Thank you for taking the time to meet me today for a little stroll down Memory Lane! I’m going to map out the first part of my life journey for you with signs and pictures. (Visual aides help me understand and articulate things better. I guess that’s why I always enjoyed picture books the most!) The first place I want to take you is a few miles back to when I was a young girl. I was blessed to be born into a very loving family. We were the typical All-American family- a family of four (one boy, one girl, happy parents) who lived in a modest split-level home, had a dog, took annual vacations, went to church and hugged a lot. What more could a kid want? This part of the journey was sprinkled with lots of hearts and smiley faces.
Starting at the age of three, I took dance and tumbling classes. I found out quickly that it was a lot of fun being upside down and cartwheelin’! Many years ago, my brother, Rich, described me quite well in a newspaper quote… “Spontaneous energy. I remember when Lisa was little and we would all be eating at the dinner table. She would all of a sudden break away from the table and start doing walkovers on the kitchen floor. Mom was always telling Lisa to get back to the table. She was so full of energy that she couldn’t sit down long enough to finish her meal.” God sure has a sense of humor. He then blessed me twenty years later with two little ones who preferred to use their chairs as apparatus to swing around rather than a place to plant their little tushes!
As soon as I discovered I had the bug for gymnastics, I enrolled myself into my first gymnastics club. It was located in my front yard. My teammates (okay, any neighbor kid that wanted to flip around, too) and I would try tumbling tricks all day long in the summer and pretend we were training for the Olympics. My personally-appointed coach (my brother) would often ‘assist’ me with my stunts. He was great at launching me high in the air, but not so good with catching me on the way down.
One vivid memory I have of those summer days is when I learned an aerial (no-handed) cartwheel. As usual, I had spent the whole day in training. It was now dinnertime and getting dark outside, but I had not yet accomplished my goal. My friends had all gone home. I was determined to do this trick, no matter how dewy the grass was getting or how late I was for dinner. I can still remember the excitement as I ran and flipped upside down and finally resisted the temptation to put my hands down! Mission accomplished!
My mom soon realized it was time to upgrade my training program so she took me to a real gymnastics club. Through a recommendation from my old dance teacher, we made a weekly trek to downtown Minneapolis on 6th and Hennepin to Dr. Watson’s Club. I was a petite eight year-old clutching my mother’s hand tightly as we walked from our car to the old, shady-looking building. The songs the men in the barbershop on the first floor sang as we ventured up those dark, musty stairs to the third floor always amused us. As I waited for my class to begin, I would watch with amazement as the older gymnasts did flips and twists. I felt in my heart that one day I would be doing them, too. After about a year of classes there, I switched to a club that was closer to my home. I was soon asked to join their competitive team at the age of nine. (Compared to today’s standards, nine isn’t exactly a young age to start competitive gymnastics.)
It didn’t take long until I was living, breathing, eating and sleeping gymnastics all year round. The gym became my second home and my team, my second family. I excelled quickly and by the age of 14, I had qualified twice to the US Junior Olympics and had competed all over the country and world.
“Quick learner! Good work ethic! She has talent that could take her to the Olympics someday!” These were comments I heard from coaches and others in the gymnastics community. I was told often I had a special talent. I loved making my parents proud. So this part of my journey seemed to be covered with trophies and accolades. But there would soon be a change in terrain just beyond the bend that would prove to be….. well, a bit bumpy to venture through.
During the highpoint of my club career, my coaches decided to moved away. The last words I remember one of them say to me before she moved was, “Don’t ever quit!” I tried another club, but it just wasn’t the same without my former coaches. A series of emotions started to take root in me- ranging from anxiety and self-doubt to fear of failure.
With all the changes occurring, I started losing interest in gymnastics and was becoming increasingly curious about life as a ‘normal’ teenager. Up until I was fourteen, praise and affirmation through gymnastics was all I knew. But now at 15 years old, gymnastics just seemed hard and uncertain. I didn’t have a good chemistry with my new coaches and skills and progress just didn’t seem to come as easy as they did before. So, I hung up my grips. I’ll never forget the painful words from a coach the day I left club gymnastics. “You are a loser for quitting!” Wow. Ouch. So, with that stinging departure and with no more golden trophies to proudly display on our family’s mantle, I started searching for other things that could fill this deep need for identity and purpose- this hole in my heart.
