Take a moment to read Natalie’s story, and watch her get #dunked this weekend!

Hi! My name is Natalie Acker and I am an incoming freshman at University of Maryland, College Park, where I hope to major in Biochemistry. I have loved biology since 7th grade, where my biology teacher made it really fun and I am definitely good at biology. I am a major dog-lover, and have two wonderful dogs of my own – Kirby and Monty. My favorite sport is soccer, which I have been playing since I was like 3 years old and was on a travel since from middle school upwards. While I love to play soccer, I also love to watch it! My favorite national team for men’s is Belgium and my favorite soccer team is Chelsea FC and I always root for the players in the #17 jersey.

I was a pretty good kid. I was nice and polite to everyone I came across, as my mom taught me to be. Before Christ, I never thought of myself as a broken human being. I had my life figured out (I wanted to be a forensic scientist or a vet at the time) and it was going swell. I was playing soccer, met a lot of good friends, and more.  I mean, my family does live in one of the richest counties, so I lived a pretty pampered life, centered around me and only me.

I grew up in a Christian home. We went to church when we could, but my mom was busy working weekends as a nurse, usually, so we wouldn’t go as often. I used to hate going to church. For the most part, it was simply because I didn’t want to socialize with people. I like to keep my distance from people and, overall, I am a very reserved person, so putting me with a bunch of people that wanted me to talk to them was definitely not my cup of tea.

In around 4th grade, we switched to Grace, and, still, I didn’t want to go to church. Sure, it was welcoming and more contemporary, but I simply didn’t want to interact with people. So, for the most part, I would convince my parents that I didn’t want to go to church or wanted to stay with them in the adult service. Needless to say, I usually got my way.

Things started to change around 7th grade, when my very good friend, Katelyn, invited me to the very church that I went to. I started to go on retreats and did Grace Adventures Day Camp with her. I started to know Christ a little bit more through that.

It was when my youth pastor talked about mission trips where everything would start to change, slowly, and then more rapidly. My youth pastor mentioned on going on mission trips to places like Uganda, Minnesota, Arizona, NOLA, etc. And to be completely honest with you, I wanted to go to just witness the places with my great friend. We talked about it, and decided we should both sign up.

After signing up, I was excited. However, it took a big twist when I found out my friend could not go because her parents wouldn’t let her. My mom gave me the option of dropping out of it, but something pushed me towards saying that I would still go. Mind you, I am very introverted and have a little social anxiety, so it was definitely a leap of faith. However, I still went with it. I did my interview and got chosen to go to Minnesota, which actually wasn’t even my first choice, but nonetheless, I was excited.

However, as I went to the meetings, I realized how much I didn’t know about God and how much others did know. I was very discouraged and it distanced me from God, to say the least.

The time came when we were about to set off to Minnesota, and I was thinking of faking being sick because I was so nervous and didn’t trust myself. I didn’t want to go anymore. Anyone else would be excited, but me? Nope. I didn’t even know everyone’s names.

Funny things happened though. Our team missed our flight and got to know each other better, which put me at ease. On the Tuesday of the mission trip, everything was about to change, and I didn’t see that coming. I met two guys named Daniel and B. Daniel had such a passion for God, and I wanted “in” on that. We talked for an hour before he had to go. Afterwards, I realized that God had planned all of this, and I was forever thankful to him for that. However, I still didn’t completely trust God and still didn’t realize how broken I was.

I went on with my life. It wasn’t until sophomore year of high school where I would start accepting Jesus into my life. Sophomore year of high school was very rough for me; I started to add to my dislike of myself. I was insecure ever since I was in 1st grade, but it got dramatically worse here. I started to think my friends didn’t want me anymore. I thought I was worthless, and a lot of self-hate started to happen then. For one thing, I hated my face so much. Every imperfection I saw on my face, I picked at. I kept picking at my face until near the end of junior year. It got really bad. There were a lot of scars on my nose from picking. I looked awful, but I still somehow convinced myself that it would be better in the end. I am still surprised I didn’t get any infection or anything. Like I said, this lasted until near the end of junior year.

While I got better, simply, my picking habit was unstoppable. It went out of control and I could not stop. Near the end of junior year, I went on a retreat. I can’t remember all of it, but I remember taking away that Jesus is enough for me and that he loves me so much that he sacrificed himself for me.

Sure, I have heard that multiple times, but at this point, I was so broken, that I actually heard it and it resonated with me. I continued to realize that I was a broken person in need of Jesus to save me. I began to trust Jesus then as well. I trusted that he would make me perfect, and actually already has made me perfect through himself. It was hard to grasp, but I began to trust him, and slowly but surely, my picking habit diminished with a lot of prayer.

Near the middle of senior year, all the scars on my nose began to completely disappear. Today, you simply wouldn’t realize that I even picked at my face and that happened to me. It is crazy what happens with Jesus in your life.

Jesus doesn’t just heal, though. He is by your side every second, minute, and hour. He’s been there when I am sad and he’s there when I am happy as well. He has definitely blessed my life. Whenever I am struggling, I will automatically pray to God to give me patience, strength, etc. in those times, like when I am mad at someone, I pray to God for me to be forgiving.

God has also inspired me to be the best person that I can be and also encouraged me to decide that, in the future, I want to be a foster parent for kids that are 13 years or older. He has also put on my heart to be a research scientist to find cures for mental illnesses, since mental illnesses run in my family.

It’s especially crazy to realize that God specifically chose me for great things. I am adopted, and I can now see how God’s plan for me started right as I was born, which is crazy to think about.

Now, I am learning more and more about my Savior. I have my moments, but I know Jesus is here to pick me up every time I stumble. And I may not know the most about Jesus (yet) but I know the important thing: that he is my Savior.

Now, I center my life around God and want to glorify his name in every way possible. Back when I suffered from low self-esteem, I would’ve thought that God hated me and wanted me to suffer. However, looking back, God gave me those struggles because he knew it would me to lead me to him and, in the end, would strengthen our relationship and my reliance on him.

So why do I want to be baptized? I want to be baptized because I love Jesus with all my heart and I know that he is the only one that separates me from sin and brings me closer to God, and that it is not good works that do that. I want to be baptized because it is a public profession of my faith in Jesus Christ and my relationship with him. I hope that other people will read this and encounter God and know that God loves us so unconditionally. God is someone who has never let me down and is always by my side when no one else can be, and it is truly amazing. That’s why I want to be baptized.

Baptism at Grace

During all worship gatherings on Baptism Weekends, we celebrate the very reason we exist as a church: Christ’s mission to make disciples, baptizing and teaching in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28: 19-20). We share testimonies of how Jesus changes lives now and for eternity. And the best part… we baptize with a joy that’s out of this world!

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