How Jesus Has Saved and Redeemed Me

written April 16, 2019

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Sunday night, after a snowstorm had ended for the day, I realized how much pain and anguish Jesus had gone through for us—for me, during the last hours of His life, 2,000 years ago, as my pastor relayed the excruciating details of what Jesus had suffered.  Over the past few weeks, I confess there had been so much stress going on in my life that I had lost sight of God’s presence and even love for me.   However, as I look back over my entire life, I realize that Jesus had not only saved and redeemed me through His sacrifice 2,000 years ago, but also through various people and events in my life.  As I look forward to celebrating Easter, I want to remind you—and myself—of God’s saving grace, not only for my sake, but also for yours, so that you will remember how God has been good to you and how blessings have poured into your life. 

This is my story, but more importantly, it is His!

On April 9, 1999, I wrote these despairing words in a journal, “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”  At that time, I was feeling very restless and felt like something was missing from my life. Tired of all the pretense around me in my life and feeling like I couldn’t relate to the lyrics of most popular songs, I began searching for deeper music.  That is when I was led by God to a Christian radio station that played songs in the popular style I liked, but also had deeper lyrical meaning for me.  Through that, God used this longing for something “more” in my life to lead me into a Christian bible study group at a public school I attended.  Some months later, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.

God has also saved my literal, physical life several times as well.  When I was struggling most severely with depression and suicidal thoughts, each time He reached out to me and prevented me from doing the unthinkable. 

Also, on June 14, 2014, after having been hospitalized already a month before for food poisoning, I had to be hospitalized again. (For the whole story on how and why, please visit this page. ) I had been throwing up blood earlier that morning, and I knew something was wrong, so I went to the ER.  I found out later that I had to have gallbladder surgery because my gallbladder was twice the size it should have been, was inflamed, and I had several gall stones!  Thankfully, I had gone to the ER in time because if I had waited longer, I may not have been here on earth today. God was definitely a part of the timing in this and in guiding the successful surgery by my surgeon.

Then, about four years later, there was a severe blizzard ensuing outside.  Many associates had called in sick at my current job, and because I was feeling bad for one of the managers that worked overnight, I wanted to help him.  He had so much work to do, with not enough people to do it. I had worked from 2 pm, and my shift was supposed to end at 10 pm. However, I planned to work another shift to help him out.  However, when this manager, let’s call him *Chris,  realized that I lived more than a few minutes away from work, he told me, “I care about my associates.” and told me in so many words that he would rather have me safely home than me worrying about him getting the work done and possibly have an accident by going home later, when the storm was more severe.  I sensed that God was telling me to listen to Chris, and I did. I not only was able to get home at a decent time, I had to call off the next day because the weather was so bad! Thankfully, God moved in Chris to care about my safety, and thus He used Chris to save my life!

Another way, Jesus has redeemed me is by providing me hope and purpose in serving Him.  When I was struggling to find lasting work, He provided me activities at my now-former church, like the food pantry and the clinic, to be able to serve the needs of others.  By serving at the food pantry and the clinic at my now-former church, my eyes were opened to the pain and the needs of others.  I saw people find hope and purpose, as they were being served by my fellow volunteers and me. I saw Jesus work through both ministries in powerful ways, as many people felt loved and cared for by the volunteers there. It was there that I also met some of the most genuine, loving, and caring people, including one of my friends, Laura,* that now attends the church which I am now a member. 

After that, through my mentor J, and others, I was able to get my first stable job about six years ago.  There, I learned much about customer service, which I strive to apply to my current job.  God also led me to see every day as an opportunity to minister to those around me—both customers and co-workers alike.

Then,  about three years ago, on a cold, wintry February day, I got my current job, being hired by one of my now-former managers, Chris*(Yes, he is the same one that helped save my physical life in February 2018!) , and several months later, Hope,* one of my managers, promoted me to full-time.  God has used this job, not only to help me serve Him better, but also to continually mold and shape me, and so He could tear away the layers of my selfishness and pain of having been bullied by peers and others growing up.  I am also constantly able to learn new things about how to serve customers better and to be a better person, personality-wise. 

A few months before I got my current job, on December 2015, I started the blog, “God’s Whisperings.” From there, God led me to engage with other like-minded individuals in a blogging group. He also gave me a vision to start this blog as a way to teach others what I have learned from Him, so that they would know His love and goodness in their own lives as well.   About a few months ago, I was led by God to join a local writing group, as a way to, not only have a concentrated time to continue to write, but also to learn from others.

Finally, Jesus has saved and redeemed me through various trials, because without them, I would not be the person I am today.  Before I got my current job, I applied and got interviewed for a job at a local bookstore that just opened.  This was what I had considered one of my “dream jobs.” However, I quickly learned during the interview that I was not a good fit for that job.  I felt very disappointed, and slightly despairing, until I interviewed for my current job in February of 2016!  Had I had gotten that job at the bookstore, I don’t know how long I would have lasted, or if I would have learned as much as I have at my current job.

Jesus also saved and redeemed me through failed friendships and relationships.  He saved me from several people who did not have my (or His) best interests in mind, and who betrayed my trust.  Jesus saved me from those who would have hurt me if they had been in my lives much longer.  Finally, Jesus continues to redeem my life, through the changes I am currently experiencing, including the redemption of several friendships and relationships that I thought were doomed forever.  You can read about one of them here.

