I was not "raised in church" like many of my friends were. Oh, I had been a time or two. I remember I was about 9 or 10 when Lonoke First Baptist planted a church in our then rural community. That summer Butch, Barbie, and I went to Vacation Bible School. I liked that. I was fresh soil and a seed had been planted.
I've wondered sometimes what life would have been like if I had just kept going to church after VBS that year but for some reason, I didn't. I went back once as a teenager but I had smoked a joint on the way to service. I shudder at the thought now...sitting in a pew stoned, tight lipped as the minister of music lead the congregation in songs I'd never heard. Blankly staring as the preacher talked about a God I didn't know. Trying to look "straight" as people came up to me after the service to shake hands and welcome me. I couldn't get out of there fast enough...but my heart, no matter how fuzzy my brain was, had been stirred and secretly I wanted to know that love they sang about in the last song: Just As I Am.
Now I am sure psychologists could give a long list of reasons why I felt like I didn't quite fit in my peer group at school, why I felt like nothing mattered... like I didn't matter. Worthless, unlovable, unlikeable, untalented, stupid... that's who I thought I was but all I ever wanted was to be someone different...someone special.
Three months after what I thought was the best birthday date ever, I sat in my bedroom, seventeen... shattered and broken hearted... an unwed, pregnant teenage girl. So I ran 600 miles. I was an adult now no matter how young I was I was going to do this and do it my way. It did not take me long to identify the "party crowd" as I attended my last year of high school.
My great-grandfather, Pappa, had been one of those fire and brimstone Baptist preachers and lived in a nursing home not too far from my great-aunt, with whom I was now living. I loved going in there and seeing him... listening to stories from his life... listening to him talk about God and Jesus. One of the conditions of living with my aunt was that I had to go to church on Sunday mornings if I was not working and because I was pregnant I had to wear her old wedding rings.
I liked it... I especially remember the young adults class... college and careers people a little older than me... none unmarried and pregnant... The Kings were the teachers and we did lots of things outside church services...they loved me just as I was and I didn't need to wear fake wedding rings for that acceptance. In that short time those seeds of love were planted deep! I looked forward to those classes and outings while running wild in the world. Unfortunately, my great aunt did not like the wild part and I had to move in with my mother's brother and his wife...abruptly cutting church out of my life. My son, Richard, was named after Richard King, the leader of that group.
As you can probably guess by now...I wasn't really doing this life thing on my own. I moved from relative to relative messing up at every turn and when my baby was two weeks old I did the only thing I knew...moved back home. I took my GED test and got a job making minimum wage so I could at least pay for baby food, clothes, and diapers. Six months later I married an old boyfriend. That marriage lasted about ten minutes and before the summer was over I was back home again. Jobless, skill-less, single mother... just another statistic.
I took a job in a factory making $4.10 an hour because it came with insurance and maybe, just maybe I could get my own place. I started hanging out with some people from work...drinking, smoking grass [I think it's called weed now] and taking pills...but nobody invited me to church. I ended up married again to my supervisor...which not only cost me my job but my freedom. He was the devil in disguise and what ensued was five years of pure brutal hell...
"What will you look back on when you are in my place?" A simple question from a dieing sister who talked of getting her life right with God. Another seed planted...probably her last. After hearing my son tell a friend to hide in the closet because if his daddy killed his mom...then he'd have to kill them too... I crawled out of that marriage weighing in at 95 pounds, scarred and more broken than ever straight to my mom and dads. This time I was determined to do things right. I joined the military and attended college where I made straight A's. I'm not sure if I was trying to prove it to myself or to my parents that I could get control of this life and make them proud...maybe a little of both.
During my time in the Navy Reserves I would run into these three people year after year. I roomed with Jan who was ranked well above me, her brother...get this a PASTOR, and the youth director from their church...all sailors...just like me! Two weeks every year with evenings spent talking about God, Jesus, salvation...listening to their testimonies and stories of how God was on the move in their church. Watering and fertilizing the hard ground of my heart...tilling the soil... digging up all the seeds planted before them and adding a few more just for good measure.
I didn't date for quite a while. The thought of just going out with someone made me physically ill. I focused on getting my life right and making sure my little boy had a respectable mother and making sure he knew he was well loved. Then I met Jimmy. He was my sister's friend. I stood him up three times. He was not like the other guys and I guess I was afraid. He phoned one Thursday to ask me out again but before I could get to the telephone Richard had asked him to take us to the rodeo. Our lives were on a collision course with Jesus, Himself after that first date.
You see, Jimmy, was a Christian and he went to church every Sunday. We'd been dating about a month when he asked us to go with him the first time. I thought attending was a condition of our dating but I was not going to be one of those at-church-every-time-the-door-was-open-sisters and I agreed to go to the Sunday morning preaching only. Oh but God had a different plan, the final stages were in progress and I didn't even know it.
After several months it seemed every song sung that morning went straight to my heart and the preacher was talking to me just like there was no one else there. I can remember crying and praying as the words please don't pass me by were quietly being sung. I couldn't get to that alter fast enough...I was not going to be passed by any longer!
Jimmy and I were married the following June, Richard was saved, and nine months after we said, "I do." God allowed us to adopt Jacob. A testimony in its own right and one that may be posted at some point in the future.
My life has never been the same...since Jesus came into my heart. God began a work in me that I pray ends only when I see Him face-to-face. Through my relationship with Him I experienced the unconditional love I had been seeking my entire life, I found the ability to forgive not only an abusive ex-husband but myself as well. He has planted in me a love for the lost and hurting and His Word pours out of my soul like tears from the eyes.
I share with you this long, drawn out story...not so you will know me better, know where I came from, know what difference God has made in my life, for surely you all have your own testimony. I tell you this so that you can see that as I traveled the road of my life God had planters posted at strategic points. These people could have brushed past me because of what I looked like on the outside but they did not. They heeded His call, they obeyed His Word, and embarked upon His mission to bring all into the Kingdom of God. They not only changed my life but the lives of others.
While Richard was working to get his minister's license he preached a couple of times in a small community church. Being the supportive parents we are, we would drive the 45 miles and sit in the third or fourth row. One Sunday morning that abusive ex-husband of mine, his wife and his three daughters slipped into the pew in front of us... It was a beginning. He passed away suddenly this summer one day at work, but back in the spring...he had accepted Jesus as his personal savior. Oh the difference one life makes when it has been washed in the blood.
I was on a business trip a few years ago and I ran into Jan, that woman from the Navy, in the concourse at LAX...we ran across to meet each other... as I got closer all I could say was, "I got saved, I got saved...thank you, thank you, thank you!"
I ask you this...are you planting seeds with unwavering faith or are you simply passing by dry ground because the soil does not look fertile enough?