Everyone has a story.
Although I was born in 1955, mine really started on the day I gave my life to Christ. I was 17 years old and to this day, I still remember that moment of letting go of my willful self and slipping out of the pew to walk down the aisle of the church I had attended most of my life.
It wasn’t a sudden decision.
When the Jesus Movement began sweeping across America in the late sixties, even my hometown of Louisville, KY saw its own mid-western version of religious coolness and I began my on-again, off-again relationship to the church. During my younger teen years, the church was the center of my social circle. There was a skating rink, gymnasium, youth activities and earnest youth ministers who moon lighted as seminary students (or vice-versa!). I attended regularly. I knew how to respond and all the right words to say. I was a good girl; one my parents could be proud of. The problem was that I had a head knowledge of Jesus but I never quite let him into my life.
When I started high school I went to church less. There were other things to do, boyfriends to date and my group of friends expanded to others outside the church. But my best friend, Karen Carter was always a rock in my life. She was the tie that kept me bound to the church. Her life was a constant reminder of my need for Christ and the church. Even when I sat behind her in home room at Durrett High School, it was what I thought about staring at the back of her head. My older brother, Dan was also a huge influence in my life. He sensed my struggle but he never condemned. He only encouraged and prayed for me. I knew this and I loved him even more for it.
Revivals were the hardest. I’d always tuck a little pack of tissues into my pocket because I knew I was going to cry and feel convicted about something. I just wouldn’t allow myself to figure out what it was I felt so badly about. So, I’d sit there feeling miserable. And worried. I might have an accident on the way home and it would be tragic because I didn’t quite have the salvation thing figured out. I remember hearing that Jesus was only going to knock on my heart’s door a few times — and if I didn’t answer, he might never knock again. I even answered a few times, but I wasn’t sure what to say when I saw Jesus standing there, so I’d quietly close the door, asking him to come back later.My father decided that if I was dating, then I had to attend church more. It was easy. Going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday nights equaled three dates a week. So that’s what I did. I was physically there, but my stubborn heart resisted and stayed away.
I remember hearing a lot about God’s wrath and revenge during those years but not enough about his love or mercy. I watched so-called “Christians” live one way on Sunday and another way during the week. I always told myself, If I ever decide to become a real Christian, I would not live like that — I would be sold out. I’d walk the walk and talk the talk. If …
So here I was sitting in the pew, up front in the third row because I’d rushed into the sanctuary at the last-minute and it was the only place to sit. I’d just graduated from high school a couple of weeks earlier and I was feeling rather smug because I was pretty sure I had the rest of my life figured out. I had plans. Life was out there to be lived and I couldn’t wait to get started with life on my own terms.
But Jesus had other plans. No sooner had the sermon started than he began to speak to me. It was so real and so audible that I actually looked around to see if anyone else was hearing his voice. He spoke clearly and with authority telling me that I stood at a fork in the road of my life. I could either choose to go my way or I could choose to follow him. With great love, he reminded me that he had a plan and purpose for my life. All I had to do was follow. He would forgive my sin. He would turn my stubbornness to determination.
But, today was the day. I needed to make a choice. Go his way or go my way.
As he spoke, for the first time in my life, my heart listened and answered back. “You’re real,” it said. “I can feel you here and I’m not afraid!” I bowed my head, opened the door to my heart, stepped aside and invited Jesus to come in. And he did. To this day, I can recall the moment the holy spirit came to me. It was as if a cloak was gently laid upon my shoulders. I felt the weight of his power and presence immediately.
When the invitation was given, I did not hesitate. I was on a mission. My life was transformed. The holy spirit began guiding my life and choices immediately and I let him. Within two hours, I’d broken off a steady relationship and began exploring what God wanted me to do next. I knew my plans were over. I wanted only his will for my life.
A few weeks later I was traveling across Europe and it was amazing how God used this time to teach me. I met missionaries and other believers along the way and it was not only encouraging but eye-opening. Stretched out on a hillside in southern France with the wind blowing my hair and my face lifted to the heavens, God audibly spoke to me again. “I want your life,” he said. “You have me, Lord,” I spoke back aloud with sincerity in every word. “I want all of your life” he answered. Then silence. Speaking and praying with my pastor upon my return to the United States, I came to realize that God was calling me to ministry. I made a decision in that moment to go anywhere, to do anything, and say anything that he might ask. His purpose for my life was revealed!
Just a few months later, at the University of the Cumberlands where God led me to prepare for the work ahead, I met my partner in ministry and life, Terry Sharp. That was 39 years ago.
We’ve lived a lot of life since then and it has been amazing. There are times I close my eyes and consider what might have been if I’d chosen the other road — my way. There’s a moment of sheer panic. Darkness. But then I’m quickly reminded that I didn’t. I chose God’s way and I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness for his grace on my life. That’s why my life is amazing. Every day!
I’ve served him as a wife and mother to husband, Terry and daughter, Rebekah. I also have a son-in-love, Terrence.
I’ve served him on church staffs and organizations where I’ve walked alongside and learned from some of the most incredible men and women of God.
I’ve been privileged to be a part of innovative practices and strategic missions and God has used them to teach and prepare me for the task he has given me today.
I’ve served him as a missionary to Spain and Brazil where he allowed me to live out and share my faith in a way that I will never forget. I am forever changed because of the relationships and experiences I had serving God overseas. I’ve also discovered that, “Once a missionary, always a missionary.” The place of my assignment has changed but I continue to share my faith and build relationships wherever God directs. Volunteer missions around the globe will always be a part of my life.
I’ve served him with my strengths and spiritual gifts. He made me a leader, a teacher and a communicator and I’ll use those gifts in any way that he asks. I actively mentor young women. I consult with churches to help them find their voice in the area of communications. I’m a writer and a speaker — I serve him with my words, written and spoken, and I’ll continue to do so until he tells me differently.
I’m sold out. I’m always ready to go anywhere, do anything and say whatever he asks — anytime.
My story began 40 years ago on June 10, 1973. As I reflected and celebrated my spiritual birthday yesterday, it occurred to me that my story will go on forever. Eternally. How cool is that?
Everyone has a story and we should share them more often.
What’s your story?
© 2013 Kathy Chapman Sharp