Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Story

I have quite a story to tell you.  Part of it is the end of one of my stories.  But mostly it's someone else's story.  I got her permission to tell it to you.

This is one of my favorite stories ever.  But it starts with a car accident.

I caused a little fender bender back in May (you can read about it here).  I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I had caused an accident.  And I just couldn't understand how it had happened.  It was literally like my eyes were kept from seeing this car that I hit.  I told Jared at the time that, as crazy weird as it sounds, I felt like maybe God had a hand in me getting in an accident.  There were little ways we saw Him working, but it turns out now that He had a huge plan in mind.

I got a ticket (Failure to Yield while making a left turn) from the accident.  I was given the option to take a Traffic Safety class in order to have the ticket removed from my record.  I dragged my feet until I was almost out of time to take the class.  Finally, I registered for the FOUR HOUR class on Monday, August 10.

I was complaining to my friend Michele about having to take the class.  It's so long.  I'd have to drive to our local community college, and I don't know my way around the campus.  I was just whining, but Michele was concerned about me, especially about me walking back out to my car late at night.  She said she wanted to go with me.  What?!  I said no way.  I couldn't let her give up her whole night just because I have weird anxiety about driving and finding my way in new places.  But Michele said she'd love to sit outside my class and use the time to do her Bible study homework.

Let me pause a moment to talk about Michele.  She lives down the street from me.  We became friends last school year from seeing each other everyday at school drop off and pick up.  She has become one of my best friends.  When she was offered a job last spring, I started watching both of her kids each morning (Garrit and Abby) and just her daughter during the day.  She has the summers off since she works at a school, so we went swimming at her house nearly every day this summer.

Michele was born and raised Catholic.  She and her husband have not regularly attended church, but they enrolled their kids in CCD, which is a Wednesday night class for kids to learn about the Catholic faith and traditions.  Michele went with me to weekly Play Group (moms of little kids hanging out) at my church a few times before she started working.  In July, her kids went with mine to our church's Vacation Bible School.  Abby LOVED it but Garrit wasn't so sure.  Our VBS always ends with a celebration during the church service on the Sunday morning after VBS.  Michele and Abby came to our church that morning for the celebration, and it was their first time attending one of our church services.

I was offered the opportunity to teach a unique women's Bible study called Passion Pursuit (about how to enrich sexual, emotional, and spiritual intimacy in your marriage) starting back in July.  I brought one of the books to Michele's one day when we gathered to swim, and I asked if anyone was interested in joining me.  Michele took the bait.

So Michele came to my Wednesday night class starting in July.  She came to her first Sunday morning service on August 2 in order to watch her daughter perform her VBS songs.  Abby loved our church so much that Michele and Abby came back the next Sunday.  And the next.

Now back to my traffic class on that Monday, August 10.  I accepted Michele's offer to come with me because I am a 'Fraidy Cat.  She brought along her homework for our Wednesday night class.  She sat outside my Traffic Safety class for the full four hours and completed all of her weekly homework.  She enjoyed the peace and quiet and I enjoyed her companionship to help me during class breaks.

While we were driving home that night, Michele and I had a conversation that would change her life.  We just didn't know it yet.

We started talking about the Bible study homework and various spiritual matters.  I gathered my boldness and asked her if she could recall a time in her life when she knew she had received forgiveness and salvation.  She has so much knowledge of God from so much time in church, but I wanted to know if she had a relationship with God beyond head knowledge.  I told her that I can point to a specific day (although I don't remember the date) when I prayed a prayer of salvation and received forgiveness for my sins and started a lifelong journey with God.  She said she didn't have that moment.

She was stuck on one thing.  She had a couple sins she just didn't think God could forgive.  She wanted to get her mistakes made right before she came to God.  I told her that if she could do that, she wouldn't need Jesus' forgiveness through what He did on the cross.  She heard me and accepted what I had to say, but she was still processing it all.  I told her choppy pieces of Bible verses about how God removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west and He casts our sins into the ocean and he remembers our transgressions no longer.  We parked in her driveway and continued our discussion for a long time.  Eventually, we hugged and she went inside.  I could tell it was a lot for her to think about.  I went home feeling a little discouraged and wondering if I had said the right things.

I couldn't go to bed because I kept thinking about our conversation.  God put four Bible verses in my mind, so I looked them up and typed them out for Michele.  Of course, I made them in fun fonts with cute colors.  I printed them but forgot to give them to Michele.

We had our normal Wednesday night class with excellent discussion.  I'd like to add that at this point, Michele's marriage was already completely changed by the work she was doing because of our class.  Michele gave this study her all, and her husband saw changes in her and responded with his own growth and changes.  In fact, their marriage was so improved that two different women from our neighborhood approached me and said that they were astounded by what they saw in Michele's marriage.  These women have never even considered attending my church, but they asked to be invited to the next Passion Pursuit class because they want what they saw happening in Michele's marriage.

