I didn’t grow up in a Christian home in deep south Georgia. A religious one, yes, where we went faithfully to the Methodist church with the red bricks and tall, white columns every Sunday morning. My father served as an usher, too. But I was never taught by my parents or my grandparents about a relationship with Jesus Christ. I first heard about Jesus from my Sunday School teacher, Fred DeLoach. Yes, I remember his name and his face. 🙂
I remember how shocked I was the day he told me in class that I could be assured of going to heaven by having faith in Jesus. I’d never heard of this before from anyone. Mr. DeLoach’s face was radiant with light and joy when he told me this, and I knew that he believed what he was saying. His strong, peaceful faith in something and Someone so certain made me hungry and curious.
That tiny seed planted into my heart grew and I joined a weekly, early morning Bible study to learn more about God. One woman began crying one morning, saying how impressed and touched she was that I, just a preteen, was there.
I began praying early in the morning at home, too. The enemy would whisper lies in my ear; suddenly, these thoughts intruded my mind as I read the Bible and prayed: Jesus wasn’t historically real and isn’t the Son of God; his life is just a story in a book. At that tender age, I didn’t realize that I was being assaulted, in my search for God, with spiritual warfare.
In the Methodist Church I was “sprinkled” when I was around 12 years old, although I didn’t really understand what it was all about. I remember when the pastor came to visit me at our house prior to my “baptism” at the church, and he asked if I had a Bible.
Is your Bible collecting dust?
I turned to my mother and asked, “Do we have a Bible?” Mama’s face turned red, she exclaimed, “Of course, we do, Beth!” (with her thick southern drawl, she pronounced my name “Be-yeth!”), and she hastily got out an oversized, dusty Bible inside a dining room buffet drawer that I had never seen before.
The pastor, to his credit, didn’t say anything. Mama was embarrassed. Yet mama was the one who made sure all of her kids were up and ready for church each week and were baptized before her death (I was 18 when she died).
After my baptism, my mom requested a Christmas gift from my dad, one that was controversial because of its modern translation, The New Living Translation Bible, which I did see mama read sometimes. I remember opening it and reading the first few chapters of Genesis, and being shocked that Genesis 4:1 said, “Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant.” WHAT? Sex was in the Bible?! 🙂 At that time, I didn’t understand that sex between a married man and woman was God’s idea in the first place.
I have a vague memory of the pastor talking to me about baptism. Even after he shared some scriptures with me, I didn’t understand what it really meant, only that apparently baptism was a serious thing. All I knew is that people went forward to the altar to have water poured on their heads, and it was special and I wanted whatever it was!
Several Sundays later, in a pretty, crisp, new dress and shiny patent shoes, kneeling on the maroon-red, velvet altar cushion with other congregants, I bowed my head reverently when it was my turn and the pastor in the long black robe approached me.
My heart was pounding so hard with excitement and fear. The only thing that stands out in that memory is that I felt the cold water on my hair and then drop on my bare, white leg. The ceremony seemed unremarkable to my parents. They never really talked about it with me.
To be really baptized, you have to go under water!
(I don’t believe this, but some churches have this doctrine – or they say you have to be baptized only “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe God sees the heart!”)
Years later, after I married my first husband Steve, I was baptized in the Baptist church at his encouragement. This is where he and his entire family had been baptized and he said I needed to be “really baptized.” This time was even more special. I was “immersed” under water. His pastor talked to me about salvation before the big event.
The seal of the Holy Spirit
For some reason, I was baptized alone with the pastor, Steve, my family and his, and a few others present at the night service. Maybe they didn’t have a line of people that week. I was shaking with excitement and the cold of the pool water.
When I came up out of the water, I truly felt different. I sensed the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit inside of me and all around me. I had been sealed with Him. But I had no one to teach me who He was; Steve was still very young in faith.
Now I know these things:
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT
“The truth is the Good News. When you heard the truth, you put your trust in Christ. Then God marked you by giving you His Holy Spirit as a promise. The Holy Spirit was given to us as a promise that we will receive everything God has for us. God’s Spirit will be with us until God finishes His work of making us complete. God does this to show His shining-greatness.” ~ Ephesians 1:13-14, NLV
I believe that I was saved at this time at 18 years old, receiving Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. But it was not until years later, when I hit rock bottom in my 30’s, that I allowed Him to remove self from the throne of my heart for Jesus to reign there instead. I let Jesus take the wheel.
My spiritual journey is long and complicated. I have been in and “tried on,” like so many beautiful, but not-my-size-or-style clothes at Kohl’s or Target’s, almost every kind of church there is…always searching for authentic love and the meaning and purpose of life.
This soul-searching included converting to Roman Catholicism in my early 20’s and raising my daughter Heather Roman Catholic. Although she intently disliked parochial school (the teachers were strict, the nun principle was a holy terror, and Heather was ostracized by other students for “living on the wrong side of town” as the daughter of a single, struggling, poor mother), it was important to me to raise my child and have her education faith-centered.
