This testimony is not my own, but rather of a fellow sister in Christ. I was so overwhelmed by it when she emailed it to me and felt it heavy on my heart that I should share it, with her permission.
One of the main reasons I’m documenting my testimony of how I came to be an avid lover of Jesus Christ is because I (similar to an elderly dementia patient) can’t remember details for the life of me. So much of the most important things in my life have been forgotten. I remember only the things that are utterly mundane; go figure.
To begin, a little about my past. At a young age, I already began to realize I was smarter than the average bear. I learned how to read at around the same time (or slightly thereafter) as my brother, who is my elder by three years. I remember not going to kindergarten for an entire year after I could read, because my birthday was after the cutoff date. Throughout my early elementary years, I figured out pretty quickly I was smarter than most of the kids around me. I took tests a year or two ahead of my grade level, I had special privileges to check out chapter books when I was in the first grade, and I never had occasion to read those simple little ten page books with five words to a page. God was kind to me, but through that time, my pride and arrogance swelled.
Once I finished the first grade, my parents convinced me to go to a magnet academy. There I was forced to face the reality that there were actually some people who were as smart as me. It was a huge callous on my pride, because until then I’d thought I was the only “genius” out there. Not so.
Since I can remember, I’d always been one of those kids who kept secrets. I just never really shared anything with my parents. Secrets lead to more secrets, and I learned some pretty undesirable traits. At a young age, I became a practiced thief. If I couldn’t have what I wanted, I just took it. Specifically, my dad had a quarter collection that sat laid out on his desk in his office. Every morning, very early, I’d take one or two quarters (we were always adding to the collection) and spent it on a cookie or whatever. Eventually, I got caught of course. Still, it took my parents a good few months to figure it out. I was also a practiced liar, which explains the former. I blamed the thefts on the Vietnamese boy who lived down the street, and my parents believed me. In part they believed me because I was their beautiful sweet child, but I was also just good at deceiving.
The next year, I met Lexi, who to this day remains a dear friend. We hung out at each others houses every weekend, shared interests, and dozens of sweet memories. The only problem was, I moved shortly after beginning our close friendship. I moved to El Paso, Texas: the place of my birth. I was livid. I raged both quietly and verbally because my parents had deigned to move me from where I was happiest. Of course, at that time, I couldn’t see the pieces that were to fall into place over the next six years, so I was just filled with anger and bitterness. My father’s family has a history of holding onto bitterness. My dad tells how his father got his pants ripped by a dog when he was twelve, and was angry at the dog till the day he died. My father is just like his father, and I am just like mine. Needless to say, that makes it difficult to keep bitterness from taking up residence in my heart. That became one of the biggest struggles of my everyday life. Soon, at eleven years old, I ran away twice. Not successfully, but I tried. The first time I went in the middle of the night. I managed to get about two miles away before I decided I was lost and called a friend to come pick me up. The second time was in the midst of some legal chaos. My mother blamed me for the issue, and I used it as an excuse to run away. The cops found me a couple of hours later. Nevertheless, I’d displayed my defiance. I was a rebel. I liked it.
Shortly thereafter, I was forced against my will to go to a middle school that was not assigned to my area. I met brilliant individuals, and I ended up loving it after a year, but I still was bitter because my father had not asked my permission to send me to some random school. In that year that I hated my school, I got into some trouble. I began to learn all the worldly filth that fills public schools, and it began to take root in my mind. I was friends with a girl who was just as angry at the world as me, and we ended up getting in school suspension for deeply disrespecting a teacher. The funny thing is to the day I’m writing this, I still blame the teacher (artfully pointed out a couple of weeks ago by a friend when I was retelling the story) for being inadequate, therefore causing my disrespect. Regardless, this was just another act of defiance against my parents.
At this point I am going to interject to mention that I was raised in an extremely loving Christian home. I won’t say my parents were awesome at instilling a love of the Word and God in my heart, but they did and do the best they can. Unfortunately, for many years, their trust in God only pushed me farther from Him. It began when I was five. I was starting school, and we had lost the school supply shopping list. It was really important to find it, for some reason, and my mom told me to ask God to help us find the list. I asked and asked repeatedly. I looked everywhere I could, and I never found the list. Neither did my mother. From then on, I lost faith in God, simply because He didn’t give me a reason to trust Him. If he couldn’t even help me find a shopping list, how could He be trusted with anything else? This is where my bitterness began, so long ago. Things kept building on me. As they say, it’s all the little things that do you in. I never forgave anyone anything. I even remember the time when I was four or five and my dad stole my milkshake. My family and I were at Denny’s, and my mom let me order a strawberry milkshake. I was super excited, but when it came, my dad gave me the leftovers in the tin where they mix it, and drank the milkshake himself. I held that grudge for years. There was also this one time that my mother was cutting my hair, also when I was five. She had me sitting outside on a stool in my underwear, and she poured water over my head to facilitate the cutting process, as I have extremely curly hair. My brother came outside and started making fun of me, saying I had peed myself. Insulted, I looked to my mother, my hero, for support, and was shocked to realize she was going to join in the fun! They made so much fun of me for that; I was completely indignant, particularly because my mother KNEW she’d poured water over my head, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand how she could be making fun of me for peeing myself! Just more bitterness to add to the pot.
