For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
Psalm 139:13-14 NKJV
I’m nearly 50 years old. Some might say the best years of my life are behind me. Others might say the best years of my life are still to come. My response is, every year with the Lord is one of the best years of my life. There have been times in my life I walked closely with the Lord. There have been times in my life that I have walked distant from the Lord. One thing I can say, I never walked away from the Lord.
I was born and raised in Southern California, not far from Los Angeles. My parents were Roman Catholic and I was raised in the Catholic Church. Some Christians might argue that Catholics aren’t Christian, but when it comes to the core beliefs of all Christians, Catholics believe and teach the same things. There may be aspects of the religion that some Christians don’t agree with, but this entry is not intended to be a focus of Catholic apologetics. This is to share the environment in which I was brought up, about the formative years that helped shape the person I have become today.
I was baptized into the Catholic Church. I took my First Communion, went through the Catholic Catechisms and was confirmed into the Catholic Church. My baptism was when I was an infant, as is the practice among Catholic families. Through my baptism, my family promised to raise me in the ways of the Lord and in the practices of the Catholic Church. That was a promise that my parents kept. My First Communion was when I was in grade school. It was a time that I first understood that the wafer and wine offered in the Catholic Mass were the body and blood of Jesus Christ, broken and shed for our sins, so that we might be saved. Catechism went through my school years and ended with my Confirmation. My Confirmation while a Confirmation into the Catholic Church, was also a profession of faith. Through the Confirmation, In addition to affirming that I would follow the rites of the Catholic Church, I affirmed that I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, part of the holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I was baptized with oil, signifying the Holy Spirit’s influence in my life. Yes, there was a lot more surrounding being Catholic and doing the rites related to Catholicism, but at the core, I made a stand for my True and risen Savior.
The Catholic Church wasn’t my only exposure to being a Christian. My parents were both living examples of what it meant to follow Christ. It wasn’t about the things they did, but about the person of Jesus Christ. Salvation always came first, followed by the Service. The three “S.” Sin, Salvation, Service. They lived and modeled their faith in everything they did. When I was in grade school, my mother attended a women’s Bible Study at a Christian Reformed church. I clearly remember going to VBS every summer. It was always a highlight of my summer. In High School, I went to a Catholic retreat. I think it was “LifeTeen” or something similar. It was young adults speaking to teens about what it meant to be a follower of Christ in the Catholic church. I don’t remember a lot about that retreat, but I do remember talking to one of the counselors, talking about wanting to be closer to God.
My first eighteen years were well grounded in faith. I didn’t read the Word daily but I was regularly exposed to it. I grew up, not only with the Word, but with the daily example of my parents. I grew up with love and not hypocrisy. I grew up seeing the truth and love in practice. Despite all this, my youth was far from clear sailing.
From kindergarten through twelfth grade, I spent the entirety of my educational years in the public school system. In addition to that, I was in the same school district the entire time. That meant, for the most part, I saw the same kids, year after year, and that wasn’t always a good thing. From as far back as first or second grade, I remember being teased and bullied. I remember many times running away from the bus or school in fear. I remember kids wanting to pick fights with me, but, to this day, I still don’t understand why. The handful of friends I did have outside of school, didn’t want to associate with me when we were in school. Even in high school, the boy I considered my “best friend” would push me into the bushes on the way home from school laughing at “bush games.” Yet, he was my best friend, so I laughed along with it. Why? Because when we weren’t around others, we did have fun together, and I didn’t want to lose one of the few friends that I had.
I was loved at home, but for some reason, I was disliked at school. For years, I struggled to make and keep friends. I did things, some things I shouldn’t have done, to try to keep my friends. Nothing illegal or dangerous, but still wrong. When I did get friends, even if they were, in hindsight, fair-weather friends, I was afraid to do anything that would end the friendship. It wasn’t until my Senior Year that I actually had a core group of friends that were stronger than the ones I had in the past. One was one I had been friends with since middle school, and many of the others were friends made that year. We were the outcast group, for the lack of a better term. Many of them were probably not good influences, but they were trustworthy and faithful friends. They knew that I didn’t drink, smoke, nor desire premarital sex, and they would actually stand behind those decisions. They respected me enough to tell me not to break those stands, even if they were doing those very things.
Part of the desire to “fit in” came a thought that I was a “nerd” and being a “nerd” was somehow a bad thing. I don’t know if that came from the other kids who bullied me, but I suspect that is where it came from. To avoid being seen as a “nerd” in my mind, I had to stop trying so hard in school. That started a bad habit of not doing school work and not studying. I loved to learn, and I retained a lot of what I learned despite lack of studying, but wanting to fit in and not be bullied was more important. Then there were my fair-weather friends, who I would rather spend time with than doing the work, because they were the only friends I had, so they were important. Then, somewhere along the line, this lack of effort became a habit. I can’t point to any specific thing, but I do know that this habit was something that my parents were in constant discussion with the teachers about. I had the ability, I just wouldn’t apply myself and do what was necessary. How much of it was laziness? How much of it was me wanting to be liked? How much of it was me not caring? How much of it was the bad habit that I started? I honestly can’t answer that question now. All I know is that my parents did everything they could to try to correct my behavior, but I was too stubborn. Despite all that, I still did manage to graduate, even though I did have to go to after school classes to make up the credits I needed for previous classes in which I failed.
Thankfully, my early years had the strong foundation of Christ. I may have struggled through my school years. I may have dealt with insecurities and depression. I may even have been borderline suicidal at times. Despite all that, the foundation of Christ kept me from going over any edges. The love of my family, the attention of my parents, the example they showed, all helped me to move forward. I may have been a struggle for them when it came to my schooling and my lack of dedication there, but despite that, I knew I was loved. More importantly, I knew I had Christ in my life. The poem “Footprints in the Sand,” which I first received in grade school, had one line that always helped me in those times, and even beyond. “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I [Jesus] carried you.”
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:29-30 NKJV