This is, quite possibly, the most important blog post I've ever written. It might make some of you uncomfortable. You might hate it. You might not want to be my friend anymore or to follow my blog. No matter--I have to write it. It is my hope that, regardless what you think of it, you'll read it.
I started this blog almost a year ago when I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life. I was plagued with a horrific pain which no one could figure out. It was in my abdomen, and it would often radiate into my shoulder and around my back. It was a stabbing pain. And it was at its very worst when I was running. It threatened to take away my ability to engage in a sport which I have held dear for years now.
I thought I might lose my mind. I traveled, I read, and I underwent numerous diagnostic tests. And still, the pain persisted. Month after month, it just would not let go. Or, if it did, it would come back shortly with a vengeance. I was depressed. I was angry. I felt lost. Not everyone understood, and they would ask me "Why do you keep running through all this pain? Why don't you just stop?" I didn't always know how to answer them, but the truth was that I knew, for some reason, that I had to keep going. I knew it was going to resolve, but that I had to keep pushing through it.
I grew up, for the most part, in church. A Christian church. I was baptized when I was 14. But I'd never actually been a Christian. I thought that the Bible had some good lessons in it, but I had no idea of the context in which those lessons occurred. I vaguely understood that everyone around me at church believed that Jesus came, died, rose again, and it somehow cleansed us of sin. I had no idea why this happened or if it even really happened. I just went along with it until I was about 21 years old.
I then went from kind of, sort of understanding Christianity and going through the motions to an angry atheist. Some bad things--or at least they felt bad to me--happened in my life. Most of these things were my own fault. And my very first notion was to reject God. And anyone who believed in Him, Jesus, or any of that "stuff." I poked fun at people who honestly believed in Christ. If I found out someone was a Christian, I immediately discounted that person as a gullible idiot. Someone who needed a "crutch" in order to get through life. All of it made me roll my eyes.
Then I met Tim. Tim was not a Christian either, but he wasn't an atheist. We were just happy, tolerant people together. During this time, I began to concede that "something" was in control of the universe. What a revelation, huh? But at least I was no longer completely rejecting the notion of God. Jesus, though? Forget about that nonsense. Some really good things happened in my life. Namely, we had Rowan.
Shortly after that, though, the abdominal pain started. And I found myself with a sense of desperation like I had never before felt. I cannot express, in words, how miserably I felt physically. My weight plummeted, I was pale, and I was in constant pain. But all the tests showed that I was perfectly fine. I continued to train for the Eugene marathon--my first marathon--through all of this.
One day in early March, I was out running. Running had turned from something I loved to something I just had to survive, and this day was different only in that the pain was worse than usual. I was running down Washington Avenue, and I made it to the "circle"--a cul-de-sac type thing on the route. I closed my eyes and it felt like someone was stabbing me. But I did not stop. And, without knowing it, I began to pray.
People--I had not prayed in a LONG time. And I believe that this was one of the first genuine prayers in my entire life. I didn't even want to be praying. But I couldn't help it. I was overwhelmed by the need to ask God to please stop this. And so I did. I pleaded with Him--completely without pride or anger--to please, please, PLEASE make this pain stop. I told Him I could no longer endure this. I wept. I shook. And I kept running. The pain did not stop. It actually worsened for the remainder of the run. Still, however, I felt better. I had a sense that this would end and that, unbelievably, I would one day be glad to I experienced it.
When I returned home, I did not tell Tim of my experience. I told no one. And though I didn't realize it at the time, that day marked the beginning of my journey toward true Christianity. Over the next few months, I began to feel different. I was still in a lot of physical pain, but I began to feel better spiritually. I had some hope. Again, I did not attribute this to God. I was just aware of it.
I ran my first marathon in May (with a TENS unit attached to my abdomen). I then had two surgeries and got temporary relief from my pain. But it kept coming back. It was around June that I prayed again. Not out of desperation this time, but out of confusion. I felt something stirring in me, and I didn't know what it was. It made me uncomfortable. I found myself saying, "So what's the deal, God?" And I became angry again.
