I think I'm obsessed with this age. My daughter just turned 13 and as I try to relate and understand her, I'm somewhat forced to remember what it was like being 13.
I know that everyone's testimony is unique, but mine started at age 13. I don't know if I've really shared this on my blog before, but hopefully my story will mean something to someone out there.
I was NOT a nice child. There was always a thread of darkness that ran through me. I wanted to be good, but I just couldn't. I was always either jealous or angry, it seemed. I'm told that a typical 2nd born child is more strong-willed. She (or he) wants to be noticed. I realized that I got lost by not being the firstborn (and having all the privileges that came with that) and I was never as sweet or precious as the baby. I know that I sought attention whenever and however I could get it—even if it was negative attention. I think, looking back, that I was so strong-willed that I didn't even care if I got caught doing something wrong. In my mind, I would do what I wanted, and then suffer the consequences later, IF I even got caught at all. That "high" of getting away with something kept driving me, I think. I don't know. I went to church all the time (every time the doors were open). And I knew the difference between right and wrong. I knew I was sinning when I'd steal or lie, but I just couldn't seem to stop. It's as if that streak of darkness was too powerful.
When I was 13 a few things happened that changed the course of my life. Let me say first that I firmly believe I was headed down a bad hill. I was raised so sheltered that I became rebellious. I remember crying in my bed as I thought, "If this is what it's like to be a Christian, then I don't want to have anything to do with it." It seemed my life was always filled with "no's." I couldn't wear shorts in public, couldn't go to the movies, couldn't stay over at a friend's house, couldn't go to school dances, couldn't wear make-up, couldn't get my ears pierced, couldn't, couldn't, COULDN'T!
When I was 11 or 12, I remember the look of sadness and disappointment in my mom's eyes. I'm not sure what I had done, but around that time I remember kneeling on the floor with my mom on a mustard yellow chair and listening to her pray for me. She was at her wits end I'm sure. Thank goodness for praying moms. I believe this was the beginning of my heart turning toward God.
But back to thirteen.
Another memorable thing that impacted my spiritual journey was a visit to my cousin's house. I was completely caught off guard watching my two female cousins (who were sisters) get along. They actually respected each other and were pleasant to each other. What?! It shocked me. Could siblings actually get along? I wanted that. I wanted so bad to get along with my sisters and have them like me. I knew that I was the reason we didn't get along like that. I didn't know what to do about it, but I tucked that memory inside my head and heart.
Another eye-opener for me was going to a Youth Conference. The speaker's message was all about Christian music verses main-stream Rock. I was a glued captive audience. I remember being appalled as he played a secular song backwards and it had all sorts of satanic messages. My skin just crawled. It was very unlikely that my mom would let us by something at the bookstore, but she actually let my older sister and I pick out a cassette tape (remember those?). My sister chose Petra and I chose Whiteheart. I couldn't believe that the songs in Christian music were so similar in tune and style to what was popular. I ended up choosing to only listen to Christian music. My favorites (okay, now I'm showing my age) were Amy Grant, Sandi Patti, Michael W. Smith, 4Him, Acapella, and Carmen. I wanted so badly to be like my older sister that I determined it to be cool to be different from my friends and listen to Christian music. It was definitely a turning point for me.
Gradually I came to the point that I knew I was sinful and didn't want to be, but needed Jesus to help change me because I couldn't do it on my own. It was difficult to find a place alone in a family of six. So I went to the basement bathroom, locked the door, grabbed a towel, laid on the floor and bawled. I cried out to God to save me. I cried to Jesus to help me be more like Him. I needed help. It was the first time I came to the realization that I can't be a Christian without help. I can't do it on my own.
I very clearly heard the Lord speak to my heart (the VERY FIRST time)! He said, "I forgive you. Now you must go and ask forgiveness of those you've wronged." I immediately got up and found my mom in the kitchen. I asked her to forgive me for the bad things I've done. I did this one by one to all my family members. They didn't really know what was going on, but I felt cleansed and whole for the first time ever.
There was another point 14 years later that my relationship with God had deepened when He showed me all the areas of my life that I hadn't 100% surrendered to Him. But I'll save that story for another time.
Back to why "thirteen" will forever be a special time in my growth with God.
