PART 2 OF 4:
Okay, so I left off at camp. Week one. I woke up at 3am inspired to give a campfire message. I figure you want to know what that was (because I would if the shoe were on the other foot). Lucky for you, I wrote it all down.
**I didn't get this quite right. There are things you think you know, but you don't. And you don't know them until you know them. Of course, that makes me wonder about the validity of anything I write ever. Because that learning thing is an ongoing process. And I don't know right now what I don't know... ::sigh::
However this is what I said:
Tonight I want to tell you my story. Give you my testimony. Because people don't care what you know until they know that you care. But the truth is they don't care what you know until they know you. So, I don't want to just tell you what I know, but how I learned it.
What I know: Life will knock you down.
If it hasn't yet, it will. How you deal with that will depend on your relationship with Jesus. Even so, there may be times when you, like the Prodigal Son, decide to take your own path. And, like the Prodigal Son, it won't work out well for you. But, also like the Prodigal Son, the Father will welcome you back with open arms.
I grew up in the church. Accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was in elementary school. I started coming to this camp the summer before 7th grade. I had good and bad times, but life was mostly good. Honestly, life was mostly good until it wasn't. I made some bad choices 16 years ago**. Choices I should've known better than to make. Choices that ended up hurting me very badly.
What I know: When you make a choice (any choice) there are consequences.
I dated and then married a man who wasn't a Christian. I should've known that was a terrible idea. Our core values weren't the same. But, I brushed those doubts aside and rationalized that it would be okay.
What I know: If you have to make rationalizations for your choices, you need to rethink those choices.
In fact, he turned out to be an abusive husband. He never hit me, but he threatened me repeatedly, and it was scary being married to him. His two children from a previous marriage moved in with us six months after we married (and out of a physically abusive household with their biological mother). The weight of responsibility for those children fell heavily on my shoulders. I knew that I was their one and only parent with an inkling of how to love and nurture a child.
What I know: You cannot save another person. Only Jesus can save another person.
We've talked a lot about shining this week. The longer I stayed in that situation, the less I shined. I got a migraine that wouldn't go away. Ever. No doctor. No medication would make it quit. My neurologist told me on my first appointment, after asking about my circumstances, that so long as I continued to beat my head into a wall I would have a migraine. I refused to accept that and continued to beat my head into that wall for another two and a half years. My philosophy was "I'm not a quitter," and "I'm not getting a divorce. Ever."
I was sick. My ability to effectively work my sales job diminished to the point that my paycheck was severely affected. The migraine took over my life and I became a shell of who I was. My mother constantly expressed her fear that I was going to die. It wasn't until I fully agreed with her (staying married would end in imminent death) that I filed for divorce.
What I know: When you're sick and/or abused, you push everyone away. You don't want anyone to know.
My relationship with Jesus moved from a daily dialogue and weekly worship to occasional cries that sounded a lot like, "Please help me!"
What I know: God listens to all prayer. Often, we stop listening when we feel surrounded by darkness.
After my marriage ended, my migraines didn't get better. I didn't understand it. Over the course of the next year I actually got worse. I fell behind on my mortgage payments, and the electric was regularly being shut off on my house. I dreaded calling my parents and asking for help. Eventually, I financially fell through the floor. I had no choice but to sell my house and move in with my parents. It was devastating.
Once upon a time, Jesus and I were like that (fingers together), Now we were more like this (fingers apart). And we were gaining on this. (hands apart)
What I know: God will not always answer your prayer.
Remember the first thing I said? Life will knock you down. I was down and God seemed to have disconnected my number. At least, that's what it felt like. I wish I could tell you that I took all of this with grace and remained faithful that God had my back.
Fast forward three years.
I became really angry with God. I spent a lot of time shaking my fist at Him. I put away my Bible and stopped even trying to go to church. Remember what I said about life knocking you down? I was down.
What I know: God listens to prayer. Even when you stop listening, God remains faithful.
A friend of mine said, "Tell me about your relationship with Jesus." (That would be you, Stephen T. McCarthy)
I was offended. I didn't want to think about it and definitely didn't want to talk about it. My response was something like, "None of your beeswax."
However, I couldn't stop thinking about the question. So, I pulled out my Bible off the shelf. Went back to church. Started singing in the church choir. Started reading books by people smarter than me. I found relationship with Jesus. Again.
What I know: You must choose Jesus every day. Being saved in elementary school doesn't carry you through life. You must choose Jesus again and again.
So, what do I know?
Life will knock you down.
When you make a choice there are consequences.
If you have to make rationalizations for your choices, you need to rethink them.
You cannot save another person. Only Jesus can save another person.
When you don't feel shiny, it's too easy to push everyone away, including Jesus.
God listens to all prayer. Often we stop listening to Him when we feel surrounded by darkness.
God remains faithful in every circumstance of your life.
Lastly, you must choose Jesus again and again because He's always choosing you.
Yes, it was long and there turned out to be some crying. I know what you're thinking, but it wasn't JUST me. Me and a few other people. Young people who probably felt like their relationship with Jesus wasn't where they wanted it to be. Therein lies the beauty of a painful story (life). If you can turn that disaster around, there is hope. Or to put it another way, "It ain't over 'til it's over."