MY SALVATION STORY
My troubles began early. Having started school way too young, I couldn't keep up with other kids and developed a very low self-concept. Although my mom had brought my two younger sisters and me to church and Sunday School, I only grew more shy and insecure. Many times I got perfect attendance pins at Sunday School, and this gave me some satisfaction. One day in fifth grade, I gathered my courage and made my way from the church balcony down to the altar to make my public decision for Christ.
I got baptized, said my nightly prayers, and sincerely believed in Christ. But I lacked a deep understanding of the Christian faith and saw no real expression of it around me. In fact, my home was pretty much a perpetual battleground, filled with animosity. The intense family problems, not to mention my feelings of rejection at home, school, and church, took their toll on my immature faith.
One year my mom got terribly wounded and quit church. She still dropped us off, but when I got wounded by a mean-spirited Sunday School department head in seventh grade, I also dropped out. My mom would drop me off at church, and I would walk downtown to window-shop. I never returned to church.
In high school I started listening to my science teachers who spoke of evolution. It made sense to me. I don't know at what point I stopped believing in God, but I certainly never heard anything about Him. In fact, I heard nothing about God from the time I left church in seventh grade until I was twenty-two years old!
By then, I was a sin-hardened working girl, living in Hollywood. This was the Woodstock generation, and though I sported long straight hair, bell-bottoms, beads, and hung on the music of Sonny and Cher, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane and a hundred others, I was just a hippy wannabe. Without a heart for the drug culture, I lacked the essence of what it took to fully take part.
While I hated my dad back then, I couldn't shake his humanistic, materialistic values. I still had seriously low self-esteem and wanted to prove myself somehow. I lived in what was called The Hollywood Studio Club, a place for aspiring young women in show business. I managed to work three jobs, go to a Beverly Hills modeling school, and invest in property -- all in hopes of making a million dollars by the time I was thirty. Sound confused? I was!
One day I had a revelation as I sat on my bed. Jackie Kennedy had just married a wealthy billionaire named Aristotle Onassis. "Wow!" I thought. "She can go anywhere, buy anything, do whatever her heart desires! Wow . . . If only I could be so fortunate." Immediately, the thought shot back at me, "If you had all that Jackie has, you'd still be miserable because you'd still have to live with yourself . . . And you know that you despise yourself." I gasped. This cruel thought had completely broadsided me. Instantly, nothing I lived for made sense anymore. This world had nothing to offer me. Money couldn't fix my broken heart. I despaired of life.
These were the years of the Vietnam War. There was so much anger, uncertainty, despair around me. Barry Maguire's song, "Eve of Destruction" seemed to say it all. I saw no answers.
God, however, had all the answers. I would soon discover that although I had long forgotten Him, He had never forgotten me. The time was ripe for Him to reclaim His lost daughter. I'm unable to tell you the entire story, but I'll share part of it.
One day I was walking down Hollywood Blvd. and had to pass a street preacher. "You're ALL going to HELL if you don't repent!" he hollered. This was the first time since seventh grade that I had heard a thing about hell or anything else related to the Bible, for that matter. I was stunned. "What if there IS a hell," I thought. "If there IS one, I sure don't want to go there." The man was handing out pieces of paper to invite people to some meeting. I hastily grabbed one and left. The thought entered my mind to go to the meeting, but just as quickly I forgot about it.
Back at home, my younger sister, Gayle, was in college, and her life took a drastic turn. If there was one thing in life that I had always counted on, it was that I could go home and get depressed with my sister. But now she was another person! She bopped around with a new boyfriend, went to some crazy church out in Costa Mesa, and said "Praise the Lord!" in every other breath. I hated her, I hated her boyfriend, I hated her friends, and I hated her church.
Her joy served to magnify my misery. "Gayle, how come life is so unjust? Some people go through life with everything going their way -- they're popular in school, get good grades, get good jobs, get good husbands or wives, get the best of everything. Others, no matter how hard they try, their life is hopeless from beginning to end." I wept.
Gayle didn't know the answer to such questions. She just said, "Cheri, I don't know, but if you'll just go down to my church and give it a try, maybe you'll find some answers." I didn't want to go, but I submitted to go down to the church with her and her friends.
