I was raised, and still live in the South, where church-going is as much social as it is religious. I was taught at an early age that I must “ask Jesus into my heart” if I wanted to go to Heaven when I died. If I didn’t, I would go to Hell. A place of everlasting, never-ending, conscious torment in literal flames of fire. It scared the hell out of me. Pun intended.
Vacation Bible School scared me. Revival scared me. Missionaries scared me. For some reason, weekly church did not scare me. A lot of other things scared me.
My dad was an avid “Unsolved Mysteries” watcher. One week the episode featured the possible finding of Noah’s Ark. Supposedly, they found a site on a mountain that showed remnants of a large boat that measured closely with those of the Deluge Tale found in the Bible. I left the room. My dad called and said, “Hey Niki, come watch this!” I couldn’t. In my mind, finding Noah’s Ark meant the world was coming to an end. I was not ready. My name had not yet been written in the Book of Life.
Another incident was at a slumber party with girls from my church. One of my friends shared that our Girl’s in Action leader heard God tell her the world was about to end. I felt that sensation run through my brain and down my back. I was terrified. I called my mom to pick me up.
Throughout my elementary school years, I must have asked Jesus into my heart one hundred times. But until I walked the aisle and repeated the “Sinner’s Prayer” with a pastor, I never felt Jesus move in. After that prayer, however I felt different. I was no longer afraid of dying. I no longer lay in bed at night trying to comprehend eternity and wondering if I would wake up in the burning fires of Hell.