I grew up going to a little country Missionary Baptist church, singing “The Old Rugged Cross“ and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” with all the men echoing words like “when the roll” in deep baritones. I took the “walk down the aisle” when I was 12, quite possibly because everyone was expecting me to. Every Sunday there was an altar call, and every Sunday, I felt the eyes of the congregation on me. OK, that could have been my imagination. But I really never felt that my life changed. I certainly walked away from the Lord during college and for many years after that.
When my older son was 4, a few days before Christmas 1995, he asked if we could go to church on Christmas Eve. That was so totally God speaking through him because we had never attended church on Christmas Eve! So we did, and my husband and I started talking about going back to church (he had attended a Catholic church until Jr. High) “for the kids.”
The Spring of 1996, a mother of my son’s friend at pre-school invited me to attend a women’s Bible Study. For a few short weeks, I watched a woman sing worship songs with eyes closed, hands raised, and the most amazing look on her face. Although I didn’t use the word “joy” in everyday language, I knew that was what I was seeing on her face. And I desired that. I watched her, with longing in my heart, to know that feeling, to experience whatever it was that she was experiencing. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
Then the week before Easter of 1996, that same woman was the speaker. She spoke of what Christ went through the last week of His life – the abuse and scourging, what crucifixion REALLY was, and WHY He went through it, etc. She told us how much Jesus loved us. Although I had obviously heard that growing up, that message was usually overshadowed by fiery preaching, that in my recollection, told me what a horrible sinner I was and that I was going to HELL if I didn’t shape up.
But this radiant woman was so PASSIONATE, emotional, and full of love. Her words blew me away. I was a wreck, and I realized for the first time that He did that for ME! That He loved ME! And I wasn’t the same anymore.