Monday, March 12, 2007

My Testimony

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

Psalm 139:7-14

God has always been there for me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know His presence or feel the tug of His spirit on my conscience. If I had to give a two second testimony about my spiritual growth it would be ‘slow and steady she goes.’ I am an observer. God has put in me the ability to sit back and watch His work unfold around me. To some it may appear as laziness but I rest in the fact that God has put eyes in the Body as well as hands and feet.

Both of my parents are believers and they both come from believing families. I had a great childhood. My dad was a policeman and my mom was a nurse. I was a tomboy with one older brother. We were a very normal, middle class, nuclear family. Growing up our church was about two hours away in the bay area, in Richmond, where my dad grew up and his parents lived. The Meeting of the Plymouth Brethren; the service was somber and the music was a cappella psalms and hymns. The sermon was an hour long theological discussion among the elders and the overall mood was that of reverence. Women were not permitted to speak or pray out loud during the service or play a roll in any leadership position. I remember my mom often complaining that it was rather like going to a funeral, but, I don’t know…I kind of liked it. As one who does not care to bare all or cry in front of people or clap my hands and shout hallelujah, The Meeting suited my spiritual needs just fine. I will take logic and theology over emotion any day. I also enjoyed that God was the focus of worship and not my Sunday morning entertainment, and without accompaniment to the songs I was able to fall in love with the poetry and depth of meaning in hymns.

Since The Meeting was so far away and we only went about every six weeks, we also occasionally attended a Baptist church in our hometown. However, I don’t remember much about going there. When I was eight I responded to an alter call during a revival meeting and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I know that at that time I was already a child of God and looking back I realize that at that point I was separating my faith from that of my parents and claiming it as my own.

When I was ten we moved. We tried a few churches in the area but didn’t call any home. The Meeting was where we continued to attend as often as we could. When I was twelve I was baptized by an elder of The Plymouth Brethren. It was not an earth-shattering occasion for me. I didn’t come up out of the water beaming with light as I had expected, but I was glad I had made that proclamation of faith not only to others but to myself.

Having an older brother who walked on the wild side gave me the opportunity to get all my experimentation out of the way while I was in junior high. Seeing what smoking, drugs, and alcohol did to my brother was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. Besides, the temporary fix did nothing for me in comparison to the grace I felt when I took my sins and concerns to Christ. That being said, during junior high my walk reached a plateau. For the next four years I attended youth groups like Campus Life and Airborne on a pretty regular basis but still with no local church home to speak of my growth as a believer in Christ was minimal. I had grown complacent and lazy in my spiritual walk. God was never absent from my life but I had begun to try and walk beside Him instead of following His lead.

Then my junior year in high school my family started attending New Covenant Baptist Church. It felt good to have a local church body to worship with and again my spirituality blossomed. I remember partaking in the Lord’s Supper for the first time, not having done so before because of The Meetings strict guidelines regarding the sacrament. I remember examining myself and feeling guilty, yet relieved for Christ’s death on the cross. I found a new understanding of what He had done for me and an overwhelming feeling of debt and gratitude. For about two years I could not contain my tears while taking communion. Over time my guilt and sorrow grew into and praise and reverence.

In college I started attending a Bible Study lead by Bill Jackson. The group was about a quarter of the way through a study of the life of Christ at the time I joined them. In hindsight, I see that God placed me in that study to keep me grounded and my spiritual life in tact. I was attending College full time and held a full time job at McDonalds. The friends that I hung out with the most were not Christians (although they had believing parents) but they were not troublemakers either. I could not get them to come to Bible study or church with me however, I felt the Lord (and their parents) wanted me to be close with them.

I graduated college with an AA in Liberal arts but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it. At the time I worked at Luckys and Blockbuster, neither of which I wanted to make a lifelong career of. I had many interests but nothing I wanted to go to school for because I was tired of school. Adding to my confusion was the fact that all my close friends had moved away. I had lots of acquaintances from church and Bible Study but my packed schedule of the last three years had kept me from starting any close relationships. I was lonely and frustrated not only for lack of close friends but a lack of companionship, too. I had been praying for the right guy to come into my life for a long time. However, God saw fit to make Himself the only man in my life through high school and college.