As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday (for those that are Christians),  let’s remember what God has done in our lives to bring us to where we are today, and for the blessing it is that He is alive and working in us today!  Thank God for not only His salvation, but also for the plenty of times He has redeemed us in our lives!

Image by Dawn Sinclair from Pixabay
Advertisements

Worth The Fight

It was a cold, wintry February day, right after my birthday when I got interviewed for my current job. I sensed in my spirit to ask about the status of my resume. I honestly did not think anything would happen, but when the HR coordinator told me to come back for an interview, a couple hours later, I knew there was hope.

Since I didn’t have time to go home, I couldn’t adequately plan for the interview. When I came back to my current workplace, another interviewee, Anastasia * was already there, and we made some small talk, as we waited to be interviewed.  Anastasia was interviewed first, and after she came out, I was interviewed. The interviewer, I found out later, was also going to be my manager, Chris*! I was very nervous during the interview. All Chris asked me was, “How did you go above and beyond for a customer.” Nervously stuttering, I answered how I made sure the customer’s questions were answered, and how I would pray for them if they wanted me to.

I didn’t think I was going to get the job because I was so nervous, but to my surprise. Anastasia and I both got job offers! Anastasia accepted immediately, but I waited until the next day to accept after seeking counsel from my family.

During orientation, Chris kindly sat down with me to give me my schedule for the next couple weeks. It was many more hours than I got at my previous job. The only time I had ever worked that much, was during the Christmas season! I was very pleased. But then Chris went on vacation for two weeks, and everything changed….

Because I didn’t take the time to get to know Chris as a manager or a person initially, we had many conflicts. There was always a period where things were good again, but then there would be more conflict, that grew more intense, as time went on. This cycle repeated itself for one and a half years! During the worst of the conflicts, I flirted with the idea of switching departments or even quitting my job! However, God, in His sovereignty, didn’t allow me to follow through on these options

When the conflicts got really bad, I had also tried avoiding Chris completely, as I had dreaded seeing him every day, but that only lasted a few days. However, I knew I had a serious problem when, on my day off from work, I came to church still very upset about the situation with Chris. I was not only dreading possibly having to see him again the next day at work, but I also became consumed with thoughts of how much he had hurt me and so on. The bitterness and anger inside my heart, at the time, was like a whale about to consume its food whole!

I saw my pastor, John, and immediately sensed that I had to seek counsel about my situation with Chris, because I was afraid if I didn’t get help soon, I would eventually blow up at Chris, get myself disciplined and even lose my job!

I related these concerns to my pastor, John*. I also told him, “I tried to be nice to my manager, but I don’t think anything is happening.”  In retrospect, I wasn’t even really working hard in being that nice to Chris.  That is when Pastor John told me to turn to Romans 12:12-20, and Matthew 5:44-48.  The particular verse, Romans 12:20, struck me. It said, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”

Then, Pastor John said, “How do you know God is not working in Chris? Patricia, you have to trust God’s timing.  God may not bring about the changes now, but how do you know he won’t make the changes later, in His own perfect timing.”   The verses in Matthew 5:44-48, about loving your enemy, and Romans 12:15-20, about serving someone who you view to be the enemy, as to soften him or her, and what Pastor John said about God’s timing, made all the difference. I had renewed hope that things could change for the better between Chris and me. And it did!

That night, I sensed God telling me that I should apologize to Chris for the anger and bitterness I had against him, so I typed up an apology note to Chris for the anger and bitterness I had held. The next day, I wanted to give it to Chris but the department manager ended up doing it for me since another manager wanted me to straighten some aisles in the store right that second! After my break, I caught Chris doing freight, and asked him if he had read the note. He said he had. There, we worked things out, and that day, things really started to become better.

After that next day, I felt so much better and so hopeful that things would get better for us.  The barrier and slime of hatred and bitterness that I had for Chris melted away within days, if not hours, of me talking to Pastor John.  I started to be able to look at Chris with eyes of love and compassion, and not the revulsion and disgust that I had earlier.

However, several months later, Chris was moved to a different area of the store altogether. I would no longer have the opportunity to show the love and respect to him in the same capacity I did when things were tough between us.  I was sad, but now I know having Elizabeth* come on as my new manager was part of God’s good plan for me. 

Several weeks after that, Chris switched areas again to cover for someone else, who worked nights.  However, since Chris did such a good job covering for this other manager, the store manager kept him in that position for almost a year.

One wintry day in February of last year, I wanted to work overnight for Chris because many people had called in, due to a severe blizzard ensuing outside. I felt really bad for him that he had to do all of this work with only a few people to help him. However, when Chris realized that I lived more than a few minutes from work and I had already worked since two in the afternoon, he told me that working overnight that day for him wouldn’t be a good idea. He, in essence, said “I care about my associates. I would rather have you safely home, than to worry about getting all this work done.” That care he had for me contributed to me being physically safe that day.  I listened to him and went on my way, at a decent time.  The next day, the storm was so bad that I called in.  Had he not cared about my safety and just let me work for him, I don’t think I would be alive today.

After that, Chris and I got along much better.

Then, a few months ago, Elizabeth told me she had accepted another opportunity at another company. I cried, as I never thought she would leave that soon, and besides that, I considered her one of the best managers I have ever had!  I was also anxious because I didn’t know who would replace her or what would happen to our department.

