I grew up attending church every Sunday and being very active in the church until I was about 13 or 14 years old. I attended Sunday School every Sunday and Vacation Bible School every summer. I learned all the Bible stories and had a fairly good connection with God at a young age. My mom headed all the Sunday School programs at our little church, so I attended everything, even if begrudgingly at times. I am really thankful for those formative years in the church and learning about Christ because when I later turned away from the Lord, I always had that little nudge in the back of my heart that He was still with me.
We gradually stopped attending church when I was around 14, and I would say that the next decade or so of my life was very selfish and destructive. Those years I lived a life very far and disconnected from God. I called myself agnostic. But even that was a bit of a stretch. In my mid 20s, I started yearning from something “higher.” I tried some new age type of spiritual things – full of mantras and meditations. And though I do believe I grew from them, looking back I can now fully see their limitations.
There were two catalysts for sparking my interest in rebuilding a relationship with God and later finding a church. The first was sending my daughter to a Christian preschool. I will never forget how I felt walking into that building every day. It was a place filled with love and the true Spirit of God. My heart had become a little hardened to Christians because of the more negative stereotypes we sometimes receive. This school completely turned those negative stereotypes on their heads. They were the Christians we had been taught about in Sunday School. They had that joy, love, and peace in their hearts that was just so foreign to the outside world that I was part of. It left me yearning for what they had.
The other more major catalyst was meeting my husband eight years ago. He served, and still does serve, as a such strong example of a Christian for me. I had never dated a man that loved God and Jesus as he does, and it was so authentic, true, and unpretentious. It was so far from where I was at that point in my life and made me realize that’s where I wanted to be. He encouraged me to start those first small steps in my walk of faith. He went church by church with me to find one that would be the right fit for me personally. From a friend’s suggestion, we tried Grace. I really loved it from the get-go and have been coming since.
My faith grew over the last six years of attending Grace, but I would say the women’s retreat I attended with Grace last March was a real turning point for me in my walk with Jesus. The entire weekend was truly so beautiful and full of the Spirit. What became most apparent to me that weekend was what was holding me back spiritually – my need to truly surrender myself to God. I had heard that phrase time and time again but really didn’t know what it meant to me personally. It sounded nice but not something I had experienced. I considered myself fairly relaxed and Type B, so I never thought I was hanging on to much control. But it became evident that I had a plan for my life and I really hadn’t asked God what plan He had for me. Through conversations with other women there, I realized a lot of the issues I was dealing with were because I hadn’t released my personal control to God and simply surrendered. I felt the Holy Spirit, for probably the first time ever, move IN me that weekend. I realized how much I needed to be in the Word daily and to be in an open dialogue with God daily through prayer. I wanted our connection to grow, and that weekend prayer and Bible study went from something I should do to something I wanted to do and truly needed.
That weekend was pivotal in restructuring my thoughts and helping me deal with one of the hardest obstacles I have faced. For the past two and a half years I have been struggling with what my doctors and I believe to be Lyme disease and some other tick-borne illnesses. I was bit by a tick two and a half years ago, got sick right away, and then have had symptoms return on and off ever since. I deal with chronic fatigue, arthritis, and brain fog among many other very strange physical symptoms. I randomly have flu-like symptoms take over my body, leaving it hard for me to physically take care of my family. Many mornings I wake up with major muscle fatigue, making physically getting my body out of the bed sometimes the hardest part of my day. I feel like I have been robbed of my health overnight. One day I was fine, and the next, my health, which I had taken for granted previously, had changed my life dramatically. I have been on treatment for a year now, and have seen many improvements, but still have a way to go.
All of this said, I don’t believe without this illness I would have a fraction of the faith that I do now in Christ. It has stretched me so much farther in my relationship with Christ than anything else has ever done. Every day I need to lean on His strength to get me through the day because my physical strength literally feels like it is failing me. Every day I need to surrender my control because the disease is such a mystery with so much unknown and out my control. Every day I need to trust that He is holding me in His hands because without knowing that I honestly think I would give up. He makes me strong in all the ways mentally and physically I am not. I am not on my own. Surrendering control has brought me a sense of freedom I have never known. It has given me a sense of peace I didn’t know possible. Though I don’t believe God would have put me through this physical suffering, I do believe He has given me the choice and gift of drawing closer to Him through it – closer than I ever could have been without it.
I want to get baptized to proclaim Jesus as my Savior and that I cannot do life without Him. I want others to know the peace and fullness of life only found in Him. I want to be a living testimony for Him and shout out to the world all that He has done for me and all that He can do for them if they choose Him as their Savior.