Friday, August 29, 2008

My Testimony

Several weeks ago on the way home from our church, Fiance and I were wondering together what our Pastor must have been like as a child ... as a teenager. We don't know all that much about the details of his heart and his thoughts - you know, the inner truth of who he is.

This lack of deeper knowledge into him doesn't hurt his ability as a teacher one little bit but nonetheless, we wondered. He seems so humble and so in love with Jesus, and that kind of love shows a gratefulness for the sacrifice that was made for him ... and we wondered what that sacrifice must look like reflected particularly in his life. So I asked him, though not with as many words.

I've also been re-reading the Left Behind series and that got me wondering all the more, so I asked our Pastor what his story is. The following week, he started a new teaching series (because he tends to teach in series') called, "What's your story?"

I don't know what part I played in the idea for the new series, and I haven't learned all that I wanted to specifically about my pastor, but he has turned the question into a great teaching tool. He has talked a little about his life, but mostly he's been teaching that it isn't really his story in the first place, but that the story truly belongs to God and what his son has done for us. He's been teaching how important it is to tell others about "our" stories, and has inspired me to post my own.

When I was little I remember going to church with my father and his second wife. Not exactly stellar examples of how to be a good Christian, what with her mental state and my father's tendency to anger. And that's without mentioning how much she hated me for being his daughter long before she was his wife. The church was full of hypocrites, people who'd tell you what to do and how to be perfect on Sunday morning, and then were angry and shallow and judgmental all week long. People who preached the word of God but didn't follow his ways. So I came out of that feeling like the church was a hypocritical place, full of fools who'd live a lie to look good at church. I didn't feel accepted in my father's home because of his wife, and I didn't feel accepted in their church because it was a dead church who failed to reach out to the youth.

By the time I was in high school, I'd begun to acknowledge the empty feeling that comes from not having something to believe in, something to hope for. And "religion" wasn't something we talked about at my house. We didn't go to church, didn't watch it on TV, didn't talk about God at all, let alone Jesus the Christ.

So when one of my friends started checking out occult practices and witchcraft, I was with her. We didn't stay friends long after that, but for over ten years Wicca was my life. I knew the best colors to wear to inspire certain feelings in people. I knew what scents to wear, what moon phase it was and what that was good for. I knew a lot of things that meant a lot to me then and don't even make sense to me now. It was religion - a way to worship myself in pride of my own ability to manipulate my world and everything around me.

But it didn't do me any good. It didn't get me a thin body with a stunning face. It didn't get me perky boobs, skinny arms, a great tan, a hot guy, or a big house. It didn't get me a sports car or a lot of money, either.

What I got was a life in which I lost my virginity at fifteen to a guy who lied to me and used me as long as it was convenient for him to do so. When it wasn't, I suspect he had a line-up of other "usefulls". I broke up with him, and eventually I got a husband who lied to me for years, and played on whatever mattered to me that would make it easier to bend me to his will. I got a cheap life in an apartment with a man who didn't truly love me and who I didn't love either after a while. I got a car that wasn't dependable, a body that wasn't good enough, "friends" who hit the road instead of being there for me when I needed them. I got a miscarriage that I went through alone while my husband was off to who-knows-where.

I got my daughter, though, and she changed my life. Big time. I believe that she was given to me just for that purpose, to inspire me to do something better with my life than to waste it away in a miserable sham of a marriage. I believe God was watching me even then, and that he gave her to me as a way of answering prayers I wouldn't admit were prayers. Because as miserable as I was, I could deal with everything that was going on, since it was only really happening to me, you know? There are lots of people out there who had it worse than I did. The drugs that my husband wouldn't give up were seemingly only hurting me, since he didn't seem to mind them and his family was much on his side of that battle. As unhappy as I was, it's probably a miracle in itself that I never ended up a customer of one of his drug deals.

We could afford to live on one income, which would have allowed my husband to work only one job and stay home in the evenings, you know ... to be a husband to his wife. But he preferred to have two jobs, so I rarely had to see him anyway. I was able to stay home from work, hang out at the house, spend his money, and I didn't have to actually deal with him. Except for the lies and the drugs ruining my respect for him, I had a great deal.

But adding a baby to that? That made it different. If a drug dealer is busted with any of his "product" in his home, everyone in the home is found to be at fault. That would have meant him, yes. But it would also have meant me. Even testing clean for drugs, I would have been prosecuted beside him, since the law can only assume that having been that close to him, I'd have known and supported what he was doing.

