Mrs. Wilkinson was a tall slender older woman in a dirndl-skirted robin-brown-and-red plaid dress and only slightly faded, bobbed auburn hair. Blinking often through her 60’s era glasses, she kept a stern and steady countenance. She seemed old to me then and I was somewhat afraid of her as she towered over us each Sunday morning in first grade Sunday School.
I don’t remember much about the lessons in our Sunday School class, but I remember very clearly that we learned the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “This is My Father’s World”. We were invited to bring in nature objects to show–a birds’ nest, a little pile of pebbles, a leaf, a feather–and then place them on the nature table in the room. My fear of her was softened by this kindred love of the natural world.
I must have brought an object one day, because in my memory, I am talking with her. She is bending down slightly in front of me to really listen to me and I am looking up. Though she didn’t smile with her mouth, her hazel-blue eyes blinked her smile and she was gentle and kind.
Whatever I had brought to the nature table, she responded meaningfully, reverencing the God of Creation. She received me and took me seriously. God must be like that, I thought.
We also learned a song that has this gently repeating phrase “He careth for you”. The message was clear to me even then, that our Creator is kind and loving, creating all the beautiful natural world, and is deeply personal, caring for me as if, like Mrs. Wilkinson had modeled, I was the only person in the room worth listening to.
Put to the test
Cut to a new scene. I am below age 9. My older sister is playing with her friend and I am the tagalong younger sister.
At our Florida home, we had a carport built into the side of our house with 3 interconnected, stuffed-full utility rooms inside the furthest supporting wall. Being on the outside of the house in Florida with no seals on the utility doors, flying Palmetto bugs (i.e., huge cockroaches) scurryied and flew audibly for cover any time a door would open. Close the doors and all went pitch black.
That day, as siblings will often do, my sister lured me into the middle utility room. Suddenly the door shut and the room went completely black. I heard the padlock clicking and the sound of my sister and her friend running away into the yard and beyond laughing. My fear was so palpable I can still remember it. Yet something happened that day that changed my life.
Standing in complete and utter darkness with not a ray or fade of light to help, the chorus “He careth for you” began repeating in my mind in soft gentle music, unasked. I was immediately aware in my body that I was not alone–that a gentle presence was with me, and intellectually I knew it was God. Christ was with me there in the room.
My muscles relaxed and I was physically and emotionally overcome with a peace that truly surpasses all human explanation, and all fear drained away. I stood calmly and patiently facing the door, “kept” in a state of communion with the God whom I had come to know in Mrs. Wilkinson’s class. I welcomed Him and rested in Him.
This peace was interrupted by the sound of my mother coming out of the kitchen door into the carport calling my name and wondering where I was. I don’t remember how I communicated my presence, but I heard her unlock the padlock, asking “Where is your sister?” in a comprehending tone of voice. I was free, but I was changed.
All memory stops at my point of deliverance. But I do know that I met the reality of the God of Creation; I met my gentle Savior who cared for me. I knew then He is real and have never doubted his existence or love.
At age 9, I came before the congregation and declared that He is Lord of my life. I was baptized into the family of God and have been His ever since. My decision was rational and permanent.
I wasn’t a ideal child by any means; but in my heart, spiritual things became important. When I behaved like a brat, I felt it and I repented in my heart. I experienced change. I used to exaggerate, mostly unintentionally, because I enjoyed the responses I got from a good story. Now I felt the sting of the reality that I was a habitual liar. God gradually changed me into one who pursues the truth at all costs.
In junior high school, I was deeply moved by the revival teams that came and went from our church, calling for us to read the bible all the way through. We were given a “The Way” paperback Bible which included a table of each book of the Bible with grid squares to check off when we’d read the chapters.
I read through the Bible more than once and wrestled with what it said. The things I thought were out of character with the God I knew, I figured that there must be something that I did not know. I questioned and waited for further learning. Throughout my life, God answered those questions, those difficult parts of the Bible, as I kept studying.
I contemplated eternity. I wept at night for the men in Vietnam and wept again when President Nixon announced they were coming home for good. I talked with the Lord about my fears of nuclear war and my constant fear that we would be robbed or suffer violence like those on the nightly news.
I came to see myself as a separate human, able to say no to unholy things. I “thumped” my Bible to friends when I felt they were abandoning the faith they held. I told strangers about the Lord when “mall walking” with our revival team and found to my total surprise that they wanted to know about Jesus!
Set Aside and Recaptured for Christ
At one point in high school, however, I set Him aside in a rational way, because I was not happy with His delay in giving me what I assumed were crucial needs in my life. I deliberately set out to get those things on my own, my own way. I suffered the consequences of that decision and it scarred.
God heard my cries and delivered me from the bondage of my choices and set me on higher ground. I realized I couldn’t serve God half-heartedly–my life was either all His, or it was not His at all. The choice was mine. So I dedicated myself entirely to Him once for all.
Later, in my young motherhood, I drew even closer, each time abandoning more of the residue of my selfish journey in this world. I have not done this perfectly, of course, but the decision was binding. I’ve seen miracles through believing prayer. I have known trauma and deep sorrow and I have seen God work that sorrow through to joy and peace and healing. He has confirmed His presence and active work again and again.
So why am I telling all this?
God came to me very early in life out of His own design for me. I didn’t do anything to warrant His attention, it was simply His own plan for my life.
My point is that an early experience in the Lord set me on a course through life that kept me, often against my own human will, safe from destruction.
The truth of Beth is played out in my life. I took heed, or paid attention to and obeyed the best I could, to the Lord’s Word. I read it, contemplated it, walked it out, and I even shared it with others, faulty though this has often been.
And the Lord has kept His promises.
Read verses 9 through 18 and consider God’s invitation to come to Him earlier than later. It doesn’t matter if you are 9 or 90, the call of God is still effective and sure for your life. If you have already come to the Lord, take the time to praise God for His safekeeping. If you’ve wandered from the love of His Word, take it up and read it again. Soak in the life-giving message of God’s love for you, and commit again to follow Him in grateful obedience.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, that you came to me so early in my life. You have given me the experience of Your Presence, and have calmed my childish fears not just in childhood, but all my life. I am so glad that I have known you and been kept by your grace through the wisdom of your Word, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the living power of the Holy Spirit to help me when I call. Lord, there are so many children who need to know you early in life. There are those whose childhood has not been the same as mine–so many have known fear, alientation, abuse. Some, Lord, simply have lived life in ignorance of your love and guidance, not suffering and yet now knowing you. Come to them all, Lord Jesus, even now and give them the Light of your Word. In my darkness, you stood together with me until the Light of freedom came. In their darkness, Lord, stand with them until they are free to know you fully and worship you with their life. Thank you, Lord for Mrs. Wilkinson, for parents, and for all those who shine your light into others’ lives by their teaching and the living testimony of their lives. Help me to be this for someone else in obedience to Your Word. In the Father’s Name, because of Christ, the Son, Amen.
This is the first of a two-part post. (See From My Youth, Pt. II.)
© 2018 by readpsalm119.com. Last revised Feb 8, 2019.
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” by Cecil F. Alexander, 1848
“He Careth For You” by H.B. Bengle and William J. Kirkpatrick, 1893. Sheet music PDF. (Actually, there are more than one hymn with this phrase, but I believe this to be the one I learned.)
“This is My Father’s World” by Maltbie D. Babcock, 1901. Beautifullyarranged and performed by Fernando Ortega, YouTube, published by “beanscot”