This post focuses on the day I decided to follow Jesus 20 years ago. It is an excerpt from another story I shared during Easter 2014, which you can read here.
I grew up in church. Went every Wednesday and twice on Sunday. I didn’t care about the preaching when I was a young boy (what kid does?), but I have so many fond memories of playing with my action figures and race cars among the church pews. I probably spent more time playing at church than I did praying.
But it was my home away from home, and I am forever grateful for that.
I was 7 years old when my family moved to North Carolina, and I lost my church home. We still went somewhere each Sunday, but we bounced around so many places that it was never the same. Church had never been a top priority for me (kids care about having fun and eating food, in that order), but from the time I was 7 until I was 13, it didn’t even make the list. I went to church because it was routine. I wasn’t a Christian. My faith, if I even had any, had never been tested.
That all changed on January 11, 1997.
My parents were taking my oldest brother, Stephen, back to college for the spring semester of his freshman year. It had snowed the previous days, and temperatures had been below freezing. But the weather had cleared up that morning, so once my parents and Stephen made it to the interstate, they’d be fine. They just had to get there first.
They never did.
An oncoming vehicle hit a patch of ice, slid across the road, and hit my parents’ van head-on. The accident occurred within two miles of our house, but my other brother and I (we had decided to stay home that day) did not find out what had happened until about an hour and a half later. A nurse called my aunt, who called us to relay the traumatic news:
Mom, Dad, and Stephen were in a car accident.
They’ve been air-lifted to Carolina Medical Center in Charlotte.
Mom is badly hurt.
Dad is in surgery.
Stephen is in surgery.
I hung up the phone, and the silence was deafening.
I don’t remember much else about that day, but I remember that I needed to get out of the house. I bundled up and walked out the back door. The ground and trees were white with snow, the air smelled of winter, and it was quiet.
So very quiet.
With all the faith I could muster, I prayed. I mean REALLY prayed. I didn’t know if my family was going to survive or not. I didn’t know if I would be reunited with them or sent to live with a foster family. The only thing I could do in that moment was to pray. And I admit it was a selfish prayer. I didn’t want to be an orphan. The thought of that scared me more than anything else, so I prayed. I asked God—more like begged and pleaded–to please take care of my family.
What was that? I heard something. It wasn’t an audible sound; I sensed it deep in my spirit. I distinctly heard a voice, but it wasn’t mine.
Was that God? Was He speaking to me?
I can’t explain it. I was alone at the time, so there was no one else around to hear anything. But I heard a voice. And suddenly, I had peace. I was still anxious to see my family, but I was no longer paralyzed with fear that I would never see them alive again. God had given me the peace that passes all understanding. When I cried out to Him, He provided grace, mercy, and comfort.
I felt His presence that day—January 11, 1997—and that was the day Jesus became my personal LORD and Savior.
To make a long story short, my parents and Stephen survived. They suffered many injuries, some that continue to affect them to this day, but they’re alive. The minivan they were in was completely totaled, as you can see in the picture below.
The day of “The Accident,” as my family has always called it, was one of the longest, most draining days of my life, but it was also the day I received a new life, and I began seeking God in a way I never had before. I wasn’t perfect, of course; I still faltered and stumbled, still caught myself preoccupied with material things. But at least I actually had a relationship with Jesus after that day, and as a dear pastor once taught me, you can’t approach the cross of Jesus Christ and stay the same.