My parents were saved when I was just nine months old, so I essentially grew up in a Christian home. My mom was raised nominally Catholic, and my dad was raised Jehovah’s Witness. So when my brother Steve came home from the local Baptist church’s Vacation Bible School saying that he had “asked Jesus into his heart,” the phrasing was new to my family. Within a few years, they were attending Sunday morning services so that Steve could get his attendance award for AWANA. The ladies invited Mom to their Bible study shortly after I was born, but since I was premature, Mom didn’t want to leave our home. So she suggested they meet in our home. Since Mom felt more confident in her own place, she felt bold enough to ask her questions about the Faith. She accepted Jesus as her Savior there in our living room, and Dad was converted in a revival service that summer.
In her faith, Mom found her voice. When Steve was afraid that he would be “left behind” in the Rapture, Mom purposed to help children feel confident in Jesus. She taught CEF classes there in South Bend, Indiana in the mobile Good News Club with a two-year-old me hanging on her leg. At the age of four when I heard Little Marcy singing, “Jesus Knocks, Knocks, Knocks at the Door of Your Heart,” I asked Mom what that meant. She explained that Jesus wants to cleanse me of my sin and be my Savior. And there, on that same couch where she accepted Jesus, I asked Jesus into my heart in May 1973.
I attended Christian day schools there in South Bend and later in Tulsa and then in Warren, Michigan. All the schools we chose were dominated by Bob Jones University graduates. They were some of my favorite teachers. And when my brother attended BJU, our trips to Greenville were a happy family vacation. Therefore, my choosing BJU was in the natural course of life’s events for me. So in 1986, I began my undergraduate degree in English at Bob Jones University. That Spring I met the man that would become my best friend and dear husband, Grant. We both graduated in 1990 and again in 1992.
We were and are “good kids.” Both raised Baptist, both rule-followers, both introverted, and both rather bookish. I taught Public Speaking as a graduate student, and in the classroom I found my voice. I enjoyed my students and seeing their progress within a semester and over the course of a degree. I committed myself to a larger, more other-worldly project in fundamentalism. My pursuing a Ph.D. at Indiana University was an expression of all that—a very personal goal as well as professional preparation for my life’s work.
Everything changed for me, however, in July, 2001. Everything. After an ultrasound, we discovered that our daughter Elise’s heart stopped, just three days after her due date. On July 7th, she was born still. That tragedy rattled me. I started over in my Faith. I felt God carry me through all of it, holding me and crying with me. Every sermon seemed to be just for me, every song was performed just for me, and every Scripture passage was written right to me. After four pregnancy losses, our son Isaac, that precious screamer, was born in December 2003. Everything changed again. I read Isaiah 49:15-16 as if it were just for me:
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
I realized that God loved me better than I loved Isaac—on a foundational, organic level. And if God loved me that me that way, He loved my students that way. So every student who came into my office was not just a task or an ID number, but a precious child cherished by his mother and by God even more. As I read my Bible, I saw a more loving God and . . . well, a more Pharisaical me. That rule-following, good-girl status might have made me feel better about my moralistic self, but I realized it wasn’t putting me in any better standing with God. Jesus took care of all that, and my precise obedience was nothing but filthy rags in comparison. Jesus’ righteousness was all I needed.
And things changed still. My living out my new Grace-life to my students—telling them that they are worse off than they knew, that they are more loved than they could ever hope, and the Gospel is far greater than they could ever imagine—rattled those around me like it had rattled me. By October 2007, God had pushed us out of fundamentalism but He still carried us close. God rattled my parents and my brother’s family, too. My parents, then in their 80s, are recent members of First Baptist Church of Taylors, my brother and his family attend North Hills Community Church, and Grant and I are members in good standing at Mitchell Road Presbyterian where we serve in the choir.
Just a few months after my parents joined Taylors, Mom reminisced to me, “You know, Camille, after 40 years, we are finally home.” It took God awhile, but He did bring us all home.
When I sat in that hospital bed in 2001 waiting for the epidural to wear off, having just said “hello” and “good bye” to my daughter within an hour, our friend Darrin asked my Dad about how he came to Christ. It was the perfect question for the occasion. Dad brightened as he remembered how God carried him through the Army, through a cult, to marry a nice but nominal Catholic girl, through his enormous and intimidating set of questions, all the way to Jesus. It struck me in the middle of that difficult day how God was taking care of Dad and Mom and Grant and me. And now He carries our Isaac and his brother Gavin, too.
God’s still carrying all of us. That much I know.