By June Stein, 2011.
My first remembrance of learning about the Lord was in bedtime prayer with my Mother when I was a small child, just old enough to say, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” For my own children, I changed the last two lines to, “When in the morning light I wake, Be Thou still near for Jesus’ sake.” The Lord’s nearness in our life is a better thought to sleep on than whether we might die before we wake! I felt ‘grown up’ when I could say The Lord’s Prayer instead.
Other than bedtime prayer, my childhood relationship with Jesus was defined by Sunday school—with the Bible stories we learned and the songs we sang there: “Jesus Loves Me”, “In the Garden”, “Love Lifted Me”, “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Ivory Palaces” and “I Love to Tell The Story” were some favorites. Christmas, Easter and Sunday school Christmas Programs were special Church and family times.
At home, there was not much talk about God, and faith seemed a ‘personal’ thing…not really shared. There were two relatives who, when they came for dinner, were asked if they would like to say ‘Grace’: Uncle John, my Dad’s older, bachelor brother, and his sister’s husband, Uncle Bob. Part of Uncle John’s set mealtime prayer, I can still hear in my mind today, as he somberly intoned, “Thank You, Lord, for the food set before us to nourish our ‘poor decaying bodies’, and for the hands which prepared it. As kids, the ‘poor decaying bodies’ part of his prayer tickled our funny bone, and we bit our tongue to keep from laughing.
A real relationship with the Lord began to build when I was about twelve, and started Catechism classes. When studying with the minister about the Bible, the meaning of the Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Sacraments of the Church, along with the basic doctrines of faith, it seemed, somehow, to resonate within. Mine is not a sudden, life-changing conversion, but rather a slow blossoming of a wonderful relationship with Christ, the Lord of my life.
After the first year of classes, we moved to the country and didn’t connect with another church on a regular basis for at least a year and a half. My Dad was the only driver, and not too big on going to church. He used to tell us about his Father, who was a lay Preacher in the Gospel Hall church, and was also a stern, strict disciplinarian. He was forced to go to church even when he had no shoes, and said that had soured him on church. At fourteen, after a whipping, he told his Father that it was the last time he would be whipped without hitting back. His early years had left a mark, but he did attend church occasionally with my mother, in later years. Also, in conversations with him when I was an adult, he did convey a strong faith in the Lord. My older brother and sister were ‘more or less on their own’, and didn’t move with us…only coming on weekends and, at that point, church was not a priority for them.
I realized how much I missed the Church, and began to seek God on my own in the privacy of my room. My prayer life deepened and I began to read the Bible at bedtime. When in high school, I had an abbreviated completion of Catechism and was confirmed with an adult class. The young Minister, who was just out of Seminary, and his wife, who was the Choir Director, had a big impact on my faith. Jesus became more and more dear and present to me. He was the One, Who heard all my problems, fears, insecurities, hopes and joys. It was His guidance I sought; His strength I relied upon. When I was old enough to finally drive, I was able to take part in the activities of the Church and learned what it is to be ‘one in the Body of Christ’ with fellow believers.
Through Jesus’ suffering, death on the Cross and Resurrection, I not only have forgiveness of my sin and eternal life in Him…but He is with me every day. He has brought me through every trial in all things…the death of loved ones: seven major surgeries for my husband: my own colon cancer: and all of the fears, doubts, sicknesses, strained relationships and challenges that are a part of family living. A larger part is the joy and blessing of family life, and all of life in Christ. His loving care and Presence in my life is greater than anything in this world. The blessings of children and grandchildren are a miraculous gift which graces my days, and I am forever thankful to God.
By June Stein
Only in God, my soul finds rest, He is my rock, my fortress,
Salvation comes from Him, alone, I joyfully can witness.
In every trial, and all my sin, my God is ever steadfast,
Jesus died on the cross for me, and His mercy holds me fast.
There is nothing in this world, that can tear me from His grasp,
I am His forevermore; He gives me strength when ‘ere I ask.
The joy Christ gives can’t be perceived, unless you open up your heart,
Whenever He is truly sought, new life and mercy He imparts.
The world will never satisfy, the longing that is deep within,
We are created in God’s image, true joy is only found in Him.
What boundless, steadfast love is ours, complete forgiveness for our sin,
Sheltered beneath His wings forever, the Holy Spirit dwells within.