I have learned that one of the greatest stories we can tell is the Gospel, and one of the most important ways to tell this is by sharing the stories of our own faith journeys. All of them are different, but the core is the same: a broken human learns who God is, and who they are in Him, and the result is the miracle of choosing a life pointed in His direction. All believers have the Gospel story written right into their own. So here is how broken, little ol’ me became a follower of Jesus, and some of the key things He has opened my eyes to in the process of becoming closer to Him.
I was not raised in a Christian home (I find a lot of people are surprised to hear this). What I mean by that is, my family was not an active, church-going, bible-reading family, for the majority of my life. I had heard little bible stories here and there growing up, during Christmas and what-not, but I was not taught to love Jesus in this way. In fact, it would be many years before going to church would ever become a weekly family affair, and even then, our transient military-family lifestyle made it hard for that to stay consistent.
It was during this short season of “church-going” while my family lived in Southern California that I first prayed to give my heart to Jesus. I was only twelve years old, and to be honest, I didn’t really know what that meant, or why I was doing it, other than it seemed like all the people I wanted to be friends with had done it, so I should do it too. I was baptized at that church, attended my first and only youth group, and even sang on a worship team for the first time. Whether I knew who Jesus was or not, I was having fun and enjoying my life.
When we moved away to Colorado, where my dad would eventually retire from the Navy, this lifestyle kind of disappeared for us. I wasn’t really sure why. All I knew was that I missed my friends, I missed singing, and that not finding a new church in our new home felt a little bit like giving up on all that. My sisters were too young to really mind, as far as I knew, and my parents, over time, just didn’t feel at home at any church. So eventually, talks of prayer and the Bible faded into the background.
Inexplicably, my desire to be with people who also believed in Jesus didn’t really go away as I entered high school and eventually college. This I can only attribute to God working in my heart from the get-go in ways I couldn’t yet see. I had no home influences pressuring me to seek out a community like that, nor was I necessarily passionate about church itself or even reading the Bible. I just wanted to be with people like I’d been surrounded by before. I did meet some friends in high school who shared beliefs similar to mine, as well as some who didn’t, but who still exhibited the kind of priorities and moral grounding I respected. The guys I dated or was interested in were usually Christian, and for the most part, I was simply trying to do what I felt were the right things and associate with the right people (i.e. trying to look like a decent person).
But if I’m completely honest, calling myself a Christian was part of an image I felt I needed to maintain in order to feel secure. Beneath the surface I still didn’t know who I really was, who Jesus really was, or how deeply I really needed Him. I measured my worth by how much “the right people” liked or respected me…and not just my Christian friends or the guys I was interested in, but the friends in my fields of interest as well, regardless of belief, particularly in music and theater. Whoever I associated with, their opinions of me mattered, and I deeply wanted to be accepted, admired, adored. Not that I ever would have admitted to that, but looking back, I know how deeply rooted those desires were, and still are. It feeds my pride and fuels my judgement of others.
Older, But Not Wiser
Life changed again, as it always does, when I made the move to Miami for my undergraduate studies (read the story of how I got to Miami here). It wasn’t until late into this season of life would the Gospel finally begin to make sense to me as a story, one that I would desperately need to tell myself over and over again.
My desire for acceptance not only continued but intensified as I entered the college environment. That first week, it seemed like everyone was just trying to make friends as quickly as possible to have a niche to fall safely into, at least for the year to come. For me, I fell into two very different circles: one, as an effort to find “the right people”, was a Christian campus organization I would be a part of in some way for the next three years or so. The other was a group of friends I had met in my dorm, who could not have been more different from me. Most of these friends were agnostic if not atheist, and all of them were studying the sciences. Me, I was a very bubbly Christian theater arts major who had no interest in math or science whatsoever. This second group, ironically, ended up being where I spent the majority of my time.
The next four years of my life would be a balancing act of pursuing what I thought were the right things and still trying to be accepted by the people who didn’t agree, on both sides of the coin. Among my science-y friends I sort of became the token Christian friend, and therefore the butt of many jokes related to that. Though there was some semblance of acceptance, truthfully it was hard to feel like I was ever really taken seriously.
