“God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.” Psalm 18:24 (The Message)
Easter is this weekend. We celebrate the climactic point in our salvation story. Jesus conquered death. He arose victorious and what we do with THAT story, defines who we are. To believe, or not believe is undoubtedly the most important decision you will make.
But how we come to that decision is unique, germinating and growing in completely different ways. Some will burst forth with lightning and transformative power. Some filled with doubt and struggle. Others gradual, slow-moving but no less defining.
I enjoy listening to faith stories. No two are ever alike, reflecting the limitless resources and ways of the One who created them. To honor this Easter’s eve, I dare share the humble beginnings of how my faith began. I say dare because it’s a simple child’s story and writing it down feels vulnerable. It is only the beginning, not the whole story by a long shot, merely the few drops of water sprinkled on a seed of faith that cracked open to reveal life and by grace has continued to grow over the course of my life. All those years ago, I was unaware of the implications of the draw of Christ, the life altering course if offered. It is in remembering that its true gift becomes apparent and it is in memory that we realize how far we have traveled.
The gift of faith in God began for me in the third grade. My family went to church every week. I sat in Sunday School listening to stories told by sweet Miss Betty Lynn. We prayed before meals. It was stuff my parents led me to do. I went where they went and bowed my head when directed. I sang “Jesus Loves Me” in Bible class and “Just As I Am” in big church. They were works that simply laid a foundation for a relationship. I was clueless, really about how it all worked.
At some point though, God gets into your business and wants you to know Him personally. This is true whether you are an adult or a child. For me, the third grade brought some pivotal changes. My Grandpa Ivan was killed in a truck accident, I got golden wire-framed tear drop glasses, and a bully began to torment me. For an eight year old, who hadn’t gone through much up to this point in life, these events combined to create a turbulent season. Actually, it was perfect ground for growing a faith decision.
To begin with, I felt ugly and unusual because of the glasses. My grandfather’s death provided all sorts of weird and irrational thoughts and emotions. But it was the blond bully’s presence in daily life that caused me the most internal struggle that year.
Her name was Angela and she was big and strong and had long curly blond hair. She liked the boy I liked. Her dad could beat up my dad, or so she threatened if I didn’t come over to her house to play. Although mild perhaps by today’s standards, the whispered, hissing “four eyes” taunts and soft back of the arm pinches and furtive hair pulls were terrifying. It’s no wonder I learned how to lie in bed when I woke up in the morning and physically become nauseous. I became a pro at “not feeling good” to get out of going to school. It didn’t work as frequently as I wanted, but enough to cause my mother concern, although I don’t remember talking honestly about my fears of this girl. Shame and anxiety were such big and isolating emotions, describing them verbally would have been like climbing Mt. Everest.
Remember the school playgrounds of our childhood, before litigation and good sense built new ones? The 30 foot high, skin melting metal slides and the merry-go-rounds that caused vomiting at least once every recess period. Remember monkey bars? The low point of that year came the day the blond bully fell off the top of the monkey bars splitting her chin wide open on the skin chewing asphalt below. I was in the bathroom and came out of the school to see a hushed circle of classmates surrounding the teacher and a crying, bleeding blonde. My snarky self (yes, she was birthed young) grinned and smirked. But only on the inside. Teacher asked her how it happened and without hesitation a stubby finger pointed at me and cried, “Kelli pushed me!”
What? I wasn’t even remotely grinning on the inside anymore. Terror washed over.
Overwhelmed and almost paralyzed with the irrational fear of a child, I remember crying in my parent’s bathroom. I cried out my first original prayer to God. A prayer that begged God to blast away that blond girl from the face of the earth. As my heart seized and I whispered those words, something else simultaneously echoed familiar in my brain. Jesus’s words, highlighted in red said, “Love your enemies.” I’m pretty sure it was a phrase I’d circled in one of Betty Lynn’s word search or color pages.
So for some weird, inexplicable reason I began to pray for her and not against. I asked God to forgive her. Somehow. I look back and know God preserved that specific memory for a reason. I don’t remember the exact words, but I do not doubt my heart. It was my first personally recognized gift from Him, to have the ability to pray that prayer. Even that small act of obedience is now recognized as a gift of grace. I remember having the thought that it wasn’t me praying, but God in me encouraging me to love this mean, hurtful child.
This small, simple encounter with God occurred toward the end of that school year and with glee and rip-roaring joy, summer vacation began. Thoughts of school faded and days at the swimming pool and trips to Oklahoma took precedence over fear and anxiety. When August approached and school supplies were being bought, the familiar burn in my stomach returned. I dreaded the 4th grade with everything in me. I loved school. I did not love the bully with blond curls.
And then, the day before school was to start, my best friend casually mentioned that oh, yeah, Angela had moved over the summer. Excuse, me?
That was the day my faith in God was birthed, the seed watered and began to grow toward the one who heard me. I knew in the deepest part of my now 9-year-old soul that God heard my prayer and answered me, and in a way I wasn’t even able to dream about. I was light-headed at her words as the reality sunk in. Weak with gratitude, I knew from that day on, unbelief was not even an option.
It’s a simple child’s story, but it is how God chose to call me to begin life with Him. I am thankful he preserved those memories and that I have had the grace, in retrospect, to name it for what it is. As spring unfolds this year, recall the story of your faith genesis. Let yourself not forget the story that started with a small seed of belief. Share your story with others and to God be the Glory!
1 Peter 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!”