How I "backed in" to JesusI would like to share with you my testimony. If you are not a Christian, you may be thinking, "Oh, boy, just what I want to read - a bunch of junk about how rotten she was and how great she is now because of this Jesus character." Well, if I tell you that my testimony includes The French Quarter at New Orleans, a keg of beer and NASA's Challenger Accident in 1986, will you read on?
You'll also learn that:
I was born in Manchester, TN in 1962 because there was no hospital in Tullahoma yet. Tullahoma is in southern middle Tennessee, right next door to the Jack Daniel's whiskey makin' town of Lynchburg (pop. 101). I was an only child to a Homemaker and an Electrical Engineer. Mom and Dad attended the Methodist and Christian Churches of Southern Illinois during their childhood, but by the time I rolled around, they visited the Trinity Lutheran Church in Tullahoma. I was baptized in the Lutheran Church when I was around 6 weeks old, and did not darken a church door basically for the next 25 years.
I had a baby sitter that I started going to when I was 2 weeks old. Cora Waye -- or "Waye-Waye" as I called her -- was the lady that kept me and some other children. She had this picture of Jesus on the wall in her house, and I always thought He had pretty blue eyes like mine! At one time, Waye-Waye gave me a small white New Testament. I don't remember if I looked at it or not, and I lost track of her when I was about 10 years old when my parents were divorced and Mom and I were off to the big city of Nashville.
1972: Music City USA was where Mom chose to raise her daughter, mainly because of job opportunities for her and the suburb of Bellevue had some excellent schools for me. I was a typical junior high and high school student, complete with zits, crushes on History teachers, and a best friend named Liz. Liz went to the Holy Land of Israel with her father and brothers one year in high school. I had always wanted to go, to see the place of such religiousness, maybe, just maybe to find out more about God, since I did believe in Him. But this Jesus guy was just a mystery to me. Too much to fathom. Even at the Young Life Christian gatherings for young people, when we'd pray in Jesus' name, I'd just go along with it, peeking from time to time at the guy I liked, hoping he wanted to do something after the meeting.
Fast forward to college - 1980. My Dad was responsible as decreed in the divorce papers to pay for my room, board and tuition. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Go Vols!) was the state school, and I was going to be an Engineer just like Dad. Two years into college, in 1982, I asked Dad for more money than what he was giving me, and being in financial tough times, he refused, so Mom and I took him to court to get him to pay. He lost, and from that moment on, for the next 13 years until he died, he did not speak to me - true to his warning to me before the trial, except for his responses to a few feeble attempts on my part to communicate with him starting in about 1992.
I had really not had a father figure for most of my life, anyway, for Dad didn't seem to know how to handle life except how his Dad had handled it: with alcohol. I'm not blaming here, just conveying what was "normal" as I grew up with an emotionally distant father. I guess I thought all fathers were this way. Back while I was still a teen, I used to think it was hilarious when Dad would pick me up in Nashville to visit him for the weekend in Tullahoma, and along the two hour drive, Dad would chug a couple of beers, cleverly covered by a red and white plastic wrap kinda thingy that said, "Caca-Cala." This was supposedly to fool the cops into thinking he was only drinking a soft drink. Anyway, for most all my life Dad wasn't a strong role model or father figure for me, especially after he chose to write me out of his life!
So, if you've read this far, you're thinking - OK, Julie, get to the New Orleans part. Well, I was in the UT Pride of the Southland band, and the pep band was getting ready to play at the UT/LSU basketball game in Baton Rouge in Winter 1982. I couldn't go, (because I played piccolo, and at that time woodwinds did not go on pep band outings) and I told my boyfriend to pick me up something while they were staying over in New Orleans. While in the French Quarter, he picked me up a t-shirt with one of my favorite sayings on it. It was covered with expressions using the F-word, and when he gave it to me, I thought it was just great. I was 'respectable' enough to not wear it in public, but I did wear it sometimes when I was with him. On the worldly scale from 1 to 10, I was at least an 8 or 9. I cussed, drank, partied a lot, and just basically fit in with the typical rowdy college crowd.
While in college, I drank pretty heavily, mirroring the footsteps of my father (and my fellow college mates as well). A group of folks in the band had a keg party one evening, and I was so drunk from playing "Pass Out," I barely remember the ride to see the movie, "Fritz the Cat." Puking was common after these outings. Anyone identify with that? Ugh. I remember feeling pretty sheepish about how blitzed I'd been several times, but it didn't stop me from doing it again! One evening, after downing some brewskis, I happened to meet up with a friend (Smith!) in the courtyard outside Carrick hall, my dorm. He asked me what was going on with me, and somehow the conversation turned to Jesus. I knew with my drinking and other activities I was doing that this Jesus guy would never like a person like me. This Christian friend was so "goody-goody", too! How boring a life he must have, I remember thinking at the time.
