The next chapter in my conversion story.
In my youth, my faith was like the seed that fell along the path, that was devoured by the birds — my doubts, my questioning, my hurts. The next period of my life was one of new sowing; but my heart was rocky, my soil was shallow, and my faith sprang up quickly, only to wither away in the sun (Matthew 13).
My years of drifting away, and finally running away, had brought me to calamity. But God in His mercy spared me and gave me another chance. After my accident and remarkable healing, both physical and spiritual, I found myself at a crossroads, and had at long last chosen the road of God once again. But I was immature and full of pride. There was still so much that needed to be rooted out of my life before my heart could be ripe to bear true faith.
I had all the overweening zeal of a new convert, and went on a vehement and public crusade against the sins that had shackled me for so long and had brought about my ruin. It is painful to read my old journal posts from this time, to see how self-righteous and moralistic I was. My faith had no roots; no grounding. I thought I could make up for my lack of foundation with sheer fervency. Thankfully this time only lasted a few months: the first time I was faced with a real trial, a real temptation, I fell flat on my face.
I didn’t understand then that I was just a seedling. I needed to be regrown from the ground up. I had been reborn, but I was an infant in faith. I needed to be supported and cultivated. The Vineyard became my nursery.
The Vineyard was the young adult Sunday school class at Calvary. It was a little ironic to me even then that a group should be called “the Vineyard” in a church that was generally opposed to drinking alcohol, but it was built on the words of Jesus (John 15:5):
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
I had been alone for so long. And this was what I needed: to be truly grafted into the Vine; to find communion and fellowship with fellow Christians; to be loved and nourished. The Vineyard was that place for me.
It was never a place of any especially deep scriptural or theological study like I thought I needed — Calvary was never the place for that — but it was a place of love. There were in truth only a few people there I really connected with — our leaders Mr. Barry and Ms. Leisa, and Shelly and Michael, and a few others — but we became a tight group, and they made me feel loved and welcome and needed, like I belonged and mattered, like my thoughts and observations were valuable and important. It was something I had never known before, at that church or any other. And it was exactly what I needed.
I remember my thoughts turning to historic Christianity in my life of faith for the first time. The seeds that had been planted in Rome began to bear fruit. I spoke up in class more and more, making observations about the historical connections of our faith to the Early Church. On more than one occasion, someone objected and said, “Wait, isn’t that Catholic?” But Mr. Barry and Ms. Leisa stuck up for me. I felt validated; I felt I had room to grow as a Christian, even an intellectual Christian.
I loved the Vineyard, and the dear brethren I found there. I don’t know where I would be today without them. There were times of trouble ahead, that would bring me to my knees. But I had found my roots; I had learned to abide in the Vine.