I grew up with some knowledge about God and Jesus and Heaven. I have a vague memory of attending a Christian class in the Lutheran Church across the street from my high school (yes, Bible classes were taught in public high schools back then.) My family knew about God, but we had no relationship with God. My young teenage years were filled with abuse and rejection. Details are not necessary, but I remember sitting on my bed under my window one night, staring at the stars, weeping with a deep ache in my heart. I asked God if He really existed to deliver me from my situation. I did not think about Him much anymore, and little did I know that I was on His mind.
I was on His mind...
I graduated from high school and left home quickly and met my future husband, Skip. He knew even less about God, but it didn’t matter to me. He was wild and adventurous and I loved him as much as my teenage heart could love. We were two wounded young people, hoping that the love that we so deeply desired would be fulfilled in each other.
Fast forward several years to 1976. We had been married for four years. We were clueless about God and childless. We did not get the clueless part yet, but the childless part was evident. As clearly as if it were yesterday, I recall sitting on my little back porch in our Maryland apartment and weeping again with the same aching in my heart that I had as a young teenager. I asked God again if He existed and if He did, would He give us a child. We had exhausted all of our means and I desperately wanted a child to love. Little did I know that I was pregnant at that very moment.
Our firstborn son arrived in March 1977. Although I was filled with excitement, I had continuous lurking thoughts about death, either his or ours. If he died, how could I live with the pain? What would happen to him if he died? Worse, if we died, who would take care of him? Or if my husband died, who would take care of us? Or if I died, how would my husband take care of him? What if God would take him away from us as a punishment for our sins. Once again, I asked God if He existed. I called the church where we were married and asked them what would happen to Mike if he died. I don’t recall the details that followed, but I remember that we took Mike and had him “sprinkled” and dedicated to the Lord. We had no idea what that meant except that the preacher assured us that if he died, he would go to Heaven. We felt better, but forgot about God again until a few years later.
God heard my cries
We had bought our first home and I was preparing for Easter. I love to cook and entertain, so every occasion to do so was fun for me, especially in my new home. We celebrated Easter with an Easter egg hunt and a ham dinner. I had a Bible, which was a “sacred ornament” in our home and it laid on the coffee table. I kept it dusted and wouldn’t allow anyone to put anything on top of it. Sometimes, I’d pick it up and read it, but only on special occasions, so this was one of those times. I had no idea where to read, so I would just open to a passage. On this day, I opened the Bible to this passage:
New International Version (NIV)
7 And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.8 You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
I quickly closed the Bible and started thinking about what I just read…I must not eat pig. I was going to have a ham for Easter in a few days. I began to wonder if I ate the pig if God would hold me accountable and then something awful would happen to me. Fear and confusion began to rise in me again. I talked to Skip about it and he said that he did not understand but suggested that I call Judy. She was one of our new neighbors who had talked about her church and invited us a few times, but we had not yet accepted her invitation. She had a daughter and Mike and her were playmates. So I called Judy and explained my dilemma. She giggled and told me not to worry. Then she asked me if I would like a visit from her pastor. I said that I would like that.
I’m not 100% sure, but I think that it was the very next day when Pastor Sam came to talk to Skip and I. The quick response from a stranger immediately spoke to my heart. He did not even know us and he traveled 45 minutes to sit in our home and talk to us about our pig situation. He could have just called on the phone or sent a brochure, right?
He lovingly explained that the restriction that I had read was applicable to the Jewish people way back then. It was okay for us to eat our ham for dinner. God would not punish us. Phew, were we relieved. We enjoyed dinner, but this time, someone pursued us with the love of God. Pastor Sam came back to our house several times and shared the glorious good news of Jesus Christ and began to teach us about God. We began attending Church. Then, my heart was ready and in May 1979, one week prior to our 5th wedding anniversary, I went to Church, accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and was immersed in Christian baptism. I’ll never forget the moment that I was saved and I’ll never forget standing up in front of the Church confessing, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and that He died for my sins…” Confession with the mouth is an important to element of salvation. I’ll always remember how I felt: loved, forgiven and pure before God. But, Skip did not come forward with me that day. He was still unsure that this was the real deal.
We had made new friends in church. One young couple was especially zealous for God and took us under their wings; Kenny and Barb. We had shared several meals with them at their home, as they fed us physically and spiritually. Their love for God was contagious. What precious memories we have of our beginning days as new believers. Kenny and Skip decided to go fishing. Kenny was persistent with Skip concerning his salvation. While fishing, they were talking about God sitting in the boat because they weren’t catching any fish. But, then neither was anyone else on the river. So Skip, being the skeptic that he was, decided to put God to the test. Silently, he asked God, “If you are for real and this is real, then let us catch fish”.
It's not Skip and Kenny, but you get the idea.
God knows what stirs each person’s heart toward Him. He answered Skip’s prayer and Kenny and Skip began to catch fish and catch fish and catch fish. They filled their cooler. And just so that Skip could not mistake his “luck” with God’s answer to his request, no one around them was catching any fish! Skip knew God had answered his prayer. The next Sunday, on our 5th wedding anniversary (by the way, five is the number of grace), Skip came forward and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and was immersed in Christian baptism.
That’s how God pursued and caught us. Now we were both born into the family of God and life took on new meaning. The incredible fellowship and love shown to us by the family of God in that Church nurtured us. God even sent another Earl (Skip’s real name) and Georgia (what are the odds?) with whom we developed an eternal friendship. We will be eternally grateful for Pastor Sam (who has since gone home to his reward) and our new church family. Little did we know how much we would need them in the years to follow.