For me, the Catholic Church was a a safe haven, a place where I sought Jesus again after living rebelliously against God for years. While I’m not a “practicing” Catholic now, it always uplifts my heart to go into a Catholic Church, genuflect, and pray, as well as to attend mass and take the Eucharist, the living bread of Christ.
There is something so comforting that brings peace to my heart to say in unison with the congregants, “Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
I believe that Catholics understand the holiness and reverence of God more than other Christians. Nondenominational churches, charismatics and Pentecostals understand the filling and the power of the Holy Spirit, but too often they view God as their “buddy.” God is not your bud; HE IS A HOLY, RIGHTEOUS GOD AND KING!
I believe each stream of the Christian faith has something beautiful, powerful and truthful. Baptists are people of the Word of God. Methodists are incredible missionaries and evangelists.
Charismatics and Pentecostals understand the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today and didn’t die out with Jesus and the disciples.
The Catholics and the Lutherans understand the reverence of God and that ritual often has rich symbolism and meaning.
We are all one Body and there is one Head, Christ.
But we don’t find salvation or God in a church building (although God’s people have His love inside them). We find unconditional, agape love in the person of Jesus Christ. Eventually, when I found myself in the mire of my own sin hitting rock bottom in my early 30’s, I came face to face with Christ – my realization of how sinful my heart was and of my great need for salvation, healing, and deliverance.
I will share more about this in my upcoming book: Promises In The Dark: One Woman’s Search for Authentic Love Through Abuse, Abortion, and Adultery.
(Stay tuned about the news and if you’re not on my personal mailing list, sign up with your name and email address at the top of the page on the right hand side. You’ll be first to hear about its release!)
God broke me. I repented and rededicated my life to Christ.
Since then, my relationship with Jesus has grown more intimate each day. I was the first person saved in my family of origin. I prayed for years for my sister Maria’s salvation, weeping over her after I would talk to her on the phone long distance, when she was stoned out of her mind on drugs and alcohol. I was so afraid she would die – and then go to hell.
Today she is a wonderful, loving, God-fearing woman – the mother of 3 precious, beautiful children, in the last semester of college pursuing her master’s degree in psychology. She has a heart filled with love and mercy, and she inspires me!
The limitless, lavish love of God
I’ve screwed up a lot throughout my life. Broken every one of the 10 commandments. Have many regrets and wish I could have a “do-over” from God for so many things. I used to party, slept around, had 3 abortions. But I thank God for His mercy and grace on my life!!!
I’ve tasted the riches of His limitless and lavish love, love and forgiveness I certainly haven’t deserved. I should have died and been burning in hell a long time ago! (And yes, hell is very real – but God doesn’t want you to go there!)
Oh dear friend, God is so good! He loves you so deeply and He will forgive you of any sin if you just come to Him and ask Him! ANY sin!
It’s not about church. It’s not about do’s and don’t’s. It’s about a relationship with Jesus. A divine exchange that blows your mind – His sinless, rich, abundant life for your life stricken with the poverty of sin. Your sins for His forgiveness and pardon.
Not religion. But knowing God.
Do you know Him? Have you asked God to forgive you and received Christ as your savior? If not, you can pray right now!
I’ve been very real with our kids about my black past. They know what I’ve done wrong in my life and maybe because of that, they don’t respect me very much. And every day I still fall. Will I never learn? Sometimes my sanctification – my clay becoming “a vessel for honorable use” (Romans 9:21, NASB) – seems impossible.
Yes, I often have meltdowns losing my temper with Ray, who can push my buttons faster than you can say Are-you-on-your-period-again . I become annoyed when Ray or Leah “interrupt” my work (God told me once my family is NOT an interruption, but a blessing!).
I love to eat Mexican and other food too much (gluttony) and am addicted to coke (cola, not cocaine, but I tried that once, too)! People sometimes get on my last nerves. I feel envious and jealous of other successful people sometimes. Oh, I’m so, so, SO far from perfect and have such a long way to go being molded into the image of Jesus!
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” ~ Romans 12:2, The Message
But my kids also know that today I live passionately for Christ and want to help them avoid making the same mistakes I did.
Even when I’m speaking the truth to them in love (and it makes them mad!), they know my faith in Jesus is real and that I simply want God’s best for them. I want them to fulfill the great calling and purpose God has for their lives, glorifying Jesus! And don’t do all the dumb things I did!
I’ve raised our 3 daughters “in the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NLT). I encourage our daughters Heather and Eden to raise their children, our precious grandchildren Annabelle, Violet and Jacob, to do the same.
I desire to leave a Godly legacy to our children and grandchildren and generations to come.
What about you? What kind of legacy will you leave behind?
I loved this blog post What Will Be Your Legacy by Wendy Blight. I pray it blesses, encourages and inspires you as much as it did me.