I found God back in 2010. A few days after it happened, I wrote down my testimony. I share it with anyone who may be able to relate, find comfort, find clarity, and those who are still searching!
I have a story. I HAVE A STORY!! For years I didn’t understand why I didn’t have a story. Then, all of the sudden it happened. Let me start at the beginning… I was raised Catholic. I was baptized as a baby, started Catholic school as a kindergartner, and stayed there thru eighth grade. I made my first confession, my first communion, and was confirmed all on the set time line that had been laid out for generations. I learned many, many of the stories of the Bible, but they were just that, stories. I had a hard time applying them to my life. My family went to mass every week without fail. I learned numerous songs and memorized many prayers. All of these pieces of my faith were stand alone. They never became part of a bigger picture. The puzzle was never put together. My family moved to Georgia when I was about to enter my sophomore year of high school. I went to a public school, but my family continued to attend mass on a very regular basis. Once I became a teenager that was able to drive, I started deciding whether to go to mass or to go to Waffle House and tell my parents I went to mass. Unfortunately, it tended to be the latter. During all of this time, my principles (other than going to mass apparently) had developed quite well. I had an extremely strong moral compass that guided me easily toward good behavior and helped me avoid many of the problem causing choices many young people are prone to make. I also developed a strong sense of empathy, a great work ethic, a genuine love for people, as well as the desire to see good in them and for them. When I was a freshman in college, I met the man who would become my husband. Very quickly we both realized that our religious backgrounds were as different as they could be, while still both falling into the Christian category. It became pretty much the only hot button issue in our relationship. While we were dating we took turns visiting each others churches. It was at his home church, Shady Grove, a southern foot washing Baptist church, that my non catholic education began. His church became the first place that I learned what being saved could mean. I feel like I had never even heard the word saved as a Catholic. This was by far the most difficult concept for me to grasp. You mean I couldn’t just follow all the rules and be a good girl, and get into heaven? That is what I thought…. Shady Grove was also the first place that I learned songs that were not the Catholic hymns I had sung my entire life. It was most certainly the first time I heard preaching that wasn’t based on what date the calendar showed. It was terrifying. I didn’t understand any of it. I felt all alone. I certainly didn’t know where to get answers to my questions. About this time my younger brother visited a non-denominational church named North Star. He invited my entire family to attend one week. Within a few visits we realized that the message they were preaching was something we wanted to hear. We started attending regularly and basically left Catholicism behind. We heard the messages week after week and they made so much sense. They kept our attention and they left us with a desire to be there and hear more. At this point, Brian and I were still visiting each others churches. North Star was helping to shed some light on the ways of Shady Grove, but I was still filled with an overwhelming feeling of confusion. One summer in the late 90’s, during revival at Shady Grove, I went down for an alter call and thought I was trying to get saved. An elder in the church had come up to me during the alter call and encouraged me to do this. I did not know what I was doing or what I should be doing. The elder had just been doing what he thought was right, but the experience only added to my confusion. Feeling that everyone was waiting for me to stand up having been “saved” I did just that. I stood up and gave everyone the biggest most joyful smile I could, and tried to convince everyone, including myself, that this event had actually happened. I remember feeling like I was expected to get baptised but knowing that I didn’t feel like I should get baptized. Around this time, I had a lengthy conversation with my next door neighbor, who was a knowledgeable Baptist. I wanted him to assure me that I was saved, which of course he couldn’t do, but he did try to guide me. After this, things stayed quite the same for Brian and I. We went to Shady Grove, we went to North Star. For me, both places were out of obligation to attend a church with our families. Neither of us could agree that the other ones church of preference was the right place for us. In 2001 Brian and I were married by Mike Linch, the pastor of North Star. It felt right to me (Him marrying us). I again had a lengthy conversation about whether I was saved. This time it was with Mike, and this time, he still couldn’t answer my question. Again he tried to guide me. But I was still confused. Before I knew it, Brian and I had two beautiful baby boys. In 2004, when my second was just two weeks old, I found myself sitting in a revival service again. This time, between the preaching and the testimony of a young mom, my heart was put under conviction. I was trembling and could not sit still in my seat. I remember handing the baby off to someone. I HAD to go up for prayer during the alter call. This time I knelt and I tried to say the things I thought God would want to hear, but nothing happened. What was I going to do? I didn’t know…so, again, I got up and tried to make myself look like a miraculous message had been delivered to my heart straight from God. People were more excited and joyous than the first time. I felt broken. I felt