I grew up in Harlem in New York City, the era of afros and “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” Where there were gangs like, The Black Skulls, The Aces and the most notorious of them all, The Black Panthers. I lived in the projects where you knew everybody and everybody knew you, when people stuck to the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” children never got away with doing too much mischief without being caught. I come from a typical background of southern family morals. My mother always made sure my siblings and I attended Sunday school every Sunday. Of course, it went like this: “If you can’t go to Sunday school, then you can’t go outside!” So off to Sunday school we would go. I was christened as a baby, that’s how it’s done in the AME denomination. I can remember vaguely attending church with my parents but for the most part, it was always Sunday school. I thank my parents for that foundation however when I reached the age of twelve, I was left on my own with the decision of whether or not I wanted to go to church (Proverbs 22:6).
Our family moved out of the projects in the late 70’s to what was known as the “suburbs” at the time in Queens, New York. It was there I became close with a family that also came from Harlem and was still attending church there. My mother did the same however, she never forced us to go let alone ask us to go. I was invited to attend church with this family at another AME church. I happily obliged and became a member. I sang on the choir leading songs. I was on the junior usher board and whatever else there was for the youth to partake in. I was there for Sunday school, morning service and afternoon. I loved going and being a part of many auxiliaries but the sad part about it was, I had no clue that what I was doing was all in vain. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot, but I was blind to the true meaning of worship. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t really understand what was taking place, or if I just thought it was the thing to do because I believed in God. All the while I was attending this church, as a typical teen, I would go to house parties on Saturday nights, swear, drink cheap wine, and then get in Sunday school the next morning and whisper with my girlfriends about the last nights events. I had no idea that I was defiling Gods house. One Sunday our church went to another church to hear this pastor preach which was a woman. That was the first time I had ever heard a woman preach. She had my attention for a minute until she made a statement that turned me off completely, she said, “God didn’t like skinny people.” Needless to say, I was about 90 pounds soaking wet! In the AME division, there are conferences that are held where they will assign a new or the same pastor back to your church after a certain period of time. I have seen two pastors come and go at the church I attended, on the third go round, we got this woman pastor that made that ugly statement. That was my cue to leave. She called me one Sunday morning to ask me if I was still going to attend church. I told her I didn’t think so and she abruptly told me that she was taking me off of the roaster. I told her to do what she pleased. I went for years attending my mother’s church whenever I thought it was feasible for me, I even had my son christened at my mother’s church where I was christened and also my siblings.
“What is this thing called Salvation?”
I grew up hearing people say that they were saved or you better get saved (Romans 10:13). I’ve seen and was given pamphlets (that’s what I knew them as at the time) about being saved. Like most people with ignorance, I would throw them away or read them with no concern and then trash it. I would slam the door in the faces of witnesses or pretend I was listening when I really wasn’t. There was a male acquaintance of mine who used to meet my friends and I in the park everyday to play handball. Every single day he would bum cigarettes, it would be the second thing he would ask after “How ya’ll doing?” I never knew him to have his own pack of cigarettes. On this particular day he came in the park, and before he could ask his second question, I blurted out, “What do you want a cigarette?” He said, “No, I got saved.” So of course my friends and I laughed and said discouraging things to him. Two days later, he came to the park and asked for a cigarette. I was coming home from work on the bus one day and I overheard this girl talking to this guy. He asked her why she went to church so much and what did she do for fun. She told him that she enjoyed church and that she was saved. She informed him that they do a lot of things to enjoy themselves. She expressed that they went to the movies, roller skating, amusement parks etc… I watched this girl as she got up out of her seat to get off the bus. She twirled her head every which way, batted and rolled her eyes like she was the best thing ever! When she got off the bus, she walked down the street switching looking herself over with her hands spread and turning her head from side to side like it was all about her. I laughed to myself, what was she trying to prove? “ What was this saved stuff? I would imagine people burning candles all over their homes and chanting, wearing white gowns and crosses, no television, no radio, only bibles and pictures of Jesus on the walls. I once had a crucifix as a medallion that I wore around my neck. A woman once asked me why did I wear it and did I know what it represented. I told her I didn’t know. Today, I see it as me just wanting to show that I could afford a big piece of gold around my neck.
For a long time I felt like if you were saved, your life of fun was over. No more doing all of the things I thought was fun, no movies, no parties, drinking and smoking weed. What could one possibly do for enjoyment being saved? I harbored with that question for years, and that is why I would say, “when I’m ready I would get saved.” I had to finish up my dirt. I was never taught that being ready in that perspective is not an option when it comes down to God. I had no one to explain to me what it meant to be saved, and if I did, I am not ashamed to say that I wasn’t listening very well. Why? Why? Why did I have to be saved? Was I not doing the right thing by going to church when I could? I believed in God, The Father,The Son and the Holy Spirit. I prayed when I wanted something, I believed that Jesus died on the cross. Was that not enough? So what was salvation all about?
