Susie rocked my world. She encapsulated everything I wanted. Smart, fun, deep, caring, with strawberry blonde hair trailing down her back. We met while in high school. One night she showed up while I was playing in our rock band. We talked a bit, but it wasn’t until she came by where I worked and invited me to a party that we got to know one another. After that, I was hooked.

Our relationship became exclusive. Over time we talked about the future, and how we wanted to get married. She wanted kids. How many? I grew up in a small family and said one or two. She wanted a whole football team!

We never did resolve that issue. Though we went to colleges close to one another, one weekend she came home. I had been sensing that something wasn’t right. That Friday night after the movie I told Susie I had something to say. I wanted to ask her to marry me. But she jumped in and said there was something she had to say first. She had met another guy. She wanted to break up with me.

She left early the next day to head back to college. I decided to pursue her, but her mind was set. Susie eventually married that guy. I felt like one of the walking wounded.

Six months later in the college café, I sat down with a couple of guys. Richard was fun, outgoing and carried a Bible. When I saw that, I had steered away from him. Now things in my life were in a different place. Perhaps he sensed I was more open.

Richard said to Art, “Do you think Mark knows?” My friend Art, the guitar player who preferred jam sessions and singing to attending class responded, “No, I don’t think so.”

Richard then said, “Do you think he would like to know?” Art said, “I don’t know, why don’t you ask him?”

So he did. Richard turned to me, and asked, “Would you like to know what we are talking about?” Since it was obvious I was being baited, I said “No.” Well, Richard told me anyway.

Richard shared that God loves us. And in his love for us, God sent his son Jesus. Jesus lived a righteous life, but was killed by religious leaders who were jealous of the following Jesus had.

Richard went on to explain that we all sin—we all do bad things. No argument from me there. I knew my history. He shared that though God loves us; our evil deeds separate us from him. God is just, righteous, and holy. He can’t just turn a blind eye to sin. He has to deal with it. A verse from a book in the bible called Romans puts it this way: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Richard also shared that though Jesus offered up his life as a ransom for us, redeeming us from death, he did not stay dead, but rose back to life three days later. God’s power had raised him to life and God was satisfied with Christ’s payment.

Richard came back to the verse that told about God’s love and shared how we could receive it. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He explained that the one condition was that we received God’s Son by believing in him. He died for us. Would we believe in him?

I didn’t accept it. But Richard cared enough to drive an hour to pick me up and take me to a college Bible study. I felt so awkward! But they started the meeting with guitars and singing. That helped.

I don’t remember much of what was taught. But I remember the love they had for one another. At my college, the guys were only interested in a girl if she was pretty and dateable. But here at the Christian Ranch Youth meeting (“Ranch” for short), everyone seemed to care about others. You could see it in how they treated one another. For example, one girl tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds. In spite of her size, the guys treated her as well as they treated the beautiful blonde. I thought I knew what love was, but now I was seeing it.

After a month, I had asked questions about being saved. Did I have to be baptized to be saved? No, our works do not save us, only belief in Christ. Other questions followed, but still I had not trusted Christ. Then one day, alone, I knelt and prayed something like this: “God, I don’t understand a lot, but I believe you sent your Son Jesus to save us. I trust in him.”

What happened after that? No rockets went off, but I remember feeling peace and joy. I had been looking for love and got rejection. But now I experienced love from both God and fellow believers. As time passed, I wanted to serve God, not to get something, but to love him back for the grace he had given me.

How about you? Could this be your story too? It can be, if you will trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins.

If you are interested, open a Bible and check out the following verses: John 3:16, John 6:47, Acts 4:12, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-10.

Epilogue

Some who have read my story have asked, “So, what happened? How did things turn out?”

I did find love, real love. After many years I met and married the one who is now the love of my life. Debbie and I have been married for more than 25 years and have two college-age sons. God filled the void I felt, and has blessed me more with a godly wife than I can tell. We minister together at Oak Hills Church in Argyle, Texas, where I serve as Senior Pastor. Having a life partner in Debbie has blessed the journey and God has brought us joy!

A lot of people think heaven is a reward to be earned, but I discovered it’s a gift to be received. Most people don’t even think about heaven until things start to fall apart on Earth. My world fell apart during the sixties in the border town of McAllen, Texas, where the drugs flowed freely and the parties seemed to never end.

Rebellion was in the air. Authority was to be challenged, not followed. Police were pigs, parents were prigs and we were stoned as we danced to the tunes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Jefferson Airplane.

At 16, I ran away from home and hitchhiked to San Francisco, which served as rebellion central for runaway teens who dropped out and doped up. As President Johnson called up more troops for Vietnam, college students burned their draft cards. Our generation would show the world how to “make love, not war.”