And where did that leave the helpless little child we'd created? In the state system? Without real parents to love her and raise her? I don't think so. Not my baby.

So I packed her up and left to show him that I was serious. That I wasn't putting up with the drugs anymore. That it was coming down to a choice. When he promised to go to Narcotics Anonymous, I went back. Then we had a "relapse" that I supported him (read: was idiot enough to buy into) through, and a continuance of the N/A meetings. I'm pretty sure that's ultimately where he met the girlfriend he got involved with mysteriously right "after" I took Teenybop and left him for the third and final time.

And that hurt. To be replaced that quickly, even by a husband that I no longer wanted, was really hard. And in just a few months, the girlfriend was pregnant. He abandoned Teenybop which I am actually grateful for; he and his girlfriend had a son and then another, but I digress.

About the time Teenybop and I left Ex-Husband, I found myself in a church for the first time in a very long time. I'd gone to see my niece and sister in law in an Easter play at their church, and I'd heard that the play was so awesome that it was worth seeing even if you didn't believe the content. And it was. There was so much hard work that went into that show, so much emotion showing in the "actors" that night. Toward the end, many of the grown men in the show were actually crying as they fought to recite their lines. So was I.

They did the show three times, all through Easter weekend, and I was there each night of the show. Crying. And when Monday came, I guess I wasn't finished with it yet, because I rented The Passion Of The Christ and watched it that night. Alone in the apartment I rented with only my infant daughter, I watched that movie in tears.

I can't imagine all that Jesus went through for me, as that movie is only a fictional account but to see it so graphically portrayed ... It's understating things tragically to say that I was "touched". More like, I was brick-slapped with my own pride, having denied his deity for most of my life. Even in the midst of my rebellion, I couldn't deny Jesus' life as a prophet, or the existence of God his father. Something in me stopped me just short of that.

After that weekend I ended up selling my Wiccan library which consisted of more than 50 books, and I used some of the money to buy a Bible. It wasn't the first that I'd ever owned, but the first one that I'd wanted, the first that I went out and bought for myself. And being a single mother, I didn't even get one of those fancy nice ones, either because I had a ton of other stuff I needed to spend that money on. God was with me even then ... he must have been since I was determined to stay home and raise my daughter. I'd just found out about her heart condition and I was terrified. So I had only the court appointed child support to live on, and had to really squeeze the little money that I had just to justify purchasing that bible.

It was a simple black bible that wasn't even meant for me. I bought it in a used bookstore, and I felt every bit of my financial status each time I saw the inscription that wasn't to me. But I read it. It was like security, like safety to me, the way I carried it around with me. Around the apartment it would be open on the kitchen counter while I cooked, open on the couch while I watched TV. Open in my hands sometimes while I lounged in the bath in the days when my daughter hadn't yet obliterated that luxury. I loved the red words of Christ, I loved the sound of the onion-skin pages as they turned, I loved it that eventually the book would lay flat as I read, from being opened so much.

I went to church not just every Sunday, but whenever I needed some peace. Some days when things were tough, I'd just go to my church and I'd park. I'd sit there in the parking lot just staring at the empty church, talking to Jesus, mostly with the baby asleep in her carrier. Somehow I felt closer to him there.

These days I don't need to be in church to feel his presence in my life, though I do thrive on the fellowship there. I know he's around me, looking out for me, listening to the cries of my heart when things are hard, rejoicing with me when life is fine. He's there in my family budget which has been stretching tighter and tighter .... and still there's enough. He's there in my kitchen when I need to "be creative" cooking dinner, and he guides my hand to meals that my family enjoys, though they are cheap and often a mish-mash of whatever I haven't yet run out of. He's in my heart when I'm pretty sure that life sucks, he reminds me that there are so many who wish they had it as easy as I do, and he gives me perspective.

He's filled my life with blessings, from the apartment we live in to the car we drive, the friends in my life, the love in my home, and even the trials I've been through. Some things I've gotten through only by his grace, because there are so many times in my life that I look back on ... and I can just see him there. Watching over me, taking care of me. Even when I didn't deserve it and couldn't have made it without him.

And I don't know who I've typed this out for, but whoever you are, when you read this remember that it isn't my story ... It's just the story of another person who was lost and then found by His grace.