Off I went, seeking fulfillment and eager to discover ‘normality.’ I left the safe and familiar road I had been travelling and decided to do some ‘off-road’ sightseeing. I wasn’t sure at the time where it would lead me, but it looked fun, different and exciting. I had seen other others go there and I was curious to know what it was they were doing or looking for. So I followed….
One of the first positive discoveries I made was a successful track and field season. I saw how my gymnastics skills and fitness helped me find immediate success and ‘belonging’ on the team. Since I had more time to spend with school friends now, I found a new social life. I had always wondered what happened at all those parties I had been missing out on. When I was in year-round gymnastics training, I was never free to attend them. I now finally had my chance! Unfortunately, I wasn’t very wise in choosing certain travel companions. My driving force at the time was that I just wanted to be accepted and liked by my peers. I tried to be all things to all people. To my athletic friends and coaches, I was dedicated and a winner. To the shy kid at school, I was their friend. I partied with the partiers. I studied with the smart kids. I went to church with the ‘good kids.’ If a boy paid me any attention, well, I enjoyed the attention. I went from virtually invisible to having lots of friends. My ego ate it all up. I didn’t intend to go down a wrong path. I just wanted to be known as somebody. But in that striving to be ‘somebody’, I forgot who I really was or what I stood for.
I noticed ‘Danger’ and ‘Caution’ signs all around, but chose to ignore them. Besides, I was going to turn back soon, anyway. So I thought…
It’s amazing how quickly one small step after another can get you way off the road! The safe path I had left was becoming a distant memory. I had tossed aside many priceless and helpful treasures I had been given during the earlier part of my journey- including my parents’ wise counsel, my moral upbringing and my life dreams.
But there was one sign I noticed in that dark place that once in awhile appeared out of nowhere. “Follow Me. I will protect you.” It gave me hope. I still didn’t know how to get out of that place, but I knew someone was watching over me and pointing a way out.
Let me explain to you who I thought the Maker of this sign was. See, going to church and learning about God was a part of my childhood, but it never felt very personal. The one positive thing I held onto was that, for some reason, God gave me many gifts- a great family, athletic talent and opportunities. But the performance mentality I had with gymnastics in many ways influenced the way I perceived God. I felt like I had to perform for God’s love and acceptance. At times, I saw him as this intimidating, stoic gymnastics judge sitting in His heavenly chair, pencil in hand, waiting to see if I was going to fail or succeed. I grew tired under the burden of high expectations from God, myself, and everyone else; which was the reason I left my original path in the first place. I was running away in fear.
Well, by God’s grace, I found my way out of that dark place and was back ‘in view’ of the right road again. Along the way, I stumbled upon one of my most precious treasures- my love for gymnastics. My junior year of high school, I decided to get back into the gym- except this time, I joined my high school team. The enjoyment of competing without heavy stress was a great relief. The following year, I won the Minnesota State High School Championship All-Around title. I was grateful I had given gymnastics a second chance and felt satisfied to finish my career on a high note. But just when I thought I was done and ready to move on to other opportunities, I was awarded an unexpected gift. I was offered a full-ride gymnastics scholarship to the University of Nebraska! I knew competing as a Lady Husker would be a great honor because I had ‘Big Red’ in my blood. I grew up watching my Uncle Tim play football for the Huskers in the late 70’s and early 80’s. God had big plans ahead for me in Nebraska.
My new view of the journey was now very red- Husker red, that is! The fall of ’87 I was off to Lincoln to begin the next phase of my journey- as a college-athlete. Everything was new. A new city, new friends, and definitely new challenges. The first day of practice, I thought I had accidentally shown up at the wrong place. It felt more like military boot camp, than gymnastics! I knew from that first day that it was not going to be a stroll through the park. Our team spent up to five hours a day, six days a week training in the gym, running or in the weight room. On top of that, we were expected to maintain excellent grades to stay eligible. This was a rocky, uphill part of the journey, but at least I was hopeful and going in the right direction.
Competing as a Lady Husker was a fantastic experience for me. Over my four collegiate seasons, I had surpassed my personal goals in many areas of my performance. Twice I was the Big-8 conference All-Around Champion, competed all four years at the NCAA Nationals and set numerous school records. As a team, we placed in the top five in the country, in 1989 and 1990. But there were other things that made my experience there even sweeter. For one thing, I found a very special new traveling companion. His name is Mike.
