As a child, I cannot remember a time where God and church were not a constant in my family’s life. I grew up in a very doctrine-heavy denomination founded by Dutch reformers called the Christian Reformed Church, which is a staunch offshoot of what was believed to be the far too liberal Reformed Church. The Christian Reform Church’s desire to maintain doctrinal purity coupled with a strong tie to the cultural notion of being Dutch equipped me with biblical knowledge and ingrained in me a strong Calvinistic theology but denied me the joy and freedom of God’s love. On its face that statement would seem to be contradictory, for how can you understand the sovereignty of God but miss the boat on the joy and freedom which naturally comes as result. In order to understand how those two things co-exis
ted in my formative years, you must understand how a very tight-knit Dutch culture responded to the notion of God’s sovereignty. In essence, the response was a form of legalism. The thinking went as follows: Under a simplified Calvinistic theory, God had predestined those who were to be saved and those that are saved are blessed by God. As a result, you were expected to act and demonstrate at all times how blessed and righteous you were thereby evidencing you had been chosen by God. Practically, this meant never revealing your sin, appearing on the surface to be holier that though, and maintaining a beautiful home and lawn.
Needless to say our family had not read the Christian Reformed Church manual (probably because it as written in Dutch) for evidencing your chose status. The first mistake my parents made was not sending my sisters and I to a parochial school. We were the only family not to do so and as a result my sisters and I were made to feel inferior. Second, my parents had not versed me in always making classic theistic responses in all church settings. As a result, I remember this sense of inferiority being entrenched during a Thanksgiving service when I was roughly ten years old. During the service, members of the congregation were asked to volunteer things for which they were thankful. I spoke up and stated I was thankful for football. The pastor’s response was dismissive at best and demoralizing at worst. The pastor chastised me for being thankful for such an inane thing and stated he was hopeful I would learn to be thankful for God’s redeeming love like some of the other kids (those being the Christian school kids) had stated. Notwithstanding my family’s failure to evidence our chosen status to the satisfaction of others, I acknowledged at the age of twelve that I was a sinner, accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, and was baptized by the Holy Spirit into the family of Jesus Christ.
When I made that decision, I had a theoretical understanding as to the depth and breadth of God’s love but it had not fully penetrated my heart. I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior but like many did not full understand precisely what that meant for my life. It is not unlike at
a wedding, when one says, “I do” with a rosy notion of love but a child-like naïveté of what love and marriage demands. Over the last twenty plus years, God has revealed himself to me in ways that fostered a deeper understanding of his redeeming love.
One of those moments occurred during my senior year of college. My college major was Sociology and I spent the better part of four years learning every social theory designed to explain the human condition and human behavior ranging from Karl Marx, to Max Weber, and ending with the post-modernist thinkers. During my studies, certain theories could explain certain behavior some of the time but none of them could explain all behavior all of the time. As I struggled with this, it became clear to me that God’s plan was seamless and perfectly explained the human condition where the brightest of men had failed. It brought to light the sinful nature of man and that the only way sin could be conquered was through the blameless death of Jesus Christ. It was the first time I really understood the beauty and perfection of His plan and how that plan was a gift I had yet to full accept.
A few years later my understanding of God’s truth grew deeper when I began working in the criminal justice system and my old sociology professor asked me come back and discuss what programs, theories, or initiatives I felt were truly rehabilitating people. As I began to ponder this question, it became apparent to me that there could be no program no matter its duration that could undo what it took a lifetime to make and that absent God entering into one’s life sin and death would always be the victor. It crystallized the undeniable truth that I cannot earn salvation, that no program exists which will save me from myself, and the only hope I have is in Him. This was not necessarily what my professor had in mind but again it was the only thing I had seen that worked to perfection. When people who know what I do for a living find out that I am a Christian they often ask how I balance demonstrating God’s love with sending people to prison. The first thing I say is that if you are looking for Jesus he is at the Polk County Jail because that is where everybody seems to find him. That being said, it has become very easy for me to tell which people are sincere in their professed faith. Better than ninety percent of the people I encounter who claimed to have found God, tell me God will deliver them from their present predicament (it is usually something along the lines of the truth shall set you free). A handful, however, accept responsibility for their actions, embrace the consequences which must follow as a result, and still rejoice in the Lord. These are the people that understand what it has taken me the better part of twenty years to fully realize: The joy and freedom of God’s love and forgiveness.
The key word of my testimony is gratitude. I am not worthy, but God loves me and pursued me at an early age. For that, I pray I will never forget and continually praise His Holy Name. I did not start my life in a Christian home. My parents were not believers and divorced when I was six and my brother three. Thankfully, God worked through my uncle to convict my father of his sinful state and his need of a Savior. My father accepted Christ and was baptized in 1985. Within that very next year, at the age of nine, I publically proclaimed my belief in my Savior, Jesus Christ, and was baptized as well. The most precious early memories I have are of seeking God early in the morning during the fifth grade. I can remember praying to and communing with Him on the bus to school.I needed that time and those prayers in preparation for the years to come. The following years in junior and senior high school were filled with some pain, hardship, and sorrow, which although tough, are not uncommon to man. Unfortunately, I made some poor choices in response to those instances. I believe God graciously allowed my teens to develop the character and empathy I would need in my adult life. I thank God for His forgiveness. I praise God for His Will and protection during those years.
God intentionally and graciously blessed me in my adult life by ensuring I met my husband, Steve, on the first day of college my freshman year. I know it was His plan and is now part of His purpose for me. God continues to enrich my life and demonstrate his power to me daily as I seek Him. I praise God for bringing me to the place I am now. I know it is by His grace alone.
My goal as a believer is to seek God continuously and to reflect His love to others. I pray I will see and seek each opportunity to serve Him and bring Him glory. I pray God will allow the children he has placed in my life, Olivia Grace, Joel Kenneth and Grant Alan, to become a part of His kingdom. I pray and hope my legacy and that of my family will now be changed from death to love for a thousand generations (Exodus 20:6). To God be the glory!