that it must be an impossibility for a young Catholic girl to achieve the types of feelings these church goers so obviously believed were deliverable from God. Once again I denied baptism. I had no feeling or desire for that to be my next step. Once again we settled into a mediocre record of attendance at both churches. Still, neither of us could accept each others preferences as our own. It was, and still is, the most difficult aspect of our relationship. Around this time, in 2006, pregnant with my third son, I met a new group of girlfriends. They invited me to their much smaller non denominational church. I thought it was a good fit for both my self and my boys. For the next two years, this is where we attended the off weeks from Shady Grove. I got involved in the Children’s ministry even went so far as to be a lead teacher in the elementary room. I enjoyed this position, and it is actually where I started to learn more and more out of the bible. Still, I never felt God talking TO me. It was more like his words were talking AT me. We also attended a couples small group. I always held out hope that these meetings would help get me right with God. They were another way for me to spend time earning his love. No life changing moments ever happened. I did feel like it gave Brian and I some time together in the Word, as well as a reason to discuss spiritual matters. At the end of those two plus years, due to a variety of events, I ended up back at North Star. By now it was the middle of 2009.I had definitely grown in all of the years since I was Catholic, but I still never GOT it. It was something I was taking part in, not something that was a part of me. I did my second Bible study thru North Star in the fall of 2009. I could feel and hear God calling me, but I couldn’t get to him. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I still questioned my salvation regularly and I lamented over the fact that I didn’t have “a day” to call my own. I didn’t understand. I was trying so hard. I thought I was doing everything I should be doing to earn God. At this time my brother had been free for about three years of a torturous grip that drugs had held over him. He had grown as a Christian and he was on fire for God. He was a guiding force and a shining light in my family. (My mom, dad, sister, and I). He was doing a lot of studying and research. He became someone who we could go to with questions, as well as engage in discussions with on Christian matters. At the very beginning of 2010 my brother suggested doing our own bible study. We started meeting weekly. AJ decided that we would read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love as well as start reading out of the book of John. For about the first month, I showed up, I read the chapter out of Crazy Love that I was supposed to, and I participated in the discussion of John. I was enjoying Crazy Love and it was opening my eyes to the majesty and wonder of God and the lackluster way in which I was treating my relationship with him. I tried to start working on what I thought I was supposed to do. At our fourth meeting AJ called our family out on who was, and who wasn’t spending time in the Word. Mainly it was me who wasn’t. I had to tell AJ that I was overwhelmed, that basically I had no time to add God to my life, that I was doing the best I could, and to get off my back. Well, a couple of days later, I read the next chapter in Crazy Love. It specifically said ‘read the Gospels for yourself. Put this book down and pick up your bible.’ I thought, “OK God, I hear you”….I didn’t listen, but I was beginning to hear. J That Sunday at church at North Star was about who changed your Christian journey. We were instructed to think about who did that for us. The ONLY person on my mind was AJ. He had become my encouragement and my inspiration. He didn’t tell me what he thought I wanted to hear, he told me what I needed to hear. He got me thinking. He started the bible study that was teaching me more than I had learned in 32 years. He challenged me. He (and Francis Chan) made me question my relationship with God. The one where I gave God my left over time and energy thinking that was ok. I left that church service on 1/31/10 feeling like my personal story was coming into focus. I knew where I had come from. I knew that either I was where I was supposed to be (meaning saved) and didn’t realize it, OR, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and didn’t know how to get there. Both of those options were equally scary to me. My week went on crazy busy as always, and I tossed any left over time I had at trying to read Crazy Love. As it turns out I was running behind in it, and basically had to skim thru it at work before our family study on Thursday (2/4). I thought that chapter was great and made sense, but it didn’t fully speak to me. I went to bible study and it started the same as all of the other weeks, with the study of John, which once again I hadn’t made time to pre read. During our study, I continued, as I had been, to learn more and more from John about Jesus being my Lord and Savior, both Son of God and One with God. It was amazing information. It is information that I feel like I was supposed to have known all along but had never been told. For some reason, at this point in the study I ended up sharing a little of my story with AJ (who did not know everything I had been thru). I again commented, as I had done a million time before, that I was confused about being saved and didn’t understand why I didn’t have “a day”. He told me not to worry about “a day”. Looking back it felt like I was waiting for lightening to strike. Then we moved on to the study of Crazy Love. This time as we talked thru the pages, the words at the end of the chapter were literally marching off the page and piercing straight into my heart...
