Trading Up – How Jesus Led Me From Sorrow to Sanctification - By Aspen Sorensen
I grew up in a church that I would eventually come to recognize as a legalistic cult. For seventeen years, I observed and kept allof the Old Testament Holy Days such as the Penticost, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Days Of Unleavened Bread. I still recall what it was like to fast for the very first time when I was five-years-old for the Day of Atonement– a yearly Holy Day that required the congregation to fast from sundown to sundown.
I knew that if I sat next to my grandma at church she would slip me a fewTic-Tacs, as she so often did during church services. On each Day of Atonement, I’d make a point of sticking to my grandma like glue during the half-day-long church service, eagerly gobbling every little mint as my stomach turned itself inside out. I guess that during a fast God doesn’t approve of bread or water or even a piece of chewing gum, but evidently Tic-Tacs are permissible.
By all measures, my family would have been considered “pious” in our commitment to the teachings, traditions, and membership requirements of our church. I grew up memorizing stories about Noah, Moses, and the Garden of Eden. I learned of Isaac’s near-death experience at the hands of his father, Abraham, and was in awe that a huge fish once swallowed a grown man whole as told in the story of Jonah. I was taught virtually every rule and precept there was to be found in the Bible with only a few exceptions: They didn’t teach Christ crucified, they didn’t teach of repentance, and they didn’t teach me that I need a Savior.
By the time I was seventeen, nothing about my life indicated I’d been raised as a Christian. I equated all of the Bible stories I’d heard as a child to nothing more than fairy tales. I became pregnant with my first child at the end of my junior year in high school. A month into my senior year, I dropped out of school altogether. As I turned eighteen and my classmates were buying caps and gowns in preparation to graduate, I was eight months pregnant and married to the man I’d divorce a year later. After the painful dissolution of my first marriage, I chose to leave my home state of Colorado. With the mistakes of my youth hundreds of miles away, I took up residence in Las Vegas where I built a new life, made new friends, and began pursuing my dreams of becoming a novelist. By the time I turned twenty-two, I was a single mom raising my then 4-year-old son, which would have been terrifying had I not discovered worldly success through writing and eventually signing a contract to publish my first novel. It would appear that my life had turned a corner. I was surrounded by successful friends, I was financially independent which gave me the ability to satisfy my extravagant taste, and I had an overall sense that my life would turn out to be something truly charmed.
Then everything changed.
In 2002, I became unexpectedly pregnant by a man I knew I would never marry. Neither of us wanted a baby so I made the decision to have an abortion. It was far too easy of a choice to make at the time. I felt no sadness or guilt over my decision. This type of apathy was uncommon for me as I was always, at my core, a depressed and sorrowful person – prone to overanalyzing and adding more weight atop my shoulders than I could possibly carry. But the choice to have an abortion seemed a relatively easy fix for something that would have otherwise altered the entire course of the life I’d worked so hard for. At roughly the same time, my ex-in-laws resurfaced after two and half years of silence. Immediately and without cause, they took me to court over guardianship of my son, their only grandchild. From the start of my court battle to its end almost five years later, fighting over custody of my son was the most traumatic thing I’d ever gone through. Yet despite my commitment to my son and to winning that court battle, I’d managed to make yet another series of terrible choices that resulted in another pregnancy, another abortion, a move back to Denver, and a night spent in jail for assault. I was really busy completely messing up my life. As all of this chaos I’d created began to calm, I began dating a guy named Aaron, an old boyfriend from high school. In 2004, Aaron and I were married and expecting our first child. Things started looking up for me, and yet I continually found myself in that familiar quiet place of despair and sorrow, never understanding why. I had no way of understanding the truth - that to continue on the path I’d been on for twenty-five years, I would only find moresorrow and, eventually, death.
Starting the day we were married, Aaron pled with me to go to church. Not wanting to disappoint the man I loved so deeply, I went to church. I’d wake up early on Sunday mornings, sit alone at our kitchen table, and drink an entire bottle of wine in an attempt to create the patience and tolerance I’d need to endure yet another boring and meaningless church service. Yes, I really thought going to church was that bad. Aaron eventually recognized my irritation toward Christianity and finally agreed not to take me to any more churches. One Saturday in March of 2005, he promised to never ask me to church again if I’d just go with him One. Last. Time.
That Sunday morning I didn’t feel much like drinking wine. We climbed into the car with our newborn daughter in tow and made the 25-minute drive to a church on the north end of town. To this day, I have no idea what the sermon was about that morning, or what passage of the Bible the pastor read through, but that morning, sitting in the pews of a mid-western American Baptist church, Jesus spoke … to me.
His voice wasn’t audible, but it was loud - loud enough for me to think that everyone around me knew he was speaking. Jesus didn’t mince his words as he made only one declarative statement: “Aspen, this is not my way.” I immediately and with immeasurable clarity understood what he meant. All of my abortions, the affairs, my insatiable greed, my intrinsic selfishness were all evidence of my diseased heart. I was suddenly aware that I had spent my entire life in violation of a set of standards I did not at all understand. I knew that though I wasn’t standing in direct defiance of the moral conscience of the world, I was drowning in my rebellion against the One True God. And in that whirlwind of a moment, when I was confronted with the truth that I’d spent my life literally breaking all of His rules, I had my very first taste of conviction, followed by my first experience with true repentance.
I went home from church that day knowing I’d never be the same. It was suddenly evident that there was a God who knew me and that His world was unlike the one I’d worked so hard to succeed in. Three weeks later, I sat my husband down and confessed all of my transgressions against him. I asked for his forgiveness. I then asked for forgiveness from God and pled for His help to make right in me all the things that always seemed to send me in the wrong direction.
Nine months after becoming a believer I started volunteering in Children’s Ministry at a local church. I’d eventually go on to become a paid staff member on a Children’s Ministry team, write and evaluate Children’s Ministry curriculum, volunteer in various outreach ministries, and have just recently paired up with a fellow Christian friend to start a podcast about Reformed theology and its importance in the contemporary Church. God has proven Himself faithful in blessing my marriage and my children, He protects me from the wickedness of my own heart, and continues to graciously receive my pleas of forgiveness for sinning against Him.
Most profoundly, God continues to pull me ever more powerfully into an eternity with Him through my reading of Scripture and through listening to the teachings of Biblically-sound pastors. Each day I find myself needing Him more and trusting Him more than I thought possible, all with the profound understanding that I have done absolutely nothing to deserve the relationship I have with Him. The nearer He draws me to Himself, the more painfully evident it is that He is nothing like me. And yet despite what I am He guides me gently, and disciplines me lovingly. I no longer experience the desperate sorrow I knew so well for so many years. The God of Scripture - the onlyGod who can make sense of the chaos that once ruled my life, and still dominates this world - is so much more than the gods of fairy tales. The pursuit of Him is more satisfying than any endeavor I can possibly imagine. It is my earnest hope that I will lead a life pleasing and honoring to Him, all while telling others of that hope while remembering that the work of my Lord, Jesus Christ, made it possible.