Some people who know me well may think to themselves why I didn’t just quit when I felt Chris was hurting me, because when most people feel as hurt as I was, they will make sure that they never have to face that person again. They won’t take time to think about how they may have contributed to the conflict, or even think that things could ever be redeemed between them and the person who they have harbored anger and bitterness against. I confess that though I had prayed for one and a half years for things to be improved between Chris and me and for God to take away my anger and bitterness away from me, I never really thought anything would happen. God, however, in His grace,proved me wrong.

What people don’t understand is how the power of forgiveness and redemption changes you and allows you to see the light in someone you may have once hated. Upon seeing the light, you know you can never give up on that person again. You start to see beauty in that person, and the anger and revulsion will start melting away. That is how I saw Chris was worth the fight.

Epilogue: Chris is no longer with my company, but I will always remember him as someone who always worked hard and believed in me and my potential. I will never forget him. I wish him years of joy and success in wherever he ends up next in his life.

*= names changed for privacy reasons.

Being Different, Being Me

written February 26, 2019

I am not like many, or even, most people. At my church, most people are older than me, have children and even grandchildren, are married, and have been there for a long time.  In contrast, I am single, have exactly zero children, and have only attended this current church for a little over two years. I’m not only different at church, but also at work.  While many people at my job have either hated or just tolerated their job, most of the time, I find great joy and passion in my job, which is why I strive to give it my all every day. In general society, I am different from what most would consider “the norm” because I am neurodivergent, have the rarest Myers-Briggs personality type there is (In case, you are wondering, I’m an INFJ, and have only found one person in real life with this exact type as me!), and love organizing things more than most people.

And I like it that way.

Being different has forced me to not be able to hide myself behind a veneer of familiarity well, leading me to be able to be more genuine. For instance, when I try to hide behind a veneer, such as having no passion for my work and not trying my best, people will immediately notice something is wrong and that I am not really being “myself.” In fact, one time when I was just trying to get things “done” and not really striving for excellence, a manager admonished me for that, but understood I was just really stressed out.  Standing out in my differences has allowed me to be more genuine because I know I have an interesting life story to tell others.

Being different has also enabled me to bring a fresh perspective and new ideas into the world around me. Because I am realizing that many people do not think like I do, when I say something from my heart and offer my unique perspective on things, people will be more apt to listen to me since I stand apart, than to someone whose ideas are more common .  Being different has also helped me to learn about other perspectives with a fresh and more invigorating view. For instance, I observe that many people use small talk to get to know a person better. I do, too, however, I also strive to see into the soul and observe what their dreams and goals are in life by what they talk about.

Being different has helped me move away from the status quo when necessary. For instance, when I see or hear of something that I feel is not right, I won’t be as afraid to say so , because I am not pressured to maintain the status quo as other people may.  Even when most people are doing “A”, I won’t be afraid to do “B’ if I feel that would be the right thing to do. Sometimes, because I am different than most, I stand out more anyway.  So, I am less afraid of backlash in standing up for what is right.

Being different has motivated me to stand up for and support people who have been unfairly discriminated against due to their differences, including, but not limited to, certain minority ethnic groups, people who struggle with mental illness, those who are disabled,  and other societal identifiers that may be outside “the norm”.  Because I have also experienced teasing and bullying throughout my life due to my differences, I am able to better understand what it is like to be ridiculed, ignored, and bullied because of them.  These painful experiences have enabled me to have more compassion for and better able to relate to others who have been through similar abuse and bullying.

Yes, I am often considered an anomaly to the norms of society. Yes, I may be sometimes treated unjustly because of them. However, not being like most of society has allowed me to have a greater impact on it then I otherwise would if I were a carbon copy of the “normal person” in society.

We may be more or less “normal” than the standards and characteristics that society may deem “normal,” but everyone has uniqueness that makes them stand out in some way. Embrace yours, and accept others!  Upset the applecart to do what is right sometimes, and use your differences to be a catalyst for positive change in this world!

Because You Believed

to everyone who believed in the potential of a woman with ordinary dreams

One day, at work with two other of her colleagues, chatting over their childhoods during break, a woman– the one with ordinary dreams, said, “When I was growing up, I was naughty, and I didn’t have many friends. One of my peers even said, ‘You are a very difficult person to get along with’.”

Neither of her colleagues believed her.

But it was all too true.

About 25 years earlier, because of her disability and other differences, the woman with ordinary dreams was never taken seriously, regularly taken advantage of by peers, and was often chosen last for team sports in gym class and class projects. No one really wanted to look into her soul and get to know her. She was too selfish, rigid, and difficult; they reasoned.

Ten years later, she became a bit easier to deal with, but had a paranoia and bitter pain in her soul. She really felt she couldn’t trust, much less open up to, anyone. Never had this girl thought she’d ever really be valued in anyone’s eyes. Confirming this despair, one of her teachers had said in so many condemning, angry words that she would probably not amount to much in life, and she believed this for fifteen long years. The week this teacher told her this, this girl with ordinary dreams– one of which was to be accepted and loved for who she was– , saw that dream shatter before her eyes. She reasoned if she would never really be loved for who she was, even to her hurting soul, life was no longer worth it.

Thus, she contemplated suicide, but then God rescued her from self- destruction and despair.

11 years later..

The woman with ordinary dreams meets her mentor who would change her life forever because her mentor believed in her potential and the value of her soul. The mentor keeps prodding and helping the woman until she lands a job in which she can actually succeed. The mentor also helps her gain confidence in herself and believe in her dreams again. Even to her dream of  one day becoming a writer and getting a full- time job somewhere, the mentor never ridiculed or dismissed, but actively helps the woman fulfill them.

