My Life in a Nutshell (sort of)
I have been a Christian my entire life. In fact, I have never known a day in my life without Jesus. I have always been active in church, Sunday School, confirmation, youth group, bible studies, women’s groups, and anything else you can think of associated with church. The best description I give of my life through my teenage years is that I felt God had a noose around my neck and pulled me through many difficult situations. God was always very real and present in my life, and I was in an active, loving relationship with Jesus.
Through a miraculous series of events, I found myself at a Christian college, playing volleyball and basketball, and continually being amazed at where God had brought me. I met my best friend in my freshman year, and we were married after my junior year of college. I finished my senior year after our first child was born two years later because we went off to my husband’s second year of seminary right after we were married. After his ordination, we were able to serve at several wonderful congregations, and also had the privilege of starting several churches. We were very comfortable with our faith and in what we thought God wanted in our lives. However, there was also restlessness and a desire for more, we just didn’t know what that “more” was all about.
As a pastor’s wife, I had a difficult task because I couldn’t talk comfortably with people or make eye contact with them. I basically just shadowed my husband. I was introverted, insecure, and unable to express love. Mark is every bit as outgoing as I was shy. This made for an interesting combination and at times a challenging relationship, as I needed to learn how to communicate in order to be more effective for Christ.
The pastor my husband trained under during his vicarage year had some words of wisdom that were harsh but true. During our exit interview he told Mark that he would make an excellent pastor because he had a heart like Jesus, and God would use him in spectacular ways. Then he looked at me and said, “Julie, if you don’t change and be more outgoing and comfortable around people, Mark will never be able to be the pastor he needs to be.” I was crushed. I didn’t know I needed to change, much less that I could. But I praise the Lord for the honesty of that man, and for his directness. Truth hurts, and he didn’t worry about presenting it to me in a kind, compassionate way. He just said it the way he saw it. I needed those words to begin a journey of faith that I have wanted to quit many times, but thankfully have been moved on through the grace and mercy of God.
Not only was I shy and introverted, but also my entire spirituality was tied to my religion and denomination. Even though I had a relationship with Jesus, it was based solely off of what pastors and teachers had told me. This was not their problem but my own. It was not because they did anything wrong, but because I had not pursued God with all of my heart, soul, and strength. I found myself wondering why Scripture wasn’t exciting to me like it was for Mark. I read the Bible, but it seemed more historical than relational. Mark would explain the Bible as being alive and in Technicolor. I saw only black and white and though it brought me comfort at times, I still found myself lacking and unmotivated. I did not examine Scripture thoroughly myself and get to know this Living God I was serving. I read the Word of God only through the eyes of my denomination instead of taking personal responsiblity for my relationship with Jesus Christ.
As the years went by and I started coming out of my shell, I experienced more discontent in my spirit. My husband was not happy with “church as usual”, and began earnestly searching for what he felt must be more through talking with Christian leaders and traveling. He wanted to know more about the Holy Spirit and His activity in the lives of believers. He soon discovered there was more. He experienced things with God that changed his entire ministry and spurned him on to greater works. However, along with the excitement also came challenge, frustration, persecution, and literally a changing of paradigms.
During this time of growth for Mark, I experienced two miscarriages in the same year after having three children already. I never lost faith in God, though I was hurt very deeply. A pastor friend of Mark’s asked if he could come over to the house and pray for healing as we were in the process of miscarrying. He said he would bring a group of people and pray over me and anoint me with oil asking God to save the life of our child. I was not interested in having anyone praying over me, only because I really didn’t understand what that meant. That was my first exposure to anyone even suggesting that God would heal me based on the prayers of people or anointing with oil. The following year, our congregation held a spiritual renewal weekend. The same pastor who had offered to pray over me was our guest speaker and would be teaching about the Holy Spirit and His activity in our lives. This was my second exposure and I cried and experienced things as never before. God spoke through several friends in the coming months about my future and the well being of our fourth child that I was anxiously carrying within me. God reassured me often through prophetic words (that I really didn’t understand with my mind but my spirit did) that this child was safe. I was ecstatic because of this news and even more because I knew the Holy Spirit in a personal and powerful way. But God had even more surprises in store for me as I still had no idea of what was coming.
We had our healthy daughter and nearly two more years passed when my husband took a call to another church where our lives were filled with turmoil, persecution, hatred, and division at every turn. We found ourselves more miserable than we had ever been in ministry, doubting everything about our ministry and ourselves. We had just left a most loving congregation and were now experiencing such agony; we didn’t even want to be in ministry any longer.
We were about seven months into the new ministry and a friend from our former church invited me to a conference close to where we now lived. It was a little scary to me because they were doing things I had never seen in church before. They were dancing, raising their hands in the air, praying, and I even heard speaking in tongues for the first time. On the first night I was there, I lost all fear and prejudice surrounding altar calls and receiving Jesus as Savior. I watched people go forward for prayer, and found it to be the most beautiful thing I had ever witnessed. I longed to go forward myself, but the religious spirit within me held me in bondage. I made all kinds of deals with God and would have been willing to go forward had all the circumstances lined up perfectly. God wasn’t’ playing that game with me however.
