Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Story

Well, I promised this on "Sunday," I just didn't say which one... Thanks for your patience with me as I've taken my sweet time writing this.  It proved to be MUCH more difficult than I expected; but really good too...  Anyway, if you haven't read "The Prologue" to my story, start here...


If my story is a love story, it is one of an arranged marriage (although, don't read too far into that analogy, ok?).  I don't really remember a time in my life where I didn't believe in God.  My parents are Christians and raised my sister and I in a home full of love, Bible stories, and bed-time prayers.  We grew up in a traditional Baptist church - the same church that my mom attended as a little girl, where my parents were married, and - later, where Jeff and I would walk down the aisle.  My parents and grandparents were very involved in the church - cooking meals, serving as Deacons, organizing activities - and, so, my sister and I naturally were too. Many of my earliest and fondest childhood memories come from that church - Sunday school, VBS, summer camps, children's choir, Halloween parties, etc. etc. etc.  Church was a vivid and happy part of my childhood.  I am thankful for that, and hope that one day Sam will be able to say the same of his life.

On the Sunday before my 10th birthday, I was baptized before our church congregation.  At various points in my faith, I've questioned whether it was "real" or not because I was so young; but, I've concluded that I DID - in my ten year old heart and mind - believe. I believed that God made the world, and that he made me.  I believed that the Bible was true.  And, I believed in a man named Jesus that died on a cross for our sins.  That said, I did NOT understand at that point what all those things meant for MY life.

From the day they say their vows and sign their papers, an arranged marriage is very much the real thing.  The two are tied to one another and committed to one another for life - at least in the legal sense.  But, I'd imagine that the real work of developing true, deep, love takes TIME.  In the same way, my baptism committed me to Jesus.  It was real and for life.  BUT, I wasn't transformed at that very moment.  In fact, from the outside, my life didn't look much different before or after Christ.  That's been a part of my story that I've wrestled with for years until, only recently, I've understood that it has been my HEART all along that He has changed - dramatically, really.


I call the church where I grew up "traditional" because it has a white steeple, pews, hymnals, and we wore dresses with black patent leather maryjanes on Sunday mornings.  But, it wasn't a traditional church in the stereotypical uber-conservative kind-of way.  Thankfully, neither were my parents... While church was a big part of their lives, they also had lots of other interests too; and, they were FUN.  We had dance parties to Madonna and I often saw them enjoy a beer with friends.  However, even despite the environment I grew up in, as I got older, I still somehow associated being a Christian with rules and performance. 

I'm a rule follower.  Maybe it is the first-born in me; but I LOVE rules.  To this day, I feel incredible guilt when I drive the wrong way down an aisle with a painted arrow on it at the grocery store.  It can be a real problem.  And so, I guess it makes sense that when I took "vows" of True-Love-Waits and thou shalt not smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol with the heathen teenagers at the high school at my middle-school church camps and Bible studies, I took it pretty seriously.  I think, somehow subconsciously, I made the decision during those all-defining adolescent years, that I would be known as a "good girl."  That would be my identity.  I wish I could say it had more to do with Jesus; but, honestly, it was a lot about reputation and wanting to be known as something in the big sea with LOTS of fish.

As I entered high school and was faced with actually "living out" some of these rules; I found that being good came easily, and I liked the attention it got me from parents (both my own and my friends'), teachers, and my peers. Also at this time, I became involved with Young Life and gave much of my time and energy to that.  I went to camp, invited friends to club, and got up at 6AM to go to Campaigners before school once a week.  Although I really believe that God was softening my heart through the stories of Jesus and his relationships with people that I heard there; still, I don't think the theme of LOVE had sunk in just yet.

At least in my own memory, I was happy and nice to people on the outside.  But, on the inside, I was focused a lot on my image - on what other people thought - and not that much on Jesus and who He is.  One of my most shameful memories  is of keeping a Bible on my night stand and only flipping it open when I heard my parents coming up the stairs to check on me...

Do I believe I was a Christian then?  Absolutely.  I think God captured my heart and mind early and he did not leave me.  BUT, I think I was missing out on the LIFE He promises in favor of rules and reputation instead.

By my senior year, God was beginning a "behind the scenes" work in my life.  He was going to intervene with his plan whether I liked it or not... To this day, I have no idea why (other than the above statement), but I adamantly decided to leave behind the image I had worked so hard to build (not to mention my new boyfriend - Jeff) and go to college out of state.  In the grand scheme of my life so far, I think this was one of the best and most life-changing decisions I ever made.  God had to get me out of my comfort zone, to really get me...