The Ignorance In Me
Since I had no clue what salvation was all about, I was very ignorant to a lot of things (Eph 4:18, 1Peter 2:15). I thought just believing was enough. I was doing God a favor by behaving at times and showing up at church, let me tell it. I didn’t understand that everything that is good is of God. I didn’t know that saints could sin and ask for forgiveness (Eph 1:7). So what my acquaintance told me he was saved one day and then turned around and asked me for a cigarette days later. So what the girl on the bus thought so highly of herself it was sickening. Whatever their faults, mine, or yours may be, as saints we have a healer for all of our flaws (Pr 24:16). I could remember my youngest brother going to church faithfully every Sunday. He would invite me to come along at times. My only hold up was, I didn’t want the preacher to take all day to preach. I just wanted to hear some good singing. I still love to go to church and hear good singing however, the word supersedes that any day! I went to church with my brother eventually. That particular Sunday, the choir sung and this one young lady led the song, after service was over, I approached her and told her she sang that song! Her reply to me was, “God is good.” I couldn’t understand that statement for the life of me, here I was giving her a complement and she was telling me about God being good, where was the thank you? Now was that not ignorant of me to think? When I saw people get the Holy Ghost or shout, I thought what on this earth could make them carry on like that? Once I saw my mother shed a few tears in church, I wondered why she cried, did she do something wrong? I used to hear this preacher on an AM station on the radio everyday. When I saw him in person, he was cleaner than the “Board of Health.” He had rings on each hand bigger than his knuckles. It was then I decided that the church wouldn’t get another dime from me. I would go to church and reluctantly give a dollar if I gave that. When I did give, it was only because I didn’t want the person sitting next to me frowning or thinking that I was poor. But so what if the preacher was pocketing my offering, he has his own account with God for that. On the other hand, who was I to judge? It could have been his blessing from God for being his shepherd (10:22). I am learning to become a cheerful giver through tithes and offerings. After all, God gave it to me to begin with, I’m giving back what he ask for, if the preacher takes it, he’s robbing God not me.
God’s Plan For Me Set In Motion
I worked with a co-worker that was saved. She was the only saved person that I knew that acted human at the time. I know it sounds funny but she was real to me. She was the only person that could minister to me and leave me thinking, “maybe to be saved isn’t that bad after all.” She didn’t act like all the other’s I met proclaiming to be saved and hounding me telling me what I better do. She never approached me with an attitude about what was wrong about my life. I believe today, she truly planted the seed in which God intended for me. I had gotten into a heated discussion with my director where I was employed and later found out that I was set-up. My director had issues with me. I guess it was because at the time, I took nonsense from no one. Back- biting was my “pet peeve.” I was worthy as an employee but she refused to acknowledge that. I had plans of moving on anyway, but she didn’t know it. My director had one of my co-workers (a male), report back to her everything I did or said. She was looking for a reason to get rid of me, so she tried to get me for insubordination, but it didn’t pan out as she thought it would. She called me in her office on a Friday afternoon at about 4:00 o’clock knowing that my day ended at 4:30. She told me that I wasn’t being loyal to her and she heard that I talked about her like a dog to new employees. I told her I did talk about her however, when new employees asked how she was, I told them that they would have to judge for themselves, and that was the truth. Our discussion was heated however, we both seemed to keep it on a professional level, there was no yelling or swearing but things were being made very clear on both our behalf. When I left her office I knew it was my male co-worker that reported back to her. He was about six two and skinny. I vowed to whip his tale all the way to the train station that day. He got off at five o’clock so I had to wait around. My saved co-worked begged me not to approach him. She told me to let God handle it. At first I wasn’t trying to hear her but then she told me that she had been praying for me, and that I was going to be okay. I became a little rational and went home. In the long run, the male co-worker and I made up and he admitted to me that they were trying to set me up and the director used him. A little while after, I moved to North Carolina to begin a new life. My saved co-worker was sad to see me go. She really took a liking to me. She wished me the best and told me she would keep me in her prayers.
