It all started when I was 5, I was told to ask for Jesus to come live in my heart at a local daycare. I vividly remember being moved by something in that moment. It was warm and nice, but following that short encounter, I spent 15 years seeking the world. In return, it would yield nothing to me except for temporary fulfillment and a lot of heartache. I had an immense amount of trial and humility coming my way before I would finally come running to God, weeping and embracing Him. It was then that confessing with my mouth and believing who my Lord was and is today actually meant something to me.
I grew up with parents that were not followers of Christ.
They were alcoholics and from time to time would use various drugs. Those vices were their gods and during my time in the dark, I found that I also was not immune. My mother was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and a severe form of depression when I was about seven. She drank heavily on top of the many prescription drugs she was taking. When she was not inebriated, she was a business woman and I would often describe her as “Jekyll and Hyde.” Regardless, I loved her deeply and through her, I experienced a taste of what God’s love would be to me later. Right after I turned 18, she got into an accident that took her life in February of 2007. She ventured out alone on an ATV while intoxicated after a fight with my father; she was pinned and eventually drowned. My father on the other hand was considered a recovering alcoholic for most of my life, substituting work for his former addiction. In this, he suffered with anger problems and medicated himself often with marijuana. Growing up however, I was unaware of his habit and looked up to him. He taught me how to work hard and use my hands. I adored the time we spent together; I was his pride and joy.
As one can imagine, there was a lot of unhealthy tension between my parents and they fought relentlessly in front of me: verbally, and physically. I dealt with a lot of neglect and did my best to raise my sister who’s about 7 years younger than me. Just two short months after my mother’s death, my father relapsed after 17 years of sobriety. This caused him to make poor choices and resulted in what felt like losing both parents instead of just one. Specifically, he chose to deal with his grief by abandoning my sister and I, replacing us with women and continually running to his old friend, alcohol.
I felt lost in every aspect. My life was incredibly dysfunctional, but it was all I knew and it had vanished. That being the case, I struggled greatly in trying to find my identity. I wanted to blame everyone for my pain and was not willing to take responsibility for anything I did. I tried to go to a local college in the Fall following graduation, but being in a corrupt environment I only accomplished 12 hours that entire school year and my grades were very poor. The following Fall, I attempted to go off to a university thinking that being away might help me succeed. I became depressed during that time and was never able to manage putting all of my focus on my education. I began drinking heavily and ended up pregnant. The young man I was dating and I agreed on having an abortion. Little did I know that having an abortion would destroy me emotionally by experiencing post-traumatic symptoms.
After breaking up with him over my devastation, he (that same evening) drove off of a bridge and killed himself. I will never know if it was suicide or drunk driving that took his life and what’s more: he had gone missing six weeks before his car was even found.
At this point, I felt an unbearable weight for taking two lives in the same day. Planning my own suicide had begun frequenting the back of my mind.
Later, a friend in Houston invited me to live with him so that I could attempt a new life. He of course cared for me as more than a friend and we quickly began living as a “married couple” outside of wedlock. With no moral compass and distance from what ailed me, things seemed “okay,” and I decided to do what I knew best: work. During this period, I began trying to do everything “right,” achieving success in the workplace and acquiring nice things, but ultimately never finding fulfillment. I had no direction and my starved heart had no anchor so I continued working really hard as if to prove to myself that I wasn’t worthless. I suppressed the desire to acknowledge that my life felt like it was nothing but a big hamster wheel.
Right as I began to slow down and things seemed somewhat normal, my live-in boyfriend and I began to argue a lot. In the midst, I noticed my health was going downhill. This was when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Intimidated by this, he rejected me because of my illness. Reflecting back on all that had transpired in my short life, it was easy for me to say “this is it, it’s finally over, I can just die.”
It’s important to note that not once had I really reached out to God prior to cancer; I was so used to my material possessions, my appearance, and the boyfriends that served as a band-aid over the gaping hole in my heart that did I not see my need for him.
