I have written this potentially controversial post in my head for months now. From the minute my 'journey' began, I knew it was one I would want to tell, it's been too incredible not to, but never on my time but always in God's time. Each and every morning I'd wake up and say "this is it, today is the day I sit down and let the holy spirit commandeer my blog post!" but I'd find a reason to avoid it. And it's not from fear of mixing Jesus with business, because in my life now there is absolutely no separation between the two. And it's not because I'm afraid of backlash of what people will say-- I absolutely stand with confidence in my faith. With crazy supernatural proof like this I'd be crazy to not believe. And and even crazier to keep it all to myself. It has been the lies of the Devil, through and through, always wanting to suffocate the testimony of others that's tried to stop me from sharing on multiple occasions. Not today, not today! I respect the faith and views of others. We all get to our place in belief in our own way through God's timing. I'm not here to preach (I'm certainly not well versed myself to do that anyhow), I am just here to share my experience in going from living a life that had absolutely nothing to do with God with him showing up straight out of nowhere and changing my heart, tantalizing me with some super cool things along the way. If you're curious I'd encourage you to press on through what I feeeeeeeel is going to be a novel. Because all of it's real, and the Holy Spirit is even realer. Fo realz.
[San Chapelle's Chapel, Paris France. Photo from 2006-ish]
In some sense, I had an advantage being brought up going to church. My Dad would holler to my sister and I on Sundays and encourage us to attend our one room (cold as heck!) family chapel, singing hymnals from the baby blue pews and receiving what felt like a very cryptic sounding message. Well, I was a kid, so I guess the "thou shalts" and 'thou arts" seemed like something that needed to be decoded. At the time church was more of a chore than a desire to worship and beyond "God created the earth" and "Jesus died for our sins" I didn't have much knowledge of the bible, left with the remnants of memorized sayings with no true emotion or meaning behind them, certainly lacking a relationship with our Creator. But, I did believe there was a God, and Jesus was his Son. That I never questioned for longer than average "is all this REAL?!?!" bursts of thought. I just felt it. However I never explored it more and when given free will as a teenager fell out of attending church and became engulfed in my own life.
Years later, when I was about 16, I remember having a crazy scary dream. To this day it's one of three that I remember vividly. In my dream I was asleep in my friend's grandparent's home (who was an Evangelist at the time). There was blood dripping down the walls. When I woke (in my dream...stay with me, this is like Inception here, asleep in a dream...) I heard a voice say to me "you're in between heaven and hell". I don't remember what happened when I ACTUALLY woke up, but I'm sure I was scared outta my mind. Most likely I gave it a little thought and reconsidered the life I was leading but not to the point of dropping everything and going to church. In fact, I only attended church without being obligated once in college by the invitation of friends Kelly + Wes (who's church I then deemed "too modern" for my tastes...pssssstttt!) and later in my twenties with one of my best friends Kathryn. But, none of it stuck. I believed that there was a God and in his Son Jesus, but I didn't bother to take it any further than that. (over 10 years later in Hawai'i at a church service this dream ties in and I was informed it was the devil coming to me-- I was also one of those crazy people who didn't believe people really passed out at church who herself fell out during a healing service. More on that in another blog post.)
In the years to follow I just lived life. Did my own thing, went to college, worked, and survived on my own strength, not giving much though to God or Jesus except in passing conversation or debates with friends (for someone who didn't read the Bible I clearly felt like I knew a LOT!) "Why did I need to worry about God?", I thought. I bought historic books about Jesus and exploring Christianity but hardly cracked open the pages. There were years where the anxiety and panic attacks I had developed at the age of 13 became so debilitating that it left me nervous to leave the house for fear I'd throw up somewhere (which, due to my panic attacks, I did often. People often thought I was too drunk, but nope! Just panicky.). In desperation to control the attacks in my mid-twenties I throw myself into yoga (which, I still love might I add). It helped sooth my anxious spirit, lose weight, and hey, look at that, they even talk about "God!" I felt like I was getting a 3-for-1, and was proud of myself for being all spiritual. Throughout my teenage and adult years I felt strong tugs to explore and look into Bible yet never made the time. Why would I, anyway? Life was going good, isn't being close with God for people who are desperate and NEED something else? "I believe in him," I thought, "so that's enough to get me to heaven, and that's all I need, right?" Not to mention those people who quoted scripture and said "leave it up to God" seemed weak anyway, and that annoyed the heck outta me.
