RACHEL'S STORY

July 6,1997 was a beautiful summer day in Farmington, Maine. I awoke to the crisp, cool morning air and a bright, blue sunny sky. Little did I know that the events that were about to happen that day would change the course and direction of my life forever. And really, what occurred that day was just the culmination of the events that had taken place throughout my entire life.

I was raised with an older brother by loving parents in the middle class suburb of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Even though my mother and father ceased to officially practice Catholicism, they had me baptized in a Catholic Church when I was a baby. I suppose this was done to appease certain elder family members who were still Catholics.

During my childhood I had very few religious influences. Each year my family would celebrate Christmas and Easter without stepping foot into a church. It was considered to be a time to spend with the family instead of a time of worship. And to us children it was a time to give and receive presents and enjoy Easter egg hunts.

For special occasions such as weddings and funerals my family would attend church but for the most part they weren't interested in religion. Instead they were content to pursue worldly pleasures. However, I do remember my great grandmother seemed to be different from the rest of my family. Her home was decorated with rosary beads, statues of Jesus hanging from the cross, and other religious paraphernalia. She would hold me by the wrists and tell me about Jesus the Son of God who was sent into the world to die for sinners. I didn't understand why God would have done such a thing and failed to find comfort in her story.

Although my parents didn't raise my brother and I to be churchgoers, they did try to instill in us good morals and the knowledge that there was a God who loved us very much. My mother, who attended parochial school when she was young, taught us that God made the world and that God was everywhere. She also taught us about heaven and hell. But these concepts remained merely concepts.

When I was about six years old, my life suddenly changed because of my parents' failed marriage. As a young child my family was all I really had in this life and when I saw it fall apart, I felt like my whole world collapsed. One day while on my bed in my room, clearly upset about the situation, I felt a hope spring up in my heart. It suddenly occurred to me that if God was real then He was the very one that could help me. So I climbed to the foot of my bed, got down on my knees, and prayed from my little heart for God to help me. I remember feeling like someone really heard my prayer, and the sorrow I had felt was soon replaced with a peace that somehow everything would be all right.

As a young girl I was what society would consider a good girl. I did very well in school and excelled in various sports. I was an outgoing person and I had many friends. My enjoyments came from the decent things in life until I reached those critical teenage years. That's when I began to exercise my free will and develop the rebellious nature in my heart. As a consequence, by my sophomore and junior years of high school I found myself steeped in various sins that I never thought I would be involved in.

From time to time I would reflect upon my decisions and wonder what this life was all about. I was conscious that I no longer dwelt in the realm of innocence and that I only had myself to blame for the consequences of my actions. Oftentimes I would philosophize with friends about the purpose of existence and ascend into the heady, high minded notions of man only to come crashing down to the true reality that I didn't know anything.

I found it frustrating that nobody had legitimate answers to my questions, only forms of religion which I personally found to be obnoxious. Even though I still believed in God, I basically concluded that people were more or less a product of their environment and that ultimately it was up to individuals to determine the course and happiness of their own lives. I guess I can attribute this way of thinking to the influence of my boyfriend during my junior and senior years of high school. He was an existentialist from an educated, well-to-do family that emphasized the responsibility of the individual.

After I graduated from high school, with the encouragement of my boyfriend and our families, I decided to earn a degree in the natural sciences. As the result of what I consider divine intervention, I ended up choosing the University of Maine at Farmington to pursue my goal.

When I first came to Farmington, it took me a while to adjust to my new surroundings. I was so accustomed to the quick-paced life down in Rhode Island that I felt like I had relocated to the end of the earth. It was so quiet and slow paced up in Maine and the beauty of the country was absolutely breathtaking.

Throughout my life I had always been fond of nature. I loved activities that would take me deep into the rustling woods or high up onto the lofty mountains, such as mountain biking and snowboarding. While out in nature, away from the rat race of everyday life, I felt a sense of euphoria which would often spark my mind to think about the Creator. At times I'd be conscious of the beautiful witness of God all around me. Though so close, yet God always seemed so far away.

One of the reasons for choosing the University of Maine at Farmington was to start my life anew. I hoped that by distancing myself from my friends at home I could start out fresh and straighten out my life. But what I found was that I took myself with me to Farmington and that the real problem was within me. And it wasn't long before I had a new set of friends that were just like the ones back home.

During my freshman year at UMF I must admit that my god was my belly and my glory was in my shame. I indulged in the pleasures of this life with a hedonistic attitude. The freedom I possessed, being away from my parents and any real authority figures, allowed me to exercise my free will with few restrictions.

However, the contradiction of this lifestyle soon became evident to me. I learned that the things that I did for pleasure and enjoyment were the very things that brought misery to my soul. Once in a while I would even reflect upon my foolish ways with remorse and regret. During these moments I would feel a genuine desire to change, but what I discovered was that I lacked the necessary motivation to do so.

