Easter is a very special day for me. You might say it is an anniversary. Thirty-two years ago I decided living apart from God and church was just not making me as happy as I wanted to be.
I was raised in a Christian home and going to church was a part of my growing up years. After I married my first husband, I strayed away from God and did not have much interest in going to church. After he was discharged from the Marines we did some moving around both here in California and his home state of Arkansas. Eventually we decided to buy a home and moved to Oceanside, CA. There we found a Nazarene church (I was raised in the Nazarene denomination) and started faithfully attending services, being involved in activities. Our friends were the people we went to church with. However, I don't believe we were really living committed Christian lives.
After almost 10 years of marriage and a baby girl, he decided he didn't want to be married any longer. I tried to continue to attend church, however I had become friends with people outside of church and the lure to be a part of what they were doing was stronger than living a Christian life. Besides I became so disillusioned with church. If church was what it was suppose to be, why was I being divorced and alone?
In October of 1974 I found myself moving to Fresno, CA with my daughter. Life was not very kind to us after I moved and we struggled to get through each day. I had looked in the phone book for any Nazarene churches in the area thinking maybe one day Denise and I would attend. One of the churches listed the name of a pastor who had been the pastor of the Nazarene church my first husband and I attended in Vista. I decided that we would go one Sunday morning, would sit in the back and slip in and out of the service. The pastor thought he recognized me. Not really thinking I filled out a visitor's card, however I didn't use my real name. The pastor made a visit to where we were living, however I was not home. He left his card with a note and I called him later that particular day. I found myself in a really desperate situation a while after that first call and I called him again. Looking back after all these years, I was calling out for help then. He and his wife came over to see me and spent several hours talking to me. I shared all that I had been through in the years since we had seen each other last and he was pretty saddened to hear what I had to say.
I kept in touch with him over the next few years. When we would talk, he would encourage me to come to church and I would always say "please don't preach to me" and he would say "he wouldn't do that". He did, however, always encourage me that only Jesus in my life would take the hurt away.
On the Saturday before Easter Sunday 1978, I woke up that morning and decided we were going to church the next day. Before I could change my mind, I called my pastor friend and asked him what time services would be the next morning. He gave me the time and I told him we would be there. He was excited to hear my news and reassured me that he would be in the parking lot waiting for us. He took us to the Sunday School class for Denise and then escorted me to his Sunday School class that he taught. I was introduced to everyone in the class who were all very friendly.
I have always cried very easily and I could not stop crying throughout the class. The worship service was wonderful, it felt so GOOD to be back in church. And yes, I cried through the whole service. We faithfully attended each Sunday after that week and then on the third Sunday of attending, before the sermon was concluded, I couldn't hold back what I had been feeling for those 3 weeks prior. I literally jumped up from where I was sitting and ran down the side aisle to the altar and sobbed my heart out to God for forgiveness. At that point, I was so broken and I knew I could not go on living the way I had been. As soon as the pastor's wife was through playing the organ, she came down and prayed with me. We had become very close by then. Soon the pastor was there praying and I was surrounded by other people praying. It was such a relief to be free from the load I had been carrying for so long.
My daughter usually stayed outside waiting for me after Children's Church. When I didn't come to get her, she started crying. One of the ladies who had been praying with me, saw her and asked her what was wrong. She told her she didn't know what happened to her mommy. The lady brought her into me and she was not only afraid because she didn't know where I was, she also didn't know why I was crying. We were both kind of a mess. :)
And so Easter 1978 began my journey back to living a life with Jesus a part of it. I can't say the journey has been a smooth one because it hasn't been. There have been many bumps, twists and turns along the way. However, the one constant has been "I serve a risen Savior, He is in my life today".
There is a reward in that simple act 32 years ago and that is, my daughter is married to a wonderful Christian husband and they together are serving in ministry through their business and small group of fellow believers. I often have wondered how she would have turned out if I had not made that decision to go to that Easter service. Would she have somehow heard the message of salvation and given her heart to the Lord. Well, I am so thankful she did hear that message.
She and I moved to Sacramento, CA in July 1980. And in August of that year, God brought a Christian man into my life. In November of that same year, we started our journey of 29 years and 5 months together being married and serving God.
Tomorrow as we worship and celebrate a Risen Savior, I will reflect on where I was 32 years ago and where I am now. (I will be sure to have a pack of kleenex with me because I know I will need it). I am so thankful for a pastor who didn't give up on me and his wife who always had a listening ear. We remain close friends.
The words to this song have always meant a lot to me:
The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference
"Twas a life filled with aimless desperation
Without hope walked the shell of a man (woman)
Then a hand with a nailprint stretched downward,
Just one touch then a new life began.
And the Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference
In a life bound for heartache and defeat,
I will praise Him forever and ever,
For the Cross made the difference for me"!
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