My Story with God - Some Moments
When I was about four, wedged between bags of groceries in the back of a 1957 Morris Minor, God talked to me. He said, through the haze of my parents’ omnipresent cigarette smoke, “You’re Mine.”
The voice was inside my head. Slightly puzzled, I responded: “Okay.” Even though I had very little notion Who I was speaking to.
This moment shaped my life.
Years later, my grandfather gave me a King James Bible for my eighth birthday. I started in Genesis, and read a chapter a day, even if it was begats. No wonder I bogged down in Isaiah. But this gift, too, shaped my life.
I figured the voice I’d heard had something to do with church, so I wanted to go. My dad, being a good sport, drove me, in one of those Volvos that resemble an inflated VW bug, out to a little country church every Sunday, and sat in the parking lot reading The New York Times until I emerged.
My theology, ages eight through twelve, could be summed up: “try harder.” The church encouraged memorizing an alphabet of Bible verses, so I did. (I still remember some - I’ve illustrated the “C” and “L” verses here.) I would go to sleep trying to thank God for every glass in our kitchen, thinking I’d impress Him with my gratitude. (We had jelly glasses with Flintstones characters on them. I was especially thankful for those.)
I don’t remember knowing much about Jesus.
But I was scared of hell. It bothered me when the “S” fell off the sign that towered above the Route 46 SHELL station. And, after reading the chapter about hell in The Swiss Family Robinson, I put the book down on a table and wouldn’t touch it until we moved, two years later.
We moved from New Jersey to sunny Arizona, a family cross-country trip in a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda – silver with a red racing stripe. I took this as an open door to invent a new me. I meant to change my name to “Maribeth” but forgot on the first day of school. I did change my quiet personality, making the effort to smile a lot and chat a lot.
My thought life in the years of middle and high school was a self-absorbed fog revolving around clothes, boys, and grades. God only made the list as a celestial party-pooper, to be avoided like that page in The Swiss Family Robinson.
Until New Year’s Eve, 1973.
I was home from college on a Christmas break. A boy I’d long had a crush on came over, driving his 1954 Studebaker. In the course of the evening, I made some flippant remark about Jesus, and he responded, through tears, talking about how He had been crucified. And eight years of avoiding God fell away. I sent the guy home and got down on my knees in my parents’ bathroom. The prayer, as I remember, went: “God, this doesn’t sound like much fun, and I’d planned to do it when I was eighty – but here’s my life. It’s Yours.”
God honored that paltry prayer. The next day, my mom’s friend, Doris Fabrizio, happened to drop by. She hadn’t talked to Mommy in years, but she stopped by that day to talk about God’s goodness. And I knew this had been done for me.
Back at college, I took a Bible class, got involved in a Bible ministry, married a smart, fun guy in that ministry, did a missionary year in Washington, D.C., for that ministry, went to work at the ministry base in Ohio, drawing illustrations for ministry material.
The Bible ministry accounts for fifteen years of my life. What I recall fondly are the friends and the sense of community. I remain thankful that, as a group, we took the Bible Seriously, with a capital Serious. We did word studies; we studied Greek and Aramaic and Hebrew, and, as a group, aced every seminary Bible test on the market. On my shelf today sits a King James in which I marked every New Testament preposition, in Greek letters. So there.
I learned a lot about God, but I didn’t particularly get to know Him. That happened after leaving the ministry, and realizing that the rest of God’s people had had some good points, all along. My theology became one of seeking.
And then, this:
I was driving home from Virginia in a teal blue Chrysler minivan, after dropping my sons off at Bible camp. And, the only way I can tell the tale, is that Jesus was a near-tangible Presence in the seat beside me. And His love enveloped me for the length of the drive. I felt like I’d been chosen Homecoming Queen.
Back home in Ohio, I lived for weeks in the glow of that love. But then…
I’d promised to pray for a missionary every day for a month, at 6 a.m. And I kept falling asleep. I could feel the guilt seeping in to eat alive my sense of His love. It was beyond my comprehension that I could have a tangible, addressable, character flaw, and still bask in His love. After all, couldn’t I just “try harder”?
And, once again, God spoke. What He said upended a bale of bad theology I didn’t even know I had. He said, and I quote:
“That’s not what we’re working on, right now.”
I knew it was Him, because I disagreed with it. I would never have extended myself that much grace.
This moment shaped my life.
In the Bible ministry, notable moments tended to center around teachings or Bible studies. Good stuff. Those still mark turning points in my life, but the most notable turnings tend to center around His words to me that flow alongside the words on the page. When I went through my divorce, a cluster of words and miracles got me through. After the divorce, God set out to heal my family’s hearts, and there was another cluster of words and miracles. And yet a third cluster accompanied my new marriage and its attendant adventures.
There are stretches of time in this narrative where, selfish or busy or distracted, I haven’t paid the Lord much mind. But He’s always been there, right at hand. This paragraph is not one of those “gosh-He-knows-my-weakness-and-loves-me-anyhow” wrap-ups, but rather, a testimony to the way our golden moments with Him stand out like nuggets in a prospector’s pan of gravel. Weighed in the balance, those golden moments shape our lives. They are infinitely heavier than years of self-absorption or distraction, and, I believe, they are eternal.
What are your golden moments?
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Oh! Here's a bonus scripture. I love how the English language worked hand-in-hand with King James's translators to produce this acronym: