There was this one time I was sitting in church and I thought I was having a heart attack. Now, anyone who knew me before I started to go to church would totally be nodding their heads right now say, “Yeah, I bet when you walked into church people started spritzing you with holy water and pointing their crucifixes at you, the dudes probably started loading their silver bullets.” Lets just agree that no one would have accused me of spending too much time in a church. In fact I was the object of a lot of prayer by people who knew me. The heart attack won’t make sense unless you have the whole story.
I didn’t know it then but I know now that God was working in my life way before I started going to church. He was moving and shaping things and bringing me to a point where I would be open to Him. Jesse and I had a lot of fun the first few years of our marriage. By “fun” I mean we spent a lot of money and we bought a lot of things. I think we were trying to buy happiness. Then one day we found out we had overspent to the point that we were in serious trouble. When you have to get a loan to pay your way out of debt you know you are in trouble. We had to sell our house and move over to the, shall we say, more affordable side of town. We had to rent a house, take Sydney out of private school and sell everything else we had to get out of trouble.
Up to this point I had been a horse trainer. I was hell-bent on getting to the olympics and had a horse that I was hopeful would be a possible mount for that purpose, or at least get me close. Unfortunately, I had to put him down because of an undiagnosed birth defect that showed up. I found my horse career stagnated after that. I did not want to go forward with another horse and I wasn’t happy with the current horse I had. I was just kind of stuck. I found myself questioning why I was even doing this horse thing especially because it cost us so much money that we really didn’t have.
My marriage was also on the skids. This was the time in our lives where I woke up one day and realized we were just roommates. And not even good roommates because I did everything. I paid all the bills, was totally responsible for the kids and keeping everything spinning. We knew we were in trouble financially but we approached the problem totally differently. We were not unified, and it separated us more. I was totally consumed with trying to make things better. I literally tried everything but God, but that is a story for another time.
This “trying to fix things” led me deeper and deeper into depression and anxiety. I was absolutely under the weight of everything. I constantly felt like there was no way out. This “trying to escape” lead me to be on several anti-depression drugs and anti-anxiety medicine to get some relief. When those didn’t work I picked up chain-smoking. Notice I didn’t say smoking, I say chain-smoking because I totally skipped from social smoker to chain smoker with no stops in between. It was all an attempt to calm this feeling in me that I took care of everything and everyone and no one was taking care of me. It was all on me or it would all fall apart. I hit the bottom in a grocery store parking lot. I was sitting there in the parking lot of Tom Thumb and I came so close to just driving away from it all. Leaving everything and taking my kids and running. It scares me how close I came. In that moment I said to myself, “If things don’t get better, I am going to leave, I can’t keep doing this.”
Around this same time my best friend suffered a terrible loss. Her father died suddenly. It was a shock and it shook her to the core. After the funeral and all the busy stuff that happens at the time of a death, she was left searching for answers. On night on the phone she said to me “Sarah, I have to find a church because I need to know what happens to us when we die. I need to find something, I need to get back to God.” I remember thinking, “Oh boy, she has jumped off the deep end. Time to call someone.” But, I lit another cigarette, because that is what I did back then, and I said, “Ok, lets find one to go to.”
Do you remember me telling you that Sydney had to stop going to private school. Well, she started going to the public school right by our house. I think from her first day at school she was friends with a little girl named Breelie. Breelie and Sydney became fast friends and it made Sydney’s transition so much easier. Breelie’s mom, Autumn and I became friends because the girls were friends and we were room-mom’s together. As it turns out, she was another map point that God put in front of me. We had lost all our friends when we had to move and I was so lonely. She was so kind and fun to be around.
Now, here’s the thing. I was a rough woman, ok. I had this nick name in the horse world. They called me F-ing Sarah because I said the F-word so much. One day, I am just letting the language fly in the volunteer room at the school. (I am not proud to write this, but it is important.) We are laughing and carrying on and whatever. Autumn says something about her church. She was literally just saying something totally benign like, “I was driving by my church,” and my heart sank. Not because I was worried about offending her but because I was like, “Oh great, she is one of those church people.” I immediately wrote her off as a friend because I didn’t need someone telling me what a bad person I was. But here is the funny thing, this is all happening at the same time as I am breaking down on the inside. Autumn didn’t give up on me, she kept being my friend even though I totally distanced myself. And finally one day I realized I liked being her friend more than I liked avoiding her and I let my guard down. And wouldn’t you know it, that darn churchy person invited me to church.
I can honestly say the only reason I went with her to church was because I literally thought if I didn’t go she would stop talking to me. So I went with her one Sunday and I was shocked at what I found. In my mind I had made up this vision of what church should look like. Well, Cornerstone did not check any of those boxes. It was so disarming. First, they didn’t have a choir, they had a band. The pastor said words like “bro” and “totally.” And everyone was wearing jeans! Except for me. I wore a dress because that is what I thought you were supposed to wear at these churchy functions. I’m nothing if I am not fashionable. And the biggest thing at this weirdo church was that a bible was placed in my hands.
Something inside me started to sit up and sniff the air at this point. I was intrigued by this church. I was caught off guard and I was interested in this place. I called up my best friend, the one who had lost her father, and said “Hey, I think we gotta check this out.” The weirdest thing for me was I wanted to go to this church. I wanted to know what was going on with these people. I wanted them to share with me their cocktail of medicine so I could be happy like they were. I wanted to know why Pastor Doug made such a big deal about the bible. My first step of investigation was purchasing “The Bible For Dummies.” I found it at Half Priced Books while looking for something else. It was not a huge investment. I read it in one night. Then I wanted to know more.
