Erica & Adam
Adam and Erica

“Several years ago, Erica Pahlsson showed up at our annual New Years Eve service. That night transformed her life. She started attending every week and Rachel and I would meet with her often. After a year or so, she started two inner city children’s programs that draw in 50 or so kids each week. Last year she went to Liberia as a high school teacher and opened a drug rehab house. One of the addicted men was a former general on the losing side of Liberia’s recent civil war and had his leg blown off. He recently flew back to Connecticut with Erica and had a prosthetic leg put on at Yale University Hospital. He shared his powerful story of God’s transforming work in his life with our church and the young people of the inner city where Erica had reached out to. Erica is scheduled to move back to Liberia next summer with her husband Adam. I’ll let her explain in her own words what happened new year’s eve night that so drastically changed her relationship with God.” – Pastor Todd

“I grew up hearing the Gospel, got saved around age four, and became eager to read my Bible and know God.  At age fourteen, I began to want to do many things for God, such as to be present at every church service, work in the nursery, read my Bible and pray, and participate in evangelism.  I clearly remember my youth pastor asking me one Sunday why I served God.  ‘To get rewards in heaven,’ I answered, ‘and so I won’t get chastened by God.’  Those were the motives I lived by.  I began to be controlled by fear.  I also slowly became very judgmental of others who did not adopt the same standards of music, dress, language, and values.  Instead of being real, open, and friendly with my peers in public high school, I constantly judged them, strove to keep myself from their sinful ways, and tried to get the Gospel in as many conversations as possible.  I remember only one friend that supposedly received Christ, joined my church, and a few years later fell away completely from churches.

In college, my striving to please God intensified.  I came to the point where I could not live with myself if I missed going on evangelism on a weekend.  I felt so guilty, like I had missed God’s leading, and that I was out of His will if I didn’t go.  Fear of being out of His favor was dreadful.  I spent hours each day pouring over my Bible, keeping a journal, and praying through a prayer list that got longer and longer.  I remember knowing that I wasn’t really praying as I was reading names on the list, but that I was just rushing through, obsessively mentioning each name, and not even consciously talking to God.  Often after weeks of rigorous daily devotions, I would come to a moment where I realized I had not really connected with God or enjoyed His presence for months.  I couldn’t understand people, especially Christians, who did not have the same standards in dress and music that I had.  I castigated them in my mind as backsliders.  I did not form good friendships with any of my roommates because I constantly judged them.

I almost couldn’t function as a normal person.  I would complain and condemn my dad for playing “worldly” Christmas music on the way to our Christmas Eve celebration, lock myself in my room if my mom or brothers turned the tv on, could not imagine starting my day without reading the Bible and praying for an hour and literally never did.  I remember waking up after it snowed, desperately wanting to go out and enjoy the fresh snowfall before my brothers went outside and put their tracks everywhere.  However, I did not go for fear of not putting God first.  I read my Bible and prayed instead.

At one point, I dreaded going to church because I had decided to obey my pastor, including anytime he said to come to the altar at the end of the service.  If he said it more as a command than ‘if you want to,’ I felt forced to come.  It embarrassed me to stand up in the middle of a long aisle at my college church and walk all the way to the front.  Fear controlled me and I began to feel guilty about more and more things in my life.  If I felt guilty about something, I concluded it was wrong.  I began to feel guilty about wearing make-up.  I decided to really ask God about this one, since it was so important to me.  My only method of hearing from God was to pray my question to Him, open my Bible, and start reading.  If I felt led by what I happened to read to do it, I would.  Using this method, I learned that God did not want me to wear make-up.  I was unbearably afraid of doing anything against His will.  The fear drove me to avoid ‘displeasing’ God at any and all costs.  I couldn’t bear the thought of His frown upon me.  I craved His smile, His favor, but was getting tired of running on the exercise wheel trying to obtain it.

As time passed, my life became more and more miserable, if you can even call it ‘life.’  I did have a few friends that seemed genuinely happy, free from self, and secure with God.  I would question them again and again about how they got that way.  I could not figure them out, but I was hooked.  I began to pray every day, ‘Lord, make me like so-and-so.’  I listened carefully when they answered my questions, observed them like a hawk, but was not able to ‘get’ what they had.

One day, one of them asked me why I didn’t wear make-up.  ‘Because God told me not to,’ I replied.  ‘How did God tell you that?’  He innocently asked.  I explained how I felt guilty, prayed, opened my Bible, and happened upon a verse I thought meant God was leading me to not wear make-up.  My friend sat thoughtful a moment and then asked, ‘What did Satan use to tempt Jesus?’  My mind began reeling.  ‘The Word of God,’ I forced the words out.  ‘So how do you know if it was God or Satan saying that?’ my friends gently questioned.

