Friday, May 22, 2009

Once Upon a Time, When I Was Wesleyan

At five, I didn’t realize how much life imitates falling dominoes or how one seemingly insignificant event calls into being the next and the next. I’d yet to memorize the verse that says all things work together for the good of those who serve the Lord. But I knew there was a God. In fact, I knew God existed before I was fully aware of my own existence.

That’s how it is when Dad’s a preacher.

By the age of five, God is at the core of all things. You have doubts about the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. But the Great I Am simply is.

At five, it doesn’t seem strange that Dad’s a preacher. Having a farmer or a trucker for a dad sounds weird. But having a preacher for a dad is normal. He has a church. People come to hear him speak. Mom is the church pianist. And you sit on the front row and behave until the benediction. You go to every potluck dinner, where everyone calls you by name and helps you fill your plate with whatever your heart desires.

When I was eight or nine, I invited Jesus to come into my heart. It was the normal progression in the evangelical and fundamentalist denominations. First, you teach a child. Then, the child chooses for herself.

From that point forward, I not only knew God was real, I knew that the Lord Jesus Christ was living in my heart. And I absolutely fell in love with Him. It was the beginning of my love affair with Our Lord; it set the stage for receiving the Eucharist - though that would not come for a very long time. Indeed, I learned to love deeply, and decades later, when I understood what I was receiving in Holy Communion as a Catholic, I almost couldn't bear it. It was too wonderful, so intimate, to have this one I loved take the form of something I could receive within me - literally and spiritually.

The summer of my ninth birthday came to a close, and my sister and I prepared to start a new school year.

In December of that school year, my parents got a phone call that my grandfather had fallen into a grain bin on the family farm and the local fire department was at that moment shoveling corn onto the frozen ground in an effort to find his body. The recovery team believed he had climbed to the top of the bin with a wrench in hand in order to break through the frozen layer of ice that sometimes forms on the grain during Iowa winters. He’d done this task many times through the years, but this time something went wrong, and he fell into the bin and suffocated. When he didn’t show up for the evening meal, grandma went looking for him. She had her suspicions when she realized the bin’s drier wasn’t working. A wrench had jammed up the gears. Grandpa’s wrench. The one he’d used to break through the crust of ice just before losing his balance. The wrench had made its way to the bottom of the bin and become lodged in the drier. My dad left the ministry soon after that terrible night, and we moved to the farm to help grandma.

I now had a farmer for a dad.

And that’s how things would have stayed if not for a couple of local Presbyterian churches who happened to be without a pastor. But that is another story for another day. It is enough to say that my first love for Jesus began when I was just a child - when I was Wesleyan. Even then, He was preparing me to come all the way home, to recognize Him in the Eucharist and to crave this Bread of Life with my whole heart and soul. Indeed, all things do work together for the good of those who are called.


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