By Amber O’Brien
~~sometimes Love gently nips at your feet~~
Sometimes the questions that we cannot answer right away have the biggest impact. At least I know that to be true for me. Three profound questions slowly set the stage for the all- important decision of my life, and so I will somehow attempt to pen the most significant story of my life.
More than 35 years ago (I must have been in my early teens at the time), I vividly remember walking along the sidewalk in front of a clothing store at a strip mall when a tall, thin young man stepped forward and asked me, “Do you know why Jesus died on the cross?”
I did not have an answer. So I mumbled, “I don’t know,” and I quickly walked by him, as my adolescent shyness overcame my curiosity of this odd question. He probably had a leaflet and some talking points to offer, but I moved too fast and ran into the store.
However, like a persistent dog, the question followed me, nipping at my consciousness and never leaving my side. In my thoughts, I sought to figure out what crime (it must have been serious) that Jesus committed to be so charged with death and crucified.
The question lay dormant for years, just as a faithful dog rests by his owner’s feet.
Around the time I entered high school, I began to attend Young Life meetings in the homes of fellow classmates. Young Life is a Christian youth outreach organization for high school students that includes evenings of silly skits and loud guitar sing-alongs—sort of like a G-rated Saturday Night Live show. In the packed living rooms, we swayed to the music and laughed hilariously as our friends donned funny costumes for the funny plays and contests.
It was such fun to sit with my girlfriends and sing and clap to songs like, “Under the Boardwalk,” while the cute boys played guitars and made us giggle with their shenanigans. My awareness of the opposite sex was growing and I quickly became infatuated whenever a musician caught my eye. More importantly, my awareness of God’s love for me was increasing, too.
The college-aged volunteers in my high school Young Life chapter were caring and committed individuals. They sought to help each of us through our tough high school years. Teams of four volunteers spent their free time planning fun social events and the same joy I felt in the meetings, I could see in the leaders’ everyday lives. These truly were unique, mysterious young adults who donated their nights and weekends to spend time with awkward high schoolers.
In the midst of the silly, joyful and loud songs, one melancholy chorus struck a nerve and became my second defining question. “What’s Forever For?” by Michael Martin Murphey was a song we would often sing during the large group meetings. The song’s chorus asks:
So What’s the Glory in Living
Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?
And if Love never lasts forever
Tell me what’s forever for?
The melancholy, slow chorus seemed so sad to me, and I didn’t want to accept that love could end. I remember a stirring happening in my heart as I considered again and again the end of the chorus, “What’s forever for?”
I did not feel lovable or attractive. During middle school I sported large, rounded glasses with thick lenses, and wore braces on my teeth. At one time the orthodontist even had me wearing a head-brace that went around the outside of my face (not very popular with the guys). A nickname, “Airbrain Amber” is one I’ll never forget. The negative teasing chipped away at my self-esteem. However, these Young Life leaders treated me the same as the more popular students at Charles W Woodward H.S. I remember one volunteer named Warren who woke up super early one Saturday morning to pick up the donuts and bring them to me so I could then sell them to my neighbors.
My parents supported my efforts as well and so during the summer before my sophomore year, I traveled with my friends on a bus to the Young Life camp in Saranac, New York. While there, I walked on high ropes in the tall trees, and parasailed off of the sandy beach. But at the end of each day, I remember sitting in an audience of scores of other 15-16 year olds listening to engaging talks about God and His amazing love.
When the end of the week approached, the closing talk focused on how a human physically suffers when crucified on a cross. I heard how the victim must lift up their weight by pushing on their bloody nailed feet in order to achieve enough air to take a breath to fill their lungs. Then the dying victim would lower himself back down which pulled on his throbbing, wounded wrists. Learning about this slow struggle for air that caused Jesus so much pain shocked me to the core.
“Why would a God of love allow His perfect Son to suffer like this?” I kept thinking to myself as I imagined Jesus on the cross after being whipped to the point of death. He did nothing wrong.
The speaker continued to talk about how Jesus had died on the cross because the God of the universe saw me! He knew that I sat on death row in my ugly selfishness. Generously, He offered up His one and only perfect Son to suffer and die in my place so that I could be with Him in heaven for Eternity.
The speaker’s words jolted me, just as a dog’s urgent barking awakens his master from a deep sleep.
“What?” I gasped silently as my heart quickened. My sins? The answer to the question that I had been trying to find of “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” was all along… for ME?
God’s gracious love flooded me while I sat under a tree alone in the woods after the talk had finished. God had not used fear or threats to draw my tender heart, but instead Love whispered my name. The mighty God of the universe wooed me with patient kindness.
I looked upward into the blue sky, and responded to Jesus with words that flowed from a heart overcome with surprise and gratitude and awe. You did that for me?
What a shock to realize that the Holy God of the Universe not only intimately knew my ugly, selfish heart, but He also loved me so much that He died for me. He desired to walk with me on this earth and then to spend eternity with me too.
As I pondered this indescribable gift of love, my third and final question formed as I looked heavenward. But Jesus, what can I do for you?
Yet ever so gently a still, small voice spoke softly into my spirit, Give me your life.
Yes– My gift would be myself. My unknown future, my dreams, my hopes… all wrapped up with a bow. Yes, Jesus, I responded, I give you my life.
Sitting alone under a tree in the woods at Camp Saranac, I gave my heart to Jesus and began a lifelong journey of love. For almost four decades we have weathered many storms together and shared so many miracles and joys.
Our love story will last forever.