A….35 year old…..Jewish….lawyer…finds Jesus. If the emphasis on those three things seems a bit much, allow me to explain. We all know that the older one is, the more resistant one tends to be to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most people, if not converted by 35 will not be. I have nothing against lawyers, but the facts are that overall, with their emphasis on proofs and logic, attorneys might not seem prime candidates to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Last, but not least; we have Jewish. As a whole, the Jewish people have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and conversions are not that common. So, what we have here is a 35 year old Jewish Lawyer who has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Meet Melissa Zellniker Presser. Melissa is one of my online friends and dear Sister in Christ. With that introduction behind us; I will allow Melissa to tell her own story. I hope it will inspire you as much as it inspired me.
I am a Jew. I am a Jewish wife. I am a Jewish mother. I am a Jewish lawyer. And I love Jesus. And what does that make me? Complete.
How can I love Jesus, you ask? It’s easy. He’s easy to love. He’s easier for a Jew to love because he is our messiah, given to us, his chosen people by God. But we missed him. And I missed him. That was until I turned 35.
I grew up a conservative Jew. I went to temple and Hebrew school. I celebrated Rosh Hashanah and fasted on Yom Kippur. I lit the candles on Hanukkah. I would sing to God in shul. But I was empty. My parents would drop me off on Saturdays so that I could attend temple. I would chant and read and chant some more. It was static and monochromatic and I felt trapped. Where is God, where is He? I was following the tradition of my ancestors by attending shul and felt holy while I was there. Holy and empty. But how can that be? I was so busy trying to follow all of God’s commandments I never realized God even existed. What’s that you say? You were an atheist? Yes, you could call me that. For God was a concept and not a person to me. I was following along with the script that was being read to me. I never felt God. Never even questioned or thought about why I didn’t. I just accepted the fact that this is who I was and this is what was and that was that.
It wasn’t until my grandfather died that I started to have revelation. While sitting shiva, I was told by the Rabbi that I could not pray for my grandfather. That only men could pray and chant the prayers for the dead. “Thank you very much”, I said. “Well, you have two choices Rabbi. Either you let me pray or I can let you leave.” I said it with ease. It was a poignant moment for me. An innate feeling bigger than me that told me that this God that I knew would not turn me away from praying and mourning for my deceased grandfather. Why would the God who I worshipped and gave every Saturday to turn away from me? Why would He reject me? There’s no way, I thought to myself that this is God’s will. So when the Rabbi turned to answer me, I was already on my knees, chanting the mourner’s kaddish. He also joined me on His knees, but he was silent.
The more I chased after God, the further I fell. I started to turn away from anything that seemed remotely religious or connected to God. As a young Jewish girl, I felt God had put me on the marked for death hit list. That He didn’t love me. That it truly didn’t matter what I did for him or how much time I spent in his house. For I saw the so called righteous religious people pay $1,000 a seat for Yom Kippur service while I got turned away for not having money to pay for my seat. Where was the “God” in that?
I chose to leave God, and my road led to well, nowhere. It seemed to be a metaphor for a trip I took later on in my life. My husband and I went to Hawaii for our one year wedding anniversary. Being the adventurous spirits that we are, we planned a day trip on the Road to Hanna. This Road is known for the scenery along the way. Essentially it is known for the journey. My husband and I believed that at the end to this Road we would encounter paradise. So we went along on the Road to Hanna. Initially, we remarked on how beautiful it was, but eventually we grew tired of it. As the hours passed we became more anxious to arrive. We had had enough of this long winding road.
And so several hours later, tired, hungry and thirsty we saw ahead of us the end. “There it is!” we shouted. We had finally reached the end. We parked the car and began walking towards the end of this road. We both got quiet and then started laughing. This is it? There’s nothing here! Where was this beautiful paradise? It was nowhere to be found. And we named it the Road to Nada. A long and treacherous road to travel, with a disappointing ending.
This was the story of my life. I was always seeking and searching. Always trying to find the answer at the end. But every road I took lead to disappointment. Every road led to nothing.
It wasn’t until I hit the pinnacle of brokenness that I found Jesus. He was waiting for me, this I know. Had I known now that he was waiting for me on the other side, I wouldn’t have walked but would have sprinted towards him. And I would have endured every pain and then some to run into His loving arms all over again.
My life was never easy. In fact I believed I was destined to die. On the outside I had everything but on the inside I had nothing. I was the straight A Honors student. The popular one. The cheerleader. Bat mitzvah. Graduated college. Went on to law school. Became a successful attorney. Married my bsheret. Was blessed with three children. This was what the world saw. Because the world looks at the outside. God looks at our heart.
