Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Day I Came to Life

My senior year of high school was a depressing time. My relationship with Jason was officially over. As a symbol of my "independence," I cut off all my hair. I wanted people to think I didn't care, but I was absolutely devastated. The grief over losing my best friend was magnified by the increasing pressure to devote my life to meaningless activities, like playing the French Horn. I was talented. But if I was going to live a mere projected seventy years, I wanted my brief life to make an impact on humanity. Playing the horn would not suffice. What I really wanted be was a writer.

I once wrote a story about a very talented young girl who was admired by all, but because she saw no reason for her existence, she committed suicide. Nobody found the body for four days.That final school year I found comfort and solace in various existential writers and poets. They were able to articulate the extreme sense of despair that I felt, and gave me the sense that I was not alone in the way I was feeling. I began to record my own thoughts in a journal I was required to keep for English class. Nearly every single page of that journal reflected just how deeply in bondage to existentialism I had become. For example, I once wrote a story about a very talented young girl who was admired by all, but because she saw no reason for her existence, she committed suicide. Nobody found the body for four days. I still have that journal.

I wrote each entry knowing my English teacher would be reading. These days, the things I had written would have earned me a psych eval. But back then, my stories earned me an A accompanied by phrases like, "Brilliant!" or, "You have such an amazing talent!" It just made me more depressed.

In the Fall of 1992, I entered college as a Theatre Arts major. I figured this was the best way to make an impact on humanity. Theatre Arts allowed me writing opportunities, but also the chance to live out my pain and frustration through my characters. Plus, the greatest existentialists of the 20th century were not self-proclaimed philosophers, but rather, playwrights. I thought a good start would be to follow in their footsteps. So I started taking classes.

In January 1993, I befriended a girl in my "Musical Theatre Technique" class. Her name was Amy, and she noticed I was wearing a cross around my neck. Amy asked me if I had a Christian background. "Well," I said, "I'm Catholic." I certainly wasn't going to tell her the truth: that I was a tortured soul grieving my own mortality. Amy invited me to church, but I flatly refused, explaining that I vowed I would never set foot in a church again. So Amy backed off a bit and asked if I'd settle for studying the Bible with her. I immediately accepted her offer: "I have always wanted to see for myself what the Bible had to say about life, but I just couldn't understand it." We agreed to meet for lunch after our next class. I had no idea what was about to happen to me.

We met in the student lounge. Amy began by asking me, "Why did Jesus die?" I scoffed at the question. "That's easy!" I said. "To pay for our sins." (If there was one phrase I had memorized from my Catholic upbringing, that was it.)

"Okay," she said. "Do you know what that means?" This is where I became a bit embarrassed and admitted that I did not know what that meant. "In fact," I told Amy, "I"ve been asking that question since I was eight years old." So the next thing Amy asked me was if I had ever read the Bible.

When I was ten years old, I asked my parents for a Bible for Christmas, but I didn't get one. My Aunt Barbara had given me an illustrated Children's Bible the following year, and I began reading it from the first page of Genesis. I thought I had to read the Bible all the way through, like a regular book. Even though it was a children's Bible, I still got bogged down around Kings. I never made it to the New Testament. But amazingly enough, I had read just enough to set off a chain reaction with Amy years later.

With no prior knowledge of how much I had read, Amy asked me, "Do you remember the animal sacrifices that were performed in the Old Testament?" I said I did. Then Amy said the magic sentence: "Well, that's why Jesus is called the Lamb of God."

At that moment, something happened. I felt as though something inside my soul had burst wide open.At that moment, something happened. I felt as though something inside my soul had burst wide open. Amy kept talking. I saw her lips moving but I couldn't hear what she was saying. My mind was flooded with enlightenment. Lyrics to Christmas songs suddenly made sense. "Born to raise the sons of earth! Born to give them second birth! Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!" It was as though my entire life was all a bad dream, and I had just woken up. "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth!" I suddenly felt as though all the secrets of the universe had been revealed to me. As my brain was making the connection between Old and New Testaments, I finally understood why it was called The Greatest Story Ever Told.

At the time, I wasn't exactly sure I knew what was happening to me. But I was born again on the spot. No Ten Commandments, no mention of what a sinner I was or my need to repent. I did not make a decision, I did not say a prayer. In fact I was quite passive the entire time. All Amy did was correlate Jesus to the sacrificial systems in the Old Testament. I had become a new creature. I had miraculously been given the answer to my most pressing question and I was filled with so much wonder I had no choice but to throw myself at His feet. Life suddenly had meaning. There was a purpose to all of this!

Later that night, I opened the Bible Amy gave me and read the New Testament until I could no longer keep my eyes open. I read from Matthew straight through Galatians. I finally turned out the light at 3am, unwillingly.

I woke the next morning, acutely aware that His presence was filling the room. He had always been there. I just didn't see Him until now. Then I remembered something I read the night before:

"Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
"Unless a man be born again, he cannot see . . . "

I can see.

I can see!

I CAN SEE!!!!!

And with that, I began Day 2 of my new life in Christ.

5 comments:

Betsy Markman said...

This is such an amazing illustration of the fact that being born again is a miraculous work of the Spirit, or it is nothing. What happened to you cannot be explained by simply the words that your friend spoke to you. The Holy Spirit touched you to life. There's no other explanation. Praise God!

Jennifer said...

Hi, Betsy -- so true! It's probably my favorite aspect of my testimony. For years after I had become a Christian, I arrogantly believed that I had sought after God. I knew darn well that scripture teaches "there is none that seek after God," but because I was tormented with the meaning of life for so many years, I honestly believed I had sought after Him. In hindsight now, I see I did nothing, absolutely nothing to get here. He placed me in the class with the girl who witnessed to me and just handed me the answers. I had no control over the situation whatsoever.

Thanks for your encouragement!

Natasa said...

beautiful testimony... do you still have contact with Amy?

Jennifer said...

Hi, Natasa. Good question. The answer is no.

Sadly Amy's church told me I was going to hell because I did not agree with their view that baptism was necessary for salvation. I told them I had every intention of being baptized, but that I believed we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. They rejected me as a result.

I was not going to include that story this month, but perhaps I will think about telling that story before the month is over.

Natasa said...

so sad...