It’s important to me to share my story of faith with those who are interested in hearing it. Hence, this post is something separate from my primary blog content since it goes into way more detail about my story of coming to faith.
Religion was never a major part of my life. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, but I did go through what I call a Christian “phase” when I was in high school thanks to the influence of my then boyfriend’s family. However, once I went to college, whatever faith I had slowly dwindled away until I considered myself more or less an atheist (ironically, it was a class on the New Testament that destroyed any remaining shreds of faith I still had). I tried to be a good person and sometimes felt the universe was watching out for me, but was adamant that organized religion of any kind was not for me. In fact, I judged religious people pretty harshly. Many of them did not appear to be modeling their beliefs in their own lives very well, and I found myself associating faith with hypocrisy. Most of the time, declarations of faith appeared trite and self-serving to me. Being an exceptionally logic-driven person, I also found the rationale behind their faith difficult to comprehend and perplexing. I thought that religious people were gullible folks who needed a crutch to get by in life, and who didn’t know how to think for themselves. So, let this illustrate that for most of my adult life, there has been a gaping chasm between my personal beliefs and those of any type of religion.
I struggled in my teens and 20’s. My final year or so in high school was particularly difficult with my parents working through a contentious divorce amidst marital infidelity, which devastated my mom and put an incredible amount of strain on our family. One of the ways I coped was by becoming particularly rigid in my eating and exercise (to gain a sense of control), which resulted in disordered eating and me graduating high school weighing under 100 lbs. In college, I drank heavily and partied a lot. As a timid teenager who still didn’t know who she was, it seemed like alcohol was the key to figuring it out. I chased fun, I chased attention, I chased validation, I chased acceptance. I was whoever anyone else wanted me to be without any strong sense of self or anchor for my identity. I was desperately seeking love and acceptance, but all I kept finding were blackouts, hangovers, heartache, and regrets.
By my mid-twenties, I felt like I was just going through the motions each day. I poured myself into my job (which earned me movement up the corporate ladder, but not the fulfillment I sought). I tried everything from getting a master’s degree to running a half marathon to competing in bodybuilding to try to get myself out of that rut and inject some joy and purpose into my life. When a career opportunity presented itself in Charlotte, I jumped at the chance to start over somewhere new. So, not knowing a soul in Charlotte, I packed up whatever I could fit in my car and moved across the country on my own.
So many wonderful things came from that decision. Getting a fresh start felt like it was exactly what I needed. I loved the city, developed great friendships, excelled in my new job, and found myself living an exciting life again. However, about 9 months after moving here, I felt that something was still lacking, and no matter where I had looked, it remained out of reach. I started to wonder if it was because I had been neglecting the spiritual side of life for so long. I started praying regularly, even though I felt utterly ridiculous when I first started. I wasn’t sure if there was even anyone listening, but I said, “If there is a God up there who can hear me, I want to know you. I am not sure you are there, but if you are, I ask that you would soften my heart and help me build a relationship with you. I am not a believer, but I want to be.”
I did not have a lightning bolt moment. God did not appear in a flaming bush. For a long time, the only answer I got was the whirring of my ceiling fan’s blades. Over the next couple of months though, the hard places in my heart began to crack. I was slowly letting go of the entrenched beliefs I had held onto for so long and began warming up to the idea of God. I began to feel that I should to go to church. I hadn’t been to church in close to 10 years, so I was apprehensive. My friend, Kelsey, who I had met my first weekend in Charlotte, attended Elevation Church. I texted her one day and asked her if I could come to church with her some time. She said, “Sure! How about tomorrow?” I wrote back and told her, “No, I’m not ready yet. But maybe soon.”
A few weeks later, she and I were talking, and she asked me if I wanted to come to church with her that weekend. Although still very hesitant (and if I’m completely honest, terrified), I said yes. So on Sunday at 11:30, full of apprehension, I met her at Elevation Church. I was admittedly uncomfortable and felt like an impostor, but I knew this was something I needed to do. One of the worship songs that weekend was Hillsong’s “Always Will.” Hearing that song was like a lightning bolt to the heart, especially the line, “Your love keeps chasing me and it always will, it always will.” For so long I had been chasing after things and people that I thought would bring me joy when it suddenly dawned on me that God had been chasing ME the entire time. All I had to do was stop pursuing those other things, turn around, and embrace Him. Despite a decade of turning my back on God, He hadn’t given up on me and was still pursuing me with His relentless love.
Imagine my surprise when after a few songs, they announced there would be no formal sermon that day – it was the final weekend of Raised to Life, which was the church’s initiative to give people an opportunity to accept Christ and be baptized. To say I panicked is an understatement – baptism was definitely not something I had given any consideration to nor had I expected it to be on the agenda that morning. But for every excuse and every doubt that arose in my mind, the pastor on stage had a rebuttal. I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t even really know what I believed. I was scared. I wanted to put it off. I wanted to think about it first. But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was not a coincidence that the day I finally agreed to come to Elevation was the final weekend of Raised to Life. And I thought to myself, “What better way for me to show God that I am sincere about reconnecting with Him and bringing faith back into my life?” So when the pastor asked for those of us choosing to be baptized to come down the aisle, I stuffed down all of the fears and doubts I had, took a deep breath, and made my way outdoors to be baptized.
Kelsey also decided to be baptized that day. It was an amazing moment in our friendship that I will remember forever. I faithfully attended Elevation every weekend until I moved to Chicago and started going to Park Community Church. The following weekend, I felt led to join one of my church’s small Bible study groups, so I did. There I cultivated even more incredible friendships that continued to enhance and strengthen my faith.
My post-conversion life has not been a cake walk. I am still reconciling my former life with my new one, trying to let go of people, thoughts, and behaviors that no longer serve me or God. I don’t have all of the answers. And I would say that in some ways, I struggle more now than I did before because I am striving to live up to a higher calling and because I want to be obedient to the Lord. Contrary to what sometimes seems to be popular belief, becoming a follower of Christ does not make you a perfect human being. I cannot live a perfect life, but I do strive to lead a credible one. But I have found an incredible sense of purpose and self worth through my identity in Christ that drives me to try to glorify God in everything that I do.
One of the biggest ways that God has changed my heart is by chipping away at my selfishness and giving me a compassionate and generous spirit toward those who are in need. I’m part of a human trafficking cause group in Chicago that works with local organizations who are combating sex trafficking here in the city and around the world. I serve every month by leading the greeting team at my church and at other events. I’ve had the privilege of volunteering with a host of organizations and ministries in Chicago over the past year, including Ronald McDonald House, Breakthrough Urban Ministries, Bread of Life, Emmaus Ministries, The Anti-Cruelty Society, and Open Books. In June, I went to Cambodia for 10 days on a medical mission trip (from atheist in middle class America to missionary in a remote Cambodian village was quite the leap!). God continues to teach me how to be godly and how to love, to forgive, to serve, and to be generous in the way that Christ has already done for each and every one of us, and I am thankful beyond words for the One who gave it all away so that I could in turn have it all in Him.