Mike was also a Husker gymnast. He was different than anyone I’d ever met before. There was something about him I couldn’t describe then- only that I saw an inner strength and peace in him. Things I never had. From witnessing the loss of his father and his career-ending injury, I noticed peace was always there. He never seemed phased by circumstances. He was Steady Eddie.
One time early on in our journey together, I asked him how he could be so cool and collected about everything. He answered me with a question- one that seemed completely irrelevant at the time. “Lisa, if you died today, do you know if you would go to heaven?” I had never been asked that question before and I quickly tried to think up some good reasons that were in my favor. But the more I tried to list the ‘good things,’ the more I was reminded of all the mistakes and ‘wrong turns’ I had made in my life. It was like the movie of my past was playing in my mind, replaying over and over the bad experiences. I didn’t know how to answer him and that disturbed me. The view from this point of the journey was filled with question marks. Who am I really and where was I going? And though I was at a place on my journey that appeared good and positive from the outside, I still had restlessness in my heart. I especially started having serious questions about my relationship with God.
Over a few months, Mike and I started attending a church together that ministered to college students. It was amazing- drums, electric guitars and clapping! Everyone was so nice and FUN! And another thing… the teacher encouraged us to bring our own Bibles and take notes in them!
Going back to my church experience as a kid, I had only remembered organ music and our minister reading from the Bible. Occasionally, we would recite some memorized creeds or prayers altogether. Though I had grown up going to Sunday School classes where I had learned all the main Bible stories and Christian songs, I had never personally studied my Bible and read it for myself. I’m pretty sure it just sat on my top bookshelf collecting dust next to my once-read Judy Blume and Hardy Boys novels.
That nagging question Mike had asked me (about going to heaven) wouldn’t leave my mind. Every Sunday, our college pastor taught directly from the Bible. I began exploring who God really was and what the Bible was all about. It started to make sense and I was seeing how maybe I fit into God’s larger story. It all came together for me one evening during a church service. The worship leader asked the congregation at the conclusion of the service, “Do you want to know Jesus?” That was the cry of my heart, but this other voice in my head was saying, “Why would God accept you?” But that night, the full Gospel message was shared with me. The REASON Jesus Christ, the Son of God, left heaven, came to Earth, led a ‘Perfect 10’ life, willingly died on a cross and was raised from the dead, was me. I had heard all these things about Jesus a million times before, but now it was personal. He didn’t just die for all sin… He died for my sin.
The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I had no problem believing this for myself. I knew I had sinned a lot. I had always been aware of my hopelessness and rebelliousness apart from Him. But I had no idea what the remedy for my sin and shame was. This perfect God-man chose to be sin for me and willingly laid down his life to pay the penalty of my sin, which the Bible says is (eternal) death. He did this so I could have new life and real hope for a future. He had taken my place on the cross and died for all my sins- past, present and future. And that penalty was paid in FULL! It wasn’t a down payment or given conditionally based on my future mess-ups. I was told that God would accept me right then and there. Romans 10:8-9 says, “If you just confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” So that’s what I did. I believed and I confessed that Jesus is Lord!
This promise of eternal salvation was so comforting to me. Ever since I was a small child, I had been terrified of death. Now, knowing I could know for certain that when I left this life on Earth, I would be with God in heaven forever, was mind-blowing to me! To think, I was walking around with an eternal death sentence for 20 years, and now I have been pardoned through the blood of Jesus. Wow.
May I emphasize that this gift of eternal life (or salvation) is FREE. Nothing I can do, or you can do, can earn this gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” In fact, Romans 6:23 says that, as sinners, what we HAVE earned is death!
He has also given me a clean heart. In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the Lord says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Wow! I was set free from shame and filth!
Not only has the Lord given me the gift of eternal security and a clean heart, He has put inside of me His Holy Spirit- to love, teach and guide me. And to be my Peace, my Comforter, my Hope and my Joy. To transform my mind, strengthen me to turn from my sinful ways and walk in newness of life. Salvation was not a one-time decision. It was my spritual birth. From then on, it has been about growing up in Christ and deepening my relationship and knowledge of Him.
