Southern California is known for its sunny summer days, but my best memories growing up in Los Angeles are of its warm summer nights. The summer of 1989 stands out because that was the year my best friend had just gotten his driver’s license, opening all kinds of opportunities for us, good and bad.

One of those nights, he invited me to a youth group meeting at his church. His youth pastor spoke about joy. I think the only time I had ever heard that word used was in Christmas carols. To be honest, I don’t remember anything he said. But later that night as we were driving home with the windows down enjoying the night air, my friend asked me a question that I’ll never forget. He simply asked me whether or not I had joy. I had to admit that I didn’t.

His question was like a stone dropped down one of those unstable California mountainsides you see in the news. As it bounced around inside my heart it triggered a landslide. The foundation of my outlook on life began to crumble away unearthing the emptiness of my soul. The things that had been important to me began to seem pointless.

I kept coming to my friend’s youth group, but I didn’t really understand what was being taught. I had never really thought about spiritual things. I could count the number of times I had attended a church on one hand. My most recent brush with Christianity had been at my grandfather’s funeral earlier that year. All the talk about heaven seemed like a fairy tale to me.

As I started my junior year of high school, my sense of emptiness was growing. My friend invited me to a three night event. I accepted, but I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. This seemed a bit much. Hundreds of teens showed up the first night, and a man taught about the things Jesus suffered. By the third night, I understood that all of Jesus’ suffering—the beatings, mocking, scourging, and slow painful death that he endured—had a clear purpose. Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3).

I thought of myself as a pretty good person. I was ashamed of some things I had done, but I had never considered how God viewed my life. It dawned upon me that because of my sins, I deserved to suffer like Jesus did. “But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed” (Isa 53:5 NASB).

I wanted God’s forgiveness for my sins. I wanted to follow the one who had given himself as a sacrifice for my sins. I wanted to live for him. How could I do anything else now that I understood these things about Jesus? I decided to entrust my life to him.