Aside from those anecdotes, I’m going to move on to the summer before the seventh grade. I was twelve, going on thirteen, when my family started attending The Rio Church. I didn’t really want to start at a new church, because I’d gone to a bunch of others and been sorely disappointed with the people and the general ambiance. Strangely enough, I quickly fell in love with the people there. My best friend and adopted sister Hope was the first person I met. She bravely greeted me and was super enthusiastic to meet me; it freaked me out. Nobody in El Paso was that nice! The next week, I was super weirded out when Silas, (Hope’s younger brother and current close friend), greeted me! I’d barely talked to him, and, he was a boy! Aghast, I made a huge deal out of it. I just didn’t know how to deal with people being real and loving.
Soon, however, my growing relationship with Hope was staunched when I got close to Faith, another girl there. Once we got started, we became fast friends, and I felt like I’d finally found my niche with her. Unfortunately, our hearts were not ready to follow the Lord. My deception began again in full swing. It’d never stopped, but it had mellowed out because I had nothing to lie about. Now I was stuck again in a world of secrecy and other things that I despised. Part of me was glad to find someone that wasn’t “perfect” like Hope. Another minuscule part was slowly growing very uncomfortable.
By this time I was in the eighth grade and had just turned fourteen. I felt cool, and was still arrogant as all get out, probably more at the time than at any other. I won’t describe the sin in which I partook because mostly it’s not my story to tell. In general, there was a lot of lying to parents and such, but what we did is not important. What is important is that there came a time when God was not only chasing after me, gently tugging at my heart, but was clawing at me, trying to hold on to me, while I was slipping away into the opposite direction. So many things had become status quo to me that shouldn’t have been and aren’t status quo. Drugs seemed pretty okay (never tried it, but I wasn’t exactly standing against it all that much either) and teenage pregnancy was not a huge deal to me. Things were so out of focus, so much that I felt physical discomfort in my heart constantly. I was always cold. I remember having a conversation with a non-Christian friend in which I explained that I felt apart from God, and I wanted to get back to Him, but I didn’t know how, and He felt cold to me. I had cut off my life support, and I didn’t know how to get back. I couldn’t ask my parents because I didn’t trust them with my personal life. They were adults; even worse, they were Christians. In all my life, I’d never questioned the existence of God, but I fully questioned His motives on a daily basis. I felt so empty inside. My life was completely unfulfilling; completely unsatisfying. I despised who I’d become. I wanted love from Christ so much, but I had no idea how to get it. I’d already accepted Christ a long time before, at five, give or take, but I didn’t love Him. I didn’t know what it meant to love Him; what it meant to follow Him. He was an abstract idea that I didn’t really want to learn how to deal with.
I can’t be sure, but I think my parents were completely oblivious to my distress. Hope was starting to get the picture. We weren’t close at all; I despised her for being so perfect. I hated that she watched Faith and me, knowing where we were going, and still didn’t join us. As much as I wanted to get away from where I was, I wanted nothing more than to stay there. My heart was so fickle; I was dying.
I’m not sure how it happened, if one day or over time, but I woke up. I revealed to Faith’s parents (they had caught us for stuff already) the full extent of our ungodly endeavors. From there began a few long months of deep pain for me. Faith and I were watched now; we were kept apart as much as possible. I hated being watched, particularly because my parents did not participate in the watching, and so I felt it was undeserved. I’m not sure why, but they still seemed to trust me. They were clearly hurt because I was not who I’d portrayed myself to be, but at the same time, I think they were protecting me from the wrath they felt because this had happened to me within the church. I also didn’t like feeling like I had been the instigator; the bad kid. I felt that I was being blamed for the sins of the collective, not just my own. It was insufferable.