I got baptized shortly thereafter. And suddenly I found it easier to be nice and a good example for my younger sisters. I wasn't perfect and I knew that I still needed help all the time—especially when I messed up. I remember being sad that it took awhile for my mom to trust me again. But in time, I earned her trust. It started out with little things like NOT dancing at a school dance (—I was just there to take pictures for Student Council). It wasn't until the next day that I found out my mom had asked the principal to keep an eye on me to make sure I didn't dance. Also a couple of years later, I went out with some friends and my mom gave me a $20 bill. I returned about $17.50 to her and I'll never forget her surprise and pleasure at receiving money back. Then when I was a junior in High School, I started dating my future husband. No matter when I got home, my mom would be up reading her book. I would always come in and tell her what Dale and I did and what we talked about in the car, parked in our driveway for 1 to 2 hours. I felt it was important for my mom to know that I wasn't bad anymore. I wanted her to see me in a good light. And now, I can say that mom is more a friend than a mom.
So what does all of this have to do with anything?
Regardless of age, the good news is that we CAN'T (and aren't SUPPOSED TO) do it [be good] without help from God's grace, Jesus our Savior and the Holy Spirit our Helper.
I have such a passionate burden for teens and pre-teens. This is the perfect time to give your all to God. Okay, you know you're not perfect. So instead of beating yourself up when you mess up, talk openly with the ONE who can make the pain go away AND change your heart while He's at it. That darkness is one strong Beast. I know. But God is SOOO much stronger than the enemy. Surrender to God. It may sound scary and impossible, but what have you got to lose? Instead of living life confused and depressed, you'll have freedom and all the good gifts that God has waiting for you. Right now, He has a storehouse with your name on it. He's just waiting to bless you for your obedience and sacrifice.
Even saying the name of Jesus, causes the enemy to tremble. Try going further and verbally cast out those demons in Jesus' name that are feeding you with lies—like You're not good enough, You messed up again, No one really loves you, No one can understand what it's like to be you, You're not pretty enough, You're not very smart, Because you don't have money you'll never fit in, and the list is endless. Whatever your particular struggle is, it's not worth a single moment of worry or distress. Pray. Give 'whatever' and everything to God. Let Him deal with it.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to be a Christian. But please don't think you have to go at it alone. Although there are many books out there to help you be a better Christian, it's more simple than that. We make it so hard. We just need to have a relationship with God. He'll tell us what to do and how to live. And even better is the fact that God gave us Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to guide us and help us.
Just surrender. Surrender it all.
If you don't know how, then spend some time just talking to God. He'll bring to your mind what you need to surrender. Also, get to know your Heavenly Father. He's so much more than a Creator and All-Powerful Supreme Being. He's gentle. And loving. Forgiving, caring, compassionate, merciful, long-suffering/patient, Holy and good. God isn't some distant Being that is waiting to pour down His wrath on the sinner. He's quite the opposite, actually. He loves YOU so much that He wants You to get to know Him. He wants a close relationship with you.
It's really quite free-ing. Living without a care in the world (—because Jesus has already carried our burdens to the Cross) is so awesome. The answer to a free life in Christ is just 2 simple things: 1) Surrender everything to God and 2) Constantly seek God. By constantly seeking our Lord, your faith will grow and it'll be easier to surrender to God and be obedient to Him. It's a beautiful cycle.
Realize that even after you surrender you life to God, we're still human and will fail at times. After all, look at how many times the Israelites strayed. Yet God has mercy and will forgive a contrite heart.
So, thirteen-year-olds, you have a choice to make. You're old enough now to understand. Think on these questions. Search your heart. Ask God to show you any area that you have yet to surrender. Then live the full, free life God has in store for you!
Am I living for myself or am I living for God?
Am I trying to please man (friends, parents, teachers) or is my goal to please God?
Have I surrendered my whole life (possessions, friends, family, money, goals, thoughts, health, AND emotions) to God?
It's the only way to be able to say, "Lord, my life is in your hands now." It's the only way a parent can easily forgive the shooter of her child. It's the only way a person can deal with severe childhood abuse. It's the only way a prisoner can be truly free. It's the only reason why I can cope with terminal cancer. "My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me."—Galatians 2:20
Boy, I SO hope at least one person out there is moved in his/her spirit. Now can be a turning point for anyone hurting. If you feel like there's an emptiness in your life or a dark thread streaming through your veins, don't wait a moment longer. Find freedom in Jesus Christ. You are more than worth it. Jesus saw YOU (your face, your name, even your sins) and said, "You are worthy enough to die for."