Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Testimony

My Testimony of Salvation by Grace through Faith

Ephesians 2:8,9---“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of G-d: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

I suppose I could start my story generations back, during the times of the Inquisition.
However, very little is known of my ancestors from those times, except for a gggg--etc--grandfather who was tried as a Jew in the Portuguese Inquisition (the Vatican kept good records). History is a very stubborn thing, and the L-rd is good in bringing to light the hidden things of darkness, so that truth is exposed. I will write more about that, L-rd-willing, in a subsequent article.

Being a “baby-boomer”, I was born pre-Vatican II, into a Roman Catholic family. I was second and third generation born into the United States. My grandparents and great grandparents came from foreign shores to find liberty and a better life for themselves and their children.

Truly, if it weren’t for them coming to this land of the free, I might not have been really set free!

My mother was a very observant Catholic. She religiously went to confession every week and to Mass on Sunday. My father, though a Catholic in name, was not observant, and rarely attended church. He would, however, consent to go on Easter or Christmas in order to please my mother. But, he did not have much regard for the Roman Church…..and I learned why later in life.

Once I reached the age of five years, I began accompanying my mother to church on Sunday. I guess my mother figured that, 1. I was old enough to sit still and listen, and 2. Maybe I would become good if I went to church! My impression of the church at that young age was that it was all a bit overwhelming. In those days, things were very austere. The inside of the church was dark, the statues of the saints were larger than life; everything was a bit much for a young child to absorb. Certainly, the service, done completely in Latin, was not very illuminating to my heart. It was more funereal than anything.

During this time in my life, my mother was having her own personal struggles. She was not a happy person. My two little sisters and I were well-cared for, but there was not much happiness in our home. My father was a well-educated, hard-working man.
He also worked a side job for extra money for savings; after all, they had three children to send to parochial school and then to college!

We had a neighbor up the hill from our house who my mother became gradually acquainted with. This woman was older than my mother, and provided some very kind and comforting friendship. As I said, my mother had quite an internal struggle waging within her. She had no peace of heart, and desperately was in search of the peace that passeth all understanding. So….she began to ask questions of our neighbor, who was a believing Christian. This neighbor shared some simple Bible verses with my mother, and invited her to visit her church.

Did I say that this period of time was PRE-Vatican II?! My mother was horrified----attending a Protestant church was a MORTAL sin!!! She declined to go to church with our neighbor, but continued to have conversations with her.

My grandmother, upon my mother’s request, bought her a large Catholic Bible for my parents’ wedding anniversary. You know---those large family Bibles that most people kept on the coffee table in those days? Well, my mother was determined to find some answers, and she was going to read the Bible from cover to cover if that’s what it took!

The priest and nuns made regular house calls in those days. They took census of the members of their parish and checked up on them from time to time. My mother took advantage of this, and invited the priest in to answer the questions she had---like, why did she commit the same sins over and over again every week? She’d go to confession, then have to recount the same sins in the confessional the following week. There must be something more to one’s spiritual life! This was tormenting her. The priest had no answers. In fact, he had come while I Love Lucy was on TV, and it was very difficult for my mother to get his undivided attention! He finally told her that he would come by at another time and let her borrow his book on the political kingdoms of the Old Testament. Huh? This was going to address her spiritual concerns?
Well, the priest never did come up with the book.

I remember the priests and nuns very well. They all wore clerical garb in back then--they were hard not to notice, and their attire made quite an impression upon a young child, let me tell you! The nuns wore full habits, with what I called “granny shoes”. I remember as a child, looking into their faces, but not finding any softness or kindness there. I looked for kindness. My mother, with her own inner turmoil, did not know how to relate to her children on a sweet level. She was a good mother in providing for our physical needs, but the sweet nurturing a mother imparts to her children just wasn’t something my mother had in her or knew how to do. In fact, my mother and I were on a collision course. I could not please her, and she found fault with me constantly. Her mood swings and unhappiness and general lack of knowing how to deal with her small children led to a dysfunctional relationship. This, I believe, affected my behavior as well. I had such a feeling of rebellion in side of me…..and I wasn’t near being a teen-ager yet! But, there you have it---I became a difficult child, in response to my mother’s difficult behavior.

During these days of searching, my mother continued to faithfully attend the Roman Catholic Church in our town, with me in tow, I‘m sure hoping that somehow, by osmosis, the Latin Mass would do something magical within me and make me “good“. I was close to 5 ½ years of age. I knew little of G-d. He certainly was not a personal G-d…..but in my mind, was someone waaaaay up in the sky somewhere…..kind of like an old, bearded man. I knew nothing of Jesus Christ. I did, indeed, know about Mary, though! And I did, indeed, know that I was a sinner! Oh, I didn’t know the word “sinner” then, but I received enough spankings and scoldings to know that I was far from perfect! And my own heart knew something was wrong, too!

I remember one Sunday very vividly. This particular Sunday, a group of children were taking their first communion. I’d never seen anything like it before…..though I had seen the white dresses and veils in the store windows when we went shopping in the Boston area in which we lived. I couldn’t wait to wear a beautiful dress and veil like that! I had no idea the significance or what would be required of me.

