Judy was my best friend who lived right behind my house during my childhood years and into high school. We used to climb the chain link fence separating our backyards on a daily basis.
I am sure we entertained the surrounding neighbors greatly - scaling that fence multiple times a day with arms full of school books or the latest faddish toys to share (this takes a measure of skill, balance and strategy, you know).
What a well-worn path from my house to hers.
That path took me from a troubled home that was unpredictable and chaotic to a home that oozed with traditional family values: food on the table at the same time every evening, a stay-at-home mom who often set another plate on the table for me, and a kind dad who liked to read the newspaper in his favorite chair when he came home from work. In this home my wanting soul vicariously enjoyed “normal.” There was consistency, cleanliness, order, peace and predictable rhythms - like going to church every Wednesday night, every Sunday morning, and Sunday night.
So, this well worn path of our friendship led me to attend a service at their church - a small Southern Baptist church. I don’t recall who was speaking that particular night, or what hymn was being played. I don’t remember a thing, except what happened when it came time for what they presented as, “the altar call.” Standing for the final hymn, I suddenly felt my heart start racing for who knew what reason. I then felt so compelled to “go forward,” that I actually experienced feeling a hand on my back giving me a gentle prod. And yet, as I glanced over my shoulder, there was no one there. Something or Someone was compelling me to come…
So, forward I raced, to ask for who knew what, from I didn’t know who.
“I don’t know why I am here or what I need to do,” I said with voice trembling to one of the women waiting at the altar. “I just want to do what you invited us to come up here to do,”
And that was my official acceptance of the offer of Life.
Who knows what that kind lady prayed. I don’t recall if she laid out the “Plan of Salvation,” or took me down the “Roman’s Road.” Clueless as I was, Jesus made Himself known to me.
I was 9 years old, weeping as I knelt at the front row pew and opened my heart to Love.
The next morning found me exploding with joy and bliss. Suddenly, I was an evangelist - a very ignorant yet fanatical one. The only thing I knew was that I was loved; every fiber of my being was convinced. And now, being consumed with the love of God, I felt the need to tell everyone else that they too were loved! I could think of no other way to immediately put this into effect than to answer the phone every time it rang with: “Hello! God loves you!!” And so that is what I did.
My teenaged sister, who received the bulk of the phone calls coming into our home, didn’t quite appreciate or know what to do with this, so I was encouraged to go back to the standard greeting of, “Hello?” And so that is what I (reluctantly) did.
Since the tele(phone)vangelist thing didn’t work out, I decided that I would be a missionary. (Obviously.)
That was all 45 years ago and my heart is full as I remember...
I am so deeply, eternally grateful to have a story. My story - which is only the minutest part of the grander, epic story of God sending his Heart – sending Jesus – to reveal His love for the world. Mine is a story of this God who IS Love making His advent into the heart of a scrawny nine-year-old punk. Of Love indwelling me. Of Love loving me and enabling me to love. Of Love welcoming me into the Home I always longed for, that place of belonging in His affection.
Love laid out a path for me to discover Him, scaled the fence to come to me, and time has made it a well-worn path of mutual affection. Love is my closest companion and friend. Love has held me together through things falling apart. Love filled my deprivations and enabled me to give what I never had. Love has comforted and disciplined me; patiently waited for me. Love has healed, redeemed, and restored. Love has forgiven and enabled me to forgive. Love has never stopped loving – no, not ever. Come what may, this God who is Love will be with me – and that makes all the difference.
Let the unbeliever stand before me and present any intellectual or theological debate to disprove God’s existence; I have a story that is mine, of God being proved by His love. But, should they stand before me seeking to dissuade, I pray they are met with only Love – Love that tramples the fence and treads a well-worn path to welcome them – to welcome all – Home.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4