Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wake-Up Call (My Testimony of God's Redeeming Love)

Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Dazed, I looked at the alarm clock and wondered how I had gotten here. Who could be calling this early? Just as I drifted off to sleep again I heard my mother say, “It’s for you.” I picked up the phone to hear a man’s voice asking if I had made it home safely the night before. “Yes,” I replied.

As I set the receiver in the cradle I began to shake violently. Ashamed, frightened, and embarrassed beyond words, I felt the sting of tears well up in my eyes as I began to recall the events of the night before. Work had been stressful that particular Thursday, and as I had so many times before, I drove to a local happy hour to relieve the stress with a glass or two of wine. Yet somehow things had gone terribly awry. A man approached me at the bar. I knew his name from the real estate signs around town. Happy to be noticed by a man, but nervous and not quite sure of how to handle myself, I drank more than I should have. Relaxing more with each sip of wine, I became vulnerable to the attention he was giving me. I took the card he offered me and gave him my name and number, although I knew I would never see him again. Despite my inebriation, I knew that I had to leave before things got out of hand. He followed me to my car trying to persuade me not to leave alone, but I knew I couldn’t leave with him. Pushing him aside, I got behind the wheel and drove away, even though I was so impaired by the alcohol I had consumed that I have no memory of the drive home.

The shame I felt after that phone call was nearly unbearable. My dad answered the phone and handed it to my mom when the man asked to speak with “Dee,” because that is the name many of her friends called her. I was mortified by the thought that the early morning call might have raised suspicion, even for a moment, that Mom had been unfaithful to him! Surely Dad knew better. I’m sure Mom must have wondered who this stranger was that called asking for her. But he wasn’t calling to speak with her at all. He was calling for me. It wasn’t necessary for me to explain the stranger’s call. Mom surely knew, from my past experience, that this was someone I had met in a place and in a condition that I should not have been. How could I have done something so foolish and hurtful?

“Oh, God,” I cried. “How could have I have gotten behind the wheel and driven in that condition last night? I could have killed someone!” Still trembling from fear and the effects of the alcohol I had consumed the night before, I confessed the mess my life had become and prayed for God’s forgiveness. Because of my shame, I wasn’t sure I could leave my bedroom and face my parents, so I lay in bed awhile berating myself and wondering how God could ever forgive me. How could I, a professing and practicing believer, have sunk so low? Knowing God’s laws and being raised in the church, how could I have willfully disobeyed Him like this, putting myself and others at risk?

Looking back over my life, it wasn’t hard to trace the path to this pit in which I now found myself. Despite the unfailing love of my mother, I found it difficult to deal with the emotional fallout of my parents’ divorce, even though she remarried before I turned two. Although I had no early childhood memories of my biological father, I knew that there was a man somewhere who had left her, my three siblings, and me, and I wondered what kind of person he must be. Even though my stepdad was my “Daddy,” I struggled with the desire to know my biological father, especially when my older siblings took turns traveling to California to visit him in the summers or when I heard others speak of him. I saw him a few times through the years when he came back to visit my grandparents, but I never connected with him as a child with her father. To me, he was always a stranger of sorts. Father’s Day was particularly painful for me because I had been taught to respect my elders and encouraged to honor my father. Buying a card for him was a heart-wrenching experience for me.

At the age of fifteen, I received Jesus as my Savior on a church retreat. Through the rest of my high school years, I studied His Word, was active in our youth group, and kept company with kids who were either Christian or at least came from good families with high moral standards. I always thought I would be a good girl and marry a godly young man, which I eventually did. Little did I know, however, that I would take a lengthy and dangerous detour before I reached the place of love and security I now enjoy as a redeemed child of God.

When I left the safety of home to attend college, I was unprepared for the harsh realities of life and the complexity of relationships. I began to seek significance in my studies and activities and affection from the friends who had taken the place of family after I moved away from home. As I began dating, it didn’t take long for me to relish the attention others were paying to me or to discover that alcohol could help ease the pain I carried inside, if only temporarily. Although I made the most of college and excelled in my academic studies, I was determined not to miss one moment of fun. As a fraternity sweetheart and sorority member, I found myself overcompensating for the social life I never had in high school and partied every chance I had, never relinquishing my faith in God, but always keeping my relationship with Him on the back burner.

