My First Testimony "Salvation"
By Susie Gardner
Raised in an Air Force family, new locations, friends, and new schools were a common part of my childhood years. I loved the family I was given to and believed my dad and mom were the most "in love" couple I'd ever heard of or seen. They'd met in kindergarten and after some time, fell in love and married. I was preceeded into the family by my brother, Terry.
My eighth grade year in Illinois began like any other, but during the year, I "snooped" at a letter my dad was writing to the "love of his life." It was about his life, and naïve me wondered why he'd write this stuff to my mom—she knew his life! It took me awhile, but the realization abruptly hit me that he was having an affair. My world fell apart.
Mom wanted to befriend me in her pain and talk about why my dad was so distant....she didn't know in what he was involved for many years. I'd run whenever I saw her coming and go to my room. I figured if I didn't "hear about it," it wasn't true. And I began to believe many lies.
Finally, after my senior year, I could stand it no longer and left, heading west, using my thumb to catch any ride I could. I ended up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the beginning of the hippie phenomena, and joined this band of ragged young people whose credo was "Make love, not war."
My time in California is a blur from the pain inside, the alcohol and drugs, and the searching for love to fill the void, and the rejection of men I thought really cared for me.
One of the few jobs I had in order to survive was as a waitress in a diner in southern California. Chris, a cute guy, reformed hippie, and co-worker began to invite me to church. I adamantly refused, but one day, he told me that the church was built entirely by hippies and was located in Huntington Beach. I was interested and wanted to see just what this church looked like. Turns out it was as beautiful as any you'd see today and was founded by David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross of the Switchblade."
I heard the gospel that night, along with a lot of guitar playing by long haired, barefooted guys, and went forward at the invitation that "If you want to ask Jesus into your life, come up front." Long story, short: no one told me how to be saved. Let me preface this to say that in sixth grade, I joined a friend at the base chapel (twice), went forward at the invitation (both times), and experienced the same result. I was still on the pathway to hell.
My existence was just that—an existence. I so wanted someone to love me. I partied and lived the "fun" life, but was miserable. At the insistence of my sister-in-law, I came to Alabama to see if I should marry the man that I'd dated throughout high school. I met my husband during that summer and had the first of my two children the first year of our marriage.
We lived next door to church goers, who constantly asked me to revivals and to church. They really got on my nerves! I'd shut my blinds on the side of the house that they lived on when it was time for church. I made sure that Natalie, my daughter, wasn't told about Jesus and that she was never out of my sight—not even babysitters. She stayed with me all the time.
An extremely bright child, Natalie could speak as well as anyone when she was almost two years of age. Back then, no one used seat belts, so she stood on the front seat next to me. My arm protected her from sudden stops. We'd go to the park, store, library, etc. during our day time hours. One day, at a four way stop, she noticed a church on her side of the car. Looking dead into my eyes, she said, "Mama, that's where Jesus lives. But He's supposed to live in your heart. Does He live in yours?"
I was appalled! There was no way anyone could've filled her head with such stuff! I made sure she didn't hear it on TV or on the radio, and she never left my sight, so I knew no one could've told her that.
For days, every time we'd be on an adventure, she'd spy a church, look into my eyes and say, "Mama, that's where Jesus lives. But He's supposed to live in your heart. Does He live in yours?"
I was frantic. I questioned my neighbors—just in case—to see if they'd ever said anything to her. I could never trace the information.
After about three weeks of repeating those lines, we went to see my husband's mother in Montgomery. She gave me books to read, which were on the seat between Natalie and me as we drove home. It was Sunday, after twelve in the afternoon, and I realized that when we would make the curve connecting I-85 with I-65, that there was an African American church down to the right. I did everything I could to keep Natalie's attention, but she turned and saw all the people leaving church. She turned to me and said, "Mama, that's where Jesus lives. But He's supposed to live in your heart. Does He live in yours?" And then, she picked up one of the books from the seat and said, "And THAT'S where they preach the Word of God!" as she slapped the book.
I came unglued and couldn't get to Prattville fast enough! I questioned my neighbors for over a week about Jesus, not realizing that what I was experiencing was conviction.
They'd -answer my questions as best as they could, but finally asked if I like to talk to their pastor, to which I readily agreed. I knelt and was gloriously saved in Rev. Garner Clark's office at Crestview Baptist Church after hearing the gospel.
I could write volumes of what the Lord has done in my life since that day. How He's never left me or forsaken me, about His faithfulness, great love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. Daily, He is by my side, watching over me, speaking truths to me in His Word, guiding and growing me. I marvel at Him, stand in awe of Him, and bow before Him in thanksgiving. To Him be all the glory!