Welcome to Songs of Salvation!
Join Christian authors as they share their "Songs of Salvation" to uplift and encourage believers and glorify God.
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And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.
Revelation 12:11 NLT
My name is Jenn, and I’m a grateful believer who struggles with people pleasing, perfectionism, pride, control issues, bitterness, and hurts from ministry. I’m a work in progress, continually being sanctified by Christ and eagerly anticipating the day when I will see Him face to face and know Him fully.
I grew up in a normal, middle class family in a rural town in Texas. My parents were first generation college graduates, and my mother had a graduate degree. I mention that because their outlook on life as two high achieving young adults set the stage for much of my thinking growing up. My parents grew up as committed members of a church where there was a significant abuse of power by pastors and lay people, and as a result, they were disenchanted with church and faith in general by the time they reached adulthood and started their own family. Because of this, they were hesitant to continue in church with their own children, not wanting us to feel as though we were being forced into anything. We would attend some churches while I was growing up, but my sister and I would always inevitably raise complaints about doing so, because church clothes are itchy, Sunday school is boring, or – one of my complaints – there were no girls in that church’s children’s ministry, only boys from school who I didn’t particularly like. When we complained, my parents, so fearful of us growing to resent them for making us continue, would stop going. It was to be our personal choice whether or not we believed. Looking back, I know that my parents did what they thought was best, encouraging their children to live morally good lives and believe in Jesus, but in the end, it left me with some significant gaps in a faith that I thought I knew. I was a Christian because, frankly, everyone in my small rural town was a Christian, right?
When I was seven years old, a friend invited me to Vacation Bible School at our town’s First Baptist Church. This wouldn’t be the first or last VBS I attended, but this one was significant because a teenage volunteer came in to our class one day and gave his testimony. And what was that testimony? He’d heard back when he was seven years old that if he died, he would go to Hell unless he prayed a prayer and let Jesus in his heart. After he shared this, the pastor asked who didn’t want to go to Hell. I raised my hand, of course, because I knew enough to know that Hell wasn’t a good place. So I said a prayer with the pastor and can distinctly remember knowing nothing about Jesus yet still feeling that He was with me in a way that He hadn’t been before. I remember lying in bed that night, talking with Him, knowing that He could hear me and that it somehow pleased Him that I had taken this step. And for a child who was a people pleaser, suspecting that I had pleased Jesus was something to be very proud of indeed. That I would even think in terms like this at seven years old – of a need to please people and a prideful sense of righteousness in doing so – would be characteristic of most of my young life. Apart from that one evening spent talking to Him, however, Jesus would have no part in my life until much later.
I was a good student all throughout my childhood. I was so good, in fact, that I began to place all of my value and sense of self-worth on how well I could do in my classes and in the extra-curricular activities I picked up. I always made straight As, being named the top student in my grade at the end of every academic year. When I started band, I was always first chair. When I went to audition for school plays, I was only satisfied with the largest role. Pleasing people and being perfect was addictive, so much so that by my first year of high school, I had my whole life planned out in my mind, already taking the steps to control a future that would exceed everyone’s expectations of me. I would be amazing and wonderful and perfect, and everyone would love me because of it.
This was where I was and who I was when I began my first year of high school. Nothing was going to get in my way of being the best at everything… until I met a boy. He was a senior, the best musician in our band, and the boy that every girl wanted. And he wanted me. You would think that given my pride, this wouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, but my self-esteem issues became obvious at that point, when I could hardly believe that this boy was interested in me. He was a born-again Christian who had no business dating a girl who didn’t have a relationship with Jesus (i.e., me), but he did anyway, much to his own detriment. We quickly became an item, and I fell head over heels in love with him. Suddenly, my people pleasing tendencies shifted to pleasing him, and it no longer mattered as much how well I did in every other area of my life. I had him, I felt loved, and wasn’t that the point of doing everything perfect up until that point? Wasn’t this the end goal, being accepted and known and loved? I crossed a lot of lines morally that I wouldn’t have dreamt of crossing before he came along, and after six months together, he fell under conviction that our relationship didn’t honor Christ and that he needed to be out. I distinctly remember him telling me that God didn’t want him to be with me. Ouch. For a people pleasing person, this made me feel like my boyfriend and God had both rejected me, and I was left feeling as though I wasn’t worth much of anything. I went back to my perfectionism with renewed vigor, certain that I had much to atone for now.
