Photo by Samuel Lopes on Unsplash

This was written as part of a writing challenge I participated in to stretch my writing:  Five Minute Friday’s 31 DAYS OF FIVE MINUTE FREE WRITES. This is spontaneous writing in only 5 minutes, though for this one, I did not limit myself to 5 minutes, because this is my story. The word for the day was “Memory.”

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 51:1-2

The memory is just as clear as if it happened yesterday. I had just finished reading yet another Christian novel. I had only selected the book in the first place because I had accompanied my mother to a Christian bookstore, and she had generously offered to purchase any two books I wanted. 

She was a new believer in Jesus, and being a voracious reader herself, was overjoyed to find bookstores filled with books from authors who shared the same belief. I would have considered myself a believer as well. I believed in God, after all.

The first time we entered the store, I gravitated toward the fiction section, surprised to find an extensive selection. It became a routine, visiting this bookstore every few weeks, always with her offer to purchase any two books that I desired.

I was immediately both skeptical and intrigued. I believed in God, in Jesus even, but books about Him? In a fictional setting? What kind of craziness was this? Was God okay with it? Even more astonishing, the characters who called themselves Christians prayed, and it was as if they were actually talking to God, face to face. Who had ever heard of talking to Him like that, like He was a real person, almost like He was near and could hear us? And who had ever heard of talking to Jesus as if He was their best friend?  

I loved reading, especially if there was a little romance thrown in, so I continued reading. On this particular day, I put the book away, perplexed. What would make anyone so audacious as to believe they could actually talk to God, and believe that He would answer, as if He really cared? Ah, that must be the answer then. It was just fiction. Still, were there people who really prayed like that, I wondered?

I looked around my small apartment, where I lived alone, and my eyes landed on the television that my father had given me. It seldom worked when his boss gave it to him, worked even less when I received it, and it barely worked now. It hadn’t even turned on in months. Nevertheless, I pushed the power button on this old television, and to my surprised delight, the screen lit up and figures appeared before my eyes. 

It was Easter week, and the station was broadcasting a movie about the life of Jesus, Yeshua. Actors brought the story from the Bible to life. It was difficult to understand the words Jesus spoke as He taught the people who followed Him. I was intrigued by how He challenged the Jewish leaders who tried to trap Him and turn the people against Him. I was awed and amazed at the miracles Jesus performed everywhere He went. He seemed like a man, a human, like us. The man in the books I had been reading was there in front of me, and I was captivated. 

I watched as they falsely accused Him, and then beaten. It wasn’t real, though, I told myself. It was like the novels I had been reading, fictional stories about Jesus. I believed He had died for people’s sin, sure, and I supposed He had gone to heaven afterwards, but I had never really thought about it, nor had I ever heard about Him suffering. No, it wasn’t real, I declared.

My eyes were drawn back to the television. The man on the screen was being nailed to a cross made of rough wood. Huge spikes were being pounded through His hands. I watched Him cry out in excruciating pain, as the hammer blows continued. This man, who was innocent and had helped so many people, was suffering agonizing pain. And then, He turned His head and looked at me, and time froze.

As I stared back, I was undone, because I knew. I knew it was true, every bit of it. I knew He had suffered willingly, painfully taking the punishment that my sin deserved.

I fell to the floor in a heap, weeping uncontrollably. The weight of this knowledge was more than I could bear. I had caused Him to suffer. Me. I, who had believed that I could do anything I wanted because God just wanted me to be happy. I had caused this. The burden of my sin would not allow me to do other than lay on the floor, prostrate, as I wept in grief and remorse. I could not undo the wrongs I had committed, knowingly or unknowingly. Through tears, I begged for forgiveness, over and over. I thanked Him for taking my place, for taking the punishment that I now knew I deserved. I lay there, a sobbing mess, until there were no more tears to cry. Gradually, my regret gave way to gratitude for what He had endured for me, and I knew I had been forgiven. Grief gave way to peace, and I got up from the floor a changed person.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18

I was different after that day, and those books that had started it all became a kind of example for me as I learned how to talk to Him and walk with Him. The books may have been fiction, but they were based on truth, and that truth set me free.