It was at this period in my life that I had my first encounter with the people of God. In the fall of 1995 while smoking a cigarette outside the student center with a friend, I caught my first glimpse of the Friends of Jesus Christ. To my surprise the older couple, who looked like they had stepped out of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, came, as was their custom, to preach to the students entering the cafeteria for Thursday night supper. I asked my friend, who was an upperclassman, who those strangely dressed people were. She said, "Oh, those are the Gray People who come every Thursday to preach." This was a completely new phenomenon for me, so I sat attentively to behold what was about to transpire.

After they sang a hymn, the man began to preach while the woman handed out literature. She approached my friend and I and offered us the literature, which we accepted. Then my friend unexpectedly began asking her questions. I was so embarrassed. While my friend spoke with her, I read the literature titled, Why Christians Don't Wear Shorts. By this time my eyes and ears were stunned by the input and I was completely beside myself.

Finally the two were done with their discussion and the woman crossed the street and began to deliver her sermon. She preached about the sin of immodesty and why Christians don't wear shorts. Meanwhile, my friend began to inform me of her Christian profession and how she felt their message was ridiculous. Even though I didn't embrace what the Friends of Jesus Christ were saying, something in my heart sided with them over my friend. After all, my friend partook of the same sins that I did, so her profession of Christianity was hypocritical to me.

What the ministers were saying seemed to make sense, but it was so foreign to me that I couldn't grasp it. Looking back on that event, it reminds me of being in a dark room when suddenly someone turns on the light. The sudden brightness of the light is just as blinding as the darkness.

On another occasion, one dreary, rainy night, a group of friends and I were gathered on the front steps of my dorm smoking cigarettes when the same couple that preached in front of the student center rounded the corner with their umbrellas. My friends quickly extinguished their cigarettes and went inside to avoid the dreaded Gray People. I figured this was my opportunity to find out what made them tick.

As I sat there, they faithfully approached me and almost immediately we began discussing the real issue of life. In my usual sassy way, I asked them what made them so sure there was a God and how they knew what He expected from us. To my astonishment they gave me just the answer I didn't want to hear. The woman basically said that there is a witness of God all around us in nature and that God, through His Holy Spirit, speaks to everyone right in his heart letting him know what his sins are. At this point I was ready to flee inside with the rest of my friends. The simplicity of their doctrine rang in my heart as true and I knew these people were different from other religious people. That night they left me with a tract containing their testimonies and much to think about.

Later that same year I was partying with a bunch of friends at an off-campus apartment with the front door wide open. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. When I peered around the corner to see who was there, dread seized my being as my eyes beheld two holy women in long gray dresses standing in the doorway. They were members of the Friends of Jesus Christ. I immediately felt ashamed of myself for the condition that I was in and I saw the awful state of my life. While some friends began talking with them, I meekly made my way into the bathroom where I remained for some time, trying to make myself look presentable.

When I finally came out of the bathroom, I stood by my friends who were talking with the two women and listened to their conversation. I realized that my friends were trying in vain to convince the women that they were OK with God, but I knew in my heart that we were the ones that were wrong and the Gray People were right. I couldn't bear to listen to my friends defend their wickedness in front of godly people, so I went back into the living room.

When they finally left, I was somewhat relieved. I didn't realize at the time that the reason I felt such shame and guilt was because the Spirit of God was visiting my soul in mercy and making me feel condemnation for my sinful life.

After my freshman year of folly and foolishness, I returned home for the summer to the same old scene. I had a job assisting the wife of an extremely wealthy man with the day to day chores at their estate. This experience branded upon my heart the vanity and emptiness of riches. I saw that true lasting peace and happiness was not to be found in the things that this world had to offer. They only added distraction to emptiness.

By the end of that summer I was looking forward to returning to Maine. My new boyfriend and I decided to move into an apartment off-campus together, which we both were very excited about. I was totally unaware that the Friends of Jesus Christ were about to enter our lives in a significant way.

Toward the end of October there was a knock at our door. To my surprise the preaching couple who was woven into my life throughout my freshman year was now standing in our doorway. We graciously invited them in and began discussing the most important issue of life. My boyfriend, who had been raised to believe that some Old Testament practices were essential elements of the Christian life, partook of most of the discussion while I mainly observed. Since I wasn't familiar with the Bible and Christian doctrine, I didn't have much to say. However, I was curious about the more practical things pertaining to our every day life. Did God really care about how we dressed? Was the Big Bang Theory true? And what about sports?

