I got into all the same stuff that my friends did. We were kind of mischievous, but I didn't think we were bad kids. Even though we did all the stuff that naughty kids did. We stole booze at a young age from our parents' cupboards, we got into smoking pot and stuff at school, and I just thought that this was the greatest adventure. Doing everything outside of the rules is the coolest thing to do.
When I was about 19, a friend of mine at the meatworks said, "Hey, I've got this really cool idea. We can go and spend three weeks in Aussie and we can have free accommodation with my sister and her husband."
So, we turned up in Australia, and there was something really different about these guys. Then they tell us, "We're born again Christians." I thought, "Great, I'm staying with these crazy people." They were so gracious in their home, we went out every night and got plastered and we would come home, and they would cook us breakfast and look after us really, really well.
Every opportunity they had, they would try and read the Bible to us. They'd put on preaching videos from people who they thought were amazing, and I just thought it was really awkward! But there was this question that was left lingering inside of me about the reality of inviting Jesus into my world and what that might really be like.
The following Sunday, we went to their church. I went to the church service with them and they were again the most excited group of people I'd ever been with that weren't on any substance. It was pretty full on. They did a similar thing where they asked at the end of the service, "Does anyone want to know Jesus?" I went and they gathered around me. I said this prayer inviting Jesus into my life and asked Him to forgive me for my sins. All this kind of stuff like, wow! This is really new. Then the whole church gathered around me and laid hands on me, and prayed for me.
I went back to the place we were staying and that night as I lay in bed it didn't feel like anything had changed. I had actually thought that if I said that prayer, that my life would change in an instant. As I lay in bed that night, I said, "You know what God, I've embarrassed myself in front of all of these people today and said that I believe in you and nothing's changed. There's no difference. Unless you do something to solidify my faith, I'm going to forget that this moment ever happened and we'll never revisit this again."
That was just a legitimate response to what I felt had not transpired in the moment. I went to sleep and at about three in the morning, I woke up and had such a vivid experience. It was just strange. My arms were held towards the ceiling. As I woke I was already saying this one word over and over again. And it was Eli. I didn't know what it meant. It felt like I was calling out to something or someone, but I didn't understand what I was saying. Yet I couldn't stop saying it. It was "Eli! Eli! Eli! Eli!" I was like, "Wow! This is really intense!" I could feel this glowing sensation in the pit of my stomach and I was thinking to myself, "No, this is definitely not happening." But the more I tried to convince myself that this sensation wasn't real, the more intense it became.
It got to the point where it felt like this glowing thing was lodged in my throat. I was terrified that something so out of the ordinary was happening to me that I didn't know how to deal with it. So when I opened my mouth to call out to my friend in the next room to come and help me, this language started spilling out of my mouth, which I now understand is called speaking in tongues or speaking in a spiritual language. I couldn't believe it! To the point where I was clamping my hands over my face and trying to force the words back into my mouth.
I remember thinking in the moment, I've never felt so alive. I've never felt so complete, but I've never been so terrified all in the same moment.
In the morning, I got up and I wanted to test the reality of the experience somehow. But I was too afraid to say to the lady that I was staying with that I started speaking in a crazy language last night, because she would think I was insane. Then I realised that I could ask her if she knows what Eli means. So I said, "Hey Louisa, do you happen to know what the word Eli means?" And she said, "Well, yes, actually I do. I'm reading it right now in Matthew Chapter 27, where Jesus is on the cross and he's saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani." There's a translation here: Eli means my God, my God, or my Father, my Father. Why do you want to know that?" I told her that I woke up last night saying it over and over again uncontrollably. "A pretty normal experience, right?" I asked. But she said, "No, that's amazing!"
I realised that God wanted to change my life, but I thought that the change was all of my responsibility and that I had to do it all myself. I didn't realise that He was the one who wanted to help me through it all. What ended up happening was I threw myself so much deeper into the life that was once just a fun experience to the point of absolute dependency.
So a couple of years after that, I was living in a house by myself. I was so desperately lonely. Nothing seemed to have worked out the way that I wanted it to. Any time someone would come to visit me, I'd be like, "Man! This is amazing!" I remember a friend that I'd known since primary school had turned up at my front door and I was so ecstatic to see somebody that I wanted to embrace him, throw my arms around him and hug him tight. But that wasn't the done thing. We are supposed to be stauncher than that, right? Like, I'm strong. I can do this by myself. So I restricted myself to a handshake.
As I reached out my hand, he instantly smacked it away and said, "What the hell are you doing? Where are the drugs?" I thought, is that what life has been reduced to? That even the people I've known the longest now only want to know me for the one thing that I can provide. It all just came pouring out. This intense anger, this loneliness, this feeling of abject failure. As I was standing in the kitchen and raging at nothing, the one thing that I remember making any sense was the decision to end my life. As soon as I thought it, the imagery of that was so clear in my mind and the solution sounded so perfect. It made so much sense.
There was this voice that spoke to me in the midst of my rage at the world, and it simply said, "What about me? Don't you believe in me?" The sound seemed so small, like a whisper, but spoke with such a degree of clarity that it reverberated around the entirety of my being. I realised that this was that same presence, that same moment that I experienced all those years ago.
It didn't matter what I'd done. I recognise now that He had been with me the whole time. I dropped to my knees in the kitchen and I held out my hands, saying, "God, would You take my life? Because I never wanted it to be like this." There was this feeling of exchange and feeling like this weight had been lifted off my life.
The progression from that day to now has been one of encounters with God where He's still helping me to realise the amount of freedom and liberty that He's brought into my world. The amount of dependency that is on no other thing, but is found solely in Him. I just think He's the best guy in the world to get to know.
He never leaves us, He never forsakes us. He's the one who is always with us and He's just the best, so awesome.