Updated: Jun 6
My faith in Jesus began when I was small, attending Immanuel Lutheran Church in Los Altos, California, with my father, mother and older sister. In Sunday School, we sang “I’m In the Lord’s Army”, “The Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock”, and “I Will Make You Fishers of Men”. In big church, we sang hymns and the liturgy. We heard readings from the old and new Testaments, prayed the Lord’s Prayer and said the creeds. When I got old enough, I sat by myself in the front row on the pulpit side, where I could look straight up into Pastor Tambert’s face as he preached. I loved church.
On communion Sundays, I watched Mom and Dad line up along the side and kneel at the communion rail. Pastor Tambert and an assistant would move along the rail, their bodies leaning downward as they placed the bread and wine in waiting hands. That movement of bending, almost bowing, was very sweet in my eyes. At age seven, I was baptized. Then I also knelt at the rail and opened my hands to the body and blood of Jesus.
One winter evening, while waiting for my parents to pick me up after a church event, I wandered into the dark sanctuary. The eternal flame flickered in a red glass at the front of the church, casting a glow over the whole room. I stood for many minutes. I felt visited by God somehow. I didn’t want to leave.
My teenage years brought changes. I became extremely self-conscious and shy. I began to wrestle with questions about God and the meaning of life. The happy, bubbly girl I had been became moody and private. On my final exam in confirmation class, I muffed a question about the uniqueness of Christianity and Pastor Tambert wrote in the margins of my paper: “Christianity is the only religion of pardoned sin.” I lost sight of what I most needed.
My mom had been my pal for years – loving the outdoors, sharing walks, cook-outs, camping, biking. On one terrible day I flipped out over the stupidest thing – loading the dishwasher correctly. We argued and became strangers to each other. On that day, I was pierced with awareness of what sin meant. I had dedicated my life to the pursuit of peace and love (as any child of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s would do!) But now I knew that loving the world meant nothing if I couldn’t love my mother. I considered ending my life, but was terrified about hell. I shared my desperate thoughts with only one friend, and that only in the privacy of a large grassy field in the pouring rain.
In my junior year, a friend invited me to a musical called Natural High by Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael, put on by a large Baptist church. Some of the song lyrics were “Just to think of the cross moves me now, the nails in his hands, his bleeding brow, it should have been me, it should have been me . . instead I am free. I am free!” And when the chorus sang, “The moment of truth is here for you . . . He is the one who can get it all together, when your life is falling all apart,” I practically ran down the aisle to say “yes!” to Jesus, tears streaming down my cheeks.
Sometime later when I was again in despair about loving my mother, I fled to the side-yard and sobbed, sitting on the concrete pad between the garbage cans, my back against the garage wall. There, God visited me again. There was nothing tangible, but there was peace. I knew I was forgiven. I knew it was because of Jesus. And I felt love for my mother welling up inside me. I ran inside and hugged her.
When my sister came home from college as a fire-breathing born-again Christian, our parents and her friends were like deer in headlights. But I lapped it all up. Together, we began attending an independent church that taught Christian community as “body life”, and held in-depth evening classes on the Bible that inspired a life-long appetite for the Scriptures.
Thanks be to the God who visited me in my childhood, seeding and watering my faith in Jesus through the ministries of many faith traditions.
*This is the second in a series called Faith Beginnings.