That one Sunday I was to find out. So, sitting in the pew next to my mother, I dared to whisper to her, asking her what those children were doing. She whispered back that they were taking their first communion…..but, she added, they first had to tell their sins to the priest. (I’m sure my mother wanted that to sink in!) And then she really lowered the boom: “And you’ll be doing that soon, too!”

Gulp! The part of telling my sins to the priest was not lost on me!! In fact, it had a huge affect upon me. I know, I know---what sins could a 5 year old possibly have to hide? Well, believe me, I knew in my heart there were some very bad sins! I knew I had not always told the truth; I had not always obeyed my mother. I had bad thoughts and desires---yes, even at age 5. The Bible says that, “For ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of G-d.“ My heart started racing about a hundred miles an hour….and felt like it had dropped to the pit of my stomach. I, who had never really prayed---except to say a “Now I lay me down to sleep….” poem, suddenly was so overcome with such fear and dread, that in my desperation, I prayed! I didn’t know I was praying…but looking back, that is what I did…though I was praying to a G-d I didn’t know, and didn’t know anything about! Amazing, huh?! That, to me, is proof that the L-rd has put it in our hearts to know that He IS!! So…..my prayer was simply the desperate cry of my heart at that very moment: “Oh please---I hope we won’t go to church then……I hope we won’t be Catholics then!” How could I even entertain that idea?! There was little hope for that!! But, I was so dreading the day that I’d have to tell my sins to anyone! And especially to a man I didn’t know! Fear really took hold of me that day. I didn’t fear disobeying my mother; didn’t seem to fear her wrath up to that point……but that day, I came face to face with cold fear.

You know what? The L-rd heard the cry of my heart. That is a miracle! He heard…..and He answered! He delivered me from the grip of Rome and from the vise of sin in my heart!

Shortly after that Sunday----I think it may have been a month or two----my mother couldn’t stand it any longer. Because she hadn’t any direction in reading her Bible (it would have been best if she had started in John or Romans), she had become bogged down in the begats, and she was too impatient to wait to read any more of the Bible in order to try to discover the truth for herself. By then, she was calling it that…searching for the truth! So, reluctantly, she agreed to attend this Bible-preaching church with our neighbor up the hill. On a Sunday night. Only sitting in the back of the church. Absolutely would not participate in the service…..just there for observation, you know!

Of course, the Holy Spirit dealt with her heart that night. The children’s choir sang One Day…..the words of that song pierced her heart as she heard about the L-rd Jesus Christ Who paid the atonement for our sins because He loved us. The Pastor preached a simple Gospel message of salvation. My mother was sure he must have known she was there, because she felt he was preaching right at her. Of course he didn’t know anything about her. But the L-rd knew she was there and HE was the one speaking to her heart with the message from His Word.

Well, for two weeks my mother wrestled with the truth of the Word of G-d. She was becoming more and more miserable. She was a Catholic---she was already a Christian, wasn’t she? But, she had no peace, and no assurance of salvation or that she was a forgiven child of G-d. Then, one day, she gave up her struggle, and down on her knees, she acknowledged, directly to the L-rd alone, that she was a sinner and wanted Him to be her personal Savior.

There definitely was a change in my mother‘s outlook after that. She did have the joy of the L-rd in her heart, and had found peace with G-d. She had to tell everybody! In her mind, she thought that if she told them what the Bible said, that of course, they’d want to get saved too!! Not everyone was happy to hear of it. My dad thought she had lost her marbles. Here was his wife, who had been on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her doctor having just prescribed her tranquilizers, and now she was on this manic high!! It was going to take a lot of convincing for my dad to believe that this was genuine.

The weeks went by. Now, my mother was taking me to this Bible-preaching church with her. I remember the first Sunday we went there-----what a contrast to the Roman Church! This church was well-lit! No statues of any kind. No Jesus on the cross. People welcomed us at the door with smiles and friendliness. The children had special classes where we were taught Bible stories----all new to me!

Sunday after Sunday, now, I was hearing about Jesus and how he died for my sins. The miracles He did, how He created the world and everything in it. I heard of David and Goliath, of Daniel and the lions. I loved going to church and hearing about this loving G-d. But, it still hadn’t sunk in that Jesus Christ died and rose again for ME!

My dad was not interested in trying out this new church. He thought my mother was going through a phase and this would wear off, too. One day, while working his other job, he lost his wallet somewhere along the busy highway on which we lived. He wasn’t aware that it was lost that day. While he was at work, there was a knock on our door. My mother answered it, and a man stood there holding out my dad’s wallet. My mother recognized this man as being a member of the church we were now attending! She spoke with him and asked him to pray for my dad---that he would come to church and get saved. This man assured her that he would do so.

Well, when my dad came home later that afternoon, much to his amazement, my mother presented him with the wallet he had lost! Then, she told him the story of how the wallet came to be returned. That touched my dad’s heart….that someone would be so honest and take the trouble to come to our house to return the wallet really made an impression on him. Maybe there was something to this “religion” after all. He decided to find out for himself what was so different about this church. So, that Sunday, he came to church with us.

