As a journal-keeper long before "journaling" became a verb, I created a checklist soon after my college graduation. Some of the points had to do with improving my appearance, some with long-range career goals, some with starting a family, some with books I meant to read. I remember three of these goals specifically: "Join Mensa," "Join N.O.W.," "Decide what I believe about God."
A couple of years passed. I was now married, we'd bought a home, I had a job involving my favorite thing -- books -- and I was in leadership in my nominal Protestant church. We took vacations, too, and in the summer of 1976 my husband and I loaded up our Chevy Vega and headed to the South.
We saw Civil War sites, ate grits and hushpuppies, and I believe it was in Murfreesboro, TN that my husband needed a new pair of tennis shoes. Yes, my memory of the trip is rather spotty. But one leg of it would change my life. In the state of Mississippi, we drove through a tiny town whose narrow roads were edged by weed-filled ditches. And in those ditches stood cabin after cabin -- crooked, crumbling sheds with peeling paint and torn screens. A few listless men, youths, kids, sat on sagging porches, watching expressionless as we drove past. I can only wonder what bug-eyed, drop-jawed faces they saw gawking at them. We later learned this town's unemployment rate was 100%.
For months afterward I cried out to God. Why was I born in a land of prosperous farms and vigorous industry? Why did I show talent in almost any field I set my hand to (except sports)? Why was I raised in a middle-class home with a mother who served us in every way and a father who told me, a pre-feminist-era daughter, that I could be anything I
wanted? Why did I have a college education, without so much as the smallest loan to repay? Why had I managed to avoid the if-it-feels-good-do-it promiscuity, the "tune in, turn on, drop out" drug experimentation that had snared so many of my generation? Why had I never been a victim of crime or abuse? Why was I healthy? In short, why did I have it so good? I began to feel undeserving, and to give thanks.
Shortly after this trip, if I were to start my family on schedule, I would have to become pregnant. And for the first time, something important failed to just fall into my lap. It didn't happen. I started crying "Why?" again -- and I must admit that "thanks" went by the wayside for a while -- but now I also began to cry "Please." In less than a year, after seldom if ever before addressing God, I had called, "Why?" "Thanks," and "Please." I had never doubted his existence, because it seemed irrational to me that the intricate organization of something as large as the universe and something as small as an atom -- not to mention the human body -- had arisen by chance. It was just too preposterous to think that God was not behind this. And as a mathematics major, I realized that the statistical chances of complex life arising from random chemical reactions were zero. About this same time Jimmy Carter was elected president and I heard the term "born again" for the first time. But I had no idea what this meant and soon forgot it.
Six months after I had intended to conceive I finally did. I truly believe this was God's early demonstration to me that I was not in control. To have a baby in November when you meant to have it in May is to give birth as far away from your planned time as possible. The birth of my first son brought me into a group of young mothers, and here was
where I met my first Christian -- up close and personal. She was a type of person I honestly did not know existed. On the one hand, she was a completely committed Christian. On the other hand, she was utterly normal. Not a fake, not a kook, not holier-than-thou, not living in a bubble, not condemning, not preaching, yet never covering up her faith.
She became my friend. And I began to ask a new question: "God, what is the truth about you?"
The Bible teaches in Matthew 7:7 that if we seek we will find, and David tells his son Solomon in I Chronicles 28:9, "If you seek [the Lord] he will be found by you." God is faithful to his word, and because I had asked it wasn't long before God revealed to me Truth. Truth was a person, and his name was Jesus Christ.
But there was still something missing. I only knew of the Savior. In order to know him personally, I had to learn the truth about someone else: myself. "For all have sinned," says Romans 3:23, "and fall short of the glory of God." Well, logically "all" had to include me. And what was the fate of sinners? "All sinners will be destroyed," says Psalm 37:38. Again, "all" had to include me -- but I'd been given a reprieve. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," Paul writes to Timothy. If I went to the cross, repented of my sin, accepted that Jesus had taken the death penalty in my place and asked for his shed blood to cleanse me, I would be saved. This ran far deeper than mental assent,
than knowing about the Savior. In John 6:44 Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." I could not become a Christian just by intellectual exercise, or even religious exercise. So draw me the Father did, on June 2, 1979, while I was at my writing desk rereading the previous day's work. In his sovereign timing the Holy Spirit fell upon me with conviction, and I saw those words, those ideas, that attitude for what they were: sin. Garbage. Idle words. Filthy rags.
Suddenly sick of myself, my ambitions, my pride, and my "wisdom" that wasn't even as wise as God's "foolishness" (I Cor. 1:25), I asked Christ to forgive me, change me, and take over my life. Without him, I would never have any success other than that which the fickle, fleeting world had to offer. I would not realize that I was wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (Revelation 3:17). Apart from him I could do nothing (John 15:5).
What if I had not become a Christian that day? Although I can't be sure, I believe my circumstantial life might be about the same. Marriage, home, kids, and my professional life which includes writing, editing and teaching. But who would I be today, without Jesus? A feminist, a secular humanist, possibly deceived by a false worldview or doctrine?
Competitive, conniving, carping, a believer in fate, all because I thought I was the only one in charge of my life in an impersonal universe? Sarcastic, sardonic, fearful and bitter, because I would have carried unbelief to its logical conclusion, that randomly occurring life in an impersonal universe is really of no importance? I don't want to know who I might have become. And, hallelujah; I've never had to find out.
Belief in God is a matter of faith, but it is not a matter of faith beyond reason. Romans 1 tells us that God has revealed himself so clearly in creation that if we can look around at our world and not believe in him we are without excuse. Many say they do not believe in hell, but consider: God, who not only is the source of all love but is love, sent his son, a full member of the Godhead, to die a horrendous death as our Savior. If there is no hell, there's nothing to be saved from, and there's no need for a Savior. Christ's death then becomes useless, God becomes a monster, and Christianity completely falls apart.
Many say Jesus was a great teacher, not God, but consider: There are many places in the four gospels where he clearly states his divinity. If he's not God, he's either a liar or he's deluded. What kind of great teacher is that? We must decide whether Jesus is God or fraud. There is no middle ground, nor did Jesus, as C.S. Lewis points out, intend to leave that possibility open. Many say they live life only according to what they know, not according to faith, but consider: Those who can look at creation and say there's no God are trusting he doesn't exist. Those who believe the complexity of human, animal, and plant life could have arisen from just the right random collision of molecules just happening to occur over and over again are living by faith. Those who walk across a room and flip a light switch have faith that the light will come on. Everyone lives by faith. The only question you must settle is: In what or whom will you place your faith?
I never got around to joining Mensa or N.O.W., but I did decide what I believe about God. He is the great I AM, Jesus Christ is the fully divine and fully human Messiah of God, and the Holy Spirit is the Comforter who has come down to us, a deposit guaranteeing our future with God. The books of Isaiah, Romans, and Philippians all tell us that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. "Every" means "all," whether they be headed for heaven or hell. If you have not yet bowed to Jesus, the day is coming when you will. Choose him now, while you still have your earthly life and mercy is still extended to you. If you die outside of Christ, you will meet him as judge, and you will bow the knee -- before you go off to eternal destruction.
Repent, receive the forgiveness God longs to extend to you, and come into the family of God. The Bible says angels will rejoice over you, and so will all your new brothers and sisters. We love you. Today is the day of salvation. Come while it is yet today.