Kelsie Petersen lives near St. Paul, Alberta, Canada, with her husband Aaron and their three boys, Matthew (5), Tyler (4) and Colby (2). Kelsie was born and raised in an Adventist home and received her elementary education degree from Canadian University College (formerly Canadian Union College, now Burman University). She is a life-long lover of music and spends her few spare moments at the piano with favorite praise songs and hymns. Kelsie and Aaron have attended St. Paul Alliance Church since leaving Adventism in 2004 and are thrilled to have found a church that preaches the simple gospel of Jesus week after week.
I realized last night that I’ve been set up—utterly and completely set up. I lay in bed, thinking about the whirlwind of the last ten weeks, and as usual, my thoughts tumbled over themselves, bringing my mind through the bumps and twists of all the years that have gone before.
June 30th I received the diagnosis from a seemingly simple biopsy that had been performed a week earlier: I had a high grade (fast-growing) sarcoma in the flesh of my hip. I suddenly found myself scheduled for a CT scan, an MRI, and an appointment with an oncologist and surgeon two hours from where we live. I was told my surgery would result in a two-month convalescence with severe limitations on my activities. Since we have a toddler, a preschooler and a kindergartner, my next weeks were a blur of arranging for food and care for them and for my husband while my head churned with the implications of my diagnosis. At the same time, we tried to cram as much “summer” into a few short weeks as we could.
On July 31 I had surgery, and as I’ve healed and regained my ability to do my daily activities and to take care of our children, I’ve had to learn to trust God in new ways.
I’ve had low days over the past three months. I don’t feel as if I’ve actually doubted God’s goodness and faithfulness, but I have often had to preach to myself, to remind myself, to explain (again) to myself the purpose of this unexpected interruption: it is for His glory.
This is not the first period of time in my life when I have faced potentially faith-shattering circumstances, and it certainly won’t be the last. (It is, however, only the second time that I clearly remember being tested and tried but not feeling swept away by doubt. I am thankful to know that I can face hard times with the full assurance that Jesus is faithful in His goodness and His love for me!) Nevertheless, every time these extra-hard times come along, I find myself recounting the events and decisions in my life that brought me where I am. I tear up when I look back along my years (there’s not that many of them, mind you), and I see so clearly how God has led, guided, cleared paths, and possibly given me a little nudge into places and situations I might not have chosen for myself. I see how the tapestry of my life has been woven together, flaws and imperfections, mistakes and tragedies included, to create a beautiful picture of a perfect God who saved dreadfully imperfect me.
Every time I take this walk down memory lane, I think back to the time and place where my trajectory changed. At one time I would have told you that, rather than a trajectory change, what happened was the beginning of God’s clear leading and work in my life, but I’ve come to see that He was working all along—even before I was born; “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:16).
Circumstances came together to put me in that moment where my trajectory changed. It occurred in September, 1991. Because our small, local Adventist church school had closed, I had spent the two previous years in a non-denominational Christian school. This arrangement was certainly not ideal in my parents’ eyes, but it was the best option they felt they had.
There I had made a wonderful friend. I saw in Renae something that I couldn’t name—I couldn’t put my finger on it. Oh, there were obvious differences between us; we went to different churches which taught quite different things about the Ten Commandments—particularly the fourth, about the state of the dead, and even about the prophet, Ellen G. White. But none of those differences explained the “something” I sensed in Renae. She was not missing something that I had; on the contrary, she had something that I was missing. It was puzzling. As a 12-year-old, however, although I wondered what she had, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I just accepted the fact that she was a lovely, sweet person who was deeply different from anyone I had known before. We were close friends, and I remember vividly the excitement of being allowed to go school-supply shopping with her just weeks before school started. I felt so mature as we wandered the “downtown” of our small Canadian prairie town, just the two of us (she was a couple years older than I)—oh, what independence!
That September, Renae invited me to a multi-denominational youth rally. It was a typical youth event with games, food, and music—and of course, the speaker. I don’t remember exactly what he said during his talk, but I remember as it came to an end, he began, as was usual, to speak about “giving your heart to Jesus.”