I didn’t understand that coming to GOD was the right thing to do and I did not know how to if I tried. Once presented with the option, I was not sure if I wanted to “come to Jesus” since I had never known Him and he seemed like some kind of distant impersonal deity, much less… his followers seemed like a bunch of legalistic hypocrites.
While I was undergoing chemotherapy, I finally broke. I couldn’t seem to separate myself from the lifestyle I hated no matter how hard I tried. I was sick, ashamed, broken, and confused. I remember being at my complete lowest and conjuring up a prayer that went something like: “God if you are real, please show me, I can’t live like this anymore and I want to die.”
Not long after, I began sleeping next to the Bible someone gave me when my mom had passed. It was foreign, but also oddly comforting to be around. Interestingly, He answered my prayer a few weeks later in March of 2010. In the middle of the night I knew, by some divine ordinance, that I was being plucked from the darkness. The incredible embrace of the Holy Spirit removed the veil that had blocked the truth for so long. To add, I was staying the night with a friend who was actually a western Buddhist! For the first time, His word MADE SENSE to me! I finally had cognizance of God’s love and had realized that Jesus had been calling, knocking, and leaving signs the whole time I thought I was so alone.
The tumult did not end there. I was so accustomed to the roller coasters in my life, that this new steadfast presence threw me off. In my fervent desire to know the One who I now loved, I was eager to have conversation with someone who knew the word. Quickly over the internet, I began communicating with another broken person I thought to be redeemed by Christ. I hastily married him and discovered that he was manipulating God’s word (and many other things) to attract me. I then hastily divorced him once made fully aware of the danger I was in. I have found that some may not comprehend why I left in such a hurry, but the cocktail of abandonment and chemotherapy can lead you to radical things! Broken once again, I moved back to my hometown and experienced living with my still broken father and the life that he had created with his new wife and her family. Shortly after, I realized that environment was not a healthy place for me to grow in Christ.
I saw a glimpse of what community might be like when I started attending a small church plant. When the home life I had prevented me from having the community I needed, some distant relatives (the same ones that had given me my first bible) invited me to live with them. Over time they became my adopted immediate family. Through the time in their home and through God’s hand in the movement that had become my home church, I have grown immensely.
I have walked with Jesus since and my life has not been the same; it never will be.
Just over a year ago, we lost my adopted dad to a sudden heart attack. Losing him and the change it has brought to our family has been very painful. Just a few months before that, I experienced losing my pastor to cancer and breaking off an engagement that I feared would end in another divorce. However, no matter the circumstantial roller-coaster that life brings, my hope has remained un-wavered and this is only by the strength of the Spirit.
God has now cultivated in me a heart for missions, I have served in leadership as a part of different bible studies, I have been invited to lead devotionals and prayer for a local basketball league, and more than anything I have had many awesome, spirit driven conversations that have led to life change in others right before my eyes. Not one of the things mentioned in the previous sentence did I ever see myself doing before Christ intervened. In fact, all other endeavors pale in comparison to the calling God places on his followers.
True fulfillment only comes from our God and I have so much peace and joy through obedience to Him. I feel like I have learned so much due to the perspective from which I came, but I say that knowing I have so much more to learn! He has taught me how to respond to the world with love in spite of all the bitterness I once harbored. That’s a miracle! I have growing compassion for the lost and for the ones that stray due to the humility of my own walk. God has completely transformed me and he has gifted me with boldness and a confidence in sharing my story of grace and mercy with anyone from any walk of life.
I have experienced a dependency on alcohol, drug use, abortion, death, cancer, depression, abandonment, divorce, and lastly the Holy Spirit.
As a friend of mine once said, “receiving God’s grace is like holding a tiny cup under Niagara Falls,” and I have without a doubt been a recipient of that. Thanks be to God for getting me on my knees and reading the Bible or else I would not be alive. Where my sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20). I am still blown away that I used to be the broken person in this story and that for His good pleasure in Christ, God has deemed me worthy to share this for his Glory.
Guest blog: Whitney Wright