The fired burned damned fiercely. Up until that moment, it
had been a standard night at camp. We all sat and stood on cue in the
fellowship hall. We laughed riotously as our counselors sprayed whipped cream
in various orifices while echoing the refrain “smooth and creamy.” We sang “Pharaoh,
Pharaoh” with much delight and “Our God is an awesome God” with all the
reverence that preteens can muster.
Now, the air was different. We sat outside while the fire
whipped our faces and we told stories bearing a greater gravity than the
collective experience of our lives. We spoke of heaven and hell. We considered
the decrepit state of our young lives and how we were certainly bound for hell
barring redemption through Christ.
At once, I felt a weight greater than any I had ever felt. I
was caught up in a moment rife with emotion and drama. I rose to meet it. I
searched my mind for the the most significant and terrible moments of my life.
I did my best to view myself in the worst light possible. I also tried
desperately to view life as fleeting and under constant threat.
I settled on a memory of a story that my father once told
me. When I was two years old, he had taken me home and left me with my mother
one day. As he left our apartment, his car was broadsided right where my car seat
sat. Nevermind the fact that there was no scenario in which I could have been
in the car, all I could think about is that I could have been in it. I thought
to myself and shared with others around the circle that I could have been dead and
bound for hell that day
This perilous vision of life paired with the enormous amount
of sin I felt I had committed put me in a terrified place. Eternity felt
horrific. I had no idea what I was signing up for by becoming “born again,” but
I knew that no matter what it was, what it wasn’t was burning in hell for all
I grabbed my camp counselor and tearfully told him of my
near-death experience, my hopelessly terrible behavior as a human, and my need
to be saved immediately. Jimmy prayed the prayer with me, asking God to live in
The next morning, everything felt different. I was happier,
absolved. Still, something felt thin and flimsy about this new state of being.
I went to breakfast where I was met with hugs and high fives. Our camp director
let me know that my parents had already been informed that I had become a
believer and they were proud. It struck me as odd that an event and
relationship that felt very personal was being broadcast for me.
The high of becoming a believer probably lasted about as
long as I remained at camp. I arrived home with the pressure of feeling that
now I had to be different. My new life had to be a testimony to my parents and
younger brothers. I needed to be changed, I needed to be “born again.” Apart
from following the ten commandments, I had no blueprint for what this looked
like. Additionally, I didn’t have an immediate motivation to behave
differently, I had really asked God into my life to avoid the terrifying thought
A couple of years later, I would sit on the shore of a lake
of that very same camp, watching my parents and one of my brothers get baptized
while I refused to do the same. It wasn’t a moment of rebellion or bitterness. It
was a rare clarity in the heart and mind of a teenager. I had spent enough time
with the questionable commitment I made to be unsure as to whether I really
meant it. I felt joy as I watched my family take a step I was yet unsure
I’m still not sure of what happened the intense evening I
asked God to save me from hell. It’s possible I became a believer and it’s
possible that was the moment I was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I do know that
it began years of a divided heart. Adolescence and young adulthood were a
struggle of feeling I should follow a doctrine I didn’t really understand or
I’m still thankful to the people who brought me to that
place. I’m thankful to Jimmy, who prayed with me. I’m thankful to our amazing
camp director, Chet, who exuded the love of Christ to a bunch of clueless kids.
I’m thankful to Josh, my Young Life leader who always stuck with me and held up
a mirror showing me the best version of myself.
These men spent years fertilizing the soil of my soul for
the day that I would finally meet Jesus face to face. After meeting Him, I have
come away with a many truths, a few of which I would like to share:
First, following Him is about Him and now, it’s not about me
and the future. Jesus says the kingdom is at hand. As his followers, we are
called to spread little bits of shalom in every step we take after him. For all
intents and purposes, a future heaven and hell have become irrelevant in my
Second, it is critical that we know what we are signing
up for when we decided to follow Christ. Following Christ is about
self-forgetfulness, not about ensuring our eternal well-being. What he calls us
to is simultaneously much easier and much harder than following God’s
Third, we are incredibly broken and not only are we
allowed to be, but we are expected to be. Jesus made me to be exactly who I am
and he loves me exactly as he made me. I still feel that using massive amounts
of profanity is the best way to express myself at times. I still let two drinks
become six. I constantly think of myself more than others. This does not mean I
should sin more so that grace can increase, but I believe that there is space
for me to be a flawed me, that’s actually why I need Jesus in the first place.
I certainly need to work to align my heart closer and closer
with God’s. However, increasing that alignment has absolutely no bearing on
Jesus’ love for me. If I went on a tear of drug use, womanizing and hateful
behavior, Jesus would love me no less. If I spent all my days in quiet reverence of Him, seeking unity, He would love me no more. So much internal
conflict in my life over the years has been caused by the deep crevasse between
who I am and who I think He expects me to be. All He expects me to be is me.
The depth of His love for me is unfathomable and greater than any other love in
the world. The same is true of His love for you.