Let’s just be raw and real today. I realize this story I’m about to share might not be too popular with some of my readers. That’s okay. Some of you may be offended at my sharing my faith- because maybe you consider one’s faith is a “personal matter.” Still others will be applauding this blog and will totally be able to relate. And there may be ONE who, after reading this says, “okay, this might work for me, so yes, I’ll give it a try.” Regardless, I’m a girl that’s not afraid to take risks. So, here we go.
Do you ever think about where you were a year ago? Or how about five years, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago? It’s kind a hard to imagine where we all were 20 years ago, right?! For whatever reason, we often times forget the past. Some of us don’t necessarily try to forget anything, it’s just that we’ve become so consumed by today that there’s no time to appreciate the past! Accompanied by a loud roar of laughter and sarcasm, my family often teases me because of my terrible memory, “mom’s like a little old lady…. she doesn’t remember anything!” It’s true though, they’re right. It seems like I have forgotten a lot of different things I’ve experienced in my life…. mainly because I have (whether I want to admit it or not) acquired a laundry list of “screw-ups” which I’m happy to easily forget about! The flip side: Lessons learned. Life goes on. I’ve grown. I’ve matured. I’d like to think I have learned from my mistakes and I’m pretty sure I have. But I know I haven’t “arrived” yet- I’m still making mistakes, but at 45 years old, I’m quick to make my wrongs, right.
One memory however (a very profound one) that I do recall quite vividly is exactly where I was 20 years ago today. At this exact moment in time on January 3, 1997 I was sitting in the back of a giant room in the Convention Center in Austin, Texas. I was surrounded by about three thousand other young people. I had been going to church for a short time and had been invited to attend a three day Christian-based conference called “Passion ’97.” It would be held January 1st-3rd. A fresh start to the New Year. That sounded good to me. Along with young people and college-aged students from all over the nation (and world) we gathered together with one purpose… I guess, to be filled up and sent back out- whatever that meant. I had no idea what I had signed up for. I had never been to a “Christian conference” therefore had no reference point. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew in my heart I wasn’t going to be a mere spectator. I wanted more. Although I had lots of friends, a fun boyfriend and a good job, my life just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I felt empty inside. My spirit was depleted. My soul was thirsty and both were demanding more out of this thing called “life.” Both my emotional and spiritual tanks were empty. I was drained. I was in desperate need of a spiritual compass to guide me. I needed something to not just get me back on track but put me on the right path. So often we waste time on the wrong track… and that time is then gone.
I spent three days experiencing an environment filled with incredible music- which I later came to understand was referred to as “praise and worship” (songs with a spiritual message about Jesus, Heaven and spiritual things, but was infused with the same secular beat, sound and effects that I had danced to my entire life). We met in small (community) groups and participated in awesomely, deep spiritual discussions that opened my mind and challenged me like never before. Incredible Bible teachers (like Louie Giglio, Beth Moore and John Piper) would recklessly abandon the stereotypes placed on them (preachers) and the church at large, in effort to authentically share the Gospel…. the “Good News” about Jesus and who he was and what he did. I listened intently. I was in awe.
My brain capacity was by faith, spiritually challenged yet willing to receive the deep messages I was hearing. As fast I was hearing the messages, I was trying to process the “meat on the bone.” It was a lot to grasp. Though I wish I could, I’m probably not fully communicating in the best way, what was happening in my mind at that time. A weak attempt at best to describe my thoughts at that moment, is that I kind of felt like some brain synapses or wires that were initially intended to be connected in my mind and heart, never were. I had always had a draw to spiritual things, even as a child. I can remember going to church (at Bethany Methodist) all by myself. I remember asking my dad (when I was like 8 or 9!!) to please take me to church and drop me off and that he could swing back by a couple hours later to get me. He did! (Oh my gosh, today we’d never dream of doing that!! I wouldn’t at least). But as a young child, I was trying to connect the wires. At one point in my little baby brain, I think the wires were connected, but as life would have it, a spiritual disconnection took place somewhere along the path- probably because I didn’t know how to connect them on my own nor did I have a strong spiritual influence in my life that was leading me and showing me the need for that heart-mind-spirit connection. Make sense?
I took more notes in that three-day time period, than I had my entire life. I was a sponge with a deep desire to soak up all this new found spiritual knowledge! For the first time in my life I felt free, strong and empowered. Although I had heard this kind of message before, it never quite registered the way it had in that moment. After preaching an impressionable message about what life could and would be, when “accepting Christ” the preacher began to invite people to “come forward.” I thought, “what the heck- like walk down there, to where you are??” My heart was pounding so hard and so fast, I was convinced that the people around me could hear it. The message struck a chord in me and spoke directly to my heart. I remember that preacher saying, “Jesus says, if you confess me before man, I will confess you before my father… “ As I listened, I audibly responded, “oh heck yea, I want (and NEED) to be acknowledged!!” Although the other thousands of people remained seated, to my feet I stood. Adrenaline pumping. I felt like I had missed out on this my entire life and I sure wasn’t gonna miss the train this time around!
