It's a little after 6 in the morning and I sit here, thinking. Thinking about what to write, what to share.
Why am I sharing my testimony? Starting today and each Monday going forward I hope to bring to you some thoughts, scripture and encouragements about walking with the Lord. My testimony is a starting point and shares how my faith in the Lord has transformed through some difficult, but eye opening experiences.
Growing up in a Christian home. My parents were both Christians, although they came from very different backgrounds and perspectives. My Father was a Southern Baptist through and through, my mother was just beginning to explore what it meant to be a Christian outside the Catholic church. She was raised in a strict Catholic home, but in her early 20's she began exploring different religions, trying to figure out the path to God. While I was very young I was raised with a combination of influences from the Catholic and Baptist perspectives. My mother has always been the main spiritual leader in our home since my father worked very long hours and traveled a great deal for work. She did her best to raise us knowing the Lord, but it wasn't a straight shot path to Him, it was more like a very curvy, bumpy path. There are many theologies and view points about how to walk with the Lord and I think the earliest part of my life was spent bouncing between them as my mother learned.
When I was eight my family moved from Missouri to Arizona. We began to go to a church not to far from our home. It was during this time that the Lord laid it on my heart to be baptized. I might have been only eight, but I knew in my heart that I was being called to do this. I went to my mother and pastor and spoke to them about being baptized. I think initially they thought I was too young to be making this decision, but in the end they supported me. Once I was baptized I knew that I had become a child of God and no matter what my future held the Lord wasn't going to let me go.
Life comes with it's challenges and we can either learn to overcome them or let them overcome us. My life had plenty of these challenges and many of them centered around Christianity or more importantly the people who considered themselves Christians. Our family bounced around to quite a few churches while I grew up. Part of this was because we would move and would have to start life over again, finding new connections and part of this was my Mom's desire to find a truly Biblical based church. Believe it or not, this can actually be much harder to find then some might think.
When I was twelve we moved from Arizona to Ohio. Our lives drastically changed. When we first moved, my younger brother and I were being home schooled. We moved to a horse farm in the country. Coming from only living in the city and burbs, this was an extreme change, but exciting all the same. One of the biggest adjustments was getting used to not having a lot of people around. Since we were home schooled it was difficult to meet other kids. I was never very good and making new friends, so this was especially hard for me. The only kids we knew were ones at the church we were going to. The problem was I had nothing in common with the few kids that were there. Then in 8th grade my Mother sent us to a private Christian school, we also changed churches again after not connecting well at the last one. I always had this expectation of Christian kids. I thought they should be friendly and inviting, but this was not the case in my experience.
Eight grade and especially the beginning of high school were the start to a very challenging time. I remember coming home from youth group in tears every week. The kids were mean and I hated going. The leaders were not much help and frankly I hardly recall any of them. (I'm going to insert here that in no way am I trying to suggest that I was some perfect kid who was friendly to everyone, however because I was the new kid I was always trying to find my place in the pre-established social groups. As a girl, this was especially difficult. Girls were far more judgemental and backhanded then boys, again this is in my experience.) These early experience with other Christians left a lasting impression and probably started a little hardening of the heart to Christians in general.
Fast forwarding to college. I was on my own and what an exhilarating feeling that was. I had been looking forward to college since 8th grade. I saw it as this amazing time of exploration and an opportunity to begin making my own decisions. Throughout my freshman year I tried visiting different churches; Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and so forth, not wanting to limit myself to a certain denomination. Finally towards the end of the year I heard about a Christian campus group that met once a week. I decided to try it out and was an awe of all the college students who were there. They were passionate for the Lord and the music and teaching was amazing. I felt alive for the first time in a while.
Over the next couple of years I became more involved with the campus group and also attended the church the group was associated with. I was on fire for the Lord, but I was also still me. It's safe to say that I'm a very independent, headstrong person and I definitely have a bit of a rebellious nature. This can be great, but it can also cause difficulties. My rebellious nature was in full force in college and I was always doing things that pushed the envelope with those around me. I wasn't trying to rebel against the Lord, but I was trying (subconsciously) to rebel against the stereotypical Christian. This created problems. For various reasons I began to feel more separated from my other Christian friends. I had a very difficult time relating to them and they to me, more than likely. However, no matter how hard of a time I was having with those around me, the one thing that didn't diminish was my love for the Lord. I was just trying to sort out what that was supposed to look like in my life.
