An Unconditional Savior

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Our stories of salvation are often told in two parts: the wilderness life that happened before we believed and the journey of abundance that follows. And yet, Jesus doesn’t start walking with us the moment we decide to follow him. He is with us all along, promising his enduring faithfulness and making streams in the desert.

Sheri Wantuck grew up in a home with a Buddhist mother and a Lutheran father. She was surrounded by faith but was never encouraged to explore it for herself. The family did not attend temple or church together, and spiritual formation was not part of her family’s interactions. After a series of painful experiences during her childhood, in the face of so many available yet seemingly unhelpful gods, Sheri decided that one true, benevolent God must not exist.

Sheri’s career as a behavior analyst seemed to consistently draw her into working for faith-based organizations. At one of these jobs, she met Carly Johnson, a long-time Summit partner and fellow analyst. Although surrounded by Christians at work, Sheri didn't seem interested in befriending anyone from that community. So a friendship with Carly seemed unlikely.

However, years later when Sheri and her then-husband were separating, she turned to Carly with the question, “What does God think about divorce?” Their conversations turned to matters of faith, the meaning of life, and what happens after we die. When Carly asked about what gives Sheri’s life purpose, Sheri shrugged and said that it was just about being a good person.

So Carly told her about Jesus, his enduring love for people, and how the sacrifice he made on the cross gives her hope. Sheri simply replied, “I wish I had that kind of hope.”

But that hope was right there, and the Lord continued to show Sheri that he was always close and always present. She noticed friends and colleagues all around her who also attended Summit, and was encouraged to give church a try. She started reGROUP Monday nights and was slowly digesting what she heard. After some time, Sheri began attending Sunday services as well, and she eventually joined the first Starting Point group designed to help those with questions talk through their doubts and start to build a foundation for their faith.

She was thirsty, and she searched for someone to trust, looking for a place where she could receive hope outside of her own strength and willpower. Summit became a refuge for Sheri, a place that she says feels like home.

Like most of us, Sheri longed to live in a world where she is loved, she isn’t alone, and where goodness proves to be more powerful than evil. But what would that require of her? Since humanity was first exiled from the Garden of Eden, God has longed for his people to be restored to glory, free from the snare of sin and death, and living in his presence. What would that require of him?

Sheri’s desire to find purpose met God’s offer of hope in one very special being: a greyhound named KatDog. Through this special bond, Sheri says she was able to experience unconditional love for the first time. KatDog was her solid and sure companion through the emotional ups and downs of life, and she was reassured by his steady and constant love for her.

But then, KatDog was diagnosed with cancer in his leg and hip, which made his bones incredibly brittle. Sheri made the difficult decision to move forward with amputation in hopes of sparing him a painful broken leg and to save his life. In the hours after KatDog’s surgery, his body fought to recover from the anesthesia. Late in the night, lying close to Sheri on the floor of their living room, he couldn’t continue to fight the effect of the drugs, and he died.

With a broken heart, struggling to make sense of this suffering, Sheri later sat in the sanctuary listening to a reGROUP talk about Jacob wrestling with God and having his hip wrest out of its socket. And it finally became clear—as much as she wanted it to be true, she realized she had no control over KatDog surviving the cancer. That decision was ultimately not hers to make. She also knew, deep in her heart, that regardless of the decisions she could have made, KatDog would love her without question. 

This illustrated a new insight about God and about his unconditional love that Carly and so many others were helping Sheri understand. No matter what she walked through, or what decisions she had made, or whether she even believed God exists, Sheri knew her Creator would always be there to give her hope. God was offering her now, and for eternity, his unconditional love. With tears still wet on her cheeks, she sought out Carly in the lobby after service and said, “I believe.”

A year and a half later, in the Summit sanctuary, Sheri stepped into the water of her baptism, surrounded by dear friends and her growing family of faith. She surrendered her life to Jesus and declared that he came as her Savior, born to die so that she might live.

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“I cried like a baby and have never been so happy. By far the biggest day in my life. Words don’t seem to do justice to this moment and to have my best friend, Carly, by my side and to be baptized by Zach and Dan in the sanctuary where I first gave God a chance—in the place where I realized I believed and the one place I feel the most at home. It was not supposed to happen at the beach... it was meant to happen in that building. Thank you Summit Church for being my home.” —Sheri

From the very beginning, Jesus’ life was one of sacrifice. He left behind his heavenly glory and came to our world of decay and death. He showed us we have a living hope in the One who is victorious over sin and death. Mirrored in our own faith journey is a surrendering of our lives for the One who gave it all for us.

Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he shows us that we are loved unconditionally—and we are never alone. Good has already prevailed over evil. He came to be our Savior and our hope. Sheri was never out of reach of her Savior. He came with her in mind.

 

 

reGROUP is a community of healing and recovery for anyone who has ever felt like there is something standing between you and the person God has called you to be. reGROUP returns Monday, January 14th. Find more information here.

Starting Point group is for conversations about doubt and faith. The group begins Sunday, January 20th. Find more information here.