My Earliest Memory

He whispered to assure me, “I’ve found thee, thou indeed art Mine.”

I never heard a sweeter voice; it made my aching heart rejoice!

– Citizen

Before I was old enough to go to school, my mother left home, never to return again. I do not remember the event, or if there even was an event to remember. You know, like a final falling out, or some family discussion about “what happens next”. I only remember growing up with my dad and my brother (your Grandpa Roger and Uncle Matt) in our little apartment. We all have memories of our early childhood – not the depressing sob stories like I just gave, but the garden variety kind which fill out the framework of our nostalgia.

Like the time Matt and I wandered too far from the apartment complex. I knew we were in trouble, but I just went with it, walking to the corner liquor store and buying a package of bubble-gum cigarettes. Then there was the time Matt convinced me to sneak out of our bedroom in the middle of the night so we could watch Nightmare on Elm Street on TV, only to be interrupted by our gloriously angry father. Now that I think of it, my brother was involved many of the times I got in trouble. To his credit though, he never tried to pin the blame on me. At any rate, there are some memories which are more than your run-of-the-mill memories. The kind that carry weight when you tell them. The kind that you are attracted to, drawn to, when your mind wanders and you think about childhood. My very first memory is one of these kinds of memories. It’s set on a Sunday, in church. That’s not a surprise to me, because Sundays were a big deal in the Friesen home.

Sundays with the Friesens

For my dad, church was a priority over sleep, sports, work, or play. Even if he did have to go into the office on a Sunday, church came first. I don’t think they scheduled children’s sports on Sundays back then, but if they did we wouldn’t have known it, because we wouldn’t have gone. He wasn’t bossy or stodgy about church, mostly because he wasn’t motivated by duty or guilt. He truly enjoyed it, and he wanted us to enjoy it too. Okay, so every week we would stop at Jax Donut House on the way there (I always got the chocolate bar) or an equally wonderful scoop of Thrifty’s ice cream on the way back, and that was always awesome. But my favorite part came when we got to church. You see Dad would park at the far end of the parking lot so he could carry my brother and I on his shoulders across the lot to church. We didn’t get to spend much time with him during the week, and he worked a lot of Saturdays. But Sundays were sacred, and beautiful. And it wasn’t just about church – the afternoons were special too.

Once home, my brother and I would sit cross-legged on the brown polyester shag carpet, laughing merrily, as only children can, at the hijinks of the Three Stooges and the Munsters on our little black and white TV, and enjoying grilled cheese and chocolate milk halfway through the first episode of the Stooges. I remember drinking my chocolate milk by the spoonful, stretching that glass out as long as possible, because it was the only one I got. I wanted it to last forever. In some ways that glass of chocolate milk represented the time I had with my dad. I rarely got to spend time with him, and when I did it never lasted long enough. These Sunday memories are fond, and carry the sweet and sour memories of days gone by, never to return, save in the glorified recesses of my memory. But my first memory is special. It’s different than the other memories. It stays with me. It draws me into the experience every time I remember it. It means more, has more significance, is a better memory in some ways because of what it meant.

The day I met Jesus

This earliest memory opens with me staring at cylindrical light fixture hanging from a peaked roof in a church. The pew I couldn’t see over wasn’t very interesting; I imagine the old wooden bench seating had a book trough on the back, like most pews do, full of Bibles, hymnals, and little cylindrical holes for those little plastic communion cups. Common church fare. No, what sticks in my memory the most is the sermon. The pastor told us about the God who loves and never leaves, and I was enthralled, aware I was listening to the best thing I’d ever heard. It was especially pertinent to me because I felt so alone. At an unfortunately young age I learned that mothers can abandon their children, brothers can ignore each other, and single dads could have all their time taken up by work, and your high-maintenance brother. Add to this mix a lack of friends, and I heard about Jesus at just the right time.

I remember hearing that Jesus knows me. Jesus loves me. Jesus will never leave me. He always listens. Always has time. He can be near me and close to me forever, if I just ask him to. It all seemed so simple and wonderful. But the best thing about it was Jesus just loved me. I didn’t have to do anything for him to love me – he just did. He loved me so much he went through unimaginable suffering to be with me. I loved this news. It felt amazing. Where everyone else fails, Jesus comes through. I needed one thing more than any other – someone to pay attention to me, to love me, to see me as important. One who won’t abandon, ignore, or be too busy. So I prayed. I prayed because I would do anything to get Jesus in my life. I knew that all I had to do was believe in Jesus – trust Him to do what He said He’d do. I did not understand that following Jesus meant a lifetime of obedience, and it wasn’t until Junior High that my faith became a community affair. But I met Jesus in that church, sitting in that pew, and He began the story of my salvation that morning.

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