Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Testimony (Part One)

I've heard many amazing conversion stories; people who were former alcoholics, drug addicts, bank robbers (I actually know of two), atheists (too many to count), and all-around rebels against God, who are stopped in their tracks and completely turned around. It is the grace of God that does that. He takes someone who owes a great debt that can never be re-paid or worked off, and forgives that debt, and in a sense, gives him a billion dollars.
Well, if you came here expecting one of those stories, sorry to disappoint you.
But my conversion was no less an act of the grace of God to an undeserving sinner, even though I was only a child.
I was born in Finland, and was brought to Canada a month later. My parents were unbelievers; Lutherans in name only. I was christened in the Lutheran church as a baby.
My father died in a car accident when I was three and my sister was five. My mother never remarried. I was a cute kid, according to my pictures, with platinum blonde hair. I was very shy and quiet and well-behaved. I was very much an introvert.
Once, when we were visiting some relatives, and all of us kids were playing outside, a boy from the neighbourhood who was mentally challenged came around to play with us. I was surprised when my older cousins picked up stones and began to throw them at him. They told him to get lost, and called him cruel names. I still remember the fear in his eyes, and yet, I picked up stones and did the same thing. I felt bad for him, but I did it anyway.
You could say, "you were just a kid, going with the crowd," and that would be true. I was only 4 or 5 years old. Yet,the next time we visited and the same boy came around, I knew what to do. This time I threw the stones because I liked to see the fear in his eyes. (I say this to my shame).
Around the same time, a seemingly insignificant thing happened. One summer day I was in our backyard with a friend. Our lawn had these little orange flowers; maybe they were even weeds. My friend told me they were called the Devil's Paintbrush. I don't know if they are or not. My friend told me that if you picked one, you'd go to hell. Of course, it's absurd, like stepping on a crack and breaking your mother's back. An old wives' tale, nothing but superstitious nonsense. But they hadn't taken the word gullible out of the dictionary yet, so I believed it, and left it alone, because I didn't want to go to hell.
Yet, when I was alone, I went back, looked both ways, took a breath, and yanked it out. Nothing happened. The earth didn't swallow me up. But I felt so guilty. Maybe I wouldn't go to hell that day, but I had done what I wasn't supposed to do, and I was afraid of the inevitable punishment I knew I deserved. Of course, I know that it wasn't the act in and of itself that was wrong, but what it represented: my desire to do what I wanted to.
Perhaps a year later, our neighbours were hosting some childhood evangelism meetings in their home. This was common in the 1970's. This was to reach those kids who were not likely to go to church. They used flannelgraphs (the power point of the 1970's), and told the story of Adam and Eve. It was the first time I had ever heard the story. As the teacher told us how they had been forbidden to eat the fruit and Eve ate it anyway, I could see how she would do it, because I did the same thing. In fact, I did it because she did it, since I had inherited her sinful nature. I didn't know that at the time. But I knew I had broken God's law, even though I was just a cute, shy, well-behaved little girl. I was a sinner, by nature and practice. I picked up stones to hurt someone because I wanted to.
I recognized there was a problem between me and God (that's the bad news), and I felt guilty. Rightly so. Then the teacher told me that God didn't leave us without hope. He provided a way for us to get right with Him. He sent His Son from heaven as a sacrifice. He was punished so I could go free. I could be relieved of this burden of sin and be given eternal life (that was the good news). Gospel means good news.
I prayed with the teacher and asked God to forgive my sins and live in my heart and help me serve Him. He did, and I went home rejoicing. As my sister and I were walking home, I said, "I'm a child of God!" She just gave me a funny look. Why was I saved and she wasn't? We heard the same message. The difference is the grace of God. I didn't deserve the grace of God any more than she did. We were equally lost. She is still unsaved, but the story of this life isn't over yet.
I wish I could say that from that moment on, I grew spiritually by leaps and bounds, but I didn't. For most of my childhood, I didn't go to church. I didn't own a Bible. I had no Christian teaching or support. You could say I fell through the cracks, in a sense. Yet, I still felt close to God. I often grappled with deep theological questions, like how God could never have a beginning. When I couldn't wrap my mind about it, I'd go out and play. I started my own Bible studies in the neighbourhood and would teach my friends what little I knew.
As I said, I didn't have a Bible. But I did have a book of Christmas carols. I used to spend time singing and reading every verse to every song. I didn't like the ones about Santa Claus, but I liked the ones about Jesus Christ. There is actually alot of theology in those Christmas hymns. I still know them by heart to this day.
Fast forward a few more years, to about age ten. We were visiting relatives in another part of town. An elderly lady across the street from them was holding childhood evangelism meetings. I know, deja-vu all over again. I went the first day and she taught us a memory verse and said that if we had it memorized by the end of the week, we could have a Bible. I begged my Mom to let me go back at the end of the week, even though it was across town. I did, recited the verse, and received a New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, like the Gideons distribute. I still remember that verse to this day.
I ran to my cousin's and began reading in the same chapter, John 14. I read Jesus' words in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
Powerful words! Radical words! Exclusive claims! Authoritative. No one else ever spoke like that. They had the ring of truth. This was no ordinary book and Jesus was no ordinary man!
I wasn't much farther along, but having a New Testament was a good beginning, because God began to teach me through His Word.

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