When I was ten-years-old, my parents separated and divorced. A couple years later, my dad remarried to a kind woman named Shelia. Weekends were spent at Dad's while the rest of the time I lived at my mom's. Three or four years after the divorce, Mom, who had full custody of me, filed to receive more money for child support. The storm that was brewing frightened and depressed me, but I prayed to God to prepare me. His answer saved my life.
I got out of the shower one evening and was drying off. Outside the bathroom I could hear Mom screaming but could not make out her words. I decided she was scolding our mischievous cat, Willow. Having brushed my teeth and put on my nightclothes, I proceeded to Mom's room and asked her, "Were you yelling at Willow?"
"No," Mom said; she went on to explain that she was talking to Dad on the phone. She had filed for more child support money, and if the courts allowed her the raise, Dad would sue for custody. "And I'm not letting him take you away from me," Mom said reaching her arms out to hug me.
I told her goodnight and went to my room. I put on Audio Adrenaline and soaked in the lyrics: "If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water...." That night I clung to my teddy bear, Rumples, and cried myself to sleep.
In the months following, I walked around with my eyes to the floor and my heart crying out to God. Every night after reading my Bible I prayed, "God, please prepare me for the storm that is coming." Often I listened to the same Audio Adrenaline song I had played the night of the phone call. The words of the song encouraged me to keep reaching out to God: "If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water...."
One Saturday I had gone out with Shelia and my stepbrother Jonathan. We pulled up to the driveway, and Shelia grabbed the mail. Sitting in the front seat, I could see an envelope from social services in Shelia's lap. I knew that envelope held my fate within it. Once in the garage, Shelia ripped into the envelope, read the letter's contents, looked at me and said, "I'm sorry, Stephanie. We're suing for custody."
I sat still so as not lose my composure. I then proceeded to my downstairs bedroom. Grabbing a coffee table-picture book of Great Britain, I took it upstairs and engrossed myself in the pictures. The beautiful photographs of green rolling hills, sparkling lakes, and cobblestone roads were of a land far away from my misery. I wanted to jump into the pictures and escape from the decision I would have to make. Because I was older than twelve, I could decide if I wanted my mom or my dad to have custody of me. I never had to choose between my parents before, but now that Dad was threatening to sue for custody, I had to pick which parent I "loved more."
Dad finally arrived home. Shelia took him into their bedroom to tell him the news. Filled with dread, I sat on a chair in the living room staring at a photograph of a wooded path in the Great Britain book, focusing hard on the image: Standing on the golden path, I stroked the rich green leaves with my outstretched fingers; I allowed the sun to embrace me in its warm arms and the stillness of the air to wade within my soul. I longed to walk down the path, but alas, I could not because it was, after all, just a picture.
Dad gravely came into the room with Shelia right behind. While taking a seat on the coffee table, he asked me to sit across from him on the couch. I picked up my shoes, which were lying beside the chair, and, with the book in hand, moved to the couch. He looked at me seriously and asked, "Stephanie, what do you want?"
The truth slid from my mouth. "I don't know," I said. Hunching my shoulders, I began to weep. The Great Britain book lay open on my lap to the picture of the wooded path. Why can't I be there? I wondered. Though my tears trickled onto the book, they did not affect the sun-kissed scene.
After letting me cry for a few minutes, Dad allowed me to escape to my room. So I gathered up my shoes, closed my book, and ran downstairs to my room. I shut the bedroom door behind me and flipped on the light. The items in my arms fell to the ground as I looked around in desperation for something that would end my pain. I wanted to rid myself of the pain and darken my eyes to this miserable world forever. At that moment, as my eyes dashed around the room, I heard a still, soft voice whisper into my ear, "I will not give you anything you can't handle." As soon as I heard the Voice, I knew I would be okay because God was with me. Never again have I had any notions to take myself from this world.
Dad did not sue for custody. Instead my parents both went for joint custody so that I would not have to choose. There have been many times that I have wanted to escape from a situation into a different land where I thought peace dwelt, but peace does not dwell anywhere on this earth unless God is there, and peace cannot be found in taking one's life. Peace can only be found under the shadow of God's accepting wings that cover me whenever I cry out to Jesus. If I keep my eyes on Jesus I can walk on water.
That night may have gone much differently had I not prepared for battle by praying. And I would not have prayed as I did had I not been saved; in other words, had I not said, "Jesus, I believe I'm a sinner and that you died on the cross for my sins; I believe that after you died, you rose from the grave and are alive." That's all being saved is -- believing. No good deeds, good works, right words, whatever involved. Just believe.
I was saved at a youth retreat earlier that year, but it was a moment in my life that almost didn't happen. I had gone up to the front of the auditorium with a friend, Kelly and her friend Lauren (*not their real names). In church speak, this is the "altar call" -- the time after the sermon to go up to the front and pray. The speaker asked all those who had come up to the front to go into a separate room; our youth leaders would meet us there to speak with us about whatever brought us to the front.
My friend Kelly and I went to the same church; Lauren had come with a different church. I sat on a couch in the other room with Kelly and Lauren, and Lauren's youth leader came up and was speaking with Kelly and Lauren; I was sitting on the end listening. My youth leader, Jerry Burks (that is his real name; go give him a pat on the back or a big ol' hug) saw me sitting alone, pulled me aside, and prayed the -- more church speak -- "sinner's prayer." The sinner's prayer is the "Jesus, I believe" prayer I've typed two paragraphs up.
My God is Elohim, the Creator, and he is in control. He worked everything together so that Jesus would die on the cross, be dead for three days, and then BOOM he's alive. He has authority over Death itself. And this same Elohim worked everything together so that I would go to that youth retreat and have Jerry Burks for a youth pastor and come to know Jesus so I would cry out to him and not be dead in a gutter somewhere right now, but instead sitting here and typing this. And the road goes ever on and on....
P.S. Click here for the Audio Adrenaline song I listened to over and over throughout that difficult time in my life. I wrote a letter to the band about how this song got me through a tough time, and they were kind enough to respond with a personal postcard.