My world turned upside down.  Did that mean I couldn’t tell the difference between God’s voice and Satan’s voice?  If I can’t do that, the most basic thing, then I know nothing.  My view of myself as a mature and good Christian began to waver.  I became open to the fact that I knew nothing.  The rest of that afternoon and evening, I was completely dazed.  That question was burning a hole in my soul.  I HAD to find the answer.  It happened to be New Year’s Eve of 2007, and I spent the evening at Wolcott Community Bible Church where Todd is pastor. I remember a whole group gathered around me.  I was completely miserable and inconsolable.  My friends tried to answer my question – how can I tell if it’s God or Satan speaking to me?  I remember saying (in justification of my no make-up rule), ‘But the closer you get to God, the more He asks you to give up.’  I firmly believed that.  A friend quietly and surely answered, ‘No!  The closer you get to God, the more free you become.’  I could not argue with him because he knew God so much more than I did and was a hundred times free-er than I was.  I began to realize how backwards and lost I was.  I also noticed a friend of some of my friends, who also exhibited the same happiness I had seen in them.  He seemed delirious with joy, completely satisfied and secure, and rapturously in love with Jesus.  I was absolutely desperate for what he had.

Later that same night, New Year’s morning of 2008, at the Guido’s house, I had a chance to talk him at the kitchen table.  I noticed he attended the same school that some of my friends attended, so I dropped the other question that burned in my heart.  ‘What do you guys DO????’  I asked, ‘You are just like so-and so!’  He began to explain how they went outside early in the morning to have time with God.  That made sense to me.  ‘But we don’t bring our Bibles,’ he went on.  Completely shocked, I listened openly, too weary in soul to put my normal ‘guards’ up.  ‘We memorize a chapter and then meditate on it for a whole year for an hour each morning while we walk outside,’ he explained.  He went on to tell me of his experience of hearing God speak to him, ‘the Lord MY God.  He’s MY God.’  I listened, amazed.  Then he dropped the little phrase that became the key to unlock my tortured soul.  Since I had asked what they DID, he concluded, ‘But remember, with God, you can never do – only receive.’  Perhaps because I looked dumbfounded, he said it three times.  ‘With God, you can never do – only receive.’ Time stood still for me in those seconds.  Something went off in me and I have never been the same.  (Side note: Now I have learned that I can do or give to God, but in a very different way than before.  That phrase was a truth I needed to learn at that point in my walk).  The FEAR was broken.

A few hours later, I flew back to my home in Florida.  I was bubbling over with delicious joy and discovered that now, within my heart, I did not HAVE to witness to the person sitting next to me on the plane.  I talked to her like a real person.  I actually listened to her.  I even learned more about God from my conversation with her, as if God could even speak to me through an unbeliever.  I arrived home, slept for few hours since I had been awake all night, and then could not wait to try what was said.  I went outside and started reciting the few verses I had memorized from Philippians 3 for this purpose.  ‘I want to know Christ, and …’  At that point in the verse, I began sobbing as I walked.  It was already dark outside, so no one could see my tears.  I felt my entire being crying out to KNOW Jesus, and felt Jesus with me, heard Him saying it to me – ‘know Me.’  There was a divine and human embrace in those moments, a wanting to know and a wanting to be known.

I can’t describe to you the change that developed in me.  The next few months will forever hold a special place in my memory.  I never again touched my ‘prayer lists.’  They eventually ended up in the trash.  I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and walk with God to see if He would say something today.  I threw away my Daily Bread devotional.  I even bought a pair of pants to wear for pajamas.  It felt so good to act as though I had two legs, not one.  Those were some of the outward changes.  Words cannot really describe the inward changes.  I knew I had found what I needed.  There was nothing more I wanted in life.  No matter what happened, I knew with complete certainty that I would be happy.  Jesus and I were in this together, so close, so intimate, forever.  That freed me from worrying about my future.   I really think I died that New Year’s Day.  I am no longer self-conscious about keeping track of my sins, making sure I ask forgiveness, purposely trying not to think about myself and to be unselfish.  I no longer desperately try to love others out of my empty heart.  I am living another Life.  There is incredible power.  There is a living, moving, flowing river that I float down.  I have Love living in my soul.  God took over.  Although this is my body, it’s not really me.  In everything I say and do, it’s God and me together saying and doing it.  I let go of all my safeguards, even my own understanding of Scripture, and let God begin to reteach me everything.  I can trust Him as a Person to teach and guide me in a situation, instead of trusting a dead rule.  One of the most beautiful and precious things is this:  I used to live for just one moment of ‘feeling His presence.’  I could live off of that moment for weeks.  Now, I get to live constantly in that Presence.  It is an unspeakable gift for which I can never be grateful enough.

I’m not perfect and that’s OK, even good.  I became very open and honest with others and could simply look into someone’s eyes and listen like I had never been able to do before.  I have come into an incredible rest.  I have not gotten myself here, and I also cannot get myself out.  There is great underlying assurance that even if I go wrong, God has me and will redirect me the right way.

I believe God planted the seed of desire to change in me through seeing true love in those few friends.  I began praying pretty consistently for years that God would ‘revive me’ or make me like Him like so-and-so was like Him, and I believe that also led to the change.  But really, it was God that initiated and did everything in me.”

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