My childhood was not that different from most. I am the second of four children. We had a happy childhood, for the most part. I wish I could remember details, but as I’ve gotten older, more memories have faded into the abyss that is my brain. But, I’m not here to talk about my childhood. I’m here to share the story of my salvation.
I did not have the privilege of a family who went to church. I’m sure there were times (I’d like to hope anyway) that our family went to church together, but the only memories I have of all six of us in a church at one time involve either weddings or funerals. We had a big family Bible at our house, but I never recall it being opened…not for reading anyway. There were signs of Christianity around, crosses, bibles, pictures, but it pretty much stopped there. We were not taught about Christ by our parents in our house. Sure, I witnessed an occasional prayer, but they were more the selfish sort, in a time of desperate need. I love my parents very much, and I know they love me. They both say they are Christians, but I’m sharing with you from my memories and the point of view of a child.
I recall always looking forward to summer break. (What child doesn’t?) But in my mind, summer break meant vacation bible school! We almost always went, many times 2 or 3 times in one summer. (Being a mom now, I see why my mom wanted the 4 of us anywhere but home. VBS is a safe place to send your kids so you can get some work done right?) I LOVED vacation bible school. I loved hearing stories from the Bible. I loved hearing about Jesus. I loved how nice and happy and fun the people at the churches were. I wanted to be like that!
I’ll never forget, after we moved to Jena, finding a family who took us to church with them all the time. I was so excited! I absolutely loved it! I remember when I was in the fifth grade, I really paid attention one sunday (or maybe it was during VBS…these memories run together at times), but the preacher was talking about being a sinner and being lost. I desperately didn’t want to be lost. By this point, I knew what happened to lost people when they died. I wanted to be with Jesus! I wanted to be saved! So, from my seat, I prayed the prayer. But, I wondered what my family would say. They knew me. They knew the bad things I did. They knew everything. They would never understand. So, I never told anyone.
Every sunday, or any other time it was offered, I prayed the sinner’s prayer. I desperately wanted to know Jesus, but I really felt I couldn’t tell anyone. (To this day, I don’t understand why I was so scared to tell.) Every night, I prayed. I prayed for my family. I prayed for my friends. But mostly, I prayed to be saved. Deep in my heart, I think I knew I needed to tell someone, but maybe thought no one would believe me. Maybe they would laugh at me. After all, I was a horrible sinner…what if I couldn’t change.
Suddenly, my life was completely turned upside down. Christmas 1989, I was in sixth grade, apparently my parents were having problems. (I sort of lived in my own little world, so obvious things were foreign to me. Or perhaps my parents were pros at hiding their issues. I’d have to ask my older sister.) But this Christmas, started like every other. It was great. Santa came, my siblings and I had a day filled with playing with our presents together. What happened next, I’ve tried for years to forget. (To this day, it haunts my Christmas celebrations if even for just a moment.) My two younger siblings and I were playing when my mom and older sister came in. They told us that is was very important that we not get upset. By no means, should we cry. But dad wanted to tell us all something. So, curious and a little scared, we all went to my parents’ room. There we all sat on the bed and waited on dad. He came in and kept his announcement short. He felt that no one loved him any more and told us he was going to commit suicide. My 11 year old brain exploded with pain and questions…
Very thankfully, he didn’t follow through, but things were forever changed. A few weeks later, my aunt and uncle came, packed us up, and we left with them and our mom. My memory is mottled (understandably so), but I remember my dad was in the hospital when we left…I just can’t (and don’t want to) remember why.
After Christmas break, we started at a new school. Things were crazy. A few weeks later, my dad came to get us for a visit…about six months later, we were allowed to go back. I’m not going to go into all the ugly that covers those 3 dots, but it was filled with anger. I did lots of praying, but not lots of loving. God is so full of love and grace. He made those 3 dots go away.
I held onto lots of anger over that time. My poor dad, I refused to visit him as often as I could get away with it. In the mind of a child, the pain inflicted was too much to forgive. I held onto it as long as I could.
Thankfully, once we got settled into a routine, I found friends who would take me to church again. I was beyond desperate for understanding and acceptance at this point. Church was my refuge. (Not always for the right reason, but at least I was there…I got something.) I learned the concept of reading the Bible. Imagine that?!? It was overwhelming (as a child all I was ever given were KJV ). I didn’t understand much, but a little is better than none.
At this point, the routine was the same as before, I always prayed the prayer, but never told anyone. I came very close at several conferences and youth trips, but always chickened out. I felt the anger I kept inside would cause me to never be able to really be saved.
My senior year in high school, someone finally called me on it. A good friend asked one Sunday, why I didn’t participate in the Lord’s supper. I told him that I wasn’t a member of the church. He said that he expected me to remedy that problem the following Sunday. Finally, I had a reason to get out of my seat, and someone expecting me to do it.
The following Sunday, I was in my normal place in the church choir, and my friend was glaring at me from the balcony, when it came time for the invitation. So, I took the first step, and guess what? The rest came so easily. I finally went and prayed with my pastor (who was in disbelief). I finally made it public. I was finally going to be baptized! A thousand pound weight was removed from my shoulders. A true peace came over me. Happiness. Forgiveness. Love. There are so many more, I could go on all day.
I learned many things. I forgave my dad. He had a time of hurt and confusion, too. I couldn’t hold that against him. We all do things we regret later.
I learned that being a Christian is more than owning a Bible or “Christian” pictures on the wall. It’s more than wearing a cross around your neck or a Christian t-shirt on your back. It’s more than going to church. It’s more than being baptized. It’s a lifestyle. A lifestyle of love of God, belief in Christ, prayer, love for others, forgiveness, selflessness, sacrifice, faith, and so much more.
Looking back, it didn’t matter how much I prayed the prayer. I had to mean the prayer, believe the prayer, LIVE the prayer. With me it was a LONG process. Lots of learning. Lots of trials and testing. Lots of growing.
Since being saved, I’ve taught VBS a good bit. Looking to encounter children like me. Being saved is so simple! In VBS we teach it as the ABC’s:
Admit – Admit to God that you are a sinner.
Believe – Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, was born of a virgin, died on the cross for you, and rose again on the third day.
Confess – Confess your sin to Him. Confess your belief in Him. Confess your acceptance of His free gift of Salvation!