The heart attack happened after about a month of going to church at Cornerstone. It was in June and I think it was 2010, but it could have been 2011. Anyway, Pastor Doug was preaching about Mathew 11: 28-30. Take a look:
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Tyndale House Publishers. Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013. Print.
Doug was encouraging us to put our faith and burdens in Jesus’ hands. Then towards the end he said, “You see, if you feel like you have to take care of everything and everybody and nobody takes care of you it’s because you don’t know Jesus.” At that moment the world stopped. I just stared at him, and thought how did he know I have said that for years. I couldn’t hear anything even though people were around me. Autumn was sitting right next to me and I grabbed for her hand. I felt something break in my chest and a flood of tears followed. I was in real pain and my heart felt like it might jump out of my chest in some sort of horrible Alien scene. I told Autumn I was not feeling well and I started to get up and leave but I couldn’t. I just sat there and absolutely sobbed. And not pretty crying, like ugly savage shoulder shaking crying. People around me were handing me tissues, and I was like screw your tissues, I need a doctor! It was noticeable enough that after church was over Pastor Doug approached me, cautiously, and asked if I was ok. I choked out that I had been saying that exact phrase for years and that I didn’t know how he knew that. Then the thing that really changed everything was the thought that surfaced. “If Jesus can handle the weight of what I have been carrying then I want Him to take it.” Pastor Doug suggested that he and I meet. I invited him over to our house because I wanted Jesse to meet him too.
I went home when I felt like I could hold it together enough. Jesse saw me when I came in and said, “What happened at that church?” He probably assumed I had just witnessed some sort of sacrifice or something. I just said to him, “I don’t know what happened but I think Jesus might be real.” He was like, “Oh, ok.” I am pretty sure he made a mental note to call my doctor to have my prescriptions adjusted.
When I sobered up the next day after my church experience, I realized, “Oh my God a pastor is coming over to my house, and he is a Californian.” Like any good Texas woman I decided the best thing to do was have food ready. I did some mental research on what Californians eat and landed on guacamole, humus, and tortilla chips. I also cleaned and put away anything that was un-churchy. No sign of rock and roll, no sign of alcohol, no sign of fun of any kind. I didn’t know much about this church thing but I knew you could not have fun for sure.
Well as it turned out Pastor Doug in highly allergic to avocado’s and he declined all the California food I put out. I was sure I was out of the Churchy club for sure. He started asking me questions about what happened on Sunday. I told him what had happened and he started to explain to me how salvation works. He told me that when you put your faith in Jesus He cleanses you of your sin. He gives you life and He gives you the Holy Spirit. I learned that God is perfect and righteous, and that to have a relationship with Him I had to pay for my unrighteousness. He told me that Jesus was that payment for me. He pays your debt that you owe to make a way for you to have a relationship with the Father. I was listening to all that saying to myself, “Yeah, that’s great Doug but you don’t know what I have done, and I hid all the fun stuff in this house so you really don’t know who you are dealing with.” He said to me, “Sarah do you want to put your faith in Jesus?” I said “Yes, I really do!” He said, “Then you are saved.” I said to him the first two things that came to mind, “Doug, I can’t be saved, I smoke and I have gay friends.” I have no idea why I decided those were the two things God couldn’t handle, but that is what came out. With tears in my eyes, I tell you that Pastor Doug said to me, “Sarah, you are still saved, you don’t have to be perfect to be saved. God came to save everyone.” And that is all she wrote folks. I was reborn that day as new Christian. Everything changed but also nothing changed all at the same time. What I mean is, I was different on the inside, but I was still in the same surroundings.
That day, Jesus took the weight of my life off my shoulders. I learned that I did not have to try so hard but I did have to learn how to have faith in God. Now, to be sure everything was not butterflies and rainbows, but suddenly I had hope. Hope was the thing that I was dearly missing in my BC (before Christ) life. I was totally sold and wanted to know more about this Man who paid my sin debt and loved me. Jesus freak is an understatement. I was in the deep end of the Jesus freak pool working on my back stroke. I don’t know why, and I don’t tell you that to make you think I am super holy. I just literally could not belive the change in my life. I felt like Harry Potter did when he got his letter to Hogwarts. I was like, “You mean I don’t have to live that life anymore and I have been adopted into an eternal relationship with the Great I AM? YYYYEEESSSSS! I’m totally in!”
I also wanted EVERYONE to know about it. This was the definition of all zeal and no wisdom. I was on a church camp high that summer. I would go up to the community pool and tell anyone who would listen about Jesus and what He did in my life. It got to the point where people at the pool would see me coming and NOT make eye contact. I didn’t care. I was on fire!
Poor Jesse, he didn’t know what hit him. There was suddenly a $70 charge on Itunes for music purchases from Chris Tomlin, Hillsong and Jesus Culture. He must have thought our account had been hacked. The only conversation he could get out of me was “Why he, Jesse, had not given his life to Christ yet?” And, “When was he planning on going to church with me?” And, “Lets join a bible study!” And, “Lets join a Community Group!” And, “Hey, can we move to Michigan and go to bible school?” And, “Hey! Did you give your life to Christ yet?” “Want to get baptized with me?” Pray for him, he doesn’t have it easy with me. Here is a pic of the first Jesus music downloads.
That day in church obviously changed everything. It was all God. He moved and pushed and led me home to Him. He had to let me go through that journey in the desert of life to soften me and bring me to a point where I would finally stop trying to fix things myself. Writing this brings thankful tears to my eyes. Remembering makes me thankful all over again. I can still feel that relief that flooded my heart the day I found out I don’t have to take care of everything and I can stop trying harder. I fell into His loving arms, and have fallen into them hundreds of times since then. I pray that you know Him. He loves you and wants you to believe in Him. He wants a relationship with you. All you have to do is stop trying to fix this life yourself and put your faith in Him.