From Being Homeless and Bitter to a Seminary Student

( [email protected] ) Dec 30, 2003 12:15 AM EST

LOUISVILLE, KY-Five years ago, Jennifer Lyell used her car as a place to live but now she uses it to drive herself to classes as she pursues a degree of master of divinity at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Her homeless life of being forced to live in her car begins when Lyell’s job at a major theater company ended. Being at a young age of 19, she had gained success at an upper management position that she gave up when she found it did not make her happy.

"I was still very young. I had a lot of power. I was making good money," she said. "And yet I was still pretty miserable. And that pretty much crashed my entire worldview because those were the things that I thought led to happiness. So, recognizing that they didn't ... I was just kind of confused and couldn't see the point."

Lyell decision to quit her job left her with no money, so now at the age of 20, Lyell resorted to live in her car where the experience made her resent God.

"I lived in my car for about six months, and during that time it was kind of like everything that I had always put around me, or had managed to control, in order to convince myself that I had ultimate control had fallen away. So I recognized that I didn't [have control], and that left me really wondering who did and whose responsibility that control was."

Sleeping in summer heat of more than 100 degrees and bathing in gas station restrooms, Lyell grew bitter and blamed God for her circumstances.

"I was sleeping in the car one night, woke up, turned on the radio and heard, 'It's 2:12 a.m. and 105 degrees outside,'" Lyell said. "And I can remember laying back down in my seat and speaking to God and saying, 'I don't know what You're doing up there,' basically just cursing God and shaking my fist in His face and saying, 'You've done this to me,' when in reality I had done it to myself."

When Lyell rented an apartment with some money she saved up six months later, her bitterness against God remained but a new reconciliatory opportunity was presented to her two weeks after her move. Billy Graham was going to be preaching in St.Louis, near where she currently was in Marion, IL.

At the event, the song that was sang after Billy Graham spoke was what gave Lyell the revelation that would change her life henceforth. The song was "Awesome God," by the late Rich Mullins.

"I wasn't feeling convicted at all at that point," Lyell said. "They started singing Awesome God, and I hadn't heard it before and I didn't know the words ... so I was struggling to figure out all the words. I could figure out, 'from heaven above, with wisdom, power and love,' because it rhymed. But I couldn't get the verb, 'reigns.'"

However, as Lyell listened more, the message struck her. "I know the nanosecond I was saved because when I heard the word, 'reigns,' ... it hit me. I remember having a visual of myself laying in my car physically shaking my fist at God and just feeling like I was turned inside out, feeling unbelievably overwhelming remorse that I had blamed this awesome God for the choices I had made in rebellion against Him."

With that revelation, Lyell committed herself to Christ at that moment.

"It's like all of the Bible and all of the theology that I had sat and heard my whole life had never sunk in," Lyell said. "But in that moment, all of it came together because in that moment I recognized that even though I had gone forward in church four years before and was dunked in water ... I wasn't a Christian."

Lyell proceeded to give a profession of her faith at her church the following Sunday and was on her way to a new life.

"Now everything about my life is different," she said. "... I don't know an aspect of my life that isn't different. That's just the truth."

Indeed, her life did change as she developed an interest in doing missions. She eventually materialized her interests into a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University. Currently, Lyell is preparing for a career in Christian ministry by working toward a master of divinity to be completed in 2003

"I started reading everything on missions that I could. It was such an odd thing to me that I had grown up in this country where I had sat in church from when I was 6 to when I was 16 and heard someone preach every single Sunday. ... [I] recognize all the intricacies that God used [in my life] and recognize that there are a lot of places in the world where those things don't exist for Him to use," she said.

It is true that from Lyell’s unique experiences, she was able to come to God but she warms other Christians not to glorify sensational testimonies because consistent faithfulness is more desirable.

"I've experienced things that a lot of people haven't experienced," Lyell said. "But I want to recognize that those experiences were the result of sin. And I don't want those to be glorified because that's certainly not the way it's supposed to be.

"And I certainly hope that if I were to get married and have children that my children would not come to faith in Christ in the same way that I did. And I think as a church, sometimes we have a tendency to focus on sensational stories and neglect the consistent faithfulness."