Despite my continued anger and the bitterness that I STILL had, on my own I began to actively seek God. It was a bit difficult, because I was so overwhelmed with guilt for the whole situation, and it was hard for me to not entrench the present roots of bitterness ever deeper into my heart. I cried like a baby at the littlest things. In worship, we were singing “Jesus Paid It All,” and I cried because Jesus could heal the leper “and melt the heart of stone.” For so long, I’d felt like my heart was made of a block of ice. I rarely allowed myself vulnerability, even when I was alone. I don’t like showing emotion, and I am just not a captive of my feelings. I never trusted them, and I still don’t.
I also had a lot of guilt about a certain sin I’d committed. It still embarrasses me, so I’m not going to share it, but every sermon our pastor gave felt like God was slamming the Hammer of Conviction down on me, and I honestly could not feel His forgiveness. I apologized so many times to Him and to myself for my sin, but I did not feel forgiven. It was so, so hard to overcome the guilt. Eventually, I just came to realize that love covers a multitude of sins, and that I am washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, but it left a huge scar on my heart.
Sometime between my months of emotional hardship, Faith moved away. That was pretty hard for both of us, because it meant I had to find “new” friends. It was kind of awkward to try and build/repair relationships within the youth group, particularly because I still felt that Hope was too good, too perfect. I also had to deal with resentment against the “establishment.” None of the other churches I’d ever been to had been so real about their faith. There was too much that people didn’t want to give up. However, this church I’d formerly held in a regard that made it almost seem cultish. I resented the way Hope and her brothers and sisters were raised, because they had so many rules. I hated that they had to share EVERYTHING with their parents. I never did, so I didn’t see why anyone else should either. Now I fully appreciate the parenting of the Nelsons, but it took almost a year and a half before I saw the beauty of their family structure. So, because of this, I was loathe to begin a friendship with one of “those” people. I didn’t want to be judged by the “perfect” people, and I didn’t want to have to deal with their perfection, and, consequently, my own inadequacy. I still looked for the things that made people more like me, more public schooled, more accepting and susceptible to the world. In all honesty, it was barely a year ago that I truly began to appreciate my friendships and my friends for who they are, and truly start loving my brothers and sisters in Christ. Before, I’d thought them all to be too Christian, too willing to follow the rules and bow to the establishment. I eventually got over it, though, and in place of all that resentment, bitterness, and anger, Jesus showed me love through my friends. Of course, I had some beautiful mentors, like Liz and Misty, but my biggest growth has been over the last year or so, and that’s been with Hope. Her example, gentle correction (iron sharpens iron), and love for me has been pretty overwhelming. I’ve honestly never loved anyone outside my family so much as I love this one girl. God put her in my life to help me grow, and grow I have. Our morning prayer time, good conversation, sharing of verses, discussion, and overall fellowship is one of the ways I believe God shows me His love. It’s just another blessing.
God’s love is overwhelming. God’s love is the most amazing, dynamic, and impossible-to-understand thing in the universe. He created a universe that’s trillions of light years big, and He still cares for me. He even urges us to cast our cares on Him, because He cares for us. One of the most amazing verses Hope ever shared with me was Luke 7:13, “When the Lord saw her, His heart overflowed with compassion.” That compassion is about the woman at the well, and knowing His heart for her, and seeing the way He loved her, gave me hope while I was yet in the midst of my emotional trials the few months following the time when I turned my life over to God. Jesus Christ suffered and died for my sins. He took my punishment, for reasons I think I will never fully conceive of, and I am only alive because of Him. And yet, after all that, He has compassion on ME. Every time I hear a song on the radio about being alive, or that our God is “not dead,” I am reminded that neither am I. I am no longer bound to my flesh, and I am now alive in Christ, and I live to do His bidding. At one time, I would have shied away from this life of slavery to my God, but I now accept my role wholeheartedly, and am completely enamored with my Savior. All I can do in return is love Him and follow Him to the end of my days.
Every day the Spirit conforms my heart more and more to be like Christ. So many things about me have changed. For one, my pride is shot. And yet, I find myself put into situations where I have to lay down my pride at the foot of the cross, and give it up to Jesus, because it’s still there. I’ve been freed from most of the bitterness in my heart. The roots have been dying, slowly at first, but I believe the decay to be exponential. My policy has become to never lie to people, because if I did, they probably would never know. My relationship with my parents is incredibly different from what it was two years ago. I’ve shared with them things I’ve held back of myself that I never would have imagined myself sharing. God is good, and has helped me through every improvement I’ve made in my life.
I still have a long road to travel ahead of me, but as I told someone I love very much just yesterday, I was in that place once, and I never, ever want to go back. I see where those pieces fell into place. I have been struck multiple times by the utter sovereignty of God, and I can’t wait to see where He leads me for the rest of my life.