My dad encouraged me to ask Jesus to come into my heart and save me when I was two. And apparently I did. I could barely talk. He drew a picture of a heart with a door on it, and told me that Jesus was knocking at the door of my heart and I was the only one who could let him in. He says I reached at the paper and tried to open the door and he led me in a prayer. My mom said, “She doesn’t understand”, but she says that my life changed and from that time forward she could see the Holy Spirit’s influence on me.
I asked Jesus into my heart again at a wedding when I was little, just to make sure I was going to heaven when I died. I don’t remember for certain whose wedding, but the bride wore a big hat.
I used to be terrified of falling asleep at night, afraid I might just stop breathing and die or something if I fell asleep. My dad told me not to worry, if I died I would be with Jesus in heaven and that I would like that far better than I liked being here. Sometimes, mostly since reaching my teens, I’ve believed it, and thought it would be bliss to die and go to heaven.
I asked the Lord to save me again at a Basic Seminar when I was twelve, so I would remember the specific date, in case I had doubts about my salvation later, but as it turns out, I haven’t needed a date, nor can I say it’s particularly helped me to have done that.
Sometime when I was about fifteen or sixteen, we read a medical doctor’s description of the crucifixion in the course of our homeschooling. I’d heard it before. I didn’t really enjoy hearing it. And I was kind of skimming over it, sort of trying not to take it in. I felt I was being asked, “Don’t you want to know what I did for you?”
Whoa. I did. I read it again, very intently and very personally, and I think from that day I began to regard my Savior with a new kind of awe and worship. I thought I began to fall in love, and maybe I did begin to a little bit, but I think it was more of an adoration. I began to deeply admire. I think falling in love began in earnest later.
I don’t know when I became so proud though. I know from a very young age I began to love getting attention. We got attention because there were a lot of us, close in age, with a young looking mom. Later, we got attention because our parents got us up before Dad went to work, so he could read the Bible to us. I became very proud of the life my parents gave us, and eventually became consumed by trying to be the best, sweetest, holiest, most conservative, hardest working, most spiritual girl around, trying to maintain my relationship with God (maybe to earn it, though I wouldn’t admit it), to be deserving of His favor, maybe to impress Him. This, needless to say, got me very stressed out. God can’t be impressed, though I tried very, very hard.
From the time I was 18 until I was 20 I was teaching the homeschooling to my brothers and sisters. I planned lessons, held “class” for seven grades at once, and corrected papers, some. Mom sat on the couch and fielded questions I didn’t have time for, to help keep everyone going. Sometime mid school year, when I was twenty, I was so stressed out from trying to perform for God and man all the time, I quit teaching school. I had read this newsletter about homeschooling vs. discipleship. My dad was all for it, and we basically became an unschooling family.
And I went berserk. I had been working SO HARD, and for what?! Was it all entirely unnecessary? My entire identity and sense of worth was wrapped up in what I did. What would I say when people asked what I was doing now that I’d graduated highschool? I had always had an answer before.
Our unit study the previous month had explored the life and ministry of Adoniram Judson, who after losing his wife to disease, in a hostile mission field, had examined all his motives and found them lacking, upon which discovery, he would spend his days lying flat on his face in the cemetery. I examined my motives and found only selfishness and pride, after which I no longer felt motivated to do anything at all.
For three months I was in such an emotional turmoil that I was lucky to even get dressed. Every day I still read the Bible, at least two chapters, often more since I was so distraught, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of the words on the page. Words I read did not come together into coherent sentences for me, let alone answers to my confusion or insights into my dilemma.
I could not be confident that I was saved, since apparently His sheep know His voice and I couldn’t even read His words. I spent a lot of time crying, most days.
I begged my dad to sort out my confusion for me and he was pretty much at a loss. He did suggest that Adoniram Judson might not be an ideal model to follow. Judson had examined his motives, and his discovery led him to do what? Did I think that was healthy or honorable behavior? Maybe examining motives wasn’t such a great idea.