I was four years older than Gayle and thought myself pretty sophisticated. As soon as I got into the car with this bunch I felt utter humiliation. "These teeny-bopper sickos give me the creeps," I fumed in my heart. "What if SOMEONE sees me with them!" It was a 45-minute drive. As we made our way to the church meeting, they laughed, horsed around, and kept honking at other cars that sported "Honk, if you love Jesus!" bumper stickers. Mortified, I sank very low in the backseat.
We got there. I was so scared! I walked in the door of that little church, though, and something amazing happened. I felt something! -- "What is this? A presence. So much life, so much joy, so much . . . What IS this?" Little did I know it was God's Spirit I felt. God had definitely gotten my attention.
The church was absolutely stuffed to the gills. It was hard for me to squeeze myself into a spot on the floor. This just added to my amazement. The music started and hundreds of young people sang joyfully and knowingly. I couldn't figure out what they knew, but I knew they knew something significant.
As I looked around, I felt "home." In fact, I felt like I'd just come out of a terrible blizzard. I'd been lost in that blizzard and had just pulled myself over one last snowdrift before giving up and dying. But, lo and behold, there sat a cheery little inn. From inside I could hear laughing voices. Gathering my strength, I stumbled up to it, cracked the door, and peered inside. And what a spectacle I saw! There were people singing, dancing, playing, laughing in front of a big warm fire in the fireplace. After being lost in the deadly blizzard, my relief was beyond description. I was safe! That's how I felt.
The timing was perfect for a massive change in my life. Driven to succeed, I had gotten myself in way over my head -- a legal secretary in downtown Los Angeles by day; a camera girl at a world famous nightclub and a ticket clerk at a well-known Hollywood playhouse by night. And not only was I a student on Saturdays, but I kept many late hours with my boyfriend of four years. It was all crashing in on me, though. Discontent with my performance, the law firm had already decided to let me go. I felt like a desperate failure.
The pastor announced a Summer Camp in a place called Idylwild the next weekend. Right then I decided I was going. After the church meeting, I went home to Hollywood, quit everything, moved out of my place, stored my stuff with my boyfriend, and left for camp, not knowing a soul.
At camp, everyone was fixated on Jesus. No one played any games or talked about anything else. Beneath every tree, people read their bibles or prayed together. In the meetings, it was a joy to listen to a Christian music group like Love Song singing "Little country church on the edge of town . . . " "Give an ear to a love song . . . " and "Since I opened up, opened up the door . . . " What most got me, though, was Children of the Day and their song, "For Those Tears." It was written for me -- precisely. "And Jesus said come to the water, stand by my side, I know you are thirsty you won't be denied. I felt every teardrop when in darkness you cried, and I strove to remind you that for those tears I died."
I was in severe spiritual bondage. I wanted Jesus, but had a very hard time gaining the freedom to respond to the many invitations. Finally, about the fifth day of the camp, God touched my heart so deeply that I stood up at an invitation. I literally felt the spiritual chains fly off me. "Pastor Chuck" baptized me in the swimming pool, a most memorable experience.
I came off that mountain a new person with a new life, even with a new Christian friend. She offered me a place to live temporarily, not far from the church. Not wanting to miss a single miracle, I was at church almost nightly. It was during the so-called Jesus Revolution, and I had become a Revolutionary, better known as a "Jesus Freak." One of "them" now, I carried a bible everywhere, tried hard to figure out biblical prophecy, talked incessantly about Jesus, wore a five-inch cross around my neck, plastered my car with Christian bumper stickers, went witnessing.
And I was just one of the thousands who were swept into God's kingdom during that marvelous revival! (Do it again, Lord!!!)
My parents thought I'd gone insane. After several months and much prayer, I strongly felt led to move back to my hometown to be a witness to them. Also, He directed me back to the church of my childhood, both for healing and to be a servant. But He had even more for me there -- He wanted me to meet my future husband. At the Lord's instruction, I had already broken up with my boyfriend. At the church, I met Clay, a seminary student and part-time youth pastor. We were married shortly thereafter.
Clay and I have served the Lord together ever since. Our life together has sometimes been a wild ride, sometimes painfully bumpy, sometimes awe-inspiring. It has never been boring!