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testimony and trepidation

If you’ve been around from the beginning, you know this blog was borne through many sleepless nights. I had a time where I just could not sleep and thought that writing out some of the stuff swirling about in my head might help.

The sleepless nights come and go now, but I’ve had a few more the last little while. The latest was due to fretting over sharing my testimony at a women’s event. I feel the Lord pushing me out of my comfort zone time and time again, so I try to be open to saying ‘yes’ when these moments arise. Honestly, in spite of having facilitated many a Bible study with these same women, this kind of event always rattles me. In this case it wasn’t so much the preparing–although I always pore over such things with prayer and so.much.revision–it was the aftermath that got me. I was overcome with not having said the right things, despite much thought and prayer going before it. I actually felt sick with the thought.

In my nervousness, I tend to either talk a mile-a-minute or I ramble endlessly. It seemed like I was just a-rambling for all I was worth throughout the whole thing. I had my ‘script’, which I don’t intend to read, but it gives me a level of comfort allows me to have cues and a few key thoughts handy. However, it was difficult to read in the low light and my mind felt full of so many thoughts that I could not seem to bring together. Anyway, I stumbled through, but my impression was that it came off much weightier than what I had prepared and I felt I had missed some key qualifiers.

Testimony is described by Merriam-Webster as this:

1a: a solemn declaration usually made orally by a witness under oath 

b: firsthand authentication of a fact : evidence 

can outward sign

2aan open acknowledgment

b: a public profession of religious experience

While the latter would seem to fit the evening’s purpose, I thought the former, legal definition, is actually an accurate statement. As Christians, we are the witness for Jesus, the authentication of His existence in the manifestation of His work in our lives, we are a tangible, outward sign for a world that doesn’t know Him as we live out His love.

Our testimony is the adornment of the gospel in our very being. How is my life an outward sign of a loving and redeeming God?

As I considered this, I put together an outline and a general purpose for sharing.

I wanted to encourage the lovely women gathered with this thought: with Christ there is always more.

  1. Every salvation story is a miracle, whether it is dramatic and sudden, or lengthy and culminating quietly (like mine). (Luke 15:10)
  2. Our testimony continues throughout our lives and may not always be something we are proud of; but our God is gracious and picks us up and dusts us off to begin again. He gives more grace. (Joh 1:16,17)
  3. We have a new identity in Christ: His own dear children! He wants more for us: a relationship and abundant life–not just in eternity, but here on earth. (1 John 3:1)

I planned to share my testimony in three sections: my salvation story, the ups and downs in my Christian walk along with His provision in those ups and downs, and His calling on my life.

The theme verses are found in Psalm 16:

LORD, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I will bless the LORD who counsels me—even at night when my thoughts trouble me. I always let the LORD guide me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my body also rests securely. For you will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful one to see decay. You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.” (verses 5-11)

The culminating thought was this: He is at my right hand and I will not be shaken! I might fail, but He is faithful. He reveals the path of life and in His presence is abundant joy–right here, right now. As His child, He cares for me and I have an inheritance and a wonderful eternity. Do you believe it?

These were the thoughts the Lord pressed upon me and it certainly dovetailed nicely with the overarching theme of the evening. Sadly, following my presentation that night and the next couple of days, I was overcome with anxiety. My greatest fear in life is misrepresenting my Lord. That night, I feared that I had left a wrong impression. Obviously our testimony is our own story and though it isn’t always positive from our end, we know it is from God’s end. And that, my friends, is where I felt I missed the mark. I got swamped by my own shortcomings, but didn’t fully show the progression of my change in posture or His grace to me in my nervousness. My God is the Master of giving beauty for ashes.

As I shed some tears and shared this with my Love, I realized that, as I always do, I can pray that God would let them remember the things He wanted them to and that they would forget all the rest of the dumb stuff that came from me. God is used to using weak vessels and, as Paul would say, I am the worst. I have decided to trust Him to redeem that evening and to give opportunity to explain if necessary.

If you’re interested and care to read on, here’s my story:

The story of how we meet Jesus may be dramatic and sudden, or more lengthy–a process like mine.  Regardless, our testimony begins with salvation but it goes beyond that decision. It is ongoing and, if we are honest, not always exactly how we’d like the script to read.  Sometimes we are not as lovely as we could be.  Sometimes life knocks us down. But Jesus. He loves to pick us up and put us back on our feet to go again.

I have a wonderful family and when I was little my mom sent us to Sunday school. I loved it from the very beginning.

As I grew older, the Lord sent people into my life that encouraged my interest in spiritual things. A friend at school invited me to Crusaders and Sunday school at the Pentecostal church. She moved away, but I kept going. I sang the songs. I memorized the verses. I heard the Good News. 

I BELIEVED JESUS LOVED ME.

In sixth grade, we had a debate on Creation versus Evolution. My teacher instructed us to choose a side. I hesitated at first (all the cool kids went to the evolution side), but in the end, I chose the creation side. 

