Changed by the Word and Strengthened by Companions
My Christian life began when I was really little. My parents were Christians and taught us to obey. Of course, as a kid, I didn’t always do this. One day I had done something wrong and felt bad about it. My dad told me that I could tell the Lord I was sorry, that I could repent, and the Lord would forgive me. That is my earliest memory of knowing the Lord. I repented in a simple way by saying, “I’m sorry, Lord,” and “Sorry, Dad” too. That is how my Christian life started.
Come into My Heart, Lord Jesus
I also remember in children’s meeting singing, “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart, Lord Jesus.” I sang this song a lot, because I wasn’t sure if the Lord was in my heart. I thought that if I sang this song a lot, then maybe that would work, that the Lord would be in my heart to stay.
Wanting to Fit In
Although my heart toward the Lord was quite soft as a young child, there was a gradual change as I got older.
When I started fifth grade, I began to feel more self-conscious. I remember wanting to fit in and wanting to just be like everybody else. One of the ways in which I wanted to be like everyone else was with my grades. I wanted to be very average. I didn’t want to appear too smart, and I didn’t want to appear too dumb. I just didn’t want to stand out.
Later, when I was in junior high and old enough to go to a church camp called Summer School of Truth, I didn’t want to go. My parents told me, “You’re going.” I went reluctantly, and I actually did have a good time. I think I enjoyed the Lord a little bit, but mostly I just enjoyed the fun of camp.
At that time, I had a friend whose family was also in the church life. She and I were born on the same day and we hung out together all the time. After the Summer School of Truth, she asked me, “Do you want to get baptized before we start middle school?” I said, “Uh, not really,” but she felt that because we were born on the same day we should get baptized on the same day. We were going to the same school. So I agreed and told my parents. My dad sat me down and had a very sober conversation with me. We read “The Mystery of Human Life” together, and he was so serious it was a little bit scary. I did end up getting baptized with my best friend. I knew I had believed in the Lord, so I was qualified to be baptized, but at that time it didn’t touch my heart much.
When I started middle school, I also started making some new friends. These friends weren’t the kind of friends that parents would recommend. One of my friends was encouraging me to swear, and told me that if I did I would sound better and fit in. I also had some friends I shoplifted with at a corner candy store. These are not my proudest moments, but what I want to emphasize is that it makes a difference who you hang out with. At this time in my life, the people I was hanging out with weren’t helping me go in a positive direction. I just wanted to be like everybody else, so I wasn’t going against the tide; I was just sliding right along with it.
One night my friend Rachel, whose parents were also Christians, was having a sleepover party for her birthday. We girls were being silly and decided to put on gobs of makeup. We were looking pretty crazy, and then we decided to go to 7-Eleven. It was 2 in the morning. Rachel was responsible enough to realize she should stay home just in case her mom woke up. And as you might guess, her mom woke up. When we came back from our outing, the police were at her house, as were all of our parents.
After some time shoplifting, I got caught. None of my friends got caught, only I did. That was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I got spotted on a Walgreens camera putting M&Ms in my bag. But if I hadn’t gotten caught stealing M&Ms, I would have been stealing a lot more expensive stuff later on. So the best thing that ever happened was getting caught shoplifting M&Ms, and the best thing that ever happened was getting caught at age 12, sneaking out, because I didn’t do that again. What I learned is that it does make a difference who your friends are.
When my friends would come over to my house, I was really embarrassed, because I thought they would think my family was weird. My parents pray before eating dinner. And I felt, “Dad, do you have to do that? Do you have to pray?” And if someone would sleep over at my house, I was afraid they would hear my dad pray-reading. I was afraid he would have morning revival and say “Lord Jesus” really loudly, and my friends would think, “What’s that?” But actually what I found out was that I had friends who had troubled families, and they loved being at my house. They had a lot of pain in their families. So they liked being at my house.
In high school, when I changed schools, I changed friends too, because several of my friends from junior high moved away, and I went to a big high school. In high school, my best friend’s father was a recovering alcoholic. My friend knew the suffering caused by an alcohol problem. So together, we stayed far away from the parties, because she didn’t want to have anything to do with alcohol. Being with this friend, Kathy, protected me from some of that.
