I have no memory of "The Moment." There are no dates marking the occasion in my baby book. I know that at some tiny age, I came to know that Jesus loved me, and I loved him, too. That’s all.
This is the dilemma for those of us who encounter Jesus very early on. There is no such thing for us as pre-Jesus. Do we even have a testimony? For a long time, when asked to give my testimony and tell how Jesus had changed me, I struggled to answer, especially as a child—not because I hadn’t seen Jesus at work in the lives of others, but because in myself, I could perceive no recognizable change. He just always was. I was just always his. What was I missing?
My spiritual foundation started out strong. My household took church life seriously and literally. We attended a full load of weekly gatherings, of Bible reading, prayer, and theology-rich hymns that I loved to sing. I learned to trust God’s Word. I relished the security of a close church family. I was reassured by the presence of the Spirit, God’s life in me, and working through me. It was a precious beginning and I’m grateful for it.
But no matter how authentically a little child believes in Jesus, it will be a while before she really "gets it."
I was solid on the basics: Jesus loves me. Jesus died for my sins. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
But also I knew, solidly, that I was naughty and disobedient, in spite of yearning to be good and to make Jesus happy.
My saved existence looked a whole lot like that of Paul in Romans 7 (“I’m saved, and yet I keep sinning. WHAT is HAPPENING?”). When you’re too young to understand that there is a sanctification process at work, it’s dangerously easy to look at the evidence of sin and shame in your supposedly saved life and wonder if the salvation you took for granted never actually took.
By early adolescence I was looking around at the Christian friends I was growing up with—who were, in my eyes, so much more spiritually mature, purer, more “ON FIRE for JESUS!”—and wondering why I seemed to be the only one struggling with my own sinful human nature. I didn’t doubt outright that I had really been saved, but I suspected I had somehow received the clearance-shelf salvation, a half-portion, a one-off. Of course, since God was perfect and made no mistakes, this must have been intentional. I felt stuck in the middle of a conflict I didn’t understand and which truly broke my heart—believing absolutely that Christ was for me and for anyone who called on him, but simultaneously resigning myself that I would never be good or faithful or holy enough to be of any real value to him. I would never be enough.
My family, meanwhile, during all this same time, was suffering a long series of crushing traumas that landed like ash across these most formative years in my faith. There was an ex-communication. A divorce. Abandonment. Violence. Abuse. Dysfunction. Loss. By the time I left high school, my trust in people and promises had been wrecked, my self-worth was devastated. My childhood home had been broken and rebroken, and the comfort I’d once had in my church home felt broken, too. My heart and my spirit dried up and lay fallow.
After high school, I left home and plunged into what I still consider the worst years of my life. I clung to the church as a familiar, if no longer entirely safe, harbor, but secretly I wanted to hide from God’s sight. I went in hard pursuit of something, anything, anyone who might fill me up and fix what had been broken. I worried a lot and cared very little. I went through the motions, but my relationship with the Lord had become a lost cause. I might grasp at it and mourn its loss for the rest of my life, but I had surely crossed too many lines to ever regain it.
About three years in, I found myself driving down a Los Angeles freeway, banging on the steering wheel, bruising my fists as I wept and raged. I let myself be more honest than I had ever dared as I literally yelled, "Lord Jesus, I can’t do this anymore. I hate who I am. I am sick of being this person. Something has to change, and YOU have to do it because I can’t and I won’t. I cannot do this without you."
Within that same week, I learned that I was pregnant.
Historically, statistically, to a 20-year-old college student, an unplanned pregnancy is not considered good news. But when the doctor said, “Congratulations!” this is what I heard:
Precious one, I have heard you, and I have done it.
I am the Way, and I have given you a way out.
I am the Door, and I am open for your return to me.
I am the Bringer of New Life, and through this new life in you, you will finally understand that you have always been my masterpiece.
Through this new life, you will find wonder, promise, and hope.
Through this new life, you will find me again.
I heard, and I believed.
There is only one way to truly grasp the weight of something, and that’s to pick it up and carry it until it hurts. Jesus had allowed me to buckle under the burden of my sinful, broken life for a time, so that when I finally cried out, “Take it from me!” I would at last, for the first time in my whole saved life, comprehend the full measure of my release. That day, in that cold exam room, he took my burden and, in doing so, began to heal and restore everything my bad choices and harsh circumstances had ruined—by giving me something new to carry.
There’s no happy ending to this story, only a hopeful beginning to a saga (and a child) that is now 26 years in the making. Has it been easy? HECK, NO. (And before you start thinking that maybe a baby is THE solution (or even A solution) to your spiritual crisis, please call me first.) Life, even life with Jesus, is just plain hard. My return to faith didn’t release me from all the natural consequences of my previous poor choices—the most consequential of which resulted in the marriage and three grown children I have now. I still struggle with regret, with self-loathing, and with my faith. But I’ve learned the joy of the Lord, full of wonder, promise and hope. I’ve learned that even if I falter, he will be faithful.
And out of his great faithfulness, beyond the surprise life-altering gift of a child, he gifted me in later years with work and ministry that he delivered right to me personally without my looking for it, that exactly fit the shape of my soul and gave me a place and a purpose in his Kingdom work. He gifted me with the inexpressible joy of praying for and finally witnessing my agnostic husband’s own return to the Lord after 16 years of marriage, culminating in his baptism and confession of faith just 10 years ago. He gifted me—us—with two more children and a home life that has been, or at least has become, (shockingly, weirdly) happy, firm, AND secure, despite our terrible beginnings. We know, without question, that our life together would have failed long ago without the presence and assurance of Christ.
This is my testimony: that in my fallow season, God had not allowed the seed of my faith to die out completely; that what had been buried and left for dead in my spirit would one day, out of the Lord’s own faithfulness and for his own glory, yield rich fruit with an eternal reward. This is the good news: that the Savior who knew me heard me, and rescued me is waiting to do the same for anyone who cries out to him.