Ha. Clearly, I had no clue and was living life blindly and for solely for myself. Clueless, just chugging along. The enemy loveeeeeed that, let me tell you. He had me right where he wanted me: doing absolutely nothing. Kinda like living in the Matrix where you have no idea there is a world outside of this one, blissfully unaware. Not to mention I had never even gotten past Genesis in the Bible but I could talk to you alllll day about God and ultimately wind up with even more questions I was frustrated I didn't innately have the answers to (hint: they're in the Bible). By the rate at which I purchased books but didn't read them, always feeling this tug and pull that there's something more to our lives, my life, this life, the desire to know God on a personal level was there (because it's in the hearts of ALL of us--we just search in the wrong places and fill it with other things: lust, money, work, success, drugs, etc.), I simply ignored it. Until I thought I was literally going crazy.
In the midst of planning our wedding and move to Hawai'i, I quit my job as an Interior Designer and moved to Fayetteville for a few months to be with Marshall before we shipped off. It was a chaotic time full of change that took it's toll. (Okay, this gets kinda deep, but whatever. I am able to stand NOW in God's glory and see this situation for what it is...the Devil turning up the dial and using FEAR). I was slowly become depressed, practically welcoming the melancholiness to creep in as worry about wedding finances and the future of photography business in a new state began to sink in. I let the depression do whatever it wanted with me and even self sabotaged myself, happily eating and drinking everything in sight (and gaining some solid lbs.) After a disagreement over wedding invitations (yes, wedding invitations) I crumpled into a tearful, ridiculous mess. I shut myself in the bathroom and sat on the sticky vinyl floor, heaving crying, letting the weight of the stresses crush me whole, plaqued with anxiety and a panic attack. All because of wedding invitations? No. I was engulfed by an overwhelming feeling of darkness, more intense than I've ever felt. Through the thickness of sobs a voice so far off from my thinking ticked away at me, suggesting it be "better off than I'm not here", washing me with unworthiness. It was a second that consideration crossed my mind as it was stopped in my brain. "That's not me. I'd never end my own life." Suddenly an urge told me drop to my knees and pray. So, I did. I turned to God and said "I need help. Bring me to my senses. To you." I told him I never prayed (like he didn't already know that) and I just wept. With puffy eyes and snot dripping down my face I felt the sensation of light permeate the corners of my closed eyes and a rush of calm took me over so much so that from the bathroom floor I wiped my tears and proclaimed "I know you're real." Like a child who just realized they no longer know why they're crying, the waterworks immediately stopped and I got up to meditate--not a single thought passing through my mind. That moment where I opened myself up to the Lord must have made the Enemy panic! I was no longer a safe to him as an inactive 'believer', I had put my faith to use, listened to God's voice and the Lord had crushed the Enemy's hopes of literally doing away with me because shortly after my experience declaring the realness of God on the bathroom floor I found out just how real the Devil is, too, and saw first had the spiritual wars that are battling for our lives every day. Sounds freaking crazy, I know, but it's true.
Have you ever had a scary dream that left you feeling paralyzed? That tingly sensation all over that is so odd, it can't be explained? I used to have that feelings in dreams when I was younger (dreams that involved ghosts or ghouls) but had never felt that sense of a paralyzing chill in real life until shortly after my literal 'come to Jesus moment'. I don't watch scary movies as my friend Rebecca once told me they "open you up to all sorts of things". I stand by that theory now, along with psychics, seances and all those dark things (in research I have found that although YES, these things really happen, psychics and mediums DO know things -- it's not because it's from God, it's from 'the other side' (aka a less scary way of saying the Devil) and certainly not used for good. The bible often mentions evil spirits that parade around as 'good spirits' or ghosts, etc. and how we should not seek them OR put our trust in them. So anyway, beware, ya'll). This particular evening Marshall wanted to watch the Rite, a movie that's based on a true story about a Priest who performs exorcisms becoming possessed by evil spirits himself. If I knew anything for being an 8 year old watching the Exorcist it's that no one should ever volunteer to see such a thing during their free time. Regardless, I was somewhat intrigued so I sat down and tuned in. (I am highly aware what I am about to say is going to sound cray cray) Halfway through the movie I got the oddest/scariest/paralyzing feeling like there were spirits around. One would think I was high that's for sure, but I wasn't. I felt like I did in my dreams but I wasn't dreaming. It was so overwhelming in fact that I begged Marshall to turn the movie off as I ran into the bedroom, tracked down my dusty King James bible and began reading and praying, praying and reading. Never had I felt a sensation like that before and I just knew I wasn't being a scardy cat. It was for months after that the Devil began using that fear against me.
