I was raised in a typical home, a good home. Dad worked as a truck driver, Mom stayed at home to raise all four of her children. God was sprinkled in from time to time. We went to church every Christmas and Easter and us kids received the different sacraments. We weren't as faithful to attend church as my aunt and her family were. Faith was something we took out of our pocket from time to time. We were good people proclaiming our belief in God, though not a lot in our lives showed reverence to Him.
Dad was saved when I was eleven. He drug me to church and I asked Jesus into my heart after he gently pushed me into a line that was quickly moving towards a man who would place hands on my head to pray for me. My knees were knocking and I felt extremely shaky. At eleven-years-old I can't truly say whether it was nerves or the Holy Spirit that night. Dad would say it was the Holy Spirit.
Life really didn't change after that. I still went with my mother to her traditional church. The teenage boys were much cuter at the 7pm service and how could you beat a forty-five minute service? I still pretended to be asleep on Sunday mornings when my dad would peek into my room, trying to find a child to attend church with him. My father proclaimed his salvation, left the traditional church and began attending a charismatic church elsewhere. It was the first time I remember my parents arguing. Their only point of contention that I recall.
I still remember waking in the mornings to find my father with his cup of coffee, reading his Bible in the early morning light. Trying so hard to begin his day with Jesus. Being a new believer, he was a baby in the faith. If my father was an example of a believer of the faith, I was fine right where I was. I wanted no part of his God. His foul language and angry outbursts were very hypocritical to me. That was my excuse anyway. Not understanding at the time how difficult it must have been to be the only Christian in a home of six people, working around a group of men who found faith a weakness, and foul language a boost to their manhood.
A few months shy of seventeen I had my first boyfriend. We were married not long after high school. Very little was spoken to me about college. I wasn't encouraged to go and I didn't have the inner desire to do anything spectacular with my life. Though police work interested me. I had spoken to some about becoming a police dispatcher while still in high school. God was rarely a thought, unless I was worried about something. And, I had to be pretty worried to garner a God-response.
After seven years and two children, my marriage fell apart. Selfishness has a way of doing that to a relationship. I was a failure at the young age of twenty-five. Still, I had little to do with God. I'd like to say that I was a victim of a horrible husband but that wouldn't be entirely true. We were two people living for ourselves. What sins he began early in our marriage, I finished. I can honestly say, I don't believe there is one commandment I haven't broken and few sins I haven't assaulted Jesus with in my lifetime.
With a three-year-old and a one-year-old in an apartment, I was heartbroken. Holding the title of single mother was never a future plan of mine. And being the first divorce in my family wasn't something I was very proud of either. I was discouraged. I was ashamed. I was broken. It is a very lonely place to be. Family rightfully feared my ex-husband, which meant I had a difficult time finding babysitters when I was working. I don't recall being asked over for dinner, or sent gift certificates for food or even finding a box of diapers on my apartment steps.
For the first time in my life I considered suicide. Driving home one evening, I had my children strapped into their car seats. Looking back at their sweet faces, I felt the deepest despair I have ever known, then or since. I can still remember peering over the edge of the two-lane canyon road, high atop a hill. One hard right turn of my steering wheel and all of my pain would be over.
No longer would I be working so hard to pay rent, pay daycare, pay credit card bills, pay my ex-husbands' bills. No longer would I fight in family-court over the custody of my children. No longer would I try and convince a very liberal California judge that my ex-husband had a drug problem. No longer would I spend my weekends crying while the children were with him, worried that they would get hurt again. No longer would I be ashamed of my life.
Still, I had very little to do with God. From time to time, my father would hand me a new cassette tape and ask me to listen to a teaching. He would try and share God's love with me. Then tell me how he had thought of me when he heard this teaching and got this tape for me because he knew I needed to listen to it. Each time I thanked him and smiled. Then tossed it into my back seat and forgot about it.
The door to my heart was slammed shut. It was stronger than steel and ten inches thick. There was no penetrating it. I had my beliefs about God, but they were based on things I'd heard from others, things I thought made sense, and of course anything else I decided to throw in for good measure. So, it wasn't long before bitterness took up residency. I was too busy working to think about God or anything else beside me and my hurts.
Work was where I spent most of my time. Most single mothers do, whether they want to or not. If the children weren't in my care, I would sign up for overtime. Anything to keep from being home without their joyful presence, anything to keep my mind busy and free from some of my worry about them.
Not long after my divorce, I had accepted a marriage proposal from a police officer I worked with. He was everything I could ever imagine wanting in a man. Not only was he brilliant and funny, his kind and gentle heart was the salve to my own broken and bleeding heart. He was my knight in shining armor, rescuing the poor damsel in distress. At least, that's probably how it seemed for anyone from the outside looking in. Our wedding day is still the most precious day of my life. A day when I vowed to love the man I believe the Lord had for me all along, a day when God was beginning to put back together the million pieces of my broken life, and a day when my mother was still alive.
We were married in November. On the sixteenth to be exact. We were so happy. Together there wasn't anything we couldn't conquer. I am grateful we had no idea of the train wreck that lay just ahead. The following two years would be the most difficult years we have ever experienced. It would be a year of loss. All the while God was attempting to get us to bend a knee. My grandfather, our baby. My mother would be diagnosed with cancer and once again I despaired. The loss of our baby in my second trimester brought me to my knees. I had no idea what depression was until then. A few months later my mother's diagnosis was terminal. At only fifty-two, her grief over leaving us was almost too much to bear.
