When I began this blog, my mind swirled with ideas. Writing topics even interrupted my sleep. I felt like I could sit with my laptop for days and days, just writing away.
But…lately….I’ve been struggling. It’s like all my ideas have been put on hold. I’ve had one “idea” nagging away at me – my story. If you’re a “churchy” person, you would know it as “my testimony.” It’s like the Lord won’t let me go on bloggin’ until I put it in black and white for all the world to see.
Don’t get me wrong. I love sharing my story with friends. I think my friends would tell you I’m pretty much an open-book. But I’ve been hesitant to put it here on the blog. I write to girls between the ages of about 11 and 17. I’ve struggled over whether the details of my story are even appropriate for those on the younger end of my audience. However, the more I minister to girls in this age bracket, I realize just how much “grit” they’re exposed to and struggle with themselves. The decision to write this, has been taken very seriously. I pray that for those reading it, it will point you closer to Jesus and not be a distraction or a hindrance. My ultimate aim is “I must decrease, so He may increase.”
So…Here it is….
My only brother was 16 years old when my parents felt the Lord leading them to have another child. Imagine that! That’s a pretty big age difference. Growing up, my parents often told me that they felt clearly led by God to have me. In fact, they felt God wanted me to be named “Amy Elizabeth,” as the name “Elizabeth” means “chosen of God.”
Back then it was pretty rare for a woman of my mom’s age to have children. In fact, her doctor ran tests and advised her to consider an abortion. When she refused, he asked her to change doctors. Ummm…wow. Needless to say, that doctor was wrong, and I was born perfectly healthy.
However, when I was 3, I became extremely ill. Basically, as I am told, my liver stopped functioning properly. I was hospitalized, and the doctors ran every test they could think of. All the biggies like leukemia, cancer, etc. were ruled out. As I lay lethargic in a hospital bed day after day, the doctors scratched their heads. Of course people were praying for me. But my parents share that one night of prayer was different. A few people were in the hospital room praying when I sat up and began singing. I sang about “Je-Je” (my word for “Jesus.”) That was a pretty big deal, since I hadn’t really moved much since being hospitalized. After that moment I began improving dramatically. After a few days, I was released from the hospital and never looked back. Again, the doctors were left scratching their heads. My family called it a miracle.
You might be wondering why I shared all of this back-story. Well, I’m leading to something. Just hang on…
But first, I must tackle my spiritual upbringing. Whew. This will be tough. I could write a book about this topic, but I’ll spare you. Let me just say, I was raised in a “different” type of church. I believe when the church began, it was born out of pure intentions by some amazingly Godly people. However, as time went on, scripture began to get misinterpreted. This happened slowly, over a long period of time. Now, I would absolutely say the church I grew up in is a cult. Although it’s still there, almost all of those “amazingly Godly” people I referred to, have left. When each of us left the church, we became ostracized by people we had once considered family. Not long after I left the church, I received a phone call from one of my best friends saying they could no longer speak to me. I was dead to them. Once I walked into a restaurant where some of my former church members were dining. They got up from their table and left, simply because I had walked in. My upbringing was very legalistic. Christianity was twisted.
Again….I’m getting to something. Just hang on.
Now I have to tell you about tragedy. I once heard that a traumatic event in your life is like a stone that shatters a pane of glass. Once that glass is shattered, it alters how you view everything through it. That was absolutely true for me. My life forever changed when my Daddy died. I was 12, and it was three days before Christmas, when, my hero, the love of my life, the sweetest, Godliest man I ever knew, passed away from cancer. My world was shattered, but I wasn’t allowed to grieve. (See paragraph above, regarding my spiritual upbringing). As an adult, I now know what a big deal it is for a child to lose a parent. I know that it’s important for a child to fully grieve the loss. But that process didn’t happen for me. I was encouraged to take joy in the fact that my Daddy was in heaven. In fact, at my Daddy’s burial, a fellow church member gave me gloves with bells on them to remind me to feel happy. And, listen to this…my pastor told me that if my Daddy had just had more faith, he wouldn’t have died. Gulp.
Still…I’m getting to something…
I have to stop here and say this: My parents were incredible. They loved the Lord with all their hearts. Their intentions were absolutely pure. Likewise, I had countless adults in my life that poured into me. They sewed scripture into me. They prayed over me. They loved me. I am beyond grateful for them. I just feel that things got twisted along the way. I hold no resentment. That’s not the point of this story.
So now to the point…
I’ve been trying to paint you a picture. A picture of the condition of my heart. From an early age, I loved Jesus. I prayed the prayer of salvation when I was very young, and was baptized at age 7. More than anything, I wanted to be good. In fact, I was obsessed with it. My legalistic upbringing focused on “conquering the flesh.” I worked at it. I strived for it. For the most part, I obtained it. Heck, I was the golden child. Remember? My parents had me at an older age. I was their “do-over kid.” They regretted not raising my brother the “right way,” and were determined to do it differently with me. Remember? God named me “chosen.” Remember? I should have been aborted. Remember? I was miraculously healed. You see, I was celebrated for being special. I was always the good girl. I made straight A’s. I was the teacher’s pet. I was a leader at church. I had all the right answers. I never got in trouble. Anyone looking at me would have said I had it all together. Most people would have said I was the perfect kid. This wasn’t something I took much pride in; I felt like I HAD TO BE PERFECT. I was utterly and completely obsessed with being PERFECT. PERFECT. PERFECT. PERFECT.
Fast forward to my first year of college….
