“I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning back, no turning back.”
It was 2001 and I was on a journey of discovery. I was discovering who I was and who God was for what seemed like the very first time, even though I was already in my late 20’s. I had been brought up to know God, but I wouldn’t say he and I were on a first name basis. I knew “of” him. When I was younger, I viewed him as an unreachable being that was keeping score of what I did right and wrong. Try as I might, I just didn’t feel good enough or worthy enough, so after a while I just stopped trying. I don’t know if I was just too immature or if life’s circumstances got in the way, but I fell away from God and felt free of the feeling of always trying to be on my best behavior. I told myself I didn’t need religion and what I had was enough… until it wasn’t.
September 11, 2001
We all know exactly where we were at the moment the news came in about the planes that crashed and the attack on the US, but what I remember even more vividly was where my thoughts were that day.
“Is this it, is this all there is to look forward to? Where is the hope in the future, when the future feels so uncertain?”
Only five hours away from New York City, and fearful about what was going to happen next, I cried out to God, in a short prayer that consisted only of one word: “Help.” Help for our world, help for those in the buildings and on the planes, help for the families, help for the emergency response teams, and help for my understanding. It was all I could muster to say. My mortality for the first time felt very real, and I had a lot more questions than answers. I decided then; I needed to get right with God, understand who this unreachable Being was, and what was the purpose of this life… my life.
That one-word prayer, my cry for help, would be answered faster than I thought possible. God sent people into my life one by one to teach me lessons, and to offer the help and guidance I needed.
Stay Focused On The Cross
The first, a sweet little woman by the name of Phyllis, who didn’t just tell me what a loving God we serve, but pointed me to his son Jesus. She shared the gospel stories in her own simple way, and taught me how to read the Bible. “Start with Jesus, my dear. Then, the rest will all make sense,” she would say. She would explain things in such a way that my heart and my eyes would be open, and I began to understand God wasn’t keeping score, and he didn’t want to be untouchable or unreachable; he just wanted to love me. If I kept my eyes on the cross, I would understand love in a whole new way.
My Battle Cry
As I got stronger in my knowledge of Christ, God would lead me to the second place on my discovery journey; a charismatic prayer group with people from all different religious backgrounds. It was run by an evangelical pastor and his wife. His wife taught us the song that I referenced at the beginning of this blog, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. She and her husband explained that the lyrics of that song need to be sung with conviction and belief. Deciding to follow Jesus is a decision, a choice, that Jesus freely gives to us. We see him call to his disciples, “Come follow me” and then they had a choice to make. He calls out to our hearts as well;
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Once we choose to follow Him, there is no turning back. “Sing it with conviction,” they would say. “Decide to follow Him. He wants nothing more than to love you!” That song to this day is not only my prayer back to God, but my battle cry when my faith feels shaky. “No turning back, no turning back.”
Freedom through Forgiveness
The third most pivotal moment of discovery was during Mass, when my soul was deeply touched by a song; At the Foot of the Cross, by Kathryn Scott. The chorus of that song talks about trading ashes in for beauty and wearing forgiveness like a crown. Ah… the “F” word… nobody likes the F word, forgiveness. It’s hard to let go, but it is so freeing when you finally do! If you look at yesterday’s Gospel reading (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus commands that we forgive, no matter what or how many times we have been wronged.
I had a realization during that Mass, listening to that song, that if I was going to follow Jesus with no turning back, I could not do that if I was still holding onto unforgiveness in my heart, and I was… big time! There were people and circumstances in my life that I was still holding onto, still angry about. I had some unforgiveness toward myself, too, that I didn’t know how to let go. I scheduled a meeting with a wonderful pastoral priest, for guidance and reconciliation. I had not been to the Sacrament of Confession in 18 years! When I told the priest how long it had been, he didn’t even bat an eye; just welcomed me back home. Through our conversation, he explained that if I was holding onto all this unforgiveness, my hands would be too full to receive all the goodness God wanted to give to me. “He just wants to love you and to be loved by you. Can you trust Him?” he asked. “He wants to take it ALL.” Through the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation, I was able to let go, really forgive, be cleansed of my sin and, as the song from Kathryn Scott says, “Lay it all down at the foot of the cross.”
Of course, God sent many more people and circumstances than just these three examples to teach, mold, and guide me on my journey. I couldn’t possibly name them all, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my mother, whose constant prayers and intercession brought me back to the arms of Christ. She, like St. Monica, never stops praying for her children and grandchildren, that they will always follow Jesus. A mother’s prayer is a powerful thing.
Being the Face of Christ to Others
My challenge for all of us is; to think back to your own conversion story, and ask yourself, “Who were the people that became the face of Christ for me until I could see Him on my own?” Make list of these people that showed you how to follow Jesus. Then, let’s make a pact to call, text, or write them a note of thanks and gratitude for pointing you to the One who longs to love you and who calls you by name.
“Come! Follow me!” Mark 1:17
Mandi-bre Watson is a passionate follower of Jesus, a devoted wife, and a mother of 4. Through her writing and speaking, she tries to be a beacon of hope as she points people to the Savior. She owns a small marketing company that helps other small businesses and is also the owner of an online boutique, Veiled in Love, where she sells her handmade veils. She is a certified Spiritual Companion through Oblate School of Theology & an active member of St. Francis of Assisi Church. Mandi-bre also served as the Emcee of the 2022 & 2023 Catholic Women’s Conference and serves as a member of Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Speaker Team.