T WOULD BE ACCURATE TO SAY THAT I HAVE grown up in the Adventist Church. I was about 6 when my father joined; my mother has been part of the church since she was very young. To some, three decades in the church may seem but a short trip; to others, those accumulated years may be viewed as a seriously long trek.
My journey in the church, I believe, puts me in a middle place. I honestly don’t feel I have the years invested that’d make me a “know-it-all” veteran, but neither am I total “newbie.” My experiences thus far have been enlightening ones—and I would not have it any other way. Of the legs of my learning journey (which has been one bearing some fear and uncertainty), I have three scenes to share with you centering on my initial unwillingness to accept salvation on our Savior’s terms.
But first, I need to share with you this text from Mark 8:34 through 38: “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’”
A Key Decision
Scene one is from when I was about 8 years old. We were having a Revelation Seminar at our church. My young friends and I sat in the front row of the church, next to the projector, and watched the horrific beasts emerge from the sea. I have to admit the scary pictures were at first titillating. We kids elbowed each other, hardly able to believe we were watching a “horror movie” in church.
I was captivated by the creatures, and I started to listen to the speaker’s descriptions of what they represented. After the creatures exiting the sea, I saw the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the woman with the cup of wine and bloodred nails riding atop another monster. I was frightened by them and realized I didn’t want any part of this future. My decision to follow Jesus cemented with the images and speech about the mark of the beast. I vowed then and there that I would not be one of those people marked as a follower of Satan.
Once the series moved into less dramatic territory I paid much less attention. But when the cards were passed out for attendees to fill out their requests I didn’t hesitate and filled in the slot that I wanted to be baptized—someday. In my young mind I was making a commitment to follow Christ now, and when ready, a few years later, I would take the plunge, so to speak.
I didn’t realize the immediacy represented by the card and was shocked and embarrassed when, a week later, the pastor and head elder came to our house to talk to me. I thought at first I was in trouble for something, but I couldn’t figure out what it would be. When the purpose of their visit became clear I was mortified. Already a shy kid, I was quaking inside as I told them that yes I wanted to be baptized but not for a long time. I said I wasn’t ready and mumbled an apology.
After that experience I avoided the discussion of baptism—and, wisely, no church leaders pressured me. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I felt ready and got up enough courage to finally say something. That brings me to my next scene.
I attended academy for my junior year. At the end of a powerful Week of Prayer the speaker made Jesus’ sacrifice very real to me; and the verses in Mark hit home. I could no longer plead discomfort or shyness, my excuses for not surrendering to Christ. Was I ashamed of my faith in Jesus? No!
A large group, including me, answered the speaker’s call. Of that group about 20 continued studies with our chaplain and Bible teacher. Of those 20, four of us decided to be baptized, and in the spring of 1989 I was dipped into the water by P.T., also known to many readers as Jerry Thomas (author and currently Southwestern Union communication director and Record editor). I was happy with my decision. But it wasn’t until later in my journey that I began to understand the challenge of Jesus’ words and the struggle that I have—to this day—to remember that earthly gain means nothing, except maybe earning a one-way boat ride on the Styx River.
The admonitions given by Jesus in Mark 8:34-38 would have perplexed and likely saddened the rich guy who approached Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. This man did everything right, but it seems that he wasn’t willing to give up everything for Jesus.
The ruler went away sad, according to Luke 18:23, and Jesus sorrowfully adds in verses 24 and 25: “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” I could relate to him (and still can for that matter), for I too was still holding back or rather holding on to the objects of life, the things society tells us are important: grades, clothes, being a “good” kid. . . .
My last scene is one that is much more recent. In late 2001 I started to feel very fatigued. Normally a high energy person, I had to drag myself to work. My home life was no different. I made it through the holidays. In early January 2002 I woke up with the worst headache of my life. I vomited several times. My husband (who thankfully was off work) drove me to the Briggs Chaney Medical Clinic, two minutes from where we lived. He had to stop twice while I dry-heaved by the side of the road.
The staff took me to an examination room right away. I was barely able to answer the doctor’s questions; the pain in my head was awful. To make a long story shorter, Dr. Rios put me in a back room with an IV drip and very strong painkiller. I was in this dark back room all day. That evening Dr. Rios gave me a prescription, and I went home.
I was not OK. I spent the next two months trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I saw almost a dozen doctors, including a neurologist. I had an MRI and CT scan. I worked and went to class at Johns Hopkins, barely making it through each day. I prayed a lot, but things weren’t going well.
Finally, as I walked my dog down the block one night, which was as far as I could go before I was tired, I simply prayed, “Dear Lord, please have mercy on me! I need Your mercy. Please have mercy on me.” I had never prayed like that before, putting everything aside in such a way. I wasn’t thinking about anything except placing my faith, my trust, my life, entirely in God’s hands. If I would be healed, He’d have to do it.
As I walked back home I noticed that I could clearly see the rows of townhouses. Before my prayer, things at distances I saw with double vision. Now, suddenly, everything was as clear as it had been before I got sick. Teary-eyed I made my way to our front door, uttering aloud, over and over, “Thank You, thank You, Jesus. Thank You.”
The rest of the symptoms I had decreased little by little over months until I was well again. I stopped having to close one eye in order to drive without seeing double. The odd numbness in my limbs subsided. I never found out exactly what I had. I don’t really care anymore. I just pray in thanksgiving for my current good health, and for the lessons I finally learned that night. I finally comprehended the verses in Mark deeply and spiritually. Now, when I see myself getting caught up in gaining earthly treasures, I remember what is truly important. Christ will take care of me if I surrender all to Him. And the great thing is that, like my favorite hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” there is one thing I can always claim as my own, one person who is mine. That’s JESUS. And that is my story, my song as I journey on.
Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines.