Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Welcome to My Story - The Light of Hope

I entered high school as an anorexic overachiever with serious self-confidence issues. Unremarkable, remember? That was still me. But then I noticed him. A little dorky, a little shy, but wickedly funny, sensitive, intriguingly reserved, and adorable to gawk at. His name was Jer, and it was lust at first sight. My hormones kicked into high gear when I discovered that he would be sitting at the same table as I was for math class. These same hormones went into overdrive when I discovered that some of my closest friends were actually friends with him. I had found a new past-time; it was Jer.

My academic pursuits and family relationships took a backseat to this newfound obsession. Beneath the surface excitement and lust, however, my loneliness and desire to be accepted and understood and valued, remained. This was a hurt and an emptiness that no amount of attention from any boy could fill; it was pervasive, and the undercurrent of my existence.

When I found out that Jer was a Christian, I didn't think much of it. After all, during the summer my mother had rededicated her life to Christ, so she had been talking about Jesus and God for
several weeks already. I was used to the name, I understood that Jesus was the Son of God, but that meant nothing to me personally. I mean, of course I believed there was a God! He just didn't do anything to or for me; I still considered myself a Christian though, based on this belief in a God.

Two months into the school year, an opportunity to "bump into" Jer outside of the school context arose; our mutual friends were attending some sort of weekend-long youth Christian conference to be held at the school, and Jer would be there. Knowing my penchant for Jer, they invited me to attend, but I was afraid to go. A flood of excuses and questions flowed through my mind. What did these Christian high schoolers do at a conference anyway? Was this going to be some weird cult thing? I wouldn't know anybody there except my two friends and Jer. Was I going to look stupid or embarrass myself? Worse yet, what if Jer thought that my going was a desperate ploy to get his attention? What would he think of me, then? I eventually declined the invitation.

The Friday night of the conference, my mother mentioned to me that she had heard about this youth speaker coming to town. She asked me if I wanted to go. Without even a moment's
hesitation, I said no, and provided her with my litany of excuses. Then, about 30 minutes before the thing started, I changed my mind. I had been thinking about Jer, and had decided that I really wanted to see him (even if it was only for a brief moment or from across a gymnasium). I would go for that one night of the conference. Arrangements were made for me to meet up with my friends.

When I arrived, I had little more on the brain than seeing my crush. However, the first "session" was getting started, so I had to tuck away my personal ambitions and get seated; we perched ourselves on the bleachers in the back. During that session, there was singing, but I didn't know the songs at all, so while everyone else sang I was straining my neck to see if I could spot Jer in the crowd. I didn't see him. I don't remember much of what the speaker said when he finally got started on his talk, but I could see that he was a pretty convicted fellow; he obviously sincerely embraced whatever it was that he believed.

At the end of the session, I spotted Jer, but we didn't have much opportunity to even greet each
other in the mass of other young people who were exiting the gym. My friends asked me what I thought of the conference thus far, and I had to pause before I answered them. Both during and after the session, I had noticed something. I couldn't describe it in words, nor could I really provide examples of it, but I felt like there was something different about the atmosphere of the evening. It felt like the air was lighter, and people were more cheerful, and there was just something really special about being there. I felt welcomed even in the midst of hundreds of strangers, and I couldn't explain why. It was the best that I had felt in a long, long time, and I was enjoying myself.

Though I wanted to return for the remainder of the conference, I realized that the possibility of this was small; I was scheduled to work all the next day (a Saturday), and in order to attend I would need to find a co-worker to take (or switch) shifts with me on short notice. I looked at the time; it was 10:30 p.m. My heart filled with disappointment, because there was something intoxicatingly appealing about being there that I wanted to experience again.

Ever the optimist, upon my arrival home I began calling the list of people who might take my shift. After several people declined, I was fortunate enough to find a taker: a girl named Joy, who also happened to be a Christian. I thanked her profusely and vowed to return the favour one day.

The next day's sessions and activities were pretty good, although my attention was only half
focused on the speaker; I spent most of the morning and afternoon sessions sitting on the bleachers and admiring Jer from afar. I also drank in the still-enticing and warm atmosphere of the conference.

During the evening session, my friends and I somehow ended up sitting on the main floor, about 15 rows away from the stage. This was an unfortunate choice, as it made it twice as awkward for me to locate and gawk at Jer; to do so meant that I would have to turn my head a full 180 degrees every few minutes, and this would be quite embarrassingly conspicuous. As a result, I decided to actually listen to the message for once.

The speaker talked about Jesus, and about sin, and about a bunch of other things that honestly went in one ear and out the other. Near the end of his message, he asked the audience a question: If you were to die tonight, right there in your seat, could you be 100% certain that you would go to heaven? I don't honestly know what happened, but I felt like he had looked directly at me and asked me that question. Would I go to heaven if I died right then? Could I be 100% sure of that? At that moment, I realized that I could not. I mean, I knew who Jesus was, and I believed that God existed, but I didn't have a relationship with them; I didn't know Jesus any more than I knew the Pope, and if it took knowing Jesus as my Savior for me to go to heaven, then this was something I needed to do! My eyes welled up with tears at the realization that I was going to Hell, even though all along I thought I would go to Heaven.