For the first time I began to wonder what happened when someone died. Where did they go? I had been going to church, but did I really believe? All the while, we struggled with financial hardship, a heartbreaking custody battle, and all the other consequences of sin one contends with. Thankfully, I continued to attend church with my new husband and our two little ones. But, I still wasn't saved. I had had the desire to stand and accept Christ many times. Many times I even whispered to my girlfriend, “If I am already born again, why do I feel the need to stand and accept Christ again?” Still believing I was right with the Lord. “Then stand up again.” She would whisper back. But I never did.
Since work was where I had to be, it was at work where the Lord knew He had to go to find me. My best-friend worked the same graveyard shift with me. She was the one who encouraged me to attend church with her when we'd both finished a graveyard shift and I went back to an empty apartment in tears. Handing me pink leather Bible, I was numb. But, anything was better than being home alone without my children. Her church was held in an auditorium. I wasn't used to fold out chairs. I was even more confused when the pastor actually began to teach from the Bible, expecting me to read right along with him. Odd.
It was at work where the Lord brought a new supervisor to my shift. A man who had spent eleven years as a missionary. Randy came alongside me and shared the gospel. When you work in such close proximity as a radio dispatch room and are on the graveyard shift together, it isn't long before conversations wander to deep discussions like faith. Especially, when you are working with someone who sees the heartache of your life and knows the answer to your pain.
When he asked me if I was born again I told him, “Yes. I was prayed over when I was eleven.” He asked me how I knew I was going to Heaven. “Because I have been a good person. I haven't killed anyone. I am kind to people. I try and do the right thing.” I answered. He knew then I had no idea about God's free gift of grace.
Humbling myself in the early hours one morning, I asked him why Jesus died for us. What did it mean when people said he died for our sins. I will never forget what he told me. “God is so holy sin cannot be in His presence.” I must have looked confused because he decided to tell me in a different way. “Imagine two crystal clear buckets of water. One has a drop of thick black oil. The other has a cup of thick black oil. Which one is tainted?”He asked. “Both.” I said.
“Exactly right. The thick black oil is our sins. Whether we have killed someone or told a lie, we are sinners. And sin cannot be in the presence of God. That's why Jesus died for us. He was the perfect sinless sacrifice. He died in our place so we can stand in the presence of God one day and live in eternity with Him.”
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
If there is one moment in time I can say where I knew I was in danger of missing out on all God had for me. It was that moment. I knew I wasn't saved. I knew I had had no idea what it meant for Christ to die for me. And I also knew this life-changing news demanded a response from me. Randy must have seen the look in my eyes. “Would you like to pray and ask Jesus into your heart Joanne?” He quietly asked.
Was he kidding?!? I was sitting behind a police radio. I was in my uniform with a headset on. I had been to enough of my father's church services to know what it meant to be slain in the Spirit and my pride would have none of that. No way. Not ever.
“No thank you.” I quietly replied. Before our twelve-hour shift ended he had scribbled down some scripture references and handed them to me, asking me to look them up when I got home. I now recognize them as the verses we all know as Roman's Road.
My drive home from work was both exciting and agonizing. I called my best friend and woke her up. “I get it. I finally understand.” I yelled into the phone. “Get what?” she said groggily. “I finally understand why Jesus died. What it means for me!” I stammered. “Great!” she said. But I knew I hadn't officially asked Him into my heart yet. I know now, I was already saved. The Lord knew my heart, and He knew I believed who He said He was. My very careful drive home made it clear that I was frightened to die before I had the chance to hand my life over to Him.
If I had truly given my heart to the Lord when I was eleven, then I surrendered my life to him at the age of thirty. With the door closed, on my knees in our office at home, I looked up and read the scriptures Randy had written down for me and asked Jesus into my life. The tears flowed freely that day. Though, I will always regret not publicly standing up in a church service or behind the police radio in Hayward, California.
The miracles and restoration He has worked out in my life have been immeasurable. Not long after I committed my life to Christ my husband Paul did as well. Except, Paul accepted Christ publicly, on a beautiful spring day in May. The day of my mother's memorial service. She had accepted the Lord six weeks before her death. Another gift I am eternally grateful for.
My husband adopted our two oldest children a few years later in an unprecedented and contested adoption hearing. God made our precious family whole. Later my husband would go on to become a godly attorney with a heart to help others. “Behold I am making all things new. Write these things down for I am true and faithful.” Rev. 21:5
Paul and I are now the odd ones. We are surrounded by family and friends who don't fully understand us. Many even calling us hypocrites behind our backs, for standing on the other side of what we used to be, what we used to believe. At times it's been hurtful. Not sharing your faith in Christ is a big thing not to have in common. For now, love covers much of the gap.
In August 1999, the Lord washed me clean, softly placing me on the narrow path alongside Him. He took my hand on that warm summer's day and hasn't let go since. My history has become His story. My life is whole again. Brokenness has been healed, shattered dreams have been restored and replaced with dreams at one time I would have never dared to dream. I was the ugliest of sinners and the least of His children, yet He has given me beauty for ashes.
And until the day He takes me home I will forever proclaim He is alive and bear witness to how His love and forgiveness has changed my life. For now, my story continues...
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found.
Was blind but now I see.