On the inside I was broken. I had been sexually abused and never told anyone. I suffered from depression and anxiety. I hated myself. I was rejected by the one place that I thought would accept me- the temple. I tried to find my satisfaction in many broken relationships- whether a boyfriend or a friend. I lived my life for others. Because if they saw the pain inside of me, surely they would not accept me. I would be an outcast. But in my mind and heart I already was. And most days I counted down the days until God would take me from this earth. And then was the moment that truly took me away from God, the day my beloved grandmother died.
There were too many things wrong and nothing that was right. I could have cared less about my law degree and in fact would have been much happier cleaning floors somewhere in the background where nobody could see me. But something kept me alive. Something deep inside me told me I was special. And that something was the quiet whispers of God calling me back to him.
You see, I am a stubborn Jewish girl. Aggressive and bold. Defensive. I married a stubborn Israeli Jewish boy. Aggressive and bold. Defensive. And you can see where that might have led us.
I have only known two true loves in my life before I had my children. The love I had for my grandmother and the love I have for my husband. God took the first one away and not long after that almost took the other. Five years after I lost my grandmother, I almost lost my marriage. How could God do this to me? Even when I renounced his name, he kept coming back for more. I slipped away from the world without the world knowing it. I tried to run away from God. It’s no use, I thought, nothing matters anymore. That was until I heard a still small voice inside of me. It was clear and resounding and would not leave me alone.
A week before Mother’s day, I heard that still small voice again. It told me to reach out to a friend’s mother and ask for help. I asked her if she went to church and she told me yes, and that I had a divine appointment that next day. I remember thinking in that moment I wanted to end it all. I started devising a way that I could end my life. And in that moment I lifted my chin up to see the faces of my three beautiful children.
The next day I walked into the church and met my mother from the Lord. She knew immediately something was wrong. She started to pray over me in a way I had never heard- with such conviction and passion. I didn’t care that I was in a church and that she was praying in the name of Jesus. In that moment, all I could do was think of the horrible emotional pain I was in and how I would survive past this day.
The sermon moved me. I was gripped. And the name of Jesus rolled easier off my tongue. I stopped caring about what the world thought and started concentrating on my three children. I don’t remember exactly what I said when I cried out to God that night but I am pretty sure it went something like this, “God I just can’t do life anymore. I cannot and will not leave these kids without a mother. But the emptiness and pain I feel in my heart is so overwhelming that I cannot live another day on this earth with it. I feel like I am going to die. If Jesus really is the answer Lord I accept him. Please take away this pain in my heart, it consumes me. Jesus heal me and let me live for the children I am a mother to.” I remember nothing else after that until the next morning.
I woke up and looked over at my husband. I clutched my chest. Where was the pain? Where had it gone? I kept touching my chest looking to find it. But it was not there. As I clutched my chest, I looked over at my husband who was sleeping next to me. All of a sudden my body started to fill with life. I could feel my heart beating and from my feet to my head, my soul started to fill with love. In my mind God showed me a picture of a pitcher filling up a tall glass with water. He had taken away the pain and replaced it with love. It was real. I was different. I was restored. It was then that I knew that He was real.
The next week I brought my husband back to church. The Lord was calling me, it was clear. At the end of the sermon when the Pastor asked for those to step forward who would accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior I knew it was my appointed time. It was Mother’s Day. And I came to accept God’s son as my personal Lord and Savior. And I was baptized in his name.
My life will never be the same. The only regret I have is that I did not accept Jesus sooner. My husband has since accepted Christ and our marriage is stronger than ever. We are more in love today than we were when we were first dating. My children have come to know and love Jesus and it shows. It shows in their kindness and their respect and their spirit of giving. It shows when they speak to Him in prayer and know that they are truly loved by God. My sisters in Christ accepted me with open arms, no questions asked. In fact, they told me of how they were all broken people at one time looking for a savior. That they were all imperfect. Welcome to the club for imperfect people.
My children know where they came from. We teach them about the Jewish holidays and festivals and show them the meaning of each one. We tell them about how we are complete now in our Messiah. It’s quite the eye opener. That I had no idea who I was before Jesus came into my life and in Him I know exactly who I am.
Every day with Him just gets better and better. My husband and I enjoy praying together, sharing the Word of God and serving a loving and merciful God who chose us as his children. Every morning I wake up in tears, overjoyed and just so thankful to be alive.
How could I not want to talk about what saved me from certain death both physically and spiritually? He is real and I am real. My family is real. And we are complete Jews in Jesus Christ. The Son of God.