When you look back at the life you’ve lived, it’s occasionally interesting to think of the three, four, five, etc., significant events you’ve experienced which have shaped your ideals, thoughts, esteem, and changed the trajectory of your beliefs or actions. All of these circumstances have been meaningful enough to set you on a path you might not have otherwise encountered. In this series of posts, I’ll embark on an interesting experiment to recall and recapture the feelings associated with some of the most significant life events that have either directly or indirectly shaped my worldview and the life I live today. My hope is that, through this, you’ll begin to rehash those significant moments in your own life and realize the impact those moments still have, further prompting you to explore the insight of your interactions with yourself and others.
“A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“How do you think people get to heaven?”
I was fourteen years old, in eight grade, sitting in a room with three of my friends when this question was asked. I had no idea, but like so many others, I began to rationalize my efforts to do good things.
“I don’t know. I mean, I’ve never killed anybody. I try to be the best person I can be. I think I’ll go to heaven.”
I was involved in a small church when I was little, but after my parents divorced, I spent my Sundays sleeping-in or playing video games. Church was a good memory of coloring sheets, my grandparents, and the unique smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. I believed in a God, a creator of all things, but I didn’t even own a bible, so the God I believed in was a combination of concepts I didn’t understand and concepts I understood too well. In a roundabout way, I worshiped a God I created in my mind, one that would allow me to enter heaven based on works, good deeds, and an occasional thought.
For the next few years, I didn’t think much about the concepts of faith, God, or the life I was living. I just existed, made good grades, tried to be as good as I could while pushing the normal boundaries of a kid in their young teens. Then one day, during my sophomore year of high school, at the age of sixteen, I began having difficulty breathing. I was rushed to the emergency room and discovered my lung had collapsed. I spent the next few days in the hospital before returning home.
The pain of a healing lung kept me bedside for a few days. I mostly played video games, but occasionally watched a little TV. One evening, I flipped through the channels and began watching the popular evangelist, Billy Graham. It was an older video of a message he had preached a decade or two before, but the message was clear, I was a sinner.
I had never before identified myself that way. I knew I wasn’t perfect, that I had lied, stolen, and been disrespectful before, among many other “bad” things, but the word “sinner” seemed exclusive to people in prisons, detentions, or gangs. It stung. Had I read the bible, I would have seen Romans 3:23, which states the message loud and clear, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” At least I wasn’t alone, but it answered the question I never even asked. An honest assessment of my life lead me to accept the revelation that I was a non-exclusive participant in sin.
Intrigued by the questions we tried to answer two years earlier, I kept watching. “The wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23. I learned that just as we die physically, sin also lead to a spiritual death, a disconnection from God. Because I was a sinner, I earned wages of a life apart from a God I halfway believed existed.
I hadn’t worked a job yet, but it gave new meaning to the concept of minimum wage. I began to notice that my separation from God was more than a deficient church attendance. “Not killing anybody” began to seem more and more as an insufficient ticket to heaven by nature. The verse continues, “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” – Romans 6:23. Finally, good news. I learned that my separation had a solution, which doubled as a gift.
I was fascinated. Like Lloyd in Dumb & Dumber, I kept thinking, Samsonite, I was wayyy off. Of course I was. The God in my head was a lot more lax. He rewarded me the same way my parents, coaches, or teachers did, the only authoritative figures I had known in life. The world I experienced up until that point had always told me that I could get away with small things, but not major things. I did well avoiding the latter, but struggled a lot with the former. And yet, I still had a pretty good life. Without a bible or a church to go to, Jesus was someone who came to do good things on earth, like a Ghandi or Mother Theresa. It turned out, it was much more than that.
The message continued, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this; While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” – Romans 5:8. Finally, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.'” – Romans 10:9-11.
I turned off the TV, not really knowing anything about what it meant to be a Christian. I then lowered my head, closed my eyes, and in the middle of my bedroom asked God to forgive me. I told him I believed in Jesus and that I wanted to know more about who He was and what he did for me. I asked God if he could change my heart.
I wasn’t a bad kid, but I knew I didn’t live a “Christian” life, whatever that meant. I did what I wanted to do, said what I wanted to say, and didn’t really care too much about what anyone thought. That would have been fine if I was changing the world, but I definitely wasn’t doing that. I merely existed.
I wish I could say that things changed immediately, but I still didn’t hang around the church kids, so I didn’t know where to begin. I bought a bible and a book by Max Lucado called In the Grip of Grace. I began to see the world differently and began admiring the Jesus I never knew. Everything he said and did made sense in a senseless world. His love, compassion, care, concern, wisdom, hope, and life was filled with knowledge and grace. His words captivated me.
In my junior year of high school, a teammate on my football team began asking me if I wanted to attend Primetime, a mid-week bible study for a large youth group in town. At first, I would always make up excuses. “I can’t this week. Maybe next week?” I’d say. The truth was that church scared me. I had no idea what it was like, if my knowledge of God would be put to the test, or if I’d be judged. For months, I let intimidation keep me away, but every week, I was asked anyway. Finally, I gave in.
It wasn’t “church”, but it was close enough. I enjoyed it so much that I began going every other week. Soon enough, I began going every week, learning more and more about the God I learned about in my bedroom only a year before. As I became more involved, and grew spiritually, I noticed my heart start to change. I began loving people, I was enriched with compassion, and pursued justice and truth in all circumstances. My worldview changed and I was given the purpose of living a life worthy of the gift I had received.
It was a rebirth of Justin Ozuna and the most significant life event I’ve ever had. No longer am I identified with anything else. Although I don’t always succeed, my ultimate goal is to be Christ-like. Every good quality I possess mirrors my admiration of Jesus and is a blessing from God. Nothing has done more for me than my faith, which in recent years has been put to the test. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’d probably be bitter at my circumstances, blaming an unknown God for a life that appears unfair. Now, I can rest on His promises of peace and love, no matter what happens.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 8-38-39