Jesus is, as the instructions for Ruth’s “Alphabet Challenge” describes, “the story of my life.” He is the great reason for celebration in my life and He is my testimony, on whom is centered my whole life, my whole purpose for being. He is what is on my heart most of all, and He fulfills the innate need for “religion” – for more than religion! — the “God-shaped vacuum” (as Blaise Pascal described it) with which each human being has been created, and which only the Creator God Himself can fill. So far, as I have written stories for the Alphabet Challenge, I have spoken of a variety of things that are important in my life, things that have shaped me, things that give me happiness, things which in themselves define to some degree who I am. Yet right from the start I knew I would one day come to the letter “J” and I knew it would be about Jesus, for He, above all these other things, is the center of my being and the joy of my life.
Why then, I wonder, is this “J is for Jesus” essay so difficult to write? Where do I start? Do I retell the “gospel story”? Do I give a history of mankind, a story in which He is always at the center, yet so often ignored and rejected? Do I write a scientific treatise showing His creative power? Do I attempt to explain the heavy tomes of theology in a few sentences? How can I even begin to write an essay of just a few paragraphs about the One in whom all things exist and have their being, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, who is Himself the sovereign God Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, always-present, He who is love incarnate, who is perfectly holy, who is the judge of all things, and yet paradoxically, the One who chose to be born into the world in human flesh, with a manger for his cradle, scorned by the rulers of His own days on earth, humiliated and tortured and murdered like a common criminal, and even in His incredible resurrection which offers all mankind the fulfilling of their inborn longing to be united with their Creator God, He who continues to receive from so many nothing but scorn and rejection?
Perhaps all I can offer, then, is a bit of my own story, my own relationship with Him who is the center of my being. That is, after all, what this “alphabet challenge” is about, the telling of the key points of my story. So here is my testimony, my witness of the One who has come and filled that in-born vacuum, the One who has become my all, the core and meaning of my existence. Here are a few highlights of the story of Jesus in the life of one of His little children.
I was born into a family in which the story of Jesus was central. I was christened as a new-born infant, and taken to church faithfully, on Sundays to Sunday-School, then church, and evening service, too. On Wednesdays we went to prayer-meeting, and as we grew older, we faithfully attended mid-week children’s clubs, and then youth group while in our teens. We attended all the services, night after night, sometimes for weeks on end, when evangelists would come to town and preach the gospel. We went to family Bible camps, and children’s Bible Camps, and youth Bible camps. At home we had family worship every day, which included Bible reading and prayer by everyone in the family, and my parents were actively involved in all kinds of church and para-church ministries, as well as actively living out the love of Jesus to our neighbours, relatives, and to whoever knocked on our door. We learned many verses and chapters of scripture by memory, and learned dozens of hymns and choruses, so the word of God was “hid in our hearts.” I attended Pioneer Girls and Christian Youth Crusaders, and earned every badge, and the top awards. I tied for first place in a week long “sword drill” contest at a DVBS attended by 250 children. I was, for the most part, a “good girl,” with a very tender conscience.
And yet for all that I knew about God, and about the Holy Spirit, and about Jesus, the Saviour of the world, I really did not know Him, this three-persons-in-one God, personally. I had a strong head knowledge, but the gap between my head and my heart might as well have been a bottomless pit. I certainly recognized that God was real, that all this training I had received was not just religious theory. I knew people who clearly knew God, personally, intimately. I listened to my grandfather pray, and there was no doubt that He was conversing with His very dearest friend. I watched tears trickle down my mom’s face as we sat in church and listened to the Pastor talk about Jesus. I listened to the stories told by Mrs. Tremain, my family Bible camp teacher, and the special songs sung by Mr. and Mrs. Tremain at the Bible camp services, and I knew that for them these were not just stories, but were real, living parts of their own experience. I listened to people get up and give their testimonies, tell about the horrible lives they had led, and how Jesus had come and saved them, and turned their lives around, and in some cases at least, I saw the truth of their stories being lived out every day in their lives. But since I didn’t have any horror stories of my own, I didn’t sense any need to “be saved.” In fact, I began to think I would need to do some “bad things” first, and I also resented all the attention the “bad kids” got, while “good kids” like me were basically just ignored.
When I was perhaps 10 years old, my cousin went to a Billy Graham crusade, and “went forward.” He received a work-booklet about salvation, which he could fill out and send away to be marked. I thought this was very cool. A year or so later, one of the Billy Graham associates came to our community, and I, too, went forward. I did want to be a good girl, and I did understand that I had to “accept Jesus” myself, and I was happy to receive the work-booklets (and was horrified to discover that I had made a couple errors, when I received them back!). But I was puzzled, because it didn’t really seem to be “real” or make any real difference in my life.
A couple summers later, I went forward at Family Bible Camp because I was really beginning to “feel a sense of sin” in my life. I was in some ways a very serious early teen, and wanted to do what was right. I thought, for some reason, that now that I was a “Christian” I would have to be serious all the time, and stop having fun. That was very difficult for me, because I have always been a happy, cheerful, fun-loving person! Inevitably, I started to enjoy this and that incident in life, and soon gave up my “new walk” because I felt that I had failed. The incidents themselves were not wrong; I simply was under the impression that it was wrong to enjoy them! Not only that, but I was told by some “old saints” not to worry, that teenagers always backslide during the year, but could then come to camp next summer and “get right with God” again. I thought that that kind of religion was hypocritical and useless. I certainly did not want that kind of religion; I wanted a God who could hold me and lead me all the time, and while I was sure that such a God existed, I wasn’t sure how to find Him.
