Today marks three years since I joined my church!
I sometimes mention this to some people and they either don’t care or just don’t find it terribly significant. For me, however, May 14th is like a birthday.
Three years ago, on a Mother’s Day Sunday, I decided to come to church with my mother because it seemed like the right thing to do; a gift, of sorts, for Mother’s Day. I had already been coming semi-regularly (because Christ always changes you before you realize it) and each Sunday I faced this inner battle when the pastor was inviting us to join the church. Part of it was my stubbornness saying, “No one is going to tell ME what to do.” Yet, another part, sounding far meeker and calmer, simply asked, “Why not?” It would feel like a burn in my stomach each time and the previous Sunday, it seemed like I had to grab hold of one of the chairs to keep from stepping out into the aisle and giving my life to Christ.
On May 14th, 2006, I didn’t have a response to the “Why not?” and so, I stepped out in the aisle and made my way to the front of the church, ready for a change in my life. I remember quite clearly Pastor saying, “I’ve been waiting for you, my sister.” as I approached and, as I sat down in the front row, I tried so hard not to cry. It wasn’t until I really “let go” that the tears started to come, not unlike they are now as I recall this event and, when I looked back into the congregation and saw my mother nearly sobbing over the fact that I had joined the church on my own free will, I really started to cry.
I can’t say that I changed from all my “evil” ways right there and then, but something was different in me from that day forward. Just reading back through the past entries of this blog can show anyone the difference in the person I was before and after May 14, 2006. Before I had joined the church, my friends and I would laugh at how ignorant all religious people were and how silly they all were to give 10% of their money to their churches and spend half their Sundays listening to “some sermon” every week. Before I had joined the church, Sundays were best spent lounging around, doing nothing and recovering from whatever I had poured down my throat the previous night. Before I had joined my church, Lincoln Park, the last time I had actively pursued a church, I left at the end of their service saying, “I don’t think I’m a Christian anymore.” Before I had joined the church, I was a floundering mess with no direction, no drive and, as sanctimonious and almost trite as it might sound, no future.
Like I said, the total change in myself didn’t come overnight. I still slipped up, but I was very aware of my slip-ups and desired to do more with my life instead. What stands out most to me, however, is what happened not even a full week after I had joined. My roommates were throwing a party that upcoming Saturday and, as I had an exam, for which I had not even cracked open a book, I told them that I would just go home to my parents’ house that Saturday so I could study and then get up for church the next morning. I remember quite clearly one of my friends looking at me quizzically and saying, “Well…you can miss one Sunday, can’t you?” Now, the friend who said this to me is not “evil” or someone who was trying to cause my downfall in any way, shape or form. In fact, we are still, in some sense, friends today, but the question she posed seemed simple and obvious. And, I had actually thought about it for a minute and let the words swirl in my head as I struggled with an answer. You can miss once. It’s just once.
The problem was it would not have been “just once.” Just once would have signified that the commitment I desired to make on May 14th meant nothing, that joining the church was no different than saying that I was going to go to the gym every day or put in three hours of studying every night or write more or call my relatives or try to reach out to old friends…when I never did. “Just once” was not just once. It was everything my life had been up to that point and I knew that if I was going to make a commitment to Christ, I did not want to face this particular “just once” on my judgment day. So, I told my friend that I really had to study (which I didn’t really do when I got home) and I didn’t want to be a downer for their party. They had their party and I went to church that Sunday and have felt like I was at least walking towards the path God had lain out for me ever since.
In many ways, May 14th really is like another birthday. I sometimes detest the term “born again” because I had known so many people who were “born again” and were the most mean-spirited, antagonistic and amoral people I had ever witnessed, but sometimes the term is fitting. On May 14th, I was born again in Christ. While I know I will still have struggles and countless slip-ups between now and the time my journey is over, my goal in this life is to never need to be “born again” again. My goal is to just stay on the path and to let May 14th be the only “born again” day I’ll ever need.