In the sense that we have come to think of testimonies, I do not have one. I can honestly say that I do not remember a time when I did not know God.
I do remember when I actually prayed with my mom – I was lying in bed in my little pink bedroom that was in our tiny blue house right here in Moscow. I was afraid of the dark and she told me not to be afraid because God was everywhere. I said He was in my heart too, and she said no He wasn’t, and I prayed on the spot. I was three when that happened – but I am fairly certain that I already loved the Lord and that was just when I made it “official.”
I was baptized when I was five at Laird Park – in the freezing cold water, wearing a short and tank outfit that my mom had sewn for me. It was the same day my brother was baptized, and we arrived with our legs stuck to the brown vinyl seats in the back of our huge old Buick. My mom assisted my Dad in the baptisms – something that still cracks us up when we think of it – but I think it may have been back before we even had elders in our church.
I never rebelled, and neither did my brother or sister. Sure, I can think of times through my young life when there were opportunities to sin in ways that would have destroyed something. Sin that would have clouded my relationship to God and to my family – but I am thankful to say that by God’s mercy I did not fall away. The reality is that through those times I loved the Lord, and I did not desire anything else.
Looking back I see a lot of mercy in my parent’s faithfulness. There was no hypocrisy in our home. My parents talked with us through all kinds of things and the reality of our faith was very obvious in these conversations. Scripture was authoritative over our lives, my parents were in the Word, they submitted their own lives to the Word of God.
In fact most of the trials in my childhood or young adulthood had to do with this. In fourth grade I had friends tell me that they could no longer play with me because my Dad believed in predestination – a hilarious childish outworking of the time that my Dad was becoming reformed. Starting then, I did not really have close friends until high school when some new kids who could handle the idea of predestination came along. I sometimes wondered why the kids in my class wouldn’t be my friends – I felt like I was pretty friendly. But then I would get some kind of an “invitation” into something that repulsed me, and I would not wonder any longer. Like the time when a boy who wasn’t a believer was “inviting” me (lucky me!) to be his #1. It couldn’t have been clearer when those kind of things happened how much I loved my family. The raspberries were blown with a strength that surprised even me.
By this point in my story I am sure that you are all ready to hear about my incredible self righteousness or closet sin of some kind. And there wasn’t any. Obviously I sinned and struggled along like any Christian, and like I still do, but I did not at any point get eaten alive by sin, public or private. I did not come back to the Lord dramatically at any time because I was His all along.
But what is the point of a testimony? Especially this kind?! A testimony is a witness account. It is the word of a person about what they have themselves witnessed. This is the humbling part of my story – this is the part that chokes me up and wrings my heart. I know that you could hear what I have already said as arrogant, like I haven’t struggled enough or hurt enough, or needed Jesus enough. But I want you to listen, because this is beautiful and terrifying and bittersweet and glorious all at the same time. And I want you to hear it because it is precious to me, and because it is precious to God.
Every day when I drive my kids to school we drive past a little strip of grass behind the Kibbie Dome and beside the old arboretum, where the sunsets look hot and the shadows make the hills look like velvet – and as we pass that spot my kids sometimes yell, “There’s where Nana became a Christian!” My mother – a miserable college student trying to make sense of her life sat down there and prayed with a letter from her sister in her hands. A few days later she met my Dad’s parents – in her quest to get her first Bible and go to her first terrifying Bible study. There – on that little strip of sunny grass, my physical life as well as my spiritual life began. All of us who have faith have it as a gift – and how humbling it is to know that the very fact of your faith, as well as your life, is part of God’s faithfulness to others.
My Grandpa Jim gave us all Valentines roses this year, my girls too, and in his very formal but increasingly shaky hand, right before he signed off, he wrote, “You are part of Exodus 20:6, ‘But showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.'”
My faith is a story of faithfulness – the faithfulness of our God. It is a story of God doing what He promised He would do. My life and my faith and my prayers for my children are all part of a beautiful and intricate story of God’s faithfulness to His people.
From the place that God has put me in this story, I have a pretty good short-range view. I know I am here because God is keeping His promise to a motherless Canadian girl who went forward at a tent revival. I know, because the man she married wrote it to me on a Valentine’s card, and he has asked God to keep those promises. I know that I am here because of God’s love for a Wyoming socialite and a stubborn California boy. We drive by the house where those two accepted Jesus shortly after my mom did. I know that My life now is part of the love that God has for them – part of His faithful love towards His people.
And further back too – I have a ruby ring that I am the fifth generation to wear. The gold on the sides is worn down on the band because it was worn next to a wedding ring for so many years, right next to vows that made my life possible. And I will see all five of those women in heaven. I think of their hands – working for their families and the kingdom. I think of the prayers in their hearts, because some of them had unbelieving children, or husbands.
My faith is not mine, but His. How then could my life be mine and not His? My faith is nothing but a weak reflection of the faithful love of God, poured out through generations. How many times in our family line did people think that God was not hearing them? How many heartaches were there? How many times did fear overshadow faith, or was worry bigger than hope? And yet God was faithful. He shows His love to a thousand generations.
Sometimes this kind of faith makes us uncomfortable. We would like to see a little more desperation, or a little more flash, even those of us who believe that God shows covenant kindness – we who baptize our children in infancy with a faltering faith. I recently saw an article about how to know if your children are simply borrowing your faith. It made some good points about wanting your children to be asking questions – but it has this horrible overarching assumption that each person’s faith has nothing to do with the faith of their parents, as though our faith is supposed to spring out suddenly and live only in us. But the reality is that I haven’t borrowed my parents’ faith, but I share it. Because our faith is not ours, but rather the faithfulness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This passage is a beautiful portrait of this very thing:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day (2 Timothy 1:8-12).