Then my junior year happened. I should give you a little bit more information about my background for the rest of this to make sense. I have two older half siblings from my Father. Their mother tragically passed away when my brother was a senior in high school and my sister was a pre-teen. My father met and married my mom not to longer later and I was born the year after they were married. I am going to be careful to not write too much about how this affected my older siblings, but I think it's safe to say that neither of them were overly thrilled about our Dad marrying my Mom. Their relationship with her was rocky at best and plain horrible at the worse. I mention both of them because of the major impact they have had on my life. Far more than what I will write here.
Back to my junior year. I decided to take a women in religion course, because part of it was going to be taking a closer look at Witchcraft. My sister had been a practicing witch for years and I wanted to learn more about her beliefs, primarily because I wanted to be able to share my own with her. I don't know why I felt this way, since I had virtually no relationship with her. She had lived in a different state from me for years and I never saw her, yet I still wanted to prepare for a day when we might be able to have that conversation. My sister is a very intelligent woman and she's knows the facts about Christianity. I knew she would have a rebuttal for everything I might want to say to her and proof for why Witchcraft, a far more ancient religion, was true. If I wanted to actually be able to one day have a real conversation with her about religion then I better start learning about where she's coming from in her own belief system. Up to this point, I don't think I was on the wrong track, but I did make one HUGE mistake. I let my arrogance blind me. Of course I didn't realize this at the time, because I had the best intentions behind what I was doing, but in my arrogance I didn't seek the Lord about my decision to take the course. I very distinctly remember thinking that there is nothing that could shake my faith in the Lord...
I was wrong. A matter of fact I was so wrong that it almost cost me my life. The first day of the semester I walked into my women in religion course and sat down having no idea of the journey I was just beginning. The professor asked each student to tell why they were taking the class. For the most part people were doing so just to get the three credits for their major, then it came to my turn to answer. I boldly said exactly why I was taking the class. After that, the professor told us who she was... gulp, tightening of muscles, anxious feeling... she was a practicing Wiccan priestess of 30 years. Yep. I think it's very safe to say that this professor was not a fan of me, not at all, but I refused to back down from her and committed myself to the biggest spiritual battle of my life thus far.
Each week I went to the class and at first things were okay, but it didn't take too long for that to change. About a month in I began to hear the professors voice in my head and it was not kind, but I was determined. (There is a lot more to this whole story, but I'm just going to share the main points. Trust me that I truly did hear her in my head and trust me that Witchcraft is not a religion that one should lightly dive into studying.) As the semester progressed I began to get depressed. I would go into the class happy and light hearted and then walk out of the class down and feeling like a heavy burden was weighing down on me, but I kept going. I still was not praying over anything that was happening. I was going to church and the Christian campus group still, but it never crossed my mind to pray over myself and the class and ask for the Lord's protection. Arrogance... I thought I could do it on my own and I still believed that nothing could shake my belief in the Lord.
By the middle of the semester my depression was getting pretty serious. I was miserable. I tried reaching out to my roommates and even the pastor at our church, but no one understood just how dangerous the battle I was involved in was. I began distancing myself from my roommates and they did the same to me. I stopped going to church and the misery only got worse. About three quarters of the way through the semester I began having suicidal thoughts. Mind you, this was all happening as I continued to go to this class. At one point the oppression of the class was almost overwhelming and I could hardly make myself walk into the classroom. I would literally stand outside the classroom and have to force my legs to move so that I could go in. The thoughts in my head, the professors voice, and likely different demons were having a hay day. Suicide began to frequent my thoughts. At the worse of all this I lost all ability to pray. So much so that I couldn't physically say God's name or hardly even remember it. This may sound strange, but it's true. Things were simply insane. I remember laying in my bed pulling my hair out of head, screaming into my pillow because I didn't know what to do. The depression was overwhelming me. One night I reached down beside my bed and felt my Bible. I hadn't opened it in months. I picked it up and out of it fell some small pieces of glass that cut 4 of my fingers. I quickly jumped up, threw down my Bible and ran to the bathroom to get some tissue for my now bleeding fingers. I didn't touch my Bible again, except when I moved, for many, many months, if not years.
I lost virtually all of my Christian friends by this point. I felt hurt by them and the pastor who I had spoken too, because they didn't take what I was saying and going through, seriously. They didn't understand. In the end, the person who pulled me out of my deep, deep depression was a girl I worked with. She was not a Christian, actually she was a free-spirited girl who had had some similar experiences with Wicca. She was the very first person (outside of my mother) who understood a tiny bit of what I was going through and she was compassionate. She was the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. She saved my life. Up to that point, the only reason I had not committed suicide was because of the lingering thought that I might end up in Hell if I did so. However even that thought was going by the waste side.
