First and Foremost

I grew up a Christian.  I loved God the best that I could understand as a child.  I reached my teenage years and I decided that following God’s rules were too constraining. 

I was naive,

I felt foolish,

I was embarrassed all the time. 

I walked away from what I was taught and tried to find the answers to my list of questions on my own.  Honestly, for me it was awful. I was even more embarrassed, more insecure, and on top of that I felt guilty all of the time, and I was afraid I was going to get caught.

When I recommitted my life to God at the age of seventeen, I was relieved.  I was so grateful to have the safety of boundaries set around me again, to have a scale to measure my life on, to put my relationships back in order, to have the potential for a “blessed” and happy life.

Then, my world was turned upside down and with it all the things I thought were important faded away and the things that were truly important remained.  Trauma – life and death experiences have a way of doing that.

One thing that stuck was I knew God was good.  I knew there was no way to get through the life that awaited me without His help.  He wasn’t the one who did this to me – He was the One who saved me.  That was basically all that I knew – everything else was just words.

The (encouraging?) words I heard often:

You are a miracle
God loves you so much
God has a big purpose for your life
You are so beautiful on the inside

Fast-forward a few years. I sat in church and watched the people around me.  There were those who were happy, who seemed so in love with God and loved each other.  They seemed to know God in a way that I didn’t know Him,

they heard Him differently,

they prayed differently.

They were…free. 

I wanted that, I wanted to feel what it looked like they had.  I tried hard.  I prayed more, tried to read my Bible more (or tried to stay awake while reading it).  I listened to the sermons and left church determined to do what the pastor had preached.  I came back to church the next Sunday so mad at myself for all the ways I had failed in the previous week, and left again determined to do better the following week.

This happened for years.  I decided that the closeness to God that the Pastor, the guest speaker, the pillars of the church had – wasn’t meant for me.  I decided that those people must have never rebelled like I did, they must have always made the right choices – that’s why their life was “blessed.” I decided that freedom and joy was for others, not for me – I blew my chance.

One day I was invited to a Bible study, by one of those people I had observed – one of the celebrities of the church, one of the “happy” ones.  It was like nothing I ever experienced before in all of my Christian upbringing.  At the Bible study these people – the “blessed” ones told the raw truth.  They shared what they were really feeling, the thoughts that they struggled with – they sounded a lot like my thoughts.  They shared about who they were before, about the terrible things that happened to them and their determination to forgive – even when it was hard.  Then they shared what they were learning, they would talk about the things God was saying to them, the things they were repenting for, these people were real. 

Their freedom and their joy was real.

Over time, their stories – their willingness to “testify” about what was going on in their life – helped me to see the truths in my own life, and to face them good or bad.  I began to overcome because of those testimonies. 

My life transformed. 

It no longer looked like occupying a church pew for the remainder of my days – I began to believe that my life had purpose.  I began to believe the words that were spoken to me over and over.

There are many hurting, broken people sitting in churches, going week after week, hoping for an answer that will transform their life.  They know Jesus died for their sins.  They also know He came to bring “life and life abundantly.” They are waiting to see that in their own life.  Those people go home determined to do better, and come back the following week defeated, feeling forgotten and alone in their struggle.

Often as Christians we put on our happy face and show everyone how “blessed” our life is.  We put our past in a closet.  The truth is we are all messes, we are such a mess that God sent his Son to earth to provide a way for us to get cleaned up and to experience His incredible Love for us.  I am grateful for those in my life who are truthful and vulnerable enough to have let me see the mess that their life was. In it, I see the daily miracles of God making beauty from the mess.  Their testimonies help me to know more of God’s perfect love and to overcome my own mess.  Their transparency encourages me to share my reality, in hopes that someone else will experience the miracle of God’s perfect love.   – Charity

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