I’m Nicole Lisa Maria…

My parents divorced when I was very young—nevertheless, hostility and harsh words plagued our home long after divorce papers were signed. I felt rejected and betrayed which resulted in anger and desperation. Inside our home, I lashed out at my brother and mother. Outside, I put on a façade of well-being and lied. 

I told so many lies, even I couldn’t keep track of the truth. My lies weighed heavily on me. I was ashamed, anxious, and guilt-ridden. Defeated. 

Friends in high school introduced me to Jesus Christ. I rarely went to church as a child but believed in God and even considered myself a Christian. These friends confronted me with a different kind of relationship with God—a genuine relationship. 

As I accepted their invitations to youth gatherings and retreats, ironically, I felt farther from God. Their friendship made me feel false. If they only knew what a liar I was, I thought, they would reject me. But I knew I needed them—needed something they had. 

It was at a retreat I heard the voice of Jesus for the first time. A youth pastor read these verses from I John 4: 

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (NIV) 

It was then I heard Jesus say in my head/heart, “I love you, Nicole. I died for you. I accept you. Receive my love.” Jesus’ love washed over me—it was a warm rush, a relief. 

The pastor, as if on cue, asked us to pray silently if the Lord was prompting us to respond to his love and accept his sacrifice on our behalf, reconciling us to God through his death and resurrection. I repeated his prayer in my heart and received Jesus as my Savior. 

Tears came and I wiped them away and looked around to see if anyone noticed. My eyes caught those of a girlfriend whom I’m sure had been praying for my salvation. I began to cry in earnest. She and two other friends took me outside and I told them what happened. They laughed and cried and we all hugged. I was transformed that night. 

When I got home, I told my mother I’d become a Christian. Her violent response caught me off-guard. “How can you believe the meek will inherit the earth? Christianity is a crutch! I taught you to be strong!” 

For the first time in my life, I didn’t yell back. I didn’t defend myself. I admitted I didn’t know what the Bible said but I couldn’t deny my experience. In my heart I knew, I couldn’t go back. I had been drowning and had been thrown a lifeline. 

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. I John 4 (NIV) 

I forgave my mother and found it easier to obey and honor her. I stopped swearing almost instantly. I wasn’t angry. Friends noticed. I lost some but found many brothers and sisters in Christ who were constant. I wasn’t alone anymore (Jesus promised to be with me always), and fear began to lose its grip on me. I could tell the truth. 

That was over forty years ago. Jesus forgave me once and for all but sin has strongholds and I still fall into temptation.  As I grow in my understanding of Who God is—what Jesus did on my behalf—I am humbled. I confess my sin and repent, again and again. God is gentle, loving, and merciful. He doesn’t condemn. (Romans 8:1) His love makes me want to love others the same way. 

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.  I John 4 (NIV) 

God’s love and the words of Jesus sustain me. The Holy Spirit indwelling me comforts and guides me. 

My experience is not unique. God, in Jesus Christ, extends a lifeline to us all. He paid the price for all of us on the cross. Won’t you go to him today and lay your burden of sin at his feet? 

He took the burden at the cross and in exchange extends freedom and life with God. I pray you will. Then you will sing with me— 

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.  Psalm 13:5-6 (NIV)