When It All Changed (Repost)

(Author’s Note: August means school is right around the corner, and the kids start 4th grade and kindergarten in a few weeks.  Plus, I start a new job after Labor Day – will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post.  So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting ready for the new job. 

Have you ever been walking along through your life, happy in your own little bubble of comfort and familiarity, when all of a sudden – BAM – the bubble bursts, and you realize not everybody is like you?  Yep!  That’s exactly how I felt when I was 18 years old, and I stepped onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW).

The first 18 years of my life were fairly structured and sheltered.  I had a simple childhood.  Most of the people around me had grown up in a similar way.  Most of my friends were from middle-class, southern, Christian families, too.

My family went to church regularly, and I was saved sometime around 12-years-old.  To add to that, my parents were fairly strict, so I stayed out of trouble in high school.  I grew up in a small town anyway.  Everybody knew my parents and me, so it would have been challenging to get away with very much.  I was what you’d call a ‘good girl’, for the most part, but it wasn’t necessarily because I was convicted as a result of my relationship with God and wanted to bring Him glory.  It was mostly to avoid being grounded and having my car taken away. 🙂

But, when my parents cut me loose on the campus of UNCW in August of 1997, I took full advantage of the 150 miles between my hometown and the exciting new place to which I had moved.  I had my wild streak and made up for the lost time in high school.

(It is noteworthy to mention that, although they were a two-and-a-half-hours drive away from me, my parents and my upbringing still held pretty strong sway over much of my behavior.  I did what I wanted to an extent, but I still held it in check.  That distance didn’t mean they had no influence or power over me at all.  I didn’t want them to make me come home, so I took my rear end to class and made decent grades).

Although I got to exercise my freedom and experience some of the things my parents warned me about, the thing that was damaged most by my choices was my faith…and I didn’t even realize it was happening.

During my first semester as a college freshman, I took an elective called Introduction to Religion.  It was a survey of religion as a whole – more of a philosophical look at the institution of religion, if I remember correctly.  I have no idea why I took it though; I must have needed an elective, and it fit into my schedule.

I distinctly remember a lecture early in the semester when the teacher said that religion was man’s creation.  He explained that man-made religion was a way to answer life’s big questions: Why am I here?  How did I get here?  What happens when I die?

Those words stand out to me even now.  That was a pivotal moment for me.  I should have followed Paul’s warning to the Corinthian Christians in 2 Corinthians 10:5…”take captive every thought to obey Christ.”  But I didn’t do that. I highly doubt I even knew that was a thing.

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Instead, I remember thinking that my eyes were being opened.  I was excited!  I felt enlightened!  I felt as though I were figuring out some mystery all by myself.  This was an epiphany – an important revelation to which I was privy.  I thought, “Everyone is just trying to figure out life and make it in this world!  We just do it differently.”

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This enticed me further onto a path that I happily walked down.  I was willing.  I was discovering.  I was eager to uncover more of this new reality about which I was learning.  I didn’t see it at the time, but these patterns of thought were what led me to completely turn my back on Jesus and spend more than 10 years walking out on my own.  I thought I was liberated.  I thought I was so modern.  But I was heading toward a dangerous place, a place God doesn’t intend for His children to go.

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He’s a ‘Hold On To You’ Kind of God

Once you belong to God, He keeps you, even if you don’t want to be kept. I’m thankful He doesn’t let His children go. (I know somebody just said ‘amen’ to that)!

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I’m sure there were many ways God held on to me when I decided to walk out on my own, but one way was by keeping me in church. The whole time this mess was going on, I never stopped going to church. Weird, right? I really don’t even believe in Jesus at this point, but I am sitting in church!? I know. I know.

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On the surface, the thing that kept me in church was my parents. I knew they expected me to go, so I went. From the time I was 18 and moved out of my parents’ house, I found a church to attend in the difference places I lived. That was God keeping me. That wasn’t me. Now, I’m not saying that I went every Sunday, and I certainly wasn’t involved in the activities at the church like I was when I was young, but I still went. That’s one of the major things that kept me from totally going into oblivion. That, and God had a Christian husband in store for me, but I didn’t know that yet.

I’d known who Bill was since high school although we’d never spoken to each other that we can remember. But, we were in a group of friends who were hanging out while some of us were home on break over the Christmas holiday in 2000. Over those weeks of break, he and I met and started dating. That was 17 years ago, but God had Bill planned for me when He separated the dry land from the water and said it was good.

