Editor’s Note: We count it a joy to welcome Marla Pellum to the blog today for our sixth and final testimony in our Come and See series. You met her sister, Gina Hedlind, last week as she shared her faith journey. While these women have common experiences, especially from childhoods in a deeply religious but empty church tradition, God has given them unique stories for His glory. We praise Him! We hope you have been encouraged by the individual stories in this series and challenged to write out your own story of faith to share with others. If you would like help doing this, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I grew up in a home with parents who had a strong marriage and gave my siblings and me a safe and secure home, where a sense of family was strong. They made sure we had a religious upbringing, including weekly church on Sundays and religious education classes, which gave me a reverential love for God and Jesus. So much of what I learned by rote about the stories of the Bible and prayer was basic, and when I got old enough to understand theological concepts, I started to have questions. I don’t remember getting definitive answers to many of my questions. Instead, I was taught to “be a good person and pray” in hopes that I would earn enough good graces to get into heaven. I worked hard to be a good student and to follow the rules.
Because I was not rooted in God’s Word and did not have a strong biblical foundation for how to live my life as I transitioned to high school I had no compass and no idea what my life should look like let alone how to live a life pleasing to the Lord. I just knew the doctrine of my church stated that a cardinal sin would result in hell. I knew I had already crossed the threshold, so I thought should just enjoy life and do what I wanted. I prided myself on being a strong, independent person, and I strived for my own personal perfection. Although I was a responsible kid, had a part-time job after school, had my own car, and had decent grades, I walked a very fine line. I made some poor choices that could have gotten me into a lot of trouble, and I became good at hiding it from my parents, who were still taking me to church. This ritual I once enjoyed became an obligation, and addressing my sin became a semi-annual pilgrimage to the confessional that I absolutely dreaded. I was told that in confessing my sin to a man I was absolved of my sin, and yet this “rinse and repeat” ritual left me humiliated and empty. I had no tools to change my choices, and because Jesus was missing from the act, I left feeling no assurance of forgiveness and instead condemned.
Marla Pellum grew up in Eugene, graduated from South Eugene High School, and attended the University of Oregon, where she met my husband. They began seriously dating in their mid-thirties and have now been married for 23 years. Marla is thankful to be retired after working for nearly 40 years. She has loved interior design for several decades and always welcomes new opportunities to exercise her passion.
When I started at the University of Oregon, I pledged a sorority and embraced “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” as my swan song. My idea of fun meant I placed myself in dangerous situations, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that God covered me with His grace and kept me safe. I inconsistently attended church and only when my social calendar would allow. I had a prideful spirit and wanted to be the lord of my life, but I seemed to have no control over a boyfriend who abused me physically and mentally. In 1986, I moved to Seattle to escape. I got a job in the fashion retail industry, working for a hugely successful company that was in its hay day. The job promised lots of room for advancement, and I was excited to embark on my career in the big city.
In that job and community, I seemed to find my identity and self worth, but I hadn’t left behind my destructive thought life when I left Eugene. It still sitting on my shoulder ready to speak when I would let it. I determined what I would do and what I would have. I worshipped myself rather than God. I quickly made lots of girlfriends, and I thought life was good. But my swan song raged on. I occasionally made it to church if I hadn’t been out too late in the clubs the night before, but those sporadic times left me unfulfilled. I wanted and needed more, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Then, I accepted an invitation to join an acquaintance at her church. Little did I know I would find the it I was looking for — a new life in Jesus.
I heard for the first time that even in my sinful state I could go directly to Jesus to ask for forgiveness and healing. I prayed the sinner’s prayer, and God in His faithfulness directed me to Christian friends. I bought my first Bible and started devouring it. The seed of my desire to know who the real God of the Bible was had been planted. He gave me the eyes to see the untruths about Him that I was taught in my youth. Attending church and learning to serve others were highlights in my week, but I still struggled with old thought patterns and was not having total victory over some of my old sin choices. I was gaining head knowledge of the Bible and prayed for God to change me, but I wasn’t sure I had experienced a complete conversion of my heart.
I returned to Eugene in 1996 and started dating a man I had known in college. We attended church together, and then a year and a half later, we married. Fifteen years later we were still attending church, and I was reading my Bible. But I wasn’t growing in the Lord. I was still struggling with critical thoughts of others, self pride, and my words, and I sensed I wasn’t where God wanted me to be. We started church shopping, and the very first time we attended UFC, we heard biblical teaching full of perspective on passages, historical insight, and sound doctrine. The sermon was not one of personal opinion or merely a motivational, seeker-friendly speech. The worship band wasn’t about entertainment but about true worship. I had long wanted to hear the truth of God’s Word, to know I was truly saved and not self-deceived. I wanted to hear preaching on “hard” topics, and at UFC I did. I knew this would be our church home.
When I started attending the weekly women’s Bible study, I started to see the Bible differently than ever before. God was calling me into a deeper understanding of His Word, and as I came to a right understanding of God, I started to form the right perspective of who I was in Him. I saw the attributes of God made flesh through His Son Jesus, and in studying the Bible, I could sense the Holy Spirit making the changes in me that I was searching for. I was being called into remembrance of my past sin and disobedience — the ones I had buried deep down and had been running from for many years. God was calling me to total repentance, and as I stepped out in faith, I laid my brokenness before Him. It was a time of many shed tears, not from the guilt and shame of the past but from the knowledge of the truth of Scripture. Confession and repentance could be made before my most loving Father, for He is faithful and stands ready to forgive.
God kept calling to me through the dark times and mercifully waited for me, showing me so much grace. I no longer live under condemnation but bask in the glow of His gracious presence. The heavy burden of the idols I carried for so many years were being torn down before me and being replaced by the patient, gracious, merciful, loving, and true redemptive love of Jesus Christ. I still have my same NIV Bible that I bought 30 yeas ago. Some of the pages are now tattered and worn, yet I love how they feel. The leather cover is almost completely off, and there are many notes scribbled throughout the pages. But it is my most treasured earthly possession. I am humbled to share what Christ has done in my life, especially at this time of year when we celebrate the death of our precious Jesus and the sovereign power of our faithful God to raise His Son up on Easter Sunday. As I set my eyes on and prepare my heart for this beautiful day, I am reminded of the very familiar song written nearly 250 years ago by John Newton:
Amazing grace How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now I'm found Was blind, but now I see
This is now my swan song. Today, when I look at the scars from my past, they are fading reminders of what once was. They no longer have a hold over me, but they are beautiful memories of God’s transformative power in my life. It is well with my soul. It is my heart’s cry to be reminded daily of the truth of Jesus’ saving sacrifice on the the cross, one that saved even a wretch like me. I will continue to remember that truth until the day when Christ calls me heavenward to be with Him for eternity.