Back to That Week.  Monday was the traffic class.  Wednesday was Passion Pursuit.  Saturday evening was a block party in our neighborhood.  Michele and I both attended the block party.  We chatted with each other and with lots of neighbors.  Then I remembered that I had the printed out Bible verses for her, so I gave her the paper.  I just told her that these were the actual verses of some of the pieces of Scripture I had referenced in our previous conversation.  She was grateful and folded up the paper and stuck it in her purse.  Then my night derailed quickly because of a super scary event in which Nolan was with a friend and then the friend's mom dropped him off at our house when no on was home.  Nolan was terrified out of his mind but handled it by finding my iPad and texting three of my close friends asking for help.  They contacted me, and I rushed home to Nolan.  And I'm still working on getting over the whole event.  After I was reunited with Nolan, I broke out in what we referred to as leprosy.  It was a strange rash that two doctors couldn't identify or help treat.  We now know it's a viral rash, and I'm still waiting for it to clear up.

The next morning (Sunday, August 16), we went to church as usual, and Michele and Abby came, too.  Our pastor has been doing a summer sermon series called 8 Great Life-Changing Verses.  Each week he preaches on a verse that can change your life.  On this particular Sunday, his verse was 1 John 1:9.  I elbowed Michele and told her that verse was on the paper I had given her.  To my delight, she picked up her purse and pulled out the sheet of Bible verses I had made.  Sure enough, 1 John 1:9 was at the top of the list.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  1 John 1:9
God had Michele's attention.  As our pastor worked through his sermon, he referenced ALL of the other verses on the paper I had given Michele.  She just kept nodding, looking at me, and looking at her list.  I was giddy inside over watching God speak to Michele.  This verse addressed the very issue Michele had confessed to struggling with:  forgiveness for her sins.  At the end of the sermon, the pastor led us in an incredible time of prayer.  When we were done praying, Michele's face was covered in tears.  I gave her a tissue and a long hug.  My heart overflowed with love for this friend.  I was so grateful to literally watch God break through to her.

On that morning, Michele accepted the forgiveness that Jesus has been offering her.

There are a lot of churchy ways to say it.  Michele got saved.  She received salvation.  She gave her heart to Christ.  She claimed her free ticket to heaven.  She became a Christian.

What I know is that Michele is not the same as she was before that day.  She didn't instantly become a perfect person.  She didn't automatically understand everything.  She's still asking God to help her forgive herself for past choices, even though she knows that God has forgiven her.  She now looks at hardships and struggles in her life and asks how God wants her to handle them.  She downloaded our church's mobile app (you can get it in iTunes or GooglePlay) and signed up to have daily Bible verses and devotions sent to her phone.  She struggled to understand the Bible before, and now the Holy Spirit in her helps her to not only understand it but to also believe it and be changed by it.

Michele's story just keeps going.  The next Wednesday night class went a little late, and Michele and I were nearly the last two people to leave the church building.  We bumped into our pastor on the way, and we were able to tell him the whole story of how God used a conversation, four verses, and a sermon to draw Michele into Him.  Michele and I both cried when we got to tell our pastor that Michele had received salvation.  It still gets me every time!

Then Michele said to our pastor that she still just doesn't know how to pray.  Pastor said, "That's what my next sermon is about."  Michele's eyes were so wide as her jaw dropped.  She kept asking me if I had talked to our pastor about her or if I had asked him to preach directly to her.  I was able to tell her that it was totally God pursuing her.  Our pastor chose his verses for this series back in February.  No human could have orchestrated all of this.  God laid every piece into place in order to reach His precious daughter.  He wanted Michele to know that He is real and He is reaching out to her.

That next verse that helped Michele understand prayer was Hebrews 4:16.
"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4:16    
In case you're interested, here are the verses on the sheet I gave Michele:

If you want to watch any of the sermons in the 8 Great Verses series, click here.

This past Sunday was the last sermon in the 8 Great Verses series.  Wanna know what it was?  Romans 8:28:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  Romans 8:28
It all rushed over me yet again.  That fresh sense of God in our midst.  The gratefulness that He not only works in us but also lets us participate in what He is doing in others.  He's so real, and He's so good.

He does work in all things for our good.  He worked in a car accident and a Traffic Safety class.  Satan tried to distract me with the Nolan Incident and my leprosy, but God's plans prevailed.  Nothing, nothing, NOTHING compares to the greatness of knowing God and interacting with him and participating in what He is doing.

Michele's son Garrit, who has refused to come to church until now, decided all on his own that he wanted to come with her and Abby this past Sunday.  We prayed for that precious boy all morning, and he had such a great time!  Michele and both of her kids will now be attending our church regularly.  We will keep praying for Michele's husband, and we will watch as God works in his heart to reach him in His timing.

Michele is one of my very best friends, and I always enjoy spending time with her.  But now all of our interactions have an undertone of joy because I can't look at her without remembering what God did over these last few weeks.  She had a rough morning today and sent me a text asking for a Bible verse to help her.  My spirit instantly said "Yes, God.  Thank you, God."  This is what I want.  Bringing my own focus back to God as I encourage a fellow believer to hold onto God in the midst of life's yuck.

I know this was a long story, but every single detail was important to me.  Because every single detail was important to God.


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