Saved by Grace
The Personal Testimony of Hannah Hill

                  By the grace of God, when I was two years old, my family became members of Grace Baptist Church in Pontotoc, Mississippi.  Because of this, I grew up surrounded by God’s goodness.  No kid could ask for a better upbringing.  Never once was I deceived about the ways of salvation and led through a prayer.  From a child, I only knew love for I was surrounded by some of the most loving people you will ever meet.  It was as if God had placed me in a comfortable little bubble away from the rest of the destruction of the world.  He kept His hand on me at all times, always keeping me away from real danger, and even at times saved me physically from these dangers. 

                                    As most children do, however, I slept through hundreds of sermons.  I don’t know what I thought the purpose of church was, but it never occurred to me that I might need what Bro. Terry was preaching one day.  Because of this, I knew we believed differently than most churches but I didn’t know exactly what was so different about us.  Kids at school knew I believed differently because when February camp meeting would roll around, I would show up to  school in dresses or skirts and would check out later in the day to go to revival.  They were always blown away that I was checking out of school just to go sit and listen to (or in my case sleep through) preaching.  So they would often times ask me what we believed.  I literally would cringe when someone would ask this because I did not know.  Usually I would respond “We don’t believe in saying the prayer” but I am sure this just left them more confused than they started out.  Many would then just make their own assumptions and tell others what they had decided.

                  Eventually I started sitting up and “listening” in church, but my mind often wandered and I let more than several handfuls of words drop to the ground.  But during one June camp meeting, when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, I was actually paying attention for once and God moved on me in an extremely powerful way during a sermon Bro. Mike Williams was preaching about the crucifixion and how God the Father turned His face away from his blameless son as he hung on the cross and took all our sin.  It was the first time I ever remember God touching me in a service.  But being the prideful creature I was, I went to no one about it, not even my pastor.  I vividly remember riding back to the girls’ dorms with the Garzas and silently crying on the back seat of their fifteen passenger van the whole way because I needed help but didn’t feel like I had anyone to go to.  I felt like I had missed God because I had not known what to do.  After that camp meeting was over, I just went back to living life instead of seeking God and once again started letting several words just drop to the ground.

By the time I started high school, God was so far from my mind.  I fell head over heels for a boy I was in band with.  I was so crazy about him that I began listening to sermons just for God to give me some kind of promise that I would end up with the guy.  So when Bro. Terry would preach about needing faith, I automatically thought I just needed faith that it was going to work out with him.  When he graduated that year, my heart broke into a thousand pieces.  For a little while I still tried believing that it would all work out later in life.  I made all these plans about going to MSU for college in hopes of meeting up with him again.  But when it became clear that it was not meant to be, I just about couldn’t take it.  I became bitter and angry at God and others. It didn’t occur to me that God was undoubtedly protecting me.  I began to feel like religion was holding me back from all that I wanted in life.  God should have let me go then.  But He didn’t.  He had others things for me in mind, thankfully.

About the time when all this was going on, God moved in Bro. Terry to make Caleb Owen, his son, the youth director.  I can honestly say that if God had not done this, I would probably not be here today.  God knew how much I was going to need Caleb in the days to come.  Caleb started out our Sunday school class by just teaching us the doctrines that Grace Baptist Church believed.  Confessions of Faith were what he called them.  When he first mentioned it, I had no idea what he meant by that and I envisioned us all sitting around a table talking about who-knows-what.  But when he explained to me that it simply just showed the verses in the bible that backed up what we were saying, I became curious.  It was amazing how much I was helped by this lesson over the next several weeks.  Things I had once thought were unfair of God, such as election, became clear to me.  Immediately after that, Caleb began testing our Sunday school class on the sermons Bro. Terry was preaching in an effort to teach us how to listen.  I began to rapidly gain more understanding because of this.

Not long after, two things happened in my life that really affected me in two different ways.  The first was that one night my dad set me and Sarah down at the kitchen table and told us that God had told him one of us was heading towards the wrong way.  I knew it was me because while Sarah’s response was one of making sure she was doing right and not in trouble, mine was one of anger.  I had always been a private, secretive person, (which was not a good thing) and I was angry that he was going to read my phone messages.  I was angry that I was suddenly not allowed to text message certain people anymore that I once had texted frequently.  He also made a point that although he may not always see what I was doing, God did.  It dawned on me then that God knew the books I had read and the television shows I had watched that I shouldn’t have.  He knew the music I listened to in the car when I was by myself.  He knew what I was like around some of my school friends.  And he knew what my heart was really wanting.  Once again, it never occurred to me that God telling my dad this was His way of protecting me.  I only saw what I suddenly couldn’t do anymore. 

