Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Cor. 5:17
I grew up going to church and attending a religious school, yet for most of my early life I had very little understanding of what any of it meant, or whether God was even real. Participating in the traditions of the church made up a significant portion of my cultural identity, but it wasn’t until I was about to enter high school that I began to encounter God Himself.
Just before I graduated from my parochial school and moved on to a public high school, my classmates and I were invited to participate in a one-day retreat that the leaders and members of the church’s high school youth group led for us. I don’t really remember anything specific about that retreat, except that it sparked something in me. I think it was the idea that God was real, and that I could engage with Him in a real and personal way. I didn’t know what that looked like exactly, but I was intrigued by the idea. I also remember that some of the high school kids took an interest in me and invited me to come to the youth group. What soon-to-be freshman wouldn’t enjoy sophomores and juniors welcoming her in?
So I started going to the youth group meetings, where we would read aloud together the Scripture from church on Sunday. We would go around the circle and each share a word or phrase from the passage that stood out to us, and why. Though I’ve since realized that we were often taking Scripture out of context, that experience was pivotal for me because it was the first time I discovered that the Bible could actually apply to my life. I began to attend church with new fervor, experiencing the traditions I had once performed mindlessly now as a channel to encounter God and grow in intimacy with Him. That summer I filled several journals with letters to God, talking to Him about anything and everything as I listened to cassette tapes of Christian music that an older friend and mentor would send me in the mail. It was the beginning of my (conscious) relationship with God, as well as the unfolding of my passion for writing about faith and life, which is such a core part of who I am that it seems that it was then that I began the lifelong process of stepping into who He created me to be.
In high school, I encountered some friends who were in similar places on the journey of growing in relationship with God, and we grew in our faith together. As I attended other youth groups, Bible studies and church services of various denominations with them, I learned more and more about who God is and what it’s like to live life walking with Him. I soaked it all up and it felt like refreshment to my soul. Faith in Jesus came easily to me, which I count as a gift, knowing that some people have to wrestle through many doubts in order to believe. At some point I felt compelled to formally accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus and to invite Him into my heart and life, although I had a genuine relationship with Him for a while. I don’t think I felt any particular magic in that moment, but I had purchased a Bible that day, and I began to read it passionately. I couldn’t wait to encounter Him daily and soak up all He had to teach me through His Word. I wrote poetry out of both joy and struggles as an overflowing offering of worship to Him. It was a season of spiritual flourishing.
I had a keychain back then, which I bought myself when I got my driver’s license. It had a cross on it, and it said, “This changes everything.” The cross changes everything. Those words stirred my soul, and I believed them fervently, or I thought I did. But while I believe my faith in Jesus sealed my eternal destiny, brought me into a place of vibrancy and growth, and surely kept me safe from much of the heartache and sin I could have been drawn into during my teen years, I have to admit that it didn’t change everything. At least not right away. Yes, there were aspects of who I was that were developing, and I was now starting to make decisions through the filter of what I believed about God. But there didn’t seem to be many dramatic changes to be made, because I was already living what I perceived to be a pretty “good” life.
What I would come to understand over time is that there is no corner of my soul untouched by sin, and the transformation, the abundant life that Jesus promises, comes through a lifelong process of sanctification, of being grown and made more like Him through the refining fire of His love. Since then He has gently and patiently but persistently continued to reach into the depths of who I am, into every corner I am willing to grant Him access to, uprooting sin and planting life and hope in its place—planting Himself in its place.
Even just today, I experienced Jesus reminding me that it is only He who can change my heart. I was lying in my bed grieving once again over how incapable I seem to be of treating my son with gentleness and grace rather than harshness, despite my strong desire to do better. “Let your gentleness be evident to all,” the Lord has been reminding me lately through His Word (Phil. 4:5), and I’ve been striving, somewhat fruitlessly, to exhibit it. But in that moment, it was as if my heart spoke to Jesus for me and confessed, “But I don’t have any gentleness.” This was something I hadn’t even been aware of, but I felt Him say back to my heart, “Now you’re onto something… you don’t have it. But I do.” He told me what I knew already but still need to learn to live out— that my own attempts at goodness are filthy rags and are not going to succeed. But He has gentleness. He is gentleness. And He is able to take up residence in this area of my life and bring His transforming power. “Trade yokes with Me,” He said. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).
As Freefall to Fly author Rebekah Lyons says, “the cross was a switcheroo, and we traded up.” Christ took our place not only to give us eternal life, but so that we would trade Him every piece of our brokenness for His life and wholeness, thus becoming the ‘new creation’ that is really just the best version of ourselves in Him. This is the hope and abundant life He offers, and I am messily living it— trading yokes with my Savior, and getting the good end of the deal every time.
At Of Larks, we believe that each of our stories uniquely exhibits God’s glory, goodness and love. We have asked each of our regular writers to share her testimony or a story of how God has worked in her life to acknowledge God’s goodness and faithfulness, give praise and honor to Christ, and introduce ourselves to our readers.