To start, going to or attending church, youth group, small group, Sunday school, what have you- is not what makes you a Christian. Better, when you choose to surrender your life to Christ, and choose to follow him....it's a place you choose to attend to hear the Word of God be taught, to be in community with other believers, to learn how to better serve one another in and outside of the church body, and be encouraged in your walk with Christ. It's just a building. It's not your ticket to Heaven depending on your attendance. Folks, there is no secretary taking attendance each Sunday morning, for you to be hopeful in attaining the "perfect attendance award" at the end of your days here on earth. (Can you tell I'm an elementary teacher? The perfect attendance award still exists.)
However, with that being said, I so look forward to walking through the doors of that building. When you follow Christ, it's a joy to give him praise. (Not always easy in all seasons of life, but when feelings are set aside- it is a JOY!) I love Tuesday evenings where we get together with other believers in a smaller setting to share life, the hurts and the triumphs of our every day mundane lives. But, our lives desired to be lived out for Christ.
Where I'm going with this is, this weekend of celebration and the encouragement from a friend, I was encouraged to reflect on my past and where Jesus Christ as brought me.
I'm so thankful for my dad, who truly taught me the ways of The Lord while under his roof. He was the one I asked at the age of five, while memorizing Bible verses for Awana, how I could go to Heaven. He shared with me the Gospel, and from then on always did His best at leading and pointing me to The Lord- encouraging me to live on a path of purity and righteousness. An example of Christ's unconditional love and forgiveness. Thank you Dad.
I'll be the first to tell you that my high school and first year and a half of college days- were not those graced with purity and righteousness. (Thank you Kerrie, Deanna, and Jill for still pursuing and loving me)
Oh I knew better.
I just wanted to taste and see what I thought was fulfilling, fun, and to sum it up, everything that was not filled with the Spirit. Those who loved Jesus in my life, loved me though every minute of those decisions and lifestyle that were plagued with sin. And I can't thank them enough for that. (Momma J, Jarrod, dad, Grandpa Mel, Jess, among others.)
It was sophomore year of college, Jesus was breaking me....after I had hit rock bottom, experiencing everything that was not of Him, but very much of the world...I moved to Michigan with extended family. They lovingly took my pathetic self in, and poured into me in unspeakable ways, ways I'm still uncovering today, five years later. Jesus used them to help pick up the pieces of my shattered life, replacing lies with truth, unrighteousness with the fruits of the Spirit. (Thank you Momma J, Jarrod, Erica, Mel, Liv, Heather, Jess S., Jan and Keith)
Several months later, we all moved back to central Iowa. I knew that where I began my college journey was not the place I could return to, and moved to Ames and walked into the church doors for the first time in two years. (I only attended the usual holiday services when I came home to visit) I knew that I needed to be in a community of believers, so I gave the whole Salt Company college ministry thing a go. First joining a group with ladies I didn't know- so fun! The next year I joined a connection group led by an old high school friend who attended the same youth group with. I met fantastic ladies seeking after the same thing I was- Jesus Christ. The only "thing"/one that could offer true peace and satisfaction. I remember being terrified of opening up to these women, would they still love me and want to be around me when they knew all I had done when I walked away from Jesus?
The answer was yes.
To tell you the truth, it was freeing. It was freeing to know that Jesus died for every single one of my poor choices, and that that grace would NEVER run out. It was freeing to see the same grace poured out by others who were walking with me in our relationships with Jesus. (Thank you Jess A, Jess H, Morgan, Jenn, Laura, Nicole, and so many more!)
November 2009 I made the decision to be baptized to proclaim that I FOLLOW JESUS, HE HAS CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER MORE, and I LONG TO FOLLOW AND OBEY HIM! (Don't doubt for a second I have fallen on my face zillions of times since. I'm still a sinner. This time, Grace is there offering a new chance every single time)
It was the same time I moved back to Ames that I transferred my college job to the Menards in Ankeny. I worked the 5a-2p shift....it wasn't until the legendary Black Friday of 2009 that a blonde boy named Beau, who normally worked the 4p-10p shift and I "met". Being we had such different shifts, we were literally ships passing in the night- never having known we both worked at the same place. But when Black Friday rolls around, they have every specimen available to work that insane day.
So our fairytale starts.
Let me tell you, Beau is a very very fine looking man. He's a hard worker. He's intelligent. He's passionate. And he fought hard to win my affection you could say, after that wondrous November Friday. Everyone knew it. I knew it. I just wasn't interested in a relationship with someone who didn't know, love, and follow Jesus. I had just exited a toxic lifestyle and relationship with someone that didn't follow Jesus. I knew where that got me. I also knew that that path, was in the opposite direction of the path I wanted to be on. I thought I could get rid of this gorgeous guy by inviting him to church. I remember him telling me he worked Sundays and "no can do". So I invited him to Thursday night Salt Company. (gotcha!!!) I don't remember if I talked him into coming to Salt or to the Saturday night church service first. But when he ran out of excuses, and maybe even a little bit of "the chase" got to him, he obliged. (So neat to look back and see what God was doing) I knew Beau wanted me, but I knew Jesus wanted HIM, more. (thanks Jess for sitting with him when I was stubborn and passed him off on you.) The Lord used you) ;) ;)
I recall praying, "Lord, this guy is incredible. He pursues me like no one I've ever known, my family loves him, my friends enjoy him, he's gorgeous, but why do you have him in my life? I'm not interested in more than friends and leading him to know You!!"
Days, Menards shifts, Sunday mornings, Thursday nights, and a few months passed- and I could see The Lord getting ahold of Beau's precious heart. Friends of mine, my family, and Salt guys were pouring into Beau. I remember Beau telling me, "I want what you have. You have something "different." I knew it wasn't anything about "me", but all about Jesus IN me (that's Gods grace right there). I remember being thrilled to SEE Jesus working in Beau. But I still wasn't entirely interested in dating him. I did NOT want him to accept Jesus because it was the only way to date me. I saw the change in Beau's heart and life as this process was snowballing. (Thank you Lord!!!)
Salt Company Spring Retreat, led by Paul Sabino was the tipping point of Beau surrendering his life to Jesus. Shortly after, after monnnnnnths of seeing the transformation of Beau's life, oh boy, the LORD SOFTENED MY HEART TO THIS GORGEOUS MAN living for Him. It was nearly a day and night difference. Ha! It's pretty much a running joke- but now I can see how Jesus was protecting my heart, yet using me, to show himself to Beau. All the while, leading us towards one another. Let me tell you, a smokin hot man is doubly hot when he seeks after The Lord ladies. He's now my now husband. (Thank you Salt, thank you men who poured into Beau when I knew I couldn't all the time, Dad, Mark E, Brian S, Jeff B, Scott, Paul S.
Now we are approaching three years of marriage, walking faithfully, by the amazing grace of God. We are so grateful for our families, and our connection group family. Those who keep us accountable STILL, who we share life with. The ridiculously hard times, the mediocre times, and the knock your socks off joyful times.
Thank you Cornerstone for your teaching of GOD's Truth, a place we can worship inside and outside of the doors, a place we can't wait to have our children grow up in. Where they too, with the Lord's guidance through us as their parents and the encouragement of the church body, we pray will know and grow to follow the One true God.
And mostly, thank you almighty, compassionate, grace-abounding God of the universe- for giving your Son Jesus for all the world. Because of Jesus Christ, we can come to know the fullness of life, lives lived for You. Thank you Lord. We have nothing to offer you but this life you have given us. All the glory, and honor, and praise to You.