My rebellion collided with authority when the Salt Lake City police arrested me for loitering, which was their term for sleeping on a park bench. After a US Marshall escorted me back to Texas, I became the problem that my parents could not solve. Counseling, therapy and moving to Beaumont, Texas to live with my grandmother only fueled my resentment toward all authority and withdrawal from conventional society.

After returning to McAllen, I began to search for answers outside of drugs and parties. I started to read the Bible, but it seemed confusing to me. I visited different churches, but that left me even more confused. My confusion peaked when I visited a church where the preacher said that Christ died for my sins, and if I would make him Lord of my life, God would give me eternal life. When the preacher asked for people to come forward to follow Christ, I responded.

Eternal Life Is A Gift To Be Received, Not A Reward To Be Earned

I thought that going to heaven was a joint venture or partnership. God would do his part by sending his son to die for my sins, and I would do my part by following him. At my baptism, a friend in the audience sensed my confusion. My friend invited me to a youth meeting not associated with that church. At the Christian Youth Ranch in Pharr, Texas, pastor Wally Morillo said something that totally shocked me.

Wally said that eternal life is a gift to be received by faith alone in Christ alone, not a reward to be earned by good works. I objected. I was sure that good works had to play a role in going to heaven.

Then Wally did something I’ll never forget. He opened the Bible to the book of Ephesians and read from chapter 2, verses 8 and 9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

There it was in the Bible. I could hardly believe what I was reading because it was the opposite of what I believed. Going to heaven or being saved is “not of works, lest anyone should boast.” There won’t be anyone in heaven bragging about all the good deeds they did to get there because living with God forever is “not of works.”

Not only is going to heaven “not of works,” Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “it is the gift of God.” I wondered, “How could God possibly allow people to go to heaven freely without doing any good works?”

Wally explained that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he paid for all sins. He said it was Jesus’ work on the cross that made it possible for anyone to go to heaven.

Finally, the light came on. I saw the true meaning of “It is finished,” the words Jesus uttered when he hung on a cross. If Jesus completed the work necessary to pay for all my sins, it would be foolish to think that I could add something by trusting in my good works to get me to heaven.

The most quoted verse in the entire Bible now took on new meaning for me: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I realized it didn’t say “whoever tries to live a good life,” or “whoever dedicates their life to following Christ.” Jesus said in John 3:16, “whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

A famous theologian once said that believing in Jesus is “the hand of the beggar reaching out to receive the gift.” I understood that believing in Jesus Christ alone and his sacrifice for sins and resurrection from the dead requires humility. By trusting Jesus alone, plus or minus nothing, I realized that in myself I wasn’t qualified to live with God forever. I needed help.

Distinction Between Eternal Salvation and Following Christ As Disciple

For the first time, I saw the difference between becoming a Christian and becoming a disciple of Christ. Becoming a Christian requires trusting in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Becoming Christ’s disciple requires good works not as a means to enter heaven, but as an expression of thankfulness that I’m going to heaven. There’s a big difference!

Knowing Jesus Christ as my savior has motivated me to do a lot of things I never could have imagined. After being such a poor student in high school, I now had a reason to study. I wanted to know the Bible and to prepare myself to tell others that God is now offering eternal life freely to all who believe in Jesus as their savior.

I graduated from Florida Bible College and then pursued a master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Next, my studies took me to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where I obtained another master’s degree. As someone who never graduated from high school, I have to smile when I think of how much God’s grace has changed my desires.

I’ve seen my journey-of-faith newspaper articles appear in The Washington Post and other major newspapers that received my stories through The New York Times News Service. My newspaper column, Kids Talk About God, has been in syndication since 2000. The children’s website I started, www.KidsTalkAboutGod.org, receives visitors from around the world.

I traveled literally around the world when I produced and directed the Mission Explorers Video Series, which features the adventures of an 11-year-old girl who reports on the activities of missionaries in far away places. Also, I’ve awarded 19 dude ranch family vacations to children who wrote and drew for the online storybook Bible I’m writing, Kids Color Me Bible Gospel of John. More recently, I awarded the 20th dude ranch vacation to the winner of the Rio Grande Valley Children’s Arts Festival.

My latest project is FaithProfiles.org, where Christians can learn to write their testimonies in Journey-of-Faith Writing Workshops. We publish well-written stories on this website and design business cards that point people to these stories. I’m working on this project with my ministry partner and soul mate, Lisa. In 2005, we were married, both of us for the first time. This really is amazing grace, especially for me.

The Power of God’s Unconditional Love

God’s unconditional love has given me a confidence I could never have if my eternal destiny in any way depended on something I could do. I want to serve God and follow Christ not because I’m trying to get into heaven, but because I’m grateful that God has given me eternal life as a free gift.

I’ve experienced the abundant life that Jesus promised to all who follow him. I know that following Christ cannot in any way add to the work that Christ did on the cross to secure my place with him forever. Because God’s love is unconditional, I’m motivated to let him live his life through me. I’m not claiming that I always let God have his way, but I know from the Bible and experience that God’s way is much more fulfilling than my way.

My hope for anyone who takes time to read my story is that you would accept God’s gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ alone as your savior. Enter into an eternal relationship with a loving God who gave his only son so that you might live with him forever and experience peace and joy from knowing his love in a personal way.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Washington Post article
February 15, 1992

Filling a Vacuum With Nurturing

Psychologist Draws on Christian Values To Help Heal the Emotionally Wounded

by Carey Kinsolving

Brenda Hunter knows the pain that comes from a mother’s inability to nurture her child. She said that it happened to her, and she knows it leaves people unable to enter into intimate relationships.

She also knows that the pain does not have to last always. There can be spiritual healing.

Hunter, a psychologist in Northern Virginia, believes a divine design supports her statement: “The mother is the architect of intimacy.”

More than 20 years ago, Hunter started on the road to healing and intimacy through a nurturing group of Christians at L’Abri Fellowship in London. But many people never do recover and become what Hunter calls “walking time bombs.’

Hunter writes in her book “Home by Choice” that her mother “missed out” as one of eight children vying for the attention of her alcoholic father. In turn, Hunter suffered.

Now, at 50, Hunter has appeared on several national television talk shows recently with a message that some people are emotionally dysfunctional because of insufficient nurturing. Hunter’s words are striking an emotional chord. “I have a vacuum in my soul,” one woman told her.

This vacuum is what Hunter calls “soul hunger,” and she said it has its roots in the Garden of Eden. After the fall, Adam and Eve began “blaming each other,” Hunter said. “There is a defensive posture and lack of vulnerability.”

Hunter believes Adam and Eve experienced psychological as well as physical nakedness before the fall. Blaming others, she said, is an easy way to dismiss the emotional legacy we bring into a relationship.

This legacy also often leads to a fear of commitment, resulting in one-night stands and ultimately a loss of self-esteem.

“When we enter into a relationship without commitment, we have to build walls to protect the vulnerable self,” Hunter said. “Each of us is very vulnerable behind those defenses.”

Last month Hunter talked about intimacy to a Washington-area singles group called “First Monday,” Her approach was direct.

And just what is intimacy? she asked.

Psychologists, she said, describe it as the ability to be close to another in a committed relationship, to be transparent without fear of rejection. It is the bedrock ability to trust another and share one’s deepest self, knowing that you will be accepted as you are.

“Intimacy begins face-to-face, then becomes heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul and should be finally body-to-body within the confines of a committed marital relationship,” Hunter said. “All humans need this kind of unconditional love. If we fail to experience it, we may experience soul hunger.”

Hunter said a large part of her practice at the Minirth-Meier & Byrd Clinic in Fairfax involves getting clients to deal with their pain instead of blaming others for it. A spokeswoman for the clinic describes its approach to mental health as a biblically based one that promotes “whole person living [physical, spiritual and emotional].”

Hunter often sees a connection between her work at the clinic and her doctoral work at Georgetown University, where she specialized in infant attachment: the early bonding between mother and baby. Her research and desire to provide counsel to mothers at home led her to establish a national organization, Home by Choice.

“Every baby is programmed to fall in love with [its] mother,” Hunter said. “Babies can only see about 8 to 15 inches away when very young. And that’s about breast to face.”

“For a child, absence generates profound feelings of rejection and a yearning for love that can dominate the whole of life.”

Hunter said her research led her to conclude that one’s early parenting history influences marital choice, the degree of self-esteem and the ability to be intimate with a spouse and children.

A year after Hunter’s second daughter was born, her husband left her. As a single parent with two babies, she began what she calls an inner journey of healing that forced her to confront her unnurtured past.

Hunter said she found her healing nestled in L’Abri, a Christian community started by the late Frances Schaeffer in Ealing, London.

“I believe that when we find God, his Holy Spirit is like a laser, and he heals the wounded recesses of personality,” Hunter said. “I don’t believe this happens overnight, but that He enables us to confront our wounded past and our inner pain. This may involve some confrontation with a parent, but it always involves forgiveness.”

Hunter received a doctorate in psychology from Georgetown University last year, and she now leads others through the healing process that she knows so well. Often, after coming home from seeing some of her clients, she marvels at the wonder of God’s compassion.

“I can feel the weight of my clients’ suffering, and I don’t know how Jesus carried all of the weight of our suffering,” Hunter said as her eyes moistened. “He was God and I don’t know how he did it.”