Before he could even finish the “invitation” to come forward and receive Jesus, I was running. I think I was probably the very first person to reach that make-shift alter. I didn’t give a rip…. Without a care in the world for what anyone might have thought of me at the moment, I ran. I needed this and wanted it! I sat there for a long time, talking and crying out to God. I couldn’t see or hear him but I knew he was right there by my side. For the first time in my life, perhaps because of my open heart and contrite spirit, I could feel his presence. Through my tears (and a lot of snot) I poured out a list heartfelt confessions. Finally after being convinced I had met my sin-quota, I got up. Leaving years of emotional baggage at the alter that day, I walked away exhausted and wiped out but at the same time felt refreshed and renewed. I was never the same after that moment.
I thought that my new life as a Christian was going to be smooth-sailing…. “a bowl of cherries.” Life would be great now because I have Jesus!! Haaaaaa- That couldn’t have been further from the truth. On the contrary, along with my new decision to “follow Jesus” came scrutiny, judgment and a little persecution, simply for being a Christian. I was so excited and openly shared my experience- feeling that everyone would want to know what had happened to me. That wasn’t the case. Many didn’t celebrate with me this new-found faith- in fact it was the opposite. I had family members talk down to me, make fun of me calling me a “holy roller” and asked me to “keep my new found faith to myself” (all of whom claimed to be Christians!) I had friends who abandoned me immediately and even ostracized me from friendship circles. They told me I was crazy and that I needed help. Some of the friendships just took a hiatus while others permanently dissolved which didn’t bother me in the slightest. “I probably didn’t need them anyway,” was my thought. (Years later, ironically, many of those same nay-sayers would be asking me for prayer and would become believers only during their times of crisis, which was fine.) Nevertheless, it was a lonely time. It was confusing. But I stood my ground and believed that Jesus would be my best friend during that quiet season. And he was.
Over the years, my consistent Christian lifestyle proved to those around me that a spiritual transformation had truly taken place in my life. I made new friends, went back to college and was determined to do something good with my life. So I did. I joined Bible studies, attended the weekly church services at my church and even joined the hospitality team (big shocker, I know). I can remember setting up a Sunday morning breakfast (to feed over 200 peeps) with my friend Lindsey. For over two years, every week, together we would bake about 200 piggys-in-a-blanket, bring in donuts, bagels and cream cheese, juices and even fresh flowers! (We were all about excellence!) We were a great team and I loved serving alongside her. I started a Christian Bible study on the college campus where I attended -who would have ever thought…. Amy, leading a Bible study!!! HAAAAA! ! By my senior year, the school staff recognized me (and a handful of others) as something great, I guess. I was asked to be an ambassador to the university- Concordia University at Austin, to which I was humbled and graciously accepted. I graduated with my Bachelors in Education and later went on to become a public schools 2nd grade teacher! One summer, while still in college, I was given the opportiunity to work an internship at a large, Baptist church in downtown Austin, Texas. It was very clear to me that as I remained faithful to my commitment to my faith in Christ, God remained faithful to me. He would bless me in more ways than I could count. Over time, some of the old friends moved on. It was apparent to me that some relationships had been weeded out of my life (and for good reason.) The true friends remained and they are still here today, by my side. God replaced prior relationships with some of the most influential people in my life today.
I have unashamedly shared the gospel through words of encouragement, love letters to people, words of affirmation, gifts, some home Bible studies and other teaching platforms- and most recently, through my “Baskets of Sunshine!” Click the Sunshine Tab for more info!) I am convinced that all of us have a gift in this world that we should share with others. My gift was and always has been encouragement; If there is a cheerleading team in Heaven, I’m pretty sure I’ll be on it! I’m a cheerleader at heart- always have been. I cheer for you, I cheer for myself, I cheer for strangers, I cheer for the underdog and yes, I unapologetically cheer for Jesus. If that offends you, I really don’t give a rip, be offended. Sorry, not sorry. My philosophy in life is that if we don’t stand firm for something, we will fall for anything. I stand for the cause of Christ. And at the end of the day, my accomplishments, material goods, physical looks and money saved up, isn’t what counts. My faith and how I lived it out each day, is what will matter. All I want it to hear Jesus tell me is, “good job Amy- you started out rough, but you finished well kid!” I think he will. Even though I was made fun of from time to time, humiliated by so-called friends, talked about by a few family members or shunned because of my faith, I stood. I think that’s when true commitment is tested. When you’re willing to stay the course when no one else is.
That Passion conference I told you about earlier- I attended in Austin back in 1997, well guess what- it’s happening again right now as you read this. Back in Austin, there were 3,000 young people in attendance. Today there are over 50,000 young people meeting in Atlanta, Georgia in the Georgia Dome (google it- it’s fascinating!) Carrie Underwood led worship for them last night! CRAZY! They are worshipping and having those same deep, heart-felt discussions today, January 3, 2017! Pray for them. Pray that the Millennials in attendance are forever changed- we need them ya’ll!! We need the next generation to be strong, full of integrity and have a respect and honor for the Lord. As you begin 2017, I challenge you to consider saying yes. A life changing moment for me 20 years ago today, is perhaps YOUR moment right now!
Happy New Year friend!!