The first interaction I remember having with God was walking up the steps of the hospital bargaining with Him to save my mum. She’d been rushed to the hospital after having a heart attack at home. I asked him to save her and in return, I would do absolutely anything he wanted – he could have my whole life. Sadly, she passed away that morning and on top of the grief of losing my mum, I had decided that God must not be real, or if he was real, he was a jerk and I didn’t want anything to do with him.
That set the tone for my childhood and teenage years and while I had multiple experiences of amazing Christians reaching out to me and trying to tell me about God’s goodness and love for me, I took great pleasure in arguing with them and trying to convince them out of their beliefs. I figured God couldn’t possibly be real and anyone who believed he was must have been pretty stupid.
Fast forward to 2002 (I was a Rotary youth exchange student having the time of my life partying in Peru) when I met a local guy who was dating one of the other exchange students. We hit off a great friendship and one night while we were all out as usual at the clubs with the crew, we bumped into his youth pastor. He was an American missionary and often came down to the club district, wearing his youth pastors leather jacket, leaning against his cool car and making friends with people than inviting them to church. When he spotted my friend, he waved him over to say hello. Turns out my friend used to go to this church but hadn’t been for a while. My friend begged me to come to youth with him as he thought it would look really bad if he’d just been out partying but if I came with him, he could say he’d been at the clubs to invite people to church. Church was the last place I wanted to be but my friend was so desperate I agreed to go.
I kept going back because they had free hot chocolates, fun games and a great crew who were a lot of fun to hang with. I spent a lot of time arguing, as usual, with the leaders about how God wasn’t real and they shouldn’t believe in him. Eventually, a few of our crew started coming along and it wasn’t long before we started going to youth on a Saturday night, head out to the clubs and party all night then roll straight back to church on a Sunday morning for their early service. After that, we’d hit up a recovery breakfast and crawl back home for a shower and a long sleep. I bet we smelt amazing for that Sunday AM service!
It was at one of these services that I started to observe one of the youth leaders in particular when he would sing songs to God. There was something really profound about the way he would worship as though he wasn’t just singing a song but he was interacting with someone I couldn’t see. I could feel God’s presence (though I didn’t know that’s what it was) and the peace and purity that came with it. It was wildly different to other spiritual dynamics I had sensed or encountered in my journey and honestly, I was captivated by it.
As I left Peru at the end of my exchange program some of the crew from youth met me at the airport and gifted me a bible as I was walking to the gate. I really hated God and the Bible so was unhappy about having to take this gift. I thought it was pretty poor form to throw it in the bin in front of them so I quickly stuffed it into my bag and thanked them politely for it.
On our way back to Australia we stopped over in London for a week or so and one night I found I couldn’t sleep. I had an unshakable urge to pray! I felt pretty mad about that and refused. Still, I couldn’t sleep and eventually I also had an urge to pick up the bible and read it. It was such a strong urge that I really couldn’t ignore it. Eventually, I sat up in a huff, grabbed the bible, flicked it open and told God where he could go. I vented my anger and hurt and disappointment and told the ceiling that it was ridiculous that I was praying because God didn’t exist! I angrily listed my HUGE list of complaints to him and as I did I started noticing that the anger was gradually being replaced with an amazing and whole peace. I didn’t get any answers that night about why my mum died and why God hadn’t saved her or about anything else on my list but the pain was gone and had been replaced by a wild peace. Then at some point, I stopped, shocked, as I realised that God was real and that he was right there in that room with me. That he knew me inside and out and knew my whole life. The next thought I had was, ‘oh no, God IS real, and I’m in a LOT of trouble’. I knew that I had opposed him throughout my life so far and that I was in deep trouble. Without having the words or understanding of what was happening at that moment I repented, shaking in my boots, and asked him to have mercy on me for being so angrily against him.
After that, I crashed into a really deep sleep and woke up the next morning as a new person. It’s honestly difficult to explain the night and day change I felt. Now I know that the words we use to describe the transformation are ‘born again’. At the time I really felt like I had woken up as a new me. I saw the world differently, almost like the colours were different. I felt his presence with me consistently and I was overwhelmed by how safe, and whole and warm and powerful that presence was. The next day in our sightseeing we went to Westminster Abbey and I hung back from the group to stay for their Evensong service. I balled my eyes out uncontrollably through the whole thing completely overcome by God’s presence and love and kindness.