Before I go any further, God has impressed on my heart that I need to share with you what qualifies me to talk about Him, His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His love and His Son, Jesus. It’s nothing I have done. There’s really no good in me. It is what He has done for me and my heart being receptive to His invitation for abundant life, which is only found through belief in Jesus.
So, let’s start at the beginning. I grew up going to church. Probably from the time I was two weeks old, my parents took me to church. I grew up with flannel graphs. I loved the way teachers could display the story. I loved the visuals. It just made it real. I found it easy to memorize scripture, stories and songs.
When I was 9 and going to VBS all of my friends were going forward for baptism. I followed. I knew and answered all the questions about becoming a Christian appropriately. I even went through a six-week class to make sure that you were sure. I’d already adopted the idea of pretending to be something you’re not just to fit in. I couldn’t just sit the sidelines and watch my friends get baptized. I would be the black sheep. The only one who didn’t. Only I didn’t. I just pretended I did.
The sad reality was that I did know exactly how to become a Christian. I did know all the answers, all the scriptures, all the great stories. I had fantastic head knowledge. I just lacked the heart knowledge. God’s word had not penetrated or permeated my heart, only my head. There is a substantial difference. Head knowledge doesn’t lead to a clear sense of repentance. Head knowledge is still all about me wand what I want. Heart knowledge changes you from the inside out. It convicts and draws us out of our sinfulness and into the abundant life Jesus has for us. John 10:10 tells us, “The thief (devil) comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I Jesus) come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.
At nine years of age, I was baptized but I was not saved. I knew I wasn’t saved because I saw how my other friends, and even my sister had life changing experiences. I saw how their behaviors changed. I was the same. Nothing changed, if anything I was more bitter and angry, not less.
I plodded on through elementary school, junior high and high school without ever allowing the love of Jesus to change my heart. On the outside, smiles and laughter abounded. On the inside was constant turmoil and poor choices. Poor choices that lead me down some very dark highways in life. Choices that still haunt and taunt me today, when I allow my mind to wander and the evil one to remind me of my past.
All the while God pursued me. He sent special people into my life to lead, guide and direct me. While these people knew I was flailing, they didn’t grow weary of telling me how much Jesus loved me. In fact, it was more their actions towards me than their words. I still wouldn’t bend or break. My heart was hard. It was stone cold. I liked it that way. I didn’t have to feel hurt or at least pretend it didn’t exist. Oh, I could talk the talk but I didn’t walk the walk.
Heck, I even convinced, we’ll maybe not, Ned that I had prayed diligently over my decision to get married at 19 1/2 years old. He seemed satisfied with my reply but he still didn’t agree with my decision. While the decision itself, as I have told you before, was more because I was in love with the idea of marriage more than I loved the person I married. I had lofty notions or what marriage would be….oh boy, was I ever shocked! But God used this decision magnificently to pursue my heart and bring me into a right relationship with Him.
It mostly began once we moved to Bremerton, Washington after a year of marriage. I was five months pregnant when we moved. So in addition to a major move in our first year of marriage by the year and a half mark, we would also be welcoming a new baby. For someone who doesn’t adapt well at change, change was being thrust on all sides. Not to mention the reason for our move was decommissioning of a submarine and a crazy, challenging work schedule for my husband at the time. It was 24 hours on 24 hours off.
Anyway, I discovered I was lonely and isolated because he didn’t want to live in base housing. So we lived in an apartment about 20 minutes away. I had to make my own way. The first Saturday I was there, he was working until Sunday evening and I decided I would go to church. I had rarely attended church while we were in Charleston. It just felt like the best thing for me to do. The only problem was I really didn’t know my way around. I got out a map and the phone book. It just so happened that the first church that piqued my interest happened to be within 10 miles of our house. I decided it best to know where I was going and how far away I was. Luckily, it only took about 12 minutes. As I rolled upon the little white church, it reminded be of the old country churches. Like the ones where if the walls could talk would tell you great stories of faith. The deep seeded faith. The kind of faith that moves you. I found myself excited for the next day.