The movie experience was nuts and left me shaken up but I tried to ignore it. A few days went by without incident until I began having trouble sleeping. I wasn't just tossing and turning I literally could not close my eyes without seeing the scariest, most grotesque things one could never dream of flashing behind my eyelids. This happened periodically throughout and worsened exponentially while staying in a hotel room during our move to Hawai'i. Everytime I shut my eyes crazy scary things I've never seen in movies or T.V. would soar through my vision, causing me to quickly open my eyes to make it all stop. It was so bad that I began laying on the hotel room futon with the lights and t.v. on until I fell asleep. Being that I am clearly a slow learner, I was paralyzed by fear of these crazy visions but oddly didn't think much about going to God with it. I also made sure not to tell anyone, especially Marshall, as I was afraid of looking like a nut job. However slowly I was becoming concerned, wondering what the HECK was going on, and becoming seriously afraid something was trying to possess me (on a lighter note, no, I wasn't possessed, but the Devil sure was working on me and keeping me super afraid--note this pattern here. Fear through panic attacks. Now fear through visions). Being that the Excorsim of Emily Rose most likely did a number on Marshall's psyche (I have not and will never watch that thankyouverymuch) I was nervous that if I told him he'd think he wife had gone off the deep end. He probably still does. Whatev. The trouble sleeping and visions were on and off, the worst when we were in the hotel room, and only increased with time when we moved into our home on the island. It had become so bad that if I awoke in the middle of the night I would struggle to get back to sleep and even began to plague me during the day. It was when I decided I needed to turn to God and I decided to get down on my knees and PRAY that the visions intensified and I knew this was a spiritual attack (well, I didn't know that's what it's called at the time) and that I couldn't keep it to myself anymore. On September 13, 2012 before heading to a campfire with friends I decided to call my friend Alyssa. A few days later we had cocktails around the pool at the Modern and I shared with her this entire testimony (yes, this, ALL OF THIS. Imagine how long it took me!). She was the only person I had opened up to about the ordeal and looking back is just who God was waiting on to speak into me. After hearing my story she strongly declared "the Devil is doing everything he can to try to stop you. He knows how good you're going to be on the other team [for God]!"as she suggested I pray out the Spirit of Fear. She said it, and in my heart I knew it. Alyssa then followed it up with a question I am forever grateful to her for "Would you like to come to church with us on Sunday?".
Okay, now I'm crying over here. Let me get myself together....
[Photo from studying abroad in 2006--Munich, Germany]
I obliged, again, not thinking much about God or Jesus but knowing I had to take action to be able to sleep again. I joined her family for church and (I don't think I've ever told her this) walking up to the doors I fought back sheer panic. PANIC! Who PANICS GOING TO A CHURCH? A Devil who is about to lose a girl to Jesus, that's who. Afraid demons were going to start flying out of me or my head was going to spin off when I hit the entryway (it didn't), I sat through my first sermon at Inspire Church (then Hope Chapel), convinced the Pastor could read my mind and was talking directly.to.me. After service we gathered for lunch and Alyssa asked how I liked the church. I declared it was cool, the music was a little too modern (seriously, what's WITH me?) but I'd give it another shot. I knew that it wasn't my upbringing in a traditional church that I was partial to because, let's be honest, sermons as a kid singing "Old Rugged Cross" were kinda, well, boring. I was just letting the Devil work his way into my brain and find any excuse to not attend that church. But thankfully the Holy Spirit is FAR greater than any Devil and got me going back. Sure, I will be transparent for a minute and say when I first started going to church again, it wasn't so much for God. It was selfish. I thought the Pastor Mike was funny (he is) and relevant and I managed to take the word of God and turn it into great business advice. HA! Seriously. But, it was the relevancy that spoke to me and kept me coming back (well God kept me coming back, duh) and after many Sundays staying firmly planted in my seat during the salvation prayer (where they gently ask if there is anyone who would like to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior) I decided to stand up and give my life to God. I had ignored the tug in my heart for far too long and that Sunday decided it was the day to give my life to Christ, the one who had been by me the whole time. Pursuing me and loving me even when I was too busy in my own life to worry about Him. I was nervous but proud to stand up and accept that God is our Creator and Father, and that his Son Jesus Christ died so that I could be free and have the opportunity to have a relationship with God and have a changed heart. That Sunday in church by myself I broke the chains off my life and stood up for the altar call, determining I was ready to claim the life designed for me.
