A reflection on where God met me and who I am now, in Him.
Yesterday, Sunday October 1, 2023 was the last day that our previous pastor would lead our little congregation. Joshua Sieczkowski, interestingly enough, is starting a congregation in the San Luis Valley-where I am from. As part of his closing message he encouraged all of us to "Examine who I am in the Lord. Look back at my walk with the Lord and see His work in me...His pattern of faithfulness." The pastor's repeated message was from Philippians 1:6
... being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ...Philippians 1:6
I was convicted to take on this challenge to reflect on my walk. I am recovering from a surgery, so this seemed like a good time, while I had some down time.
A phrase came to me during the service, when I received this challenge, that the theme would be: The Importance of Truth. I'll be curious to see how that fits in.
I've written my testimony for Bible studies and such, but I don't think I have clearly laid it out in this blog...so I think I will start from the beginning.
Before I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus, I was raised in a house that shunned God and Christianity. My father had been raised in a legalistic religious home and so, in adulthood, he decided he wasn't taking the same path and stopped attending church. So the only background I had was from an occasional VBS or terrifying quote from my grandfather that my folks were going to hell.
One other sub-foundational source I came to recognize later in life was, ironically enough, again from my father. He would drop little moral lessons and quote the bible as the source of the truth. I distinctly remember, "let your yes be yes and your no be no", and "you can call something rosebud, but if you mean it as a curse word...it's a curse word." Both of those stuck and became a fundamental part of my ethos.
Camp Salvation, 1983
I had a friend in my formative years who came and went, but I considered her my best friend- for a couple of decades, actually. She went to a Christian summer camp every year throughout her childhood, named Camp Salvation. It was nestled in the foothills near Cuchara, Colorado. A gorgeous and secluded site. She was allowed to invite a friend and asked me. My parents agreed to it and paid for it. The trouble was that once we arrived at camp, she was met by all of her friends from previous years and, for the most part, she ran off and left me alone.
As I would come to know, God uses all things for good. He took the lonely, awkward, and unchurched tween and set her up to be raw and ready to meet her maker, in the good way.
I sat through sermons and games and devotionals, and time chatting in the cabin with the counselors. They all said I should be able to state a specific time when I was saved...but I didn't have one to share. I remember being taught words like grace, glory, and mercy that I'd never really heard about before. Also, there were two brothers who had traveled in as the guest missionaries from out-of-state and were the primary worship and teaching leaders-- David and Stephen MacKenzie.
Then, that Thursday night, the last full night at camp, we left the cabins and camped outdoors. There was a bonfire and the older brother, David, gave a message that came down to, "You cannot serve two masters. It's a binary choice- either you're actively serving God, or you're serving His enemy, satan."
I've heard a lot of testimonies in my life, most center around forgiveness, or hell, or a traumatic personal event; but I'm the only one I know whose boiled down to the basic choice God gave them in Deuteronomy and Joshua gave them in the Promise Land- "Choose you this day whom you will serve."
I chose Jesus and it fundamentally changed who I was immediately.
While I was still at the camp the next day, I was absolutely gutted. I remember feeling like someone had shoveled out all of my insides and left a clean empty room with a simple wooden throne and Jesus. That's all that was left in me.
I went home with an old King James bible from my grandpa and tried to read and learn, but it was all so foreign and I had to keep it all secret from parents (particularly my father) who resented anything Christian.
I did memorized I Peter 5:7
...casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.I Peter 5:7
(It would only be in the last few years I comprehended the full meaning of that complete passage, but that portion was enough for that young, lost little sheep.)
I occasionally went to a local Presbyterian church and went back to Camp Salvation the next summer, but for the most part I was undiscipled.
And this is how I know it was a genuine change. I wasn't being discipled; I knew almost nothing; and yet I fundamentally changed in two very concrete ways.
First, before becoming a believer, I had a knack for lying. And I was proud of it. I thought through what someone might think about my lie or deception and made plans to subvert it. The line between storytelling and lying was blurred.
When I became a follower of Christ, and the Holy Spirit came to live in me, the lying was evicted. I completely lost the ability to tell a lie with a straight face and I was prone to confess that I was lying as I was doing it.
One time, I was telling my hairstylist about an upcoming trip to see my boyfriend, without realizing that his ex-girlfriend worked at the same salon. She came up to me holding scissors and asking me about my trip. In the moment, it seemed right to lie about it; but when I tried, I kept narrating why my lies were so dumb and implausible. And another time, I was at the border for a very brief tourist stop in to Canada and I forgot that I had things in the car that I shouldn't have at an international border. When the man at the checkpoint asked me the direct question, I tried to lie, but felt physically compelled to admit the truth. Both stories turned out fine; but they both really illustrate my complete lack of an ability to lie.
