Obedience. Trust. Love.
These words have held different definitions throughout my life.
Obedience came in the form of obeying my parents, my teachers, the rules.
Trust was given freely, then not so freely when I realized it can be broken.
Love has been messy, thrilling, comforting, my refuge.
There was a time in my life when none of these words and their subsequent definitions seemed attainable. A time I was so broken, so hurt, that I didn’t feel obedience mattered. I couldn’t trust anyone. I knew in my mind I was loved, but to feel it in my heart was fleeting.
I was saved when I was 7 years old. I still remember the moment, standing in the balcony seating with my eyes closed, my childlike innocence making me smile because only God knew I was asking Jesus into my heart. It was like a well-kept secret between God and I. No one made a fuss about it because I didn’t. I was a child of quiet nature (until you gave me some sugar), and I was shy. I don’t remember if I told anyone, but I knew. At the time, that was enough.
Growing up was wonderful, always full of laughter and warmth. I never forgot about Jesus. I carried an orange pocket-sized New Testament with me in my heart-shaped purses, alongside glitter lip gloss and my mom’s old compact mirror.
My childhood prayers were simple. I was happy, peaceful.
By the time I reached high school, I had slipped. My family had experienced a tragedy years before, the loss of my eldest cousin, Jack; his death was one that lingered, always leaving me questioning the things I was so sure of. I secretly thought to myself, “How can God be good if he takes people away? How can he possibly love us if he replaces a young, radiant life with emptiness?” I held a deep-rooted bitterness, a sadness that took over my soul. I was a young woman of the world, far from a young woman of faith.
I’ve tried to block out so many moments from my high school years. I’ve tried to forget the trust issues, the coldness I showed my family and the search for something of this world to bring the peace I held in my childhood.
I deeply regret the way I lived. On the outside, I was a star student, cheerleader, EIC of the yearbook; I had the whole world going for me, but inside I was badly broken. I was clothed in fear, I longed for isolation. People reminded me how great I was doing, but inside I felt hollowed out, like I had become a shell of who I once was.
I found refuge in few things, which, looking back, I know were small glimpses of Jesus before I really understood what he was doing in my life.
Writing. Music. My mom. These were my safe places; where that childhood peace felt attainable again. Writing was my outlet, my creative expression. Music was my escape. My mom was my comfort, she was my friend when I didn’t have any.
When I reached the end of my senior year, the fear of leaving behind a place I was comfortable mixed itself with a paralyzing fear of the future. Joy came in the last two weeks–in prom, banquets, parties and graduation–but it also emerged somewhere else, somewhere I hadn’t reached for in a long time.
The semester before I graduated, God placed a group of friends in my life. I didn’t choose them; I wholeheartedly believe that. God wove them into my story to act as role models, to show me what fellowship and joy in him looks like. I didn’t want to succumb to the “Jesus life” when we first started hanging out as a group. I was stubborn and was so convinced I was fine where I was. I was convinced losing the peace I had in childhood was just something that went along with growing up. I didn’t need to try. I didn’t need to go to church. I didn’t need to pray, to read a Bible, to put others’ lives before mine.
That group’s intentional friendship toward me that summer, their steadfast love for life and the joy they brought me completely flipped my life upside down.
The day I found out my grandpa had a brain tumor, I received a message from one of them that catalyzed the first prayer I actually meant in so, so many years. They were by my side through those terrifying days, offering hugs, prayers and distractions. They were who I joined after a drive home from the hospital when I listened to music, tears streaming down my face, and felt God with me for the first time in a long time.
That summer I went to church for the first time since middle school. Samuel invited me to Second Baptist, a church that briefly crossed my path through youth events in eighth grade, and I felt at home the moment I stepped inside on July 10, 2016. I continued to go back week after week. I never knew how instrumental that community of people would come to be in my life.
A peace overcame me for the rest of that summer. A peace that I couldn’t explain and that I hadn’t experienced since my childhood. I still had much to learn, and I still faltered, but I didn’t feel broken beyond repair. I didn’t understand how truly broken I was until I couldn’t feel it anymore. It was liberating.
In the two years since that summer, I’ve grown and changed more than I ever thought possible. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve leaned on Jesus, I’ve questioned, pondered, and discovered. I’ve cried, laughed, and lifted my hands. I’ve built relationships with people who lead me away from the darkness I used to run toward.
I’m still broken. I still falter. But my hope, my weakness, my faith has been made strong in Jesus. I choose to be obedient. I choose to trust. I choose to love. Because Jesus sacrificed his entire life for my ability to do so.
Obedience now means doing everything I can to follow God’s will for my life.
Trust now means clinging to the hope that, even through the trials, Jesus will be right there with me. That any circumstance I face is for the sake of his kingdom.
Love now lies in the arms of Jesus. It’s the deepest, truest love I’ve ever known.
I used to hold a heavy shame in sharing my story. The fear that grew from the shame was something my heart held onto for a very long time. I was timid about my journey back to Christ, surrounded by a community who was much further into theirs. I thought that meant I should be an observer, that I should listen and absorb the words of the people around me, but never proclaim. Never share.
I pushed that fear away on my own as many times as I could. It took the community of people God gave me in college to help me understand I had nothing to be ashamed of. That my story meant redemption, grace, love. It didn’t have to mean fear.
I owe everything to God for leading me to June 17, 2018; the day I was baptized. 13 long years after I asked Jesus into my heart.
I woke up yesterday morning 30 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I didn’t know if that was out of excitement, nerves, or a mixture of the two. Nevertheless, I crawled out of bed and got myself ready for church. I packed a change of clothes, put on a little bit of makeup and braided my hair. When I was done, I still had 30 minutes before I had to leave.
Ah, God wanted me to spend some time with him. I grabbed my journal and went out on my balcony, not knowing what I was going to write down, but knowing I needed to thank God for placing me where I was.
Out on the balcony, I reflected. I thought back to every moment in my life I couldn’t see God at the time, but can so clearly see him now. Times when a friend stepped in to help me, when one small detail could have changed an entire outcome, when I cried so hard I didn’t know if I’d ever stop, but the morning came and I was still alive, still breathing, I still had a purpose.
I thought of his relentless pursuit of my heart, even when I pushed him away. How he picked me up when I cursed him, how he continued to weave people and experiences into my life for reasons completely unknown to me. When I see the strength of his pursuit, it makes me ache to know and love him that way. It makes me want nothing more than to give every dream, hope, talent, and ounce of love I have back to him.
A song kept running through my head yesterday, too. So Will I by Hillsong sings about the heart of God, how he lies at the center of creation, how he is love, grace, and salvation. It sings if God loves, if God sacrifices, if God surrenders, then so will I.
I feel a deep connection to that song, and it hit home even harder during Sunday School, about an hour before I was baptized, when we learned about God’s pursuit. How he loved us first, therefore we can love him and love others. It was a perfect reminder of why I was surrendering to him, why I feel that overwhelming peace with him, and why I love him.
A line in the song says this:
“God of salvation, you chased down my heart through all of my failure and pride.”
That he did.
And that he will.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”