I am 21 years old today... and you all thought I turned the big 30 last year. Well, I did. But 21 years ago today, on a Sunday afternoon in my bedroom after Sunday School, I made the commitment to ask Jesus to come into my life. My parents aren't religious people, but they sent us to Sunday School as kids, and that is where I heard about God sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price for my sins so I could live with Him in heaven forever. My understanding at that time was: I accept Jesus' forgiveness, I pray and read my Bible every day and when I die, I get to go to heaven. But that's a pretty big commitment for a little kid, and I didn't want to do it unless I meant it, and I figured "I'm just a little kid, I've got plenty of time to do that."
Earlier that year, at the beginning of the summer, I had gone on a fishing expedition with my dad and older brother. Unfortunately, my dad made a bad cast, and the fishhook (a Red Devil, by the way!) landed in my right eye. Thankfully, although my vision is severely impaired, I did not lose my eye.
So that Sunday afternoon, I thought to myself, "Why would God have allowed this horrible thing to happen to me?" And my nine-year-old logic came to the conclusion that He was perhaps trying to get my attention, and it followed that if I didn't pay attention now, He might do something more drastic... I might lose an arm or a leg, or He might just kill me. A little "fear of the Lord"... but it made sense to me at the time. And I remember thinking, "Do I REALLY believe all this, or is just because some really nice ladies at church told me so?" As I looked out my window at the trees and sky and grass, I decided that there must be a Creator God who made all that beauty, and I decided that yes, I really did believe in Jesus and His death and resurrection for myself. And so I asked Him into my life.
That was the beginning of my faith journey. The next day at school, the Gideon's folks passed out little red New Testaments... a confirmation for me of my decision. (That certainly wouldn't happen now!) That decision in my childhood is the basis of who I am and who I am becoming, and I believe saved my life through the dark times to come.
About seven years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and chronic dysthymic disorder... when I wasn't suicidally depressed or manically high, I suffered from daily depression. I've suffered since I was a little kid, about the time I became a Christian, and for many years, just thought I was a horrible, evil person - and of course, a terrible Christian. I really believe that if it wasn't for God's grace (and the sense of humour He gave me), I would have ended up in a psychiatric ward or possibly, dead. For years and years, thoughts of killing myself plagued me every moment of the day, to the point of ridiculousness... "I could jump out the window, I could stab myself with this pencil, I could slit my wrists..." At one point, I was afraid I might be demon-possessed, because these terrible thoughts in my head were not of God or of me, I knew. Thankfully, at that point I was taking Abnormal Psychology at a Christian college, and the professor lectured on how Christians have the spirit of God in them, so while they can be oppressed, they cannot be demon-possessed. I can see from an outsider's point of view, how ridiculous that would sound, but it was a very real fear for me at that point.
I have been on medication for the past seven years, which has eliminated the suicidal thoughts, though not the chronic low-level depression. My depression can assert itself due to the weather, hormones, stress, or for no apparent reason at all. I have accepted that I will be living with it for the rest of my life, and at this point, I can even be grateful for it. It has strengthened my relationship with God - because He's ultimately the only one I can lean on, and because I understand a bit of the suffering Jesus endured; it has developed compassion and empathy for others struggling with difficult things, be it depression or whatever their own "demons" may be. It reminds me that this earth is ultimately not my home - as the Bible says, my citizenship is in heaven, and only there will I be completely whole and well.
I have been so blessed through the years with the love of my family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ... people I've met working at Circle Square Ranch and Union Gospel Mission, at Houghton College, at various churches through the years. I can't even begin to thank God for all the blessings in my life, or to tell all the stories of His provision and goodness and faithfulness and love in my life. We'll only have time for that in eternity, and wow, will that be amazing!
God continues to teach me new things every day... about His lavish love... He gives nothing but the best and He pours out His love generously, even if He's not thanked - or even if it's rejected. He's teaching me about forgiveness, and sacrifice, and faithfulness... and let me tell you, I am a slow learner! But He lovingly and faithfully and patiently continues to work on and in and I hope, through, me.
I just watched "Bruce Almighty" tonight - I love that movie - Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman are wonderful in it. Bruce says to God, "How do you make someone love you without affecting free will?" and God answers, "Welcome to my world, son." I feel like I've only scratched the surface, and my prayer for the next twenty years of my faith journey is that I will learn to love God as He deserves to be loved, and to love the people around me with His love.
Thank You, Jesus, for saving me from myself, for loving me faithfully, even when I've been completely faithless. Oh for grace to love You more!