As the discussion unfolded, I began to feel the lost condition of my soul. All my life I believed in the God of the Bible but I failed to realize that He wanted me to live a holy life and that He sacrificed His son Jesus to enable me to do so. What could I say? I was guilty. I knew deep down in my heart that there were things I blatantly chose to do even though I felt they were wrong. I was also conscious of something within that made me feel bad for the sins I committed, especially when I was around saintly people. But what could I do about it? I was in bondage to my sins and I couldn't imagine life without them.

At the close of our discussion the two ministers invited us to attend a Sunday meeting. Finally the Sunday came when my boyfriend and I attended our first meeting located in the home of the two preachers. Now, the churches I had attended in the past were mostly large buildings with religious decorations and beautiful stained glass windows. This was a whole new experience. Their meeting room for worship was plain and simple. Nonetheless, I could feel a sense of seriousness and sanctity there. They met quietly and waited upon God for something to speak. Again, I was not at all accustomed to this form of worship but rather to a programmed service.

During this meeting I was impressed with the uniqueness of the Friends of Jesus Christ and the way the members conducted themselves. What was it that made these people so different? I was intrigued by the fact that each one seemed normal, yet at the same time they were so peculiar.

The fall of 1996 was a great turning point in my life, which I attribute to the influence of the Friends of Jesus Christ. I really had a desire and the motivation to live right and to reform my life. My boyfriend was also tender and shared the same desire to straighten out his life. We talked about our future together and wanted to come to some form of agreement pertaining to our beliefs. Together we began to reform our lives and would even spend time reading the Bible to each other. We began to take our studies seriously and occupied our time with healthier activities.

Over the next several months there was a significant change in our lives as we continued to pursue the convictions in our hearts. We both attempted to abstain from certain sins and encouraged each other to press on. I began to see the vanity in my heart and stripped myself of most of my jewelry while my boyfriend went through his CD's and put away those that were obviously wicked. As a result, we both possessed the good feelings that accompany reformation.

During the spring vacation in April of 1997 I flew out to Colorado to visit my brother and some friends from high school who shared a condo together. I had been a snowboard instructor and possessed a true passion for the sport. The opportunity to snowboard out west in the Rocky Mountains thrilled me and I looked forward to this vacation for quite some time.

However, I wasn't there very long when I discovered that I was not their same old friend I used to be in high school. At one point they invited me outside to smoke marijuana with them but I declined. That party spirit had withered away in me and I no longer participated in that old sinful deed. As a result, I found myself sitting alone in the living room with the pungent realization of what it meant to live right. The separation that resulted was evident to me and although it saddened me, I knew that it couldn't be any other way. Nor did I want to revert back to my old ways.

Nearly nine months had passed since October, when my life began to reform. My sophomore year had ended and summer in Maine was here. I worked together with a schoolmate for the Department of Environmental Protection on a summer internship, which required traveling to various town offices.

At the beginning of July my partner attended a U2 rock concert, so I had to travel alone to work. Driving didn't usually bother me, but at that particular time I was afraid of dying suddenly in a car accident. The reality of heaven and hell was weighing in on my mind and I was afraid that if I died I would end up in hell forever. Even though I had reformed my life, I still did not feel at peace with my Creator. I was unaware that God, who had been faithfully dealing with me, especially over the last nine months, was stirring in my heart with more intensity and showing me that there was more to making peace than just reformation.

The day that my partner returned to work marks an event that has been indelibly imprinted on the pages of my life. We were working in a large room at the town office of China, Maine, listening to Reggae music when abruptly the tape player stopped working. My partner was so excited about his recent experience at the U2 rock concert that he just continued on with his story.

All of a sudden I heard a voice say, "Your life will never be the same again." I paused with bewilderment and fright at the voice, wondering where it came from. Then, being overwhelmed with the situation, I arose from the table and walked across the room and out the side door. I knew that the voice was God and at that moment my belief in the existence of God transformed into a sure knowledge. While I stood still and looked up into the blue sky, I wondered what the words I heard meant.

A few seconds later my partner came out to see what was going on. Since he was in the middle of telling his story when I left the room, he wanted to know what happened to me. I told him that I knew my life would never be the same again, but I couldn't explain to him why.

After this experience, my mind was often preoccupied with God and eternity. I began to realize that all my efforts to reform my life were in vain because it wasn't just my sins that I needed to give up, it was also my will.

Friday was the 4th of July. My boyfriend and I were traveling to his parent's home where he would be staying for the next week. At one point in the drive I shut the radio off and asked him if he was willing to give up everything for God. He answered at once, "Of course I would. I would even give you up." I found it hard to believe that someone could answer such a question so quickly that I just turned the radio back on.

I was troubled because I knew that I could not honestly answer that way. I despised the idea of giving up my whole will---totally, one hundred percent, to live in absolute obedience to the will of God. My will was the only thing that I possessed in this life that nobody could ever take away from me and I saw that it was this very thing that God was requiring from me. Could I really surrender to the will of God in everything? Was I capable of eliminating all of my future plans and trusting my life into the hands of God? Could I bear the separation and the reproaches that would naturally result from walking in obedience to God's way? I was seriously counting the cost.

