Writer’s Note: I was one who had always spent her life living on the surface, surrounded by a host of family members and friends that I wouldn’t let go past my first couple of layers—my safety barrier, of sorts. And, while that’s sad, it isn’t near as heartbreaking realizing you’ve done the same thing with God. Sure, I had been saved. I was baptized at age 12 and then as an adult in college I had prayed the prayer of salvation. But, that’s where it stopped. I invited God in, but then I didn’t really doing anything else with Him. Instead of letting Him be my Father, I was treating Him more like an acquaintance, perhaps a distant relative; somebody I might seek out on special occasions or think about in passing. I just didn’t fully get it. I was still living for me. In recent years, however—and most especially within the past decade—I finally began getting what it means to have a relationship with God. A true relationship. Not just the bare minimum I need to get into Heaven. Not just a bunch of religion and rules, but instead a true and honest relationship with the God of our universe, my maker, my father, my friend. And, once I had a taste, I just couldn’t get enough. I just wanted to go deeper and deeper. It’s like being in love. I’m so full of joy and things that worried me before, all of a sudden hold no power over me. Sure, I still had problems. Still do. In fact, for the longest, my life didn’t change a bit externally. But, inside, I was completely changed. And I knew that, with faith, the external would eventually change as well. This is an entry from my personal God Journal’s and today, once again, I invite you into my personal journey as I truly began to walk with My Father; the beginning of a love story that just keeps getting better. I hope that today you are enjoying your own love story with Him. There is no better story that will ever be written. Amen and Ehmen!
God, the day I was baptized, I invited you into my heart, but, unfortunately, that’s about as far as it went. I was only 12 and was really following the lead of my friends and family that had gone before. Of course, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as they led me to you. It’s just that I didn’t truly get what it meant to be saved and baptized in your name, and though I had found you, I didn’t know what to do next and certainly didn’t know how to follow you. I guess you could say you were just an acquaintance I had made.
Then, when I got to college, my roommate—the daughter of a preacher—shared with me at a time when my mind and heart were more in tune, more open to you. This time, I went to a park where you and I could be alone. I sat under a tree and I earnestly prayed the prayer of salvation. And, in an instant, I felt transformed. I could feel the change inside and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that you had given me the gift of eternal life.
Yet, even with this wonderful gift knowingly in my grasp, I still didn’t truly get what it meant to have you living inside of me. The gift remained wrapped. To my credit, instead of treating you like a mere acquaintance this time, I began treating you more like a guest—someone that I would invite to hang out with me from time to time. For years, decades even, I continued—out of sheer ignorance—to live for myself; to be as independent as possible and take care of everything all by myself and to invite you back only in times of desperation.
And, though I forced you into living in the background, the very shadows of my heart, still you remained steadfast and stayed with me. Regardless of how I treated you and despite my ignorance and stubbornness, you continued to shape me and bless me. Still, you called me your child. Still, you protected me. Still, your love and grace remained unfailing, unending, unconditional and absolutely unparalleled.
I just absolutely didn’t realize it—until a few years ago.
Shortly after the heart-wrenching devastation of Sept. 11, 2001, I began to realize that not only had I been holding you back in my own life, I wasn’t properly introducing my child to you either. I was keeping the greatest blessing you had ever given me away from you and I became compelled to do something about it. We began visiting churches, but much to my dismay, they didn’t feel all that welcoming and they reminded me of my childhood church that just seemed so riddled with hypocrisy that once I was old enough to choose, I chose no. I didn’t yet understand that the church wasn’t a building or that simply attending wouldn’t make me a good Christian. I didn’t yet understand that not all people that go to church are faithful servants; that many of them are just playing church and were just as confused and lost as me; that it wasn’t necessarily hypocrisy they exhibited, but the same ignorance and stubbornness I had been carrying for years. I also didn’t really get that a pastor couldn’t just dip me in some water or wave a magic wand and make me a good Christian. His or her job was really just to be a teacher, a shepherd that could lead me in the right direction, but it was totally up to me to actually get into your word and begin developing a one-on-one relationship. I didn’t yet realize that it was people just like me that are to be the church—your church.
So my search for a church home continued. In looking for something a little different from my southern Baptist upbringing, I tried Episcopal, Lutheran, and even non-denominational, but none felt right. Then, one day, just driving into town, I saw a billboard. On that billboard was a toddler sitting in front of the biggest bowl of English peas that I had ever seen with the slogan of “Now that you don’t have to.” Man, it was like that billboard was designed just for me as growing up I had spent hours upon hours sitting in front of bowls of English peas just like that…just staring at them and hoping they would disappear. Well, actually, as I got older, I came up with some tricks like raking them back in the bowl when everyone left the room. I had tried putting them in the trash, but got busted. And, I’d tried slipping them to the dog who, unfortunately, didn’t like them either. I could indeed relate to the kid on this billboard.
Now, don’t be mistaken, even though it was then my choice, I still chose not to do those little round green peas. But, I was intrigued enough with this billboard to try the church it advertised. The church was Harvest United Methodist and from the moment I first stepped into the Ramada Inn where it was meeting, I knew I was home. It just felt right. The people were welcoming, the message was relevant and not threatening to a still new, unformed Christian. And, the congregation was diverse, something important to me. That was almost eight years ago. (In 2015, it will be 13 years)
Today, all of those things still hold true, but I’m no longer a new, unformed Christian. And, God, you are no longer a mere acquaintance or part-time guest in my life; you are now a permanent resident, the sole landlord of my heart.
Thank you for sticking by me and for giving Billie and I such a wonderful church home. Amen and Ehmen!