So, what’s the view of my journey at this point of my life? Well, I’m on a completely new road now. When I look behind me, I see my old path ending at a cliff. But there lies Jesus- creating a bridge from my old path to my new one. He stretched out his body for me to walk from death to life! Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
The Lord blessed me with an incredible opportunity right at the end of my college gymnastics career. It was 1991 and I was competing in my final NCAA Championships. My team did not qualify that season, but I qualified individually. So I was there with my two coaches and my athletic trainer, James. I was a pretty healthy athlete so James didn’t have much to do. I had just completed my competition and was back at my hotel. I was having a little pity party because I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to. But as I was sitting on my bed reflecting on the meet, I decided to pray and open my Bible. A few minutes later, I got a knock on the door. It was James. He wondered what I was doing, so I told him what I was reading. He was very curious and had lots of questions about the Bible, Jesus, my church experience, etc. I was so happy to share with him what Jesus had done in my life! I could tell that just like me, James knew ‘about’ Jesus but had never had a personal relationship with Him. When I shared the Gospel with Him, I saw in his eyes that the Lord was touching his heart. He thanked me and went back to his hotel room. Just a few minutes later, I got another knock on the door and it was James again. This time, he was there to tell me that he had given his life to Christ and wanted to share that with me! Wow! I sure wasn’t having a pity party anymore! I was rejoicing with the angels that James was now a new born-again believer in Jesus Christ! This eternal victory in James’ life definitely outshined any golden trophy I could’ve ever achieved that day! I love how the Lord uses all things for His glory!
My new path has not been perfect. Nor has not been easy. I still make mistakes all the time! But with each obstacle that wants to get in my way, the Lord has continued to walk with me and help me through all situations. I can’t imagine living without Him. He is everything to me. I cling tightly to His Arm as he leads me. He gives me just enough light to see and take another step of faith. I am in awe of who He is. I trust He will lead me the right way because I know without a doubt, He is trustworthy and faithful. This last sign says it all for me:
Oh, and you may be wondering what happened to Mike. Well, he was gracious enough to ask me to be his wife and we’ve been married for 21 years! I’m so thankful my Lord Jesus has blessed me with such a fun life companion! With Christ at the core of everything, life is glorious!
And what about you? Was there anything you read here that truly resignated in your heart? Are you like me- maybe you’ve known about Jesus but you know you have never asked for forgiveness for your sins? Do you know without a doubt in your mind that you have received the free gift of eternal life that only Jesus can offer? If you need to make sure, I invite you to make that decision right now. Today is the day of salvation. We are not promised even one more day so don’t put it off. Where you spend eternity hinges on your personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Please remember this… it is much more about the attitude and sincerity of your heart than the words you speak. This is not a ‘formula’ to receive a free ticket to heaven. This is a life-changing decision. And it’s the most important decision you’ll ever make!
When you are ready to open your heart to Jesus and begin a whole new life with Him, express these things to Him and believe them in your heart:
1) “I am so sorry for sinning against you by breaking Your holy and perfect Law; 2) Please forgive me and cleanse me ; 3) Holy Spirit, come into my life, transform my mind and help me turn from my sin; and 4) Jesus, You are King of kings and Lord of lords. My Prince of Peace. Thank you for loving me and for saving me from eternal death! I am a new creation, the old is gone; the new has come!”
If you made this eternal decision in your heart and have repented of your sins, all of heaven is rejoicing over you! And if I don’t meet you in this life, I can’t wait to get to heaven and meet you there! What a big party we’re going to have!
For more information about the ‘next steps’ in your new life with Christ, please send me a message and I’d be happy to connect you to a variety of wonderful books and study guides to help you. (I also have more verses about salvation written in the “What I Believe- and Why’ section that may be helpful to you.)
Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop pursuing the Lord. Gather with other believers to encourage one another. Start attending a Bible-believing church in your area. And God bless you!!!
I clung to your every word! You have an amazing gift for telling your story. It will impact many as it has me.
Life may not be perfect, but your trust in God and what you do to spread His word, and how your life has been impacted , is the gift of of sharing Gods love.
Thank you! Love,
Joan, thank you so much! May Jesus Christ be glorified and honored above all!