The second thing that happened, however, was something that had quite the opposite effect on me.  Two of my good friends in the churches left.  It shook me to the core.  I did not think that could happen.  Over the course of my lifetime, I had seen a few adults leave, but never a kid who I thought had been with us when they were of age to choose.  And besides that, they had been my friends.  It was definitely a wakeup call for a girl who did not often live in reality.  Not long after that, Bro. Terry preached a sermon on being rooted and grounded in love, and Caleb explained to us that in order to keep from falling away, we were going to have to love our church.  I was so afraid of falling away at this point that I set about doing this.  A fear was always with me after that though that one day something might happen that would cause me to forsake all the goodness God had given me.  I was a junior in high school at this time and I knew that my day was fast approaching when I would have to choose: God or the world.  I desperately wanted to choose right. 

God really began working on me after this, especially when I became a senior, but at the time I didn’t always realize it was Him doing it. First he really shook me up one day at school.  I was at an annual staff workshop and one of the activities the teacher had us do was to list things that were the most important to us.  I listed several things like friends and family.  But then one kid stood up and read his list.  Although I’m sure some of it was just out of pride, the first thing at the top of his list was God.  God showed me how He had given me so much goodness and truth in my life and yet He still wasn’t at the top of my list of things most important to me.  I was immediately ashamed of myself and was glad I did not have to read my list out loud. 
         The other crucial thing that God worked was that He had put the fear in me of falling away and had showed me that if I did what Bro. Terry told me, no matter how hard it may be, I would be ok.  This was soon put to the test.  I went to Bro. Terry to discuss going to college one Sunday night.  It was a big step for me, because I had always been afraid to go talk to Bro. Terry about anything.  I knew he was a man of God and could see right through me.  Caleb had often times asked me why I did not talk to him and I would usually just shrug my shoulders in response.  But I was too afraid of making the wrong decision, so I built up the courage to go talk to him.  Deep down, I wanted to go to school, but not for the right reasons.  I didn’t want a degree.  I wanted to meet Mr. Right.  I wanted the social half of college, not the studying.  So when Bro. Terry asked me “Is there anything you want to do career-wise that can keep you in Pontotoc?”  I didn’t really have an answer.  Plus, the truth was, I was SICK of school.  I hated it.  So he advised not to waste all that money on going if I didn’t really want a career.   He said if I had a job in mind, go ahead, but if not, there was really no point in it.  Although the side of me that wanted the social experience was slightly disappointed, the rest of me was so relieved.  Like I said, I HATED school with a passion.  Little did I know, this was God setting me up for much bigger things than getting a degree.  He undoubtedly knew that if I had gone to college, I would have been so distracted I would have never found Him.  This proved to be true because, with the distraction of school gone, I was really able to begin seeking God.

That January, Bro. Terry began preaching on God promising Sarah that in the right time, she would have a child.  God was promising the lost that through his timing we would eventually be saved.  I thought it was for me and kept the promise in the back of my mind. Then, in March, Caleb told the youth group that he wanted to do a youth retreat.  I was a little skeptical about how it was going to go, but was excited to go see my friends anyway.  The first night though, God moved on that place in a big way.  He began showing us how good he had been to us.  But I had been distracted for the first half of the sermon and so the word did not affect me like it did everyone else.  I struggled through most of the service until at the very end, when Caley Beth Moffitt came over to where Lydia and I were sitting and began weeping over us, telling us how much she loved us.  I confessed to her at that moment that I was struggling and she told me that if I was struggling then I needed to go talk to Caleb afterwards.  It all clicked for me right then.  I don’t know what I ever did before with the verse that says “Lean not on your own understanding” but it was clear that I wasn’t ever going to find God without a guide.   I went to Caleb afterwards and he told me that if I really wanted help I was going to have to start talking to Bro. Terry more about where I was.  When he could tell I was unsure about it, he told me this:  If I were in a mall and passed by a store with a dress I really wanted, I would do what I had to do to go get that dress.  He explained to me how salvation was pretty much the same way.   On the ride home, I rode in the car with Carley, Caleb’s wife, and she also told me how I would probably start really getting somewhere with God if I started talking to Bro. Terry more because he could help me discern where I was spiritually.  

That May, we rode up to the Lighthouse Birthday Celebration.  I remember somehow I had ended up sitting on the very back row with some of my friends because of how packed it was.  For a split second I was discouraged at being so far in the back, but then I thought to myself “God can move on someone in the back just as much as he can on someone sitting on the front row.”  Sure enough, he did.  It was, for me, yet another one of the most powerful services I have ever been in with God just showing me how much he loved me.  The story of Mephiboseth was preached and God made it very clear to me that I was like him, a cripple who a king just decided to show a little kindness too.  After that was preached, Bro. Greg had us sing “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” and when it got to the verse about “Will you this moment his grace receive?” I felt like God was just pleading with me to come to him.  But I didn’t know if I should go to the altar or what so I just kept singing.  After that Bro. Scott Smith got up and told the story of Joseph when his brothers came to him during the famine and he wept secretly because he couldn’t reveal himself to his brothers yet but he wanted to.  I found myself in that story too, as the brothers.  But I didn’t lose hope at the time because I could hear in it how much God desired to reveal himself to me.

