It was the summer of 1991 and I was sitting in the Palomar Mountains with Jimmy Carter. Isn’t that just the best part of this story… Jimmy Carter!?
Now, the details of my story will quickly reveal this was not the former POTUS Jimmy Carter, but cool attention-getter nonetheless, eh?
Jimmy Carter was the pastor who was leading the senior high teachings at the church camp I was attending. This was my first experience ever going to church camp and it was going pretty good – they had sports and water balloons available for hours on end, the food was decent, and the boys were cute.
Truth be told, my world was all a bit disheveled and dizzying at that time of my life, so to just be in the same place for a whole week was a comfort in and of itself. That was the summer before my senior year of high school and my parents had decided to move us from the familiar and memory-saturated suburbs of Chicago to the arid desert plains of Phoenix, Arizona. We had moved in on Tuesday, I met a new friend on Wednesday, and here I was with her on the very next Friday attending my first church camp experience.
Church camp overall wasn’t that bad, I actually liked it! I was comfortable in the church setting as I had been born into an Irish Catholic family and my lovely parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Thomas Hogan, were committed to Sunday church services, holiday service projects, and of course prayers at all meals and bedtimes. For me, church had been a “family affair” and for all I knew, that was how it would remain.
But then one afternoon at church camp, Jimmy Carter invited me to go sit, chat, and have a soda. He asked about my family, my experiences in Chicago, and how I was enjoying Arizona so far (all 10 days of residence). Then, a question I did not see coming hit me like a 2×4…
“Bridget” he inquired, “do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
It is so funny to playback that question in my head now, his question was so unoriginal some might consider it cliche, but oh how vital his question was to my entire life’s trajectory.
“Um, I don’t know exactly. What do you mean by that?” I responded. I recognize now how this response actually revealed my heart’s position, but I had never been asked this question and so I was left blindly walking into his invitation with a healthy dose of ignorance and curiosity.
As can be expected of any legit Christ-following minister, Pastor Jimmy Carter proceeded to walk me through the story of our Creator God, His ever-present story of redemption, our need for His son, Jesus, and our personal invitation into His masterpiece. Jimmy was gentle, intelligent, and funny as he walked me through all the “classic” passages:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:21-24
While these verses were powerful and definitely moved me, it was when Pastor Jimmy shared this verse that my water works began,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 37-39
This was it for me… the idea of receiving an unconditional, extravagant, and inseparable kind of love.
I could not stop crying. It was a bit surprising (and embarrassing) how emotional I was; they even had to call my twin sister over to help comfort and calm me down. I’m not sure I knew all the reasons why I was so overwhelmed that day but I’ve had 26 years to think about it, and I understand it a bit better now.
WE WERE MADE FOR LOVE.
I believe this to my deepest core. If you really think about it, I bet you would agree with me. Look at how day old babies respond to the warmth, presence, and attention of their newly acquired parents. Or look at any of us around a golden retriever puppy or a YouTube video of a baby giraffe being born! (Aww…even here in Africa we were watching, and watching, and watching).
We were made for love and to be honest, this world does a lousy job at trying to offer it’s substitutes for what we really long for – that unconditional, extravagant, and inseparable kind of love.
The fact is, we were crafted for something this world doesn’t have to offer.
Something we can’t earn.
Something we can’t sabotage.
Something we definitely don’t deserve.
And something many of us (me included) may never fully understand.
Why did I cry (and cry and cry) that sunny afternoon at church camp back in the summer of ’91 with my faithful friend Jimmy Carter by my side? I cried uncontrollably because I was met with the perfect fix to a gaping hole in my heart that I wasn’t even aware existed. I was overwhelmed. I was astonished. I was overcome with thankfulness.
Friends, it can be scary to receive something we don’t fully understand. It can be even scarier to admit we might need something – to admit that we don’t actually have it all “figured out.” But believe me, as an accomplished physician, beloved wife and mother, committed missionary, and aspiring blogger, there is nothing more beautiful in my life than the overwhelming love of Jesus Christ as His chosen and anointed child.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1