I get excited whenever I get the chance to tell the story of my life from God’s perspective and how He has brought victory into a life full of defeat and joy to a life of insecurity and heartbreak. I’m still amazed that I have such a rich relationship with God now because I grew up in a family that operated independently from Him. Other than hearing about Jesus in Christmas carols, I didn’t understand who God or Jesus was or why being connected to them in some way was even relevant. I knew a lot of people who went to church on Sundays but never questioned why we didn’t or even thought it sounded like a good idea since it meant you wouldn’t be able to sleep in. We identified ourselves as Christians because we are Americans and Americans are naturally Christian, as opposed to another form of religion. That was my extend of understanding.
This all started to change for me as I got older and started to question some things about how my family navigated life. My family consisted of my mom, older sister and I because my dad passed away when I was 8 under difficult circumstances. He finally decided that he couldn’t manage the deep depression that he dealt with and ended his own life to ease the pain that he was in. Instead of learning how to deal with hard things like this in a healthy way, our family’s approach became to simply mask the pain with a smile and a positive attitude. I’m sure that it was a way that we all thought would help us survive.
I found that more and more difficult to do as an adolescent as I started to struggle with a lot of fear, insecurity, a lack of feeling wanted and accepted, and a basic feeling that life was meaningless. Without feeling like I had permission to talk through these dark thoughts, I kept trying to stuff them down and worked at being happy. I felt guilty about not being able to let these things all go and just fill myself with positivity like my mom and sister seemed to be able to do so I assumed the problem was with me. The only answer I could think of was to become a better person so I could rise above my flaws.
I started taking a lot of psychology classes in High School and thought understanding myself would be the answer to fixing what was wrong with me. I started studying hypnosis, biofeedback and eastern religions. My psychology teacher was an actual witch so I was exposed to a lot of different teachings. Growing up in a mormon community in Southern Idaho, I equated the hypocrisy I saw in that church to all churches so I was a little skittish about mainstream American religions. At this same time though I became more and more unsettled with how I was behaving, treating people, and some of the things I was starting to get involved with. I didn’t realize it at the time but I believe that God was helping me to be uncomfortable with the empty things that I was turning to as He was slowly revealing His truth to me in bits and pieces.
One other way I was trying to improve myself was by being heavily involved in 4-H leadership on the local, state and national level. As I look back on that time God was using that activity to introduce Himself to me in a variety of ways. Through 4-H, I met a girl whose father hired me as a summer field worker when I was 14. She made me really uncomfortable because she and her friend would practice memorizing Bible verses as we walked up and down the rows of crops together which I found very unnerving. The Bible was foreign to me and memorizing it seemed extreme. I tried to avoid her as much as possible.
Throughout the school year after that I was invited to a few Christian events but felt intimidated by them so I wouldn’t go. I was basically tricked into attending a Josh McDowell seminar (a youth evangelist at the time) while visiting my sister in college and even though I was a little freaked out, I couldn’t get what I heard out of my head. Then, one day while helping with a fundraiser in a church hall, I saw a mural of Jesus with a group of children around Him and for some strange reason, the thought hit me that maybe the way to be a better person, who wouldn’t stumble so much with life, would be to actually go to church. I think I surprised myself because the thought had always been so uncomfortable, but I thought that maybe it would work. So as a junior in High School, I found a non-denominational church that seemed safer than the mainstream ones and stated going. That became my new plan.
In church, I started becoming more familiar with the Bible and with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, although the Trinity was a totally new concept for me, but I didn’t know them personally. I had a head knowledge but no emotionally connection so I was a little discouraged that church wasn’t going to help me like I thought it would.
As a senior, I planned a trip to visit my sister in college again, about 8 hours away, and was looking for someone to go with me. God interviewed again when I got a call from my field working, Bible memorizer who said she wanted to go to visit the school. In my quest to be a good person I said “yes” even though my head was screaming “no” because she still intimidated me as a hyper religious person. But God was relentless in His pursuit for me to know Him and she was relentless in sharing her love for Him with me. It was on that trip that my miracle happened. For some reason, which I still can’t explain, I started understanding my need for an actual relationship with God and I got a glimpse of who He and His son actually were.
The miracle for me was that even though I had trouble trusting people, I felt I could trust Him. I felt unsafe in the world, physically and emotionally, but as I learned how He is in control of all things, ultimately wants the best for me, and will eventually make everything right again, I suddenly felt safe. The insecurity I had in feeling unwanted and unaccepted for who I was, without having to prove my value constantly was suddenly relieved as I heard that Jesus loved and valued me so much that He gave His life for me so that I didn’t have to be measured by my mistakes. For the first time in my life I felt "chosen" which was what I had longed for. And as I learned how God wants me to understand that by believing in Jesus and what He did for me, I can have an actual relationship with Him, can talk to Him, share my dark feelings with Him and that He would actually listen to me and respond through His Spirit and His words in the Bible. I was overwhelmed. The idea that He would excited for me to live with Him forever was more than I could imagine. I suddenly realized that this life has great purpose and that being with Him is what made it all make sense.
During that trip, I pulled over and my new “friend" helped me pray for the first time, telling God that I finally understood that Jesus was His Son, that He died to pay for my sin and that I was willing to live my life for Him instead of for myself. I didn’t really understand it all but I knew something big had happened. I felt totally different and actually felt like I was glowing. When we stopped to eat, I remember being embarrassed because I thought other people would actually see the glow coming from me. I felt like I was now in the “extreme religious” club and wasn’t sure how to deal with it but all I knew was that it felt good.
The first few years in my new relationship with God was a constant process of exchanging thoughts and behaviors that weren’t pleasing to Him and not at all effective for me, with His character traits. I had to learn that living the way I thought was totally normal and acceptable did not line up with how God wanted me to live and was causing me problems. It was a learning process for sure to replace the behaviors and ways of thinking I had grown up with and replace them with the directions I found in the Bible. It was definitely 3 steps forward with hopefully only 2 steps back most of the time. It’s still is a process since the areas of lack of trust, insecurity in my value and acceptance by others, and feeling emotionally safe in an unsafe world are constant struggles that the Lord is still helping me with.
As I pan out of my own story I can see how the enemy has wreaked havoc in these areas through some really hard circumstances as a result of both my own wrong interpretations of how to manage my deepest fears, and some really bad choices by some key people in my life. He has allowed me to crash and burn on several occasions in order for me to realize that I can’t turn inward to myself to meet these particular needs, or depend on other things or people to meet them. He uses these times to remind me of why I needed Him so desperately in the first place and how important it is for me to share Him with others who are in the same place that I once was. I am so grateful that someone was willing to show me that living my life for God was the answer.
Having a relationship with the Lord has made all the difference and even though I have gone through a lot of pain, headache and betrayal, He has been the one who has grounded me and has been the One I can truly depend on. I now see that I don’t need to be a better version of myself but that I need to be a person who is constantly trying to be like Him. That has turned out to be the best plan of all.