I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Mercifully, my parents moved to North Carolina (a.k.a. The Promised Land) when I was only five.  It’s a wonder any infants survive in places where -80° winters are possible.

When I was five years old I decided to become a Christian.  I certainly didn’t know everything there was to know about following Jesus, but I knew enough.  I knew that I chose to do bad things on purpose.  I lied to my parents, I tortured my younger brother, Michael, (who is a totally awesome person and much nicer than I will ever be).  I was a sinner.  So one evening as I was lying in bed next to my mother, I told Jesus that I trusted he was real; that he was who he said he was.  I asked him to forgive all my little 5-year-old missteps and come be in charge of my life.    And that was that.  I’ve never doubted it for a second.  If at any point in my adult life I’ve felt the creeping question in my soul, “Did I really know what I was doing?”  I’m brought back to that evening with immediacy and clarity; and I know that I chose Jesus of my own free will – and in his extravagant love, he chose me right back.

My family was unique – although I suppose no more unique than everyone else’s.  My Dad had polio when he was a baby and lost the use of his legs.  I was probably well into the second grade before I realized that other dads walked.  In fact, I think the first time it occurred to me that my family was “different” was on the school bus when a little girl named Monica asked me how my parents had sex.  I told her to just shut up, and she did.

My Dad and I at the Milwaukee Zoo circa 1987. My cousin, Michelle, is pushing.

My parents divorced when I was seven, and I was very happy to use the situation to garnish all sorts of attention and pity and ice-cream sundaes from the guidance counselor at school.  Is there anything so tempting as the opportunity to play the martyr?  Outwardly, I was just fine.  Inwardly?  I was drowning in a pool of bitterness and self-pity.  “Oh,” I would sigh.  “What an unjust, terrible lot I have been cast.”  I would sit in my room and cry and think about how much people would love and admire me if they knew what I had “been through.”  Basically, I thought I was the center of the universe.

All the self-pity hung over my life like a cloud.  (And I’m one who’s mood is easily affected by the weather.)  I had a blessed life – I traveled abroad to France in the seventh grade, I lived in two beautiful homes in the suburbs of North Raleigh.  I had THE MOST incredible parents, who gave of themselves tirelessly for my brother and me.  I had good grades and better friends.  But all the while, I was never able to “come alive.”  There was happiness, but no joy.  There was opportunity, but no freedom – because somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, I was keeping a tally of all the terrible things I’d endured.  So whenever I’d spill ketchup on my shirt, I’d pull out the long list and re-live every past injustice before adding the “ketchup” tally-mark to my record – and filing it away for later.

Helen Keller said once that “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in the world.”   I have found this to be absolutely true.

The summer after my freshman year of high school, I went on a trip to Mexico and California with about 15 other students from my youth group.  I returned to North Carolina two weeks later a completely different human being.  While I was there, I heard a man share a part of his life story.  After he had listed off all the terrible things that had happened to him, this is what he said:

“It is so easy for us to define ourselves by the things that have happened to us.  “Hi, I’m George, and I am the way I am because I was bullied as a child.”

Or, “Hi, I’m Kate, and I am the way I am because my parents got divorced when I was seven.”

“Let me tell you – as Christians – this should never be the case.  It should be, “Hi, I’m George/Kate and I am the way I am BECAUSE GOD FOUND ME. “

Isn’t God so faithful in telling us exactly what we need to hear, when we need to hear it?  On this particular July evening in San Diego, I reckoned with the truth that the God of the Bible is BIGGER THAN.  He is bigger than my circumstances; He is bigger than sin.  And as His child, HE should be the defining characteristic in my life.  I left that church service with the joy and freedom that had been absent in my life for…well, forever.

Me, freshly changed, and the rest of our group in San Diego. (I'm right of center with the REALLY long brown hair.)

So that night, I took my pathetic, pitiful self off the “center of the universe” throne in my life, and placed God back there where He belongs.  And do you know what happened?  I came alive. I became social, I made new friends.  I took on leadership roles, I began to love things – really love them.  Writing, music, the Bible, teaching, sending people cards.  I remember I had a friend in one of my French classes who was going through a tough time – and I made up my mind to bring her a card or a present or a CD or something to encourage her EVERY SINGLE DAY for weeks. I mean I showered this poor girl with hope and positivity.  And do you know what?  She started coming to church with me.  And Jesus got a hold of her life too!

I made best friends – friends who to this day buy plane tickets and come to visit me from far-away states.  I fell in love.  I decided what I wanted to do with my life.  I chose a college.  I became an editor of the yearbook and won “best personality” and “best eyes” my Senior year.  I came alive.

Do you dare to dream what your life could look like if you put Christ in his rightful place – on the throne of your life – let him call the shots?  I am telling you, my friends, when you do, your old life will look as dingy and drab as an old dishcloth in comparison.

Alive: With my brother on the day I was baptized.

Me and my forever-friend, Megan, at Shelley Lake in North Carolina.

Me and my forever-friend, Megan, on her wedding day.

To be continued…