It was during all of this that God brought a new friend into my life. She was in the band as well, and because we both played in the same section, we’d gotten to know one another while my brief romance was going on. Like my boyfriend, this girl was a born-again Christian, but she was different. Simply put, she was weird, talking about Jesus as though He was her close, personal friend, and taking the mishaps that came her way with a sense of confidence and assurance that God would take care of her and handle it all. She was very vocal about her faith, and when my boyfriend broke up with me, she was there with a listening ear, true empathy, and no shortage of words about how Jesus loved me. I found it annoying at times, honestly, thinking that Jesus had been the reason that my relationship had fallen apart and finding it difficult to believe that He even cared about me, much less loved me. But my new friend was persistent, not just with her Gospel witness, but with her genuine friendship, slowly making me believe the words she had to say about who Jesus really was. She’d asked me early on in our friendship if I was a Christian, and I’d told her that I’d prayed at that VBS years ago, assuming that this was what made for good Christians. She kept pressing, though, asking me if I read my Bible and if I spent time talking with God, none of which I did. Rather than telling her this and having her think less of me – I was a people pleaser, remember? – I went and bought myself a Bible just like hers just so I could be prepared the next time she asked. I even sat down and started reading it, my heart still feeling broken and utterly rejected.
I approached my reading almost academically at first, my good student skills up front and center, convinced that this was what Christians did. But those sessions of sitting down and studying the Bible quickly shifted from impersonal, fact-finding missions to emotional, heart-wrenching moments. It was as though Jesus Himself was speaking the words of the book of John not just to the people in the story but to me personally. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you,” He said to me. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Every miracle, every interaction, and every promise was more than words on paper – Jesus was speaking to my heart, pointing out my sins and calling me into a relationship with Him. My need to please people, to control everything, and to be a perfectionist were sinful tendencies, and I quickly began to identify them along with hundreds of others as I read the Bible, realizing for the first time in my life that I was a sinner in need of redemption. And wouldn’t you know it? There was a savior just for that, right there in the book of John. A savior who took my sins, who paid the price Himself, who suffered and died, and who rose again, promising to be with me forever, not because I’d worked so hard to be good and to be perfect but because He is good and He is perfect.
I soon began to see that Jesus’s words in scripture weren’t about me but about Him, that all of scripture was ultimately about Him. But even then, it felt personal, because all of my life was becoming wrapped up in Him, in wanting to live for Him, to communicate this truth that I had learned – that Jesus died for sinners like me – and to be His forever.
My friend from band began studying the Bible with me, and I became involved in a church. My whole outlook on school and my performance changed. I still did my best and was still a high achiever, but from that moment on, I began to do it as unto the Lord, knowing that my classes were meant to equip me to better serve Him and that by doing well, I could give Him greater glory.
My plans for the future changed. Plans that I’d carefully constructed for worldly success shifted and changed to just this – to know Christ and make Him known. At fifteen, this became my only future plan, my only goal, and my only aspiration. I didn’t know what that would look like back then, but I remember having such peace, knowing that God had me and that He’d use me for His purposes if I gave Him everything. I’m sure my parents thought that I was completely nuts and that this was the weirdest teenage rebellion ever, but I’d never been more certain of anything than I was of Jesus and how I was meant to live for Him.
I’ve been walking with Jesus for twenty-five years now, and He is, even now, the very same savior who spoke to my heart and completely transformed my life back when I was a teenager. He was the same savior when He called me to a large university in an urban area (a big change for me), where I went to school while working alongside and sharing Christ with those I had the opportunity to meet there. He was the same savior when He called me to forget about taking a normal job and earning big money right after I got my degree, sending me instead to Africa for two years to share Him with teenagers whose lives He soon changed just like He’d changed mine. He was the same savior when He called me to come back to the States and seminary, where I met Wes and became a pastor’s wife, which was never in a million years something that I’d planned. And He’s been the same savior as we’ve walked this ministry road, experiencing hurts, challenges, changes, growth, and such immeasurable joy when we see Him at work.
He is the same, always the same, and as I need His redemption and His grace in my life daily, I’m so very thankful for who He is.