Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Story

Here’s my story. (Warning: L-O-N-G!)

I must warn you that it isn’t pretty, no shiny paper with a big red bow. It’s not grand either. Once you tear through yesterday’s news you’ll find a plain girl longing for acceptance.

There’s also a confession I must make before divulging my story to the world… out here on the internet for stranger, friend, and foe to devour. That confession is I’ve struggled with jealousy when I’ve heard other people’s stories. Everyone else seems to have one of those shiny paper- big red bow tales. Everyone but me. I’m just a jumbled up mess in need of a Savior.

Here goes. As a child, we didn’t go to church. Well, if you count Easter, Christmas, and Vacation Bible School then we went to church. But not really.

Growing up, our neighbor, Mrs. Johnson would take us (my sister and I) to church sometimes. Looking back, she was a brave woman letting two giggly girls tag along with her. Her church wasn’t far away, walking distance, even. (More on the walking distance, later.) I also enjoyed the Sunday School there. Actually, the Sunday School teacher gave me my first Bible. Dated February 1989 – I was eight and a half. I don’t remember her name but I remember how she made me feel: special.

Through the years, we attended Vacation Bible School at my Aunt Joyce’s church and my Grandmother’s church. Occasionally, my Aunt Teresa would take us with her when we spent the night. I can only remember a couple of times that I spent the night on a Saturday night with a friend and we went to church. One of those times, I remember learning the song, “Father Abraham had many sons and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord…” I’m certain that I drove a hole in my dear parents’ heads once I got home singing that over and over.

When attending VBS at my Aunt Joyce’s church, I can remember the first verse my sister memorized. (Mind you, I can’t remember the first verse I ever learned but my sister said hers over and over and over.) Her first verse was Psalm 147:1 Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God for it is beautiful and praise is comely. Maybe in reality, that was the first verse I ever truly memorized.

Often, I would beg my parents to go to church. I loved it and I wanted them to love it, too. I even “ran away” to church one weekend to my neighbor’s church- the one within walking distance. It just so happened that it was daylight savings weekend in the fall and I arrived a whole hour early. I had to wait around for church to start because I wasn’t going to walk home and back again. After church, I didn’t want to walk home so I dawdled around downtown Rivermont- not the safest place for an elementary school-aged girl. Ugh, do I ever remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when my dad’s truck came around the corner and spotted me. Needless to say, I learned that running off was not wisdom.

Still I continued to beg my parents to go to church. One particular weekend my dad yelled at me, “Quit asking me to go to church! When I want to go to church, I’ll ask you to go to church!” Of course my little heart was crushed into a thousand pieces and well, guess where we went on Sunday morning? Church!
That was my experience with church up until age twelve. I’m not sure how we ended up going, that is probably a part of my dad’s story but we started going to church, regularly! We started visiting the church where my cousins, Tim and Jason were attending so of course, it had to be cool. I was so excited to make new friends and enjoy the church experience. There was this one thing I did that I later learned drove everyone else crazy. Don’t you hate those moments when you realize that you were that awkward kid annoying everyone else? (Maybe that’s never happened to you but hey, this is my messy story.) In youth group or Sunday School, whenever we went around the room to share prayer requests, I had to pray for everyone from the president to my friend’s sick cat. Seriously, I monopolized prayer time. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t for show. It was genuine and heartfelt because that poor cat was gonna die if I didn’t pray for it and well, our country would just spiral out of control if I didn’t mention that. (Perhaps I should have spent a little more time on my knees about that last one.)

One September Sunday morning, the topic of the message was on hell. I would love to say that the pastor preached a resounding message of God’s unfailing love that gripped my heart and allowed me to feel God’s compassion wrapping around me. But no, this was an old-fashioned “hell, fire, and brimstone” message. A “Get right or you’re gonna burn!” message. I can remember sitting on the left side of the church about halfway back in the bright red pews. (Of course, you know that pews were meant to be bright red because of Jesus’ blood and well, anything else was downright, unholy.) I battled the fear in my heart because I had not yet heard the verse that says, “God did not give us the spirit of fear but of power, of love, and a sound mind.” Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit was doing a work in my heart at that moment but the fear that trickled in was not of God. I distinctly remember slipping out of the pew and gingerly walking to the front, kneeling at the altar and asking Jesus to come into my heart. (Because of course, the only place you could ask Jesus in your heart was at the altar, right?) I didn’t seek anyone out and no one came to me. At that moment, I was glad. Only God needed to hear my prayer, no one else. But what I didn’t realize was that I needed discipleship. Maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so messy if I had had some discipleship early-on.
When we left that day, I can still remember sliding across the seat in our station wagon wanting to say something, wanting to tell my parents. But I didn’t. I hid it all in my heart- just between me and God.
A couple of years went by and my parents and my sister asked Jesus into their hearts. I won’t get into all of that- that’s their stories. I will say that once my dad became a Christian, things changed at our house. They changed for real. And some of the changes, I didn’t like. There were even a few moments that the thought, “Why did I beg him to go to church for all these years, anyway?” crossed my mind.

One change that happened was our music. That kind of stunk in my opinion. One day I came from school to find a little brown bag full of my contraband on the kitchen table. Dad wanted to destroy the cassettes (yes, cassettes!) but I begged him not to throw them out because they belonged to my friend, Crystal. Reluctantly, I returned the Motley Crue, Def Leopard, and Aerosmith. To this day, Aerosmith is my jam. If we are going on a road trip that is the first thing I let loose in the car. It probably drives my husband crazy but he knows I’m happy when I crank up the Big Ones album.

