By Debra Birner
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
I feel like the story of my salvation is unique! But I suppose we all feel that way. I truly love when people share their salvation testimony with me, because we all have a special story to share.
I did not grow up in a Christian home, but I had a great, loving family. My family did not go to church, but sometimes my brother and I walked to the Methodist church by ourselves and went to Sunday school. This was not very often.
When I was nineteen, I got married. This is funny (to me, at least.) I got married in a Baptist church! My new mother-in-law was Baptist, and she arranged it. Now that I am saved and look back, I find it strange that though the pastor met with us before the wedding, he never presented the plan of salvation to us. He did advise us that we should never get divorced.
I soon had my first child when I was twenty. At that time, we did not have a car, but we lived one block from a Lutheran church. My husband would stay up late on Saturdays drinking and then would sleep late on Sundays. I would have to get up early with the baby, so I walked over to the church and put the baby in the nursery, so that I could sit in the service and relax. That was my motivation to go. As the years went on and our family grew, sometimes my husband would accompany us.
For the first seventeen years of our marriage, we lived a good life- a worldly life. We had good jobs, lived in nice, modest homes, and had four children. He drank too much, and I yelled and screamed all of the time. Nonetheless, I was happy with my life. It is really all I knew. I loved my family. I do not think I really had much higher expectations.
Have you ever seen one of those crazy women in a Walmart out of control and yelling at her kids? That was me.
Things began to change early in 1999. I was thirty-seven years old. I was still attending the Lutheran church every two weeks. My husband was often coming with me and the children. I had always loved listening to the local country music station as I drove to work in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the DJ’s bantering back and forth about a variety of topics. But suddenly, I realized that everything they spoke about was empty and meaningless. It began to get on my nerves. I was surprised by this and mentioned it to my husband. I just did not enjoy listening to the endless talk with no substance. He acknowledged that he felt the same way. This went on for a couple of months, our feelings and desires changing in subtle ways.
One Sunday morning in August, I was taking a shower, starting my day, thinking it would be time to leave for church soon. My husband and I always started our day together, sitting on the back porch with our coffee. As I was in the shower (before coffee), I started wondering what they did in the little Baptist church down the street where we had gotten married. The only time I had been in there was once for our pre-marriage meeting, and then for our quick wedding, where we were in and out – fast! I mistakenly believed the Baptists did strange things like run around and talk in tongues; I was intimidated about what I thought it would be like. But as I was showering, I felt very strongly that I would like to go there.
Now, I had spent seventeen years trying to get my husband to want to come to church with me in the Lutheran church. His mom was a Baptist, and I thought he did not want anything to do with that. I was quite sure in my mind that he would NEVER want to go to a Baptist church. I decided it was best to not bring it up.
A few minutes later, we were both sitting on the back porch, drinking our coffee, when he casually said, “Well, I guess you want to go to church today.” He was expecting me to be delighted that he was offering to come. Instead, because I really wanted to go to the Baptist church, I just said, “No, I do not really want to go.” He was surprised and a little exacerbated because he was trying to please me. He said, “Now you do not want to go to church!” I tried to explain that I suddenly felt like it was a waste of time and that I did not really get anything out of it.
He looked at me and said, “Well, I know you will never go for this. But I was thinking that I would like to go to that Baptist church down the street.” I was stunned. The same thing I was thinking! I looked at him and said, “I was wanting to go there too!” We were both amazed that we both suddenly had this desire to go to the Baptist church.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that nothing strange was going on -- just singing and preaching. I can not explain it, but God was changing our desires every step of the way. From that morning on, we went to church every service, every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and every Wednesday night.
This started in August, but I did not get saved until November. As we were attending church, we began reading our Bibles. Everything I heard and learned was new information to me. I had never heard of the rapture before, and I was very intrigued by that. All of this time, I still never knew that I was lost. I did not understand that I needed to be saved. Either the preacher there did not clearly present the gospel, or I just did not “hear” it (probably a little of both).
In November, I was in an adult Sunday school class with my mother-in-law, who was a member of this church. Most of the women in that church were senior citizens, and in this women’s class, they were all very upset that they would have to cancel their ladies’ retreat that year because only eighteen ladies had signed up. (The minimum requirement was 20.) I felt so sorry for them that I leaned over to my mother-in-law and said, “If you go, I will go.” Now my mother-in-law was saved, and she understood that I was not, and she said, “You will go? Yes, I’ll go with you.”
On the second day of the retreat, the ladies were all playing a game, a sword drill (where they race to see who can find the Bible verse first, and then they stand up and read the verse). I had no idea what a sword drill was. This was all new to me. So I just sat there and watched them play their game. I was rather amazed at how fast they could find the Bible verses. During the course of the game, the verse they were to find and read was:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
I was horrified. I heard, “shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” I had always been the person that said things like, “Man wrote the Bible. It is full of errors.” But somehow, in that very moment, as I heard those words, I knew I was in trouble with God. I knew the things I had said about God, about His Word, about his Son. I knew how I had taken the name of Jesus Christ as a curse word, often. As I sat there and realized I was condemned, my mother-in-law looked over at me and said, “What’s wrong with you?” They were all playing a game, and I was crying.
I told her I could not be forgiven. I was condemned. She said, “No! You can be forgiven.” I said, “Your Bible just said, I can never be forgiven.”
My mother-in-law was a soul-winner, and she gently took me out into the hallway and explained to me how I could be saved. I can not really remember exactly what she said, because at that time, I had never heard the gospel before, not ever. But suddenly I knew that I believed God, I believed the Scriptures, I had sinned against God, that His Son died for me, and would save me if I would just ask. I asked. He saved. It was an emotional experience for me. I felt like someone who was “almost” killed in an accident – I “almost” went to Hell, and I cried for three days.
When I got home from the retreat, I wanted to immediately tell my husband that something happened to me, that I was not the same anymore. Everything was different. But he would not let me tell him until I listened to him first about his weekend.
During that weekend, he also asked God to reveal Himself to him and to save him. He bought a Bible. He told God, “I am going to read this Bible, and I am going to know the truth for myself.”
Our life changed drastically immediately. As our sins were revealed to us through the reading of the Bible, we were happy to make the changes. We have continued to be a work in progress ever since. I love the Lord – He saved me! Praise His Holy Name forever, the name of Jesus, the name above all names, never to be taken lightly again.