Maybe I’m a slow learner… It took me nearly two decades to figure out that being a Christian is different than having all the right Jesus answers. My parents are nomads, so in all our moves we attended various protestant church brands, never really staying in one that they preferred over the next. Having a narrow understanding of the gospel (“Jesus died for my sins!”) led me to believe I was home-free and didn’t need to be concerned with how I lived my life. If Jesus was in my heart then I was forgiven- past, present, future. Rock on!
My mom and dad did an incredible job of affirming me as a child and young adult. Never did a day go by that I wasn’t told, “Kayla, you are the prettiest girl in _____________(insert name of town we lived in at the time)”. It was supplemented with lots of “You are so smart!”s, too.
All that got to my head… I took their comments quite literally and lived by them. Arrogant and rude, but sweet when necessary to get my way, I had no problem lording over the inferior people around me.
I got Jesus. I got beauty. I got brains. You got a problem with that– take it up with my dad.
By the end of my senior year, I was in my third long-term relationship and needed to decide which college to attend. Throughout that time in high school, even though I was in church every Sunday and led my youth groups’ student ministry team, I had become acutely aware of my capacity to sin and inability to control it (yet crazy ability to hide it). Still viewed by many as a prude (innocent to some), I was not so naive. So, I prayed genuinely and consistently for the first time in my life. For several months, I pleaded, “Lord, tell me where to go to college!”
I knew that if I went to the wrong school or got connected with the wrong crowd, I would totally be “that girl” on campus. I begged for God’s direction, applied to 7 schools, got into all of them, and woke up one morning in April feeling very strongly that Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa was where I needed to be. The biggest problem I could foresee was proximity to my parents’ house- 10 miles. Blah.
Welcome Weekend. I met a super skinny girl named Robin and her guy friend, Jess. They were really kind. I didn’t know why, but soon found out: JESUS FREAKS. They carried their Bibles in their backpacks and read them IN PUBLIC! Thissimultaneously weirded me out and caused me to question myself.
All of first semester I was torn- hang out with cool people who weren’t really that nice or enjoyable, hang out with Robin and her crowd (Campus Fellowship) who seemed to like me but were always talking about God, or stay home on the weekends to hang out with my boyfriend who was going to school a couple hours away?
So, I did what anyone in my position would do: alternate taking one cool college friend and the boyfriend to be with people from Campus Fellowship!!!! I… am a genius.
What kinda sucked was that neither the cool people nor my boyfriend actually wanted to do that. Playing a sober game of cards wasn’t cool enough for the cool people and being around boys only I knew was threatening to the bf.
First semester was not that great.
At the end of it, I learned about a mission trip Campus Fellowship was taking to Europe. Europa?! Count me in!
Oh, wait, what??? We are going there to just tell young people about Jesus? Weird! Why can’t we just build houses like everyone else? Whatever, I guess I can still go. It’s Spain, after all, and I need to brush up on my Spanish skills.
My Spain mission trip group was stacked full of awesomeness, all these people who were known on campus for their faith, and then me: Dan Rude, Jon Crane, Christy (Ludemann) Hukee, Josh Duvall, Jennifer (Peterson) Schafbuch, etc.
Each of our flights were delayed, causing us to also miss our trains, and we all lost our luggage for a while. I was the only one complaining about how tired and miserable I was.
The first morning we were there, I woke up to EVERYONE in my group reading their Bibles privately.
Yikes. Did I even remember to bring my Bible? Oh my goodness. If I forgot my stinken Bible…
Found it. Phew!
I decided I would follow the trend and wake up early the next day to read privately, too. Last thing I wanted was to be the only unholy one there. Motivated solely by pride in my image, I started on Day 2 in Galatians 1.
By Day 6, I was in Galatians 5, and I was really diggin it! For the first time ever I felt like I was actually meeting God rather than just playing an extremely intense game known as “Christianity.”
For as long as I live I will never forget the moment when I read the following Scripture. Though, as a church kid, it was familiar, this time the words were penetrating:
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I have before, those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21
Even though I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant to not inherit the kingdom of God, I imagined it wasn’t good and probably entailed going to hell rather than heaven, which is where I had presumed I was going since I “prayed the sinners’ prayer” at age 7.
I made a tally in the margin of all those behaviors or qualities that were evident in my life, knowing full well that, in this test, a high score was not what I should be aiming for.
Yes, out of the 15 qualities listed, 12 were ones I could identify with.
Now, I knew the Bible well enough to know that the famous Fruits of the Spirit were coming next. Even though I was now rightfully concerned about my eternal status, I hoped that I would be able to tally all of those and that it would outweigh the last list.
“But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (vs 22)
No high score here. I gave myself a whopping 0/9. Now, let me be clear. I am not normally too hard on myself and I’ve never been accused of having a low self-esteem. If anything, I struggle on the other end and tend to think too highly of myself than I ought. These tallies represented an honest look a my inmost self and opened my eyes to a horrible problem:
I claimed to be Christian but the evidence strongly suggested I didn’t belong to Jesus at all.
I began to weep bitterly.
No, no, NO! How could this have happened to me???? I’ve been so fooled. Rescue me, Lord, from my inadequate self!
In that moment I believe I stepped over the line- the line that separates the only two sides of eternity: heaven and hell; light and darkness; life and death; Jesus and no Jesus. Though I had all the right answers about Christ, my heart was far from belonging to Him. I made the commitment then and there to live for Jesus and forsake all other loves. His love for me and my faith in Him is the heartbeat of all I do. Not that I am perfect now, or that I can get a perfect score on either of those lists- but I am a new person.
For more on how He has changed me, see the story of my love and the story of our littles.