For the first time, in as long as I could remember, I got up with an enthusiastic and optimistic attitude about going to this church. I don’t know what I was expecting, I just knew I was excited. Since I was going somewhere new by myself, I dared not get there too early. I walked in just a couple of minutes before the welcome and announcements. The place was filled with joy. I had never seen such joy on the faces of people. I couldn’t put my finger on it then but I know now, it was the joy of the Lord. As the praise team began, there she was, Sherra. I watched intently as she sang. Her voice clear and beautiful but there was more, her countenance. It wasn’t the fake or performance oriented smile, it was real and genuine. Sweet. Tender Her brown eyes glowed as she sang. I was captivated by her. She wasn’t the only one. I just knew that we were close in age and there was something about her that I wanted and I wanted to get to know.
After the service, she sought me out and introduced herself. I am not sure how long we talked that day but long enough to find we had a lot of common ground. She, too, was a military wife. Her husband was a Marine. We exchanged numbers and became fast friends.
I learned quickly the specialness of that little church was the joy that filled the hearts of the people. It was place where grace was given in abundance. A place where folks cared for the needs of others. A place of hope and freedom. It was there that God really began speaking to my hard heart. I allowed him to soften a few calluses. However, I wasn’t ready to make a full commitment. I still wanted to do my own thing, my own way. It was still more about me.
The ten months I spent in Bremerton were some of the best and worst of my entire life. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.
We returned to North Carolina. He went to New York for ELT school, I stayed behind. My parents had started going to Hendersonville First Baptist Church. I started going with them. God continued to pursue my heart. I met couple after couple that inspired me. Again, I saw how joyful they were. How real and authentic they were. It was captivating.
In 1991, I found myself at a real crossroads, now I had two boys 21 months apart and my marriage was falling apart. Oddly, I was emotionally sound, except the occasional feelings of not being able to care for the boys. I was now living in Hendersonville and very involved at FBC. God was continuing to pursue my heart. Then, on that spring day in 1992, we had a guest Pastor, Mark Corts. He talked about how so often we get Christianity wrong. Often we actually are baptized before we ever really believe in Christ. He said, “Now is the time to get it right. Repent. Believe. Be baptized.
The invitation was offered. My heart beating out of my chest as I stepped forward but for once in my life I didn’t care what people thought. I knew that Jesus had changed my heart. He had pursued me. I wasn’t even worthy of the pursuit. Yet, He loved me and in that moment, that’s all that mattered. I’d spent 13 years doing it my way. It wasn’t working well for me.
I wish I could tell you that everything in my life changed and everything got better. It didn’t and that’s not reality. In fact, for a period of time, things got worse. My husband no longer wanted to be married. I was asked to leave the youth ministry until my divorce was finalized. I was misunderstood and abandoned by some friends. However, God was working in all these things. Did I question my decision? Sure. I question a lot of things. I just knew I wasn’t going back to what I was. I liked the new me better.
This story is important for me to tell you because I am never certain what God will ask me to share. What I need you to understand is that from brith until I was 22 years old, my life was my own. I did some vile things. I hurt people along the way. I was hurt along the way. So, as stories of my past are shared, I was not the same person I am now. That’s what’s really important for you to understand. Also, you need to know that I am not perfect and I still do things and have attitudes and actions that are not always pleasing to the Lord. And this is how I know my heart is changed because, I like when I was younger, my conscious bothers me and God’s love for me compels me to get rid of things that are not pleasing to Him.
The main reason I wanted to share this with you is because maybe you’re like me. Maybe you were baptized before you really gave your heart and life to Jesus. If so, get it right. Do it in order. It’s truly one of the most humbling and awesome decisions you’ll ever make.
In closing, I will leave you with the following quote from one of the wisest men I’ve known. He said this to me and his daughter, one of my dear friends, about a week before God called him home, “When it’s all about me, me is all I see.” Jim Lowry . Think about it. Most often “me” is the reason we can’t see the greatness and vastness of his love, nor can we see His relentless pursuit.