Growing up, if the church doors were open, it seemed like I was in the building. This encompasses Sunday School, church, Vacation Bible School, Good News Club, Sunday night church, Sunday night youth group, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Thursday night choir practice, Pioneer Girls and on and on and on.
In addition, I attended Christian elementary school for five years and went to Christian camps and retreats more times than I can remember.
I pretty much had a handle on “church” and “Bible” stuff. I always knew and believed that Jesus died for my sins and that unless I believed (and acted thusly), I would go to hell. I also had a handle on legalism although I didn’t realize it at the time. There were a lot of rules, both in my church and my home. It all seemed to fit together. My take on it was that God (and my earthly father) had lots of rules that I needed to follow before HE and he would love me. Whether that message was taught per se, it’s what I learned, amongst all the King James Bible scripture I memorized along the way.
During the elementary years, there were good memories and lousy ones.
We had sword (Bible) drills. The teacher would give us a passage of scripture and the first one to find it, stood up and began to read. I excelled in this, being of a competitive nature!
Back in the day, ladies stockings (pre-pantyhose) came in flat rectangular boxes. We’d all be instructed to bring a box in, line it with blue construction paper and use that flour+salt+water concoction to make a topographical map of Palestine in Jesus’ day, leaving the blue to show for the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean (The Great) Sea.
I, for the most part, liked my Sunday School teachers. My mother was one but after having my brother in her class, decided she did not want me in hers so I was assigned to another! And I was a faithful attender. I had no choice. Do you remember Sunday School Attendance Pins? I had fourteen. FOURTEEN! Fourteen years in a row I attended Sunday School with missing no more than 3 times per year. There were two Sunday School teachers I did not like – Mrs. Rush and Mr. Semisch. These were high school teachers. Mrs. Rush used me as an example of how NOT to dance with a boy. I had to stand up with her so she could illustrate. Mr. Semisch taught my senior year of high school class. It was the first co-ed class and he used to call my name a lot because he “liked” the sound of it and the boys would laugh. I managed to be “sick” a lot that year! After that, I was done with Sunday School.
Being baptized as an infant completed my pedigree.
Paul the Apostle in Philippians 3 says, “. . . If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. . .”
In all those years, in all my growing up, in all those classes, no one ever asked me if I was a Christian.
At some point, late in my elementary years, I went to summer camp for a week. Mountainbrook Camp in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. My counselor asked me if I had ever asked Jesus into my heart. I never thought about it before and guessed maybe I had better do this. I did and my counselor declared me born again. I wrote a postcard to my folks telling them the news but never mailed it and never mentioned it. Life was different – for about a week.
In my high school years I attended church camp – Quarryville, in beautiful Lancaster County of Pennsylvania. Around a campfire, the leader was asking us kids to “turn to Jesus”! My friend sitting next to me who knew my inner struggles, told me to “get the devil off my lap, stand up, and go forward.” I didn’t at that point but later that night went to one of the leaders and was with her for hours for a very emotional time before I declared I had found Jesus. She declared me born again. That change lasted longer and was obvious to those around me. I was asked to give my testimony during the New Year’s Eve service at church, which I complied.
Life went on and try as I might, I could never keep it up. I tried and failed miserably with this thing called Christianity. I failed my parents, my friends, my relationships, myself. I’d give up.
I knew how to talk the talk and knew how to appear to walk the walk. I thought this was how it was done and just assumed I wasn’t very good at it. I always assumed I was just less of a Christian than everyone else. It was my lot in life!
In adulthood, I continued the up and down spiral. And again, God got my attention. Again, after a major fail, I was rejuvenated in my faith and was on board with God. I wanted to join the church I had been attending for three years. Their requirement for membership was baptism by emersion. Ok, new thought for me, being raised a Presbyterian, but I complied. After my baptism by emersion, the church declared me born again.
Years went by and I continued to deal with it all – the ups and downs and, well, just life. It didn’t seem any easier or safer.
Then my dad died.
I was in my mid 40’s and my “God” had just died. It took me a year of seriously spiraling down into deep, deep depression, followed by two years of anti-depressants before I realized my dad was actually my “God”. He was God with skin on. He “carried the big stick” as I assumed God did. If I was taught Grace, I never heard it, never experienced it.
But after my dad died, I was able to “hear” God. It took quite a while. Although I was on anti-depressants, I was spiritually depressed. I actually began to “hear” God speaking to me. It’s difficult to explain, to put into words. The dark cloud lifted oh so gradually. It was not audible but I was gaining peace, contentment, comfort. Bible verses that I had memorized suddenly became real to me. I mean I “got” the meaning. In church, the words of hymns that, in my youth I had memorized the alto to, took on a whole new deal. The words, the WORDS were awesome and worshipful. I was communicating with God AND He was communicating with me! I remember clearly thinking that if I were on a desert island alone, that I would not be lonely because God was with me. I had always had the head-knowledge but I had missed the true relationship part. My focus had been directed wrongly.
A book I read during that time helped tremendously. It was by Charles Stanley and called The Source of My Strength.
I now know that God loves me unconditionally, He showers His Grace upon me. I believe.
HE declared me born again.
Finally real Grace revealed!
I have never lost that confidence and belief. This was more than 20 years ago – without my dad, without antidepressants.
Life isn’t a cakewalk. But I’m not alone.