My roommate freshman year was a divine appointment - and I don't use that terminology lightly.  Pryor was my first best friend.  We went to preschool together starting at age 2.  It seems funny to me now to think that I had a best friend - someone I had met on my own, not been forced to play with because our moms were friends - at 2, but I did.  We were soul sisters - which only proved to be more obvious 15 years later when we realized (though her family had moved to Tennessee and we hadn't talked in over a decade), that we were both planning to go to Clemson University in the fall. 

Our stories had been very similar throughout middle and high school.  Pryor too had become involved in Young Life and was living out her faith.  When we decided to be roommates, in addition to picking out matching Pottery Barn bedding, we discussed going to Young Life leader training together and which Bible verses we'd write with swirly markers across our mirrors.  It was a match made in heaven - literally.

Once we got to school, many of my expectations were met.  Pryor and I picked up right where we left off, and our freshman year started beautifully. BUT, inside, I was struggling with the fact that no one knew me here; and, more importantly, no one was particulary impressed by me.  (Isn't that awful?)  That fall, Clemson was named the #2 party school in the nation and the #1 school for church attendance by US News... Neither road of good, or bad, behavior was very novel at my new home.

Furthermore, Pryor (and many of the other girls I was beginning to build friendships with) seemed to have real faith.  In fact, Pryor actually read her Bible before bed instead of just using it as an accessory. There were lots of people in my life now that were "good."  All the sudden, being good wasn't enough; there was always someone better.  I couldn't be good enough.  It was a hard semester - next to marriage, and now parenthood, one of the most refining periods of my life so far.

Something happened in my heart that year that no college-prep book could have prepared me for.  I gave up trying to be the best and realized that I was a mess.  I began, for the first time, to see that I was full of sin and I needed Jesus - He didn't need me.  Through Young Life leader training and my new-found friendships with an incredible group of girls - all at different places in their own walks - I started to really understand the relational side of faith and the concept of GRACE.  I saw how Jesus loved people - people who were not at all "good" - and how His message was always one of love and forgiveness - not rules.

I didn't go off the deep end in my newfound freedom that year - again, I don't think my outward "behavior" looked all that different than before - but my heart was made new.  A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders as I allowed myself to just be loved by God instead of always doing.  For the first time, when someone asked me "how are you doing spiritually" - which people do a lot in the Christian community - my first thoughts went to how I was loving other people, instead of how many quiet times I had or hadn't had in the last week. 

I could literally write six more pages, but I'll stop here.  That year was BIG, but it wasn't the end.  If Freshman year was a turning point, I've probably had three or four more since then.  As I said before, I'm a Peter... This is a walk for me - not a final destination.  One of my biggest fears in writing my story down is that someone who knows me well today will think this all sounds "fake" because my life isn't always a  reflection of the work in my heart.  But, the truth is, I'm just as a big a mess now as I ever was - I just recognize it a little more now.  I'm always going to be "working it out." God is still writing my story and changing my heart. Thank goodness.

*I realize that sharing something like this brings up all kinds of deep theological questions about what it means to be saved, the purpose of baptism, free will vs. predestination, etc.  I think all those things are important to think about sometimes, but I don't think they are necessarily vital to my faith.  So - try to just hear the message of Jesus and love and grace, and let Him work out the rest in your own heart, ok?

12 comments:

  1. LOVE this! Your story blessed my heart! :) I'm a "rule follower" too and have a very similar story. Thanks for helping me see my story is just as incredible!

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  2. I like your blog a lot, I think you are honest and funny. Sharing this story was brave, made me think and it was well written and heartfelt and I loved it! :)

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  3. Great job telling your story...very similar to my own.

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  4. beautiful story!!! God is so good!!! ps when were you at Clemson?? I bet you were there before me.. but I was the RD in Manning Hall from 2008-2010... when you talked about your experience with your freshmen roommate, I immediately thought of my students in Manning!! I had soo many students that I worked with that had amazing faith!

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  5. Loved reading your story. If you would like to read mine, check it out: http://terreandchelsea.blogspot.de/2012/02/my-testimony.html

    :)

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  6. Love you and your story:) proud of you for this!

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  8. Thanks for posting this Elizabeth. You did a great job about addressing those of us who, like you, are introduced to Christ from a young age and commit ourselves to him, but still have a journey of the heart to go through as well. And while I know it's your unique story, it explains things for the rest of us!

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  9. I love the way you shared this and it sounds very similar to my background!

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Your comments are what makes this thing fun! I LOVE to hear from you and do my best to respond to everyone! THANK YOU!


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