The speaker asked the people who wanted to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior to stand up, and to walk up to the front of the stage to meet with these church people who were standing there with name tags. These volunteers were going to pray with anyone who wished to become a Christian. I hesitated. I didn't want to stand up. I didn't want anyone else to know that I was someone who didn't know Jesus. I didn't want to be embarrassed. Silently, I shed tears in my seat, with my head bowed down low. When my friends noticed this, they urged me to stand up, and offered to go up with me. After a lot of persuading, I agreed, and we walked up together. Then I got grouped up with a volunteer, who brought me to the hallway behind the gym and led me in a prayer asking Jesus to be my Savior.

The night ended soon after this "altar call." When I emerged from praying, my friends were waiting, eager to celebrate with me my newfound salvation and eternal life. I was glad for their enthusiasm, but emotionally drained from crying and praying. I didn't even look for Jer in the crowd; I just went home and went to bed.

When I awoke the next day, I didn't feel like I was any different than the night before. I knew I had
prayed to accept Jesus as my personal Savior, but I didn't feel like there was any change in my life, except for the guarantee that I wasn't going to Hell anymore. I returned for the last session of the conference, happy to have become a Christian but having no idea what that actually meant.

After that fateful night of accepting Christ, I returned to my unremarkable "normal life." My classes were the same. My relationship with my parents was the same. My grades were the same. Nothing had changed, or so I thought. Maybe I wasn't really "saved"? Maybe that whole thing was just an emotional reaction to the powerful sermon and some sappy background music? I didn't know what to think. My friends invited me to go to their church with them on Sundays and to attend youth group on Friday nights, and I accepted their invitations, mostly because I would see Jer there and not so much because I wanted to worship God.

Attending church services and Sunday School and even going to youth group had little impact on my feelings of inadequacy and emptiness, although I did notice
that I no longer felt the compulsion to count my calories. As a result, the pounds came back on as my appetite returned. However, I guess I stopped caring about finding validation through my appearance; I had the love and acceptance of these new church friends to make me feel good about myself.

During Sunday School, I began to notice the huge discrepancy between my knowledge of the Bible, and that of my friends. This bothered me immensely, and so I started to read the Bible every day in the hopes of "catching up" on the tales of Noah and Elijah and the apostle Paul. After all, I still cared about what others thought, and I didn't want them to think I was some sort of ignoramus. I also started to pray, and asked God to help me learn this stuff so that I could be a better Christian. I still wasn't feeling very much like a Christian, and my life still felt unremarkable in every way.

What I learned from the Bible, and my chats with God in prayer, began to change me over time. By no means was this an overnight process; it would be a lie for me to say that I truly "knew" Jesus based on uttering a single prayer at a youth conference. However, as I read more and more of His Word, I grew more and more hungry for it. As I prayed in Jesus' name every night, I found myself wanting to communicate with Him more. The things I learned and the shift in my heart during this time was what really changed my life.

I learned that God loved me for who I was, flaws and all. His love for me was unconditional, and He accepted unremarkable little me without pressuring me to be anyone other than who I already was. He loved me so much that He even used my sin, my lust, to bring me to Him. I learned that I was remarkable - valuable and significant to Him because I was created by Him, and wonderfully made in His image. I learned that He wanted to unload me from the burdens I had carried for all those years of my young life, and was happy to have me surrender control of my life to Him; He promised to work for my good if I loved Him and was willing to make Him a part of my life.

I also learned that I was a sinner, and that because I had sinned, my eternal destiny was to be separated from Him and from all that is good. However, because of His love, He sent His only Son, who was sinless and blameless, to die on the cross for me; Jesus exchanged His fate with mine. It was by the blood shed by Jesus that my sins could be washed away; it was because of His great love and mercy for me on that cross that through Jesus I could be in relationship with God without shame.

During this time of Bible reading and prayer, something happened to me on the inside. I can't adequately describe what it was, but the hurt and the pain and the loneliness and the emptiness I had felt for so long had gradually been taken away, replaced with what can only be described as a sense of peace and contentment and joy. I didn't notice it at first; in fact, I probably didn't notice it for a full year. It was something that others around me noticed and commented on; it was something that my parents (in particular my dad) took note of. I felt lighter though, and no longer obsessed with creating my own success in this life; I no longer looked inwardly for strength and for purpose, and I stopped making myself the center of my universe. My motivations changed, and so did my pursuits; I wasn't pushing myself to be the best in academia or in appearance or in my relationship with my family anymore. Instead, I was relying on the strength that Jesus gave me each day in order to do my best and make Him proud; He became my focus.

And as I was changing ever so slowly because of God's hand at work in my life, I had no idea about the bigger changes He would bring to the life of those I loved . . . .


Ontario Emperor said...

Fascinating story so far. At some point I'll have to tell mine, which begins with goldfish swallowing.

Anand Narayan said...

Thank you for sharing this story with all of us and your experiences with the lord.

Mrs. Loquacious said...

OE - I would love to hear your story, too. Every person's journey is so fascinating, even those whose stories don't quite end the way that ours does ;)

Anand - you're welcome! Thanks for reading all that text!! I wish you'd give us more of your blog to read, though; Justice gets all excited when you post!