I rang in the New Year with my 18-year old son who was home on winter break. The actual countdown to 2018 was a fairly anticlimactic event for us both, but the one-on-one time we shared provided us a great opportunity to reconnect after his 200-mile move from home last August to attend college.
Number three of my four children, he was born in 1999, on the cusp of the new millennium—a true Millennial. As we talked about the New Year and our hopes and goals, I remembered that New Years eve from 18 years ago when we bid farewell to the 20th century and rang in, not only a new year, but a new millennium.
As I reminisced on our whereabouts and how we celebrated that occasion—my son’s first New Year that he, of course, doesn’t remember—it brought to mind another memory for me, one reaching even further back.
I was probably in the neighborhood of eight years old at the time. Our family attended the First Presbyterian Church on a regular basis to hear the energetic sermons expounded from the pulpit by one Reverend Rambo.
Mind you, this was years before Sly Stallone made the name famous in his portrayal of the ex-military, guerilla-warfare-specializing one-man army. Though, truth be told, both men shared an intensity of character that Stallone made iconic, along with the name.
I can’t recall the particulars of the sermon that marked my life—enough to leave traces some forty years later—but I know it was taken from the book of Revelation and was delivered with enough fearful zeal and condemnation that I was sure I’d never live to see adulthood, maybe not even make it to double digits.
Our wicked world was doomed and the Lord was gonna give us our due, and soon.
I don’t actually remember sitting in church hearing this—trauma often messes with the mind. What I do remember, and what I shared with my son in the first hour or so of 2018, was the memory of how terribly panicked and helpless I felt afterward. How responsible and guilty I felt.
I have a very vivid recollection of a winter night shortly after that sermon: a cold like only northwest Nebraska can construct—the air so sharp and calm it seemed to crack around me as I made my way toward the house from the barn. I remember looking up at the heavens—the depth of which I could not fathom—at stars so bright and perfect against an open blackness that the beauty of it all actually hurt.
And I loved it so much.
I remember feeling so remorseful for all the wickedness, and sinful people that were ruining life on earth. How it was all going to come crashing down around us in a terrifying fashion of thundering hooves and lightning bolts and blazing fires that would drive us straight to hell where we all belonged.
Standing there in the cold, purple shadows at my feet where the snow drifted and banked along my path, with my little dog beside me—shivering, but patient in his faithfulness (Did he know what was in store?) I did the only thing my eight year-old mind could think to do: Plead. Beg. Bargain.
Wasn’t there anything I could do, or not do, to change this awful sentence to be carried out against the world? And this seemed ghastly unreasonable given my age, location and circumstance—who did I think I was, Joan of Ark?
I thought about the many things I would never do or experience if I was swept away in hellfire before I had the chance to grow up, all the time knowing I was supposed to be focused on what I needed to do to make sure I’d spend eternity in heaven, after the earth was cast into hell and burned to a crisp. That’s what Rambo had suggested.
But he was just a normal guy. I’d seen him walking to his mailbox in his bathrobe. What guarantee did I have that he had all the facts straight?
So I went straight to the source. I called upon God Almighty Himself right then and there on that cold, merciless night.
Speaking aloud into the darkness I felt strong, like maybe I was being heard—my words visible against the night air, and no sound around me to compete or oppose.
I gave my life to God that night, though, looking back, it probably didn’t count—at least it shouldn’t.
I struck a bargain that if God would hold off on frying us all, at least until I had had my first kiss…no, that wasn’t good enough. I wanted to get married and have at least one child before the end, so I could experience pregnancy and motherhood (I was planning ahead.) Maybe get the chance to live in another state—somewhere warmer, perhaps?
Ok, I negotiated, Let’s just call it the year 2000. Let me see the century to a close, and then you can pull the plug.
I did the math: I’d be in my thirties then. That’s pretty much the peak.
It’s all downhill after that anyway, my oh-so young and ignorant mind reasoned.
So I promised to live and work and obey in accordance with God’s laws to the very best of my abilities in exchange for him granting the world—and me—an extension.
I’m sure if Rambo had known how influential that sermon was, he’d have been proud: another soul saved; mission accomplished.
In the years since, however, that whole experience has taken on a very different meaning for me. My spiritual life today is very changed from that first initiation into fear-based belief-by-default.
My son listened thoughtfully to my recount of that experience, all the time wearing a slight smile. As serious and impactful as it had been to me at the time, the whole idea was rather entertaining to him. See, he was born in a different time, in another—much warmer—state than Nebraska, just a few months before my contract with God was set to expire.
My fourth child was born four years after that (she’ll turn 15 this year) and I’m now pushing 50, looking forward to one day being a grandma—no hurry, but I guess I’m still planning ahead.
I am so grateful for the many things I’ve done and seen and experienced in my life. I still love it all just as much as I did back then—more probably. And I look forward to being around for a long time to come if it works out that way.
That is, if the good Lord sees fit to continue issuing extensions on His grace period.