I had another really good friend named Jenny. Her mom worked at the high school, and would check on her grades and check with her teachers, so it made Jenny study. She was also a good influence for me. I was on the synchronized swimming team, and I was friends with a lot of swimmers. They had to follow the athletic code, which meant no partying during the swim season. That was also a protection for me.
I kept very busy in high school. I took piano lessons, I was in choir, and I was in a couple of musicals. I was part of both City,Youth and Government and State, Youth and Government. I was also a cheerleader. Through all these activities, I made a lot of friends. And that’s what I filled myself with. Where was the Lord during all this time? I did go to the young people’s meetings. And sometimes I would bring my friends with me. I went to the Summer Schools of Truth, and I gradually began to enjoy them. At that time, I also had a close friend who was in the church life. She was completely loving the Lord, and she was really trying to bring me along with her to love the Lord. I felt that was sweet; she cared about me.
A Change of Heart
When I was a junior in high school, my dad signed me up for the Winter Training in Anaheim, a ten-day Bible Study with sessions in the morning and evening. I wasn’t particularly seeking the Lord at the time, so it was kind of an unlikely thing for me to do. I was however, excited about the chance to leave the snow in Chicago and head out to the sunshine in California. As it turned out, I ended up only attending half of the training sessions. I babysat my cousins in the mornings so my aunt and uncle could attend the Bible Study in the morning and then I went to the evening sessions. I was so surprised, I actually enjoyed the training! Maybe it was because the babysitting was so challenging. Taking care of my cousins: two girls and twin boys was tough. By the evening, I was ready to just sit in the meeting and listen.
Though I know there was a lot more to the training than this verse, after all this time, I have not forgotten Jeremiah 2:13:
For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, which hold no water.
This verse was a light that for me; it was just amazing. In this verse, the Lord is speaking to His people. The Lord is saying, “My people have left me. They left Me behind. I’m the fountain of living water, but they have turned to a different source. They have dug out for themselves cisterns, or pots that can’t hold water.”
I realized that that the Lord is like a spring of water. He is a source of water that’s not going to run dry. The Lord is the source of real satisfaction. He’s the fountain of living waters. When you’re thirsty, you want a fountain. But instead of coming to Him, I was busy filling myself with other things. But all the other things were just “leaking out.” All the activities I was participating in, these are just normal things to do in high school, but I received a revelation that these things couldn’t satisfy me. The Bible says I am a vessel. All these things aren’t going to fill me up. It was like trying to fill up a broken vessel.
Comfort in Reading the Bible
One example of the contrast between the satisfactions found in God verses other things was on a night when it seemed I should have been so happy. In my high school there were some exclusive parties that you could get invited to. One time I got invited to one of those parties. It was supposed to be super fun, to get all dressed up and go to this fancy place. I had a new dress, went to dinner with friends and went to the party. But, that night I came home and I felt terrible. I felt painfully empty. I should have felt proud to have been invited to the party, and happy to have spent an evening eating and dancing with friends. But there was no joy within. That night the only thing that comforted me was reading the Bible. And so I just read the Bible until I could fall asleep.
After I came back from the Winter Training/Bible Study, my heart was different. But I didn’t know what to do with myself, because I didn’t really have a Christian companion at my school anymore. However, about this time, there was an older brother who was taking care of the high school students in the church and he coordinated get-togethers for the high school sisters every week. That was a salvation to me. Also, the young people who met together became my friends. After I touched the Lord in a real way, I felt like I wanted to be with the other high schoolers in the church, because we had something in common.
Reading the Bible Daily
At the Summer School of Truth before my senior year of high school, we were given a challenge to read the Bible every day. We were told that if we read the Bible every day, it would change our lives. Up until this time, I had not read the Bible much. So I started reading the Bible, and it did change my life. Not because every day was so dramatic, but because it gave the Lord an opportunity to speak to me every day.
In my experience in junior high and high school, the two things that really made a difference for me were my companions and reading the Bible. I’m thankful that the Lord gave me some good companions. And the Word of God also matters; reading the Word makes a difference. When you read the Bible, you feel so happy because you’re being rained on by the Word of God. But when you’ve been away from the Word of God, you get grumpy. These two things made a big difference in my life: having proper companions, and reading the Word.