In the pink bedroom with the pink shag rug, two windows faced the maple tree and our suburban Maryland street, 67th Avenue. I lived in this house in Parkway Estates all my growing-up years. At night when it was very quiet, I could hear a train whistling miles away in Cheverly, or traffic rushing on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
My only sister, Ginny, and I had shared this room until she went off to college. Though nine years separated us in age, we were as close as twins and later looked like we could be.
I was in high school when Ginny, now married to Dan and living in New York, came for a visit. We were talking in our room when Ginny suddenly asked, “Judy, if you were to die tonight, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?”
I was taken aback by this topic, never spoken of by our family. But I managed to come up with a Bible passage I had memorized. “I know what I have been taught,” I said, quoting Ephesians 2:8-9: “‘By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast’ – but it doesn’t mean anything to me.”
We talked then of other things, but, after a lifetime of going to church every Sunday, it was the first time I remember truly thinking about God.
In this same bedroom where I had decided as a little girl to stop praying because it didn’t make any difference, Ginny’s question was the beginning of what would make all the difference in the world.
Committing my life
As an adolescent, I had dressed in this room in a fancy white dress bought for a special occasion: my church confirmation. I went through the ceremony to affirm my faith, answering as expected, but I wondered why my confirmation didn’t mean more to me. After two years of evening and Saturday classes, I had committed a treasury of doctrine and Bible verses to memory. But in my heart, something was missing. I didn’t know what.
After high school, I chose to attend a college of my denomination in New York, mostly because Ginny and Dan lived nearby, and I wanted to sing in the Tour Choir. In long calls from the hallway phone in my dorm, I talked to Ginny. She urged me to “commit my life” to Christ, as she and Dan had a year before.
Lorraine, a secretary at my summer job in Washington, D.C., told me the same thing. I didn’t really understand what they meant, but I wasn’t ready to lose my friends or become a religious fanatic. I thought finding the right boy was the answer to my loneliness, and I was working on finding him – in foolish ways.
On my college campus, a few students, like Burt, might have been considered fanatics about their faith. On the back of the gray jacket Burt wore smilingly everywhere were words in wide black ink, “Under Reconstruction by the Holy Spirit.” I had never met people like him and his quiet friend John, but one fall day in my sophomore year, I accepted their invitation to a spiritual retreat.
When the retreat speaker asked us to read the Bible five minutes a day, I raised my hand and said I would. I kept my promise, sitting back up in my dorm room bed to read if I had forgotten. Longings for acceptance were always swirling in my heart, but a peace began stirring there, too.
“Wouldn’t you like to be happier?“
I subbed for secretaries on leave every college vacation at the same Washington firm where I had met Lorraine. “Judy, have you received Christ yet?” she asked on my sophomore spring break. “No,” I answered, adding, “One of these days I will.” Her kind, but blunt, reply: “You know, if you don’t, you’re going to hell.” I thought she might be right.
When Lorraine and her friend Barbara took me out to lunch that spring break, I told them, “I’m happy. I don’t need Christ,” thinking there was no more happiness to be found in this world. Barbara replied with a question that rang through the painful halls of my heart: “Wouldn’t you like to be happier?”
I went with Lorraine and Barbara to their Bible study one evening that spring break. Spencer, the leader, told me, “If you believe intellectually that Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for you, you need to make it personal by inviting Him into your heart.” I did believe intellectually.
Back at college a few days later, I sang with the Tour Choir during an Easter vigil service. When the burial and resurrection of Christ were re-enacted, a surprisingly dense darkness filled the hall until the lights blazed out. Standing on the risers in my blue choir robe, I knew it was time to commit my life to Him.
I asked Burt and John and a few other friends who I knew followed Christ to go with me to a small dormitory chapel after the service. We prayed together, sitting on the floor in a circle. All I could say was, “Lord, take over my life, because I am making a mess of it.”
I was singing my alto part at a choir concert a couple of weeks later when, for the first time, the words of the sacred music we sang suddenly had meaning for me. People in the audience elbowed each other, snickering at me, because I sang beaming, grinning from ear to ear. The joy and peace filling my heart still spill out of me 45 years later.
God had broken through the pain and loneliness in my heart. After all the surprising events and questions of the past few years, He had given me the best surprise of all: knowing the reality of His love. With it came a new light and clarity in my eye, a hunger for His Word, the Bible, and a passion for this new relationship with Jesus that has never gone away.
My Savior, my Friend, had forgiven my sins and given me strength and hope. When I surrendered myself to Him, my intellectual knowledge at last became real in my heart.
April Fool’s Day
The contrast in my life before my prayer in the chapel and the many years since is as dramatic as the light flooding the dark hall where we sang that April 1, 1975. It is such a profound difference that I begin my blog today, the anniversary of the day I found Jesus, who gave my life its truest meaning on April Fool’s Day.
Yes, the glad song, the unconscious grin – they burst from the one who now understands the song and can truly sing it. Little girl in the pink bedroom, you stopped praying, but God does answer prayer. When you ask Him to come into your life, you’ll be amazed at the difference He makes!
Where are you on your spiritual journey? Have you thought about giving your heart and life to Jesus?
You may be ready to make that commitment yourself. You can read my page About “The Nearness of God” for help with a suggested prayer.
Other helpful sites:
EveryPerson.com – A Safe Place to Explore Life and Questions about God