True Christian Stories
by Deb Matthews
October 1999 -- Welcome! Being in a reflective mood from my church celebrating it's 29th anniversary, I decided to write about two things combined -- how I came to my church, and how God brought about a change in my heart in the process.
A Church and a Change of Heart
Copyright © 1999 by Debra K. Matthews. All rights reserved
When I was a just a teenager, I joined the Civil Air Patrol and became fully immersed in its activities. One of the things I loved most was the non-denominational services one of the colonels held during the weekend training sessions. I'd never read the Bible, but Colonel Young could really make God come alive to us.
One of the requirements for progressing in rank in C.A.P. was to have regular moral leadership sessions with a chaplain. Since our squadron didn't have one, each of us would just find a church pastor who would talk to us about morality and being a good example to others.
Not having been raised in the church, I didn't know where to start. My mom had grown up in one kind of church, and my dad talked about going to another kind of Sunday School as a child, so I tried both of those. The ministers were really nice, and of course encouraged me to come to their churches, too. So I would try out their services, but never quite felt a part of them.
Mom and dad had prayed with us at night when we were really small, but only one year had we gone to church. We went to a small church in Gig Harbor during the 1964-1965 school year. It was there that the Lord really began moving in my life, but I didn't have a Bible, and didn't know enough to try to find one and keep reading it after we left there. All I knew was that I loved this Lord who loved me unconditionally, and I loved to sing about him -- and to him.
At the end of that school year, we moved to Yakima for the summer, where my folks picked fruit in the orchards, and then on to Seattle. There we got caught up in school and city life, and having adventures around Greenlake. Our second year there I started junior high school and met the gal who eventually talked my dad into letting me join C.A.P.
She and the colonel who made the Bible really come alive to us were both Catholic, so for a time I tried going to Mass. Every time I went though, I got asthma. When I told my mom about it, she said it was because they burned incense, like in the Old Testament. So that ended my efforts at attending the Catholic church.
One of my brother's friends invited me to attend her local church youth group, but the kids weren't supervised very well, and got into things they shouldn't have. I didn't want to offend her, so I used my busy C.A.P. weekend activities as an excuse not to keep going there.
I tried churches like my mom's and dad's childhood ones again. Since I loved to sing, I liked that they had song services. Unfortunately, I couldn't read music and didn't know any of their songs, so I couldn't really join in and sing with all my heart -- the way I wanted to do.
Then my uncle bought me a Bible and I started reading it from cover to cover, getting to know the Lord better; getting to know how much he really loved me and wanted to do wondrous things in my life. I started searching more diligently for a home church that seemed like what I saw in the Bible, a place where I could really belong.
One day, a friend at work told me about her kids visiting a neighbor's church. They came home and told her about people going up for prayer at the end of the service, and the miracles God performed in answer to those prayers.
That sounds like the kind of church I've been looking for, I thought. My co-worker found out the name of the place, and I looked it up in the phone book. I purposed to go the very next Sunday.
From the very first night, it was home to me. Their assistant pastor did the evening services, and he had a wonderful voice, with a country accent like my dad's. They didn't sing many verses to the hymns; mostly they just sang the choruses. And they sang them over and over and over again. Every time I went, I learned more songs that I could take with me and sing to the Lord throughout the day.
After a while, the church moved into their new building just off I-5 in Lynnwood, Washington. It was simple, but I loved it. The songs seemed to rise up to the high ceiling and fill the sanctuary with praises and worship to God. I loved every moment of it, and missed it when a C.A.P. training weekend would keep me from the Sunday morning service. When that happened, I waited expectantly for the night service to come, when I could go and sing again, and hear the preaching, and watch people as God touched them afresh.
There was just one problem with the church!
At the end of the song services, the pastor would always tell the congregation, "Turn around and shake hands with someone, or if you're a woman, give another woman a hug." Most of the time, I would just shake hands with the people around me, or a woman next to me might just put her arm around my shoulder and give me a gentle sideways hug.
But there was this one woman that went all over the place giving these big bear hugs to everyone, man or woman. I got to where I would check out where she was sitting and make sure I was a long way away from her. But it didn't seem to matter where I sat -- Grace still seemed to end up over where I was and give me one of those smothering hugs.
The church was great except for all that hugging business. Finally, one day I told my mom about it.
"I've been going to this neat church in Lynnwood," I told her. "I really like it except for this one thing." I told her about the pastor's statement at the end of the song service before everyone would sit down. And then I told her about that lady. "She's only about so high," I motioned, showing her how short she was, "but she's really big around. And every time she gives me one of those big hugs, I feel like she's going to suffocate me, even though she's nowhere near my face."
Then my mom told me that when I was a little baby, they couldn't hold me because I had asthma so bad. She said that when they tried, I would pull away because I couldn't get enough air.
That's when I realized I couldn't remember ever being hugged by my parents. My older brother and I had been sickly kids, and it just seemed to set the stage for not becoming a hugging family. That was the moment I purposed to change my attitude about the hugs in church. I figured since it was a perfectly normal thing to do, I would just trust God and do it, and eventually I would get used to it.
And sure enough -- as I opened my heart to God's love and loving his people, that's exactly what happened!
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Added October 17, 1999
Updated December 23, 2001