I had been born again, but in a way, it was a premature birth. I just didn’t have a clue about what I’d signed up for, that my new-found faith was going to impact every aspect of my life. Still, it was a birth. I was naked and messy and knew nothing, but I was alive.
I had my first communion at an all-campus service on June 1, right before finals week, and was baptized in the lake on campus the next afternoon. I took my tests, packed up my dorm room, hopped in my car and headed home for the summer.
Ten hours and 500 miles later, my mother met me at the door with a manila folder full of clippings—all pointing out how awful Christianity was. I’d been raised to “think independently” and “make my own decisions” but when I used my thinking and made my decision, well, let’s just say my parents were very upset. (Sadly, they never got over it.)
I didn’t have a church at home, so I tried visiting a few local ones. The problem was, I had no idea of what a church was supposed to be like. I didn’t know that some were liberal and others conservative, that there were different styles of worship, or that not all pastors actually believed the Bible. I learned a lot, but I never found a place where I fit in.
I tried attending a Bible study with some friends from high school, but again I felt out of place. I had so little background. They used words I didn’t understand, like sanctification and justification, and talked about koinonia love and kairos moments.
I hadn’t yet learned to think like a Christian. When the leader asked us what idols were in our life, all I could think of was those statues of elephant-headed gods—and I certainly didn’t own one of those!
I returned to school eager to participate in the campus-wide Christian fellowship there. They were used to new converts and would help me take my first baby steps toward maturity. That’s where I learned that being “born again” wasn’t enough, I also needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit every day… or was it “baptized in the Holy Spirit” once and for all? Or… it was still all so confusing!
Meanwhile, my personal life fell apart. Cute Guy came back to school and announced he’d fallen in love with a girl back home. Most of my friends were at overseas campuses and I was lonely. I was taking hard classes such as organic chemistry and neurophysiology, and homework was unrelenting. Worse, I eventually failed chemistry. (I was used to getting straight A’s and this was a terrific shock.) I became very depressed.
Things that used to make me feel better no longer offered any comfort. They just didn’t satisfy the emptiness I was feeling. I was getting desperate. Here I was a new Christian, and I thought life was supposed to get better! Instead, I’d never been more miserable. The fact that I continued to believe is an indication of God’s firm grip on me, and not anything I can take credit for.
June finally arrived. It was 1974, and it seemed as if the entire college population of the United States was heading to Europe for the summer. Exchange rates were excellent, rail passes were cheap, and you could get a round trip to Paris for all of $310 (even with a fuel surcharge). I stuffed three changes of clothes and a sleeping bag into a backpack and joined the throng.
Traveling with other believers across Europe was just what I needed. I had brought nothing to read beside my Bible, and I read it constantly. We visited Christian hostels, connected with friends from the overseas campuses, and talked late into the night about life and God.
It was in the middle of the night somewhere in southern Germany, lying in a top bunk in a crowded dorm, that I finally broke down. Realizing I’d been fighting God for control, I gave him permission to be Lord. I told him he could do whatever he wanted, that I was giving up. I handed over all my hopes and dreams. Although I had no idea which version of the “filled with the Spirit” thing was true, I asked God to please make it happen in me, whatever it was.
That was a turning point. I began to notice when God had an opinion, and to heed the Spirit’s promptings. My depression eased, my joy returned. In fact, the change was so dramatic that the friend who picked me up at the airport on my return asked me what had happened—and was so impressed with what God had done in me that he too became a believer!
In a way, my rebirth was completed that night. Jesus was now both my Savior and my Lord, as he was always meant to be.