In many ways, college was just the warm up for what was to come. A successful graduate, I managed to land a good job after college and worked my way up the career ladder. I also pursued an active social life, spending a great deal of time with co-workers enjoying the happy hour party scene, always keeping God right where I wanted Him…on the back burner. A successful, attractive young woman surely could handle life and love on her own, right?

God allowed me to see just how much I needed Him. As I continued to walk apart from Him, always attending church but never giving Him full access to my heart, I found myself drinking more to dull the pain of my own sin and looking to others to fulfill my longing to be loved. One particular night, on a date with a co-worker, things got terribly out of hand. I was so intoxicated that I couldn’t fight off his advances and he took advantage of me. God, in His mercy, protected me that night and spared me the full consequences of that violent encounter. Sadly, however, I discounted God’s mercy and continued in sinful behaviors and relationships, coming dangerously close to losing my life or endangering others’ lives by my reckless choices. Every foolish choice I made, especially in my relationships and social activities, I made willfully, knowing that I was being disobedient to God and to His Word. Deep down I knew the truth and fully understood that I was not walking in it.

After college, I lived at home until I married, so my parents were aware of my comings and goings. Mom never chided me, but I could see the deep hurt in her eyes when I would come in from a bar or a night out with a boyfriend. No doubt she knew what I’d been doing, but she remained silent except in her prayers to God on my behalf. She unceasingly prayed me through every danger, toil, and snare.

At the end of a seven year long season of prodigal wandering, I began to harbor thoughts of suicide. I was in an oppressive co-dependent relationship with a man to whom I was engaged to be married, and I knew that wasn’t God’s plan for me. Yet, I didn’t know how to break free from this man other than to take my own life. My wake-up call came the moment I realized I had finally reached rock bottom and that if I didn’t reach upward and take hold of God with both hands, I had no hope of getting out of the pit that had become my second home. When my fiancĂ©e entered a facility to get treatment for his depression and drug abuse, I left him and never looked back. I knew that God had something better for me and I made the choice to surrender myself to Him.

Still lonely and not quite knowing what to do with myself after the breakup, I made a promise to God: “Lord, if I spend every waking moment alone, You will be enough for me. I will not associate with old friends who are lost. I will not frequent the places I have been, just for the sake of being with others. I will walk in fellowship with You and in obedience to Your Word, forsaking all others. Please help me.”

Not long after that decision, I was at home eating dinner with my parents. As I sat on the hearth eating from a TV tray, a thought popped into my mind. “Go roller-skating.” What? Again, it was almost as if I heard God speaking, “Go roller-skating tonight.” Confused but compelled to go, I looked at my mom and said, “I’m going roller-skating tonight.” As a single twenty-four year old woman, I could think of other things I would rather have done than go by myself to a roller rink, but in obedience to that “still, small voice” I swallowed my pride and obeyed. It was Christian music skate night and I figured the rink might be a safer place than a bar to meet a new friend, so I went. Little did I know that God had a gift in store for me – a 6’2” gift wrapped in a pastel plaid shirt and ivory slacks.

As a child, I had roller-skated often, but always hated “couple skate” because I inevitably ended up being a wallflower as others whizzed past hand-in-hand. Not so this night. At the very first opportunity, this handsome young man rolled up to me, took my hand, and skated with me around the rink. He introduced himself as Steve.

The next week I returned to the rink, but to my disappointment Steve was not there. Two weeks later, though, he was there and asked me out on a date! Our first date was a wedding, oddly enough. I love God’s sense of humor! Less than sixteen months later, we had a wedding of our own and today, twenty three years later, we are still rolling through life hand-in-hand.

Making the decision to surrender wholly to God was not only a turning point, but the beginning of something far better than I could have asked or imagined. He not only redeemed the years the locusts had eaten, but also filled my life with more love than I ever hoped for.