Monday, June 18, 2012

Everybody Has a Story

Twenty-one years ago today, my life profoundly and completely changed. I was “born again" – given a new, spiritual life – a life given over to Jesus Christ.

I awoke the morning of June 18, 1991 in a cold sweat, screaming under my breath from a horrible nightmare. Before I tell you the details though, I think you need to know a little of what my life before that morning was like.

I grew up feeling invisible. My parents both worked outside the home and when they were home, we often spent our time together in front of the TV. I had no local playmates until around junior high. I had three older siblings, but my half-sisters were 20 years older and my brother was 10 years older and he was the clearly favored child. I tried to get my parents’ attention by staying out of trouble and getting good grades, but their attention was fleeting, my achievements seemed empty, and I was desperately lonely.
Me in Kindergarten
By the time I became a teenager, I felt a need to “find my destiny.” I nearly died at five months old of some mysterious virus. I thought my survival somehow made me “special.” I longed to figure out what great thing I was supposed to do with my life. The pressure I put on myself to achieve was often overwhelming. Every new school year was a chance to make a fresh start. But two weeks in, I was still the same bossy, selfish, crybaby that I had always been. I was powerless to change myself.

Every week, my parents and I attended a church that gradually became spiritually empty to me. Everything was based on “doing.” So going to church just reinforced my perfectionist tendencies to try harder and be good. I had started seriously searching for God from about junior high on, but I kept running into dead ends and couldn’t really find anyone who could explain their belief in God to me that was any better than my “everybody goes to heaven” philosophy.

Confirmation Day 
By the time I was 20, I was bullied relentlessly, betrayed by three close friends, and broken-hearted from a bad choice of boyfriend. I started investigating New Age philosophy (a belief mostly centered on achieving nirvana through bettering yourself), but worshiping self just left me more confused and isolated. I often prayed to my version of God at night, but I was never really sure He was listening.

Then, between my junior and senior years of college, I met Beth, a ‘90s hippie and not the kind of person I normally hung around with. But one night there was a tornado warning near campus and we got talking about life. She asked me what I believed about God. I told her that I thought God was out there somewhere and I was trying to find a way to get to Him. I said that I thought everyone went to heaven except maybe a few really bad people. The more I talked, the less it made sense, not only to her, but to me! She explained how Jesus’ death on the cross was personal – that He died for me, for my sins, personally. She also explained Satan and hell and quoted Matthew 12:30 – “He who is not with me, is against me.” I knew that the way I was living could not be construed as being “with God,” but I also didn’t like the alternative!

That night, my mind accepted what she was saying, but my heart was not quite there yet. About a week later, I had the nightmare I referred to at the beginning. I dreamt that I was signing a contract with a devil in disguise. As I was signing my name, I saw horrible things – people being torn limb from limb and vile crimes being committed. Then I saw the number 666 being engraved in my hand in blood. I knew that was the mark of the devil. I tried to get away, but the person the contract was with grabbed my arm searing my flesh. The room went black and that’s when I woke up. My first conscious thought was “I need Jesus!” I rifled through my desk to find a pamphlet Beth had given me that explained that finding peace with God was as simple as believing that the God who made me had sent His only Son, Jesus to die on a cross to pay the penalty for my sins. I simply needed to confess those sins and trust Him to take over my life. I prayed several times, begging God to forgive me.
My Baptism - October 20, 1991
That was an amazing day. I know it sounds cliché, but when I looked out my window that morning, everything seemed suddenly brighter and more in focus to me. It really was like God had peeled scales from my eyes and that I was seeing clearly for the first time. That was the great turning point of my life.

Why am I telling you all of this? It’s my story – at least one significant portion of it. Everybody has a story. You don’t have to be a Christian to have a story. Maybe you were abused as a child or survived a long illness. Perhaps you married young, or late, or multiple times, or not at all. Have you lost a loved one? Adopted a child? Achieved some fleeting greatness?

What’s your story? Have you shared it with anyone? I think one of the great faults of our American society is that we often hide our stories. We walk around making judgments of people we know nothing about. We assume the homeless man was lazy or the CEO came from a wealthy family or the young African-American male is violent. Yet, we don’t know a thing about them. We don’t know that the guy who cut us off in traffic this morning was driving his wife to the hospital so she could deliver their first child. We don’t know that the cashier was crabby this afternoon because she was up with a sick child all night. We just make snap judgments about people and cop an attitude. I’m guilty of that.

Sharing our stories would have a profound effect on our culture. We would be less isolated and judgmental; we would be more open and far more willing to show grace to others if we knew their “stuff”. The more I interact with people, the more I see how much we desperately need to know each other’s stories. They encourage us, correct us, motivate us, counsel us, and inspire us.

So, what’s your story? Who will you share at least a piece of it with today?

Copyright ©2012 by Cherry Lyn Hoffner. You may not reproduce this post in any form without written permission from the author. However, linking to this post is encouraged.