Don't get me wrong; I'm still in a fallen world, and try to be sneaky at times. But when confronted with a direct question...it's like I've taken a truth serum.
The second way I changed after salvation, almost immediately and without any human coaching or discipleship, was that God removed from me a toxic rage that I carried deep inside me.
I arrived from foster care with a burning rage that I can clearly remember. I would lose my tempter sometime and feel totally out-of-control with a orange-hot hate that felt like it was in control of me. I, with deepest shame, remember pulling the fur on our family dogs when I would get like that. And I loved those dogs very much.
But after that day in Cuchara, Colorado, no more hate. None. And no more orange-hot rage.
Don't misunderstand. He didn't make me into someone else. I am still an angry person. And have worked on that sin all of my life. Finding the most success in the years since we went back to church and God worked on forgiveness with me. So still angry; but no hate and no rage. I don't think those were ever me. Those weren't mine; and God took them or blocked them from me once I was His Temple.
There is still plenty of sin and work left to do this side of eternity; but I know who I was my entire childhood and who I was after the day and I was changed. A new creature in Christ.
A final note on this formative season before I move on...when I felt the conviction to capture this retrospective, as I mention above, truth was the theme that came to mind. And I can see that from the very first interaction. He made truth the only option for me. I'm creative. I still love storytelling and stories; but truth is essential now. And being an incredibly concrete thinker, truth is almost always very literal and narrow. Very little room to maneuver. I still have a bit of a sneaky spirit because of other factors in my childhood and I think God has made sure that sneaky little girl has to content with a very concrete, literal, and truth-centered adult.
The final phases of my formative years were spiritual growth spurts, so to speak.
In high school, I briefly had a boyfriend, whose mom took me under her wing and was a spiritual mentor for years after, even when I left for college I would come back to her for guidance.
Then the really steep learning curve was college. In a bizarre turn of events, I went looking for the local Campus Crusade for Christ to plug into and found a super-legalistic branch of the organization that was very off-putting. And then found the local Baptist Student Union that was super charismatic, welcoming, active, and my new spiritual home. I learned so much, very quickly, and became really rooted as a Christian. Even though college was very busy for me with almost full time work, full class schedule, and time with friends and such... this was my happy place.
Again, not perfect. It seems like the guys I dated and the friends I made were often not believers, so it was a battle to apply all that I was learning; but it was a crash course in head-knowledge that God could use as the basis for the heart change He would make long after I left college.
After that season, Jesus was the truth of who I was. I constantly felt obliged to witness to people, even though I was not very good at it; and I went through hills and valleys with reading scripture or attending church; but my faith and my relationship with God were the fundamental building blocks for my personality.
There's a lot more from the journey, but the next real transition happened years later.
When my husband and I met and dated wasn't a bright and shining example of my Christian walk. We didn't do a lot of things well; but by the time we married, we were closer to God. He was elemental in our wedding and immediately following. But shortly afterward, we stopped going to church and He was not prominent in our hearts for years.
Then the Lord called my husband back to Him, we went back to church in a very real and involved way, and it changed everything.
Our choices changed.
Entertainment, food, and finances. Wow did our finances improve when we were better stewards over what we'd been given.
And our marriage transformed. We had a good marriage. We had years of history and friendship and we were pretty good partners; but once we were back in church and leaning in to the Lord- we made better decisions, we fought better, and our priorities shifted to align with what the Lord had for us.
We found our gifting and ministries to plug into.
We established strong, healthy friendships inside the church.
Life is better in every way. And getting better still as we work on the sin and growth still remaining.
I guess the truth theme in this part of the story shows in how obvious the gap has grown between us and worldly wisdom. I am stunned by how fast and how vast the changes are in our culture in just a few years.
- the government went from banning a medical procedure on humans, to requiring it and calling it an vaccine
- the medical community went from telling us not to hoard their masks to requiring us to wear them even when all the research proved how ineffective they were.
- the government tanked the economy on purpose
- then we all seem to agree that woke weighed more than truth. Once multitudes again started to value what took decades to cast off in prejudice and segregation; and women lost years of earned protective spaces so that mediocre men could compete in sports for the podium.
My brain can't conceive of how these changes in truth were so easily washed away; and how wise, educated human beings seem to nod along in agreement.
I don't know how close the gap and still stand by truth.
I guess we don't. We make sure the truth is in love and focus on the name of Jesus.
Wow. That got grim fast...maybe they should have been separate posts. But if I circle back around to the pastor's theme...
...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ...Philippians 1:6
...then I can relax and remember who is responsible for the results and outcomes and who is simply responsible to trust and obey.
And the results speak for themselves. Who I was before I knew Jesus and who I was after, as well as who we were before we leaned into Jesus and His church and who we were after...both as a tween and as an adult, I see that it's better His way. I always grow and improve when I walk with Him and the wisdom He gives to me.