This wonderful woman and I became very good friends and some normalcy started to come back to my life. At this point I had decided to leave Christianity behind. While I still believed in God, I did not believe that Christianity was the way to Him. None of the Christian I knew had been there the way I desperately needed them to be and I had a lot of anger towards Christians in general, all the more because a non-Christian was the one who helped me in the end.
I moved out on my own for my senior year of college. I no longer had anything to do with church or with God for that matter and I was fine with that. I began to enjoy life to it's fullest, by worldly standards, and did as I pleased. Life was good and I was happy, mostly, but I also began to have a feeling of emptiness. It took me years to figure out the source of that emptiness. In the mean time I met my now husband and moved to Minneapolis to be near him. While we both had a lot of fun doing as we pleased, life was hard. My first job up here started out great, I was a manager of a tanning salon and day spa, but after about a year things began to change. with a combination of simply insane experiences at that job (it was the most twisted work environment I had ever been in) and my own personal dissatisfaction with my life, I started finding new ways to fill the void in the form of shopping, eating expensive meals out and drinking. Before long I was in a ton of debt. I was spending far more than I was making.
It was difficult still not finding true happiness and contentment. I suggested to my boyfriend (now husband) that maybe we should look into visiting some churches in the area. Finding a church was very difficult. I was still pretty apprehensive and had a rather jaded outlook about Christians, but something kept telling me that I needed to find a church. Thankfully my boyfriend was on bored and with the security of him being at my side I did my best to put my judgements aside and continued to pursue finding a church. Like my Mother, I was not interested in attending a church that wasn't 100% Biblical based, nor did I want to go to a church that picked what it wanted to believe from the Bible and filled in the rest themselves. I wanted to be an authentic Christian and I needed to find a church that would help me achieve that. After countless months of looking we found an amazing church in downtown Minneapolis.
From this point on our lives began to slowly transform. For the first time in a very long time I felt as if my soul was being fed. I was still very uncomfortable with Christians, but the people at the church at least seemed sincere in their friendliness. Slowly we made some acquaintances and after about a year or two we joined a small group. I was pregnant with my son and at a new job. For me, I think the crowning moment for my turn back whole heartily to the Lord was during a conversation with our small group leader. My son was due in a couple of weeks and I was having A LOT of anxiety over whether or not to quit my job and stay home with him. The question wasn't necessarily whether or not I wanted to stay home, it was whether or not we could afford for me to do so. Without my job my husbands income only covered our bills, this didn't include food. The problem was, I didn't make a ton of money at my job and when we factored in daycare expenses I would only bring home an additional couple hundred dollars a month.
I didn't know what to do. I was an emotional mess. So during our snack time at small group one evening I asked my friend (small group leader) what I should do. Guess what she said, it was very simple... trust God. Wow, that was seriously profound to me. She told me that God would provide for us, but we needed to trust Him. Up to this point I hadn't even thought about the fact that I wasn't trusting Him, nor was a I praying for a solution. We knew that me staying home was the right thing to be doing, but trusting the Lord to provide was a huge step. I couldn't even begin to comprehend how we would make ends meet, but I listened to my friend and my life hasn't been the same since.
Not only has God provided for us and honestly he started providing the moment our son was born and I was done working, He has done so abundantly. We aren't rich, nothing even close, we still have a lot of money issues as we continue to work towards paying off all of our debt, but we never go without, each month we can always pay our bills. I buy the food that I believe to be a wise investment for our family, but more importantly the Lord has provided contentment in what we have. I no longer need to shop, eat lavish meals out or drink to find satisfaction or to escape. I have an amazing relationship with the Lord that continues to grow, a husband who loves every part of me, despite my many flaws and two children who are the greatest gifts I've ever received.
I've learned a lot through my experiences. Probably the greatest lesson has been that I can't do it on my own. I have to be prayerfully seeking the Lord in all parts of my life and also surround myself with fellow believers. That's not to say that all my friends must be Christians, far from it, but instead that there needs to be a balance.
Walking with the Lord is a continuing, life long, learning experience. It's no different than a young child who learns to first sit up, then crawl, feed themselves, walk and so on. As we actively seek the Lord, He reveals new pieces of information, in sites, wisdoms and knowledge through His Living Word, the Bible and through prayer. There can be a lot of bumps and bruises in the beginning, especially as we learn to walk on our own, but the Lord is never far away and He will catch us if or when we fall and help us back again. We simply need a willing heart that is open to Him.
I have so much more I could write about. Many other events and people have shaped and influenced me, but nothing as much as my college experience. Perhaps on another day I will share more stories and insights into my life.