I had heard it before. Adventist campmeetings, summer camps, weeks of prayer—they always ended with similar pleas. Moreover, those pleas always ended the same way: “with every eye closed and every head bowed”—and the entire congregation would rise to their feet in response to the plea. I was honestly weary of it. “How many times do I have to do this?” I wondered. Just that previous summer, in fact, out of pure protest, knowing that I had stood every other time I had ever heard that plea, I remained seated at the campmeeting appeal in the Junior building—what a rebel I was!
But that night at the non-Adventist youth rally, we were seated on the gym floor with “every head bowed, every eye closed.” The speaker asked us to raise our hands if we wanted Jesus to come into our heart and be Lord of our lives. “Yeah, yeah, yeah…here we go again,” I thought, but I knew people would be peeking, and since I was in the midst of a group of “cool” strangers, I caved to the appeal and floppily put up my hand.
The speaker, though, didn’t stop there; he took it a step farther and asked those who put up their hands to now stand! I got to my feet expecting to hear the usual shuffle of an entire gymnasium full of kids standing, but—silence.
I was mortified.
I peeked open one eye to see that, out of a gymnasium full of kids, only I and perhaps ten others were standing. I don’t know how to explain what happened next in my head, other than to refer back to the (also old) electronic game of Tetris. Imagine opening a game, and all of a sudden the pieces fall from the top and fit perfectly together to fill the whole screen. That’s what happened.
In what seemed to be an instant, I understood! I understood that Jesus was sacrificed once for my sins, and that the call to “make Jesus Lord of my life,” or to “give my heart to Jesus” was in actuality a call to be born again—one time. I would not say that I could have articulated it so at the time, but I do know that I understood, and my understanding was not a result of my own analysis. God opened my eyes. When I left that night, I knew and understood that something real had taken place, not just a mental ascent to something that I (in my head) believed was “true”, such as that I needed Jesus to help me be good or to help me obey. Rather, something real and deep happened—a spiritual transformation, a transformation of my spirit, of my soul. I was deeply changed—deeply different.
Set up for freedom
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 24 years since that night I stood at that youth rally and experienced God changing my heart and giving me Himself. I’ve grown deeper in my understanding of what happened in those moments, what it meant and what it means to my todays and my tomorrows—to my forever. Along the way, especially early, I can say that I didn’t always choose to live those “todays” in light of what had taken place, but the more I understood, the harder it became to choose to ignore that act of God in me.
Even though I had been born again, I wandered in circles for 13 more years before finally coming to the point of leaving Adventism. As an earliteen, a youth, a summer camp worker, an Adventist university student, and eventually as a teacher in an Adventist school, I tried to “be the change”. I tried to take the truth I had seen and experienced in my heart since that night, the truth I was reading about as I actually sat down and read my Bible (rather than following a lesson or a study or reading a devotional “thought” here and there) and stuff that biblical truth into the “truth” my head had been taught from the cradle up. I tried to inject more grace, more love, more “tolerance” into my Adventist environment, but the biblical truth I was reading never really meshed with the Adventist “truth”.
It was a long 13 years. Through another series of circumstances (another story for another time), I was brought face to face with the fact that on that long-ago night when I understood that Jesus was the sacrifice for my sins, God changed my trajectory. Adventism had me on a trajectory going one direction, but God’s word and His Spirit were guiding me on another. It took me 13 years to realize that I couldn’t harmonize the two—and then I saw that on that night 13 years before, God had “set me up”.
I’d been set up to feel the weight and enormous depth of my sin even though I told myself it wasn’t “that bad,” compared to so many others.
I’d been set up to know and understand the fullness of Jesus’ complete sacrifice on the cross for me.
I’d been set up to be purchased—fully and completely.
I’d been set up to live life in the Spirit, not under a list of do’s and do-not’s.
I’d been set up to know my eternity is safe and secure.
I’d been set up to be free.
As I write this, I’ve just received the “all clear” from my surgeon. With this current trial thankfully receding toward the rear-view mirror (although I don’t know the future, that’s for sure), I know I’ve been set up again: set up to trust more, to love more, and to walk in even more freedom and release than before. I don’t know what my tomorrows will bring, but I know, now more than ever, that “It is finished!”
I know, absolutely, the purpose of my life—of my joys, my sorrows, my burdens, and my loves; it is to glorify the One who bought me. Even me. †
Copyright 2015 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 10, 2015. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
F A L L • 2 0 1 5
VOLUME 16, ISSUE 3
STORIES OF FAITH