At a weathered picnic table under a tree, sitting beside one complete stranger and across from another–that is where Jesus saved me.
I think I was about 8 years of age that summer. A friend of my younger sister’s had invited us to go to Camp JOY with her and her sisters in Alma, Nebraska, not far from where we grew up. Despite my initial reluctance to subject myself to a strange place full of strange faces–and to miss softball to boot–we went. During the chapel service one day, the speaker asked who in the room had never asked Jesus into her heart. I knew all about Jesus. My parents and grandparents were Christians, we attended church and Sunday School, I loved reading stories from my children’s Bible. But, I hadn’t ever asked Jesus into my heart. So… I truthfully raised my hand. The next thing I knew, those of us who had dared be so honest were being called to action. My immediate thoughts were, “Oh no! What have I done?! Was it a trick question? I said I’ve never asked Jesus into my heart, not that I’m ready to ask Jesus into my heart!” Afraid, I walked to the back of the chapel with the other boys and girls who had raised their hands, and I along with one other girl was paired up with one of the camp counselors.
The three of us found a private place to sit and talk–a weathered picnic table sitting under the shade of a large tree. I don’t remember what exactly we talked about, but I do remember that as we talked, my feelings of fear were replaced with a longing for Jesus. The other girl and I both prayed, confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior and asking Him to come into our hearts. I remember the feeling of inexpressible joy that filled me. It was unexplainable to me, but I liked it… and I didn’t want it to ever go away.
Years passed by, and despite my lack of growth as a Christian, the Source of my joy never left me. I went through school a “good” girl with good morals and a strong conscience; and I was known and respected for that. It wasn’t until after high school that I discovered that this, and not my faith in God, was all I was known for.
You see, it wasn’t until after high school that I really began drawing near to God. My first semester of college I was taking a required course called Introduction to Biblical Studies, and much of my homework for that class was simply reading assigned portions of Scripture. Although I had been a Christian for many years, I had never read much of the Bible; and as I did so for that class, I was amazed by what a wealth of knowledge and wisdom God’s Word contains. At the end of that semester I began my own plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. The more of God’s Word that I read, the greater my desire to know Him grew. I longed for Him to reveal more of Himself to me and confessed in prayer that I wanted to know Him more. It was in that time of deep longing and searching that God began to teach me a valuable lesson: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a). And that is what I did–and am doing.
More years have passed, bringing along with them the ups and the downs; but one thing–One Person–has remained constant through it all. The Joy that filled my heart that fateful day at Camp JOY is here to stay. It is Him that I love. It is Him that I live for. It is Him that I look for. One day He Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and those who are in Christ will be caught up together to meet Him in the air and to live with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). On that Day, this story–my testimony to Him–will be finally complete. Until then, I will continue to write it with my life.