There it was sitting on the kitchen counter when I got home from work that day. The envelope looked like a wedding invitation might be inside. I eagerly opened it and was disappointed to find an invitation to a small farm in Illinois hosting an International Disciple Making Training.
Just looking at this envelope infuriated me. This envelope represented so much of what was currently going wrong in my life. Just a couple of months before this invitation arrived, I found out my husband Paul, was having an affair with a woman from a nearby town. A few weeks after this revelation, I found out he had had affairs with multiple women over the years. I was heartbroken!! Not only because I had been betrayed, but the deception had been going on for most of our 16 years of marriage. I was fearful this was going to continue to be my life as it already had been for the past 20 years. I loved Paul so much and could not bring myself to leave him no matter how much he hurt me. People had often asked me how I could stay with him after so much betrayal. I never had an answer. I couldn’t explain it to them, but something kept me bound to him. All I would ever reply is, “God knows why.” And boy did He.
Let me backup now……During the months after I found out about his affairs, I struggled with many emotions. One minute I would be happy, the next a complete mess. Some days I struggled to get out of the bed in the morning. Yet I stayed in the marriage. I couldn’t explain why I stayed with this man who had done so much to hurt me, but I stayed just the same.
This Fight might end our marriage.
Late one Saturday night, a few days into the chaos which resulted from the revelation of yet another affair, a heated argument broke out. I thought this fight would be the end our marriage. My husband and I both stood on our porch. He told me that because of what he had done he didn’t know how to live with me or without me. Still in agony myself, I felt my heart begin to soften as I witnessed the pain and remorse he was feeling. Standing on our porch on that cold January night, I told my husband that I wanted to forgive him. “First,” I told him, “you will have to forgive yourself and what’s more, you will have to truly let God into your heart and accept the forgiveness available to you through Jesus.” As we stood there shivering, he asked me to pray with him, and together we prayed the sinner’s’ prayer. It was a beautiful moment between the two of us. It was yet another piece in an epic masterpiece that God was unfolding in our lives but I couldn’t see it at the time.
On a whim two days later my husband called a friend from Facebook. This friend was involved in bible distribution in Africa. Paul told him he was interested in helping on his next trip. Unfortunately the friend (James) was leaving in just two days. Therefore, going on this particular trip was impossible so James told my husband he would catch up with him when he got back to the States.
Over the next few days, I noticed that Paul seemed so much happier. More peaceful than he had ever been. I thought, “maybe there had been a breakthrough with him and we will be done with all of the chaos once and for all.” But when Paul told me he had volunteered to go to Africa, I was furious!! I was thinking “how can a person get saved one day, and then two days later feel the need to leave your wife and kids and go to Africa?”
You see one of his affairs had happened while he was overseas as a government contractor. When Paul returned after months overseas and told me of the affair, the result was additional months of suffering for our family. Misery wouldn’t even begin to describe what the months leading up to the Africa conversation had been like. Just the thought of him going abroad again aggravated all kinds of emotions and fears inside of me. After my little tirade, I asked him again why he needed to go to Africa and he said he thought God told him to reach out to James to try to help in some way.
When he said he felt it was God telling him to do it, my heart softened toward the idea. Being the good Christian woman I wasn’t going to disagree with God.
A few weeks later I wound up meeting James, his wife, and their seven kids along with another couple and their four kids. It was a Saturday night soon after James had returned from his trip to Africa. Paul and I were in the middle of another horrible fight about…you guessed it, the multiple affairs. (This seemed to be the topic of every conversation that we had lately).
While we were together in the car, James called inviting us to their house. I told Paul to go home because I didn’t want to go to James’ house. Paul felt like we were supposed to go, and before I knew it, we were sitting in James’ living room with children running around everywhere. We were conversing with strangers and reading scripture. All my broken and critical mind could think was, “is this for real?” James even read 1 Peter 3:1 to the group about a wife bringing her husband to Christ through her good life. He said that verse was talking about me. Even though these good things were happening, I kept thinking, “just wait, this won’t last long.”
