I accepted “The Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior” when I was four. I did it in the bathtub, with my mouth underwater so the bubbles would burble and splash up out of my mouth while I talked. I had just learned how to do that.
It’s my earliest memory. I’ve been saved for as long as I can remember.
By this point my Mom had been saved for a little over a decade, my Dad for nearly three, since the time he was a kid. Just like me.
I was raised in the faith, steeped in it, brewed— always at the forefront of everything we did, always the backdrop of every serious conversation, and usually the foreground as well.
We were Christian before everything else. Before we were Americans, before we were white (or Mexican, certainly before we were Jewish), before we were middle class, before my parents were up from poverty, even before we were homeschooled and even before we were Spiveys— Christian.
It’s a lineage. My mother was raised Catholic. The bland, Knights of Columbus and mass kind of Catholic that functioned as much as a social club as a faith, if not more. Her parents (my Nana, my Tata) got saved in the Catholic Charismatic movement in the 80's, when my Mom was in highschool, and my Mom followed a few years later, at a Christian rock concert, aka, the most 80’s possible salvation experience. Her sister (my Aunt Tina) got saved at the same concert.
They didn’t start out the same way I did, saved before I started pre-school and carrying right on through uneventfully to a Master’s degree, but by the time I came along, a decade and half later, there it was. That same backdrop, that same frequent foreground.
My Dad was a different story entirely.
I can’t tell you when my dad’s side of the family immigrated, where they came from or who they used to be (or even who they are now: that whole side is a spread of second and third cousins and other kinship terms I don’t understand at all) but I can tell you for a dead fact, we’re (now, by the time it reaches to me) 5th generation Christians.
And not just church-goers, I mean “I am a C, I am a C-H, I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N, and I have C-H-R-I-S-T in my H-E-A-R-T” Christian. (“And I will L-I-V-E E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y”)
A living, vibrant, all encompassing, impassioned faith that, in our line, stretches back unbroken for five generations, all the way back to my great-great-grandfather, an illiterate Georgia farmer whose wife read him the bible each night (herself saved when she ran, shoeless and hair unbound and streaming behind her, to the altar in a tent revival).
People came to him for advice: doctors and lawyers and pastors and learned men, traveling to get clarity and insight from a barefoot southern farmer who couldn’t even read. But who had God.
The first Spivey.
His son was a pastor. A preacher in the Church of God (Cleveland Church of God), a reverend Charismatic, and (based on the stories) the template we’re all stamped out after. Witty, jovial, loosely held and the spirit of the party, sharply insightful and intelligent, with a rich knack for words and images and a gift for telling stories.
This was Papa Spivey.
And Papa Spivey begat another pastor, H.D. (Uncle H.D to my Dad and to me, a pastor, I met him once, and mostly remember how excited my Granda and Dad were to have him; he was the last patriarch of the Spiveys), and then Papa Spivey begat another son. Thurston. My Grandfather.
He died when my Dad was 18, and I never met him, but I heard the stories. Stories about how smart and wise he was (and later, stories about how irresponsible and bad with money he could be, always told in a quieter voice). I heard how he was fun, and funny, how people would come to him for advice, about how he used to play the piano and sing and lead worship in Church, with a clear voice and deft, insightful touch. And how later, in the sickness before he died, Holiness poured down on him, sweet and golden and thick, like warm honey.
And then there was my Grandma, who worked two jobs from the time she was 15 until she was 50, an accountant by day and a hospital cleaning lady by night, getting an associates degree on her lunchbreak to try and put two sons through college. Who when I was a kid sank to her knees by the bed each night as an arthritic 60 year old, and prayed in a quavering, impassioned voice for minutes and minutes and minutes on end as we sighed and counted down the minutes until she'd finally be done beseeching Lord Jesus and we could go to bed. Who was the first person to really make me feel like I was loved and who told me heaven would be a field of flowers and fruit trees, and a flood of perfect peace— "just... peace". And I would say that sounded very boring, and she would laugh and say she could use some boring. And she'd sit for a second and then say (with a hunger in her voice, with fervent, desperate need) "Just... peace".
And my Dad, sharply insightful and deeply intelligent, my Mom, a constantly refilling ocean of grace and joy, who is so perfect she receives stern talking to’s from God about not being proactive enough about housework, because there’s nothing more serious left to correct.
My sister Jessica, with her with her unwavering devotion to fairness and her seemingly inexhaustible strength. With a desperate need for and mystic closeness to God, the same kind that forms the first line of any real hagiography.
My little brother with his desperate insistence to do the right thing, and his dog-like kindness and true delight in other people. My little sister with her sharp insights and reckless joy and spirit like a live wire.
All these saints, this vast pantheon of holy Spiveys.
This is my history. My lineage, my people, my purpose— and I'll be damned (literally and in all other ways) if I’m going to let that down.