Candace, a reader from Wisconsin, wrote to tell me of her conversion experience. It's as moving as anything like it I've ever read. Here's what she had to say:
Heading into 2007, I was in miserable shape. I had been a heavy drinker for 25 years. I had abandoned a 20-year career in a hospital laboratory in 2002, and had lost all of my savings in a failed business venture. It had become increasingly difficult for me to hold a job for more than a year at a time. I had a gambling problem, and was struggling under more than $25,000 in credit card debt and past-due bills. Unable to make my mortgage payments, the loss of my home and everything in it was imminent. I was depressed and hopeless, angry and cynical. I was irresponsible in every way, and I both pitied and hated myself.
I had some wonderful friends, but little appreciation for them. It had been years since anyone visited my home (and had they come, I would not have allowed them in). Family relationships were strained, pretty much across the board, to varying degrees.
I had, over the years, taken a ‘Whitman’s sampler’ approach to spirituality, but nothing ever seemed to stick. What little I knew of the Bible and of Christian living was grossly distorted or (I now know) flat-out wrong. The whole notion of God seemed unintelligible to me -- stupid, fairytale-ish, anti-intellectual, nothing but a crutch for people who couldn’t figure out how to live life on their own.
Shortly after the New Year, I learned of the tragic death of a dear young friend. Olivia, nine years old, and her father had gone through the ice on a local lake, and Olivia had drowned. While struggling to cope with that devastating loss, I was also growing a new friendship, with one of those sort of people who has something about them that you know is different, but that you can't quite name. On February 11th of last year, I e-mailed my new friend some questions I had about God. He answered in ways that spoke to me, and added two great bits of advice: “Just talk to God while you putter around the house, like he was your buddy,” and “Find out if there’s a Christian radio station in your area.” So, feeling foolish, awkward and decidedly unsteady, I began talking to God and listening to others talk about God.
On February 16th, I wrote an e-mail to my friend telling him I had polished off a bottle of vodka the night before, and I was going to try and drive home without buying another. In response he asked me to write and let him know when I got home, even if I did stop for more. I made it home without stopping, and my friend kept me company via e-mail throughout a very rough weekend, as I detoxed from decades of alcohol abuse. I also spent a lot of time that weekend talking to God as if He was my friend, and I kept my radio on and tuned to the local Christian radio station around the clock. (I do want to warn people not to ever detox at home alone. It was rough. Really, really rough. Knowledgeable medical people since have told me it's only by the grace of God that I survived it.)
The following Tuesday morning, while driving home from a pet-sitting visit, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. I started sobbing, and had to pull over to the side of the road because I was unable to continue driving. I wept and wept, babbling nonsensically to God between sobs. Once I was done crying, I felt entirely different. I didn’t understand exactly what had happened, but I knew my whole world had changed for the better.
When I got home, I went directly to the computer and wrote down the things I had said to God in the car, and called it the Cynic’s Prayer:
OK, God, I give up. I'm Yours if You want me.
I don't care how awkward I might feel talking to You, or about You.
I don't care how much trouble I have accepting some of the teachings.
I don't care that my entire former self-image was wrapped up in the "party girl" persona.
I don't care if some Christian music is treacle and the lyrics contrived.
I don't care what havoc may have been wrought in Your name in the past, or what may be in the future.
I don't care if some of Your flock seem hypocritical or self-righteous or sanctimonious.
I don't care if there are times when I can't feel Your presence.
I don't care if loving You means I have to at least attempt to love myself.
I don't care if friends roll their eyes and laugh at my conversion.
I don't care if I feel like a faker sometimes, and I don't care if it's harder to do Your will than it would be to follow my own desires, and I don't care if I'm less than perfect at it.
None of that matters. I give up. I want You. And I'm Yours, if You want me.
It was probably a week or so before it actually dawned on me that I had been born again.
As I write this, I have been sober for 15 months. I attend two or three recovery meetings a week, and will do so for the rest of my life. The people I have met in recovery are just amazing, and words that I used to choke on -- "Hi, I’m Candy, and I’m an alcoholic” -- now come easily at the beginning of each meeting because of the wonderful examples I see all around me. I have not struggled, for even one moment, with any desire at all to have a drink. It seems that God has lifted that burden and healed me.
Right away, both my new friend, Jon, and a long-time friend, Bill (who is a Baptist minister), began encouraging me to find a church family. In “weakness and fear and with much trembling,” I began visiting God at His house a couple of weeks before Easter, and it didn't take long before I was looking forward to Sunday each week. That November, I became a member of my church, and I was baptized on the first anniversary of my sobriety, with Jon, Bill, and many other friends and church family members in attendance.
Every day I am in my Bible and spending time in prayer. I have an insatiable appetite for the Word, and am growing steadily in my relationship with the Lord. I take classes at church, and listen to and read all kinds of stuff about knowing and loving God and living a Christian life. Concepts and ideas I could never understand -- indeed, that I thought were ridiculous! -- are now as clear as a bell, and it’s hard to comprehend how I could have missed them before.
I never gamble anymore, haven’t for months, and I’m working with a volunteer financial counselor from my church to learn how God wants me to handle money. I did not lose my home after all, and my finances are getting better all the time. God has blessed me in big ways in that regard.
Through Christ, my life now holds things I hadn’t known for a very long time, if ever: hope, peace, humility, perseverance, contentment, self-control, joy, courage, strength. And a love that is totally beyond my capability to express.
The process of identifying, confessing, and repenting of my sins has been difficult. It’s still a work in progress, actually, and no doubt -- being human -- it will never end. That’s what we humans do, isn’t it? We sin. But the Holy Spirit really does help me go through that process, and crying helps a lot too. I used to do everything I could to avoid crying whenever possible. Now I just run a hot bath and let the tears flow. It hurts worse to hold all of that back than it does to just walk forward through it, especially when you walk with the right company.
The power and beauty of what Jesus did for me on the cross just overwhelms me. It’s almost too much to absorb, and my gratitude for it brings me to my knees. Because of Him, I know that God loves me, and has made me His child, and has forgiven me and will continue to have patience with me while I learn how to live His way. Looking back, I can see that He has always loved me, always wanted me, but it was up to me to let Him in.
One of the most amazing and delightful changes, now that I have let Him in, is how full of joy I am, even though life is still hard. My problems didn’t magically disappear. In fact, for a little while, they seemed even bigger and more overwhelming. But underneath it all, even in the most difficult times, there’s this river of joy carrying me forward, and I find rest in God’s grace and peace.
Well, there’s a whole lot more I could say. I could talk about this forever, I think! But I’ll wrap up now with two of my favorite passages from the Bible.
The first is Hebrews 12, verses 1-3:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
The second passage is from 1 Peter. Actually, all of 1 Peter is awesome -- I love the whole book -- but this is Chapter 2, verses 1-3:
“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”
I have, most certainly, tasted the kindness of the Lord.
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