Yes you read right, the title is not a typo on my part!
Across the pond, our fellow American friends (and many others scattered around the globe) are celebrating Independence Day, to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776.
The 4th July is a date very dear to my heart but for an entirely different reason. You see on the 4th July I publicly renounced my independence and ran headlong in to the arms of my Father in heaven.
I was baptised on the 4th July 2004 after finding Jesus in the May of that year. I was a broken young woman, fresh out of a long term relationship break up, suffering with low self-esteem and such doubts about who I was and what I was doing that shook me to my very core. I was miles away from home (The Midlands) living in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire, unable to drive and much less able to afford rail fares to visit family.
It was in my loneliness and desperation that my loving God met me. He saw a fragile heart that couldn’t bear to be handled any more, and He picked it up with such tenderness and held it close. He saw the tears streaming down my cheeks and wiped them away with His gentle hands and He carried me in His arms until I felt able to stand on my own two feet again.
Miss Independent was something of a motto for me back then as I had always felt that I need to prove myself, to be fiercely independent, reliant upon no body and no thing, for fear of being hurt, betrayed, let down or disappointed. I put on the persona that I needed no one and wasn’t afraid to let the whole world know it, but in reality I was desperate for love, for affection, for relationship.
I first experienced God through the love of a dear friend and colleague, Beckie Gilbert, who saw in me what I could not. As we got to know each other better, I found out she was a Christian and held a weekly bible study group called a ‘Cell Group’ in her home. Being curious (read nosey) about such a young, cool chick who was so passionate about church, I wanted to see what the group was all about and I eventually asked to attend her Cell groups and my first experience has stayed with me for life.
The members of the group were a mixed bunch of singles, divorcees, couples and parents that you would probably never put together, but they had one thing in common; this tangible faith that I could almost see shining out of them. Even as they talked, and made tea, and passed biscuits around, there was just something different about them. They just had ‘something’. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but it was attractive and I wanted it. We met each week and sang some worship songs (that felt weird initially!), then shared the highs and lows of our week, discussed the word and prayed together. I was encouraged to participate whenever I wanted to or simply sit and observe the meeting, and I felt so very welcomed into this group that I quickly opened up to them. I have never felt so completely and utterly loved, accepted and embraced just as I am by any other group of people in my whole life.
After a few weeks of going along to the Cell group I figured I had better go along to church to hear the message first hand as that is what we were discussing each week, and so I first stepped over the threshold of Open Door Church in St Neots and was overwhelmed by the presence of God. There was a lot I did not understand, and some things that I found pretty unnerving, such as the gifts of the Spirit, but what I did know was that this was a place of love, a place of goodness, a place of healing and restoration and ultimately a place for family. Open Door was part of New Frontiers, and I went on to attend the Start course, which is very similar to Alpha, for new Christians or people exploring the faith. Four weeks in to the eight week course and I just felt the proverbial penny ‘drop’. I got it. I believed that this Jesus was real, that He loved me and that He died for me, and I wanted to know more. I prayed the prayer of salvation with three beautiful friends and leaders in the church on the lawns outside the school building where we met each Sunday, and as we prayed the clouds broke and the sun shone down in the most glorious moment. I was saved!
Shortly after the course finished, the church was scheduling a water baptism Sunday and I was all in. To some, this may have been to fast, but I knew that this was the right thing for me and that I needed to do it there and then. I felt so peaceful about it, so ready and most importantly so excited! From first experiencing the love of Jesus through a cell group in March, to completing my Start course and surrendering my life to Jesus in May, I then sealed the deal with a publication declaration to the world that I belonged to God, that I was saved through the blood of Jesus in the July.
So the 4th July was, and still is, a big deal for me. It is the day that I said to the world, I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to walk with Him, to rely on Him, to trust in Him and to serve Him with all that I am. I am no longer trying to do it all my way, but rather yahweh, I don’t want to be Miss Independent, but instead am proud to be dependent on the one who made me. 11 years on I am still learning, but wow, how Jesus has transformed my life!!
If you haven’t met Jesus yet, I encourage you to attend an Alpha course at your local church. Meet Christians, ask questions and most importantly ask God! Pray to him, you don’t need a theology degree to open you heart and your mouth and ask Him “God are you there? Are you listening? Do you care about me?” I guarantee He will answer you, He will speak to you through His word, through a song on the radio, through whispers in to your spirit. All you have to do is ask.