6 years later…

The woman with ordinary dreams senses God leading her to a new job, since a previous one no longer fit into her expansive dreams. The woman, with dreams of being a writer and being loved, is stoked about getting an interview at a bookstore, which she considers her “dream” job that would lead her to be able to write someday . However, during the actual interview, it was made clear to her that this was not the job God had for her. Her dreams are shattered once again.

However, she does not give up. Going into a store, which she applied for, to buy a few things, she suddenly hears  a voice in her soul that told her to ask about the application. She does and, subsequently gets an interview. The interviewer, she finds out later, was going to be her manager!

That manager is the hardest worker she has ever seen in her life! While preparing the logistics for the interview and afterwards, she sees the manager also stocking items in the area he manages, or doing returns.

The woman is shocked to find out that she has been accepted for the job–and happy as well.  However, she doesn’t know then, that God would use that job to fulfill her ordinary dreams of being loved and also becoming full-time.

That woman was me.

Epilogue:

This month marks three years with my current job. It may not seem like much, but considering I’ve not had many jobs where I was in one company that long, it is only by God’s grace, my mentor J, Chris*, Elizabeth *, and countless others who believed I could be of value to them, that I was able to make it this far.  My wonderful co- workers and managers in #1401 have taught me so much. I aspire to be like my mentor J, who never gave up on me and who valued me. I aspire to be like Chris, whose work ethic and dedication to his associates is a model for me to follow. I aspire to be like Elizabeth, who always believed in her associates’ potentials and encouraged them to reach for the stars. She encouraged me to learn to cashier when others seemed more reluctant to take me on, and satisfied my curiosity to learn new skills and to try my best always. I aspire to be like Hope*, who first offered me full- time and encouraged me to strive for excellence.

Thank you everyone at #1401 who helped me get to where I am today. Today, I am able to realize my ordinary dreams, all because you believed in me.

some of the wonderful people that helped me realize my ordinary dreams.

*= names changed for privacy of the individuals mentioned.

R. Christian Bohlen’s Conversion Story–Guest Post

Along my blogging journey, I have met some amazing people that have encouraged and inspired my own as well. One of these people is R. Christian Bohlen, who has quite an extraordinary testimony of how he came to know God, through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Author/Blogger Bio:

R. Christian Bohlen has been involved in ministry and church leadership for over thirty years, including oversight of a prison ministry program in central PA. He holds an M.S. degree in communications and has received multiple personal and team awards as a human performance improvement consultant, instructional designer, and program manager to Fortune 500 companies throughout the United States and Canada.

His prior work with juvenile offenders and his own family’s trauma due to mental health issues instilled a commitment to somehow help those who need it most to find comfort in Christ. For over twenty years, he has labored to simplify and clarify the beauties of the life of Jesus Christ for everyone, regardless of background or knowledge of the scriptures. In 2018, he launched Christ on the Inside prison and addiction recovery ministry with the goal of making easy-to-read books about the life of Jesus available at no cost (and no profit to anyone).

(courtesy of R. Christian Bohlen)

My Conversion Story

I’ve devoted over 20 years to writing a book about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, mostly because of the remarkable and unforgettable way Christ kept pursuing me and not giving up on me.

In my 20’s, the confusion of trying to find my way to God was torturous—in spite of my sincerest efforts.

Finally “finding Christ” brought the peace and clarity I was looking for, but it certainly wasn’t like walking into a door labeled Nirvana and then thinking, “Ahh! It’s all good now.”

There was a process that gradually filled me with light—triggered by one key insight and the most difficult decision of my entire life.

Growing Up in Light and Truth

I was raised by faith-filled parents in a gospel-centered home. It was an idyllic setting. A family with father, mother, three children and a large community with kids everywhere, bordered by the dense forests of northwest Pennsylvania where we played and fantasized.

Attending church every Sunday was a given. Family prayer was routine and sincere and our home had a spirit of meekness, love, and obedience to God.

As a child and teenager, the other members of our small church family were important influences on me. The older members of our congregation had the Spirit of God with them when they spoke. Their kind and patient ways were noticeably different than the world around me, showing a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).

I was taught many stories from the scriptures. These often touched me and, looking back, I sensed that they were true. I felt good when I read the scriptures myself, although I typically had better things to do and simply didn’t bother.

I didn’t pray on my own. I didn’t disbelieve that there was a God but I didn’t really believe it. And I certainly didn’t feel his love, nor did I ever feel what I would call love for God either. Sayings like “God loves you” just bounced off. “Everybody knows that,” I would think to myself.

But I didn’t know it.

A Gift to the Undeserving

(courtesy of pexels.com)

Maybe you can relate to what I’m about to share. Maybe in some way, God touched you whether you deserved it or whether you were seeking him or not. Maybe, at the time, you didn’t recognize it as such.

God reached down to me powerfully twice when I was a teenager.

One day in church, after watching an inspiring video about some story in the scriptures, I recall walking into the hallway feeling touched and uplifted. I paused in front of a bulletin board and looked at a picture of Christ surrounded by people in old-fashioned clothes like the ancients might wear.

A pure spiritual light of understanding entered my whole being as I stared at Christ in the center of this picture. I wasn’t consciously trying to think of anything. It just hit me.

