September 1996, a girl signed up for a weekend of change. Of course, she didn't see it coming. It was in the form of a fall "retreat", an "Extreme Retreat", to be exact. She signed up for embarrassing icebreakers, camp food, and a few days outside her comfort zone, but when she said YES, HE changed the course of her life. No exaggerations. No dramatics. Forever changed. Even 20 years later. Now, September 2016.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9
The Saturday night of this Extreme Retreat, Bryan Leach (the youth pastor) stuck a piece of duct tape to the floor. It was the line in the sand, the before and after, the "if you choose to cross over this line, you are choosing to live an Extreme life for Jesus".
At that point in my 14 year old life, I was being swallowed by middle school peer pressure. So many boyfriends. Smoking wherever I could sneak and not get caught. A group of friends that clearly didn't have my best interest in mind. School was wasting my time. I was 14 and none of these individually made me a horrible person, but inside my heart was groaning for something more. My grandparents introduced me to God's love when I was 4 or 5, and I knew that who I was choosing to become was grieving God's heart.
I could feel it. I just knew.
I don't remember the details, other than watching the reel of my present 14 year old life play through my mind. I knew that if I chose to cross that line, things were going to have to change. I would change.
I remember sitting on the floor at the retreat and weighing the cost.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. Revelation 3:20
It seemed that the weight of the world was sitting on my shoulders, but when I stood up and chose to cross over that line, I knew that no matter how tough life would be, I wasn't going at it alone.
Here I am, He said. You're not alone, He said. I love you, He said.
He came inside my life and has never left. 20 years later. T W E N T Y.
What did it look like? I was thinking about this. What did it look like after I crossed over that line and Bryan took a rubber stamp and pressed "EXTREME" onto my forehead. I went to school the following week and sat alone at lunch. I stopped smoking. The boyfriends and friends whom I had gotten close to, faded away as our interests became obviously different.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
I started reading my bible every day. I started singing and worshipping every day. I was so hungry for more of God, to know Him and His word and His thoughts, I was obsessed. I would sing in the hallways of school. I would get off the bus and run straight into the piano room to worship for hours. Every other thing in life had felt like a substitute or a fake, but this, Jesus, the more I spent time with Him, the more I felt whole and the more I felt love.
My best friend had a similar experience at the Extreme Retreat. When we got home, it was obvious we were both changed. We would get together daily and read our bibles. We would sing worship songs. We used the back of our bibles as a drum and sang until we couldn't sing anymore. We prayed together. We interceded for our school friends and pop culture together We invited everyone we knew to come to church with us and a lot of them came.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1
In my little 14 year old heart, life made sense. My calling or my job, was to love God and love the lost. Plain and simple.
It has been 20 years. This month, T W E N T Y years. My eyes are still wide and my heart is still full that God is in love with me and cared enough about me, to meet me at a silly retreat at the age of 14. And since then, the stories that I could tell you about His faithfulness could fill pages and chapters and books. And I assure you, they will not stop.
I started keeping a journal when I was 14, documenting my "new" life and all the things I felt. Now THAT has been humbling. Reading through your old journals! Yikes! In some ways, my maturity at times speaks to me now. In other ways, I shake my head and pray my children never make the same stupid mistakes that I did. Jesus!
But, God. 20 years later and I still say, but God. My years have not all been without trial and tribulation. It hasn't been "easy" since I chose Jesus, nor have I been exempt from suffering. But, I have never, ever, regretted my decision to ask Him to save me from myself and come live inside my heart.
I have never walked through life alone.
I have been loved every minute of every day.
Cheers to walking out the rest of this life with Jesus! There is no substitution. There is no other way. He IS love and our lives are "Extreme" when we say yes to Him.
If you don't know Him like this, ask! It's as simple as asking. He's waiting for you and has loved you since before you were born. He thinks thoughts of you that outnumber the grains of sand. I'd love to talk with you if there was a tug at your heart as you read what God did for me. He would love to fill you too.