At the age of 17, my friend Shera and I attended a concert that would forever change our lives. We went to meet guys but we came out with God. The year was 2001. In the world of Christian music, it was the era of Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman and Nichole Nordeman.
We were hot and exhausted as we each hauled our luggage for the weekend into the Comfort Inn’s lobby. “I’m sorry but you’re actually in the other hotel that’s connected to us. You’re going to have to walk around the outside and down to it.”
The clerk at the counter spoke words of dread as Shera and I looked up at each other, with the painful ache of being in the car for too long. We were 17 and had overpacked for our first-ever concert/overnight experience. There were a couple other girls in the lobby who had made the same mistake. We struck up a conversation, and laughed at the realization that it had been their car which read “Honk if you love Jesus” that we’d laid on the horn for, minutes earlier. They were also going to the outdoor Sonshine concert, and after parting we walked for what seemed like a mile before finally collapsing onto our beds in the air conditioned hotel room.
Later, as we arrived at the enormous outdoor concert, we wondered how many thousands of people must have been packed into one cornfield (there were 12,000 to be exact). To our surprise, amongst the countless crowds of people surrounding the three different stages, we ran right into the girls from the hotel—not once, but twice! The girls introduced us to their group of friends, all from Buffalo, Minnesota. They were nice but I remember thinking that there was something different about them. What was it? They didn’t resemble the quiet and contained Christians back at school. They were wild and crazy and didn’t need any substances to have fun. The girls in the group didn’t judge us; They were genuinely happy to hear our stories and had no interest in pumping themselves up. The guys in the group made us want to earn their respect due to what was in our hearts; Not what was worn on our bodies – They were the first guys who had ever made us feel that way.
Before we knew it, the great and anticipated performance of Michael W. Smith had come. It was our last night with our new friends, and we stood close to each other under the moonlight, waiting for the singer everyone loved so much to appear. Periodically, Shera and I would glance at each other in awe, bewilderment, excitement…There was a strange feeling in the air that neither of us had ever felt.
Michael W. Smith hit the stage, and his beautiful music that I would’ve once made fun of, captured my ear. But it was different this time. I had heard this guy on the radio, but the music I was hearing now was gorgeous. His words were meaningful to me. What happened next is something I struggle to explain.
“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord…I want to see you…” The Sonshine crowd was singing the lines over and over again. I was singing words I’d sang in church many times, but for the first time I wasn’t singing them out of my mouth. I was singing them from my heart. I remember looking up into the starry sky and telling God that despite the darkness I had been living in, despite the mistakes I’d made, that if He actually existed, I wanted to see Him. And at that moment, I asked Him to open the eyes of my heart. And here’s the most breath-taking, exhilarating part: He answered me!!! The following is the excerpt from my journal that night:
Why was the sky so beautiful all of the sudden and where had all of the Heavenly voices come from? It didn’t sound like a group of people to my ears anymore. All of the sudden, the sounds of the crowd had been transformed into an angelic BURST of energy—As shivers rushed up and down my spine, I felt the heavy chains come free from my wrists as they hit the ground one by one: my past, my selfish ambitions, my worries, my fears, my guilt, my tears…and all at once I was free. Free to really fly for the first time in my life. What was this feeling and where was it coming from? Was I dreaming? The song went on and on and on…And as I stared at the stars I realized that God loved me. He was telling me so! I could hear His words as clear as day. He had always loved me. He had loved me through my hatred for His people. He had loved me through my lies. He had loved me through each and every bad thing I’d ever done. He was like a real Father who had been waiting 17 years for me to actually understand, and was now smiling down at me. In complete surrender, I happened to notice that my arms had flown up in the air – reaching to get just a little closer to Him. Wait! I wasn’t one of the people that did things like that. I glanced over at Shera, only to see that her arms were up too. The smile we exchanged in that moment is something most of us will only experience in Heaven.
As we sang at the top of our lungs to our new favorite songs all the way home, the weight of what had happened hadn’t yet hit Shera and I. The look in my mom’s eye as she saw us hopping out of the car could have said a million words. She knew God had answered her wildest dream: to save and know her children. My words, as she’s told me later, were only supplements to the Holy Spirit she saw in my eyes.
Nothing about life after returning from Sonshine that summer was ever the same.
For starters, no one and nothing could take away my smile; I felt God’s tug on my heart around every corner. I’ll never forget the first time the Bible came alive to me. I opened the book of 1 John and gobbled up every word as it all of the sudden made sense for my life. Shera and I discovered a lively, new church together, and were immediately supplied with all of the Christian friends we could ever have asked for. They taught us how to have fun with things other than partying—things I never thought good Christian girls would do, like streaking through the golf course at midnight! We each vowed to be single that first week back from the concert, transferred to a Christian university later that year and found that a picture of us at our new church was in the newspaper…as if introducing us to the community for the first time as our new and beautiful selves in Christ.
-written by a 17 year old me, on fire for the Lord