As I think about sharing my faith journey, an old hymn I grew-up sing in church comes to mind. The chorus starts, “This is my story, this is my song.” I grew-up in the Lutheran Church, as did my parents. So, Lutheran theology is ingrained in me and helped to shape who I am. Here are some snapshots of my faith journey.
My mother played the organ in the church she grew-up in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania, and many years in the church I grew-up in a small town in Mississippi. She was also the choir director at times, sometimes at the same time as being the organist. So, music has always been a part of my life. My father grew-up in the same small church as my mother, but a few years apart – he is 11 years older than my mother. My parents were active in the church in Mississippi, serving on various committees through the years. My father was a charter member of the church. I was the last infant baptized in the old shoe store the church meet in, before moving to church building the congregation built.
The pastor of the church I grew-up in left a lasting impact on me. He truly lived as we are called to live as Christians. He never hesitated to help someone in need. His involvement with the youth of the church was like no other. He developed relationships and encouraged our growth in our relationships with God. I remember one night when I had to go to a church meeting with my parents. The discussion of attire came up. I will never forget what Pastor said, “I don’t care if they wear pajamas to church! The important part is that they come to church!” This statement has stayed with me all these years. God doesn’t care what we wear, what color is our hair, if we have piercings and tattoos, what God cares about is our relationship with Him.
In the Lutheran Church, infants are baptized, then when a child is about 13 years old they start Confirmation. Some churches have teens attend Confirmation classes for two years and some three years. I had three years of Confirmation, which included studying scripture, Lutheran Theology, and the organization of the church. During my studies there were some scriptures that have stuck with me and helped to share my values. Here are two of those scriptures:
1 Corinthians 6: 19-20, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” This verse was why I never participated in many activities of high school and college students, such as trying drugs, smoking, going to drinking parties, premarital sex, or other activities that would go against God’s commandments.
John 8: 7, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Because we are human, we all sin. This verse and story in John, has always resonated with me that only God has the right to judge. We need to support each other and help each other not sin, instead of tear each other down.
While Confirmation is considered a “rite of passage” in the Lutheran church, and a time when teens are now considered adult voting members of the congregation, it is really so much more. A time to publicly profess one’s faith in God and that Jesus Christ is our Savior. On Reformation Sunday, as my class stood before the church congregation and professed our faith in God, some of those in my Confirmation class just went through the motions, but for those of us who truly understood what we were doing it was a moving experience.
While in college, I struggled to find a Lutheran church I connected with, so I attended church with my friends. When I was in college in Pennsylvania, I would go to the Catholic Church, then when I transferred to a school in Georgia I went to the Baptist Student Union with friends. I would read my Bible and Lutheran Book of Worship on my own, but I longed to worship with others. By attending different churches, I developed an understanding of how we are all connected through Our Savior Jesus Christ.
When I was 18 years old, I meet the man who would be the father of my children and my first husband. Something you need to know about me is I always look for the good in people. During our 4-year relationship, I didn’t realize how he was just saying all the right things without truly believing. He would go to church with me, but I don’t think he really understood about having a relationship with Christ. I can look back now and see the things that were wrong with our relationship, but in the moments, I didn’t see the lies. Once I graduated from college, we got married. I believe in the sanctity of marriage, so over the years I compromised thinking, “This is what you do in a marriage. Compromise and put the other first.” This was a major error. I should have been putting God first and talking to Him about this man. I compromised so much, I lost myself – but not my faith.
Throughout 20 + years of marriage, I endured much that conflicted with my faith. During the end of the marriage, I was working on reconnecting and deepening my faith. I had even started seminary and was seeking a Masters of Divinity to work in Children and Family Ministries. When I got back from being in St. Paul, MN for two weeks at Luther Seminary, I was presented with a letter asking for a divorce. I didn’t see this coming. Throughout the long process, my faith was tested. I confess I had moments that I felt like God was forsaking me, even though I knew in my heart He was strengthening me to endure everything that was happening and what was to come.