During this visit, we received our first invite to the discipleship training James and the other couple would be hosting at a farm in Illinois a month later. I smiled and nodded in agreement (as every Southern lady with good manners would) when they extended the invitation but had no intention of attending. Soon we were off to our car and the misery of our prior conversation returned.
Off to Illinois
Several weeks later, I found myself in the car with Paul, on a Friday headed to the address in that little white envelope, the discipleship training in Illinois. The car ride was long, which gave me 8 hours to torture myself and Paul with numerous questions about his affairs, his love for me, and our uncertain future. Looking back, I am ashamed of wasting all that time with Paul. Even though it was only eight hours it felt like an eternity. And then we pulled into the driveway and were greeted by the hostess.
My first thought when she greeted us was ‘what are we doing here? What is this thing even about?’ Paul was excited so I tried to act as excited too. I exchanged pleasantries with the other guests but everything I said that night felt forced and fake, like I was an impostor. Even when we introduced ourselves and our Christian background, I stood and announced to the room, “Hi, my name is Leslie, and I was saved when I was 12 years old.” Something in me felt off. Everyone was so happy to be there, some of them even glowing with God’s love. I smiled on the outside, but on the inside, I wanted to be anywhere but in that room.
The night consisted of dinner and a few slides stating the purpose of the training and the IDMI (The International Disciple Making Initiative). By the time the night was over I was exhausted. Our host showed us to his in-laws home where we would be staying. Our hosts invited us for refreshments. I declined thinking Paul and I were much too tired for more visiting that. I was shocked and annoyed when Paul accepted the invitation and left me alone. I was in an unfamiliar basement bedroom. It hurt that he would rather talk to complete strangers than spend time with me . I threw my hands up in exasperation and decided to prepare for bed. But the longer I was alone down there, the angrier I became.
I came unglued
When Paul finally came down to the room, I was livid. I yelled and screamed. I questioned his love for me and asked why he had brought me to this place? I had no idea what ‘it’ was. I threw a whole litany of insults at Paul. (I thought it would make me feel better…it didn’t). I continued hurling insults at him until I screamed something I had never said to him before, “I don’t love you anymore!!” This was the first time in our relationship that I actually thought I didn’t love him anymore. Paul looked shocked and broken. He told me, “I deserved that but I don’t want to live without you. I’d rather die than lose you.” I moved towards him and soothed him out of habit. I told him God didn’t want him to do that, nor would I or the kids be better off without him. I felt ashamed that I had made him feel this way.
Then Paul said he didn’t understand why God would allow all of these things happen to me over the course of our life together. Suddenly the fury and anger came back in full force. All of the years of pain and heartbreak erupted into one divine outburst. Before I even realized what was happening, I screamed, “Because I put you before God! But I will never love you more than God or put you before my God again!!”
I’ve heard the phrase many times, “words are like toothpaste…once they are out there you can’t take them back.” After my eruption I didn’t feel better. I didn’t feel righteous. I had a hollow, empty feeling like I had never felt in my entire life. It was worse than all the grief and agony of the last couple of months. I laid there…frozen. I wanted to get up, pack my bags and go home to Mississippi but I just couldn’t move. I didn’t understand it. Paul was quiet. He told me he loved me. I didn’t reply. I just stared at him, still trying to process what had just happened. Finally I was able to utter a few words of apology, knowing that I did still love him, but I still wanted to go home. Eventually we fell asleep that night. We both vowed that we would figure it out together no matter what.
I actually wanted to stay!
The next morning, I woke up and the desire to flee was gone. We rushed around prepping for the day like nothing had happened the night before. I actually felt better than I had the day before. I was smiling, and laughing. The night before I had been the complete opposite of the sweet Southern belle I was raised to be. Looking back, I had never really been the sweet southern belle everyone thought I was, but more about that later….