From that moment on it has literally been a whirlwind. From baptism in the ocean (where again, the Devil tried to get me to panic and back out!) to crazy specific prayers being answered and life heading in it's purpose driven direction. After being baptized but still hardly reading the Bible my heart was straight up and miraculously changed. Filled with what's called conviction about things that I never in a million years would expect. Since being re-baptized (I honestly consider it my first baptism. I was baptized as a kid but this time it was a conscious decision by me to give my life to Christ so I can now walk with the Holy Spirt of God IN me, accepting the life and plan God specially designed for me (and you can, too, you just gotta turn to him!)). Since being baptized things have been placed in my heart seemingly out of no where (well, by the Holy Spirit) that contradict how I used to live and think. And I KNOW this is God because I have honestly never heard my church talk about any of these issues or thoughts, had not read them in the bible prior (because I didn't read the dern bible) but later ran across them in biblical stories where my new emotions were confirmed. I didn't make it up, that's GOD! In ACTION! CHANGING MY HEART AND MY LIFE. Wow. No better feeling and validation than that. I know it sounds so hocus-pocus, but I'm here to say it's for real. Everyone has to come to God in their own time because He has a plan for us all, like me! Look at how many people invited me to church, how many books I bought to read, and how much I talked about God before I stepped out and actually UNDERSTOOD and EXPERIENCED him. We don't have to DO ANYTHING to receive the free gift of salvation, we don't even have to be 'worthy', (trust me, girlfriend right here was a sinner)--God often takes the sinners, the outcasts and the 'nobodys' and uses them for His glory! We certainly don't have to work for it because then it wouldn't be a gift. All we have to do is truly BELIEVE with our hearts that Jesus died for our sins so that we could have eternal life and then proclaim it with our mouths. But taking advantage of the exciting life God has for us doesn't stop there--it comes with studying God's word and promises in the Bible and putting sheer trust and faith in HIM, no one else, not even ourselves. It's a process that's for sure, and I struggle every single day with trying to go back to my old ways and control all aspects of life and the people around me on my own when I should just be living God's word and in faith, but that comes with time and always learning and exploring. Christians aren't perfect-- we know that. No one is. Jesus was the only sinless one to walk this earth, and it's because of his death that we are forgive of our sins. Okay, it sounds like a lot and now I may be getting preachy, but it's SO EXCITING, you can understand why someone would want to share what literally is 'the good new with you. Le sigh. It's like I read in an article once: when friends find an AMAZING new restaurant, they rave about it and want to spread the word to everyone they know and love because the place is "sooooo good you're going to LOVE it!". Most Christians have that same passion for Jesus and what they've found and never though they'd experience and did, so naturally they want to share the excitement with you. Sometimes we share our testimony with others not to change you, argue with you or convert you, but because we love you and want you to experience the cool things we found and continue to find, too. It would be pretty shitty if we just had a secret Yelp account all to ourselves, don't you think? Yep, I said shitty in the same paragraph as talking about God. I don't think He'd be mad, He gets it. But see, I still have a lot of work to do myself.
Since my baptism so many exciting things have happened that I KNOW without a doubt are JesssSUUUSSS! I haven't seen people miraculously healed (yet!) but I HAVE had the glorious experience of going from crying on the ground feeling so discouraged to God standing me up and getting me to praying 'in the Holy Spirit' (aka 'tongues'). That sounds nuts, I know, but MAN OH MAN is it legit. Best part is, again, I knew NOTHING about ANY of it, it just happened (and still happens) and then later everything that happened to me I read in the bible which confirms it. It didn't come from my subconscious it came from the Holy Spirit. I've had the experience of praying in the Holy Spirt and thinking I know what I am saying as I pray (kind of seeing it) and ending my hour long prayer in a SONG (and I don't sing). Then my sister calls me to tell me she had a dream (which turned out to be the same thing I was picturing as I was praying TO A 'T") and SHE said it was crazy because she STARTED SINGING. Not to mention it was at the exact same time (11:30pm here 5:30am there) and something had told me to record this prayer. I have had many prayers be answered EXACTLY and even lots of humor by God thrown in there. He never ceases to amaze me every day, and I am thankful for His timing, love and Grace. All the time things happen (and I try to write them down) that wind up being proven later in readings of the Bible or by other people, wayyyyyy too many things to be 'sheer coincidence' or just me looking for things to back up what I believe. I hope to blog about them more.
