Hello, my name is Denise Heidel and I grew up in a Christian family, attended a Christian school, and every time the church doors opened, I was there. I could recite dozens of Bible verses, knew all the chapters of the Bible by heart (and in order), and could “talk the talk.”
One Sunday, when I was in elementary school, a friend of mine walked to the front of the church with her mother to make a profession of faith. My mom asked me if I wanted to make a decision too. I said yes, but it was an impulse decision made so that I wouldn’t be alone up there in front of the whole congregation. My pastor baptized me, but I knew, even at that young age, that my “prayer for salvation” had not been sincere.
When I was 16, I did a lot of soul-searching and realized that I needed to do something. Everyone who knew me assumed I was a Christian. I knew I wasn’t. I spoke to my pastor about it and the following Sunday, when the invitation for response came, I walked to the front and my pastor explained to the church congregation about our conversation and my decision. I asked to be baptized a second time and he accommodated my request.
I knew that the life of a Christian wasn’t meant to be full of sunshine and daisies. But I’m ashamed to say that my first true test to lean on the Lord — I failed miserably. Within a year of my authentic decision, my parents became embroiled in a nasty divorce. With my family drama being played out in front of everyone in the church, I ran. Instead of turning to my Heavenly Father, and asking for His help, I ran as far away as I could… I was so young in my faith and even though I had been raised in the Word, I hadn’t made it a personal part of my day. Looking back, that was a huge mistake on my part. A young Christian, even one raised on the Gospel, needs personal time with God… But more on that later…
Years passed. I tried to go to several churches off and on, but the fact is — I had loved the church I grew up in. Nothing compared to the memories of that kind of fellowship. But I found going back there to be as equally difficult. People have long memories and I didn’t want to be asked about my parents.
I got married. I had a son. I got divorced. I made a lot of bad decisions. I never lost my belief, but it was my relationship with God that was lacking. I tried several times to “get right with God,” but I never quite got there. Then, I met Wayne.
My husband and I met online in late 2009 and within 18 months, we were married.
My husband helped me reconnect with my faith-roots. Wayne isn’t afraid of his faith. He isn’t afraid to talk about God and he isn’t shy about asking questions. Throughout our marriage, we had quite a few discussions and thankfully, we agreed on the core values of the Christian faith.
With all that said, I am a North Carolina girl, but had agreed to move to Ohio when Wayne and I decided to get married. I lived there for a little over four years. And while I love my husband, they were four of the longest years of my life. My son, who originally moved with me, changed his mind immediately upon arrival. He left and went back to North Carolina to live with his dad. My job was still based in North Carolina, so I returned regularly, burning up the highway, putting thousands of miles on my car. Five years of this (including the year we were engaged) x 12 trips per year x approximately 450 miles one way… you do the math. I was worn out. And terribly homesick.
In a long discussion that lasted the better part of an afternoon and all night, I asked Wayne to consider moving to North Carolina. In a moment of Divine Intervention, he said he’d think about it. I prayed as I hadn’t prayed in years and a few tension-filled days later, he agreed to move. It was truly a miracle from God because I didn’t think my husband would ever agree to leave his home state. But despite my lack of a consistent relationship with God, I truly, from the bottom of my heart, believed this was the right move for us.
We’d been going to church, but I wanted more. I wanted to get really serious about my faith. It started with daily Bible reading. I have a chronological Bible that I had bought during a previous attempt to re-establish a relationship with God, but being a slightly OCD-personality, always felt that I needed to wait until January 1st to start it. I was so proud of myself. It was mid-July and I took my Bible on my back porch and read my daily passage. I closed my Bible and went on my way.
After a month, I realized I needed to include prayer to my new routine. I tried. It felt awkward and unnatural, and I often felt my mind wandering. I worried about rote prayer and knew that I wanted to talk TO God, not AT God. Finally, I realized that our prayers to God are so personal, and that includes the method in which we pray. I’m a writer, so I turned to a prayer journal to share my thoughts and feelings with God. It took a while, but I pray my verbal / mental prayers to God throughout the day, because I want to live a life of never-ceasing prayer. Obviously, I can’t write in a journal all the time. But I’ve gotten better and know to Him, it’s music to His ears, even when it feels awkward to ours.
Now my day starts like this: Let my dog out, get my coffee, and read a passage from my Bible. Read Proverbs 31 Ministries, forward to my husband. Read In Touch Ministries, forward to my husband. Then, I write my prayers. Then, after the first hour of my day has been given to God, I begin my day. I have a routine, but it is far from rote. I have a personal relationship with Christ.
Learning to listen to God, talking to God, reading His Word, getting to know Him, thanking Him every day for His countless blessings, asking forgiveness… all of this has led to the most Grace-Full days of my life. Life isn’t perfect. It isn’t meant to be. Our homes on earth are temporary and my goal now is to live my life bringing joy and honor to my Creator. To “let go and let God.” To surrender my will and accept His. His grace is sufficient, even on difficult days and I cling to that truth.
No one deserves forgiveness. It’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the humbling of our hearts before a perfect God, that enable us to have everlasting life. I will live forever because of God’s grace and Jesus’ love. I ask God to change old habits and to build in me a sense of purpose and renewal that is Christ-centered. I ask that the Holy Spirit guides me each day and moreover, that I learn to bring it ALL to God. Nothing is too big or too small. He wants to be a part of it all. I make mistakes and I ask for forgiveness. But I know that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is big enough to cover all of my sins and all the sins of the world.
Life is a journey and it’s one I don’t want to take without my Heavenly Father.
A life full of grace is possible because it’s by God’s grace we are saved.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. ~Ephesians 2:8-9