Note: This is post #2 of My Journey into the Rubble series.
As you can see by this First Holy Communion picture, I was raised in the Catholic Church. What I recall most vividly about that all-important day was not the spiritual experience some Catholics speak of, but rather, I remember the sacred ministrations I gave my hair in preparation for my initiation into the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
I carefully prepared not my soul, but my coiffure, by rolling my locks into pink rollers and wrapping my head in a scarf before going to bed. In the morning I gently combed out my curls and reverently donned the coveted white veil. Sadly, within five minutes of stepping outdoors the entire ritual was undone by Florida’s humidity. My hallowed curls had wilted. And the proof is in the picture.
No, this moment did not mark the beginning of my journey into Christian ministry.
In some ways my Catholic upbringing did help open my eyes to a vibrant faith in Christ, but the real trigger came years later when my parents underwent a spiritual awakening. At 17, still in high school, I watched with interest as Mom and Dad began to transform before my eyes. After raising five children, they seemed to be falling in love all over again, but this time their love centered on Jesus Christ.
They started attending prayer meetings, reading their Bibles and enthusiastically talking about Jesus. Hello! That got my attention. Had my parents become holy rolling born-again Jesus freaks? If so, I was surprised to find I liked the results.
Around the same time, my long-time friend Melanie (If you’re reading, Hi Mel!) asked me if I wanted to do a Bible study before school. I said sure.
Now, Melanie was raised in a Southern Baptist family, and she knew her Bible well. We would meet in an empty classroom before school, just the two of us, and read from God’s Word. Then Melanie would help me understand what it meant.
I had seen that my friend’s faith was real. Her relationship with God was an important part of her life. I had observed Melanie up close for several years, as we had been best friends since middle school. Over the summers I had even attended Vacation Bible School with her.
In the Beginning
So, one night I decided to attend a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting with my parents. I signed up for a Life in the Spirit class, and before you could say, “Praise Jesus and hallelujah,” I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and got saved by grace through faith all at once. (Now, there’s a theological debate waiting to explode.) It was the most exciting experience I’d ever known. I felt fully alive, filled with joy, and connected to God. I wanted to read my Bible and go to church, but mostly I desired to get to know my risen Savior, Jesus, who had given his life to save mine.
Immediately, I knew my friend Melanie had been praying for me all those years. And suddenly, she knew she had prayed too hard. I was only supposed to get saved. I had gone way too far into Pentecostalism. But even so, I think she was excited for me.
Later, through the years of my journey amid the rubble, I would travel once or twice to extremes on the spiritual pendulum. I have ended up in what I consider a doctrinal balance somewhere between the Pentecostals and Baptists, but that’s neither here nor there for our discussion. I only mention it because, looking back, you’ve got to admit it’s pretty funny how God works. In my case, he used a strict Baptist teenager to lead her lifelong Catholic girlfriend to salvation, who then overnight ended up a Pentecostal without even knowing the difference.
My Chains Were Gone
All I knew was that in an instant I was changed. I felt wholly different inside. Nearly every day prior to this time, in those dark early morning hours when I walked to the bus stop, I had known an even darker sense of dread. I never understood why, but a gloomy foreboding weighed heavily on me like chains of darkness. Now those chains were gone, replaced with a light, joyful anticipation of the future. To this day, I can’t listen to Chris Tomlin’s version of Amazing Grace without experiencing that same overwhelming flood of joy as I remember how it felt to be freed from my chains.
Yes. Freedom. That’s what I felt! For the first time I didn’t feel guilty or afraid. The term born-again now made sense to me. And, I was hungry to learn about God and follow the plan I instinctively knew he had for my life.
My journey into the rubble had just begun.
There’s probably nothing more effective for recharging my sense of purpose and excitement than remembering those wonder-filled initial days of my salvation. What about you? Where did your story begin? Would you consider recounting for us your first steps of faith?