When we entered the small farmhouse for Day 2 of the Disciple Making Training I actually found myself excited (instead of anxious like the night before). After breakfast, we dug in and started studying the bible. With the help of our instructor Kurt Olson, we learned what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to truly serve him. First, we followed up on our discussion from the night before. We examined Jesus’ statement to the first disciples of “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Kurt challenged us to change the way that we looked at witnessing and sharing the gospel. To change our mindset from focusing on just a few people and to broaden our scope to include every single person that we come in contact with. Because if a person’s heart has been made ready to receive the Holy Spirit by God the Father, they just have to be at the right place at the right time (or the wrong place, however you look at it) for a disciple to share Jesus and the plan of salvation with them. This is “Fishing for people with a net, rather than a hook.”
We went on to look over several different passages that talked about Jesus and what it truly means to be a disciple. Then he dropped the big one on us. We were to look to His word to receive answers for life’s questions and how we live our lives and obey what it commands. Of all of the commands that Jesus gave to us, the original command, the one that our life should consist of, is to: Make Disciples. When he said that, it was like a challenge had been issued. I scribbled furiously in my Walgreen’s notebook. Up until this point it had only been used for a to-do list. It was a challenge given to me by Jesus Christ himself and I was hooked, no pun intended.
I was totally dedicated to Church.
I was raised in rural Mississippi, where there are Baptist churches large and small on every other corner. I attended one of the smaller churches in my community. I was at church almost every time the doors were open. Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Wednesday night service, Bible drills, youth trips, fundraisers, concerts, retreats, you name it I was there. I responded to an altar call at the age of 12 because I felt a strong conviction after hearing a fire and brimstone message delivered by my beloved childhood pastor. I was convinced my baptism at the age of nine had not done the trick. I was baptized again at twelve and told once you were saved, you were always saved. Growing up in the church I always knew Jesus loved me because the Bible tells me so. I knew that there was amazing grace available to everyone. I consumed so much knowledge of the Bible over my time growing up in that little church. I knew exactly which verses I needed to encourage me that everything was going to be alright. For the first few years of our courtship, Paul and I sat warming a pew hand in hand. I grew and explored different Bible studies in my later teen years. By the time I was an adult I felt I was “good to go.” Looking back, I can remember singing “Are you washed in the Blood?” almost as an accusation during Sunday morning invitation. I thought I was a good Christian.
When we decided to get married, this little church that was the only option. Soon afterwards, Paul decided to join the Army and we entered into a life filled with a lot of happiness, but also a lot of pain, loss, and sorrow. Every time something would fall apart in my life, I would go to my Bible and it would give me comfort. But it was only temporary…. death after death in both our families, move after move in the military, the beautiful births of our children, marriage highs and lows, no matter if it was good or bad, I was never able to stay happy long. I did terrible things. Broke almost every commandment in the Bible, but I would return to my Bible for reassurance of God’s love and my salvation in those same scriptures I had learned as a child. This pattern lasted for over 20 years of my life, until the visit to this farm in Illinois.
We ended that day learning how to fish for souls with a net rather than a hook, and the importance of letting the Holy Spirit have control in the church like He did during the time of Jesus first disciples. Back then there were no shiny white church buildings for the disciples to gather in. For that matter, in the earliest days of the church, the New Testament had not even been written yet. It was all done by the sharing of Jesus’ teachings from one disciple to another and by the will of the Father, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in each member of the family of God on Earth.
The rest of that day and half of the next we spent fellow-shipping and finishing up the Disciple Making training. I’ll admit that I didn’t want to leave. I still had a lot of doubts and a lot of questions, but for the first time in my life, I felt like I truly understood what it meant to be a genuine follower of Jesus. We were never meant to just be saved, we were supposed to obey and reproduce as disciples.
The car ride back to Mississippi
When we got into the car, our 8 hour ride home was filled with exciting conversation about being obedient to Jesus according to God’s word. We spoke of doing our part to fulfill The Great Commission and contemplated all the information we had taken in over the last 3 days.
As we drove further and further down the road, it was like a curtain was lifting from my eyes, and as it did, small puzzle pieces started coming together in my mind and things started making sense. As a child I never really liked puzzles, they frustrated me. The chaos of hundreds of mismatched pieces lying all together did not agree with my control freak nature. But this puzzle was coming together one small piece at a time and it was fun, it was exciting!!
All of the scripture I had memorized as a child suddenly made sense. With the knowledge I now had, I not only knew how to explain the Trinity to others, but I knew how the scripture should be applied to our lives and it excited me!
I’d never been this happy.
After leaving that farm and enduring an eight hour car ride, we arrived at our home in Mississippi but I couldn’t sleep. I was chattering away in my new excitement about following Jesus. As Paul drifted off to sleep he was smiling at my giddiness. I can’t remember ever feeling so happy and I wanted it to last forever.
The next morning, after only about 4 hours of sleep, I woke up groggy but still giddy like the night before. When I woke our kids to ready them for school, I was so filled with love for them. Things I usually yelled at them for didn’t bother me. As I got ready for work I quickly tried to tell Paul all of the new pieces of information God had connected in my brain. I was ready to go make some disciples even if I had to do it as Gods’ sleep deprived cheerleader. As I arrived at school (I am a middle school teacher) the joy I was feeling was growing rather than dissipating. After other conferences and Bible study weekends I had previously attended the excitement always faded. But I was still on fire!
That evening I hurried to my parents’ house to share with them about what was happening. My excitement had them looking at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care though!
The next day, (Tuesday) was much the same as before but I kept feeling a strong pull to study scriptures from the Disciple Making Training. Piece by piece the puzzle was taking shape. I wanted to be obedient, in studying my Bible. Up until the training it had been opened maybe twice since I bought it. I had now used and enjoyed my Bible more in 4 days than I had in the past 23 years combined.
I felt like a super disciple!
That evening, we met James and his family for Bible study. I felt the like a super–disciple. Still, there was a piece of the puzzle that was missing. I could feel it but couldn’t put my finger on it. I had never been this happy, never had this much patience, never been this kind to other people or paid such attention to small details. But that missing piece was driving my control freak nature crazy. Even as I sat in our Bible study that night, I had doubts, not about the abilities of God, but more in my ability to perform any of the tasks that He would give me.
Some super disciple I am I thought as we drove home that night. If I could just figure out that last piece. As we drove home I was probably the quietest I had been in days. I was concentrating on all the pieces that God had been assembling in my mind over the last few days. As I went to bed and said my prayers, I was frustrated but so tired, sleep eventually won out.
The next morning God must have decided I was ready for that final piece. He reminded me of something my mom used to tell me. It was how you can tell if someone is truly saved or not. Usually Mom had been talking about my husband Paul. She would name the fruits of the Holy Spirit of God, which are, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For years, whenever she would talk about these “fruits,” I would think to myself “I don’t have those.” I mean I have them but not all of them, and definitely never at the same time. Then God gave me the final piece which finished the puzzle (so to speak) and brought everything together. I felt I was seeing things clearly for the first time in my life.
The final piece!
The one remaining piece was from the previous weekends training. Our teacher Kurt Olson said something that rubbed me the wrong way. We were talking about disciple-making. Kurt explained; when a person comes to Christ one of the first acts of obedience was to get baptized, and then to simply go, obey Jesus, and make more disciples who do the same. During this conversation, Kurt smiled and said he had something to share that might blow our minds. Of course were curious!?! He continued, “you don’t even have to be born again to be a disciple of Jesus or to help another person become a disciple. It isn’t about being saved or unsaved, it’s about who you are following. That coming to Christ is often a process instead of an event. It usually occurs over a period of time as the Father pulls people to Jesus (John 6:44). Wait…What???? How can an unsaved person lead others to Jesus? Then he dropped the bombshell. “Judas was a disciple of Jesus. He followed him. He baptized people. He thought he was right with Jesus. But in the end, he was the disciple who kissed Jesus on the cheek and sold him for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus called him a devil and said that he was lost.” Therefore, Judas was an unsaved disciple.
I was Judas!
