I was raised in a Lutheran church in good ol’ Holmen, Wisconsin. I can honestly say that this church was, and is, a huge part of my life, as well as a huge part of my faith today. My amazing parents did their best at bringing me up in the values and beliefs of Christianity. I was in Sunday school, attended church lock-ins, did youth group, went to a weeklong bible camp for nine summers, went on mission trips, took first communion, and got confirmed. Through these experiences in my early days, I came to know the basics of Christianity: Moses doing his thing, David and Goliath, Jesus loves me, and died on the cross for our sins- what most kids learn at church.
As I grew older and entered high school, God was put on the backburner, and my bible collected dust on the shelf as I started taking on more and more responsibilities. God blessed me by not allowing me to fall into the temptations of drinking, drugs or sex which a lot of the people I knew where doing. It was because I didn’t do any of these “bad” things that I thought I had it all together. I mean, heck, life was good! I was a star athlete, popular, people liked me and my parents couldn’t be happier with me. I put my worth in the success that I had and completely obsessed over the sports I was in.
Sports were my life, especially wrestling. For 12 years of my life, I was a wrestler, relentlessly chasing the dream of being a state champion. I would sometimes practice twice a day, with tournaments on every weekend and meets during the week. Despite 12 years of unimaginable hard work, obsession, and time put into wrestling, I didn’t become a state champion. This left me feeling like a complete failure and a waste. After wrestling was over, I realized I did not have much of an identity. Wrestling was the only thing people really knew me for, and now it was gone. I was left wondering what my purpose really was.
My senior year of high school I got a job working at the local grocery store. One of my co-workers plugged me into this summer water ski team that his church had been running. Not only did we water ski all day, but we also would have group studies where we would look at scripture on our lunch breaks. I found myself using this ski team and the success I found in it as my new identity. But God had bigger plans for me with this team. I was asked to go to a weeklong camp where the whole team went to a lake up north. What I didn’t realize was that skiing was only a part of this camp experience. We had tons of group studies, sang worship songs, and even memorized scripture, which was a really foreign concept to me. As I was observing these kids and leaders, I noticed something different about them. They really stressed the importance of reading the bible because it helps us to learn and grow in our faith.
However, midway through the week something happened that I was not expecting. I was told that one of my classmates and football teammates, Brandon, had died in a car accident the previous night. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately broke down. Why would God let Brandon die? Why would he take away a life with so much potential? I decided to go back home for the funeral and leave the camp for a couple days. All of my confusion and questions about God went with me. After Brandon’s funeral and burial, I came back to the camp filled with so much sorrow and grief. The leaders and students didn’t let me sit in my sorrow, but instead exhibited a love and compassion I hadn’t seen before. They told me that God has a purpose for everything and pointed me to scripture to understand what was going on. The love they exhibited through pointing me to the bible made me realize I had been missing a crucial part to my faith- God’s word in the bible. I finally started to understand why people would read the bible and how it could be so life changing. Though the remorse for Brandon was not gone, it made it so much easier to live with it knowing that God had his hand in everything.
Shortly after this summer it was time for me to go off to college. Because I was the first of my brothers to go to college I had formed my idea of what college was like from the media and what others had told me. The first time my friend asked me to go to a party, of course I said yes because that’s what you do in college. At the last minute my friend said he couldn’t go because he was not feeling good. I didn’t go either and came to find out that the party that I had intended to go to had gotten busted. I took this as God guidance and looking back I see just how incredibly crucial that crossroad was in my life.
I was placed in Burroughs Hall, where I got to know the guys on my floor. I discovered that the majority of them were Christians and involved in this organization called Cru. I got involved in the Burroughs men’s bible study and went to Cru. Everyone would talk about this personal relationship with God. It was weird to me to think of having a relationship with God. But through my time with God in the bible, I learned that’s exactly what he wants from us. Once I realized that God isn’t just someone to worship, but that he wants to be active in our lives, I saw true life change. I saw more genuine friendships and experienced a comfort in this community that I hadn’t found anywhere else. I saw myself forgiving and exhibiting grace. I saw my faith and relationship with God grow through the year. Without this relationship, I have nothing to fall back on- not my success, not good grades, not pleasing others or being popular. Everything in life has some form of variability, but God never changes and that is why I hold fast to Him.
When I look back my story, I can see God’s hand in my life. Though I didn’t understand the purpose for all of it at the time, he has guided me to where I am today. For me, accepting Christ was not a definitive moment that I can point out, rather, it has been a gradual process for me learning that what Jesus did for us on the cross was to give us a way to have a relationship with him now.
Your story might not be like mine, but know this: God has a purpose for your life. If you want to experience true life change and a relationship that never fails, call on Jesus. Tell him you want that personal relationship, tell him you can’t take the burden of sin on your own, and tell him that you desire and love him above all else. Revelations 3:20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is waiting to start a relationship with you. He is waiting to take your sin, and he wants to change your life. All you have to do is open the door.