Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Death of Me and How I Lived

Hi Friends,

Several months ago I made mention of the fact that I have a strange salvation story and that perhaps I would write about it someday. I call my story “strange” because of the way God reached down and rescued my soul at a time when I thought I already had salvation in the bag. I don’t know what I was thinking.

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian family and to have been taught from a very young age about God and Jesus, Heaven and Hell. I was full of questions and my parents patiently answered them. At the age of five, I prayed a simple prayer asking Jesus to come into my heart because I didn’t want to go to Hell when I died. What I didn’t realize until I was much older was that I prayed this prayer more because of faith in my parents than faith in God. I thought my parents were probably right about what they said about Jesus, so I believed them. They were a lot smarter than me, after all.

I lived the next nine years like a good Christian kid should. I prayed, I read the Bible; I talked the talk and, on the outside, walked the walk (for the most part). But God always had a tendency to seem very far away and not all that real to me. When I was nine, depression crept in and swallowed me alive every night. I felt completely hollow inside. Totally alone and scared, and I didn't know why. I remember laying awake at all hours of the night wondering why I felt like there was a gaping hole in my heart when Christians were supposed to feel like that hole had been filled by God. Mine was empty. Where was God? I brushed off these doubts and just assumed God couldn’t really fill every void. The god I knew was growing smaller.

At the age of 11, my life was looking up. It had been a couple years since both of my paternal grandparents had passed away and the wounds were nearly healed. I had a new baby sister and my family and I were now living on the beach. Life was good and my depression went away almost entirely. I was thrilled.

Jesus once said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” [Luke 18:24]. I’ve seen this in my own life. Having all of my needs and many of my wants satisfied blinded me to my desperate need for God. If the things that made up my life were described as a meal, God was a side-dish of vegetables. He was good for me, but He wasn’t much fun. My Mom would always make me eat all of my vegetables if I wanted to have dessert. God was the same way. He was the means to getting to the good stuff in life. If I pleased God, He’d bless me and make me happy. The one I truly worshipped was Me.

In my pursuit of God’s favor, I was baptized by my dad in our bathtub when I was twelve. By the age of thirteen I was reading the Bible fairly often, I read books on Christian apologetics, and tossed my prayers heavenward whenever I needed help – which wasn’t very often now that life was so good.

Things did not remain so easy, however, and I will forever be grateful to God for it. Hard financial times fell on my family and things got tough. I grew fearful that these trials would bring back my depression, so I cranked up my God-pleasing skills to max and prayed He’d make life easier again. I read the Bible fervently, read devotionals and even bought a WWJD bracelet to remind myself not to be mean to my brother. After several months of trying to placate God, our situation continued to grow worse. I was beginning to get irritated with Him, but still tried to save face. It’s a hard game to play, trying to pretend to God that you think He’s all awesome when in reality all you want is to be done with Him.

In 2001, that old, dark fiend called Depression came back to haunt me. But this time he didn’t come at me with that hollow emptiness like when I was nine and ten. Instead, I was consumed by darkness and rage towards God. He no longer felt small and far off. He was breathing down my back.

These were the worst days of my life, and I almost didn’t live to see the beauty that lay just beyond them. All that was before my eyes was hopelessness. My Santa Claus god no longer paid any attention to my good deeds. Now I was on the Bad List and I didn’t know how to get off of it. So I gave up. I turned against God completely and no longer wanted to even try to do what was right. I didn't care. Doing good hadn't spared me from pain, so what was the point? But like a terrible nightmare, I discovered that no matter what I did, I couldn't shut my conscience up. It kept blaring sirens every time I did wrong. My guilt weighed on me like a herd of elephants. I wanted God to disappear. I blamed Him for all of my suffering because I had tried to earn His favor and He rewarded me with misery. I thought I deserved better than that. It seemed God was impossible to please. I pictured myself running for my life in a dark tunnel with God breathing fire down my back. If I dared stop, I'd be incinerated in milliseconds.

The misery I was in drove me to the point of wishing I would die. Sadly, the only thing I prayed for several months was that God would take my life. Because He didn’t, I began to think of ways to do it myself. There were only two reasons I never followed through. The first was that I didn’t know of a sure-fire way to get the job done. The last thing I wanted to do was attempt suicide only to survive and have to live with the consequences. The second reason was that, for the first time in nine years, I wasn’t completely sure God would let me into Heaven. And Hell was certainly worse than even the misery I was in at that point. I was in despair and there was no way out as far as I could see.

God has many tools that He uses to work on the hearts of mankind. One of the tools He has very often used on me is music. There was one song in particular during this time that gave me the first glimpse of hope I’d seen in a very long time. Maybe even the first glimpse of true hope I’d ever seen. The song was called “I Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot.

Maybe redemption has stories to tell.
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell.
Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go?
Salvation is here.

The thought that maybe, just maybe, God didn't need anything from me to be satisfied. That perhaps He could save me right in the middle of my rebellion. That I could find forgiveness in that awful place where I'd fallen. These thoughts changed my life…forever.

If I had needed to clean myself up and change my ways and attitude before God would come to my rescue and forgive me and love me, I never would have made it. Not in a million years. I had absolutely nothing to offer Him. Here, I had hated Him and blamed Him for so many things, and all I had to do was ask Him to forgive me and He came running to my rescue! Why didn’t He just leave me where I was? Where I deserved to be? I will forever be grateful for God’s amazing grace; that He saved a wretch like me.

On May 22, 2011, I was re-baptized by my brother, Andrew, at a beach a few miles from my home. I put off being baptized again for nine years because I felt bad for having been baptized the first time when it meant nothing to me. But God is the Redeemer of all things and He is not holding my past against me. So under the water I went! I am forgiven and free!
"But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ --the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead."
Philippians 3: 7-11