I had been to church before. I was raised with a Jewish mom and a Christian dad, so growing up I bounced between temple and church. And for that, I am thankful. I went to lunch with my brother yesterday, and the two of us talked about how we both find that we are pretty easy to get along with. I said we were blessed with good genes, but my brother corrected me. It wasn't our genes that made us warm to strangers and quick to befriend others, it's how we were raised. "We were raised to be tolerant of others," he said. "Tolerant of other religions."
When did he get to be so wise?
So I had been to church before. I had even watched a movie on the crucifixion (it was quite scary). But something about this high school church retreat was different. I had just come off of my hardest year to date, and hearing the gospel was like medicine for my soul. Jesus woo'd me; He woo'd me good.
I remember reading through the book of Romans. I have no idea what drew me there in the first place (God), but to this day, it is still my absolute favorite book of the Bible. Reading it brings me back to those first few months of falling in love with my Savior for the very first time.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
// Romans 8:38-39 //
That verse. That verse is what got me. Fresh off a break up, and still recovering from the painful experience of true rejection, these words were everything I needed to hear. I needed to hear that there was someone who loved me, who would never, ever go away. Ever.
And so, I returned from that retreat, and knew that I needed to learn more. I got plugged into my high school youth group, attending church and church activities around 4 times a week. I was baptized that summer in the beautiful Pacific Ocean. I bought myself a cross necklace to wear around my neck, a reminder of the perfect love that I had found.
You may be thinking this is where my story ends, huh? Well, spoiler alert: it's not. From all outward appearances, it seemed that my life had transformed. But what hadn't transformed was my heart. I wanted it to, oh by golly I did. But I was missing something fundamental, and I honestly couldn't tell you exactly what it was. Sure, it might have had something to do with the teaching just not fully clicking with me. It might have had something to do with a lack of structured, one on one mentoring. Or, it might very well have been the stubbornness and just plain young naivety of my own heart.
My best guess? It was God's timing. He knew how my story would end up, and He was so patient to give me the time that I needed to figure it out. Whatever it was, it led to living a double life. When I was at church, I was all about church. I connected well with the other kids in my youth group, and got along well with the older volunteers. Because I enjoyed it and felt like I fit in, of course I was excited to go to any and all activities. When I talked to my parents about my decision to get active in church, I spoke with passionate words. But get me in a classroom with my peers? And that passion ran away, replaced by the fear of what others would think of a radical, Christian life.
Did I love Jesus? Yes. Absolutely, there is not a doubt in my mind. But did I know how to live a life that glorifies Him? Nope, not one bit. As time has passed, I look back on that time now and have some understanding as to what held me back from truly surrendering my life to Jesus. But we'll save that for another day.
For now, I'll just say that I was at a place of wanting to stand for Jesus, but not exactly understanding how. And even though I was feeling the love of the King of kings, my 15 year old heart was still very much longing for the affirmation of a man here on Earth.
It wasn't long before my attention was captured by a boy in my youth group. A tall, lanky, brunette boy with shaggy hair. Fresh from Texas, brand new to California. I recognized him as Paco, or so that was his Spanish name in our forth period class. Leaning against the wall at the train station as we awaited our Mystery Activity (those were my favorites), I just knew I had to go say hi. Little did I know, that would be the beginning of my very first, real relationship.