January 9, 2009

Personal Testimony

I know many people can cite the day and hour of their conversion to Christianity. I have always felt a bit jealous of them (not really, just wishing that my experience had been that transformational). My conversion to Christianity did not happen that way. In fact, it really did not happen all at once. Only the Lord knows the truth. Only He knows the day and hour I first trusted Him for my eternal salvation. Sometimes I like to think about it and sometimes I even ask Him to help me remember the details -- it seems as if it was such a very long time ago, a lifetime ago.

In truth, it was. I am 46 years old as I write this testimony and just trying to think back on the details, makes my head swim. This is my testimony…in a nutshell.

The day I remember most fondly was a day like any other. I was eight, maybe nine and sitting alone in my bedroom. I was sad and crying. I felt alone. My family has recently moved from Bakersfield, California to Hazel Crest, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago). Everything I knew, loved, and accepted was left behind in California. I loved my school, my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Tapie, my bedroom, my best friend Kirk (a boy who lived down the street), my cat Tigger, and most of all my church. My life was self-contained and simple. School was a "known" thing to me. I knew how to walk to school, where to wait for my brothers after school, where to sit in the cafeteria, and how to avoid Mr. Franklin (the principal and his "paddle"). I loved my Brownie troop and my girlfriends. In all, I loved my life in Bakersfield.

Moving to Chicago had been traumatic for me. It was a long way away from California and it was so different. The people were different. My family had a hard time finding a church to attend so we stop going regularly. My dad worked long hours and was rarely home. My brothers became distant and difficult (we were always doing things together before the move). My newfound friends were different as well. My school was difficult. My teacher, Mrs. McCarrick was tough and not the loving figure of a Mrs. Tapie I had hoped. No, my new life was bittersweet and it was just not good.

My new best friends were twins. They lived across the street from me and they were the kind of girls you could not help but like. They made me laugh and they accepted me as a friend immediately. That is until one day, the day I ended up crying in my room. My friend Nancy, twin #2, casually asked why we did not attend "Mass" every Sunday. I did not know what Mass was and stammered around to find an answer. Her gaze grew steadier and she asked me "well, do you pray?" I said "Of course! I pray to Jesus every night." She said "what about the Rosary? Don't you have beads to pray to Mother Mary?" I was stunned. I did not know anything about being Catholic and in about 10 minutes, I received the full low-down, including the fact that I was destined for Hell and headed there far quicker than my little eight or 9-year-old mind could conceive. Furthermore, there was some mention of purgatory and the fact that unless someone prays to save my useless soul, I was doomed to spend "maybe a million years or something" waiting around and hoping to get out.

I left her house in shame. I was lost. I was going to Hell and there was nothing I could do about it. It had something to do with my parents not being Catholic and I being born a sinner. I just could not really remember much, other than the fact that my prayers to Jesus were not quite right and I needed to say the "right one." I came home and could not find my mother. I needed to ask someone desperately for advice, but no one was there. I was in need of some very wise counsel, you know, the kind to soothe a saddened countenance. When all else failed, I remember that my mother had the most wonderful little porcelain statue in her bedroom. I used to love to hold it and gaze at its shiny and beautiful surface. It was shaped like a Bible and had the Lord's Prayer printed in beautiful gold lettering (fancy cursive). I ran into her room and carefully picked it up and carried it back into my room. I closed my door and sat by my bed. I remember thinking…"if I only memorized this prayer, then I would have one to share with Nancy. Maybe then I would be OK." I sat next to my bed and recited the Lord's Prayer over and over again. I must have said it one hundred times, enough to cement it into my memory. After I was confident I could recite it from memory, I sat there and suddenly a thought popped into my head. "What if God really didn't hear my prayer? What if Nancy was right and I was going to purgatory for all my sins and would have to wait around for someone to "pray me out?" I just could not take it anymore so at that moment, in my little lamb's heart, I prayed something like this:

Dear God…are you really there? Do you really hear me when I pray to you at night? Are you really listening to me? I hope you are. I really need to know that you are there and that I am not going to go to Hell. Please help me know that you are real and that you are there? Please….

Okay, so not the best "sinner's prayer," but keep in mind the point of this testimony. I was eight or nine, I cannot recall, but I recognized two very important doctrinal issues: 1) Does God really exist and 2) Does He really care about mankind, enough to listen to the prayers of an 8 year old?

That day, my life changed. I cannot explain it really, other than to say I became a royal nuisance to my family. I confronted my mother in the laundry room a few days latter and demanded that we "attend church every Sunday" from now on. I begged for my own Bible, one that I could read and learn from (just so I would be prepared for more 4th grade theological inquiries). My mother was taken aback, but later that evening (when I was supposed to be in bed), I heard a conversation between her and my dad. The next Sunday, we were in church. The following birthday, I got my Red-Letter King James Bible.

Zoom forward several years. I wish I could say that the fervent love I felt in my heart for God remained a steady and consistent glow, but the teen years brought temptation and some falling away. Thankfully, the Lord kept me in His hand and cared for me during these difficult times. At 12, I gave my life to Jesus (while at Bible Camp); at 16, I rededicated my life to Him and promised Him that I would live a life worthy of His great sacrifice; at 19, I was baptized.

The Lord's love and gracious hand have been upon my life since I was a child. He covered me in the shelter of His mighty wings and protected me from harm. He made my way straight and my path smooth. He provided good friends, solid Bible teaching, and excellent leader examples for me to model my life and witness after. My life has been rich, full, and wonderfully blessed. Over the years, there have been times of ebbing and flowing. There have been times of backsliding and sinning. There even have been times when I thought I was lost, never to be found again. Yet, through it all, the Lord remained my constant companion, my daily provision, my protector and my friend.

In recent years, I have taken a step further and have made the choice to place God at the center of my life. In retrospect, this is something I should have done a long time ago. I am sure there are many God-fearing Christians out there who can understand exactly what I am saying…for all intents and purposes…I was a Godly woman, living and serving the Lord with gladness, raising my child in the "fear and admonition of the Lord," faithfully attending a Bible teaching/Bible preaching church. I just was not in love with the Lord -- or rather -- He just was not the focus of my entire life. He was a part of my life. He was there when I needed Him, but I was not always there when He needed me. I know…you may be saying…"does God really need you?" Oh my yes, dear brother or sister in Christ - He most certainly does. He died for you. He saved you and more than anything else, He desires to spend time with you.

This past year has been a time of tremendous growth for me. I have gone from being the model Christian on the outside, to being a Christian, modeled after Christ, on the inside. My life is no longer my own. My will is His will. My life is His life. My dreams, my desires, my aspirations…they are all His. I am not my own and my life belongs to Him. What He says goes…what He asks…I obey.

My life is, in short, deliciously, decidedly, and dedicatedly devoted to Him. My Lord. My Savior. My Master. My King.

Carol Hepburn

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

Carol, this is a beautiful testimony.

Thank you for sharing it with us...with me.