I comprehended that Christ was God, the unchangeable God of the universe. I mean, I knew it and I understood it. I comprehended that the trends and fashions and ideas of men will come and go, but the wisdom and supremacy of God are unchanging. It was obvious why some people were bent down in an attitude of worship. This insight was a gift of spiritual light that filled me mercifully, with no effort of my own.

This gift entered my soul at a time that I was behaviorally in rebellion against God and was giving him no thought whatsoever. It was pure grace.

The next day I was supposed to meet someone new—a large scale drug dealer—to buy a sheet of acid (meaning, a large volume of LSD doses intended for distribution and sale). This was only one of several drugs I was involved with. Getting caught selling hard drugs would have changed the course of my life with a minimum of many months in a juvenile jail and all that comes with entering the “system,” the stigma, and dashing my parents’ hearts.

I stood there nearly in shock. “What am I doing to my life? How can I do this tomorrow?” But I had been panged by remorse before and it had only lasted a day or two and I went right back into my double life.

Nevertheless, I never met with that person. I don’t recall why. And I never pursued it again.

An Unforgettable Witness of Christ

A few months after that incident, I was getting ready to head out for college. I had been taught many times that there are a few important crossroads in life that we’d better pay attention to and make the right move: going to college, getting married, those kinds of things.

I recognized this as a chance to reprioritize my life. So, I sought out one of our pastors for counsel and began making small steps to get ready for a big change. Like the Parable of the Lost Son, I was trying to leave the “wild living” behind and trying to head back to the house of my Father (Luke 15:11-32, NIV).

This pastor asked my friend and me to sing a duet during our last Sunday in church before leaving for college. “Sure, no problem,” I answered. I didn’t think much about it.

The song was, “Abide with Me.”

There we stood in front of the small congregation that we knew so well. My friend and I had decent voices and had practiced a time or two and I wasn’t too worried about it.

But the strangest thing happened. The sounds of the hymn became hauntingly beautiful, moving me to a different place. I was filled with the sound of the notes as the words became crystal clear on the page and full of significance:

“When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.”

Suddenly, I couldn’t see well. The words blurred as water filled my eyes. To my teenage horror, I was crying, on stage in front of everyone.

But I couldn’t stop. Just like before, the light that filled me was sweet and clear and so satisfying. It was worth more than anything. I just kept reading and listening to the surreal sounds.

At that moment, I understood the character of Jesus: the help of the helpless. The compassionate one who cares when nobody else does.

The revelation continued, flowing pure and sweet into my mind and heart. Again, I understood that God was the supreme, unchangeable being—more important than any earthly thing. I tried to sing but could only read the words and listen as my friend sung his part. He kept looking at me like, “Whoa, what is goin’ on here?”

“Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”

It all made perfect sense. I was comprehending the character of Christ, “who changest not,” and for some reason he chose to “abide with me,” on that stage, in front of the entire congregation.

Fast Forward to Near Madness

Within one week of this precious gift I was back to “wild living.”

I didn’t realize it but I was an addict.

I’m not going to recount my entire life story here, but suffice it to say that my life went back and forth between long periods of no drug abuse with sincere strivings to live a godly life and occasional relapses.

My feelings regarding the goodness of the gospel were real but I lacked the faith and understanding to truly live the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no real foundation.

At one point in 1983, I reached a crisis of sorts. My efforts to live the gospel and keep the commandments of God were not working. I was intensely miserable and confused. I decided the only way to get past it was to start over again: forget everything I knew about God, religion, and just follow my heart, make the best decisions I could, and see where that would lead me. I didn’t know what else to do!

I stopped going to church and stopped “keeping the commandments of God,” as such, although that doesn’t mean my life turned into a hedonist free-for-all either. I treated people decently, didn’t party, and did a lot of thinking.

“How could this happen?” I often thought. “I had really tried to change my life. I tried to follow God and ‘follow the rules.'”

After a year or so of this, I suddenly became despondent. I was scared, in fact, at how gloomy and hopeless I felt. I feared that I was losing my sanity and thought about taking my life to escape.

An Inspired Friend

(downloaded from pexels.com)

I can still remember where I was sitting and staring at the floor in this unstable, panicked state with no idea of what to do.

A thought came to me: “Go see Bob Johnson.”

Bob was a good friend, a former spiritual advisor, and a man that I simply trusted. I felt a tiny bit of hope and decided to do it.

Our conversation was intense and his love for me was palpable and comforting. He said I was “hanging by a thread,” which I felt was a truthful statement and didn’t take it as an insult at all.

“You are in Satan’s power,” he said, “and you need to cast him out.”

Hmm… Okay, so this was kind of dramatic and not what I expected. A little crazy, to be honest. “Me? I’m a pretty nice guy,” I thought. “I’m not like a Satanic dude or anything.” I started to pull back from Bob.

“I want you to tell Satan to leave you,” Bob said.

“Huh? How?” I asked.

“Say, ‘Satan. In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave me,'” Bob instructed.

I probably just sat and looked at him. I don’t remember. But I do remember being frightened and feeling very unstable. Not evil, but very confused and unhappy.

“Oh, great,” I thought. “Me. Possessed.”

Could it be true? As crazy as it sounded, I opened my mind that it might be true. I had a tiny, new hope.

As we parted that day, he hugged me and just wept and wept and wept. I sensed that it was the love of God reaching through him in hope and celebration for my willingness to try.

The Reality of Satan

Writing this now, in 2018, I’m sure that most people have not and will not ever experience what I’m about to describe. But it was a reality for me and what I felt and experienced was undeniably real.

