I was 15 years old, just finished my freshman year of high school, and I was quickly outgrowing my desires for worldy materialism. During Spring Break a couple months earlier, I somehow started connecting with God in a new way. My desire to truly know him became stronger.
My mom and a couple other ladies from church were planning to go to a Morning Star conference. I don’t remember if mom asked if I wanted to go with, or if I asked if I could join… I think it was the latter. It was uncharacteristic of me. I was always a bit of a party pooper about things and wasn’t one to get involved. I don’t know what appeal going to a 3 day long church service with my mom and two other older woman really had for me. But somehow, it seemed like a good idea.
When I first watched tapes of Morning Star worship conferences a year earlier, I thought these people were crazy. Suzy Wills in particular was just soooo weird on stage, singing in such weird ways, the crowd acting like this was some sort of rock concert to dance like an idiot to or some drug trip. It was like a hippy revival. It just felt so uncomfortable.
And yet here I was, deciding of my own volition to experience it for myself. I was willing to try it out. Maybe I could find God.
I went with the intention of somehow becoming close to God. I remember my desire was to somehow make God happy.
The first service, the worship made me feel a little awkward. I mean, all these people were so weird. They seemed so fresh and alive, lots of people my age (oh, so many cute guys), but… they all seemed high on something. That night Robin McMillan gave a talk about Mary, who annointed the feet of Jesus and wiped her tears from his feet with her hair. He was explaining this as an act of worship, and that there were three things which qualified this as an act of worship: 1. She was uninvited, 2. It was socially awkward, 3. It was extravagant. (I don’t know by what authority he came up with these qualifications, but it’s irrelevant to my story here)
That night or the next (can’t remember which), sleeping in the hotel, I remember waking myself up multiple times laughing. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I just knew that I was giggling like a drunk person. I thought maybe I was dreaming, but when I asked the other ladies in the morning, they told me they did hear something from my corner that sounded like giggling. There was nothing on my mind as I was giggling, I wasn’t in some dream. I was simply laughing for no reason whatsoever.
By the second day, I was somehow getting into the worship music. It was an intersting experience. There was something liberating about raising hands and actually moving. Everybody else was doing it. Nobody would think I was crazy, they strongly encouraged free expression. There was no judgment here. And so I could sorta get into it. I was such a stiff teenager, and for the first time since I was a child, I was loosening up.
That night, it happened.
I can’t tell you with exact certainty what song it was, but I am pretty confident. I remember John Mark McMillan played at this conference, and that he played his song “How He Loves”. And I’m pretty sure that’s the song that was playing when it finally hit me.
It was like seeing Jesus for the first time. I was singing along with the song when my entire being was suddenly overwhelmed with this heavy love. I had never experienced anything like it before. I felt all my walls crumbling, walls I didn’t even know I had. Any defense I’d ever created around my heart was suddenly washed away, and I was standing there completely vulnerable… completely and utterly loved. There’s hardly any words to really describe it. But suddenly I was crying… SOBBING. They call it being “wrecked”. I was wrecked all right. I was never the same again.
I understood the magnificent sacrifice of Jesus, believing that Jesus died on the cross FOR ME. He did that because he loved me. How on earth can you deny such a love? That someone would die for all the shit you’ve done or ever will do. He knew full well what he was doing. He knew what horrors were awaiting him. He sweat blood in agonized anticipation, begging God for another way. But he knew it was the only way. He went through that hell for me. He didn’t have to, but he did.
That was love.
I was searching for love. My heart had been so cold for so long. And now it was melting. The fire of his love was so hot.
“With eyes like fire and a voice like rain, you consume my sins and wash the ashes away” (2007)
I couldn’t stop crying. It was as if years of suppressed emotion was just gushing out of me. A dam had been broken, and I was being set free. Song after song kept playing, and I kept crying. The service was over. I was still crying. The pews were emptying and people were leaving. I still sat there crying. My mom and friends sat there quietly, leaving me alone and not daring to interfere with what was happening. At some point my crying finally ceased, and we all left. Nobody asked me about it.
When I awoke the next day, it was as if I was a brand new person. Old Grace was dead. I was a new creation. I later thought about it, realizing this is what they describe as being “born again”. (Later I was horrified at the thought that I had believed in God and Jesus for all these years, but that I was never “saved” until that moment.)
A year later I wrote a song describing my encounter with Jesus. I edited and tweaked it over the years and was reminded of it the other day. I decided to record it and share it with you (click here to read lyrics):
The final day of the worship conference was so fun. Because now I could sing the words and really mean it. Now I KNEW Jesus, I knew God, and now I could sing these songs from my heart. My body and voice were now dedicated to the Most High and I was a living expression of worship. I decided to follow God no matter the cost. Whatever dreams I had for my life I would put aside in order to obey his will. My greatest joy and desire was to be an expression of Jesus to a world in such desperate need of his love.
At some point that night, I started speaking in tongues like a mad woman (I’d been speaking in tongues since I was a young child, I thought it was normal). It became a form of intercession for all the people I loved. It started out all fire and passion, and then turned to water. I was crying, again feeling that delicious sense of vulnerability, that amazing feeling of redemptive love. I just kept going and going. I think my outstretched hands kept hitting the guy sitting in front of me. I must have been yelling in his ears.
After the service ended, and we sat there for a bit, the man in front of me turned around and asked if he could tell me something. He said that when I was praying behind/above him, it was like he felt a waterfall pour over him. And he was reminded of the teaching Robin gave the first night. He said I fulfilled all three requirements for worship. I was all up in this dude’s space, totally uninvited. It was socially awkward. And it was extravagant. He said, “God is pleased with you.”
I may have started crying again right there, I can’t remember. Those words touched me, because I went to that conference hoping to get closer to God… I wanted to make him happy. And this man confirmed that I did.
I was never the same after that first encounter with the love of Jesus. My life was completely changed. I went back home and our whole church noticed what happened to me. Where once I was a stiff teenager who showed little emotion, seemingly nice but very shy, I was suddenly alive. My personality exploded. I became the young darling, so “on fire for Jesus”, and I was such a wonderful example for the rest of the youth. That summer I sang my first worship song at church and everyone thought I did great and wanted to hear more. During one of our conferences, a bunch of people came up to the mic to share different things, praise stories and testimonies. And I remember I started shaking. I couldn’t contain it. I had to get to that mic and tell everyone what God had done in me! Everyone was so excited and praised God, the faces of my congregation just beaming with pride over one of their own.
I read the Bible every day. I had my own worship sessions at home. I started writing down some sermons that I hoped I could share in youth group. I was always up for giving public prayer during youth group. I was influencing the other kids, they were getting more serious about God too. Overall, it was such a wonderful summer. I felt so alive. Any sense of depression or apathy was gone.
I was a bright shining light. I was going to set the world on fire for Jesus, everyone knew it. I was going to go back to school and start a revival.
But I went back to school and nearly passed out the first day…
(Story continuing tomorrow)