I confess that during my divorce and the year after it was final, I wandered trying to find myself. I put my daughter’s first and tried to maintain a sense of “normalcy” for them. We attended church and participated in church activities when my work schedule allowed. I remember standing in church one Sunday saying the Lord’s Prayer and it hit me. How could I ask for forgiveness if I couldn’t forgive my ex? This was a Holy Spirit moment for me. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting, it is a willingness to let go of what was keeping me from my relationship with Jesus. I felt like a weight had been lifted and I had a new hope.
October 2012, Confirmation Day for my oldest daughter. This was a true test for me, in many ways. I was proud of my daughter and how she was growing in her faith. This was the child who at 3 years-of-age looked at me with all seriousness and said, “Mommy, I don’t want Jesus to love me.” I was shocked, to say the least, and asked her why. She responded, “Because I don’t want Him to die.” Wow! She got it at three! Before the service started, the pastor asked the congregation to give a round of applause to the newly married couple – my ex and his new wife, the woman whom he had an affair. The congregation was a bit surprised, not many knew about the divorce. For me, this day was about my daughter.
A part of the service involves the Confirmation teachers, parents, and other family laying hands on the Confirmand and give them a blessing. When it came time for my daughter to knee for her blessing, her teacher was in the middle, my parents, her younger sister, and I were on one side, and her father and his new wife were on the other side. Another part of the service was for the Confirmands to give a speech about what this day meant to them. Many talked about being an adult member of the church, but my daughter was the only one to say, “This deepened my relationship with God.” Again, she got it. After the service, many came up to me to give their condolences about the divorce and to ask how I could stand up there with him and his wife. I told them this was my daughter’s day with God. I knew what I was experiencing was nothing like what Jesus experienced on my behalf.
When the divorce happened, I had to get a job. I started working at a friend’s restaurant, and worked my way up to assistant manager. It hit me one day, “I’m working all these hours and how am I changing the world?” This was God working on me again. The Holy Spirit was calling me to do something else – return to God’s plan for me. After some prayer and discussion with a friend and my girls, I felt God was calling me to go back to school to be a teacher. My thoughts were, “Really? How will I do this and provide for my girls?” As always, God provided a way. I enrolled in Johnson University’s Master of Education, Post-Bachelorette program. I went to classes on Saturdays and at night. April 2014, I graduated with my degree. God had a new plan for me.
After a few years, I started to see my girls growing up and I began to feel like something was missing. I confess it took some long conversations with God to have the strength to start dating again. I had gone on a few dates and went out with a man, who like my ex wasn’t a true Christian. So, I when I signed up for Match.com I told God that I would trust Him, and if I was to meet someone He would guide the meeting. As always, God had a plan.
June 30, 2018, I married a wonderful God-fearing man who loves me and supports me like no one ever has in my life. We serve together at church and he serves because he wants to, not because I ask him to serve. We encourage each other in our walks with Christ, and are in a small group to be encouraged as a couple. We pray together as a couple and as a family. I will never forget the first time we said, “I love you,” to each other. We had a long in-depth conversation about what those three words meant to each of us. While some will think it was nerdy, for us it was God revealing to us what was to come.
As we began discussing marriage, I began having the feeling of being baptized again as a renewal of my faith and body. I struggled with this for a bit because being baptized as an infant, I didn’t understand the need to be baptized again. I couldn’t shake the feeling of the need to be baptized. When I decided this is what I needed to do, I talked with one of our pastors – the one that had baptized my husband – about what Sunday would work. So, one Sunday at church my soon-to-be-husband and one of our pastors, baptized me in the front of our new church home. Some of my Lutheran friends would question why I felt the need to be re-baptized, but for me and my relationship with God it was what I needed to do.
I know this is a long post, but I am over a century old and my faith journey started at a young age. I hope this glimpse at my walk with God can help you see that no matter what – God is always with us. All we have to do is reach out for Him. When I tried to do things on my own, everything fell apart. I am where I am today because I trust God and talk to Him daily. A relationship with God isn’t easy when you are bombarded with the noise of the world, but I can tell you it is well worth the effort.