I learned what constitutes light as I truly witnessed darkness.

I went home and awkwardly explained to my mother what was happening to me and what Bob counseled me to do. I have no idea how I broached the topic with her but somehow my mother and I sat side by side on a couch and I decided to do what Bob advised.

I opened my mouth and verbally commanded Satan to leave me in the name of Jesus Christ using the words above.

Within seconds, I felt a terrifying, dark force pull away from me. The best I can explain it is that I knew it had been enmeshed with me and now it was just a “few inches” outside of me. It was menacing and extremely angry at what was happening and by no means intending to stay outside of me. It was waiting for me to lose focus and come back.

But now I knew there was “me” and there was “it” and I could distinguish the two.

I commanded Satan again. And again. Always in the name of Jesus Christ. Over time, the line between us because firmer and the distance greater. My peace and sense of self were forming again.

Truthfully, I had forgotten some of these details until just a year ago when my mother said, “I sure know that Satan is real, like when you cast him out as we were sitting together. What a horrible feeling that was.”

From her vantage point, she had experienced it as vividly as I had: an awful, frightening, threatening presence in that room. I did not know (or recall) that she felt it that way until she shared her memory of it with me last year.

Good Overcomes Evil

In the weeks and months that followed, I continued to tell Satan to leave me in the name of Christ, as necessary.

Two things were certain and beyond dispute:

  • The evil force I felt was real. Satan was an actual entity and not just a concept.
  • The name of Jesus Christ has real power. Satan was enmeshed with me but he could not disobey the command to leave, in Christ’s name. I had been given a tool that worked 100% of the time and that was enormously reassuring.

How Christ Found Me and Cared for Me

I’ve listed just a few episodes in my life where Christ reached out to me to teach me, inspire me, help me understand the truth, and save me—even when I was doing little or nothing to seek him out.

I can’t say that I found Christ. I prefer to say he has been watching over me all my life and finding and touching me, according to his own wisdom and ways.

  • He gave me sweet and loving parents who shared their testimonies of truth lived godly lives to the best of their understanding.
  • He gave me the examples of other church members whose sincerity and willingness to love God first was real to me, even as a boy.
  • He gave me light and understanding as I read scriptures, participated in church activities, and that one eventful day in front of the bulletin board.
  • He gave me the freedom to make decisions and figure things out on my own but he was always watching for my return. At the first sign of turning, he ran to me like the father of the lost (prodigal) son and whispered the idea to call Bob Johnson to help me.
  • He kicked Satan out of my life like the mighty God of the universe that he is. All I had to do was invoke his name, which always has power.

How Christ Finds and Cares for You

I know that our Christ reaches out to every living soul on this earth in ways that are suitable to that person.

Take just a moment to reflect back on your life. Who were the people that were good examples in your life? It might not have been your family. What were the experiences where heavenly light and understanding called you to something higher and helped you understand the things of God? Maybe you appreciated it. Maybe you didn’t.

All of us have been touched and called to something higher. Through somebody. Through a life experience. Through the Spirit of God directly to our souls. But every living soul feels the fingers of God reaching down. But will we take that hand?

When did you hear something or read something that touched you? Maybe you felt an impression like, “I can do more with my life; I can turn away from these destructive things in my life,” or “God really is there and he wants me to listen and trust him.”

Those inspired impressions are from God. When we say, “I want to please God and keep feeling those good things more than my destructive, sinful past,” we are moving toward Christ.

How I Came to Christ: Believe in the Name of Jesus

My troubles weren’t over yet, however. Confusion returned frequently because other than knowing how to get Satan’s power to release me, I didn’t really understand what to do next.

I recall telling people, “I feel like I have no foundation. I’m walking in quicksand. I don’t know where to start.”

For someone who had attended church for most of his life and had read the scriptures many times over this seems ludicrous, looking back, but so it was. I found that there’s a difference between knowing from the head and internalizing from the heart. But I did find my way to Christ.

I recall a certain day when I was staring at green, patterned carpet in a different bedroom, trying to figure out what to do next.

Because I knew the Bible well (meaning, I had made some good decisions in the past to invest effort and try to learn the ways of God), a key phrase popped into my head:

“This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 3:23, NIV)

“Just believe in the name of Jesus Christ,” I repeated to myself. I didn’t know Jesus as a man. I had never seen him. But I could just believe in his name. I mean really put my whole heart into it. I could decide to trust this Jesus Christ.

“Just do it,” I recall thinking.

But oh, it was hard to do.

I had many atheist friends who poo-pooed the idea of believing the unseen. Their faces and voices in my mind made this a spiritually terrifying decision.

But one thing I knew for sure. I had factual, first-hand, experiential knowledge of this: the name of Jesus Christ has power. “So why not believe in that name,” I reasoned. “Perhaps more good will follow?”

I then received another merciful, beautiful insight: Into my mind’s eye came the John the Apostle and John the Baptist. I pictured Peter and Paul. I felt them saying, “We gave our everything to give you this knowledge. Believe it. We love you. Believe in the name of Jesus. Do it.

I felt in my heart that these dear scriptural friends were just and holy men. Real people. Worthy of my trust.

