Childhood Memories Friday: I Love to Tell the Story — Chapter 1

My memoir of growing up Baptist in small town Indiana is out:  you can buy I Love to Tell the Story: Growing Up Blessed and Baptist in Small Town Indiana on Kindle right now, and at the moment I’m waiting for the proof copy of the paper version to arrive. Hopefully, it will be available for purchase within a couple of weeks.

In case you haven’t reserved your copy yet, here’s a peek at chapter 1.

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Chapter 1 – Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love, and pow’r.

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.

This was it. The big day. I shifted back and forth, scratching an itch that had just popped up. Now! All I had to do was walk to the front of the First Baptist Church sanctuary and tell Dr. Silver that I wanted Jesus to be my Savior. Simple as that.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify;

True belief and true repentance, every grace that brings you nigh.

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.

 

The organ and piano’s melancholy, minor notes heightened my anxiety. I dug my fingernails into the pew ahead of me, where they made little dents in the wax. Go! Just go! I wanted to be a Christian. I had imagined this moment many times, but somehow, walking down that aisle now seemed impossible. Going to the front of the church! In front of all those people! I glanced up at the spinning ceiling fans, cooling the sanctuary as they spun and spun and spun. Little beads of sweat rolled down the back of my neck, and it felt awfully warm for the first week of June.

Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.

 

Dr. Silver shifted from one foot to the other. He gazed out beseechingly into the congregation and then moved his eyes to the floor, hands clasped in front of him. Nobody had responded to the invitation yet, and I kind of felt sorry for him. He looked forlorn. And yet, I was like a slinky, stuck between one step and the next. Why couldn’t I make my feet move?

I had been thinking about accepting Jesus as my Savior for years, for my entire conscious life, actually. And lately, Dr. Silver’s admonitions about hell, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, my friends,” had scared me half to death. Mom often woke me up during the night, telling me to stop grinding my teeth because it sounded so terrible. Who wanted to spend eternity listening to that awful sound?

But each week, when the invitation arrived at the conclusion of the service, I hesitated. Maybe next week. Really, my chances were pretty good to make it another week. I was only nine years old. But, as I’d learned in Sunday school, none of us were guaranteed tomorrow. I might develop a fatal disease that would claim me within days, or there was the often-repeated example that I might walk right out of church and be hit by a truck. You just never knew.

 

Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall;

If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.

I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.

 

That’s it! I scooted past my dad, around the edge of the pew, and made my way resolutely to the front, focusing on Dr. Silver like Peter focused on Jesus as he crossed the water, and I didn’t take my eyes off of him, either.

One foot in front of the other, I thought as I made my way to the altar. Dr. Silver greeted me with a big smile and a hearty handshake. We sat down on the front pew while I told him of my intentions. He motioned for the piano and organ to stop playing, and he stood to face the congregation, pulling me up next to him.

“Friends, it’s my great joy to announce that little Susan Barnett desires to follow Jesus. And what a fitting day to do so – Pentecost Sunday!”

I smiled weakly, thinking that Pentecost sounded vaguely familiar, but hoping he wouldn’t quiz me on its significance right there in front of the whole assembly.

“I’d like to invite each of you to share in congratulating Susan on this momentous decision after the service,” Dr. Silver said, and indeed they did. A huge line ushered past, congratulating me with handshakes and hugs. Laura and Rhoda from my Sunday school class came up front to join me, and it was a joyous occasion. It was almost like I’d just gotten married, but without the gifts or flowers.

And yet, inside I felt the same as always. This was odd because I knew, right this very minute, the angels of heaven were rejoicing over me, the little lost lamb that had now come home. I figured I would have noticed more of a change if Jesus had saved me from a life of booze and hard living like some of the tough cases out there. Currently, my greatest transgressions were a covetous spirit toward my sister’s Fisher Price Three Bears Cottage, and a low-grade desire to take dance lessons. I was just a little kid, aware of her sin and in need of a Savior.

Member after member of the faithful pumped my hand and blessed me with big bear hugs, and I felt happiness and relief wash over me. I was a Christian now, a real one, and I couldn’t wait to see the adventures Jesus and I would tackle together.

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