God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT
It is so amazing how the twists and turns of life are used by the Spirit of God to direct us according to His path. This is exactly what happened as I left the convent and went back home to Edison, New Jersey at the age of 21. And this is where I pick up my story …
What a culture shock when I got out into society. Everything had shifted in those two years I had been in the convent from 1966 to 1968—music, morals, dress, everything! How to wrap my mind around it all? And on top of that, what would I do with just an associate’s degree? The one thing I could do was to teach in a parochial school and save my money to finish college for my teaching degree. So that’s what I did. I secured a position teaching fourth grade at a nearby Catholic school, St. Matthias, in Somerset, New Jersey.
But before school began in September, an invitation came that would direct my path in a significant way for the rest of my life.
Remember my childhood friend Monica in Tucson whom I had visited before going into the convent? Well, she was getting married in August, just a month after I left the convent. When she discovered that I was home, Monica contacted me and invited me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding in Arizona!
What an amazing time that trip was! To go from being a nun just a month or so before to being a bridesmaid in a dear friends’ wedding. It was all so exciting and mind-boggling. And God used it to clarify my goal of completing college for my B.A. in education.
Being back in Tucson had rekindled my love for this desert Southwestern town and for the desire to finish my education there. And the amazing thing was that Monica’s mom invited me to live with their family while studying at the University of Arizona the following school year.
And so I returned to New Jersey after the wedding with the exciting goal of being back in Tucson in just a year. My plan was to teach my fourth grade class and save my money to go back to Tucson as a junior at the University of Arizona. (Go, Wildcats!). So I jumped into teaching at St. Matthias with a new zeal when school started.
How I loved my fourth graders, and how I adored teaching! The entire school year seemed to fly by because of the joy of the students, the colleagues, the curriculum, and the classroom environment. And speaking of classroom, one of the things I loved most was to decorate the classroom with its many bulletin boards. Charles Schultz’ Peanuts had just become popular. So I used those characters quite often to decorate. But I remember one month, I did a board for my classroom with the caption: JESUS IS THE ANSWER. Yet I remember thinking, What’s the question? Little did I know, God would answer in the coming months.
As my fourth grade teaching year progressed, I finalized my plans to go to the University of Arizona in the coming fall semester. It was a big adjustment becoming a student on a campus of 20,000+ students. All my other educational contexts had been very small by comparison. Registering on such an immense and spread out campus was daunting back in that day when the “computer” was a building! And individual punch cards per class were handed out in individual buildings for each subject area.
I was overwhelmed and on the verge of tears (ready to hop on the next plane back to NJ), when Monica and her husband Steve helped me navigate the process. Monica’s mom also encouraged me to find a campus Christian ministry where I could meet other students in a smaller setting. That encouragement proved to be God’s gift and direction for my future spiritual growth.
The Jesus Movement was in full swing at the U of A in 1969. Students were coming to the Lord through many campus Christian groups. Within my first month in Tucson, I met some students from a campus ministry, then called Campus Crusade for Christ. I could tell those students had LIFE in them. I was so drawn to them and the messages and testimonies and music. Finally, an older student leader clearly shared the gospel with me. I immediately recognized it as truth and embraced the Word with my whole heart. I was amazed by the simplicity of what religion has made so complicated.
This is what I heard that day:
God loves me:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NASB).
I’m a sinner and separated from God:
For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 NASB).
Christ died for my sins:
Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18 NASB).
I receive Christ and his salvation by faith:
For the wages of sin is (death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 NASB, emphasis added).
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12 NASB, emphasis added).
This was nothing new to me, except the part about “free gift.” I was amazed! Now it all made sense—how Jesus is the answer. He’s the God-man who bridges the gap between God and us (John 1:14). We don’t work our way to God. We receive eternal life (the life of God, right now and for eternity) as a gift (Ephesians 2:8–9).
So then the good things we do and the godly character that’s formed within us are the results of being a new creation in Christ. By faith, we allow the living Christ within to live through us.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 NLT
So there is no earning with our God, for our salvation AND for our Christian walk. I am already loved and forgiven and free in Him. But it would take years into my Christian life to really get this in the depths of my soul.
I loved my two years in Tucson at the University of Arizona. I grew in my relationship with Christ and my experience of Him in my everyday life.
My love for and understanding of the Word of God increased exponentially. I discovered and enjoyed continuing fellowship with growing believers in the body of Christ on campus and in the local church. And then, of course, there’s the story of finding my future husband or his finding me there in Tucson (but that’s for another blog post).
Thank you, O my darling Savior, for Your clarifying Truth spoken through young, alive, excited children of Yours … way back in an amazing time when Your Spirit was moving so powerfully.
Thank you for moving in my own mind and heart.
Keep on, O God! Keep on! Amen.
*For another Arizona story (a bit more current), see Living the Yet not I but Christ Life
Before starting your own remembering stones, be sure to read the introduction to this series: Remembering Stones: Reflecting on a Life Being Lived. This will help you with perspective.
Also to get caught up with the series, see:
Stone #1: The Will of God
Stone #2: The Holy Spirit
Stone #3: The Holy Scriptures
What about you, dear reader? What are your earliest memories? Was there a significant person, place, truth that impacted you in your early years? What were your “stepping stones/remembering stones”? This doesn’t have to be set in concrete. You may likely change around your order and even delete/add as you go along. Just jot down your “now thoughts.”
And jot down even the hard things that happened in your life. You can then process them with the Lord. Watch how He takes those struggles and trials, as time goes on, and “filters” them into the truths about Himself and about your life that you can build upon.
Just start writing or journaling your thoughts — no need to write it up formally. I had started out with “Topics” and descriptions long before I started writing it up formally.
Happy reminiscing, recording, and writing!
And a shameless plug: The with-ness of our God ( Kirkus Review)