Thursday, June 6, 2013

Chapter 4 - Assembly by the Sea

          My teen years were as carefree and happy as I believe God intended.  My passion for Jesus was fanned to a roaring blaze, not only by my church, but especially by the North Carolina Baptist Assembly, the AAssembly by the Sea@ at Fort Caswell.  I remember my first glimpse of this special place as vividly as if it were just yesterday rather than over fifty years ago.
I was twelve years old, and felt as grown-up as at least a sixteen-year-old.  My parents had agreed to drive a carload of pre-teens to the assembly grounds on the North Carolina coast, where the youth would spend a week.  I was going along for the ride, but never considered asking to stay.  At this point in my life I was painfully shy, and so was content to ride along and then return home with my parents, likely stopping along the way as my father made calls on the textile mills to which he sold supplies.  It was a great treat for my mother and me to accompany Daddy on these trips during the summer, gliding in the big shiny Buick company car along  Ablue highways,@ stopping in the small mill towns he visited regularly. We=d  spend the night in a modest Amotor inn@ where there were always tiny soaps wrapped in interesting paper for me to collect as souvenirs.
Somehow, though, by the time this particular day-long drive was completed, I had bonded with the other children in our car. Before we arrived at the coast, I had overcome my shyness and was begging to stay for the week.  Driving through the big iron gates of the North Carolina Baptist Assembly, I was immediately enthralled with the spartan white wood buildings clustered inside the old red brick Civil War fortifications.  Or maybe it was just the smell of the sea, the taste of salt when I licked my lips, and the whispering of the wind in the sea oats that hypnotized me.  Whatever the reason, with the two dresses and two sets of underwear I had packed for the overnight trip, I joyously spent an idyllic week that would help mold my teen-aged passion for Jesus.  Every summer thereafter I would look forward to that most special week at Ft. Caswell.  I reveled in the Bible study, the Christian fellowship and the awe-inspiring vesper services at sunset atop the fort.  When I needed to find work my first two summers in college, I was thrilled to be allowed to join the staff, never minding rising before dawn to make jello and slaw, or working in the mid-day heat to sweep the sandy dormitory floors.
I recently had the opportunity to drive through Fort Caswell after some forty years away.  Much has changed, but somehow the sweet spirit echoed down the years in my heart and brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes.  Climbing atop the fort to gaze on the wooden cross that was still silhouetted against an azure sea, I could almost hear the sweet strains of Joey Overby’s trumpet floating on the soft breeze. In my ASenior Autobiography@ written for school when I was seventeen, I confessed, AThree years ago on these sacred grounds [Fort Caswell] I dedicated my life to full-time Christian service....  I have become more aware of God=s eternal presence with me....  To know that my Heavenly Father is guiding me and that my life is in His hands erases all need for any other means of security.@  Perhaps, then, the real cause of my tears was the deep-seated memory of the precious innocence of that time, an innocence I soon lost and yet have now regained.  I thank God that those days were not totally erased from my memory, and that His grace and mercy are great enough to have restored the passion of my youth.

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

READ:  Psalm 95: 1-7, Psalm 100
PONDER THIS: Can you remember a time when you were more passionate about your faith than you are today? Ask God to remind you of that passion and restore it right now.