Over the next few years, I continued to attend all the usual church activities, plus Inter School Christian Fellowship meetings and camps, but my own spiritual life continued to be pretty dry and empty, though I certainly had lots of fun along the way. Yet even the fun had an emptiness about it that was disappointing. When I was about 16 or 17 the Sutera Twins Crusade came to town for 6 weeks, and we went to the meetings nearly every night. Many, many teens went forward during the altar calls, and one night I went forward too. I don’t know exactly what happened there, but it was the first time I experienced real joy, “surprising joy” as C.S. Lewis has described it, as compared to the fun and happiness life had offered in the past. I also felt shame for attitudes I had held, especially long, deep anger toward my dad, and I asked him to forgive me. He was really happy about it, and we hugged, which was amazing as I had basically not been speaking to him since I was 13. But within a couple days, I made a “snide” comment and he jumped on it, and said “I thought you had really changed.” I just right then and there gave up. Yes, I believed in God. But I figured I was hopeless.
After that, for a long time, I really didn’t care. Or at least deep down I cared, and I constantly sensed Jesus kind of hovering near me. One day I read a poem that described God as a being like a hound that follows us down through the labyrinthine mazes of the years until we finally come to Him. Yes, I thought, that is how God is in my life. But I kept on making turn after turn, trying in a sense to avoid Him, and yet knowing that avoiding Him was impossible. He was always there. I threw myself into the “fun” of the world, trying the usual so-called pleasures, like drugs, alcohol, parties, physical intimacy, sports, and so on, but because I had already had that experience of real joy, none of it was satisfying. The vacuum, instead, only seemed to grow. And it didn’t help that the natural consequences of the lifestyle I was leading kept catching up with me. I went through an abortion to avoid the pain of being “caught,” and only ended up with more inner pain. I got married and divorced. I went to university and graduated with honours, yet it didn’t bring any real satisfaction.
Finally, my new boyfriend and I had a baby daughter together. As soon as she was born, Lionel announced that I would be taking her to church. Like me, Lionel had been brought up in the church, by his believing grand-father, but he too had turned away when he left home. I argued with him, pointing out that kids are more likely to do as their parents do, not as their parents say, so it would be useless, considering the lifestyle we were living. When he insisted, I agreed reluctantly, saying that I would take her to a local church which was known for being socially acceptable, but he insisted that I take her to a little native Pentecostal church. I totally did not want to go anywhere near there, because I had walked past there when they were having their services, and I was sure they were crazy judging by the level of noise coming out of the building! But Lionel insisted; in fact, he phoned up the pastor, who was a Haida himself, as was Lionel, and asked him to come around every Sunday evening in the church bus (services were held in the evening), and pick Taryn and me up, and then drop us off afterward. Now, Lionel was always really hung-over by the time Sunday evening came, after a weekend of partying, and it was dangerous to argue with him. So sure enough, the bus would arrive, and Lionel would put Taryn in my arms, throw my jacket around my shoulders, and push us out the door, locking it behind us. And we could not come in until he saw us get off the church bus so he’d be sure we had been at church. This went on for six months. I sat in the back row of that little church, clutching my baby, my knees shaking. These were native people who were “on fire” for God, and I was terrified! But gradually, bit by bit, Jesus was speaking to my heart, and I was seeing more and more clearly that God was real in the lives of these people, many of whom had gone through unspeakable times, and yet were trusting and loving Him with all their hearts. And one Sunday evening, a young Haida girl came up to me and gently told me it was time for me to come to God, and she took my hand and led me to the altar, where finally, once and for all, I gave my heart to Jesus. The joy came again! A few weeks later, I was baptized in Pure Lake, in front of not only the church members, but all my old party crowd. And I knew, with all my heart, that I would never turn away again.
Now, I cannot say that my life has been a bed of roses since then. Indeed, in many ways it has been more difficult than ever before. But through all of it, Jesus, my Saviour, has been with me. He has led me by His Spirit. He has supported me through impossible, tragic circumstances. He has gently but firmly pulled me back when I have started to wander astray. He has given me purpose in every moment of my life. Even in the darkest moments He has surprised me, over and over, with His incredible, irrepressible joy! Over the many years since I finally accepted Him into my life, I have often tried to plan my own life, take responsibility (as I saw it) and do things the way I thought best, to solve my problems on my own. But gradually, even imperceptibly, He has turned my eyes from being centered on myself and my own supposed skills and abilities, to center on Him and His perfect purposes. He has taught me to rest in His loving arms like a little child, trusting Him even when it looks to me like things are hopeless and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I have learned that there is always light, even when I cannot see it, because He is truly the light of the world, and in Him there is no darkness. I have experienced His love that never, ever fails. I have come to the point, that when I pray, I am myself talking to my dearest friend. And when I listen to others speak about Jesus, tears often trickle down my face, too, because He is so real and alive in my own life. And when I tell the stories of Jesus, the stories from the Bible, and the stories from the lives of those down through the history of mankind who have known Him, and the stories of Jesus in my own life, I see others listening in wonder, beginning to have a sense even from my stories that this Jesus is real and has an incredible purpose for each of them, too.
There are so many stories I could tell, and maybe someday I will write some of them down. But please don’t wait for that day. Jesus loves you, too, and He is right there beside you, His arms outstretched to you in love. Run to Him today, accept Him, and start your own story with Jesus at the center. Don’t wait! Start writing the story of Jesus in your own life today. And you, too, will be surprised by joy, and He will fill the vacuum in your life, as well.
Date: January 3, 2007