I finally had my own, my very own townhouse, my very own car and my freedom. I was enjoying life some days and some days I wasn’t. I felt empty threw it all. What was I missing? I began church hopping and I still had no clue. I started to attend this one church regularly that was non-denomination. The singing was wonderful, and the preaching was okay I guess. I would go on how much they could hoop and holler instead of really listening. They had children’s church that I let my son attend while service was going on. It gave me a chance to try and focus on the preacher. I knew my son would probably enjoy the children’s church instead of sitting in the sanctuary with me. One Sunday at the end of the sermon, there was the invitation to Christ. There I stood with no concern. I thought I knew, that invitation wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to join that church. That is how ignorant I was, putting an invitation to salvation and church in the same boat. A woman approached me and asked me my name. She asked me if I had Christ in my life. At that point I felt really stupid. I didn’t even know how to answer her. She began pulling on my arm almost dragging me down the aisle to the altar. I was scared, angry and I felt resistant. As the pastor spoke, I with others was standing in a semi-circle around the altar. He spoke some words and put oil on people’s foreheads. They fell out one by one. However, I saw it as a push. When he got to me, I refused to fall back. I just couldn’t. I was angry. I felt like I was forced to do something that I wasn’t at all familiar with, “how dare they try to make me be saved and join,” I thought to myself. I rushed down the stairs inside the church to get my son and get out of there. I left so fast that I forgot my bible that contained a man’s phone number inside of the cover. It was from a guy that I wanted to date. I didn’t go back to that church for years. I started working for the state of North Carolina. It was there I met one of my dearest friends and my sister in Christ. She invited me to her choir’s anniversary. I obliged and she gave me directions. It was a Saturday afternoon and it was raining “cats and dogs.” When it rains in the south, it rains. I could hardly see as I drove down the narrow country road. She told me that I had to cross over some railroad tracks and then I would be close to the church. I passed the tracks because I couldn’t really see from all the rain. I got frustrated and decided that when I backed tracked, I was headed for home. That was my plan but God saw it differently. I saw the tracks on my way back. I reluctantly crossed over and went around the curb. I was surprised at what I saw. For some reason, I thought the church was going to be some small little shack sitting off the road. Today, it really wouldn’t have mattered if it was or not because of the feeling that I got when I entered through the doors. The church was beautiful inside and out, but as I said, that didn’t matter. I felt this flood of warmth come over me. I got happy inside and I wanted to cry tears of joy. I was at home. This was to be my church home. I went back almost every Sunday. One Sunday my son and I were sitting there enjoying the service, yes, I started to be receptive of the word. I saw and began to understand what it meant to be saved. The preacher gave the invitation and, my son leaned over to me and said, “Mommy, I want to go up there.” I thought to say let’s go for a split second but then Satan wasn’t having it. I told my son no, “we will go up there next time.” The next Sunday I sat frozen again, then the pastor said, “I know you’re saying to yourself, I will give my life to Christ next Sunday, but next Sunday is promised to no one, don’t leave this earth without Jesus being your personal savior,” “Is he talking to me?” I thought. Needless to say, I didn’t bulge but I prayed to God that if he let me see the next Sunday d I would surrender. I did just that. My son and received Christ in our lives and were baptized a week later.
Since that time my life began to unfold day by day. For me being saved by the grace of God, I see things clearer as opposed to not knowing why some things occurred be it good or bad. I know that there is a reason and a purpose for everything on God’s accord. I question when I know I shouldn’t but he brings things to light for me. He gives me understanding when he knows I’m ready. I know that there is nothing too big or too small to request from God and when I even think that he is telling me “no,” he really isn’t. He is only telling me he has something much greater for me. I know he knows what’s best for me. I have learned to sit still and let him do it all. Anytime I try to lead my life on my own, I screw up. When I go through trials and tribulations, sometimes I get a little afraid but when I talk to God about it, I feel better. I have learned to spend time with him constantly, praising his name. I do it every chance I get. From the time I awake until the time I go to sleep. Thinking or saying “Thank You Jesus,” for anything is uplifting for me, even when I’m worried about something. I constantly go in conversation with God. I know that God needs me to trust in him and him alone. It is just amazing for me to know that after all is said and done I have the victory in Jesus. When people do me wrong, I sometimes forget who I am. I get ready to put on my fighting gear for the attack. But then instantly, he let’s me know I am his heir and the battle is his. I quickly change into my holy gear and put on the amour of God instead (Eph 6:11).
I know that there is a God just as I know that there is a hell. There is none on this earth, that can tell me different. I know what salvation is now and I know why I was ignorant. I have been saved since 1995. Unfortunately, I backslid for a while. But I never forgot the things God has done for me. He took me from a place that had me headed straight for hell. For knowing what I know, God’s unconditional love, his grace and his brand new mercies reeled me back in. My faith is getting stronger and stronger each day he so graciously gives me. I am not spotless and without wrinkle. I can’t say that I ever will be. But that won’t stop me from trying to be the best that I could be for my heavenly father. Today I understand, it all. It took some time, but know I see. We all know the song, “I once was blind but know I see.” Salvation is everything to me. My life is in God’s hands. He is the potter and I am the clay.