At June camp meeting, God once again began pleading with me to just come during various sermons.  He gave me opportunity after opportunity but my unbelief and pride always kept me from doing so.  Bro. Terry even once made the comment to me: “I’m surprised he’s given you this many opportunities.”  But still, for various excuses I came up with, I never could come.  I had the common “glued to seat syndrome”.  Once again, thankfully God did not give up on me then.  Even after camp was over, he continued to work in me to bring me to Him.  He really began trying to show me how much my pride and unbelief was keeping me from him.  For starters, I didn’t even see myself as a Pharisee, I saw myself as a publican.  The reason I thought this way was because the transformation in me of being bitter at God and feeling like He was holding me back to praying every day that I did not fall away from his goodness was so amazing to me that I viewed myself more like the prodigal son than the scornful, prideful brother in the story.  This transformation also sometimes made me forget how lost I really was. But as God once pointed out to me, I was still the same Hannah as before.  There were still many dark things in my heart.  I just had more grace keeping me. 

By the time November camp rolled around, God had been working me over big time.  Going into camp, Bro. Terry preached on “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”  He said how God was going to give the lost an opportunity and we better not miss it.  Everything in me did not want to miss it.  I went to bed that night praying for God to just touch me during camp meeting.  And He was definitely listening to me.

Bro. Greg Moffitt pretty much seemed to be preaching to the young people during one night, although I’m sure several other older lost people got a lot of help too.  God was showing me how I sometimes viewed myself as being saved.  As a lost person growing up in the truth, I had actually forgotten that there could be an end to lost-ness.  And although I had turned from my anger at God, I wasn’t saved.  The word was very powerful that night and busted me wide open.  Bro. Terry had been sitting in front of me and it was not long before he was there with me.  He told me it was time to rest.  But I couldn’t, I told him, because I couldn’t find God.  Somehow I had not associated this work of God with being God.  I wanted this huge manifestation that I had imagined.  Also I felt like I needed a propitiation and completely forgot that Jesus had already died as a substitution.  And so my unbelief that this was even God working was keeping me from resting.  Also, somehow in all the sermons I had sat through and all the Sunday school lessons I had learned, I had forgotten about a person called the Holy Spirit.  Who is, as his name says, a SPIRIT.  After the sermon ended, I felt more empty and lost than ever.  I was so discouraged.  God tried preaching to me again the next night but I had pretty much lost all my confidence by that point. 

I left camp that week wondering if I would ever find salvation.  I became spiritually depressed.  Many times I was a hypocrite and would put on a smile for the rest of the world while inside I was dying.  I also did not realize until later just how much I was working.  I felt as if God wouldn’t ever forgive me until I had done enough of certain things, like repentance.  And the more I worked the more I felt like I came short.  I forgot about the promise God had given me in January and wondered if I was going to die lost.  The thought of facing God after I died was one of my greatest fears.  Even though I knew a prayer would not save me, there were many nights when I went to bed saying “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul would take.”  I found no comfort in this though and would always drift off to sleep uneasily. 

Despite all this, however, I was not seeking like I should have been, especially when the holidays rolled around.  Then I got news that Mrs. Christie Garza had been saved.  When I heard her testimony, I wanted nothing more than for that to happen to me.  After that the year 2012 kicked off.  While most people in our church were excited about a better year, all I could see was another year of lostness ahead of me.  When the Lord’s Supper was held, Bro. Terry’s sermon at festival about being outside the camp came back to me, for that is exactly how I felt.  One by one I watched as all the saved took the bread and drank from the cup.  But I was not a part.  I had not gotten in on what Jesus had done. It tore at me, for I wanted it so badly.  When Bro. Terry had everyone give verses that had helped them throughout the year, I gave one from Psalms that usually gave me hope.  But when I read it, I felt no hope in me at all. 

Thankfully though, God had it in his mind to help me.  The Wednesday night before I got saved, Bro. Terry preached on trusting God, which was something I had ALWAYS struggled with.  He mentioned during his preaching that we should go to God with what we’re fretting over with Thanksgiving.  I did not do this, however, until the following Friday night, because I wanted to make sure I had the right attitude.  In a normal state of mind I probably would have taken a frivolous matter to him, such as bringing me the person I am supposed to marry or something like that.  But spiritually I was in turmoil.  When I prayed, I asked God to help me, for I desperately needed it.  On Saturday, that need was still with me.  I knew how black my heart was and I knew it could easily lead me astray.  The illustration for this in my mind was me walking on a ledge with some dark monster behind me and a fiery pit below me.  If I stopped walking, the monster would get me.  But because of the blackness and deceitfulness in my heart, I could take one misstep and plunge into the fiery pit below.  I felt overwhelmed.  My confidence, which had been small anyway, soon faded and I began thinking maybe God had not listened to me at all.  But there was still a small hope in me that I would get the help I needed Sunday. 