It all came crashing down. That’s when my mom and I left the church and I was cut off from everyone I had once called family. Those same people who were at my Daddy’s funeral, were now turning their back on me. The people who filled in for my Daddy at important events like dance recitals, school functions, milestone birthdays, etc. were now cutting me off from their lives. Those same people who held me to a higher standard and celebrated me for being “special,” were now scorning me. Simultaneously, I was immersed in new surroundings, being away at college. I had just broken up with a long-time boyfriend, and I knew no-one on campus. I was utterly alone. In essence, I threw in the towel and began embracing the typical college experience. I began drinking and partying. I quickly made new friends and adopted a new lifestyle.
But something bigger was beginning to take over…
Shame. I went from being consumed with perfectionism, to being consumed with shame. I had a frightful experience happen at a college party, and it was probably my tipping point. All the tumultuous and tragic events weighed so heavily on me, and I cracked. I began cutting. Yes, I cut my own skin with knives. I cut my arms. I cut my legs. I would cut myself, cry a lot, pull myself together, cover up my cuts and move on with life. I would carry on for a couple of weeks, then cut again.
On the outside, I still looked like I had myself together. During this time, the Lord even sent me the love of my life, Wes. He was one of the only people who knew about my cutting habit. It scared him, but he saw through it, and loved me for what he saw deep inside me. We were married, and the Navy moved us to Jacksonville, Florida. I was still cutting.
I carried on a strange lifestyle. Wes, a prosecutor in the Navy, was working tirelessly in his new career. I, on the other hand, was finishing college and still strangely living like I was in college, rather than like a married, grown woman. I still partied. I carried on looking like I had everything going for me. I maintained high grades at the University of North Florida and I did well in my job. But, I was still cutting.
During this time, oddly enough, Wes and I both began feeling like we should return to our roots and begin going to church. I had once sworn off church, so this was a big deal for me. I was very skeptical. I had no idea what I believed, much less what kind of church I was looking for. Anyway, it was ultimately some funny road signs that led us to Chets Creek Church in Jacksonville. The church was tiny and met in an elementary school. The signs might have gotten us there, but it was the people that made us keep coming. They were so sweet, welcoming, kind and genuine. We quickly made amazing friends. I felt ok when I was there, but I was still cutting.
For about a year, Wes and I lived with one toe in church and one toe in our own struggles. Wes was immersed in his work, and was privately dealing with his own struggles, of which I was unaware. He and I grew distant. I began questioning whether we would make it as a married couple. Yes, we were going to church, but I still wan’t sure what I believed about God. I went to church with Wes on Sundays, but was partying throughout the week. I was still cutting.
During this time, another tragedy struck. My grandfather committed suicide. I’ll admit, it made me wonder if I too, was destined to end my own life. Yes, I was holding my life together, but down deep I felt complete shame. I felt broken. I felt hopeless. I knew I needed help, and I didn’t want to be cutting. But, I was still cutting.
One night changed it all. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the night it happened. It was like many other nights before. I had been drinking and felt that same old feeling of hopelessness overtake me. I sat in the bathroom floor bleeding from my fresh cuts. I was thinking about suicide. I was contemplating whether I could ever kill myself, when it dawned on me: I was already dead. Sure, I was breathing and carrying on in life, but for all practical purposes, I was DEAD. I knew I was either going to kill myself, or continue living like the walking dead. I wanted to be different. I didn’t want to be the crazy girl who cut herself. I didn’t want to have a failed marriage. I didn’t want to just live my life for the next party, only to come home empty. Sure, I wanted to change. But every time I tried to change myself, I ended up in the bathroom floor bleeding again.
That’s when it hit me. I was dead, and I couldn’t change myself.
I cried out to God. It was authentic. It was full of hurt. It was full of complete abandonment. It was full of brokenness. I said, “If you are really there, and if you really love me, then you’re just gonna have to change me. I give up. I can’t do it. I can’t be good. If you want me to live for you, YOU are gonna have to change me. I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. YOU have to do it.” I drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up, I felt very different. I know it sounds too good to be true, but I was changed. I felt conviction hit me like a ton of bricks. I met with the pastor at our church to discuss what had happened. He counseled me and prayed with me. I made things right with a few people, including Wes. Over the course of a few months, God revealed how He had simultaneously been working on Wes’ heart. My marriage was saved. I began living differently. In fact, that was almost 20 years ago, and I’ve never cut myself since. God demonstrated his power in mine and Wes’ lives, and it was undeniable.
I felt like God had given me a new beginning. But what I FINALLY understood, was that salvation and righteousness comes from HIM ALONE. I could never earn it. I could never deserve it. There wasn’t anything special about me. I could never be perfect. I was no different than the thieves hanging on the cross next to Jesus. I was dirty. I was a wretch. I was broken. BUT GOD. BUT GOD. BUT GOD. BUT GOD. Oh!!!! BUT GOD! GOD loved me while I was a wretch. In fact, I was His enemy! BUT GOD loved me enough to rescue me from my own wretchedness.
He sent Jesus to live a sinless life and die a sinner’s death. When He died on the cross, He took God’s wrath that I deserve. God then raised Jesus from the dead three days after His crucifixion, and He now sits enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
All I had to do was put my faith and my hope in Him. Jesus bridged the gap between my unworthy self and my Holy Creator. It’s only JESUS that MAKES ME GOOD. On my own, I’m a thief. But in Christ, I am a new creature. He calls me “holy” and makes me more like Him. He fills me. He appoints me. He even calls me His “royal priesthood.”
My entire identity is no longer in being good. My identity is in being HIS!
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of that great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
*If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, self-cutting or other self-destructive behaviors, we urge you to seek professional help.
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