasn't getting what I wanted. As if God were a genie in a bottle I made my wish known all day every day and when that wish wasn't granted, I threw the bottle against the wall and turned my back on it.

But somehow, someway, He kept sneaking back in (actually, I never think He left), slowly chipping away at the heart that had turned to stone and one day He shattered it. The pieces fell at His feet and I crumbled with them.

Knowing that Jesus died for everyone in the world is great, but do you know that He did it just for you? Do you know that "For God so loved the world" means He loves you specifically? You! ME!

Me? It wasn't until I fell in love with a child that was years from becoming ours that I was able to take His love personally and now I know that if you do not take it personally you will never begin to understand what it is like to know Him.

That is when trying to follow the rules of religion turned into a relationship with Jesus.

It took a while for it to really begin to grow (it will never stop growing) and we went through a lot together (still do and always will). Sometimes I'm surprised that the tears I cried didn't drown the seed. I have never been so mad at God as I was after I began to take His love for me personally. I mean seriously...why would He make me deal with illness and infertility and lost adoption paperwork and getting stuck in Guatemala by myself with a baby because the US wouldn't issue our pink slip to take him home? And how could He look at me during all of those years of extreme drama in my life and still call me to what He has?

I have been Danny's wife for almost 13 years now and Tommy's mom for 4. Along with that, God called me to a life of international missions, working to alleviate poverty in an effort to prevent children from becoming orphans. I thought that would be it. Isn't it enough? But He has more in mind and even though I resisted it for a long time I'm giving in now and can't wait to start the journey.

Still a wife and a mom and the director of our ministry that continues to evolve, change and grow and someone that will still travel to Guatemala frequently (possibly more often than I do now) and all the while feeling the tug on my heart to Cambodia grow stronger by the day, I am also getting copies of old transcripts and exploring scholarships as I prepare to step into the role of a full time seminary student. I will begin in January. My first goal will be to receive a BA in Christian Ministry and will then work to get a MA in Missiology. I am excited and nervous, but this researcher and writer by nature is ready to get started. I have a feeling that I am going to love being in seminary despite the challenges it will bring to every aspect of our lives and I cannot wait to see what He has planned for all of this.

Finally I feel like I am in the right place. I haven't "arrived" and never will. There is always more to learn and never will I know Him to the extent of what He is. And even though I get a little closer to Him every day, I can never be close enough this side of heaven. I mess up a lot, much more than I want to admit. Oh how I mess up. I am no super Christian and I will forever wonder why He would allow someone like me, with my many quirks and flaws, to have the privilege of living the life He has called me to. And as long as I am on this side of heaven I will always wonder why He loves me (and the rest of us) so much that He freely extends such grace and mercy when I certainly do not deserve it. But here's the thing and this is what is so different about a relationship with Jesus v. simply following the rules of a religion...

He truly has my heart. He is not just a part of my life; He IS my life. I am deeply, passionately in love with Jesus and am willing to do whatever it takes to follow Him. For now that means taking care of my family, telling His story, caring for those He loves in Guatemala, advocating for the most vulnerable children and families in the world and now on to seminary. Because He loves me so I am able to love others beyond the way I could humanly love and feel no desire to try to take on His job of judge. I am better because of Him. Without Him I am nothing. Without Him I can do nothing. During all of the times when I have to turn to Him and say again, for the millionth time, "Forgive me," He does without blinking and I can so clearly hear Him say, "My grace is sufficient," in those moments when I start to believe that I am too weak to handle it all.

I have gone from being a "kind of Christian" to a sold out follower of Christ. I never had any intention of it going this far. I'm glad He did though. After all, you're either hot or cold...a fan or a follower...a Christian or not...there is no in between even though I spent a long time living like there was. I'm glad His plans are better than mine because if you would have asked me years ago if I had any desire to go to seminary, I probably would have laughed in your face. And forget heading up an organization...not one like this anyway. If I did direct one, I wanted to be building orphanages. I just wanted to adopt kids and go on a mission trip sometimes and spend all of my time being a soccer mom. I imagine He spent a lot of time laughing, too, while I made my plans for life that didn't include much of Him. He knew all of this was coming.

No comments: