I grew up in a wonderful home. I was born in Miami Beach and grew up in Fort Lauderdale, not too far from the ocean. I had a loving family, was part of a large group of friends, and an even tighter circle of "best" friends. I did ok and was well-liked in school, was a leader in the band program, and wanted to study psychology once I graduated. Thankfully I was not prone to cave to peer pressure, which, with the strong love and support of my parents, made me confident for my age. The future was exciting to me. I was very far from perfect, having my own unique problems with which I and my family had to deal. Overall, though, mine was a very good life.

Spiritual matters didn’t figure into my life much. When the subject would come up, I would glibly quote the Marxist idea that religion too often served as  "the opiate of the people." I blame this on 11th grade social studies and that interesting blend of hubris and naiveté so often found in the teen years, and certainly found in me!  We were Catholic, but never went to CCD classes, and we didn’t attend church other than on Christmas and Easter. To be honest, my views on religion did not come from personal experience, but were fed mostly by the media frenzy created during the era of the 80’s evangelical TV preacher scandals. As a result, I had a true distaste for anything calling itself "the church" and anyone who labeled themselves as Christian.

Ironically, my consistent problem was one I know now in retrospect was a "God problem."  During the day I might be found at school, or skipping school, or hanging out at my pool with friends, or at a concert, or at the beach, or talking on the phone, or partying—always having a good time. But often at night I would lie in bed feeling empty and alone. I distinctly remember thinking that my life was good—like, TV show good. I was loved, well taken care of, and bright with a promising future. So what was this emptiness? As I graduated from high school and looked forward to the next chapter, I also had to admit that something was missing. I just had no idea what it was.

The year after high school graduation, I became friendly with a former acquaintance. She was someone I knew as a foul mouthed, funny girl who partied hard. After spending some time with her, though, I noticed a difference. At the time, her ex-boyfriend threatened her with a gun. In talking about it, I was remarking that I had no idea how she kept her wits about her and was so calm, when I would have been fainting from terror. She said something that I will never forget, "Missy, it was scary, but I have a peace and a joy that, no matter what, can never be taken away from me." I was astonished.

I drove her crazy for the next couple hours about what in the world she meant. I had never heard anything quite like it, and I was stirred by her words, yet I could not fathom what prompted her to say such a strange thing. I begged her to tell me how to "get" whatever it was she had. Eventually, she told me that she was a follower of Christ. (Months later, she admitted she was scared because she remembered me as a person who loudly decried those who followed God, so I am even more thankful for her willingness to obey the Spirit’s prompting!) I learned that she was a Christian from a very young age, but had rebelled in high school and only recently come back to the Lord.

At first I panicked when she told me that was a born-again Christian. Visions of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker assaulted my mind. But, because I had been getting close to her, it was impossible to deny that she was a real person, someone I had come to care for, and someone who had demonstrated true friendship toward me. Soon after this, I shocked her (and myself) by inviting myself to her church. I went, and was incredulous to hear a pastor who preached about the love of Christ in an intelligent and engaging manner. In another shocker, I asked if I could join her on a college and career retreat. I was excited, yet terrified that I would be made to pray out loud or do something else scary and "religious," or that people would try to give me the hard sell to convert me. Instead, I met funny, warm, welcoming, loving people who were neither pushy nor weird.

For the next month I heard the gospel several times. I felt a pull that in my human weakness I tried to resist. I was scared about what it would mean if I became a Christian, especially with my family. I knew that in some important ways it would represent a significant break in our relationship. Furthermore, I would seem like such a hypocrite to my friends, since I had opposed any form of religion as a weakness on the part of people who couldn’t face the world without a "crutch." Lastly, and most sadly, I was scared of donning the "Christian" label, and how that would make me look to the world.

I put my new friends through the wringer with dozens of questions about the Bible, salvation, faith, sin, and manyother topics. After a couple weeks, I began to realize that I was just avoiding the real issue. Did I believe the gospel? Would I confess that I was a sinner who had NO way of getting to God without a bridge, that bridge being the perfect sacrifice found in Jesus? I’m not exactly sure when that moment came, but I know that it did sometime in August of 1987. I was a changed person by God’s grace. While I know my questions were important in some ways, I have to laugh because I know now that it would have been impossible to resist God’s call, and I praise Him for that every day!

While there were immediate struggles in declaring to my friends and family that I was a Christian, there were myriad blessings. I was enfolded into a great, Bible-preaching church. Besides becoming very active in the college and career and youth groups, I began to sing in the choir for the first time in my life. But the single most important thing that happened to spur my spiritual growth was a one-on-one discipleship course that I did with an older woman from the church over 3 months. As I reflect on the fire in my heart at that time, I can’t help but smile at the fact that God in his infinite mercy, chose me. I praise him, because "He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure" (Psalm 40:2).

© 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Missy Strong. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org