The Pivotal Decision: Jumping in with Both Feet

Sometime in 1983, I made that great decision. I opened the faucet of belief in Jesus Christ and the water of life began to trickle into my life. I could feel the difference. What the scriptures call “salvation” was happening for the first time in my life. (See Acts 16:30-33

I often said in my mind—and still do to this day—”I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He was sent from the Father. I believe He is the Messiah. I believe Jesus Christ is the very Son of God.” These thoughts and intentions fill my heart with light and happiness and power.

There is power in believing. We should never underestimate the power of believing on the Light of the World.

Today, I am grateful and thrilled to tell you that—praise and thanks be to God—I am truly happy. Genuinely, deeply happy and at peace. 

Learn More

After reading this experience, I hope it’s clearer why I have invested so many years writing a book, preparing a website and launching a prison ministry to support others in coming to know Christ and discover how to believe in him.

See reviews of the new release, 5-star book, Jesus Christ, His Life and Mine on Amazon. including these:

“. . . a breath of fresh air. . . very modern and easy to understand for my generation. (Ethan – Facebook review)

“If there were six stars, I would give this book a six” (vtreviewer – Amazon review)

“. . . transformative, faith-promoting, and educational. . . [The author] succeeds masterfully on all fronts. (Joshua – Amazon review).

My Hope-Givers and How To Give Hope

-written 11/27/2018

Giving Tuesday is the day after Cyber Monday that traditionally is slated by non-profit organizations to encourage charitable giving.  Indeed, many people all around the world need hope—from the poor and needy, those in prison, those starving for love and affection, those struggling with a mental or physical illness, and many others.  Today, I want to celebrate hope-givers and encourage all of us, me included, to be hope-givers ourselves, and, in so doing, give a bright future to the people in our world.

As you may already know, I have had about a twenty-five year struggle with depression.  However, even in my darkest pit, God always provided people to give me hope that I could come out of the pit, more victorious and alive than ever before. By listing these people, I have the hope that in your own struggles, that you will be encouraged that there are people in your own life that will also give you the hope you need at the right time.  I also want these people to know that they are important and that they have made a difference in my life. Here are some of the following people that gave me hope when I needed it the most and how they provided it for me:

  • My parents and brother: They were there for me during my toughest times, and did their best to support me through it all. They always encouraged me to never give up, even when I wanted to. Because of their persistence and love, I was able to come out the other side of depression a stronger person.
  • My mentor J: She always encouraged me that I was not the stupid, not-good-enough, failure I had imagined myself to be. She always saw the best in me, and encouraged me to never put myself down, especially for things beyond my control.
  • My friend Veronica*: Once when I was having intense suicidal thoughts and was visibly upset, she was able to convince and encourage me to see hope and joy again in my life. Also, because she has so much joy and hope in her own life, while still being real about her struggles, I have been inspired to follow suit.
  • My friend Holly*: Holly has always given me hope that I am not alone in my struggles, and she always has words of validation and encouragement, even when she herself was experiencing very difficult things in her life.  Her unselfishness, along with her uplifting words, helped me to know during the tough times, that there was always hope for me.
  • My friends Anna* and Karen*: Karen and Anna have always been there for me as good online friends, who have encouraged me through the tough times, and shared with me the good. Their honesty about their own struggles in life and how they have persevered through them, have given me hope that I, too, could come out victorious over my depression and other issues in life.
  • My manager Elizabeth*: My current manager always gave me hope that even when I mess up or feel insecure, she has my back, and she believes in my abilities as an associate and as a person.
  • My manager Chris*: Chris was the one that gave me the opportunity to work at my current job in the first place. He also has believed in my abilities as an associate and as a person, and has encouraged me to work diligently and wisely.
  • My friend Laura*: Laura has encouraged me to see me how God sees me. She gave me hope that even in the dark throes of depression, that she was willing to be there for me when I needed her the most. One time, when I was particularly struggling with self-hatred, she had sent me a most precious forward about the beauty she saw in my heart with her caption “This is you.” I will never forget that.
  • My pastor John*: My pastor was instrumental in helping me redeem a work relationship that I thought was past redeeming. God used him to do a work in my heart, and the relationship I had at work was reconciled.

How To Give Hope

Giving hope is not only about giving encouragement, though it sure may be a very important element in it. Giving hope is about looking at someone and seeing the golden nuggets in their soul, like most of my hope-givers have done for me.  Hope-givers see what those who have despaired or lost hope are blind to—the beauty in their soul and the hope in their futures. For example, I have several friends who are unable to work. The world may see them as lazy or useless, but I see them as those who still can give others encouragement and perseverant, as they wake up each day fighting the illnesses that try to defeat them.

Giving hope is about being a shining light into someone’s life, when he or she feels alone or forlorn by others. Sometimes, I have felt that way during certain situations, but my friends Veronica and Holly have always encouraged me by making me feel less alone. All my hope-givers have helped me find the light in my soul and helped it to shine. We, too, can be the shining light into someone else’s life that desperately needs it.  We can do this by being there for them whenever possible, by helping them through their pain, and by speaking words of hope and positivity into their lives.  Saying things like, “I’m sorry you are struggling so much today, but I want you to know that I am here for you, and you are not alone, “can make a whole world of difference in a person’s life.

Giving hope is also about being hope in their lives. For instance, my manager Chris, not knowing me as a person yet, took the chance and gave me the opportunity to work at my current job.  Had he not given me the chance to work where I am now, I don’t know where I would be today. He gave me hope of a new opportunity to shine.  Also, my mentor J, gave me hope by helping me find work and giving me the tools that I needed in order to get out of my rut of depression and hopelessness that I had felt for years. I try to give hope myself by sharing my love for others through my writings and also helping them feel valued and encouraged through thanking them when I see the positive difference they have made in others’ lives, including mine.