In that moment, God allowed the last piece to come together with all the others. I felt the most profound feeling of shock I think I have ever felt in my life. Then that feeling of shock turned to sorrow, but also joy and hope. I jumped up from my Wednesday morning coffee to run into our dark bedroom, flipped the light on, and shook Paul awake while I screamed, “Paul, I figured it out! I was a Judas!!!” I had never actually been saved in the 23 years that I proclaimed proudly (but falsely) to be Christian.
He stared at me with a groggy, very confused and slightly annoyed look. So I reminded him of what Kurt had told us at the training. His face relaxed into smile as I told him about the fruits of the Spirit and continued rambling on in the excitement of this new revelation.
I would have gone straight to Hell!
Suddenly I froze as the seriousness of all this hit me and I said “OH MY GOD PAUL!! If I had died in those years, I would have gone straight to Hell!!!” As Paul was taking this all in he, realized the joy and happiness growing inside of me the last few days wasn’t just a feeling. It was the Holy Spirit taking up residence in me. I had never felt like this before because the Holy Spirit had never been in me before. Paul’s only words were “Praise God you didn’t die.” as I stood there beaming with amazement for how much my God truly loves me.
When I think about all of the months of misery that had preceded that white envelope on my kitchen counter, words can’t express how thankful I was in that moment. I felt complete awe and wonder at how God’s hand had kept me safe throughout the years when I had lived such a wretched life thinking and pretending I was truly saved when I wasn’t.
Later, I tried to pinpoint the moment this change began. “When was the moment joy began to fill the miserable person i had been” I wondered. It wasn’t an ah-hah moment on a pew in a church. It was in a little basement bedroom in Illinois when I decided, even without knowing it, to stop putting a person before God in my life. It started when I told Paul I didn’t love him anymore. For as long as I could remember he had been the thing I loved most in this world but that was only an earthy love. My husband was my idol! What I have now is an eternal, epic, all-consuming love from the creator of the universe. I had said I loved God in the past, but I really didn’t. I loved the idea of a God who died for me, looked out for me, and would take me to heaven. But I thought i was entitled to it because I had walked that aisle and supposedly got “saved” as a child. I claimed to have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, except whenever I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I, in my control freak nature, hadn’t been willing to truly give him control of my life. I wanted to do my own thing like an obstinate child and then have Heavenly Daddy make it better when I messed up or disobeyed. I never wanted God unless I wanted something. And even though I behaved that way for so long, 23 years, He still loved me enough to pursue and save me. The fact that He had that much, not only love, but grace and mercy to accept me into his family means so much to me…I have no words to express how wonderful this feels.
As my first act of obedience (now that I fully surrendered my life to Jesus was truly born again), was that I needed to be baptized right away. If there was anything I was determined to do for the rest of my days on this earth, “It was to be obedient!!!” That is exactly what I told Paul later that day.
So, just five days after we left on that journey to a farm in Illinois, which started with that envelope on the kitchen counter, I insistently walked down to the little pond behind our house, and was baptized by another disciple, my husband Paul. In doing so, I completed my first commanded act of obedience as a born again believer and disciple of Jesus Christ!
Amazed and awestruck are just two of the many words that I could use to express my gratitude and reverence for the God of all creation and his tremendous love for me.
Obedience in the only way!
I am a work in progress, but I have true faith now. God knows my heart, and it sings praises to him. The fact that the One who sent his own Son to die for me also watched over me, loved me, and poured out nothing but love and mercy on me (even though I called myself a believer when i really wasn’t) will always be a testament to the relentless love God has for us all.
I know now that obedience is the only way to ever show my gratitude, because it is impossible to repay God for His epic, all-consuming love. This is the greatest joy I have ever felt and is truly the greatest love story ever told. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I KNOW Who holds tomorrow. I am finally willing to trust in what He has planned for me. Because, this is my story, this is my song of praise to the God who never stopped loving and pursuing me. From this moment, forward my life will be a day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath testament of why I will not only praise but obey Jesus to my dying day. Amen!
(Please share this story with everyone you know who may benefit from it and if you want more information on how to become a truly born again reproducing disciple of Jesus Christ then send your inquiry to email@example.com)