When I was three years old, my mother (who I proudly call “Mommy”) and I would attend First Baptist Church of Elmsford most Sunday mornings. I don’t remember much, but, I’m 100% certain that I rarely enjoyed myself.
One such morning, as she helped me button whichever shirt she had picked for me, I—frustrated, surely, by the thought of spending another Sunday hearing the screeching sound of an organ in the background as I drew mediocre pictures on her Gannett reporter’s notepad (I knew even then that I was one of the kids who was going to have to become a really skilled tracer)—asked my mother, “Why doesn’t Dad have to come to church?”
I don’t remember her having an answer.
My Dad had grown up going to church. But, for whatever reason, he had broken the habit, often remaining in bed as my mother and I hustled out the door on Sunday mornings.
The memory then jumps to a few year’s worth of Sundays later, in a slightly larger than mid-sized sanctuary at 280 Mayflower Avenue in New Rochelle, NY. My family, now featuring the addition of my large baby brother, Nile, had joined as members of New York Covenant Church, a small congregation lead by two fiery, young, aware, reasonably critical pastors: David Randolph Holder and Christopher Salley.
My father often sites my inquiring of why he didn’t have to attend church with my mother and me as the spirit-lead kick in the pants he needed to get back to seeking after God; we all need a good one now and again.
That was probably 1999.
Fast forward to 2005. I’m 11 years old, and have just completed my final class of baptism school. Aware and anxious, I’m ready to be ceremonially purged of all my inequities.
I forget the exact date, but I know I was baptized around that time because I remember having to leave my family’s celebratory party to go to my room and finish one of those trivial 5th grade picture-book reports.
At this point, you know the following: I’ve been going to church since I was three years old; God used me to speak to my father about returning to seeking Him; I was baptized at a fairly young age.
I’d say that I was off to a pretty “saved” start: my parents raised my brother and me to be respectful, humble, church-going young men, and to know that when it was “grown-folks business,” we need not ask another question.
I was pretty woke as a middle schooler. I knew right from wrong, and often would choose do the right thing. Of course, there were more than a few times that I made some decisions that my parents would not be too pleased to find out about. But, many times after, intense feelings of conviction would come over me. I didn’t know then, but it was the guidance of the Holy Spirit letting me know that, “Aye young Reece! That was NOT alright.”
Once, as a seventh grade student at Woodlands Middle School, during a hormone-crazed 45-minute period of lunch, a game of “Booty Tag” broke out. There was one young lady who had reached puberty a little quicker than others; she was the target of every participating boy’s palm, including my own.
At 11:45 a.m., the first bell rang, signifying the end of the day’s round of the lust-fueled game, and that most of us had only four minutes to get to Science class (yup, that general—“Science”).
My teacher at the time, an energetic Mrs. A, had previously practiced law before deciding somewhere along the way to take quite a significant pay-cut to teach middle school science in a public school district; I am immensely thankful for her decision.
How coincidental that on this day, Mrs. A decided to begin class with a lesson on juvenile law, more specifically, juvenile sexual harassment. As she described examples of the crime that drew stark comparisons to the game most of the class had just finished playing, I became increasingly convinced that the young lady who had been the applebottom of my eye was going to press charges on me; and by the end of the week, I’d be wearing an orange jumpsuit, fighting for my safety amongst young men much tougher than myself.
Although I tried to convince myself that I was overreacting, I couldn’t shake the thought that, whether she enjoyed it or not, I had taken part in a truly shameful act.
Upon me came a compelling need to apologize.
I saw her later that day after school, pulled her aside, and nervously blew chunks of guilt, shame, and disappointment all over her, as she stood there, unfortunately unaware (perplexed even) of the wrongfulness she had been subjected to.
Soon after, I felt better. But, I would remember those feelings of conviction for a long time afterwards. I didn’t play “Booty Tag” again.
Now, let’s jump to freshmen year; I continued on right downstairs to Woodlands High School.
Every three years, the Evangelical Covenant Church, of which NYCC is a part of, organizes a HUGE youth conference at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville called CHIC. In 2009, myself, and three of my closest brothers from church were sent by our parents; we were the second youth group from our church to attend the conference. The theme for that year was “Undone,” reminding us that, only with Christ are we made complete. I didn’t realize that at the time; I was much more focused on seeing one of my favorite bands at the moment, Flyleaf: all five of the members are followers of Christ, but there’s been debate about whether or not they’d like to identify as a Christian band.
Three of us were freshmen, and the eldest was a junior. We had a great time, and grew in our relationship with each other, and our youth leaders (who were especially candid with us), but as far as growing in God, not so.
Most of our week in Tennessee was spent beating Midwestern boys in basketball, and convincing Midwestern girls that we were the coolest kids that they would ever meet. Sure, we stood during praise and worship every night at “Main Stage,” but, we were much too lukewarm to clap our hands along with the other 5,000 or so high-schoolers there from across the world.
We returned to New York, and it was time to start my sophomore year.
Looking back, my sophomore and junior years went by exceptionally quick; it was as if they were one combined year rather than two separate.
Neither before, nor since, was I/have I been more separated from God.
I was: a “playa’;” a lover of self, and not people; and lacking in knowledge of, and communication with God. Probably most alarming was that I was in fervent denial of all of this. In fact, the first time one of my friends called me a “playa’,” I condemned her with accusations of “You don’t know my story!”
I convinced myself of two things:
- Going to church with my parents, and paying attention in Sunday school every week was enough; God must be pleased with my effort.
- As long as I said grace before eating and my prayers before bed, and didn’t smoke weed or down “4 Lokos” before I walked into house parties, God didn’t mind if I enjoyed myself in the lustful company of young ladies, or cursed now and again (and again).