Toward the end of April my mom handed me a little booklet called Daughters of Sarah, which primarily points out every Scripture passage about wives honoring or submitting to their husbands, from an expanded version of the Bible. She said it had helped her as a wife and that it might help me as a daughter to relate to my dad. By some miracle, it did not anger me. This helped me to accept that even if it was right for every other family in the world to offer their children some form of academic discipline, God was apparently directing us away from it, and to the beach more often. I could accept that, which gave my emotions room to work through other issues.
The next week, the issue of my salvation came to a head. My eternal security had been the primary concern to me since I was a little girl, and my inability to hear from God was casting doubts against it. I was terrified, because of a certain passage in Scripture which seems to say that if someone loses their salvation they will never be saved again. I was pretty sure I had been saved before... now what? My younger sister, about 15-years old, patiently and urgently shared her Bible with me, on the floor of the bathroom, because we didn’t want to disturb seven other people in our bedroom. “Tiffany, I don’t believe you’re letting this bother you!”, she chided, showing me passages that meant the world to her, and that she was sure should mean something to me. I know she started with Psalm 103, and I raised objection to that, “So the Lord pitieth them that love Him, and remember His commandments to do them”. Okay, what if I don’t love Him or fail to do His commandments?
Somehow we wound up in Romans 6, and it says that “Like as Christ was raised up from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so we also walk in newness of life... Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more.” That settled it for me and I have camped there ever since. Objections to proof-texting aside, Christ, being immortal and resurrected, cannot be threatened by death again. And the Scripture says this is the nature of our new life in Christ. I deduced that night that if I ever was saved, I still was, and if I never was saved I could certainly become so, and I went to sleep happily for the first time in almost three months.
Soon afterwards, Dad encouraged me to take on the part of live-in caretaker to my great-grandmother in Oceanside 90 miles south. She was doing fairly well, but had crushed her wrist in a fall and would need a driver, and help with household tasks, getting meals, and avoiding future falls. I also took on coaching her regimen of assignments from her occupational therapist.
Suddenly I was doing something again. Compared to what I’d been doing before my collapse, this was such an easy existence. I slept eight or nine hours every night and then took another nap in the afternoon. After three months of this, what I read in the Bible became coherent again. I was so excited! At about the six-month mark, back problems I’d dealt with since I was 13 disappeared. If I threw out my back doing something, after my afternoon nap I felt fine again!
Still, I was afraid of any form of discipline or responsibility. Frankly, I was afraid of work. And I was afraid of trusting God with my life, telling myself I’d tried that before and got myself a disaster. I was also very careful at this time, to not do anything for the purpose of trying to be righteous before God, and to not build my identity or worth around what I did. Basically, I had withdrawn, and was taking a time-out, in the lovely world of my Catholic great-grandmother, who was wholly-devoted to Christ, the dear neighbors in her retirement complex, and her precious occupational therapist. I think I wanted to love God, and for Him to love me, but I didn’t know where we stood, on either count.
I lived there for ten months. Her wrist eventually healed, and she moved in with her youngest son, who had just moved and now had room for her.
Over the next two years, I lived like a guest in my own home, still afraid of discipline, not doing much to contribute to the family, coveting my sleep, and wrestling with who I was before God, and whether or not I wanted to surrender my life to Him again, and what that would mean, since I had tried that before, and either it didn’t work, or I had gotten it all wrong. A book called Living Free in Christ by Neil Anderson meant everything to me at this time. It goes through a list of 27 affirmations of a Christian, called “Who Am I in Christ?”, each backed up with a Scripture reference. In the book, each one was followed by an anecdote of how this affirmation was used in someone’s life, or how much it meant to a person, either the author, or someone he had counseled to see their way out of bondage. As I read and meditated over each one, I gradually began to suspect that God loved me.
Now don’t get me wrong. I had known since I was a small child that God loved me. But I had conjured up in my mind that God somehow felt obligated, and after forgiving and saving me, He often felt impatient and frustrated with me, and begrudging of my salvation, and that if I dedicated all of my being to Him alone for all of time I might somehow be able to express gratitude for His indescribable gift of salvation. I never really got it, that God loved me.