I know people have a hard time accepting Jesus, and that's understandable. And if you're one of those people and you got this far in my post---HOLLERRRRR. I had a hard time, too. And I'd be lying if I said doubts don't still sometimes try to creep into my mind, however I have NOW been shown and experienced and felt FAR too many things to ever doubt, but even Jesus' disciples who walked with him still wondered sometimes (Jesus turned to them and said "you of little faith, why are you so afraid"-matthew 8:26 and then POOF, did something awesome and pretty much said 'doubt me now??") I'm not here to debate with anyone, as lots of people say "sure, he was just a good man who walked this Earth but he wasn't the Son of God" amongst many other arguments. I would encourage them to reach out and do research on their own. Sure, he was 'a good man' but one who the Bible says is the Son of God, and who is backed by hundreds of historic facts of non-christians and historians for the miracles he performed. But most of all, I know he is real because of what He's done in my life and the things I have seen. I know people would also say, kind of like the Devil taunted Jesus "If your God is so good, why did he let you go through that with the Devil? Why didn't he just pick you up off the bathroom floor and POOF, make you a Saint right there?". Well, for lots of reasons. Number one: believing in God and having faith in him is my choice--he gives us that free will. He gave us the facts and left the rest up to us. He gives us that option. He also doesn't punish us with Hell, that's OUR CHOICE wether we go to Heaven of Hell. But that's for another day. Number two: because WITHOUT all of these experiences I absolutely would NOT have the faith and strength in God that I do now. He uses all things for good for those who believe, and without the experience my character would not have been built--along with the will to fight and straight up LAUGH at the Enemy now. Same thing with the praying in tongues. Had I not been SO SAD one day that I got on my knees and said "God, please, I give this issue to you" would he have taken THAT experience and turned my frown upside down and made it an experience in His glory, leaving me with the gift of praying in the Holy Spirit instead of a sad heart.
As I flipped through my moleskin today in search of dates I ran across notes from my first sermon at Inspire Church, the one where I thought my head was going to spin in circles, and I am in sheer awe:
"Feed your faith over your fears. Many people are so grateful for good that they stay there not realizing good is only the base camp on the mountain of greatness...get your hopes up and have great faith. Exercise great faith."
"The best is yet to come."
[Photo from 2006-ish in Strasbourg, France]
Now I'm crying again. Thank you, God. xo
Disclaimer: In no way am I compensated by church or Jesus Christ for sharing the story of my faith. The isn't a pyramid scheme. No one makes dolla dolla bills off 'converts', but simply the heavens rejoice. ;)
To the ones who made it to the end--I LOVE YOU! xo
**UPDATE** For resources to explore more, I'd first encourage you to pray. If you truly are seeking God, I'd simply call out to him with an honest heart. As him to show himself to you. The bible says "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul." If you really want to see Him, call out to Him + mean it and wait to be impressed! Secondly, I'd say check out a Bible. I feel like a lot of people don't really READ the Bible, or just read bits + pieces. Romans is a favorite Chapter of mine, as well as Matthew, Mark, Luke + John (those have Jesus in them). You will be SHOCKED at all the things you've wondered about and find answers to in the Bible. A good study Bible makes things relevant, and this one by Joyce Meyers is awesome. Don't have the $$? Hit me up and we will getcha one. Third, check out a church! A lot of people say "ohhhh, organized religion" and "you don't need church to believe in God" and while that may be true, having Pastors that speak life into the word of God is like going to college. THEY have been studying this and every version of the bible and history for years, and God anointed them to be Pastors. They are supplementation to your faith and studies, as well as having fellowship with other believers in Church. It's clutch, trust me.
Lastly, if you're doubtful or seeking, I totally get it. I'd at least encourage you to do some research (be careful what you google and read however, this is where knowledge is power). Books by Lee Strobel are a GREAT start, he was a Chicago Tribune Journalist + hardcore atheist who decided to do research to 'bring Christianity tumbling to it's knees" and his in findings became a devout christian and now Preacher! That makes me giggle, God has such a sense of humor. His testimony alone is powerful, as well as the testimony of atheist Howard Storm and his Near Death Experience to Hell + Back. "Proof of Heaven" is a scientific look at a Near Death experience a neuroscientist (who was an atheist) encountered himself, and Heaven Is For Real is awesome! A four year old boy who died, went to heaven and came back with all sorts of stories! Totally worth looking into, I pinky promise.