What I realize now, that I failed to then, was something that Pastor Holder spoke about recently: no one (including God) will take you seriously as a Christian if you don’t.
Senior year was a bit more relaxed. I had a girlfriend; we had been going to church together since we were young, though neither of us sought to include God in the relationship.
Then, after graduating from Woodlands, one of my youth group leaders asked if wanted to attend CHIC again. What an opportunity; rarely do any get to attend two conferences as students.
At first, I didn’t think going to Knoxville for the second time in three years would be a good idea. I planned to walk-on to the University at Albany Men’s Basketball Team, and figured the week apart from my training routine could be the difference between my making the team or not (FLASH FORWARD: I’m now a senior at UAlbany and in my fourth year as a walk-on on the team—glory be to God!)
But, without persuasion from my parents or youth leaders, I agreed to go. My thinking was: “I need to ‘get right’ with God before I go to college.” I can attribute that revelation to none other than the Holy Spirit because, Lord knows that thought had never come to mind before.
This time, we had a much larger group attend CHIC.
Ten thousand ninety-five days older, and apparently more comfortable with myself as a growing young Christian than my last visit, I took the conference more seriously. It wasn’t necessarily a rational decision; I just started to hear and understand the truth of the words that were being shared.
During our final night at “Main Stage” my church family and I engaged in tear-soaked embraces, moved by the realization of our brokenness, and need to actively welcome God into our lives.
I returned from CHIC on fiya’ for God.
With only a few weeks left before the start of my freshmen year of college, I was excited at the thought of finding a church, and a way to get there every Sunday, on my own. Thankfully I was headed to Albany with my best friend Donniecia (who you all will get to see the moment she permits me to upload some of the beautiful pictures that I’ve taken of her) who had long been strong in her walk with Christ.
But, like most Earthly fires that are left unattended, mine for Christ flamed in and out, at times reduced to embers. Partying was my greatest stronghold.
My parents raised me with great awareness of, and appreciation for all cultures, chiefly through music. So when I heard about a fete, bashment, function, fiesta, or banger, I had to be there getting my groove on. Still I refrained from the common party-associated activities of drinking and smoking, but I was very much in the mix.
Again, I reasoned with myself that God wanted me at these parties so that I could show people you could have a good time without begin drunk or high. In fact, on Saturday night events, I would often invite people to come to church with me the next morning. My invitations were genuine though most invitees seldom came, if ever.
Near the end of my freshmen year, Donniecia invited me to church with a group of young believers part of a student group called Angelic Vessels/Voice in/of Praise; let’s just say AVP.
The first thing I noticed was that I had seen some of them out and about on a few past Friday and Saturday nights. It felt cool rolling deep to church.
Afterwards, we returned to campus to have brunch. I felt that I should join them.
I’m not sure when the group ended up leaving the cafeteria, but after two and a half hours, I had heard enough church jokes and unannounced breaking into song. I managed to politely say my goodbyes before sprinting to the refuge of my dorm room.
To see so many young adults unashamed, unembarrassed, proud, of their love for God was a bit overwhelming for an evidently still somewhat uncomfortable believer like myself.
Soon after, Donniecia texted me with an invitation to AVP’s Bible weekly bible study that would start in a few hours. Against my fleshly judgment, I decided to go.
Now, the bible study started at 6 p.m., and was supposed to end at 7:30 p.m. I had told my friends that I would meet them at P.F. Chang’s at 8 p.m. to celebrate a birthday.
At 8:45 p.m., I concluded that I was going to have make an awkward departure from a very loud, and for many, moving, Bible study. I was too distracted by my own discomfort, and frustration for the leader’s blatant disregard for time to remember what we studied.
After five long minutes of contemplating my escape, I slid out from beneath the desk part of my university style desk-chair thing, scuttled out of the Humanities building, and called my Dad. I told that I was upset, but was unsure if I should be. He didn’t have much to say; I think that he was secretly pleased to hear that I was exploring after God.
After that Sunday, I planned not to return to AVP.
But, following a summer of increased communication with God, as I began my sophomore year, I stumbled into one of the group’s weekly meetings looking for some good ol’ fellowship. The president at the time was the young lady who had sold me my first ticket to a party at UAlbany. I remember her being exceptionally loving, even during the barely two-minute transaction.
That day, the topic was about setting yourself apart. I remember her profoundly questioning the effectiveness of our possible ministry if we simply looked and acted like everyone else.
I began to attend AVP regularly.
At the end of my sophomore year, I traded in my dance moves for white make up and gloves; my smaller, but older and wiser brother, Corey (with whom you all are well-acquainted) inspired me to join AVP’s Mime Ministry.
My faith continued to grow into my junior year.
This coming semester, I will have the privilege of serving as AVP’s Vice President, and co-leader of the Mime Ministry.
I’ve shared this bit of testimony to convince you all of a few things:
- Sometimes you’ve got to break away from comfort to find God.
I always went to church pretty willingly; I was baptized at a ripe age. But I didn’t truly come to God until I was on my own, free from tradition to see, hear, and feel what and where God was.
- Think back to where you were
Many of these memories are recounted in my journal. At the time, I thought it a tedious act to write down my thoughts and feelings. But, rereading those entries, and sharing this wipes away the shadows of doubt of concerning God’s movement in my life.
- If you agree, He will take you
There’s only one point at which we might say, “I’m done” in regard to our walk with God; that’s when we’re with him in heaven. As long as we are on Earth, we should strive to grow continually, linearly. Of course, we will fall down, but our role in our relationship with God is to pull ourselves back up by the tails of his beautiful white robe (my imagination), and strive not to make the same mistake.
Thank you for reading!
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