At some point during this two years at home, someone was yelling at me over something. Keep in mind, I was living with my parents and thirteen younger brothers and sisters, in 1300 sq. ft. on a ¼ acre lot, and I was avoiding work. Anyway, someone was yelling at me, and a completely uninvited and unwanted thought came into my head, “She needs your love a lot more than you need not to be yelled at right now”. It was what I needed to stop a bitter retort. But I knew I hadn’t thought it up, and I was pretty sure it didn’t come from an evil spirit. I guessed God had spoken to me and I’d heard His voice and I was elated.
Then one evening I had curled up on the couch and was reading in Psalms. I was determined to get something. In Psalm 86:1-5, I read, phrase by phrase,
Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy.
And I was stopped. “Do you really believe that?”
“Um, no. I mean, I believe that I’m poor and needy. But do I believe that God would bow down His ear to hear me at my request, not really.”
It occurred to me I needed to actually believe it, to get it’s real meaning. So I gave it a bit more thought, and as it was right there in the Bible, I chose to believe it. The next line that stopped me was “for I am holy”.
Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee.
Could I dare to pray to God, “for I am holy”?? David did. He had his faults. The Bible calls him a man after God’s own heart. Okay, “for I am holy”. Then I paused over the assertion that God was my God, the request that He save me, His servant, and that I trusted in Him. It took some bit of time for me to agree with this prayer. And I had to decide to trust Him. I went ahead and explained to God all I had trouble trusting Him about, and chose to trust Him.
Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily.
I did cry to the Lord daily, or almost daily. But I didn’t actually believe that He would or wanted to be very merciful to me. I figured Calvary had been enough mercy. But, after the previous two verses I was starting to get the hang of it. “Do you believe that?”
I thought about it for a moment. “I didn’t before, but now I do.”
Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
“I would like to believe that one, and ask in earnest, expecting to receive a request like that.” And I did.
For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
Then I was stopped completely. Believe what? It was so far removed from what I had been believing about God for I don’t know how many years. We had to work through some other questions at this point.
“Do you believe in God?”
Mmm. I thought hurriedly through a range of scenarios, and concluded that there must be a God.
“Do you believe the Bible is God’s Word?”
Again, I rehearsed what I had come up with before, when the authority of Scripture had been challenged, and agreed that the reasons were all still valid, and I did believe the Bible was God’s Word.
“Okay, well, it’s written right there in the Bible.”
Tears streamed down my face as I began to believe, one phrase at a time.
For Thou Lord, art good...
And ready to forgive...
Ready! Not reluctant, ready. I would believe it.
And plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
Plenteous to my mind was describing more than adequate. I was learning that I had a wrong idea of Who God was. I thought that God was adequate in mercy. I thought He had enough mercy, as much mercy as was necessary, and that if I begged Him humbly enough or somehow otherwise got His attention, or He chanced to look kindly my way, he would dole some out on me, and otherwise I’d already been given far better than I deserved.
But the Word said plenteous. That was so different. And I would believe it.
I don’t remember how long I cried. I’m pretty sure I finished reading the Psalm, line by line, believing as I went. But the truth in that fifth verse changed my life. I began to believe that God loved me, without any good works, without any particular prayers or fasts, or right heart attitudes, or early morning devotions to worship. That God loved me before any of this, and without any of this, that Jesus died for me, because He loved me, and He still loved me.
My whole world changed. I no longer had to strive for significance. I knew that God loved me. He knew who I was, and He wanted a relationship. And as long as I knew that He liked me, I liked Him. I think I even loved Him. Happiness was no longer something I put on, in an effort to encourage people that the gospel really worked. It was something that came naturally.
I didn’t instantly get over my reluctance to work, but I started doing stuff, and accepting some little responsibilities. I gradually became a participating member of the family again. There have been other bumps along the road, and other marks of progress. I remember checking myself, “Man, I want to pursue God like that.” “Hold on, is that because you want more of God or because you want to be a good person?” I was finally learning that no matter what I did or didn’t do, it would have no bearing on the reality that God was good, ready to forgive and plenteous in mercy to all them that called upon Him.
I could detail it more for you, but it would be easier just to let you read it here.
Anyway, incredibly encouraging to hear your testimony laid out like this. Thank you.
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