At 6 years old, I had my first church experience. I remember going into the basement of Hopewell Wesleyan Church on Alexis Road in Toledo, Ohio and getting to sing to my heart's content while Sharon Craig taught us song after song. "Get on board the gospel train, and your life will never be the same!" It was true. My life was never the same again. And so Sharon became my first spiritual mentor, though she would never have suspected what her influence on my life meant to me then or now.
When I was in 2nd grade, we moved to Michigan to a home in the country near a tiny town called Munith. One Saturday afternoon that autumn, a man named Mark stood knocking at our doorstep. "Would your children want to ride the bus to church tomorrow?" Sure. My sister and I began riding the bus week after week to a North Sharon Baptist Church, and my parents would often drive to church themselves and meet us there since Sunday School wasn't really there thing. We loved the bus ministry, so we often rode home on the bus too singing songs with Mark and the other kids. I remember hearing the story of the Wesley brothers in that church, intriguing now that I realize it was a Baptist church, but I digress. I remember hearing of their trips to America and deciding that I wanted to be a missionary when I grew up because all good little girls want to grow up to be missionaries, right? I accepted Jesus in the children's church chapel at that church. Thanks to Mark's obedient servant's heart, I got on the bus each Sunday for two years, walked into the back of children's church and prayed for forgiveness and accepted Jesus into my life. Mark became a hero of the faith to me.
When I was in junior high school, I spent the night at my best friend's house. Although I had spent many nights in the homes of friends, this particular overnight stay was a unique experience for me. Before heading to bed that evening, the whole family gathered in the living room where Sarah's dad read from the Bible and the family discussed what he read and prayed together. I didn't even know what devotions were until that night, whether individual devotions or family devotions, it was an entirely new concept for me. Throughout my teen years, I spent a lot of time in that household gleaning spiritual truth, attending youth group events with their family, participating in family worship and Christmas caroling parties and various other events. One thing always held true no matter what they were doing; Jesus was always involved. Dan and Kathy Swanson became life-long spiritual mentors of mine. I cherish them, can count on them to pray for my family and me, and I know that they are always available to offer wise counsel.
I headed to Indiana Wesleyan University in January of 1995. Little did I know that my ear training professor would become so much more than a professor. Dr. Lessly became a friend, confidante, adviser, mentor, and more. I accepted wisdom, advice, and discipline while sitting in her office. When I was sick during fall semester sophomore year and had been sick for weeks with no apparent improvement, I remember her pulling me into my office, sitting me down, and telling me I needed to stop and take care of myself. Period. I remember her pulling me into her office another time when my boyfriend (now my husband) broke up with me, and she knew how very, very devastated I was. She loved me through it, just like she has with many, many students. She helped me to learn to integrate my faith with my music and career path. Her continued friendship over the past 13 years since graduating has been one that I cherish.