In order to understand how Christ changes lives, how He changes us from the inside out, you must know my story. When a person becomes a Christian as an adult, they typically have a story, a testimony, that begins with painting a picture of who they were before they followed Christ. What follows is my testimony – my journey from someone who had been in a church only for weddings (including my own) and funerals – to a Christian with a passion for God.
Until I sought God, this is how I thought:
People who believe that God created the world and all its living things do not understand science. They misinterpret information in the Bible and blindly believe it due to their lack of knowledge. I have never read the Bible, but I’m sure that it has simply been translated too often and been misunderstood.
I don’t know why, but I believe that God exists and that Jesus is his son. These beliefs give me good feelings. I’m a good person, and I haven’t committed any crimes, so I will go to heaven.
Once the earth was formed, and life began in the form of an amoeba, the amoeba mutated and adapted. Eventually it evolved into a higher life form, and that life form evolved and eventually became a fish, then an amphibian, and so on. Evolution makes sense to me because I have a strong education in the biologicalhe did. sciences. Charles Darwin is brilliant.
I don’t believe that God created everything the way that Christians believe. Perhaps he created the first form of life so it could evolve into everything else. He just set the process in motion. This is the only explanation I have for believing both in God and in the theory of evolution.
I was this person until the year 2000. I’ve always been a pretty nice person, but I was proud and maybe a little rude at times. My old self is like a sister who is now a stranger.
Growing up, my exposure to God consisted of going to Sunday school a few times at a local church. I participated in vacation Bible school once or twice. All I took away from these experiences were some crafts with symbols of faith on them.
I have two wonderful parents that did a great job with my sister and I. In high school, I had some close friends, but I wasn’t popular or in any extracurricular activities. My parents were always supportive of me. I had an easy childhood, not because of money (middle-class and my parents saved and lived within their means) or achievement, or not being disciplined, but as the result of two great people that my friends, too, considered as wonderful parents.
I have loved animals, and I have enjoyed writing, from the time I was a little girl. I would record notes from nonfiction books about animals. I wrote poems and short stories.
In high school, I took every biology class I could. I don’t remember an emphasis on evolution, but the implication was there. There was no question of my career plans. Studying and helping wildlife was my passion. I went to college to earn my degree in zoology.
Science had nothing to do with God.
College and A Change in Plans
I met my husband, Mitch, when I was a sophomore student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, about four hours south of my hometown of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Mitch is from Granite City, about 2 ½ hours southwest of Charleston. Mitch and some friends were visiting another friend at EIU. That friend’s roommate was the brother of one of my college friends, Lisa. They were having a party, I was going out with my friends, including Lisa, and she suggested we stop by the party before heading to our ultimate destination.
To make a long story short, Mitch and I met at the party, it was a love at first sight kind of thing, and we made plans for him to visit again about two weeks later. We saw each other about every two weeks from then on. The summer break meant longer separations. We had a long distance relationship and three break-ups over 3 ½ years. Our backgrounds are very different.
When I made my career plans, I didn’t think about meeting someone and getting married soon after college. After I met Mitch, it didn’t take long to realize that we were meant for each other. We planned to marry after I graduated. Being free to relocate wherever I could work as a wildlife biologist was less likely than I planned. I changed my course of study to include teacher’s certification so that I would have a back-up plan.
Marriage and the Years Before My Relationship with God
Tired of the long-distance relationship after 3 ½ years, we were married a week after my college graduation. I thought I was in control of my life, and until this time, it seemed to be true. I moved to Granite City, near St. Louis, and we lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I got pregnant shortly after our wedding.
During my commute on the bus to St. Louis, I liked to read Darwin’s“ Origin of Species”. I wanted to gain knowledge from the book while looking intelligent and sophisticated; after all, I was a college graduate. (Don’t you just love people like that? Yuck. I can’t believe I was ever that way.) I have never been really arrogant or unkind, but I did have a relatively superior attitude that I mostly kept to myself.
I am trying to be brief in conveying that we had some tough times early in our marriage and in our parenthood, so I’ll generalize in this next phase of my life.
We both had rather low-paying jobs. Considering our educations, we certainly had higher expectations. A month after our first son was born, Mitch lost his job. I was on maternity leave and was not returning to my minimum-wage office job. Experiencing unemployment (and food stamps for a couple months), being new parents at the same time, and having no family nearby to relieve us for a night out or some much-needed sleep, we had it pretty rough. Still, I have fond memories.
Following a period of being a substitute teacher, I landed a part-time, temporary position at a high school for seven months. I taught two biology classes. I experienced the negative reaction of a few students to the topic of evolution. At the time, I thought they were finding an excuse to talk back to me, but now…maybe not.
