My Roller Coaster Journey to Salvation

“The Landing” Blog

By Joanna Sanders

This isn’t a good girl’s testimony. I didn’t want to believe. I didn’t want to believe because I didn’t want to live differently. And I would have bet everything in my bank account that no one was going to make me. I’m used to people referring to me as “passionate,” but even passionate people look at me with raised eyebrows and say, “that girl is passionate.” I knew nobody could take away this fire in me but I didn’t know why it was there, so I followed it everywhere.

Following My Heart to Destruction

The world refers to this mostly as “following your heart,” and that’s what I did. For the first 33 years of my life, I lived that motto to the fullest. Carelessly at times, hurting — even deeply scarring — those in my path. I lived from a place that I would have sworn at the time was genuine love. I even considered myself to be a Christian. But Christ was in the background. So if it felt like I was doing right, then I must be. I had no idea that chasing my passions would lead to my own destruction.
In something like a blink, I went from my “dream house,” complete with baby, husband, cat, and enjoyable job to financial and spiritual bankruptcy, divorce, loss of house, and a bitter custody battle over my 2-year-old son. My health declined next, and I became a walking shell who was trying to appear as though I was thriving among all the death. The truth is that I hated God for taking all that I had. (But He was never the one who took; He was the one who gave.)

Throwing Down the Gauntlet With God

My consecration was not and never has been pretty. I didn’t want Him, so I told Him that and confirmed that He would have to prove Himself to me and show me that the Bible wasn’t manmade. I asked very specifically, and then I searched and found. I wasn’t testing Him; we’re told not to do that in the Bible. But I was desperately looking for my vision, which for the first time in my life I realized might have had a faulty filter. Even though the Bible says that if we look for Him with our whole heart that we will find Him, I honestly tell you that I was angrily and reluctantly looking for Him. I wanted to prove that He wasn’t right, but I knew I’d have to find Him first to do that.

There were several moments where He showed up so powerfully that I was able to perceive it, even steeped in my doubt. One evening, at a particularly dark hour, I found myself alone in a “darkness that can be felt” (Exodus 10:21) that almost consumed me into taking my own life. I had been so desperately trying to come out of the pit that I didn’t even know I had dug and I had exhausted my own efforts to want to continue. I hated all that I had become, but I still blamed it on everyone else to avoid dealing with the source of the darkness.

The Culmination of the Battle

That evening after a series of events, I found myself alone in a room in a house that wasn’t mine, when I temporarily lost my eyesight. My cousin had been out of town and asked if I wanted to enjoy her home for the weekend. So that’s what I did. And due to the alcohol and the maddening thoughts and desires for the sin that had become my comfort, I eventually made my way to one of the guest rooms upstairs, where I apparently passed out.

In the middle of the night, I felt the excruciating pain of an eye injury that had previously been declared healed by doctors six months prior. (My 2-year-old son had accidently ripped my cornea with his little fingernail.) The unexplainable pain was enough to radiate into both eyes, preventing me from opening either. And even as I tried, the tears flowing from the pain and the salt from them melting into new wounds blurred any remaining vision. Blinded, I felt around the room desperately to find my phone to call for help.

Instead of the phone I wanted to find, my hand landed on a Bible. I felt like it was nothing but a mocking. I had lost everything I knew, and now, stripped down to a suitcase and a failed plan for suicide, I was faced with the realization that He had taken my eyesight as well. As my rage took over, I threw the Bible against the wall and broke the spine of it. As I heard it hit the wall, my passion reached a crescendo, and I fell to the floor, surrendering to the unmistakable presence who had just won the battle for my will. There’s more to the story, as you’d imagine. But this night, I finally told Him that He had won. I was His.

A New Creation With Renewed Passions

The multilayered sin that I was steeped in didn’t end entirely that night, but it did start to become unexplainably distasteful. I was holding onto every last shred of it because it had become my comfort. So I knew that when it started to lose its appeal that this change wasn’t coming from me. The Holy Spirit was leading a consecration in me, and I didn’t realize the entirety of what I had signed up for. It was a little like trying to figure out how to get off a roller coaster that’s almost reached the top of the hill.

There’s a line in a Britt Nicole song that says “How do I know what I believe? Well I’m not the same me, and that’s all the proof I need.” I didn’t want to relate to this song. I didn’t want to admit that the Bible had truth for my life. I didn’t plan to be here.

In the past seven years of intense — and I do mean intense — consecration that burned the dross in my life, I have developed a hunger for every word from the maker of my soul. I’ve studied the Bible on my own, in seminary and in other formal settings. I’ve passionately pursued discipleship. Missing church would be like not showering for a month. Kids a mess or dressed, you’ll find us there on Sunday. I remarried a man that loves Jesus more than me because I realize that’s the only requirement for me to know that I’m in good hands.

I’ve relinquished my passions, my gifts, and even my dreams to my first love. I finally know His name and His was the only name that calmed the storm in me. The wind and the waves in me were just waiting to hear it pronounced over them. Approaching my 40th birthday, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m not without sin but I’m not without grace either. My friendships are the strongest they’ve ever been. My kids refer to me as a “godly” woman. I die for them, for my husband, and for my Savior every day, and when I wake up, it’s a chance to do it again. This all because I have continuously pursued dying to self. It was never about following my heart; it was about following the One who made it.

Life with my Savior is so much better. He gave me my passions. How could I have known that He gave them so strongly because He wanted them back? He wanted everything in me that I thought the world had rejected. And He also gave me back my eyesight. The next day I sat and read the Bible in the empty room. The doctors never could explain why the injury had reoccurred.

A Challenge to Others Seeking Truth

So when someone asks me, “How do you believe? How are you so sure?,” I ask them if they are truly willing to find out that answer on their own. If so, I’m not the one who is going to tell them. I only know what I know, reluctantly saw, undeniably experienced on my own — in this and many, many experiences since that have consistently proved His presence in my life. Seek and you will find. Knock and you will be answered. When you’re ready to see and hear, you’ll understand. The roller coaster will be approaching the top of the hill.

Joanna Sanders is a graduate of Villanova University and Moody Theological Seminary.  She’s also the founder and owner of Colossians 46 (colossians46.com), which provides biblical content support, writing, and editing. Most importantly, she is wife to Geoff and mom to three godly men-in-training.

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