Soon, the Holy Spirit had illuminated my dad’s heart, and he, too, accepted the L-rd Jesus Christ as his only Savior. He began attending church every Sunday, became involved with the men’s fellowship there, and testified of the L-rd’s saving grace to others in our family and to friends.

Even though I was attending Sunday School and church and hearing the Word of
G-d Sunday after Sunday, I still wasn’t saved. My heart was still in rebellion to my mother. Though my mother was saved, and had found the peace she had been searching for, she still, due to her troubled upbringing, had issues she struggled with. Sometimes we hold onto things, not letting go of old hurts and resentments. Bitterness sets in and it colors everything. That’s why the book of Hebrews tells us not to let a root of bitterness spring up…..thereby defiling many (Hebrews 12:15). If my mother had relinquished all her old hurts, and chosen to forgive the unforgivable, she would have had complete victory in her life. But, that wasn’t to happen, and it did continue to affect our family significantly.

Shortly after my dad came to know the L-rd, my mother, who was not a patient person, had evidently waited long enough for me to get saved. So, one evening, at supper, she decided to take matters into her own hands. The old Catholic way of thinking was still ingrained. She announced to my dad that after supper that night, I was to pray with them and ask Jesus into my heart! Oh! Here we go again!!! Fear, dread, panic! What was I going to do?! Even at 5 ½, I had a lot of pride. To humble myself in front of my mother…..oh that was just too much. No way could I pray with my parents and do that! We were not emotionally connected that way……it felt so invasive to me! So…..I had to think fast. In order not to lie------I had been paying attention in SS after all!!------I said a “quickie” prayer in my head, asking Jesus into my heart right then and there. Then, I announced to my mother that I had already done that. She was surprised----”When did you do that?”, she asked me. Sigh…..I couldn’t lie…..”Just now,” I replied. Oh---Mother was overjoyed!! “Did you hear that, George?!” She asked my dad. “Beth got saved!!” Whew----that was a close one!!

Ha---but you know, the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let me get away with that!! Oh no!! That night, in my bed….alone with my thoughts, and with the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, I knew in my heart of hearts that I really hadn’t gotten saved at the dinner table……I hadn’t meant what I “prayed”. I just did it to get out of praying with my parents. But you know what…..the Holy Spirit did bring to mind the Scripture verses I had been taught of late….and how I was a sinner on my way to hell without the L-rd. I knew, because of the Bible verses I had been learning, that Jesus died on the cross and rose again for me…..and that He is “THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE, no man cometh unto the Father but by ME.”

So, there, alone in my bed, realizing that even as a child, I was a sinner on my way to hell, I was truly sorry for my sins, and repented and accepted the L-rd Jesus Christ into my heart as my only personal Savior.

For those who think that children cannot be convicted of sin; that they cannot be dealt with by the Holy Spirit; that they cannot be saved, and that their hearts cannot be changed, I have one thing to say------it happened to me!

The L-rd Jesus Christ is a PERSONAL L-RD---He is a PERSONAL Savior!!
He personally dealt with me and drew me to Himself. He continued to work in my heart after that, convicting me of sin in my life, and helping me to choose righteousness.

I’ll never forget one momentous day in my young life, shortly after I was saved. Momentous because it truly was a defining moment…..a turning point, if you will, for me. My mother and I continued to “clash”. We just did not connect well on an emotional level. She was very controlling, and I think this just went against my nature. I really struggled with that, because the Bible told me to love others, and to honor and obey my parents. But, I didn’t like my mother very well…..and I didn’t think she liked me either. I think she struggled with that as well. But…I knew the L-rd would have me obey her, none-the-less.

Something came up, and she told me not to do it. I’m not sure anymore what it was particularly. But, I remember clearly that it rankled me! That old nature of rebellion was rearing its ugly head, and I wanted to disobey her…..behind her back, of course. But, the Holy Spirit dealt with me right then and there. I was overcome with such conviction of this sin in my heart to rebel and disobey my mother. I resigned to the fact that obey her I must---I didn’t like it, but I had to obey the L-rd. And it came to me: I would obey her because the L-rd wanted me to, not because she told me to. And that’s what I told her: “Mommy, I’m not going to obey you because you told me to, I’m going to obey you because Jesus wants me to.” I knew I still had that rebellion in my heart….but at least I had come to terms with obeying my mother and the L-rd. I felt so much better…..I had let her know that I didn’t want to obey her----but was doing it for Jesus. That right there helped me so much in my attitude towards my mother.

Again---I was just a young child. But the Holy Spirit can deal with a young child, convicting that child and conforming that child to His image! He did so with me!

I am so happy, so thankful that the L-rd Jesus Christ had compassion upon me, and heard the cry of my heart before I even knew Who He was…..and reached down and saved me from the clutches of Rome and the bondage of sin.

Thank you, L-rd, for saving my soul Thank you, L-rd, for making me whole. Thank you, L-rd, for giving to me, thy great salvation so rich, so free!!

Beth (Brasells) Barcellos Bell

1 comment:

Maranatha said...

I really enjoyed reading your testimony, Beth!! Praise the Lord for your salvation! My oldest son was saved at 5 also. :-) I'm glad we found each other on FB!!! What a small world, huh?