One Christmas, just a few years after I graduated from Wellesley College, I went home to Richmond, Virginia to be with my family for the holidays. My brother, Tim, was there too. He had recently returned from studying at L’Abri, a Christian community in the Swiss Alps.
Tim had been struggling for years to find his way, having dropped out of three universities even though his grades were excellent. The Tim I encountered that Christmas, however, was remarkably changed. I was amazed to find him so warm, loving, and—much to my surprise—very concerned about my spiritual well-being. He was a new person altogether!
Tim had become a Christian.
I was not a Christian. I had given up on my search for truth after majoring in philosophy at college—looking for answers but finding none. On the first night that I talked with Tim, he gave me a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason and asked me to read it. I found it so fascinating that I read through it in one sitting! In this small book, I was astonished to find answers to big questions that I’d long ago dismissed as unanswerable. As a result of Tim’s loving concern and Schaeffer’s brilliant book, I decided to reopen my quest for truth.
I wrote a letter to L’Abri, where Tim had become a Christian, and I asked if I could study there. After sending the letter, I returned to my life in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Soon I got back into my routine and forgot about wanting to study in Switzerland. So I was a little shocked when I received a letter from L’Abri notifying me that I’d been accepted to be a student for three months. I wasn’t at all sure that this was a good idea. I had to decide if I really wanted to leave my job and my familiar lifestyle in Cambridge. Instinctively, I knew that if I left, I would never return to my current way of life.
It was a struggle, but eventually I made the life-changing decision to go to L’Abri. I was hoping that my studies there would help me find a solid foundation to build my life on. The stakes were high: I was searching for absolute, unchanging truth!
When I arrived in Switzerland a few months later, Tim and his newlywed Swiss wife were living in Lausanne. I stayed with them for a few days while I recovered from jetlag. Then, on a glorious snowy Sunday morning, they drove me to nearby Huemoz, a lovely Alpine village where the main branch of L’Abri is located. That night, while trying to sleep on an uncomfortable mattress on the floor of an overcrowded bedroom, I began to question my decision to leave everything behind. Thankfully, I was soon sent to French L’Abri in Thollon, a tiny village in the French Alps. There were only about fifteen students at this branch, and I was grateful to have my own bed—even though it was the creaky top bunk of an ancient metal bed.
I spent my mornings at a desk in the audiocassette library, listening to tapes of Schaeffer and other brilliant Christian teachers. Increasingly, I became convinced that Christianity was real and true. I was also helped by my conversations with a gifted Christian counselor. I remember my first meeting with her quite clearly. I went into the room where she was waiting, and she told me to close the door. Before I even had time to sit down, she asked me: “Are you a Christian?”
“I’m not sure,” I answered.
I told her I wanted to be a Christian and I was convinced Christianity was true, but I didn’t really understand why I needed Jesus. At the time, I thought that knowing God might be enough. Then, she asked me a question that cut through to the heart of the matter.
“What can you not forgive yourself for?”
Her question brought me face to face with my sinfulness, and immediately I understood my need for Jesus—to save me from my many sins.
It was nighttime, and after I left this meeting, I went walking alone in the dark. I needed time to ponder what had happened and to absorb the life-saving truth of the gospel. For a few days, I went through a tumultuous time—engaged in a spiritual battle. Eventually, however, I broke free from the powers of darkness that were trying to keep me captive. I was able to ask Jesus to forgive all my sins; I trusted Him as my Savior.
One night, shortly after my conversion, I decided to go walking alone in the pristine snowy mountains. I went into a deeply wooded area, feeling awed by the cold, moonlit beauty. The air was crisp and dry, piercing to inhale. After a while, I came out into an open area, and I stopped walking. Time seemed to stand still as I gazed around me in wonder—soaking in the beauty. Suddenly I became aware of a loving Presence with me, and I found myself whispering, “Sweet Jesus.” This experience of Jesus’ Presence was far more personal than just finding intellectual answers to my questions.
The moment I trusted Jesus as my Savior-God, He forgave all my sins: past, present, and future. This amazing gift of grace not only ensured that my ultimate destination is heaven, but it enabled me to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe!
On that first Christmas, so long ago, God gave us the gift of Himself. The first people to hear the good news of God’s great gift were a group of lowly peasants, shepherds who were watching over their sheep. Suddenly, an angel appeared before them with a proclamation that would change the world forever.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
As I ponder the angel’s wonderous proclamation to the shepherds, I rejoice in my beloved Savior.
Jesus was, is, and will always be the greatest gift of all!