On the 6th of July the day of decision arrived. I awoke that beautiful Sunday morning alone in my apartment to an unexpected sermon being preached on the radio station that I fell asleep listening to the night before. I usually would have changed the station immediately, but this morning I was in a different state of mind.

The man was preaching about two particular places in the gospel accounts. One was about a great storm that arose while Jesus was sleeping in the ship with his disciples. They awakened Him and said, "Lord, save us: we perish." Then He asked them, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" The other was the time when Jesus walked on the water and Peter also walked on the water to go out to Him. But when Peter saw the wind boisterous, he began to sink. Then Jesus caught him and said, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"

The words of that sermon distilled upon my heart like the morning dew. I felt like Jesus was speaking those words directly to me. "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" I could already see that I was beginning to sink like Peter did. Nine months of reformation had passed and I was becoming weary in my efforts to do right. I didn't want to struggle against my sins anymore. I just wanted to be free from them.

Later that morning I headed out to play tennis with my doubles partner. We were practicing for the Wilton Tournament, which was only a few weeks away. After our practice I told him that I was planning to attend a meeting of the Friends of Jesus Christ that night. Since the preaching couple had invited me the day before when I saw them knocking on a neighbor's door, I desired to go.

When I returned to my apartment, I was still full of energy so I hopped on my mountain bike and headed for the nearby trails. At one point, while out in the woods, my tire sank into the mud as the trail dropped down a few feet. I flipped over the handlebars and landed on a small tree stump right in the middle of my back. As I lay still on the trail, all alone, I thought for a moment that I was paralyzed. It entered my mind that God's wrath was kindled against me for not serving Him and that I was being cut off from all the pleasures that I chose over Him. When I finally realized that I wasn't paralyzed, I got back on my bike and humbly made my way back to my apartment.

Later that afternoon the phone rang. It was the preacher woman calling to invite me to meeting that night. I told her that I was already planning to attend. By 7 o'clock I was on my way. I took a seat in the last row of the meeting room and sat quietly with the others.

During the meeting a few members stood up to give testimonies and read from the scriptures. I'm not sure what was preached, but I'll never forget when this old woman stood up and read aloud the words to the hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. She slowly read each verse and it was like a sharp knife cutting through the fabric of my heart and piercing my soul. I believe it was the first time in my life that I truly appreciated the amazing sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross and found comfort in that old story that I had heard so long ago.

When she finished reading, we all stood up to sing the hymn. As the words were sung and repeated in my ears a second time, I stood there completely devastated. When they sang the words to the chorus...

———
So I'll cherish the old rugged Cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down.
I will cling to the old rugged Cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.
———

I could hardly bear to hear it. I wasn't thinking about laying my trophies down when I got to heaven, but I was thinking about the trophies I had to lay down in this life. I knew that was what I must do.

I was so sorry for my life of sin and for not yielding obedience to the will of God, especially after all that had been done for me. How could I withhold my life after Jesus laid down His life for me?

At the end of meeting, we stood to close with prayer. The minister up front looked back at me and asked me if I wanted to serve God. I hesitated for a moment as I saw my life flash before my eyes. I felt like my answer was not going to be for the minister's ears only, but also for the ears of the Creator and the whole host of heaven. Finally, after wrestling with the decision, I said, "I will."

The work of God in my life had finally brought forth fruit unto repentance. I knew at that moment that all I had to give, I had given.

I finally had the answers to the questions that were such a burden to my soul. Yes, I really could surrender to the will of God in everything. Yes, I was capable of eliminating all of my future plans and trusting my life into the hands of God. Yes, I was willing the bear the separation and the reproaches that would naturally result from walking in obedience to God's way. And it was only by the power of my risen Savior that I could now answer yes to these questions.

God had dealt so faithfully with me that I knew He was absolutely capable of taking me by the hand and leading me the rest of the way. As I stood in the mighty presence of God that night, this world suddenly became spoiled to me. One taste, one glimpse, one moment in the presence of God and this world and all its glory crumbles like a dry autumn leaf.

My life was now His and I soon learned that His life was now mine. The eyes of my understanding received sight so that I could discern the light from the darkness and walk in the way that leads to Heaven. I have been forgiven for all my transgressions and by the Spirit of God am enabled to have the victory over my sins. All the praise, glory, and honor goes to my Creator. Truly, my life will never be the same again.

THE OLD RUGGED CROSS

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross,
Where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Oh, the old rugged cross,
So despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In the old rugged cross
stained with blood so divine,
A wonderous beauty I see;
For t'was on that old cross
Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He'll call me someday
To my home far away,
Where His glory forever I'll share.

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