Bill grew up in a close-knit, Southern family just like I did. He was raised in church (the same church where his mom went as a girl with her family). He spent summer days running through the woods with his cousins, and he spent many a meal with his feet under the table at his grandmother’s house. It’s a little eerie how many similarities there are between his childhood and mine.

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Memmie’s house (Bill’s grandmother)

But all those similarities don’t negate the most important reason: Bill believes in Jesus. God knew that I would need a Christian husband to hold my hand and help lead me back to Him, so He sent me Bill.

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Bill and me – 2014

Bill and I met in December 2000. We got engaged in July 2003 and were married in June 2004. During the 3 years of our courtship, I don’t recall telling him a lot about my worldview although we did talk about it a few times before and after we got married. More recently, he told me those conversations scared him and that he prayed that I’d go back to my faith for the sake of our family.

Thankfully, God was working in my life to reconcile me to Himself.

It took a while.

He let me walk out on my own for a long time.

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In Psalms 81:11-12, God says, “But My people did not listen to My voice: and Israel did not obey Me. So, I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices.”

This verse makes me shiver; it is as if God were speaking specifically about me here because this is exactly what He let me do. He gave me over because that was what I wanted. He knew His child well enough to know that I had to learn the hard way, so to speak.

I was going to have to walk away to get back to Him.

In a recent Bible study, I heard Elizabeth Poplin explain why God gives His children over to their own devices. She said, “That’s what God does. We think we’ll get freedom out there, so we leave and taste it, but it doesn’t free us. He does. So we go back. We have some of the world in us when we come back. He will clean us up”.

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And He’s kept us the whole time. He’s just waiting for us to get our fill of whatever it was we thought we wanted more than Him. He’s been watching. He’s been working. He’s been waiting – like the father in the famous parable of the prodigal son. God waited for me to look His way, and as soon as I did, He came running!

 

Hallelujah!

Please share your stories of how God held you!

A Simple Southern Childhood

My parents told me that one of the first places they took me as an infant was church.  We went to the church my mom had attended her whole life.  It is within walking distance of the house where I grew up and where my parents still live.

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My parents’ house in Lilesville

Most of the people who attended church there were related to me in some way.  Even those that weren’t blood-related were close family friends.  My mom’s mom, my mom’s brothers and sisters, and all her nieces and nephews went there as well.

Sunday lunches were either at church or at my grandmother’s house with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  You should have seen all that food!  If it was summer, much of it was fresh from the garden my grandma had at her house.  (We were eating clean before clean eating was a food trend.  “Farm to table” was our way of life).

That garden was big – about one-third of an acre at its largest – and I worked in it every summer I can remember well into my 20s.  Even after I got married and moved too far away to work it, there was a garden.  Two summers ago was the first summer in all my years that there wasn’t a garden.  The space is covered over in grass now, and frankly, it still looks weird.  But, my grandmother, who will be 90 in a few days, said she believed it was time to be done.

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Butter beans (first picture) and corn (this picture) grown in the garden my sister and I planted at her house several years ago.  We never got much food, but it was kinda fun to have our own garden, and we actually missed all the time spent in the garden when we were girls.  I think it made us feel a little closer to our mom and our grandmother to have our own garden.

Why am I telling you this?  I want you to know me.  I want you to get a feel for who I am and where I “came from,” so to speak.  You’ve got to know my life to see God in it.

So, this was my childhood.  My parents raised my younger sister and me in the house where they still live.  We went to church.  We worked in the garden.  We played with our cousins.  We went to school.  It was a simple life.  My parents loved us.  They supported us.  They taught us right from wrong.  They took us to church when we were young and expected us to continue to go when we were older.

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Photo Credit Pinterest

In my world, most everyone was like me: grew up in the same place where their parents had grown up, lived with extended family nearby, went to church… just simple, Southern lives.  I saw other stuff on TV and in movies, but most of the people I was exposed to in the first 18 years of my life were more similar to me than different.  And this was my happy little bubble for quite some time.

What was your childhood like?  Did you live in the same place for most of your childhood like I did or did you move around?  Did you live near close family?  Did you grow up in church?  Please share, if you like.