Then came Rachel. Rachel is now one of my good friends. For a long time, I knew of her from mutual running friends, but I didn't know her. I knew she was a Christian, too. She began coming down to Bedford to do long runs with us in June or July. I really liked running with her. One day, I asked her about where she was from, etc. She's from Ohio. I asked her if she came to Bloomington for her current job. "No," she said. "I came here with some others to plant a church. A church called High Rock." I had no idea what planting a church was, but I was pretty sure that I understood what she had done--packed up all her belongings, left her family and friends, and came to Bloomington (without a job) to help start a church. Whoa. I was shocked because Rachel didn't seem like some of the frightening, Bible-beating Christians I had grown up around. She seemed loving. I figured that anyone who would do what she did must be crazy--but she wasn't.
So I said to Rachel, "Well, we've been thinking of going to church." We hadn't. I just, in that moment, felt that I wanted to go to her church. And I wanted her to invite me. She did, but in a non-threatening way. She gave me all the info. I mentioned it to Tim and, without much discussion, we were at High Rock the next Sunday. Without verbalizing it, both of us knew we needed to be there--somewhere, anyway.
My first experience at High Rock was different from any other I've ever had at a church. I grew up going to a Church of God, and often attended my grandmother's Methodist church. A lot of times, at those churches, I could tell that people attended out of obligation. Not at High Rock. Do you know why those people were there? They genuinely loved and worshiped Jesus. They didn't fight over what color the carpet in the church should be. They didn't squabble over money. They had one goal: tell the story of Jesus, and bring others to know it.
That day, Tim and I were the "others." Though I knew some about Jesus, I have never heard a sermon preached how Scott Joseph preached. He did it very intellectually--he did not just stand up and command you to do things, or make you feel guilty. He supported his claims with data. As someone with a PhD, I'm big on data. Bring on the evidence. And it's all there, in the Bible. And he showed us that. Now, a lot of people will say, "But how do you know you can trust the Bible?" (I said that too)...more on that in a bit.
So, after that first service, Tim and I kind of said to each other, "I liked that. Let's do it again." And we went every Sunday. We couldn't articulate how differently we were feeling. All we knew is that life was better. So we kept going. Soon, there was one Sunday when Rowan was sick. One of us had to stay home, so Tim decided to. I went to High Rock by myself. At the end of the service, they offer an opportunity to go up and receive prayer. They lay hands on you and pray for you. I thought it was weird, but I found it in the Bible. If it's Biblical, it's not weird. Anyway--I found myself going up there. It was so bizarre. I didn't know why I was going up for prayer, and Tim wasn't even with me, but I just kept going.
I stood there, and within a minute, two women--one named Jen and one named Angie--came to my side. They asked me what I wanted prayer for. First, I told them that I felt like I was being pulled up there but I didn't know why. And then I said "I have this pain. This pain that no one can figure out. It's ruining my life." I told them how I was going to go to Chicago to see a specialist. They prayed over me for a long time. I wept. When it was over, I left and went home. And I didn't tell Tim about any of it. I don't know why, to this day.
The next day, I went out for a run. I wasn't even thinking about the prayer I had received. I was prepared for the same agony which I had been experiencing for months. I strapped on my iPod, and went out the door. Strangely, every quarter mile or so, my iPod would shut off. I was getting really irritated with it. Finally, about three miles in, I stopped to figure out what was wrong with it. It wouldn't even turn on. This was a brand new iPod that I had used two days before without any problem.
Angry, I shoved it into my shorts and went on my run sans music. About a half mile later is when I realized it. No abdominal pain. ZERO. I was so shocked by this realization that I stopped dead in my tracks. I started again, and it was still gone. I carried on running with great caution. I didn't want to do anything to make it come back. Then I decided I wanted to try the iPod again. It started up, and then it went dead again within a minute or so. Then it hit me.
