You know you grew up in rural North Carolina if….
…You caught light’ning bugs and honey bees in an old mason jar.
…You rode a mule named “Kokamo” bare back down to the pond… only to get knocked off by tree branches.
…You played with a tobacco worm tied to a match box with twine, as if it were a cart, and watched as he attempted to pull it across the sand.
…You went snow sledding in the pasture, using an old egg crate for your sled.
…You played in the creek, swinging on grape vines.
…Your nearest neighbor was a mile or more down the road.
…Your secret hiding place was a circle of Seven Sisters roses in the middle of the woods.
Some of my fondest memories as a 12 year old are from the tenant farm my family lived on in rural North Carolina. A dirt drive wound its way up to the house alongside the front pasture. Opposite the pasture was a small forest of short needled pine trees and various bushes and undergrowth; wonderful hiding places. A good quarter mile from the main road, once you reached the last fence post, stood the little white house. The drive circled the house and then continued on down to the backside of the farm. I loved walking barefoot in the soft white sand on some of those farm paths. It felt so cool on my toes.
A giant cedar tree stood guard in the fork where the drive split. A maple tree in the center of the front yard held my favorite swing fashioned from an old tire inner tube and a bit of rough rope I found in an old barn. Two stately pine trees held a basketball goal, minus the net, and a makeshift tree-house on the side yard. Many games of one-on-one and H.O.R.S.E played around that goal had beaten the lawn down to the bare dirt. Good times.
Riding my little green bike down to one of the three ponds was a challenge. Little Charlie, the black angus bull, loved to hide between the barns and come charging out after anyone he thought was encroaching on his territory. He terrified me. Big Charlie, the white faced Hereford bull, was a sweet ol’ thing. He never ran. He was quite domesticated. He enjoyed being petted and put up with us kids trying to ride him. I don’t think he ever moved more than a few feet with us on his back.
Yes, fond memories. But that age also holds some bitter sweet memories as well. A conversation I had with one of my school friends remains with me. We were sitting in the auditorium one day waiting for assembly. She turned to me and asked, “Are you a Christian?” Then before I could answer she says, “‘because if you aren’t, then Momma says I can’t play with anybody who’s not.” I really didn’t know how to answer her. I didn’t know what it meant to be a Christian. I knew folks that attended church every Sunday often said they were Christian. My family did not attend church. So, I said no. She said, “Then I can’t play with you anymore.” That statement hurt deeply. But, it did make me curious about being a Christian. She never shared what it meant. Nor did her mother allow her to invite me to their home or to attend church with them.
My brother was dating a girl at that time who went to church. Once or twice I was invited to go with him to church with her. Her parents also asked if I was a Christian and if I was saved. (Saved from what?) My curiosity grew. But they never offered to tell me more. I wanted to know more. My brother’s girlfriend would pass her discarded Sunday school books to me when she had finished with them.
I would take those little booklets, and the little red New Testament bible I received from a visiting Gideon preacher who visited my fifth grade class, and go to my secret hiding place among the Seven Sisters roses. Sitting on mounds of pine straw with the rays of sunshine streaming down through the tree tops like a spot light shining on my secret circle, I devoured the Bible stories. The little books talked about asking Jesus into one’s heart. But, no one ever offered to tell me how. I could relate to a story I had read about an Ethiopian eunuch who was struggling to understand scripture. In Acts 8:30-31 it says, “…Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” I vowed, that one day, I would know what it all meant. I vowed that it wouldn’t matter if my friends were different from me. I vowed that if I ever had children… they could invite their friends to visit our home. I didn’t want them to hurt or be hurt the way I had been.
Thus began my faith journey. I eventually learned that God offers His mercy and grace to all who ask. I came to understand that I am a sinner, I believe that Jesus Christ came as the one and only Redeemer of sin. I learned that I didn’t have to be perfect to be loved by God. A friend in high school helped guide me to know God’s love and to pray this prayer:
“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”
That my friend, is how my life was shaped by a childhood memory.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for memories. Some are bitter sweet. Thank you for reminding me how my faith journey began. Forgive me for taking you for granted. Forgive me for assuming everyone understands “church” talk, as folks in my past assumed I knew what they were talking about. Father I pray for the one who is struggling with knowing you today. I pray for the mother or father who is struggling to teach their children how to make friends. I pray for the one who is struggling with sharing your love and grace with others. Teach us to love and care as you do. In Christ name, Amen.