Surrender...that's the word that sticks out to me after I read Meghan Gates Brave Story. It's a tale of learning what the price of living in the world versus living a life in Jesus. She found out that although things are not always easy following Jesus, they are worth it. Complete surrender only happens when we realize that Jesus is not asking us to give up who we are but to find our true selves in Him. Meghan's words hit hard for me because I've walked the line of compromise before when I've caught glimpses of the abundant life Jesus had for me, but still would not release my firm grasp on what I thought I still needed in this broken world. When we choose to walk that line we end up hurt and confused and Jesus is standing there waiting for us to realize He won't turn His back on us and He wants us no matter how bad we mess it all up.
I did not grow up in the church. My family celebrated Christmas, but we were never Christians. Every once and a while, I would find myself in an Easter service, or tagging along with a friend as a kid, but I was never even close to knowing who Christ was. My friends would talk about their first communion and I would sit there stupidly, not having any idea what they were referring to. My neighbor would come home from a shopping haul, showing off her beautiful new “church clothes.” I had no need for a whole section in my closet dedicated to Sunday attire, but I wanted it. Even with my lack of understanding and experience, I still remember having Sunday school with my stuffed animals. I remember reading from my one prayer book that I had stashed away on my shelf. Looking back, I can feel God gently tugging on my heart and curiosity, beckoning me to dig a little deeper even at a young age.
When I was a junior in High School, I started attending church by myself. It had been an oddity to me for some time and I had a few friends that had started attending. Their lives seemed so different and joyous, and I wanted a part of that too. It was a big church, but I was convinced that everyone knew the whole congregation personally and I was going to be pegged for an outsider as soon as I set foot in that new building. I didn’t know any scriptures. I didn’t know any songs. I didn’t know how a service typically went. I didn’t know anything except that I had a desire to be there. Over the time of a few months, I had made some friendships and learned some tunes, but most importantly, I finally started to see God. I saw Him everywhere and my life was forever changed…or so I thought.
Unfortunately, that church was short lived, as I had volleyball tournaments starting on Sundays and was just “too busy” for church anymore. My flaming baby-Christian beacon had gone out swifter than it had been lit. And what followed were some of the worst trials of my life. I started my freshman year of college in an abusive relationship sprinkled with parties, drugs, alcohol, and reckless abandon. However, I found a local church and was still claiming my status as a “good Christian." I was going to church twice a week; obviously anyone could see that I was strong in my faith. Yet, car rides home from Wednesday night study mostly consisted of smoking cigarettes and sharing Smirnoff Ices before the real party began.
My relationship with God was a façade and poor excuse for what He calls us to. I genuinely believed everything I was doing was all right because “God knows my heart." I believed that because I was a nice person, I would just be saved. I believed that my actions wouldn’t have consequences. I believed that because I thought about the Lord every so often, that was good enough and “surely He’d understand." There was no sacrifice in my life, no true devotion to claiming Jesus as the Lord of my life. God was always there, but I suffered a lot because I chose to listen to what the world was telling me and not what the Bible was telling me.
My sophomore year in college I stopped going to church altogether. I didn’t touch my Bible. I didn’t pray. I completely cut Christ out of my life. Those following two years were filled with heartache, close calls, unhealthy habits, and a spiral into mental illness. My life came to a halt when I was unable to play volleyball anymore. I had to move back in with my parents, transfer schools to a place I really didn’t want to be, and get a new job, all while dealing with a nasty breakup. With all of the pressure and disappointment stacking up in my life and no place to go and rest (as I believed God wouldn’t want anything to do with a mess-up like me), I started searching for other ways to be filled.
I started modeling, which led to an eating disorder. I started drinking, which led to more and more drinking. I started dating, which led to abuse and fearing for my life. I was looking and failing and looking and failing. I moved out of my parents’ house, which led to stress about bills and depression coupled with anxiety. It was a constant battle, all the while God was looking down on me, His heart longing for me to come home and rest in His arms. My Father was watching my every move and nudging me ever so slightly back to Him, so that I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore.
One day I was getting ready to have company over, and I asked my roommate (who also happened to be my brother) if he could sweep the sidewalk. After a few minutes, I realized he used the inside broom instead of the outside broom to complete my request. I snapped. I threw things and screamed and said horrible, cutting words to him about how stupid he was to use the nice broom for an outside task. I was fuming, so livid…over something as small as a broom. Later that night, still furious, my dad pulled me aside and asked what had happened between my brother and I. Another snap. I screamed at him as well and left in a fury. I was SO heated. How dare they question me? How dare they say those things when they have no idea what I’m going through? When I got back to my own house, I threw up the dinner I had just finished (I had to eat in front of my parents or they would know I was “restricting”). Staring down at that pathetic vomit in the toilet, something broke. I broke. Everything had finally stacked up tall enough for my pride to step aside and quietly plea “I need help”.
The next day, my mom graciously helped me find a therapist, and the next week I was attending regular counseling. All of the gunk that had been built up over the years was slowly stripped away and dealt with, one layer at a time. I learned why I was behaving the way that I was, why my thoughts were all jumbled up and backwards, and why I felt the way I did. Therapy was an incredible tool that helped me to identify what untrue thoughts were continuously rehearsed in my mind.
In the process of healing, I came home again to God. Except it was different this time. I wasn’t a giddy teenager hoping to spruce up her wardrobe with daddy’s credit card, justifying my need with church clothes. I was in need of a savior. I had experienced what the world was truly like and what I was truly like without Jesus. I discovered that the hole in my soul and need of fulfillment could only be met by His grace. I had spent all of my energy over the years clawing my way into things that were dead ends and would never give me the full and complete satisfaction of living for Christ. God rescued me from a lifetime filled with what I had to endure for only a few years. When Jesus died on the cross, He not only set us free from an eternal death; He set us free from all things of this world, from affliction, from pain, from disease, and from poverty. After a long battle with my own version of happiness, I finally gave it over to the expert, the ultimate Creator of joy, and it was the best decision of my life.
I can now boldly approach my Father’s throne and know that I belong and am cherished by Him. His grace and mercy has been reflected in my life time and time again, from my marvelous husband, to our house, to my job, to my church, and all of His provision from being an obedient daughter. I look back at the former version of myself and remember all of the pain and how I could’ve avoided all of it. Ultimately, my biggest downfall was surrender. I was holding onto sin so tightly and not allowing myself to trust God and rest in His promise that life with Him is life abundant. Yes, God could always see my heart, but His Word makes it very clear that being a good person is not enough to merit eternal life. The wages of sin is death. I didn’t take that seriously at the time and I praise the Lord that He gave me time to straighten my path. The pain that I faced was a direct result of living in sin. Today, I am free from that. I am free from any bondage that the enemy might try to throw my way because I chose it. God will honor our choices. We can choose life, or death. It’s all about our surrender.