As young children my little sister and I went to a very small southern Baptist church with our parents. My family attended church almost every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Our church hosted Revivals and Lock-Ins. The Revivals were always a big event, offering a variety preachers from across the United States. The preachers were always Baptist and of the same pulpit pounding variety as our home preacher. At the Lock-Ins, the youth group spent the night at the church socializing and watching movies about the grim reaper. I was always terrified by these movies and wondered why my parents insisted I attend these Lock-Ins.
The church was similar to what you would see in an old movie taking place in a small southern town with its white exterior and beautiful stained glass windows. The sanctuary contained rows of creaky wooden pews with worn hymnals and Bibles tucked in the back of every pew. From the worn hymnals while being led by the robe clad choir, we sang songs like “What a Friend We have in Jesus”, “Old Rugged Cross”, and of course, “Amazing Grace.” The pulpit was made of wood sturdy enough to survive many a spirit filled pounding. The baptismal was elevated behind the choir and dramatically but reverently lit with spot lights. The preacher, addressed as Brother, always delivered a lengthy winded sermon full of hellfire and brimstone. At the end of every sermon there was always an alter call allowing lost souls the opportunity to walk down the aisle and on bended knee with tear filled closed eyes, pray the sinner’s prayer. These memories are woven into the fabric of my being. They are as vivid as if it were only yesterday that I sat in a creaky wooden pew listening, crying and fearing all the horrors the book of Revelation foretold. Out of fear, I said the sinner’s prayer more times than I can count. I don’t recall the first time nor do I recall the last time. I only recall the fear of being left behind. I was afraid that if I said the prayer out of fear, it would not really count. This was particularly troublesome for me because I could not imagine ever not being afraid of hell or being left behind. How could I ever dismiss the fear instilled in me by years of church Lock-Ins? Would I ever be able to say the sinner’s prayer as a matter of free will or would there always be an overriding fear of hell, the grim reaper or being left behind? Would I inevitably discover that all those fear based prayers really didn’t count after all? This was my burden most of my childhood and teen years.
When I was 16 years old, something terrible happened to me. Ironically, it was in this horrific event that I felt for the first time God’s presence. In the midst of pain and violence, I only felt His love. While this event completely changed my perspective of God for the better, it did not give me an understanding of being in relationship with God. My life rocked along for many years; getting married, raising children and being busy with life, until I got divorced, lost my job and realized my life was a mess and only God could restore what I had ruined. I felt lost in a sea of heartbreak and regret; so I prayed desperately surrendering my life back to Him. He led me to Church of the Highlands. I immediately knew I was at home and had found what I had been searching for. For the first time in my life I felt the overwhelming desire to be closer to God and to be in relationship with Him. I finally got my fearless moment to make the choice to live my life in relationship with God. My moment without fear came because I was no longer trying to guarantee salvation, but instead searching for intimacy and closeness with Him. He makes all things new. Revelation 21:5 He has made me new! I am a daughter of the most high King; I am a princess. ~ Tracey