Every time I tell my testimony I feel as though I am giving a special glimpse inside of a very private space in my heart. Fear begins to sit in, telling me that my testimony is not worth telling, letting me know that I am not special, that everyone has a story. That’s true, but only I have my story and while it is not a tale of abuse, mistreatment, drug addiction or alcoholism, it is a story of deliverance, a story of a Ruth who met her Naomi, a story of a girl who never knew there was a God out there that loved her and that He created her for a purpose. You see, while my story is not dramatic by today’s standards, it is still a story that should be told. My story, while it is mine, might be familiar to a lot of you out there, the ones that are referred to as the “unchurched”. What a word that is, “unchurched”, so cold and harsh, as though we could have prevented being “unchurched”.
I remember one year, I was about 14, my Nana gave each of us girls a beautiful Precious Moments Bible. Mine was blue, Brandy’s was pink, Chrissy’s was white and Elexis’ was yellow and they were so beautiful. I had never had a Bible before, had only been to church maybe 4 times in my life. Why Nana gave us each Bibles I will never know. Perhaps she felt that we needed church. You see my parents were both raised in churches. My dad was dropped off at church every Wednesday and Sunday. My Mom’s (Nana’s daughter) religious background was a little different, she was raised in the Masonic religion, which she says was very Christian and they learned about the Bible. I don’t know, as they really don’t let you in on what they are doing. But back to the Bible, it was blue, my Nana wrote a note to me in it and I still have it. I took this Bible home and decided to read it and to learn what I could about this book. I made it to Numbers….. I just couldn’t get past all of the begats, I didn’t even know what that meant and there was no Google then.
Let’s fast forward several years to a 19 year old me. I worked in a gas station on the weekends and was a sophomore in college. I got asked out a lot by men coming in and never said yes until he walked in. He was 6’4”, handsome and shy. He stood around talking to me and when he asked me out I surprised myself by saying yes. His name was Brian Gregory and 8 months later I took his last name, seven months after that we had our son. But before all of that I met my Naomi and her name is Hope.
The first time I met Hope I was greeted by a woman in her pajamas and nothing else. Miss. Hope is special and most people would call her uncouth and I would agree. She is definitely uncouth, but she is such an amazing woman, you can’t help but like her. She was also my first taste of a woman on fire for God, she never stopped telling about her God. Everytime she speaks, she speaks of His goodness. My first time to go to church with them was for a Christmas service and that’s when I discovered that Assembly of God is Pentecostal and I was not expecting it! Of course, I had been to like 4 church services and most of them had been to children’s church, save the one that a nice elderly neighbor took my sister and me to and it was definitely not a Pentecostal church.
We would eventually become CEOs of that church (you know, Christmas & Easter Only). We also went on his mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. That first year of marriage I went to church there and doubled my total amount of times I had been to church. I began to enjoy the services, but there was a lot I did not understand. We were married in 1998 and my salvation would not take place until 2001.
September 11, 2001 was a day that will forever be inscribed in our memories. It started out just like any other day in the United States and by the end of the day our world as we knew it was over. We now lived in a scary world where the bad guys of the movies were real, where lives were lost that would never be forgotten and where I, pregnant with our second child, did not know if there was any hope. I would soon find out there was. Hope’s birthday was on September 12, so we went to church as we normally would on her birthday. The church was packed, I just thought that was how it was always, keep in mind I was a Holiday gal. It would be years later that I would learn that every church was packed, it would be months later that I would find out that was the day my husband rededicated his life to the Lord (a concept I could not even understand back then).
All of a sudden, and strangely very quietly, my husband began to change. This was a strange period in our marriage, because he didn’t tell and I didn’t ask, I guess God knew I needed time to understand. Brian didn’t drink anymore, he stopped cussing at all, he was different. We were also preparing for the birth of Audree in December, so having a toddler and working full time and preparing for baby didn’t give me a lot of time to think about these things. Another thing that changed, we went to church every Sunday.
December 2, 2001 we went to church and the pastor announced that we were going to have communion. I didn’t know what that was, I had never heard of such a thing. He also said something that I will never forget, he said, “You don’t have to be a member of this church to participate, you just have to be a member of His Church.” Funny how something so simple can blow your mind. He went on to say that you must be saved. I didn’t know what that meant and this is the part of the story where I blow the churched person’s mind. How could you not know what being saved meant. I was asked this one time and I looked at the well-meaning person and said, have you ever explained it to someone? I did not participate in communion that day. The only time I ever saw Miss Hope tell my father-in-law to hush was after that service. He was asking me why I didn’t participate and Miss Hope said, “Now hush Bill, she didn’t know what it meant, she did right by not partaking.” Oh how I miss my father-in-law. One of the last things he said to me was, “Can’t you feel it? Jesus is coming back, we are going home.” He passed away a week later. Prophetic words, can’t you feel it?
Later that afternoon Brian was watching a movie and Jackson (my oldest) was taking a nap. I went into our bedroom and I called my Naomi, Miss Hope, I had some questions and I knew she would have the answers. My first question, what did the preacher mean saved? Miss Hope walked me down the Roman Road. She was real calm about it too, which is real hard for a Pentecostal woman who's lost daughter-in-law is asking the right questions. I told her that I was going to get off of the phone and give my heart to Christ. I calmly hung up and knelt by my bed and gave my heart to Jesus. I got up and went and did some laundry. It wasn’t until about 14 years later when I was telling my story that a friend said, “Can you imagine the shouting going on over at Hope’s house?” To be honest I never thought about it, there probably was a lot of shouting that day at Miss Hope’s house, there was also some celebrating in Heaven.
I said all this to tell you the story of the name Hope, Faith, and Grace. Why not Charity, isn’t that the way it goes? Yupp, it is and I think it’s Faith, Hope, and Charity. But for me, my story begins with Hope, who had the faith to lead me to Grace. It’s because of His charity (or love) that I am a new creation through His Grace!