I consider these first few years of the ‘real world’ to be my hardship. (It was worth it, though, because I had a loving husband and a sweet little boy.) I know people that have gone through much greater challenges in their lives. And I know those that (seem to) have no rough spots in the past or the present.
I realize now that God was implementing His plans for me then.
After Mitch began his career at the post office (and I was working another low salary office job), we moved into a small house in a town further from St. Louis. We welcomed another son. I never considered life as easy. I was gone from the house for 10 ½ hours a day, between working full-time and the commute. When Alex entered school, I felt compelled to volunteer as PTO Treasurer and then a Tiger Cub coach. I was extremely busy and stressed, and I had no time to make friends other than the parents we saw at school activities. Our social life was otherwise nonexistent.
I could have used God in my life when I was a busy working mother of two young boys. He might have helped me deal better with stress and to be a more disciplined parent. God’s timing is always perfect, though, and I know it was not the right time.
Metro Community Church – the only church family I’ve ever been a part of – was very young and small, and they were meeting in an elementary school, when my kids were little. I would not have heard of Metro. I might have gone to an unappealing church, which might have left me with an attitude of “I tried church for awhile, but it’s not for me”. I might have attended a church that did not convey that I must intentionally accept Christ in order to be forgiven.
The people that God used to lead me to Christ were not around at the time.
God did not intend for me to grow up with church or to know Him before I actually did.
He wanted me to discover my faith as an adult so that I would be more free to take the steps I have taken, to read the Bible, and to be passionate about living for Him.
I love this saying: People plan. God laughs.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
In May 2000, my son’s guitar teacher was killed in a car accident. Ross wanted to go to the service, which was held at a Catholic church. It was packed with people supporting the parents in their grief. It was a beautiful service. This tragic event made me wonder who would be there for me, locally, if something happened to my husband or one of my sons. I didn’t have a church to contact. Both mine and my husband’s families lived at least two hours away. You know from what I’ve already written that I had no close friends that I could count on.
I began thinking about finding a church to attend. My most recent presence in a church, other than the memorial service, was at a small denominational church for the wedding of an acquaintance. While there, I felt very noticeable, because everyone seemed to know each other. Not that the other guests made me feel that way, it was just me. Shyness and the fear of being exposed as someone unfamiliar with the religion made the idea of a small church quite unappealing. I also didn’t know whether Mitch would come with me when I tried my first church.
At work a few months later, I began talking to a colleague, Judy Talley, about churches. She lived in my community and was fairly new to the area. Did she go to church, and where?
She worshipped at Metro Community Church, which held services in the auditorium of the local middle school. It was a relatively large, growing church with a contemporary style. Doubters and seekers were (and are) welcome any time, but Friend Day was forthcoming, and it was an ideal time for me to check it out, so she invited me to meet her there.
My First Church Service (mid-September 2000)
Judy’s invitation led me to the first regular church service I had ever attended. I found it funny, but it encouraged my comfort level, that it was not even in a traditional church building. I quickly learned that a church is the people rather than the building.
A couple of people greeted me outside the school and then at the auditorium. I had a good feeling already. Judy and I found each other and sat together. She served God through participation in the drama team. If I remember correctly, she had to leave her seat for a short time to participate in the skit that enhanced the message and added to my enjoyment and understanding.
There was singing – contemporary, upbeat songs of worship – to which I tried to mouth the words (I’m a terrible singer). Everyone was dressed in jeans or other casual clothes. I enjoyed Pastor Paul’s message; it applied to everyday life instead of being an academic type of lesson on a passage of the Bible.
I returned to Metro about every two weeks after my initial experience. My son, Ross, and I went together a couple of times.
The Hand of God Reaches Me (September 25, 2000)
On my way to work, a light turned green at an intersection, and I started through it. Typically I just see the green light and go. Today, as I inched forward, I cautiously paused to look in the direction of the cross-street traffic that was stopping for the red light. That pause was enough to see a truck that appeared unprepared to stop. On the highway where the average speed is probably 60 miles per hour, it sped through the intersection, where I would have been had I not stopped to check that day.
My heart was racing, I felt emotional, and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and love washed over me. I truly felt God watching over me and loving me that day. I have felt His presence on most days since then.