I came home the first night of the conference a bit frustrated because I wanted to go up for the altar call for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, (which I didn’t even know was possible or real) but the conditions I had presented to God in my heart in order for me to go up front didn’t happen so I left irritated. I questioned my husband mercilessly about what I had seen and experienced, and he simply smiled and said that is what he had been telling me for months. I was so upset because I felt like the things I had heard over the weekend had been hidden from me for my entire life. Finally, after hours of listening to me both complain and exclaim, my husband suggested we pray. At the conference I had prayed that if God was going to do something like he had done to Mark (baptism of the Holy Spirit) it would be great if I were at home and alone. Mark brought me home a pamphlet with a biblical explanation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues because I had so many questions.
Mark and I knelt down at the sofa and as he started to pray, I was silently asking God to forgive me for not acknowledging His presence through the power of the Holy Spirit, and for not being open to the Holy Spirit. I felt like the Holy Spirit had been actively present for a long time but I wasn’t allowing Him to have all of me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want Him to; I just didn’t know how to yield myself fully to Him. As I was repenting, I felt my stomach lurch and my tongue begin moving in my mouth. I felt like I was choking. I was thinking, “God, I don’t know how to do this. I know it is You, but I don’t know what to do.” I felt like a tennis ball was coming up from my stomach moving its’ way up by trachea. It was both painful and exhilarating all at the same time. Then words came bursting out of my mouth as I simply opened my mouth, and the power was beyond anything I had ever experienced, including childbirth. My new language continued for hours, and there even seemed to be more than one language. I talked so fast and so loud it was as though I had a pent up river inside of me. Throughout, I was very cognizant of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He took complete control of me, both my language and my body. I was doing crunches (sit ups) on the floor for over an hour. I did hundreds of them, while talking the whole time.
I tried to talk to Mark, but every time I would speak, it came out in a new language. After 33 years of little emotion and very reserved expressions of joy, that night I had my arms outstretched to God, fully embracing this new experience He was so generously pouring out to me. I’m not sure I even slept that night as my entire body was energized with the power of the Holy Spirit. I laid in bed praying, singing, totally engaged with God. Not only did this continue throughout the night, it continued for seven straight days. My entire body was submitted to Him, and He did some amazing and revealing things that week. I learned about intercession, was exposed to the heart of the Father, communed with God day and night. I learned what it meant to pray continually. I understood what it truly meant to give glory to God. I floated through that week with my body here on earth, but literally every moment both walking and sleeping was spent with God.
For the first time in my life I was experiencing a hunger for God that I couldn’t feed with the religious ways I had fed it in the past. Again, let me emphasize this was because of my own lack of zeal for the Lord, not someone else’s fault. I give all glory to God for His patience and zeal for me, because now I found reading the Word wasn’t enough. Singing songs to the Lord wasn’t enough. I just couldn’t get satisfied. I found myself as the deer pants for water, thirsting after God.
At the end of seven days of continual spiritual fellowship, God had one more surprise for me. He healed me from an eye-injury I had received six years previous to this time. My cat had attacked my eye while I was sleeping and ripped open my cornea with a jagged cut. Every time my eye got dry, which usually happened at night, my cornea would re-rupture and I would be in extreme pain until the eye healed itself, usually within about twenty-four hours. I used ointment every night and sometimes during the day as well, to keep my eye from drying out.
God healed me in a most humbling way. I was very critical of television evangelists and especially people who talked of healing. I wasn’t just critical to myself, but I would engage in conversations with other people about these Christian leaders. On the seventh day after my first encounter with the Holy Spirit, I turned the television on in the morning and a healing evangelist was telling me to reach my hand out towards the screen if I needed God to heal me of anything. I didn’t want to do this (in fact would have mocked him at any other time) but my arm was extended towards the television completely outside of my own control. Mark asked me what I was doing and I told him I guess I was praying that God would heal the skin disease that was attacking my body for over six years at that time.
At the exact moment I uttered those words to Mark, the man said, “There is a woman who just asked God to heal her from a skin disease. The medicine she takes has the potential to damage her kidneys, and I say in Jesus Name that they will not be harmed. “ I was ecstatic and screaming but God wasn’t finished yet. The man went on to say, “This woman also has an eye injury and the Lord says this too, is healed.” Wow, what an incredible God we have, and what a humbling way for him to bring healing into my body. But, there was yet one more surprise God had for me that day, to complete a miraculous work in me that continues to this day.
Several weeks earlier I had received a phone call from a Christian book club asking me to join and I would receive a free book. I told them that I would not join because I love books and I didn’t want to be tempted to purchase books regularly. They convinced me that I could just keep the new book and not join but they really wanted to give me a free book. As long as we understood each other that I wasn’t going to join I consented to joining and they gave me an option of three books. I was vocal to the salesperson about the fact I did not want the book by a well-known healing evangelist because I thought he was phony. I chose a different book. The same afternoon of my healings, about five weeks after signing up for the book club, I got a package in the mail. I opened it and the title was “Today is Your Day for a Miracle”. You guessed it – they sent a different book than I ordered. They sent the one I did not want, by the healing evangelist I had openly ridiculed, the same one who spoke on television that very morning about my healings. I ordered one book – God ordered me the right book at the right time!
All of this dramatically changed my life, cleansed me, convinced me, and set in course a direction that is drawing me closer to Jesus every day. The Word became Technicolor to me that week and has continued ever since. I have learned I cannot live without daily bread from God, and that there is more of everything through faith in Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. The thirst has never been completely quenched as I continue to soak in the knowledge, wisdom, and presence of an Almighty God, who sent His one and only Son into the world to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil.