As a child, I was baptized in the Lutheran church; I went every Sunday, attended Sunday school, and the evening youth activity. I had always considered myself Christian, until the day my dad was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I hated God for what he was doing; no more than a year before his diagnoses, a good friend of my dad’s had passed away. I couldn’t see any good. I thought Jesus had abandoned me, but as I look back, it was me who had abandoned Him.
I grew deeper and deeper in sin, until the world around me was completely foreign. I hated the pain I felt when I lost someone I loved, so I taught myself to not love, and I was never happy. I knew something had to change, but I had no clue what it was. I don’t think I realized how far away from God I truly was. See, I went to church and youth group, albeit for the social aspect, but I thought that was enough.
I came to Virginia Tech this past fall as a cadet in the Corps, and during “New Cadet Week” we are allowed to attend church on the first Sunday. I had planned on not going, but by accident I ended up in the group going to [nlcf]. Soon after, I realized it was no accident; God had a plan in store for me. I heard the message, but I don’t exactly remember it. What caught my eye was the people around me: they were so joyful and in love with God and I wanted to experience that. I was so enthralled by these people. I decided to go to that church every Sunday.
I went for a couple Sundays, but still nothing was different. Finally, one week, I filled out an information card and got a call from one of the staff who taught me about Jesus. I knew about Jesus, but I only thought about God before, never considering Jesus as a savior. It was Jesus who I first came to and opened up the connection between God and myself. I started praying daily, and then throughout the day. I began reading the Bible, and books about God, such as “Heaven is for Real,” and “The Shack.”
Looking back, I see that God was preparing me with these books for the death of my grandmother. She had been sick for some time, but this time she wasn’t going to get better. All her grandchildren and children stood around her bed, as all the cords and masks were removed; she was so weak. We formed a semi-circle around her, and as I stared at her empty, unrecognizable face, I heard my dad begin to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Somewhere between “your Kingdom come,” and “lead us not into temptation,” Jesus had come into the room and grasped her hand and carried her away. I can’t explain it, I don’t even understand it, but I have faith that she went to Heaven, and the body on the hospital bed was no longer my grandmother. As we left, my mom was hesitant to leave her body all alone, but I knew that my grandmother wasn’t alone. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to spend my life for Jesus, and to make Him a priority.
Through the rest of the semester, I studied the Bible, was active in an Engage Group and huddle, prayed, and hung on to every word during service. I started noticing a change. I began to laugh like I had never laughed before. I started to feel love and joy. One day, I had lunch with my friend and as I was describing this change, she suggested me looking into getting baptized. Ironically, during this conversation, I received an email from my Engage Group leader and she too mentioned getting baptized. This was too much of a coincidence to not be a message from God.
I spent a couple days in prayer and devouring the Bible, focusing on passages about baptism. I realized that I had already had a baptism of my soul this year, and the outward profession of faith to my new church family would confirm what I have been feeling. Being baptized would create accountability within my church family that I would not let this change slip away from me and that I am dedicated to serving Him with my life.
The water was ice cold, stinging my legs as we wadded into the water. I saw the crowd watching as Sarah and Candice held me and plunged me under the water; the cold water hit my chest and eventually covered my face. As soon as it begun, it was over. We raced out of the cold water. Though it was only a short moment, I felt as if the cold water shocking my lungs and heart was Jesus. This year seems so short and I can hardly believe it is over, but in such a short time, Jesus had the power to change my heart and life completely. My quest to know Jesus is not over. I will spend every day I live learning more about Him and His love!
~ Carla Stefaniak