I BELIEVED IN GOD THE CREATOR.

Another friend invited me to go to Sunday school at the Wesleyan Church and I later started attending Youth Group there. God was still working on me. I continued to learn about the person of Christ.

I BELIEVED THAT JESUS WAS GOD.

That He came to die on a cross for sinners. That I could have eternal life. 

I BELIEVED IN JESUS, THE SAVIOUR.

But I was missing something.

The Bible says: 

We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished him [Jesus] for the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

AND

Mark 12:30 says, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 

I knew I did some things that God wouldn’t like, but was I a sinner? That seemed rather harsh. On balance, my family was thoughtful and kind, nice to most everyone, and I thought that, overall, I was a pretty good kid, too. I did well in school, was respectful to my elders, and obedient to my parents (for the most part). Admittedly, as a teen, I thought it was fun, even okay, to walk a little on the wild side, as long as I was responsible most of the time. I liked making my own decisions, good or bad, and having some “harmless” fun. I did not love God as described in Mark. I resisted making Jesus the LORD of MY life. 

I DID NOT BELIEVE IN JESUS AS MY  LORD.

I would go to summer camp and to youth rallies and I would feel the need to “rededicate” my life to Jesus, when, in reality, my life – that is, my whole life – had never been dedicated to Him. My life fit into neat little compartments:  Janet-at-school, Janet-with-friends, Janet-at-home, and Janet-at-church. 

But God…He always knew who I really was.  And He loved me anyway. He continued to whisper words of love to me.

I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT HE WANTED SO MUCH MORE FOR ME.  

When I was 16, I met my love at teen camp. He had come to visit his sister, and we struck up a friendship. A few years later, our friendship grew into love; and he asked me to marry him. He became a Christian as a boy, but lived his teen years as a prodigal, that is, he was still a Christian but he was enjoying living his own life, without regard for God. However, he belonged to God, and God never let him go. God persisted in speaking to his heart, too. Shortly before we were to be married, he commented that he thought perhaps he should go back to school and become a pastor. I didn’t oppose the idea; in my mind, I’d spent many years going to church and one job was as good another. My only response was, “Ok…But I don’t play the piano or the organ!”

Well, he didn’t follow through on that plan until much later in life, but God did put him in a job where one of His own was working. Steve reached out to him, with discussions, challenges and a bag full of Keith Green tracts.

We had only been married a short time when my love started going to Bible Studies with Steve and spent a great deal of time with the Christians involved there. He brought the literature home for me to read, and we began reading the Bible together each night. While I enjoyed that part of it, I was not interested in going with him to the studies, and frankly, I resented the time he spent away. We were newlyweds, after all. I was plain jealous – of God, and of those Christians.

Eventually, as we read together, God revealed Himself as Father to me, Jesus as a personal Saviour. 

I REALIZED WHAT GOD WANTED FOR ME:  A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. 

My sin was exposed in all its ugliness though wrapped in a semblance of outward morality. I realized nothing I had or did could make me acceptable in His sight: not good living, not going to church, not even acknowledging that there is a God. It was then (I don’t remember the exact date), I knelt beside my bed and confessed my sin and my need for a saviour. I admitted my inadequacies before Him. I asked Jesus to be LORD of MY life. Not just to save me from hell, but so I could LIVE for Him. Not just Sundays. Not only when it was convenient. Everyday. Always. It was not a dramatic conversion full of fireworks, but it was genuine.  One could argue that I was already saved and perhaps I was.  I may have prayed the sinner’s prayer and meant it in my childhood, I honestly can’t remember.  But there was something transforming in that time on my knees…

As we have been talking about in our newest Bible study, 

I BECAME MORE THAN ONE WHO BELIEVES.  I BECAME ONE WHO FOLLOWS.

One of the most precious verses for me as a new Christian was this: 

1 John 3:1 “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

Imagine! An adopted child of the God of the Universe: the One who created all, knows all, sees all. Joint heirs with His precious Son, Jesus. He loves me as He loves His only begotten Son. We are family! Amazing!

Remember my compartmentalized life before? No longer.

HE GAVE ME A NEW, SINGULAR IDENTITY: CHILD OF GOD.

As I said at the get-go, the story of my salvation is only the beginning of my testimony. My Christian walk has not always been easy. I have times when God feels so close and other times when He feels afar off. But the fact is, He’s always there, sometimes I’m turning my back on Him because I’m being stubborn. Sometimes I don’t feel like praying or reading my Bible.  This is often the way He reaches me, encourages me, it’s part of being in relationship with Him. Yes, I wish I could tell you that I have been a model Christian. I have not. At times, I have even been ashamed to admit I belong to Him. 

Thankfully, He is always faithful, even when I am not. I haven’t always trusted Him as I should. He is always faithful. I still do those things that hurt Him, disappoint Him. He is always faithful.

God does not promise us a life of ease, sunshine and rainbows when we become a Christian.  In fact, He tells us trials will surely come in our sin-sick world. 