It’s not like I didn’t have crushes or a desire to have a boyfriend. It just never happened. All of my friends had boyfriends and companions through out the years and to tell you the truth I sort of felt left out. It sounds silly now, but I can remember at twenty years old thinking I was going to be alone forever. During this time I prayed that I would surrender every part of my life to God in a way that I never had before. I prayed to God that He would not just be a part of my life but that He would be my life. I prayed that He would fill the void I had from isolating myself from others, and that if it was His will that I be single the rest of my life then His companionship would be enough for me. The words of Fraces Havergal’s hymn became my fervent prayer: Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. That seemed to be the prayer God was waiting to hear from me.

About a week later God sent me my knight in shining armor. I didn’t see it that way at first, but that is another story. My Love and I had our first date on May 25th 1997 and eleven months later on April 4th, 1998, we were married. It was pouring on the day of our outdoor wedding at The Biblical Gardens, but God was faithful to show us that He was in control by parting the clouds and bathing us in sunbeams during the ceremony. It was very surreal.

My relationship with God blossomed once again under the spiritual leadership of my husband. We grew together through the Monday Night Bible study and through the ministry of Family Radio. Together we fell in love with the doctrines of grace and were exposed to the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Our first year of marriage probably represents more spiritual growth in my life than everything I had learned up until that point. We came under new convictions almost on a daily basis and became more and more conservative in our faith.
New Covenant Baptist was not a conservative church and we began to feel uncomfortable attending there. We longed for a traditional, conservative service with expository teaching and after visiting a few congregations we ended up at Cedar Ridge Baptist on our one year anniversary which also happened to be an Easter Sunday. The focus of the sermon was Ephesians chapter two. It was music to our ears to hear a pastor preach of sin and redemption straight from God’s word. Within a year we became members, My Love was made a deacon and we were asked to teach the junior high Sunday school class and assist the youth pastor.

My time at Cedar ridge was a tremendous time of growth and conviction. The Holy Spirit convinced me that I was being selfish with my life and my husband and I was convicted to stop taking birth control. This was a huge step of faith for me because, even though I always knew that I would have kids, I didn’t really want to give up my independence. The words “take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise” rang through my heart. Three months later I was pregnant only to find out that at eight weeks I was going to miscarry. I was devastated. My Love and I read James 1:2-4 many times over and found peace in knowing that God was perfecting His work in us.

Five months later I found out that I was going to have another miscarriage. This miscarriage was the first real trial of my faith. Never before had I felt so distant from God, however it didn’t take long for me to see that God was using these pregnancies to show me what a blessing children can be and how much He was going to entrust me with by making me a parent. He used them to change my heart from not wanting to give up my independence to having a strong desire to take on whatever challenges He would send.

When I became pregnant for the third time God put other distractions before us that didn’t leave time for worry. As My Love and I continued to study and grow it became apparent that our beliefs did not align with those of Cedar Ridge any longer. When we made this known to the elders we were asked to step down from all leadership positions which at the time felt like we were being persecuted for our faith by our church family. Even though our hearts were broken, we continued to fellowship with Cedar Ridge until K was born. Shortly after, it became obvious that we would not be able to sit under the teachings that we disagreed with so much. We left Cedar Ridge and began attending Covenant Reform Church.

Although we found Covenant Reform Church a little dogmatic we loved the traditional service and thrived under the expository sermons. We would probably still be there today if it wasn’t for the fact that they hold to infant baptism and we do not. I praise the Lord that He gave us another option by forming Crossway Fellowship.

The trials that come with having four young children seem to cause more character building than spiritual growth. However, it does cause me to remember on a daily basis that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has brought me back to the basics through my attempts to teach my children about Him and each day I am reminded of his love for me and the faithfulness He has shown me.

Since coming under the teachings of the reform faith one of my favorite verses has become Lamentations 3:26. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. Although I received my salvation before I could remember I quietly wait to see how the Lord will continue to guide me in the working out of my Salvation through my marriage and my children.

By His Grace