But to be honest I also struggled to find acceptance within Christian relationships as well. I spent most of my time in those years with non-Christians, and in some ways it became difficult to develop real, lasting relationships with the people I thought were supposed to be able to relate to me on a deeper level. Even though I believed the same things and was doing some of the same things, I still sometimes felt judged, like I wasn’t cool enough, wise enough, good enough to even be respected by that crowd.
For a good while I felt very lost and very lonely…like I wasn’t truly known or accepted by either side. By my junior year I was living by myself, which in some ways was a refuge, but in other ways it was completely miserable. It was then that I had my crying-out-to-God moment that I’ve mentioned before. I felt like I had been abandoned, unprotected by a God who was supposed to love me and take care of me. Even though I was still pursuing what I thought were good things and good friendships, the reality was I was still just going through the motions, all the while feeling very alienated and not truly known. My self-worth plummeted, I felt isolated, and I couldn’t understand what it was I was doing wrong that left me feeling so empty, lonely, and forgotten.
I would soon learn that I was missing the point entirely.
On a whim, I had signed up to attend the 2013 Passion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia with one of the campus ministries in which I was involved. After what was a pretty awful semester that had taken a toll on what little faith I had, I was sufficiently dreading ending my winter break early to sit in a stadium full of people hearing songs about how great God is and messages about His love and mercy. But, I had already paid in full and booked the flights early, so the practical side of me decided it would be best to just suck it up and get through it as best I could.
It took about two songs into the first night of the conference for me to just completely break down.
Over the next three days, a few things became startlingly clear to me:
- First, I had been so blinded my my need to feel love from other people that I couldn’t see the truth: God fully knows me and loves me, and always has, and has never left my side.
- Second, my need for His love runs way deeper that I had ever realized before. Those lies I had been believing that my self worth relies on the opinions of people around me are lies with which I have always struggled. Whether aware or not, I would continue to struggle with them simply because I am human. There’s nothing I can do or pursue or be in order to make myself “good enough”. Only God can.
- Third, He has already provided the path to freedom from this, and it is found in what Jesus has already done. He didn’t just die on a cross because it would be a cool story to tell or rise again just because He could. No…it was all so that broken, prideful, selfish people like me could be in relationship with a holy God who deeply loves his kids…us.
This all came crashing down on me, mercifully, piece by piece. For the first time in my life these stories, this God, felt less like lofty, far off concepts and more like the deepest truths about my life that had always been there but that I was just missing, distracted by other things. It was as if God had to pluck me out of the day-to-day for just a moment so that finally I could meet Him face-to-face. It was as if He was saying “Open your eyes! I’m right here. And I have better things for you than you could ever dream up for yourself.” These were the things He was trying to tell me all along, but I just couldn’t hear them amidst the noise of my own selfish desires.
From there, my heart was softened to a point that I could finally let myself hear God. I left the conference with two very clear convictions from Him: I needed to find a church, and to continue pursuing the gifts He’s given me in worship ministry. Community and calling. And I felt free to seek out these things and pursue them from a different place…not a place of needing to be liked or admired, but out of a desire to go where He would have me go, because apart from Him, my pursuits were empty and lonely. I could finally sing with truth and honesty, “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”
The Story Continues
Three months later, after some searching, I found my home at Granada Presbyterian Church. Not even a week after that, I was led to an internship with the contemporary worship leader, an experience that eventually led to the position I hold now. It was such a clear affirmation to me that God was near, and that I could trust Him, and that He would continue to walk this journey with me.
Not that everything is perfect now. FAR from it, actually. My human desire for affirmation and adoration from people still rears its ugly head here and there. I still get distracted from those truths…I still make comparisons, try to impress, and rely too much on my own abilities…which is why it’s so important to have this story, the Gospel story, as a reminder to me constantly of where my strength comes from and where my hope lies. It’s not in people’s opinion of me. It’s not in my own talents. It’s not in my ability to keep my ducks in a row and look like my life is going somewhere.
My strength and my hope are in Christ alone. And any time I’m caught starting to believe those same lies again, I have these truths to look back on to re-ground me in my true identity: a child of God, fully known, and fully loved.
As are you.
For God’s glory (truly),
Find out more about Passion Conferences here.