I somehow made it through college alive and was pleased to take a job as an Aerospace Engineer with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The year was 1985, and NASA was really launching those shuttles. The work was great - getting to climb around the orbiter while we were working on getting a Space Shuttle ready for the next mission was totally awesome - and I had serious relationships going on. The thing is, one boyfriend was in Tennessee (the one who'd brought me the shirt from New Orleans), and one boyfriend was in Titusville with me. Neither knew of the other, or I sure tried to keep it that way. Each boyfriend reminded me of my Dad in some way - one had a beard and the other was in the Air Force - and I tried soooo very hard to keep the relationship going with both of them. That way, if I lost one, I still had the other. Unconsciously, I was not going to lose someone (like I had lost Dad) again!
Along came January 28, 1986. A zillion school kids were at the Space Center, excited to see a teacher go into space. I called my Grampa that morning, his 75th birthday, and encouraged him to watch the launch. And you know the story well. A major malfunction. Trails of hypergols following the pieces of Challenger down to the ocean. My own personal pictures captured that cold morning. You and I watched it over and over and over again; people like you and me were killed before our very eyes. The tragedy of it all! How could this ever have happened??? The bottom fell out of my life as I dealt with guilt over being a part of their deaths. I mean, my group - Orbiter Mechanisms or MEQ - was responsible for crew hatch maintenance, and a handle that needed to be removed from the hatch before launch could not be removed on the day before (January 27th), so NASA postponed the launch until the next day, the 28th, which turned out to be much, much colder than the 27th.
So, I started dealing with lots and lots of grief. Actually, I didn't deal with it. I drank. A lot. Some friends of mine asked me over to watch the 1986 Sugar Bowl tape I'd made (Tennessee beat Miami 35-7 that year) and I remember being jubilant over such a great victory and excited to see myself on TV as ABC was still showing the bands during halftime back then. At the same time, I was sick as was everyone else at that party, because we were just starting to cope with our emotions over the Challenger accident. One of the people at the party was a Christian, and he and I became friends, then boyfriend/girlfriend later. (Once again, he reminded me of Dad). As I began asking the Whys of Challenger, my boyfriend (a Southern Baptist from Connecticut, of all things) began trying to answer the Whys of Life. I was pretty much at bottom emotionally - Challenger, and my Dad not speaking to me, still juggling dual boyfriends, drinking a lot while I was alone - and this boyfriend started answering my tough, logical, Engineer-that-I-was type questions about God and Jesus. My boyfriend's claim was that Jesus was the Only Way up to God. It was at the bottom that I had nowhere to go but up.
For a whole year, 1986-1987, I wrestled on and off with this God and Jesus stuff. I could not imagine how someone who walked on the Earth so long ago could have any kind of say or control or direct impact on my life. I was skeptical of any father-figure kind of God image, since I didn't really know anything but abandonment in that area. I mean, if my own earthly father would abandon his only child, then what would an all powerful Heavenly Father do to me? I still believed in God, but I thought He was some distant Being off making new supernovas, and I really wanted Him to just leave me alone!
But He did not leave me alone. As I tried to do my part to help NASA get back in the air after the Challenger accident, I also set out to get myself out of my own ashes. My zeal to be a part of Discovery's launch - the first after Challenger - was matched by my zeal to do some research into myself. I discovered that I wasn't a murderer after all; that Challenger would have happened eventually because of the inadequate design of the booster rocket field joint (and o-rings), and that the Heavenly Father *did* want to be a part of my puny life. How did I know that? He told me through the Bible. As I was studying about myself and God, I figured one way to find out more was through what was supposed to be His Word. A key point came sometime around March, 1987, my boyfriend told me that it was good that I was petitioning God directly with questions that arose as I read the Bible, but that God would not hear my prayers because John 9:31 says, "Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth." I also needed to petition Jesus directly (for John 14:6 says, "...I [Jesus] am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.") WHAT!??! How absurd! How haughty! The Almighty would not hear me because I had not confessed with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in my heart that He had risen from the dead (Romans 10:9)? Harrumph! Well, that's ridiculous. I was hurt.
"OK," I thought on April Fool's Day, 1987. "If God won't hear me because I have not trusted in Christ, then I'll just do it. I'll pray the "sinner's prayer," and see what happens. What do I have to lose? If God and Jesus are Who They say They are, then I'll get some answers to my questions!" As I was driving into work, just past the North Gate coming into the Kennedy Space Center, I flashed my badge at the guard and started praying. I was sincere, as I was truly seeking answers from God. I recognized I was a sinner (I certainly knew I'd gotten drunk a lot and engaged in sex before marriage, so those were two pretty serious sins even in my own book, much less His), and I asked Jesus into my heart, right there in my 1986 Toyota Celica GT toodling along at 50 mph. No lightning, no trumpets, no feelings except curiosity and a sort of relief that I'd at least made *some* decision, right or wrong.
