Originally published November 27, 2015, but slightly revised for clarity.
Today, January 20, 2023, marks 52 years since the Lord graciously saved me. Let me share my testimony — not as the Gospel, but as a small demonstration of His wonderful grace.
He had thick golden hair that sunlight would dance in. 52 years later, I can’t recall anything else about him, but at the time the slightest bit of attention from him produced exciting (and frightening) sensations that my 17-year-old body had never experienced. Thankfully, the severity of my disability held me back from making myself sexually available to him in the weeks before his deployment to Vietnam.
I fantasized that he’d get me pregnant so that he’d have to marry me when he returned from the war. As you might guess, however, he made no advances toward me. But 17-year-olds rarely live in reality, and so I clung to hope that I could have the sexual encounter when he came back to San Rafael, California (where I lived at the time). Once he wrote that first letter, providing me with his address, I could surely write letters that would make me irresistible! Couldn’t I?
After he shipped out, I still wanted to know 1) if my feelings indicated true love and 2) if he’d marry me when he came back from the war. (Why wasn’t he writing to me like he promised he would?) Of course, I eagerly read my horoscopes during that time. On a church youth group ski trip, the pastor’s daughter read people’s palms, but I didn’t have a chance to consult with her.
That semester at Terra Linda High, I had made friends with a couple of the “Jesus Freaks” on campus. One girl in particular spent a lot of time with me, and accepted the responsibility to walk me to the 12:00 van that took me back to the “school for the orthopedically handicapped” that I attended in the afternoon. She and I talked endlessly about our romantic frustrations (though I didn’t disclose my sexual fantasies), but we also talked about Jesus and the Bible.
My friendship with her and acquaintance with the other “Jesus Freaks” influenced me to read my Bible often. I had, since receiving it just before I turned ten, read it more than most children might, but usually I focused on the Psalms or Luke. Being around this group of kids, however, increased my interest in Scripture. I hoped that God’s Word, combined with astrology and other occult practices, would help me determine if I really loved my blond sailor. Undaunted by the inconvenient fact that two months had passed without a letter, I randomly opened my Revised Standard Version Bible. What I read one January afternoon did address my question, but in a way that troubled me:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ~~Matthew 5:1-9 (RSV)
Verse 8 filled me with sorrow. Would my impure desires for “my” sailor exclude me from going to heaven and seeing God? I hoped I’d been mistaken. At that point, I remembered that my friend at school had called 1 Corinthians 13 “the love chapter,” so I eagerly turned to it.
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~~1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (RSV)
Oh no! That description was certainly a far cry from the “love” that I felt for the young man in Vietnam! Furthermore, these two passages showed me that God has a standard of love far higher than anything I could ever reach. After reading them, I knew I had no hope of ever going to heaven…which could only mean that I would spend eternity in hell.
After youth group one night, I told my pastor that I feared an eternity in hell (although I avoided the specifics of my sexual intentions). Shocked, he looked at me and told me that I was a good girl who had no need to worry about such things. I shook my head, thinking that he had no idea of the sinfulness that resided inside of me. For two weeks after that I silently struggled with my fears of eternal damnation, but knew I couldn’t tell anybody.
At the end of that period (January 20, 1971), my friend and I sat talking excitedly about her boyfriend, who had become a Christian just a week earlier. Our conversation was interrupted when another girl joined us. This third girl, smiling broadly, announced that a pastor had just come to talk to her psychology class. Much to her relief, the pastor had declared that people of all religions would go to heaven. In the two weeks since my discussion with my pastor, I had drawn the same conclusion, so I welcomed the confirmation.
My friend rose to walk me to my 12:00 van, but her countenance had totally changed. She sighed, “I had so much hope for that girl!”
“What do you mean?” I probed. “Isn’t she right? Buddhists have their way, atheists have their way, and we Christians have our way. We will all get there in the end.”
My friend shook her head, explaining that if everyone was saved, then Jesus died in vain. Then she quoted John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Although she didn’t really explain the Gospel, she said enough for me to understand that Jesus paid for my sin when He died on the cross. I have no idea how I made that connection! Obviously, the Holy Spirit gave me the ability to understand that Jesus had paid for my sins of selfishness and sexual impurity. Without saying anything aloud, I vowed to give my life to the Lord Who gave His life for me.
After that, the sailor no longer mattered to me. I was busy reading the Bible and learning more and more about Jesus.