Early the next month, I had my first mammogram. I was not quite 38 years old. The doctor wanted me to have baseline numbers. The technician called me back in from the waiting room for another picture, then she said I needed an ultrasound. I learned a few days later that a small lump had been found. The doctor said that by the shape of it, it looked like a benign cyst, but I needed a biopsy just to be sure. I was scheduled with a specialist, but not for several weeks. I was scared, and the wait was awful. That was when I began praying. It was indeed a fibrocystic, benign cyst. Another wake-up call, and another reason to count the blessings God had given me.
I bought a journal titled ‘Counting my Blessings”. At first, I recorded things I was grateful for, and later it became a regular journal in which I included notes on the Bible and general thoughts. I’ll be sharing entries from journals occasionally.
I had learned that two other colleagues other than Judy attended Metro Community Church. Jeff, asked me if I was saved. The Sunday messages talked about accepting Christ, but I was only going to church once or twice a month, and I guess I wasn’t absorbing it. Jeff explained, and I also stopped by the table at church where someone gave me a New Testament and a little booklet that illustrated salvation.
The women of the church had a Christmas party. Judy was unable to go, I knew no one else; uncharacteristically, I went anyway. I’m somewhat shy around new people, and I’m not great at introducing myself to others. I was glad I went to the party. There were icebreakers and activities, and I felt comfortable.
Metro has many small groups of people that get together at homes and study the Bible together in such a way that you apply God’s Word to your own life. There is a host home and a leader, and the groups usually consist of no more than ten people. I began attending a Small Group Bible Study, a women’s group. Melissa and the others were very welcoming and made me feel comfortable. They were real, too, not a bunch of people presenting themselves as perfect.
I accepted Christ as my Savior. Alone in my bedroom one night, I closed the door. I knelt, and I talked to God, referring to the prayer from the booklet I had been given at church. I said something like this: “ I can’t do it on my own. I give up my life to you, Jesus. I’ve sinned, I am sorry, and I accept forgiveness through your death on the cross.”
It felt wonderful to finally take this step. This is what it means to be saved. A feeling of overwhelming love and peace came over me. I went to bed shortly afterward, and I lay there feeling confident that if I died in my sleep that I would awaken in heaven. I have eternal life; I am saved.
Journal entry – January 24, 2001: This is my third meeting with the Bible study group for church. I feel comfortable with all the ladies, and tonight was the largest group we’ve had. Melissa’s home is our meeting place. After the others had left, as I stood to walk out the door, I told Melissa that I had accepted Jesus. She wanted to talk about it further and invited me back in. She felt honored that I shared that with her. I didn’t leave until 9:45. (Looking back, I know how excited she must have been. I was new to her group, and I had already taken a big step of faith.)I
February 25, 2001 – Baptism Day
My life is becoming full with wonderful people, people with whom I share meaningful friendships. People that have been understanding, patient, and accepting while they are being used by God to guide me along my spiritual path. People like Judy, David, and Jeff, who understand what Baptism meant to me today, they make me feel so fortunate to have friends like them.
While I would have known them well as co-workers, I believe that God was bringing us together. He must have known that I needed true friends in my life and that I needed Him. I have many new relationships – with God, Jesus, and with Christian friends.
Metro Community Church continues to be my church family. We have had our own building for the past six or seven years. (Remember, Metro was using a school auditorium when I first began attending.) Our mission is to move people closer to God, each other, and the disconnected. And we’re doing it, as the auditorium is packed every weekend for three services. I’m excited to be a part of it.
I continue to get together with a “Small Group” for Bible study and application nearly every week. We have been together for six years. This is a different group of women than those that were used by God to lead me to salvation. I became an assistant leader three years ago. There are seven of us in Lewanna’s group, and we’ve each grown in our faith, our obedience, and our relationship with God. I’ve seen substantial changes in my wonderful friends, and they’ve seen changes in me. It’s not just about knowing the Bible, being able to memorize more verses or know it academically. We’re doing life together, trying to do it God’s way.
There have been times when my relationship with God was kind of stagnant, when I did not make time for Him, and there have been others when I feel close to Him.
My passion for the Lord is like an all-consuming fire. It really is like being in love. Having an outlet for expressing my passion, and being committed to the writing and to the readers, keeps me immersed in the Bible and in having Jesus in my daily thoughts. He has filled me with joy. I surround myself with Christian friends, I listen to Christian music, I think about Scripture. These things all keep me connected to God in a big way.
I like this song by Jason Gray, “More Like Falling in Love”, because it really puts into a nutshell how it feels – or should feel – to be a believer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKTW-srvr6E I pray that whoever reads my blog can agree that it is that way – or that it should be and will be for you. May we each focus on doing things God’s way instead of our way.
I pray that Julie’s Life Joy will encourage you in your own Christian relationship with God.