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Even as the words passed my lips, my thoughts returned to my earthly life. This time a different picture came to light. I saw my mother, reading her Bible and praying. Oh, how she prayed for me that I might believe in God and go to heaven. I didn't want to go anywhere; I was happy living on earth. "Don't you want eternal life?" she asked. I honestly didn't know. "Surely you want to live forever," she said, pleading with me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

She told me about the Son of God who came to pay the price for my sin that I might gain eternal life. She read from her Bible, "'But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.'" All I had to do was believe. I thought about it, but somehow heaven was a long way off and I had my life to live.

"Maybe when I'm older, Mama, I'll believe, but not now." When Mama died, father blamed God and cursed Him for taking away his wife. My father's reaction became my reaction, and I too, charged God with the tragedies of life.
As I grew older, there were other encounters with God's Word. One day a teenage friend invited me to Sunday school. I only went because I had nothing else to do. I found that I gained attention by poking fun and causing the others to laugh. Sunday after Sunday I sat, never seriously listening to the lesson, never reflecting upon the truths of the Word.

I specifically remember the story of Jonah and the whale and how it didn't really make sense. How could the story of a man inside a whale's belly relate to me personally? The teacher referred to a parallel event in the New Testament... something about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but I didn't care. It all seemed meaningless. Finally, when I was asked to leave, I vowed never to return. The message was clearly presented, but I didn't listen. I had the chance, why didn't I take advantage of it?

In high school I fell head over heels for a gorgeous cheerleader. She was really something! Every time I tried to date her, she said no, explaining that she wouldn't go out with me because I wasn't a Christian. She was always talking about Jesus and what He meant in her life, and I was even tempted to accept Jesus just to get a date with her. Somehow it never worked out. Though I could see how different she was from all the others, possessing something I clearly lacked, I was positive that Jesus wasn't the answer. She tried to tell me about God's Word, but I wouldn't listen. All I could think about was the Sunday School class and my angry reaction when I was asked to leave because I was disturbing the lessons. I didn't know what I wanted from life, but I was quite sure that it didn't come from the Bible. I developed a deep respect for her sincerity, but her genuine concern made me feel inferior. Since I wouldn't give in and she refused to change, further attempts to win her affections seemed futile. Finally I just gave up.

In college I encountered a campus club. Fanatics, I called their members, forever holding meetings and praying, always trying to win someone to the Lord. I ridiculed those who wanted to help me and made fun of those who prayed for my salvation. Just a bunch of Jesus freaks, I thought, intent on ruining everyone's good time and allowing religion to slice all the real fun out of life. Watching events unfold in heaven, I began to realize that although opportunities to learn about God repeatedly presented themselves, I just never took advantage of them.

My thoughts suddenly returned to Natalie, and I watched our final moments together the day she left me. She was crying. For the first time since she spoke those parting words, I actually considered what she said. With genuine drops of sorrow and shame trickling down her cheeks, she explained that over the weekend she had found Jesus. Can you imagine that? The preacher's kid had found the Lord! At a retreat a Christian friend had shared with her the sinful state of man, the immensity of God's love, and the completeness of Christ's work at Calvary. For the first time Natalie personalized her relationship to Christ and accepted Him as her Saviour and Lord. Actually conscious of the deplorable condition of her recent life, she apologized to me for past actions and begged me to accept Jesus. I was in shock. I couldn't believe my ears. Rejecting her words of invitation and scorning her tears as she pleaded forgiveness for our mutual sins, I responded coldly, deriding her new-found faith in Christ. As with a hunter's arrow, I pierced her delicate heart with my poisoned tongue. After an hour, unable to cope with my bitter spirit, she left and I would never see her again. Several weeks later, when she departed to join her parents in Africa, I blocked her out of my mind. My anger had destroyed the only meaning my life had known. I resented the fact that God had taken Natalie from me, and again I refused to believe. If only I had realized what spiritual riches were mine had I heeded Natalie's words.

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