Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Cost

When I first came to Christ I was a teenager. I was sixteen-almost seventeen. God had been working on me for several months, but I didn't recognize that until after my conversion.

My family life was tumultuous, crazy and unstable. My mom moved from relationship to relationship, making bad choices and dragging us along on the carnival ride with her. Being an "old" young person, I responded by being the adult in our family, calling the police when necessary and generally making sure that order was restored. I hated it. My childhood had disappeared and by age fifteen I was a mini-adult taking care of two younger brothers and trying to cope with a mother who wasn't really a mother.

In the midst of my misery, God began working in small ways. After my sophomore year, my mother announced that we would be moving to Florida. She was being transferred there and we and were going to live with her boyfriend, who was also the father of my youngest brother. I despised him. He was physically abusive to my mother, although she frequently took part in the insane arguments and physical altercations herself. Their relationship had weathered several break-ups and make-ups over the course of three years. We must have moved his furniture in and out of our house at least four or five times before this decision had been made to go to Florida. I knew it was going to be hell. But, my mother was convinced that this would be the time that things would work out between them.

I cried. I wallowed in my self-pity. How could I be expected to continue to wake up every night to yelling? How many times were we going to be last on my mother's messed-up list of priorities? Although, that would imply that she actually had a list of priorities.

The crux of my teenage melodrama was this: I had an out. While not being particularly close with my father, I thought that maybe I could convince him that letting me live with him during my last two years of high school wouldn't be so bad. It would have solved my problems-no more dealing with a jerk who pretty much despised me as much as I despised him. It was a great solution for me; it was no help to my younger brothers who were 2 and 9 at the time. What would life be like for them and my mom without someone to try and bring sanity to the home? Who would tell J to leave, or call the police when he was drunk and things were getting out of hand? He had never touched the kids; but, I had always felt that it was because I was there. He knew I wasn't afraid of him. Without my moderating influence things would quickly disintegrate

So, I faced my first gut-wrenching choice in life: to leave and try to obtain a "normal" life for myself, or go with my family, knowing the horrible reality that this living situation was going to be. I remember having fleeting thoughts about what God would want me to do. Even then, I realized that was strange; because, I hadn't been to church in many years and didn't really profess any sort of religious beliefs. Why would I care about what God wanted me to do?

After much hand-wringing, I decided to go with my family. I just couldn't live with myself if something happened and I wasn't there to stop it. It was my first act of self-sacrifice...one more thing that I didn't recognize until later.

I went to Florida. Things were just as chaotic as I knew they would be. Sometimes, it sucks to be right about things. After four months, my mom moved us out of the house we were sharing with J. They still continued their "on-again, off-again" relationship that always ended the same way: a screamfest at 1 am in the morning, on the front lawn.

So, where was God in all this? After those few fleeting moments of wondering about what He would want, I promptly forgot about Him. He didn't enter my mind until Christmas break. I went to visit my father and older brother in Illinois, only to discover that my brother had become very serious about his Christianity. He had always attended church here and there, but that had been the extent of his outward faith. Perhaps, as he entered college, he had begun to dwell more deeply on his life and the faith that he had professed so long ago, when he was baptized at age thirteen. Regardless, it had become his most defining feature. He was a Christian; his friends were Christians; he went to Bible studies-just for fun.

While visiting, I attended our childhood church with him. Our neighbor used to regularly take us each Sunday for several years. I stopped going when I was in sixth grade after deciding one day that I wasn't going to go anymore; and, I didn't. Shortly afterward, we moved and I didn't have any other neighbors interested in taking me anywhere.

During that Sunday morning I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness and loss. I envied all of these happy people with intact families and a community that cared about them. I wanted what they had, but didn't really understand the source from which it came. Their absolute normalcy seemed astounding to me. Rather than filling me with hope, it made my little pocket of despair seem that much worse by comparison.

A few days later, my brother and I went out to eat with his pastor and my brother's best friend( whom I had a crush on for many years). Looking back, I know that this must have been a planned event. After the meal, the pastor-Scott was his name-began asking me about what I believed. I had always believed that there was some sort of God, even if I didn't really think about Him too much. I knew a lot about the Bible from all my Sunday school lessons. I had always been a voracious reader and had consumed large portions of Scripture when I did attend church, spending way too much time trying to figure out what Revelation was all about.

As he continued to talk, explaining Jesus's death on the cross as the price He paid for my personal salvation and forgiveness, he asked me one question:

Could I believe that God would sacrifice the thing most dear to Him out of his love for me?

In a single moment, that truth was a revelation to me. I instantly got it. I could understand the sacrifice that God had made at a severe cost to Himself. I had lived it out in my own life. I knew that sometimes you would go to great lengths to protect and watch over the ones you loved no matter how steep the price might be to yourself. My life was never the same.

I accepted Christ into my life and was born again in every sense of the word. My anger and hatred toward my mother and even J, her boyfriend, soon dissipated. They hadn't changed; but, I had. As I learned more about Jesus and read my Bible, I knew that He extended the same love and forgiveness towards them as He did toward me. He helped me to let go of the fury which burned in my heart toward them, and instead, see them as the very broken people that they were.

The love of God is a fierce thing. You can't escape it when its sights are set on you. His willingness to reach down and meet us in the muck and mire knows no bounds. He has counted the cost of bringing us to Himself and considered us worth the expense.

As we progress towards Easter, may you come to know this God who counts you worthy of his extravagant love.

Colossians 1:19-20
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things in earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on a cross.

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