Sunday morning rolled around, however, and God was clearly not talking to the lost.  I felt like my whole world was crashing to the ground.  It seemed as though God wasn’t planning on helping me at all.  Ironically, the sermon was on “You have need of patience” but everything within me could not wait.  I needed God NOW.  I should have cried out to him then, but for some stupid reason I worried what others would think.  I also briefly entertained the idea of going out back where I could break down away from everyone, but I knew my getting up would be just as disruptive.  So for the millionth time, I did nothing.  After church, I approached Bro. Terry torn up.  This was always a problem of mine.  I would do nothing during the preaching and then go to Bro. Terry as if he were God.  But he’s only the messenger; he wasn’t what I was needing that day.  He told me he thought I had gone back to sleep and that because none of the lost had been responding, God had decided to move on.  This was like a slap in the face even though at the same time I was not surprised.  So many times God had called and I did nothing.  It was like I was driving a car and had continuously missed the exit I was supposed to take to get off the main highway.  “But,” Bro. Terry said, “I don’t know what God will say tonight.  Hope that maybe He’ll talk to you tonight.”  I was literally sick going home though.  There was a small hope in me but I briefly had a bad attitude about the whole situation, and because of that, I was convinced that God was going to keep plowing ahead.  But God decided to give me another opportunity anyway. 

That night, he preached out of Isaiah 66 on a broken and contrite heart.  He basically said how even though God is moving on, he will stop and look at a person who is poor and contrite, like in the story of blind Bartimaeus.  At first I was worried I was going to miss God again and asked Him to just help me call out to him.  And he did.  He really began working me over with verse four: “I also will choose their delusions and will bring their fears upon them, because when I called, none did answer.  When I spake, they did not hear, but they did evil before mine eyes and chose that in which I delighted not.”  God basically pointed out how I was continuously doing just that, and if I kept at it, the first part of the verse would come to pass.  If God knew me better than anyone else, it wouldn’t be very hard for him to choose a delusion that I would blindly follow without realizing it.  I broke after that.  I began telling God I was sorry for being so rebellious and disobedient when He had called.  In me, I didn’t want to do that anymore.  For a split second I did like I had at camp and began thinking I needed a propitiation, but then I remembered and believed: Christ has already done that for me. After that I began thinking I needed Bro. Terry to help me at least know what to believe at that moment.  God heard my thoughts loud and clear because then He said to me, through Bro. Terry, that I could be of good cheer because he wasn’t mad at me anymore.  I briefly thought “What do I have to be of good cheer about?” but I pushed that away.  As I began focusing on believing these words, my tears began to stop.  I even almost smiled.  I thought something was horribly wrong with me at this point.  God had just minutes ago been showing me how I had been disobeying him and here I was smiling? But there was no sorrow left in me and my tears were completely gone. The tempest raging in me had vanished.  By this time, Bro. Terry was praying, thanking God for being good to the kids of the church.  And I began thanking Him too, for it’s true.  He’s been so good to me, even when I had no desire in me for him.  There were many times when I had been so ugly and ungrateful to God despite all he had done for me.

I didn’t entirely realize that I was no longer in a storm until I approached Bro. Terry after church to talk about what had happened.  But even he could tell that I was no longer in the mess I had been in.  As we talked about it, he asked me “Do you feel right with God?”  I was scared to say I was and be wrong but in me I felt like yes, I was.  He and I decided that I should go home and think it over.  Because I think more clearly when I write, I wrote him out a letter, describing what had happened and listing some of my questions.  When he read it, he pointed out how I had several misconceptions about salvation that were not even biblical.  These misconceptions mostly came from a blend of what I had imagined after hearing other peoples’ testimonies and from many of the fictional books I had read.  He told me to test the experience with the Bible, not what I had imagined would happen.  So I found myself going to Psalms 107 and the story of blind Bartimaeus.  And in me, I realized that both passages had happened to me.  In Psalms 107, I was the person who rebelled against the word of God.  I was the person who had reeled to and fro, staggering about like a drunken man at their wits end.  And I cried unto the Lord and he had delivered me.  And in the story of Blind Bartimaeus, I saw how Christ almost passed him by.  But he called out for mercy and God stopped for him.  God even told him to be of good comfort like he told me.  I was amazed at this- that I was actually living the bible! Then I went and looked up the definition of peace.  And the definition that really jumped out at me was “a cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissention”.  And I knew that was me that I was no longer fighting with God anymore.  I could truly say his love for me had lifted me.