1991. My dad was the pastor of a small church in Ohio and there were only a handful of kids in the youth group, and none of us were really interested in following God. I could see that the adults at church loved God and wanted to follow Him, but the kids who grew up in church and were turning into "know-it-alls"...with no joy at all, with no passion, no vision, we were just trying to stay out of trouble... most of the time. Then Josh (who is now my husband)showed up. His passion, his joy, his vision was all about Jesus, and we didn't understand him, he made some of the kids uncomfortable, no one could ignore the light that he brought into our little group. It was funny, the rest of us were Christians our whole lives, but he had just given his life to God a few months ago, yet he seemed to know something that the rest of us were missing.
He was everyone’s friend, old ladies, little kids, he even noticed me (I was so shy!) and talked to me. Back then no one ever talked to me, I was the nerdy pastor's kid. Still, Somehow Josh brought life and excitement to our quiet little group, somehow he brought Jesus to us. When he was near I didn't feel so shy anymore, I wasn’t afraid, I felt like I could be me and I wouldn't be rejected. As a pastor's daughter I had such a hard time figuring out who I should be, the me that I was never seemed to be good enough, I had an idea that I had to be perfect or be rejected by God and everyone else.
Sometimes Josh would tell a funny story and everyone would ache with laughter. He even got me talking. He made me feel like I had a story to tell, and someone wanted to hear it. Not everyone in our little group adored him though, some people were uncomfortable with Jesus, and some people were jealous of his talent and his charm.
One saturday night all the kids in the youth group were spending the night at the youth pastor's house, We all spent the evening playing board games. It was well past midnight when we all knew we needed to say goodnight. So before the guys and girls went off to different parts of the house to sleep Josh spoke up. “We should all pray together before we go to bed.”
“Pray?” One of the other guys questioned, the girls giggled.
“Sure Josh, go ahead, I guess this is a church thing.”
None of us had ever thought about praying together before, the rest of us had been part of the church for years and we expected the pastors to do all the praying.
So Josh gathered everyone into a little circle and we all closed our eyes and bowed our heads. As he prayed I suddenly understood something I had never realized before. When Josh prayed it was like he was talking to a close friend, someone he loved, someone who cared about him. His conversation with God was a real conversation, and his trust in God was a real trust, and his belief in God was his own.
When Josh prayed God came near. I felt the love and closeness of God for the very first time in my life, and I knew that the Jesus he was talking with was someone I wanted to know. I thought I was falling in love with Josh, but I realized that I was falling in love with his God and Savior. He seemed to just dwell in God’s love as he continued to pray, his heart was so full of thankfulness and confidence that God was right there and deserved his devotion. He was so thankful that God loved him and rescued him and was giving him new life.
When everyone said goodnight the other girls had a pillow fight, but I wandered into the dark hallway to hide my tears. All I knew was that I needed to know God like Josh did. Nothing else mattered.
We all went to church together on Sunday morning. All the kids scattered looking for doughnuts, but I found a seat alone in the back of the church. Josh would be playing drums with the musicians on stage during the church service. We had never had drums at church before. I sat alone watching as he set up the drum set and spent some time warming up. I loved watching him, sometimes I would catch his eye, and he would just smile at me like it was the most natural thing in the world, I would shyly look away.
As the music began my heart began to stir with longing to know the friendship of God, like Josh did.
Everyone was singing all around me and I began to listen to the words of the songs. These were the same songs I had heard from childhood, but that morning they became my own love songs to the One who gave me life. I was not one to cry, but a few tears rolled down my cheeks because I could feel the arms of God wrapped around me, I could hear His whisper, I could feel His acceptance. I knew that I wasn’t just one little forgotten speck in a great big world, I was valuable to God, and He was reaching out for me. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t looking for God, I thought I knew all about God, I was the pastor’s daughter. But I didn’t know God at all.
I began to open my heart, to realize that my belief in God had never been from my heart, it had never been my own, it had never been special to me, it was nothing personal. Jesus was a religion, a tradition, a story for little children. But now I felt Him holding me, loving me, calling my name, offering me His umbrella, offering me a shelter from the storm, calling me to be His princess, his beloved, His friend. I tipped up my chin as the tears rolled down my cheeks and suddenly the cross of the wall meant something to me, it spoke to me of love, real love. The songs continued and I wanted to sing too “In moments like these, I sing out a song, I sing out a love song to Jesus. Singing I love you Lord…”
When I went home that day I found my journal and began writing a letter to God, I told Him that He could have my life, if He wanted it. I knew it wasn’t much, but maybe He could turn it into something better. I said I was sorry. I knew that I had been a pretender at church. I knew that I hadn’t cared about the cross of Jesus before that day. I knew that I had just been focused on myself. I knew that I was in a world of my own, the door was shut and God was on the other side. I saw so many weaknesses and flaws in myself.
I didn’t know how to be a friend, I cared more about my pets than about people, all my life I felt rejected by people, I didn’t think God would want me either. Rejection was painful, and in my pain I rejected the world and created one of my own. I tried to be content in the forest in my backyard, with no need for human love, with no understanding of what it was to have a relationship with God. I just trying to be good enough, hoping that God and humanity wouldn't ask for more.
Before that day I didn’t want to be in a church full of smiling happy people. I had been known to hide in the storage closets on Sunday mornings when my parents thought I was in Sunday School!
I believed in God, I believed the Bible but I had no interest in the things of God, I would rather read old issues of Seventeen Magazine than the Bible. I was greedy for money from a young age, and empty, I was selfish and vain yet full of insecurity. I didn't like people and I was full of fear. But oh how I longed to be loved.
As I wrote my letter to God I asked Him to do whatever it takes to make me the person that He created me to be. I told Him that I wanted to know Him, like Josh did. I didn’t know what I was asking for, yet somehow I felt like I was safe under God’s umbrella. He was holding me close, He was keeping me warm. He wrapped in up His love and surrounded me like a blanket. He satisfied my soul. The rain poured down and all my fears, doubts and failures were washed away. I knew that I would go anywhere with God, I would do anything for Him, I belonged to Him now and I knew He would take care of me. I was no longer rejected and alone, I no longer feared people, I began to see that I had a life worth living and I had a gift from God that He wanted me to share with the world, many gifts. As I got to know Him I wanted to give him everything, my paintbrushes, my songs, my dreams, my spirit, body, mind and soul.
Maybe you didn't know my story, maybe you didn't know what role my Joshua played in my life 22 years ago. Over the years he has been a spark to many people, and I know that he has had the joy of sharing God's love and Joy in ways that many people couldn't understand. Together we just offer to God all we have, and we have asked God to take this life and fill it, with joy, with hope, with children. Together we want to take everything God gives to us and share it with a lost, empty, hurting world. All that we have, He first gave to us, if there is any music, any beauty, any creativity, talent, light or joy... it all comes from Jesus. If you have seen our failures, our weaknesses, our wanderings, or imperfections and our mistakes... than you have had a chance to see the beauty of the grace of God at work in the lives of His children, who loves us anyway.
It's been a while since I thought about how my walk with God began, and how my husband, first showed me what it means to really know and love Jesus. Sometimes I feel like I must be the most loved, blessed, privileged, and treasured of all the women on earth, to have known such love in my life, nothing can take away this love, this joy, this hope.