“It runs right through their house.”
I was remembering my mother’s words when she told me about a relative’s property that straddled a county line. I sat on a swing looking out over the field I knew as my backyard. If a boundary line ran through one person’s house, then maybe I could find one on our property too. The possibility seemed likely to my five-year-old mind. Rocking gently on the swing, I looked down at the toe of my shoe scraping through the dust. No grass could survive here where my rubber soles dragged daily. My gaze landed on a large crack in the earth, and I followed its trajectory. I detected a path that seemed to extend from between my feet, into the grass, and through the yellow buttercups and dandelions that dotted the landscape. Farther and farther, my eyes followed this line—real, but also imaginary—until it reached the towering trees that stood as sentinels at the back edge of our property. I gasped. I’d done it. I had discovered a dividing boundary in my own backyard. Elated, I traced over the line with my eyes convincing myself of its reality.
Inspecting the crack between my shoes once more, my delight began to wane. In its place, a sense of foreboding fell over me. I considered that a dividing line such as this may be prone to splitting the earth in two. What if the ground beneath me cracked open, and I found myself stranded with one foot on either side of the divide? I felt compelled to pick a side. I shuffled my left foot over to my right while watching the ground suspiciously.
Time passed, but I’m uncertain whether it was days, weeks, or months. The timeline of childhood memories becomes easily scrambled. I do know I wasn’t thinking about county lines and cracking earth on another afternoon when I returned to my swing. Left to the quiet of nature and my own thoughts, I considered a different type of division—a spiritual one.
From birth, we are learning. We learn vocabulary, concepts, and people’s faces. Before our long-term memory fully matures to store the details of how, where, and when we learn certain ideas, we are already learning.
This is how it was with me and Jesus. My mother, grandmother, and church nursery workers were telling me about him in moments that are now lost to my memory. I know this because in the first moment I can recall of my mom sharing the gospel, I wasn’t shocked or surprised. Her words felt familiar, like territory we’d already covered. Sitting on our gray couch bathed in yellow lamplight, her words about Jesus, sin, and eternity painted a picture in my mind. Images began to form in my mind and although they were hazy, the brightness of light surrounding Jesus captured my attention. I can still conjure up the fuzzy mental pictures of Jesus I formed as a child. I understood that God in the form of man loved me so much that he died for me, a sinner. I thought about him on the cross. I thought about him rising from the dead. In all my imaginings of Jesus, he seemed pleased with me, smiling and welcoming.
As I rocked back and forth on my swing, I considered these ideas about Jesus and the words of my mother. “One day he is returning to the earth to gather everyone who trusts in him for their salvation.” I felt a crack forming beneath my feet. Jesus was there in my thoughts not only to smile and observe me from afar. He was there to see if I would welcome him, just as he had welcomed me. There was a choice to be made, and I couldn’t straddle the line. I knew I wanted to stand on the side of the division where he would stand with me. Recognizing the choice and making a decision only took seconds, but I worried he might return to gather his people before I could figure out how to tell Jesus that I wanted to be one of his people, too. A sense of urgency stayed with me until bedtime. In my darkening bedroom, my mom sat on my bed, a silhouette against the light spilling in from the hallway. I asked her how I was supposed to accept Jesus. She helped me pray. She gave me the words to say what I already felt in my heart.
Over the years, I’ve been embarrassed when asked to share my testimony. I didn’t feel like I had much of a story to tell. I’d seen peers accept Jesus and become a new person in front of my eyes. I’d heard stories of Jesus saving people from paths of physical destruction. Their stories honored the power of the gospel to change a life. They gave the world visual examples of what it looks like for God to remove a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. I didn’t see my testimony in the same way. Since I was only five when I decided to follow Jesus, I don’t remember much of my life without him. It felt like I made a choice to shuffle my feet a little to the right of the dividing line, and that was it. My mom was the only person to bear witness to my decision until seven years later when I was baptized in front of my church’s congregation.
Yes, I can attest to God’s goodness to me even at that young age. He comforted me when my best friend and I grew apart. He pierced me with conviction when I made choices I knew were wrong. He directed my path and worked all things together for my ultimate good. Still, I wanted a story that would dazzle, that would make people raise their eyebrows and exclaim, “Praise the Lord!”
It took me years to understand, but now I can see the power of God at work in my testimony. It’s not about bad behavior that became good. It’s not about character flaws that were patched up and made right. It is this: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14 ESV).
The morning after I prayed with my mother, I found a new seed of reassurance in my heart. It felt like I had discovered a new treasure—I was Christ’s and he was mine. From the outside, no dramatic change was detectable. In my inner world, there were no fireworks, just peace and a sense of safety being near Jesus. But in the spiritual realm, something much more dazzling had happened. I was transferred from the dark domain to the kingdom of God. Unlike the imaginary boundary line in my backyard, the void separating darkness and light in the spiritual realm wasn’t one I could step over on my own. It was the power of Christ at work, carrying me from my sinful state of separation from God to a land where he invited me to walk beside him.
It’s true that I don’t know much of what it’s like to navigate life apart from the Holy Spirit’s presence. In my story, I can’t point to a grand life change, and for me, I’ve learned to count that fact as a blessing. I can’t be tempted to give myself credit for what he has done in my life. Before I had learned about topics like geography or long division, Jesus drew me to himself and set my life on a course of knowing and trusting him through it all.
Praise the Lord!
Lisa Dean is a blogger and nonfiction writer exploring the topics of biblical peace, perspective, and the presence of God. She resides in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband and two children. You can find her online at lisazdean.com or follow her on Twitter @lisazdean.