OH! I said out loud. "I get it, I get it!" I felt that God was trying to tell me something. Something along the lines of: "Um, would you please forget your music so that I can show you what I've done for you?" I laughed. I was laughing and running....and not hurting. I began talking to God out loud. One part of me was noticing how crazy this was, but the other part couldn't stop. I just kept telling Him I got it. I'll never forget it...I stood on the corner of 16th street, waiting to cross the intersection to get back to my house, and I started waving at cars going by. I was SO happy. I bounded home and told Tim.
"The pain's gone." "Really?" "Yeah." He looked at me, puzzled. "I got prayer yesterday at church," I said. We both sat there in silence.
It was several weeks later before we had another conversation about that. Tim and I had both started believing in and longing for Christ, yet neither of us knew how to articulate it to the other. That happened when we finally joined a small group at High Rock.
Let me just tell you--I thought I loved going to High Rock service. I LOVE my small group. Just as we started attending it, I met with the pastor, Scott, to talk about baptism. I wanted to be baptized again, as I knew the first one wasn't real. Next thing I knew--Tim told me HE wanted to be baptized. It was awesome.
I told everyone at small group about my pain-free running experience. But I didn't tell anyone else. It was easy to tell them--they were Christians. They wouldn't laugh at me, roll their eyes, or call me crazy. They understood. They also understood when I said that I was glad that I had had that pain. That miserable experience was the only thing that got me to God. He knew how stubborn I was. I suffered like that for so long so that I would finally turn myself over to Him.
Until now, I've not told anyone else that story. But God has let me know that I was missing the point. I have had trouble witnessing to people. I don't always know how to do it, especially since most of my family/friends are not Christians. And I don't want to be one of those people who scares people away. Because, let's be real, those people exist.
So this blog post is not for my Christian friends (although I am happy if they are reading it). It's for my parents, my siblings, my colleagues, and my friends who are not Christians. It is not meant to make you feel bad or guilty. It is not to judge you. It is to demonstrate how a heart of stone--because I had one--has been radically transformed. And how my suffering has ended. Because of Jesus Christ. I know that, to those of you who've known me for a long time, it sounds very bizarre and out of character. You know that I'm hard-nosed, and that I love evidence. Well, I'm here to tell you--I'm convinced. And it's not Rachel or High Rock or my small group to thank (though I love them all). It's God--God found me. I put up quite a fight, but ultimately He won. I found out yesterday that I've had people who've known me for a long time praying that God would find me. For years. Finally, their prayers were answered.
Now, before I close this post, I want you to know that there are people who claim to be Christians who do not act in a Christ-like manner. Let that not deter you. If you want to know what Christianity is supposed to be, I urge you to 1) read the Bible, 2) Come to High Rock (or another good church), 3) talk to Christians like me, Rachel, and Tim. I am certainly not an expert on the Bible. But I know several people who are. They can answer anything for you, just as they do for me.
I imagine that, when I hit "publish post," God will let out a tremendous sigh, throw up his hands, and say "Finally!" I have taken a long time to out myself as a Christian, and to tell my story. As I said, some of you will react how I would have several years ago. Eye rolling, etc. But if just one of you, as a result of this post, takes a step toward learning about Jesus and how he loves and has saved you, then this post has been effective.
I seem to be having a hard time closing this post, but let me just say: If any of you who read this have ANY questions about God, Jesus, Christianity, etc....please ask me. As I said, I might not know the answer. I can certainly tell you MY story. And I can connect you with people who know all the answers to the really hard questions. If you're a skeptic, I recommend that you read the book "The Case for Christ." It was written by an atheist (Lee Strobel), who went on a mission to disprove that Christ is the Messiah. He asks all the questions I've ever asked, and shares the evidence with you. Even if you don't buy it, it's still a very good read.
Okay. Done. Thank you for reading, and thank you to Jesus for giving me the strength to do this.