Chapter Three

When I was about six years old, my parents decided to start going to church because my mom wanted what Peggy had. Peggy was my mom’s best friend. Peggy was Catholic. I was not sure what Peggy had except that it was something my mom didn’t have and going to church was the way to get it. So we all went to church; my father, my mother, my two older brothers, my younger sister and me. We all joined the church so that we could all have what Peggy had. Except we didn’t become Catholic because my dad had been raised Baptist and well, everybody knows the “pope is the anti-christ”. Somehow Peggy had managed to have this precious something that Mom wanted and it came from a church that we couldn’t join because, um, Catholics worship Mary and pray to the Saints and go to confession. I don’t know how Peggy managed it! Sifting through all that heresy and coming out shining so bright.

So we became Baptists with the threat of hell fire hanging over every move we made. It was confusing though because we believed in eternal security. And what I mean by “the threat of hell fire hanging over every move we made” is a constant feeling of guilt because I might be doing the wrong thing and therefore, sinning. And what I mean by eternal security is the belief that you can’t lose your salvation, particularly your salvation from hell. As the saying goes, once saved always saved. The confusion comes with sin being the thing that damns you to hell and, dang it, I’m always sinning. So how could I be sure of my salvation?

I worried that Jesus might come while I was at a high school dance. This voice was in my head, every dance I attended, “what if Jesus came while you are at this dance?” I never let my brain follow that train of thought. If I would have, it would have taken me straight to hell. I only got as far as embarrassment, like I’d be really embarrassed if Jesus came while I was at this dance right now, because obviously I’m sinning, right? Right? Am I sinning here at this dance, dancing? Oh, that’s right, I forgot, I’m dancing with boys! Actually touching them in an embrace.That’s probably a bad enough sin to cause me to lose my salvation, but wait! I believe in eternal security. Dang, this is so confusing, and scary.

My relationship with Jesus was born through fear of hell fire and damnation. That first year at church an itinerant preacher came through town preaching the good news. Repent of your sins, ask Jesus into your heart and when you die, you’ll go to heaven. Sounded like a deal I wanted to make. So when we got home, I told my dad that I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. He was thrilled. My father was one of the most Christ-like humans I’ve ever known, so tender and loving. He guided me in prayer and I opened up the door of my heart and said to Jesus, “you can come in”. Back in those days I actually had a door on my heart with a tiny little door knob that only I could grasp and open. It was a sweet and beautiful moment.

Unfortunately I was never sure if it took. That is, I had to do it over and over again after every altar call. And each time my fear increased. I wasn’t sure I was saved from hell. I felt guilty, but I could never point to the exact sin that I was committing, it was a general sense that something was inherently wrong with me. The altar call for repentance amplified that feeling every time. I didn’t know why Jesus would vacate my heart, I was just scared that he had, or that he never came in the first time I had asked. I couldn’t be sure of my salvation and that was usually part of the invitation to come forward; the preacher would say, “If you’re not sure…”. I didn’t know where I would spend eternity; heaven or hell. And besides that heaven was just as scary as hell. They both start by dying.

11 thoughts on “Chapter Three

  1. Julee I’ve always loved you. The way you have always embraced life, family, and God have been a constant source of both pride and inspiration to me. I hope I will be like you my whole life, always learning, never settling, going deeper, not afraid to question.

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  2. Julee you’re making me relive my early days. I’m trying to remember if I was as motivated by the fear of going to hell as you remember being. I guess I must have been, but now I rarely feel it as a dominate motivation. About 48 years ago I had the first of a handful of deeply profound personal encounters with the Lord. Without going into any detail, I’ll just say I was wrecked by the most amazing revelation of God’s love. It included an awareness of God’s love for me personally, but I was just being caught up in His love for every soul. I remember thinking, “everybody needs to know this God who is now, will be and has always been loving them.”

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  3. Julee, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure where you’re going with this. All I can say, is I pray whatever is happening to you is bringing you closer to Him. We all need Him. Although, I’m one who did ask Him into my heart many years ago, I left the Catholic Church, having grown in a Catholic home.I was not encouraged to seek the Bible to know what He had to say in it and the negative treatment I received because I was no longer Catholic made me look into the Scriptures to learn about Jesus. I’m glad because it’s been the best decision I’ve made. Praise God!

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  4. To my dear friend Julie – I love how you have been sharing your heart with us. Thank you for being so open and honest. Interestingly enough, just an hour ago, I was thinking about my conversion at the same age of 6, in the same church as you, but in a different light. You see, my family started attending First Baptist in Shelton because my parents had radical conversions from, as I call it, very dark lives. The change was so drastic, from dark to light, our whole lives changed. We moved across town, we acguired new friends (including your family), and started going to church. Our family found love and happiness in knowing and trusting God. My relationship with God was never motivated by fear, only love. Hell has never been an issue with me because I see it as being separated from God and I would never want that. Living without God, living without love, for eternity, would be unimaginable.

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  5. My dear friend Cheryl, I love you. Thank you so much for sharing part of your story. We did have fun growing up together in that church, huh!?! 🙂
    Plus, one Sunday, you saved me from choking to death on a jawbreaker!
    About hell being an issue…questioning the meaning of hell is what started me on this journey that has led me away from a Western, Evangelical, and Protestant view of the after life. Hopefully, as this blog continues, it will become more clear how my perspective has changed concerning not only hell, but also the Atonement and sin itself.

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  6. Steve, you are one of my favorite brothers 😉 whom I deeply respect and admire. Your life is the example of the “God who is now, will be and has always been loving” us all. Thank you! ❤️

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  7. Thanks for sharing this Julie! When I was younger, I do remember the fear of hell and feeling very motivated by fear to want to go to heaven. Later in life I hated preachers who scared people into heaven. It seemed so opposite of who they said God was as a loving forgiving God.
    This encourages me to actually write my story through the mess I’ve been through the last several years. I have some ideas, yet haven’t started it yet.
    I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it the darkness sucks me back in at times.
    Thanks again for being vulnerable in sharing your story!

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  8. Hi Julie, this is Darrell Grytness, visting Cheryl in Kona. She just showed me your blog and I cant believe how similar my experience was as yours. Add to that “the rapture” that could happen at any moment and that did not make a very good combination. I can remember running home after school along the railroad tracks and up the hill just to make sure mom was home and that I wasnt left behind. Thankfully at some point I did begin to realize that a loving, creator God just couldnt really be that horrible. It was a rough start to a now wonderful relationship with our Lord. Thanks for sharing your heart. When your going through it you think your the only one. Take care, Darrell

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