Chapter 6 Paraphrase: When we love Christ we aren’t motivated to do things out of guilt or fear of consequences. (For me this included praying, attending church, and spending time in the Word). When we love Christ, our work (time in the Word) is a manifestation of that love…and it feels like love. None of us will ever be worthy. It is useless to attempt earning it, you will never feel ready. It is unknown and uncomfortable (basically how I have felt for the past 10 years). God forgives everything and loves endlessly. If you merely pretend that you enjoy God or love him, He knows. You can’t fool him, don’t even try. Tell him how you feel. Tell him he isn’t the most important to you and you are sorry. Prayer from Crazy Love: Jesus, I need to give myself up. I am not strong enough to love You and walk with You on my own. I can’t do it, and I need You. I need You deeply and desperately. I believe You are worth it, that You are better than anything else I could have in this life or the next. I want You And when I don’t, I want to want You. Be all in me. Take all of me. Have Your way with me.
At this point it was time for bible study to be over. Somehow it was decided that I would close us in prayer. I hadn’t done it before and I was nervous. I wanted to just read the prayer from above that we had just studied, but somehow I felt like it wasn’t going to be sufficient, to my family or more importantly to God. We all grasped hands as we always do. I could not find any words. With our heads bowed we sat there in silence. After a few moments, AJ simply said “God…” as if to prompt me. I was quiet for one moment longer, then the words just started to pour out of me. I can’t remember all that I said, but I do remember opening the prayer, as tears were rolling down my cheeks, with, “God, please come into my eyes, and my ears, and my heart and my soul. I want to know you intimately and I want to understand the love you have for me that would cause you to send down your own Son to die for my sins and become my Savior. “ I also remember thanking him for the precious time my family gets to spend together in his Word. I had to run out the door after the prayer to pick up Bammers, so I didn’t really process much at the moment. But I do remember feeling light and happy. I carried on in my normal routine for the next couple of hours. This would normally be the part of my day where all that I had thought about God that morning and all my good intentions to better my relationship with him would be pushed to the back of my mind, only to be pulled forward in time for our next bible study. But that isn’t what happened. I couldn’t get that morning out of my head. And I didn’t want to. At that point I could have spent hours praising God. And I wanted to ponder everything. I felt different. I felt included and loved and wanted by God. That night at work I was different. I felt confident. I felt like I could look anyone in the eye, even my boss, who normally shakes me so badly I can’t speak clearly. I couldn’t be shaken. I was already realizing that God had come into my heart and filled it to the point that it was overflowing. The next morning I got up and my thirst for God needed to be quenched. I immediately figured out how I would get myself in the Word and began that journey that very moment. Over the next four days I continued to have God and his words and his praises at the forefront of my thoughts. So finally, this brings me to now, Sunday night (2/8). Today I decided to write down my story. I want to remember it how it was. I want to remember what I have felt like. I will pray that I feel this way for the rest of my life. At church this morning (North Star) all of the songs and all of the preaching could have been spoken directly to me. I am hearing Gods Word with a clarity I didn’t know was possible. And all of his teachings are so connected that it seems unfeasible to hear one with out it having a profound affect on the next. During the song “Praise God, Praise God, Praise God who Saved my Soul” I thought my whole chest would explode with the love and excitement God has for me and I for him. I also saw a note about baptism in the bulletin, like I have a million times before. I even watched my sister, mom and brother get baptized, a long time ago, with out me and didn’t think much of it at all. Well just seeing the word Baptism made me realize it is now my time. I know it just as surly as I knew we would get married in a Christian ceremony. There is no other way. In conclusion, I know “my day” has finally come. In sharing this story with Jennie earlier today, I was still questioning whether I was saved before, or if Thursday was “the day”. I even tried to deny it as “the day” thinking I hadn’t really prayed for it. Thinking “Lightening didn’t strike”. But as quickly as I thought that, I realized that I had prayed that Thursday morning. I prayed out loud, a more heartfelt, REAL prayer than I had ever prayed before in my life! I am different today than I was on Wednesday 2/3. I sat at that kitchen table and prayed for God to come into my heart, and I MEANT it. He heard my prayer and he poured into my heart…and I am changed!