That television never turned on again.

“And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

Where is the Abundant Life?

“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”  Psalm 16:11

I grew up believing that God made me and loved me, and that Jesus died for my sins. That was all I knew about God. I didn’t talk to Him, and figured He was too busy running the world to talk to me.

At the age of 20, on Christmas Eve, I learned that I had been deceived and betrayed by someone I loved, and was so devastated that I really didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to hurt. I didn’t see a purpose for my life. I told God that I didn’t want to live, but that I wouldn’t do anything to end my life, and said that if He wanted to do something with me, that was fine, but I didn’t want to go on.

About that time, my mother began visiting a Christian bookstore. Since I loved to read, she offered to buy me a book or two if I wanted to tag along. I began reading Christian novels, and saw something within those pages that I had never imagined, much less seen. People talked to God and Jesus like they were people! Real flesh & bone people! I was stunned to think that people could actually talk to them like they were good friends.

At that time, I was living alone in an apartment. I had an old television that had been given to me, but it rarely worked. It hadn’t even turned on for quite some time. A day or two before Easter, I turned the television on, and surprisingly, it turned on immediately. I watched in horror at the scene before me. The man portraying Jesus was on the ground, being nailed to a cross. He cried out in pain, which was hard enough to watch, but then he looked at the camera, and appeared to be looking right at me. I was shaken! The next thing I knew, I found myself face down on the floor, crying, knowing that the real Jesus had died on the cross, suffering tremendous pain, for MY sins! He was there because of me! I asked Him to forgive me for the things I had done, and I gave Him my life. That was many, many years ago, and I have not been the same since.

Fast forward to about five years ago. I had recently returned to the United States from Mongolia with two of my children, where we had been living for a year on an overseas work assignment. I was in the middle of a divorce. Like before, I was devastated. For months I read the Bible, cried, prayed, cried, questioned, cried, and then I came across this verse:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:7-10

I cried out to the Lord, “Where is the abundant life? Your Word says that You came to give us abundant life! This sure doesn’t look like abundant life to me!”

That was a turning point for me. My eyes were opened to many things that I hadn’t seen before. I realized that I had put God in a box, and He didn’t fit! I began to look at God’s Word through different eyes. Instead of seeing verses through the eyes of tradition, I began seeing them as they were written. I began to understand that the written words were promises for us, that they were true, and that they could be believed because God always keeps His promises. I knew that they could change my life.

He took away my pain, confusion, and fear, and He filled me with joy, peace, and love. He is so good, so loving, and more at work in us and around us than I ever knew. He has given me abundant life, and the great news is that it’s not just for me, it’s for anyone who asks. Jesus came to give us LIFE!

During the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, I found myself coming across that verse in John daily. If I opened a book, it was there. If I went on Facebook, it was there. If I turned on the radio or television, it was there. Every single day. And every time I came across it, I thought about the abundant life that had been mine for the last few years. Real abundant life, living life to the full.

Then, about a week before Christmas, thieves broke into our home. Two of my children and I had been out to dinner with my sister and her family, who were visiting us all the way from Nigeria. Afterwards, we went to a hospital to celebrate the birth of a precious baby girl, born into a wonderful family who has been on the same spiritual journey I and my family have been on. How wonderful to have companionship on this journey!

We returned to find that our home had been broken into. We lost jewelry, electronics, and even some of the Christmas presents that were wrapped under the tree. In the midst of it, though, I was not afraid. I didn’t feel violated, as many people do after a break-in. I wasn’t even really angry.  Disappointed, sure, for the gifts that I was not able to replace, and for the hearts and minds of the kids that broke into our home. But looking back, I believe the Lord was not only warning me, but preparing me by reminding me of the abundant life that He has given me. Yes, the thief does come to steal, kill, and destroy, but we have something that can never be stolen, never be taken away from us. We have the promise of living forever with God, our creator and the lover of our souls, both here and when our time on earth is done, because Jesus made it possible.

Are you experiencing abundant life? If not, do you want to? If so, ask Him for it. Jesus came to give you life, and give it to you abundantly, and He promises that if you seek Him, you’ll find Him.

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:13