Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Preston Yancey who is a soon-to-be college grad from Baylor University. This post is a little different, in that it is a set of seven snap shots, windows into Preston’s journey of faith. We hope you enjoy.
I don’t remember it. There is a lot of pressure put on Evangelicals to identify that particular moment in time in which they knew they were a sinner Jesus to waltzed into their hearts.
It happened, it happened at a specific moment in time, but if you ask me to identify the exact moment, I’m at a loss.
There was this one time in a shopping cart at Target when I was three and I told my mother I wanted to know Jesus. There were a few more times after that — late nights with my parents — and I can remember more than once kneeling beside my bed and saying what was likely a very broken rendition of the Sinner’s Prayer, hoping that it would take.
Which one of those counted? I’m not sure. Not everyone comes to Faith later in life with the dramatic fanfare of the Apostle Paul.
There are those of us who grew up praying Christ as Lord and, one of those times, Christ as Lord was acceptance, one of those times was the gift of the Holy Spirit, one of those times was the grafting into this ridiculous, loud family we call the Body of Christ.
What I know is that it happened, that I have the assurance of things hoped for, that at some point a toddler said just enough, longed for it in just the right way, that God saw into that heart and whispered it to Life.
Our Baptist church is meeting at the YMCA because we sold our old building—I think to Methodists, but I’m likely fabricating that—and we are building a new one. I’m five and in the swimming pool with my father, the pastor, who when I was born told me two things as he held me in his arms:
The plan of salvation—and when he said plan, he meant the soteriological narrative from creation to resurrection—
And the origin of the species, which I am coyly using in place of the blatant truth, which was that he told me about sex. He reasoned those were the conversations I should be having with him before anyone else.
There are tears in his eyes as he holds me under. “Into His death,” he says like the Apostle who got the dramatic conversion story. Chlorine stings my eyes and a bubble escapes my nose. I am only under a moment, as death surely is itself, but the silence of it is incredible.
Breaking up from the water, all splash and grace, the congregation assembles clapping, filling the space of now and the now to come with loud, vibrant joy.
“I’m afraid that God will call me to go to Africa and run around wearing a banana-leaf.”
We’re on the jungle gym. I’m twelve and they’re fifteen. It’s summer, church camp, all tears during the emotional songs and structured quiet times spent picking grass and filling in blanks on worksheets.
I think I hear God telling me to be a missionary. I think I hear this call to go.
“Maybe He is.” She says to me. She was always so wise, in a tender kind of way.
It’s the next night. I haven’t much liked the speaker. I’m twelve and think I know things. He doesn’t read Scripture well. At least, I think this. (I’m not sure now what drew me to this conclusion, except maybe the time he had us throw open our Bibles to the Psalms, stand up, and read the Psalm we turned to aloud and told us this was a sign from God as a promise in our lives. I had fat thumbs and ended up in Ezra, something about mixed marriages, and immediately called foul on the whole thing.)
It’s the altar call and he’s breathing hard into the microphone: “Maybe God is calling you to go to Africa and run around wearing a banana-leaf.”
I’m not sure about this, but in retrospect, I feel like bananas are found more in South America. Maybe that’s more confirmation than I realize, because I spoke ridiculous and he heard ridiculous and somehow, somehow, this was the voice of God.
I stand. I follow. I obey. He spoke and I heard. Called to missional service. Or something.
Called to go.
I’m nineteen and I’m helping her pack her house when she leaves her husband, whom she didn’t know was still married when they got together.
I’m silly and young, so I open the wine—the good wine—and pour it all down the sink and fill it with water, re-cork it, and put it back on the wine rack. I unscrew some of the light bulbs just enough so that they flicker. I want it to be miserable for him. I want it to be like the movies and for there to be this great moment of powerful triumph, all one-liners and easy breaking.
I walk into the living room and she’s folding his underwear. “What are you doing?”
She looks at me with sad, knowing, but determined eyes. “The right thing. It’s what you do.”
I’ve been at St. Paul’s for two months and I still haven’t received the Eucharist. The action itself doesn’t feel wrong, but I do. I, who stumbled into this little Episcopal church a month and a half after my twentieth birthday, who told God I needed to be filled again because I was running on empty, who needed to hide, cannot bring myself forward to be fed.
I have received a blessing each Sunday, but no more. I am not right enough for Communion; I am not pieced together enough.
But that’s the point.
I hear the the person in front of me told, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.”
I find my hands not in the sign for blessing but for receiving, because this is right.
It is the truest thing that might be said in the entirety of this cosmos, that Christ is our very everything, for body and soul, and when wafer is placed into my hands and words of wonder are spoken over my brow, it comes out all breathy, marveling joy, “Amen.”
We sit on the terra-cotta patio on the other side of the divided garden, away from the angel sculpture made of twisted metal that I find alarmingly evil in appearance but I have heard rumor was made by a student with a terminal illness, so I try to feel bad for thinking it evil.
We’re both twenty-one and I’m still silly, still thinking that pouring the wine down the sink and filling it with water counts for something, but those pieces of me are breaking down in front of him and I am spilling all of myself, all the half-twisted light bulbs and the darkest places, confessing aloud the things I had never once told another soul.
And he hears me.
Somehow he hears me and he doesn’t walk away.
He hears me too and sits between us, listening, with a hand on both our knees, telling us that this is right and good and what it means to be Body, what it means to be Body broken.
I’m not strong anymore. I let all of this self, books of theology and blogs about God, fall onto the terracotta like a guilt offering and release it all to the mid-Spring wind on a cloudy day away from that metal angel and its gaze.
And I admit that I don’t know. I admit I don’t trust Him.
I’m twenty-two now, typing this as I sit on a bed in a small house monastery of Anglican Benedictines, sun peaking through crimson curtains and watching me type. I am here to work on my book, to rest, to by the mercy of God produce another chapter for my thesis.
I am here because I don’t entirely know what’s next.
I have not spoken a word in three hours.
Silence is different here. The sounds of outside, unfamiliar, inarticulate, make the silence of this space unique to itself. I wonder at the movement here, to this space. I, with Baptist roots that I still love, still abide in, now making home with Anglicans for a few days, joining in with written prayers and whispered praise, no longer filling wine bottles with water, no longer concerned with banana-leaves or what they might mean.
Go, He said. And I went. I am still going. I’m not entirely sure where. But that’s the point.
In an hour, when the bell rings for Vespers, I shall descend the stairs and join brothers and sisters in praying, in keeping the vigil, in listening into the silence of God.
Because that’s the point.
“What are you doing?”
“The right thing. It’s what you do.”