In my monthly newsletters I will typically feature a blurb about a student who I work with on campus. I would call those one-paragraph glimpses into the student's life the "short story." It's part of my job to train students how to tell the short story, and that's very important! We consider it something like an elevator speech.
If you're not familiar with the term, an elevator speech is a short proposal of something (usually pertaining to business) that is meant to be delivered in the short amount of time that you might have with your supervisor riding up to their floor on an elevator, walking them to their car in the parking lot, or grabbing coffee in the break room. Your proposal might be a business idea, a promotion request, a recommendation, or anything that you want to get across to someone that you don't have a lot of time with.
We help our students to prepare a three-minute version of their story so that the moments between classes, walking to the rec center, or waiting in line at one of the on campus dining facilities can be opportunities to share their story of how Jesus changed their life. In sharing that story, a student is trained to share the aspects of the Gospel message that are evident in everyone's story, so they are also sharing the beautiful message of the Gospel.
Obviously, I love the short story! However, what I really enjoy about training students to share their short story is getting to hear, in its entirely, their long story. I would like to do a series of post in which you as supporters or friends of the ministry can learn the long stories of our students and love them just as much as I do.
I would like to start this series out with my own long story. Mine may be longer than the students that I feature later, since I am a long-winded writer.
I grew up in a home that had been harmed by religion and its people. Both of my parents were deeply scarred by those who claimed to be working in the name of God, and while my mother held to a quiet faith, my sisters and I were not exposed to dynamic, unapologetic Christianity.
My first exposure to people who lived surrendered lives to Christ came with an unorthodox invitation: I was a freshman in high school and my best friend invited me to her youth group to meet the boy that she was crushing on. Of course, I couldn't resist involvement in my friend's "love life," I was fourteen, after all, and crushes, love notes, and school dances dominated my focus.
Youth groups are fun and I had a great time my first night at New Canaan Baptist Church. I continued attending every Wednesday for lack of better things to do, plus they offered to pick me up on the church van and drive me there, so I had no excuse not to go. The man who drove the church van was called Mr. Clay and was very involved in the youth group as a volunteer. His wife was a teacher at the elementary school that I attended and his daughter was only a couple years ahead of me in school. In case you're not from a small town, I'll fill you in on why that matters: knowing someone's family is how one determines them to be trustworthy or not.
I couldn't tell you why, and I'm not sure that I've ever asked him, but Mr. Clay took a particular interest in me. Knowing because of my involvement in my high school's choir that I liked music, Mr. Clay brought me popular Christian music CD's almost every week. This is the queer and mind-boggling way that I heard the Gospel.
My mother bred and sold Yorkshire Terriers and I got my allowance by feeding and cleaning up after them every day before and after school. I would bring with me to the kennels my iPod classic and listen to whatever CD Mr. Clay had most recently given to me. I very distinctively remember the time I spent in the kennels listening to Jeremy Camp's 2008 album Speaking Louder Than Before because I was so confused by it. All of this talk of the beauty of God, abundant life, the Way, and the love that Christians are supposed to have was in stark contrast to the religious people that I had encountered in the past and how I thought their God must be. When I rode to church in the van with Mr. Clay I told him all the questions I had about the music and found that nearly every line in Jeremy Camp's songs had basis in the Bible. When I got home that night, I dusted off the family's old King James and started doing my research.
From that moment on, I was a critic in the church. Every time my youth pastor mentioned a scripture from the Bible, I wrote it down and researched when I went home. Over time, I became very bothered by all that I had learned. If this was true, everything would change. I could not continue living my life for Michele. I had to make a decision. It felt like fire in my bones. Now I know that Holy Spirit was beckoning me to come and be in relationship with the Holy God of the universe, but then all I knew was a feeling unlike anything I had encountered before and I was sure that everyone could tell that I was burning up.
I went to a Disciple Now (D-Now) retreat and had a positively miserable weekend. I don't remember what they talked about or who was in my small group. All I remember is being arrested by the decision I knew I had to make.
The Saturday night of the retreat, we went to a big church in what seemed like the middle of nowhere for worship. Many Baptist churches in the area were having D-now weekends and we were all coming together for a worship night. The feeling of anonymity in the crowd was freeing for me. I felt like I could finally listen to God, since I was surrounded by people who were also listening and I didn't feel like anyone was looking at me.
It was the first time that I heard the hymn "Jesus Paid it All" and it broke me into tiny pieces. I was sobbing on my knees in that church's sanctuary wrestling with God over my life and future. That night, fighting sleep in the floor of my host's spare room, I promised my life to God. It was March 7, 2009.
The first person that I told was a family member who was still hostile to the idea of Christianity. The response I got was "I thought that you were smarter than that," so obviously I didn't tell anyone else. It wasn't until our spring break retreat when my youth pastor asked me, "Michele, are you a Christian?" and I responded with a small, fearful "yes," as if I had be caught. He promptly invited me to sing with the worship team, and I've been leading worship in some capacity every since.
My mother was very supportive and bought me my first study Bible, which I still use. Around the same time that I gave my life to Christ, my older sister Brittanie also started a relationship with Christ. We have spurred each other on for the entirely of our Christian lives. The family member who discouraged me told me later that Christianity was "good for me" and is now supportive of my walk with God, and even my career in professional ministry.
I call this the story that never should have happened because I feel like the stars had to align perfectly so that I could encounter Christ. If anything happened differently, the Rube Goldberg machine of events that lead me to that night would have fallen apart. I know that the Lord wanted me to be with Him, drew me to Himself, and is currently working out the plan and purpose that He intended for me before the beginning of time.
I am so thankful for my long story and am excited to share more long stories! Thanks for reading!