When we give hope, we give life to others. Who around you is dying for love and hope today? Maybe be there for them and give them the encouragement that they are still valued and needed, because being a hope-giver for them could save their lives.

*=Names have been changed for privacy of the individuals mentioned.

Having Christmas In Your Heart

This past week had been very stressful for me—and for many people around me.  Two or three departments at my job were without management, including mine, leaving me to do even more work than usual. Managers, associates, and customers were seemingly extra busy and pressured this past week—especially some of the higher levels of management at my workplace. At church, we just voted in a new pastor, who will officially start a few months from now. Finally, in the midst of all this, my family and I are making our own preparations for Christmas.

You may be also experiencing similar stressors—but, maybe, hopefully not.  Regardless, I was encouraged by God to develop more peace in my life and to incorporate more of the character of what Christmas truly should be about, in my life. As I read in my church bulletin today, Roy L. Smith, had said, “He who has not Christmas in his heart, will never find it under a tree.” So, if we can’t find Christmas under a tree, how can we find the true character of Christmas?  Here is what I learned about finding the true character of Christmas in my heart:

  1. One of the things that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is that I needed to have more peace in my life. – In Matthew 11:28-30, it says that when we rest in Jesus, He gives us peace for our souls (translated in the KJV as “rest,” which is essentially the same thing). Unfortunately during this week, I found myself being anxious about bad things that either never happened at all, or wasn’t as bad as I once thought.  For instance, I was very upset at myself because I accidentally spilled my entire lunch. Not only did it  needed to be cleaned up, but I would have to now waste time and money buying myself a new one so I would be able to sustain myself energy wise to continue to be able to work afterwards.  I was also stressed out as I thought about all that I already spent on presents for various people in my life, and now I had to spend this additional money and have less time to eat my lunch!  However, all my anxiety turned out to be for naught, because although I did have to spend more time and money, I also got to eat some things that I have never really tried before—and turned out to be pretty good.  Additionally, one of my kind and generous friends, Allison*, graciously gave me almost her whole bag of her favorite onion ring chips. What I have learned about not being anxious is to look for the good in my uncomfortable, bad, or anxiety-producing situations. If I can’t think of any, I should try to ask myself what good can come out of the situation at hand. For instance, if I don’t have time to complete my work, I should try to focus on doing a good job on the work that I CAN complete, instead of rushing to try to complete everything and doing a half-hearted job. I also am still learning and have learned that when I let God be in control, my anxiety goes away.  When you become anxious, reminding yourself that God’s got this, or that things often don’t turn out as badly as we fear they might, really can help the anxiety go away, or, at least, lessen in severity.
  2. Another thing that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate joy. — Sometimes, in the midst of stress and busyness, we forget to enjoy life.  I know that is often the case with me. One of my online friends even had suggested to me in the midst of me writing about my stress that week to take time and enjoy myself.  Yes, we should love and serve others, but we should also not forget to have joy in doing so.  Also, we need to take time to rest and recharge occasionally so we can minister more effectively to others and not get burnt out.  One of the things that I like to do for relaxation and recharging is to read about various topics such as various recipes, different places around the world (travel),  exercise, inspirational topics, and much more.  I used to be part of an online blogging group that encouraged me to read other people’s blogs, which were on a wide range of topics.  Because of this, I was able to broaden my interests. One thing I would recommend to anyone struggling to find something that they enjoy doing or having more hobbies is to force yourself to read books in a library or articles online on a variety of topics that seem interesting to you.  Then, as you learn about more things, often your interest in that said topic broadens as well.  Also, when we serve others, we should have joy in getting to know those who we are serving and focusing on their contentment, rather than on the stress of having one more thing added to our “list” of things to do. Also, when we focus this Christmas on having the joy in having Jesus come to earth as a human baby to eventually grow up and become the ultimate sacrifice for us, instead of the busyness and commercialism that this society often puts in Christmas, we will be happier to serve others.
  3. The most important thing I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate love.– Since it says in the Bible, in various places, that Jesus is the embodiment of love,  and since love is what makes Christmas more meaningful, I learned that instead of acting like the Grinch, I should strive to love others more.  Christmas is not only the time to give presents to family and friends, but also to be willing to sacrifice for them and others.  For instance, if Christmas is difficult for someone, sacrificing your time to be there for them to encourage them through it and helping them cope with this time of year, can make their Christmas a little bit brighter than usual.  Giving others hope when they are in a hopeless or a desperate situation can help them to see God’s love and to know that they are not alone.  Another way to love others is to thank the people in your life that have made the most positive difference in your life. For instance, if a teacher or manager at work has really encouraged you in your abilities in some ways, now is the time to thank them and to let them know that they are not taken for granted. If your parents and/or significant other have served you faithfully for a long time, now is the time to let them know that you notice their sacrifice and their service on your behalf.

So, as this post is as much to myself, as to you, the reader, I hope we will cultivate the character of Christmas in our hearts and lives, so that we can impact the world for the better.  When we don’t have Christmas in our hearts, the joy, peace, and love that flows out of the Christmas spirit, will never be found even under a tree. Let’s pray that this will not be true of us this Christmas season, but instead we will embody the joy, love, and peace that this time of year is supposed to bring, not only to ourselves, but more importantly, to God and others.