I lost my dad sixteen years ago, he was a relatively young man. I’ve dealt with the shock, guilt and heartbreak of losing my only brother, who took his own life.  I’ve held my boy, only 2 weeks old, as he teetered on the edge of life and death, struggling for each breath. There has been deep grief and feelings of parental failure, watching our child choose a sad and dangerous path. I had the worry of a possible cancer diagnosis for myself (it was not, thankfully).  I’ve cried as our first grandlittles threatened to come far too early and required special care, and over a little one I would never hold.  We lost our dear nephew to brain cancer last year, leaving behind a young family. 

There have been spiritual trials, health trials, relationship trials, and financial trials. Times of overwhelming discouragement…times I wondered if God was truly listening. Here’s what I’ve found: while these things threaten to overcome us, He is there waiting to carry us, comfort us, heal us, and teach us, and most of all to make us more like His dear Son. 

I can also testify that there can be joy in the Lord in the midst of such trials. When we put our trust in Him, we do not face these things alone. How thankful I am that He has been by my side! He has sent me comfort and encouragement through prayer, through His Word and through His people. I am always amazed when I see a pattern in the messages and portions of Scripture I hear and read. I am amazed when just the right person reaches out to me…one who knows where I’m at and understands. I have felt overwhelmed with grief and discouragement and felt His presence flow over me like a hug from Him.  Joy in knowing He cares. David understood this. I love the full gamut of honest emotion present in the Psalms and how David in particular will transform before our eyes as his focus shifts from himself and his situation to God. In Psalm 28:7 David writes:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him.

I believe that we meet Him in those dark valleys in a way we never could on a mountain top.

I don’t want you to think that He is only found in hard times.  Oh no, not at all!  He has answered prayer from the largest request to the smallest.  We had been in a financial situation many years ago to the tune of six figures.  Over the course of a few years, He provided a way out that was never on our radar.  Once when Noah was little, he lost a small stuffed bear that he slept with.  One night we couldn’t find it. We prayed together, that he would be able to sleep without his stuffie and that it would be found soon.  I kissed him goodnight. The next morning, the kids were playing and something was tossed up onto the bookcase.  Low and behold, as I reached up to retrieve it, there was Noah’s missing bear!  He looked at me with wonder as he said, ‘Mommy, God answered my prayer!”  My God cares deeply for His children and taught us both a valuable lesson that day.

God gives us identity and a purpose. I have had different callings through life: wife, momma, homeschooler, Sunday school teacher, one who offers hospitality, and the list goes on. Some are for a season and some are on-going. I haven’t always known for certain, but I trust Him as I keep in communion with Him to show me what is next. Sometimes I just keep moving forward until He stops me.

As many of you know, we were latecomers into full-time ministry life. We lived in a big, beautiful home that was open to all (I’m sure the realtor was a little concerned at the pile of keys we left when we sold the house), we housed missionaries and college kids of full-time ministry workers, our kids’ friends and schoolmates and camp staff on weekends. We were highly involved in our local church and the local camp. We had ministry. But after many years of business management in large corporations, God asked Mark to leave it all behind for full-time ministry.  I won’t go into details, as that is his story.  But when we had finally realized that we were meant to take this leap, we were ready—well more or less.  

I remember going into Costco once the decision was finalized, looking at the k-cups in my cart and thinking, ‘I can’t buy these.  They’re far too expensive.’  Back on the shelf they went, and I cried all the way home.  I know it seems silly, but I was thinking how my life had just been turned upside down and inside out from all that I was used to and comfortable with.  I excited about our new path, but it was scarrrryyyy!  I’m a planner.  I like control.  My heart was saying yes, “Jesus take the wheel” but my head was like “but I got the brakes, kay?” Who can relate? 

Sometimes our calling is not clear at first.  For us, we knew ministry was the next thing, but not so much what it would look like.  As such, we had lots of ‘steppingstones’ along the way:  camp ministry, and Mark’s itinerant preaching, including family camps, youth and men’s retreats and the like.  A move to PEI, then back—discouraged—to Ontario. Through family camp, we were asked to move to Cape Breton to start up a new church with a handful of people meeting for Bible study. Ya…no thanks.  Cue Jonah stage right. 

We spent two years in limbo, running from God’s calling and in transition to living out that calling. Let me tell you…there is no one more miserable than a Christ follower who isn’t following Christ. But, through all the detours and running into the thorny bushes on this path of life, God brought us to the right place physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.  This is not to say I don’t still struggle at times.  Hello missing years of 2020 and 2021.  But again, I can testify that He continues to see me through it and bless me more than I could ever imagine through it, bumps and all.

I held on to this verse in our tumultuous ‘silent’ years.

  LORD, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I will bless the LORD who counsels me—even at night when my thoughts trouble me. I always let the LORD guide me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my body also rests securely. For you will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful one to see decay. You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.”

Psalm 16:5-11

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