In June 1995, a funny thing happened on my way to the sanctuary. My pastor called me into his office to discuss a note that had been confiscated in which I had referred to another teen in our church as a dork. He came down really hard on me and although I should not have been bad-mouthing anyone, he did not handle the situation appropriately. He kept questioning my salvation because “saved people” don’t talk like this or do these things, etc. He spat scripture at me until I truly questioned my salvation. I don’t remember his exact words but the deal was that if I really wasn’t saved and I got saved right then, then he wouldn’t give the note to my parents but if I really was a Christian, then my parents would have to hear about this. Well, what is a scared, intimidated almost fifteen year old girl going to do? Get saved, that’s what.

I left his office and walked into the sanctuary and whispered in my mom’s ear, “I just got saved.” She looked at me and said, “I thought you already were.” To which I responded, “Me too, mom. Me too.”

My parents never pressed me about it and I continued to dig my hole to China, trying to bury the lie with more lies. I even traveled around singing Christian music sharing a false testimony. For years, it ate me alive. The worst part of it was having that pastor’s words ring in my ears, “saved people don’t do things like this.” And so it continued for years that every time I did anything wrong, anytime I felt the slightest pang of conviction of something I had done, I wrestled. I probably could be in the Guinness Book of World Records for most times asking Jesus in your heart because if I didn’t get Him the first time I asked, then how did I know that I got Him the second time I asked, or the third, or the one hundredth, or the ten thousandth. It got to the point where it became a ritual prayer, “If I’m not really saved, God, save me. I believe you sent Jesus to die for me. (check) I know that I’m lost without you. (check) I confess that I just __whatever it was for the moment__. (check) Forgive me and save me, for real this time. Amen.”

This cycle was killing me. Maybe not where people could see. I became pretty good at the happy face, always in a good mood, nothing’s wrong kind of girl. But inside, I was a disaster. A basket case eaten away by fear and misguidance.

One day, I was having my daily ritual prayer on the hour long drive to my Grandmother’s house. I was alone and literally let the tears fall as I begged God to help me, to really save me. You might call me crazy but clear as a bell, I heard God tell me to turn on the radio. Seriously God, I’m pouring my heart out here and you are telling me to turn on the radio?? For a moment, I hesitated but I could not shake what I heard. I know it may sound hokey pokey and cliché but this is my story. You don’t have to believe it; you don’t even have to like it. I turned on the radio and “What Sin” by Morgan Cryar was on. The words were exactly what my heart needed to hear from God. God was more real to me in that very moment than He had ever been before to me in my entire life.

I’d like to tell you that I never struggled again with questioning my salvation but that isn’t the truth. I wanted to tell my Dad the truth about it all but I still kept it hidden.

There was one thing I knew and that was that I needed something more. Something more than what I was getting at that church. (I’m not bad-mouthing any church, some incredible people were and still are a part of that community; I needed to move on. I needed more.) I approached my dad requesting permission to go somewhere else. I’m not really sure what reason I gave him, maybe just that I wanted something a little more contemporary. I honestly don’t remember. I imagine it must have been hard for him to allow his oldest daughter, a high school senior to venture off into the world but he did and for that, I will forever be grateful.
I attended another church for a couple years and it was a wonderful place for me to begin to grow. I made some lifelong friends there.

At some point, I made the transition to Calvary Chapel Amherst County where God put a leader in my life. Laura became my spiritual mom. She taught me about grace. I didn’t have to live in legalism. She taught me how to read my Bible and pray. We are still friends and I thank God for her leadership in my life. Until I met her and received some loving guidance, I remained a baby Christian. I had finally begun to grow. I started to fall in love with Jesus, not with church.

At age 21, I made a decision. I finally told my dad the whole story and what I had been going through since I was fifteen. As you can imagine, I cried like a baby the whole time I told him the story but by the end I was free. I was finally, truly free. No more dark secret hanging over my head. No doubt, he felt awful and wished that I had talked to him about it sooner. I wished that I had, too. Nevertheless, I finally felt free.

Does that mean the last eleven years of my life have been perfect? Nope.

Does that mean I’ve never made a mistake since? Definitely not!

What does it mean? It means that I walk in the freedom and love of Jesus Christ. I am a person full of mistakes and regrets. But I am God’s child. He loves me and lavishes his grace upon me. I am redeemed for eternity. Jesus wrote his name on my heart with permanent ink.

I think that many people have been led astray by actions that don’t resemble the heart of Christ. That is why Ghandi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.” I agree with his statement but I myself have fallen many times to be unChrist-like. We must always point back to Christ and strive to do the best we can but show each other grace when we falter. I am not perfect, I am a mess; I am a disaster waiting to happen. Yet, God loves me.

So, that pastor affected my life in a way that he will never know. I have no desire to rub his nose in it. He made a mistake, a very painful mistake but he is forgiven by me and by God. It is a part of my story.

I encourage you that if you have been hurt or led astray by someone in a leadership position that you find grace to forgive them and keep your eyes on the High Priest, Jesus.

Walk in freedom. Live in God’s love. Grow in God’s grace.

And in case you didn’t know, God is crazy about you!

Here is the song God prepared for me that day:

Smile (A REAL SMILE!) donnamusing :) 

1 comment:

donnamusing said...

I've wanted to write this out for a long time. I'm glad I finally did.