by Dawn Smiling

I was so young.  I remember like yesterday.  I knew him since I was a baby. At least it feels that way.  Truly it did.  My mommy took me to church and I sat in the front pew.  My twin sister and I were only eight or nine years old, and we were singing the praises of God.  We were devotional leaders. One day a visiting Pastor came and asked me to come to the front.  I was around 10 years old, but I remember like yesterday.  He said I would see my friends saved, and I would see my family saved.  I could not understand what he was talking about.  But he put his hand on my head and prayed for me. 

I grew from nine years old as a devotional leader, to a member of the Mount Calvary Choir in New York City.  I was 16, in my robe and so excited.  I was singing a song and all of a sudden a feeling came over me.  The feeling went right through me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet.  I began to shout in that small Pentecostal church.  Have you ever been in an African American church when the Holy Spirit comes in?  We tend to get a little physical!  I began to lift my hands and shout like David.  I danced all over the choir stand until I could not dance anymore.  I was in love.  For the first time in my life, I felt God touch me, and life has never been the same.

While I was elated in my new experience, Satan was not.  I was the first member of my household to be saved.  Mommy and daddy were not saved.  My sisters were not saved. There was now a light in the house, and I had to learn how to walk without the benefit of living in a Christian household.  It was difficult.  It was rewarding and lonely at the same time.  At church I felt the peace of God, and I excelled, but at home there was confusion that I really could not explain. My dad had a drinking problem, and in high school there were peer pressures that I could not handle.  God really had a time with me. 

I found myself caving into the pressures, and I wandered away from God.  How could I leave my first love?  Real love is not always understood.  When the test came, it was hard to stand.  Pastor Craig spoke about our DNA this past January.  I simply did not know who I was.  I didn’t have the strength to go on.  My friends were dating.  My sisters were partying.  I tried to serve God and keep up with society.  I remember coming home from a party and I had a couple of drinks.  My stomach was so sick.  I came home and crawled into my mother’s bed.  She looked at me at said, “Dawn, you will never fit in the world. That life is not for you.”  I never forgot her words, but I still had a few more tests.  I became pregnant at 20.  My mother was so disappointed in me, but I still felt her love.  When I had my beautiful daughter, something clicked in me.  I realized I had a gift and God saw something in me.  I went back to God.  I went back to my first love, and entered the ministry. 

I preached my first sermon in my twenties.  We might change our direction, but God never changes His plan.  He said, “I am God, and I change not.”  One day I preached a sermon, and my twin sister came to the altar and gave her heart to the Lord.  Another Sunday I preached a message, and my mother gave her heart to the Lord. My dad eventually stopped drinking and came to know that God loved him.   I began to see God always had a purpose for my life.  It all started with a light in the house.

God has strengthened me over the years.  It was love at first site for God. A lesson I needed to learn.   I have entered a place where no matter what battle I face, God loved me first.  He created me to be a part of this beautiful place called life.  Not a life of perfection, a life lived in holiness walking with Him.

The recent television series “The Bible” has been a beautiful reminder brought back to life.  Sometimes we need a reminder of the price Jesus paid for our salvation experiences.  As Jesus carried the cross down the Via Dolorosa, I realize this walk is a journey, and in Christ, we are never alone.

 

Dawn Smiling enjoys volunteering at Grace Family Church as a prayer counselor, part of the soul care ministry, and as a table leader for Beautiful Monday Nights.

 

In April on A Beautiful Blog, we’ll be hearing from our writers about how they came to know God on a personal level. For some, God was always a part of their lives. For others, they were adults when they invited Him in. No matter when it occured, they each share that life would never be the same once Jesus became Lord of their lives.

by Julie Jaunese

For me, this is where it all began. Wayside Baptist Church, 1941. I wasn’t born until 1950 and this picture was taken 18 years before I was baptized in the new baptismal fount my grandfather helped install, but it is where my parents and grandparents learned to love God, trust Him and become faithful. They began feeding it into me when I was born.

I don’t have a time I don’t remember knowing the Lord as my very personal savior.  My grandparents and all 11 of their children were “charter members” of Wayside Baptist Church.  My Mom made sure we were in church every Sunday.  The rule was, “if you were too sick to go to church, you were too sick to go ANYWHERE else that day.”  We used the same rule at our house when our girls were growing up.  

Is there a disadvantage to not being able to put a date on my salvation? I don’t think so. I only see the advantages.

For example, one advantage is I never went through a rebellious stage because I was afraid of disappointing God.  We know He is a forgiving God, but He does have expectations clearly spelled out in His word.  Did I ever do anything wrong? Yes, but the difference was I was willing and had a desire to go immediately to Him and ask for forgiveness.  I remember once when I was in high school, I skipped school with a couple of friends one day.  By noon I left them and went to the school and turned myself in for skipping.  Of course the school didn’t know what to do with someone who came and turned themselves in.  I was a first.  I just didn’t want to disappoint God with my behavior.

God’s word tells parents to teach their children about God CONSTANTLY.  He tells parents to teach children when you are walking, when you are eating, when you are getting ready for bed, when you are traveling, when you are just sitting and talking to each other.  Like I said – CONSTANTLY!  In the case of my life, when you have parents and grandparents who have followed God’s word throughout their lives, they constantly tell you about Him. Then you spend more time in His word and easily discover what He wants for your life.  

My women’s small group is reading a book called The Burning Heart Contract by Becky Tirabassi.  I was struck by a paragraph at the end of the first chapter.  The author was standing in front of the student body at a college in California.  She said to them, “Society gives you all the permission you need to live on your terms.  You don’t need any more permission.  But here’s what I believe God wants me to call you to – holiness and purity.” 

I have loved God all my life, but today I see such struggles in people that want to come to God but are trying to hold on to their own way. Some don’t mind holiness, but the purity part of God they don’t want to accept. But true freedom comes when you give your heart to the Lord and begin to follow His word.  For me it began as a child, and today there is not a day of regret.  What is taking you so long to find God?  He is totally worth it!

 

Julie Jaunese has been married to her husband Michael for 41 years. She has two daughters and three grandchildren. She works at Moffitt Cancer Center and hosts two women’s small groups, the Yada Book Club and the Fabulous Fems. Mike and Julie have been part of Grace Family Church since it began with 40 people in a house.