Sunday, July 09, 2006

Happy Ninth Birthday to Me

I wasn't born in 1997, of course. And my birthday is actually in March. But every July 9 I get to celebrate another special day: my spiritual birthday. It was nine years ago this week that God called me to Himself and changed my heart.

I grew up in church, and I knew all the right answers. Involved in Sunday school and youth group, never in trouble, all that. But it wasn't real to me. I did church on Sundays and lived my life the rest of the time, and thought I had life all figured out. Certainly I was much more of a "good person" than other kids I knew who only attended church sporadically at best.

But in July 1997, I went to Lakeside. It was our church's district youth camp, in this quaint little gated community on Lake Erie. My best friend, Julie, was signed up to go with me, and though she almost backed out at the last minute, God had something else in mind.

From the first night of camp, I was confronted with the shallowness of my "faith" vs. the sincerity and depth of commitment of others I saw. Among the counselors were a music ministry team of students from Indiana Wesleyan University, HIS Instrument*. I saw something different in them--something real. I thought I had the church thing all figured out, but these kids had something I didn't have.

It was nine years ago today that I walked silently down to the lake, having been asked to contemplate where I stood with God and what might be standing between me and Him. I sat on the boulders that line the shore and watched the waves splash up against the rocks as I recalled the lyrics from the song HIS Instrument had just sung:

Lead me, Lord
I will follow
Lead me, Lord
I will go
You have called me
I will answer
Lead me, Lord
I will go

The tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized that I wasn't following God at all--but that I wanted to be, for real. I asked Him to be my Lord, to take all of me and not just a couple of hours of my time every week. And amazingly, on a rock down the shore one direction or the other, my best friend was doing the same thing.

Julie and I came home at the end of that week immature and arrogant. But we came home the beloved children of our merciful Father in heaven, who showed us infinite patience as we slowly grew. I can't tell this story without talking about Julie, without marveling at God's goodness in orchestrating our friendship. We had become close the school year before, but finding Christ at the same time cemented our friendship. If it hadn't been for her, I honestly don't know where I'd be today. When we left the safe cocoon of church camp, we were able to encourage each other, to discover the Word together, to provide support and accountability.

That was the watershed moment in my life, but I didn't suddenly have it all figured out. Though my faith was very real, I was very much a baby Christian. When I look back over the rest of my high school years, I laugh at some of the mistakes I made and cringe at others. I'd change a lot about how I represented Christ back then. But thankfully, I follow a patient and merciful God.

Nine years later, I'm celebrating His faithfulness. I'm thanking Him once again for Julie, who's still my best friend. More than that, I'm thanking Him for knowing me and loving me before the foundations of the world, for calling me to Himself and giving me the grace to come to Him. I'm praising Him for the cross, for providing a way for me to be free from sin and reconciled to Him forever. And I'm thanking Him for His promise to finish the good work He began in me.

*Cami Seawell, Beau & Nicole Hummel, Jim Gulish, Nick Hect and others may never know the impact they had on my life. (That fact has taught me that even when we feel like we aren't making a difference, or don't see results from what we do, we may be influencing people in ways we don't realize!)


Kayla said...

Wow, memories are flooding back to me as the tears stream down my face. What a lot of amazing memories at Lake side. And such a neat story you will forever have with you to share with others. Even though I've heard it before, it's still awesome how God uses iron to sharpen iron in your friendship with Julie. Happy Birthday!

Jackie said...

:-) I thought for sure I was the only one that celebrated the day that I made the decison to let God guide me through this life and stop trying to do it all by myself. My date was Feb. 3 2002 .. oddly enough it just happened to be my REAL birthday! I turned 16 ... and Feb. 1-3 was my Awakening weekend .. really my date was Feb. 2nd but I'm very sure it was in the early morning hours of Feb. 3 that I acutually made my decision, as I sat in an empty sanctuary with Patty Meriwether, Brenda Clark, and a couple of other people. That morning I decided I needed Christ not because I was scared to die (like I thought I did in 4th grade), not because we got ice cream at VBS (like I thought in the 3rd grade) but because He loved me and I loved Him and knew that I needed Him to help me along the way! :-) Thanks for sharing your "second birthday" with us Amy! It made me cry! And now I've managed to write a book for a comment! lol

Jules said...

Happy Birthday Ames! I love our story. It is impossible to think back on it without marveling at God's grace and faithfulness. I am truly amazed at all that the Lord has brought us through over the past nine years, and look forward to all he still has in store.