I’m spending a little time sharing my testimony on my blog right now. It is a 4 part series. This is the second installment if you want to start at the beginning click here. In the first installment, I give a background on what my home life was like spiritually for the first 12 years of my life.
I am not entirely sure why, but I had it in my head that 12 was quite practically a grown-up and I was old enough to start making some more serious decisions about my life. Amoung my arbitrary decisions, one of the ones I love to laugh at now is that I could use a knife to cut my own food. It is a good thing I made that decision because my mom started dating the man that would later become my stepfather and I was frequently on my own for dinner during this season.
My big decision was that I wanted to be a Christian. At that time to me, that meant that I got to own my own bible and I could go to the church at the end of the street we lived on by myself if my mom wasn’t willing to go with me. I had been longing to go to church since the Christian family had lived next to us, but my mom had always refused to take me. Now I was old enough to take myself. I was strong-willed and persuasive so my mom gave into me rather than argue most of the time.
I had my mom take me to Target so I could buy a dress, I hated them and didn’t own any dresses, but I was 99% sure you had to wear a dress to go to church. After Target we went to the Hastings bookstore next to it and I picked out a bible of my very own that I could buy with my allowance money. I picked out a pale pink Precious Moments illustrated New King James bible. I sat in the car on the drive home and held it in my hands like it was precious jewels. I was so excited to have a bible of my very own.
My mom was struggling with all of this. I could tell she had something she wanted to say but she held it in until we got home. She snatched the bible out of my hands as soon as we walked in the door. This naturally made me furious and I jumped to my temper and demanded she give it back to me - it was purchased with my money, not hers and she couldn’t take it from me or claim that it was hers. She held it back and focused her stern glare at me, clearly not happy with my outburst and said: “I’ll give it back to you, but you have to promise me you won't read it on your own.”
I crossed my arms over my chest sizing her up getting ready to stage an all-out battle over this one.
“You don’t understand what is written in this book and you can’t read it unless you understand it. If you read it and you don’t understand it, the devil will come in and twist it all up on your brain and you will worship him and not God. I won't have a devil worshipper in my house! You can take it to church and read from it only to follow along with what the pastor is preaching on.”
Despite the fact that I had decided I was grown up I really wasn’t and her words scared me. I promised I would only read it to follow along with the pastor and she handed me the book back. It was suddenly scary to have it in my hands and had lost much of its magic.
This event, as scary as it was, I think ended up being a good thing in some ways. I was opened up to the idea that things could be twisted and truth could somehow become not the truth anymore. From that day on all of my prayers than had a special call-out at the very beginning “Dear God, I want only to worship you, the real God, please help me not to be confused and to only follow you.”
The first Sunday I attended the church at the end of our street I snuck in and sat in the back row and bolted as soon as the service was over. I was so excited and yet so terribly terrified at the same time. A few more weeks of this and I gained my confidence and began moving up closer and closer to the front. If you haven’t gotten it yet, I was fairly self-assured as a little kid, and with familiarity and repetition, I very quickly felt at home and like I belonged in that church.
After a month I stood happily listening to the adults talk and mingle after service and I smiled and nodded as if I really belonged there and had any clue what anyone was really talking about. I agreed to pray for people and things I knew nothing about because it was what the adults were doing. I can only laugh at how odd I must have seemed to them but no one ever questioned me. They thought I was the child of someone who attended the church, which I later found out.
Things started to get more serious with the man my mom was dating and he had been an elder at his church, before his divorce. He wanted his girlfriend to be Christian as well and attend church. He hadn’t found a new church since he had been ousted from the previous one so I boldly suggested they attend church with me. This man was about 20 years older than my mom who had me later in life, he belonged in my grandparents’ generation and was not used to a child, let alone a girl child, having her way or stating opinions so decidedly.
My mom convinced him eventually, though he certainly went into the arrangement with a chip on his shoulder, but when I was happy I wasn’t one to let anyone rain on my parade. I proudly marched them into the church with me one Sunday, I was so happy to show them off. This little peacock display in me probably exacerbated his frustration with the girl child who so decidedly always got her way.
At the close of the service, I moved over to the familiar group of people I typically listened in on and I boldly introduced my mom and her boyfriend. The scene plays over in my head now and my goodness how I wish I could throw water on the fire that fueled my boldness! My mom’s boyfriend was insulted by my introduction and chastised me for being so very impertinent in front of everyone. It really killed the mood.
Everyone noticed me for the first time and it dawned on all of them that I hadn’t belonged this whole time. At last one of the people broke the awkward silence and laughingly called out the awkwardness of the situation. “We didn’t realize you had been coming here by yourself all these weeks. We thought you belonged and were just the child of someone or other. If we had realized you had come without your parents…”
My mom cut her off before she could finish and took this comment as a critique of her parenting. She quickly made some reply defending herself and her parenting and allowing her child to go to a “so-called Christian church” by herself.
It got ugly very quickly. My mom insulted them, voices got raised, I checked out in the tension totally confused and wishing it would all end and wondering how it had gotten so wrong. Eventually, in that state, my mom yanked my arm and marched us out of the church. She sat in the front seat indignantly marveling at the nerve of a bunch of strangers to her boyfriend who marveled at my nerve of introduction and didn’t anyone know he had been an elder at his past church?
The next week I went back to the church naively thinking that all would be well if I went back without my mom and her boyfriend. They were going to attend the church where he and his ex-wife had attended. I walked in the front door and moved toward my favorite row, service was moments away from starting. Everyone was in their places to make the morning greeting and move into the song. The pastor spotted me and came down off the stage and walked right up to me and not too quietly said, “I don’t think you should be coming here anymore. It’s not right for a child to come to church without their parents or their parent's approval. You need to go home now.”
I was mortified. Everyone had turned to witness what had brought him down off the stage and people were looking at me and whispering to each other, no doubt about the previous week’s scene. I turned, held my head high though my lips were quivering, and marched out and went straight home. I got there just as my mom and her boyfriend were getting ready to leave and they “allowed” me tag along with them. I say it that way because my mom’s boyfriend really didn’t like me and I was never invited to spend time with them without some sort of talk about how I was a child and couldn’t expect to be included in adult things.
When I went to church with them that morning I knew full well that I wasn’t really wanted there and that my task was to keep my mouth shut and not speak unless I was directly spoken to. I wasn’t to partake in a general conversation if we were standing as a group talking as I had at the previous church. Seen but not heard doesn’t really describe it, because he would have preferred if I could be invisible and not even be seen - which were his words and not mine.
Needless to say after my first experience with church I was shy and not entirely confident or comfortable at church. I knew church was where you had to go to learn about God and I was desperately curious about God so I kept going and it eventually became a condition for my mom’s boyfriend that I attend church - as quietly and invisibly as possible, I think he thought that it would heal my bold and impertinent ways, little did he know I was the first wave of millennials and I was born to a different generation.
It was Easter of 1999 when I finally came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Yes, I had always been interested and curious about God, but Jesus had remained a mystery to me. I was told from the TV specials that he was born at Christmas, I was told he died on the cross, but the rest of it remained murky. Why did we care about him being born, why did he die for me on the cross?
After a year and a half of teaching, I finally understood that He was the Son of God and He died on the cross for me because He could, and that mattered because He didn’t have too. I was standing next to my mom and it was during worship, and as we were singing the words to the hymn it all the sudden made sense and the knots were at last untangled. Peace came over me and I knew for the first time that I truly believed Jesus was who He said He was, or at least who the preacher told me He said He was - I still wasn’t allowed to read the bible by myself and I was too scared of it to disobey.