So, I basically backed into the Christian faith. I did it out of "Why not?" I found out later that John 6:44-45 says, "No one can come to Christ unless the Father who sent Him draws him. It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." and therefore it was really His Work through the conviction of the Holy Spirit to draw me unto Him and teach me, not mine. It's been many years now since I trusted Christ, and although I was not instantly cleansed of my bad habits and old programming, His work of sanctification (making me more like Jesus) through the Holy Spirit has molded me into a much different person so that hopefully some of my UTK "Pride of the Southland" band buddies can see a transformation in me when I go back to play in the Over the Hill Alumni band at Homecoming every Fall.
I have discovered that the Lord God of the Universe, the same that makes supernovas and the rest of all Creation, loves me. Little ol' stinking me. He actually loves us all, including you. And even though He loves us, He is also equally holy and just. Holiness cannot reside with sinful humans for eternity, and our attempts in our own strength to justly satisfy the legal demands of breaking God's laws are finitely miniscule in comparison to the Infinite God. That's why it took a Perfect, Infinite savior, Jesus Christ, to step in our place and pay the legal debt of sin that we humans have toward God (which started with Adam and Eve). I was so down after the Challenger accident and fearful of anything like a father figure that I couldn't imagine that He could love someone like me, but I can say unequivocally that He can! He does! He changed me and gave me hope and healing. I've since forgiven my earthly father and come out under the alcohol veil. If you struggle with life, with alcohol, with abandonment, with guilt and shame, you can also be free. But it takes repentance, a distinct turning away from sin, on your part. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, but He will not force His way into your life until He draws you and you realize your need for Him.
Why not talk to Jesus right now? You could say something like this: "Jesus, I realize I've messed up badly! I am a sinner, in need of your cleansing. Would you please come into my heart and walk and talk with me every remaining day of my life? Thank you that you died and rose again for me and that you love me. I love you, too. Amen."
It's not the prayer that saves you, it is what Jesus has already done for you and your acknowledgement of that through your prayer. If you have prayed this way, you should on with life and life abundant. It might not be instantly better, as in my case, but then again, it might be. Be sure to tell someone about your new found Friend, Jesus, the Christ, Y'shua the Messiah. It is very important to find a local church that stands upon the authority of the Word of God, adheres to the historical Christian faith and follows historical Christian doctrine, so you can serve and worship and fellowship with others and grow in your walk with Christ. If you're in the Knoxville, Tennessee area, I can highly recommend three churches: 1) First Baptist Powell, TN, 2) Fountain City Church or 3) Dotson Memorial Baptist in Maryville, TN.
If you are already a Christian, I invite you to examine your heart and make sure you have personally trusted in Jesus's finished work on the cross and not on your own works. No one is forgiven of their sins nor are going to Heaven just by going to church every week. If you went down the church aisle at 7 or 8 or 10 or 12 or 15 years old, accepting the altar call with your buddies, then I envy you for being in church that young! But I also ask you - even if you thought you knew what you were doing then, or even if you were just going to be with your friends - have you since then truly asked Him to be your Savior? Are you living differently from the world? Are you transformed?
My heart is heavy for the many churchgoers who will be greeted by the Lord on Judgement
Day with, "And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me..." (Matthew 7:23) I don't say that to be mean-spirited, but I am convinced that there are many folks sitting in the pews on Sunday that have been deceived by Satan into thinking they are saved and going to Heaven just because they prayed a prayer sometime in the past.
Addendum: I would also like to add that my earthly Father passed away in 1995, and as far as I know, he did not have a saving- faith relationship with Christ Jesus. Therefore, he apparently is spending Eternity separated and apart from a Holy, Righteous God. I wish I had shared my friend, Jesus, with him more. My Mom trusted Jesus Christ in April 1993 and is faithfully growing in Him and serving Him - to God's praise and glory. The best part is that my Grandfather (my Mom's Dad) trusted Christ less than a month before I did in 1987 at the age of 76 years old. Please - do not give up praying for the souls of your loved ones. God uses our petitions, our prayers, as one of the means to bring us to Him as a part of His Plan of salvation. If I was 25, my Mom was almost 60 and my Grampa was 76 when we repented and began our new life in Christ, then it's never too late for your loved one! Keep praying!
Julie Choate Moore, originally written 4/11/98, updated many times since