Growing up, I was not really exposed to Christianity. My dad grew up in the church and my mom did not, and we started off as Christmas and Easter churchgoers. As I got older and our lives got more hectic, church became simply an obligation, something we only did when we visited my grandparents and only because they did it. Because I only went to church here and there, I didn’t really get to learn that much about the Bible or about who Jesus was. The church that I went to when I did go only really taught the “fluffy side” of God or about the significance of whatever biblical holiday fell on that particular Sunday. Some Sundays after church, I would feel really motivated to love God and to get serious about Him, but because I didn’t really know what it was like to have a true personal relationship with God, I was easily frustrated when He didn’t magically make my life easy and wonderful. All I had ever learned from my brief and sparse attendance at church was that a life with Christ was supposed to make everything magically perfect, as if Jesus was a genie in a bottle, granting wishes at my disposal.
By the time I had hit my teen years, I had been struggling with bullying, loneliness, depression and anxiety for a while. Because God hadn’t fixed these things in my life when I asked Him to, I became hopeless with the idea that there was anything to have faith in. God became a fairytale, and one that I hated. I thought God was “out to get me”, as if He was intentionally trying to make my life miserable. What I didn’t realize was that this was just the start of the spiritual warfare I was facing.
As I came to college, I was entirely disenchanted with any kind of faith. I was ready to make choices for myself, grab the reigns and be in complete control of creating the live that I wanted. College was going to be all about me: my life, my choices, my college experience. Thankfully, God had other plans.
My random roommate as a freshman was a Christian. At first, this led to many uncomfortable situations. One such scenario I remember was at UW-Stout’s Backyard Bash, when we were looking at different booths. She excitedly told me “I’m going to check out the religious organization booths to see if I can find a church here!” and I wasn’t having it. I remember telling her, “I’ll be over…anywhere but there.” The nights and mornings she did “church things” became my time to spend alone. I not only took advantage of her being a Christian, but I made fun of her faith and interest in God. To replace my loneliness, I looked for superficial connections and acceptance in other groups, clubs, and people, but I felt like all of these were lacking and unsatisfying. I was always left with the desire for more.
Somehow I survived freshman year in one piece. I had plenty of obstacles hit me on my way through, but I figured I had learned how to swerve and that I was back in control. But little did I know, sophomore year was about to kick me in the teeth. Before I was even back on campus for the year, the opportunity to study abroad in England, something that had been a dream of mine since I was young, was crushed by lack of funds. Shortly after the year started, I got dragged through a less than honest “relationship” for six months. Classes were stressing me to the breaking point. There was drama in friendships. On top of that, my depression and anxiety began to set in worse than they had in the last 5 years. I was down and out and hopeless, just waiting for the next failure to kick me while I was down.
The story of how God got me to actually come to church is probably both the lamest and the most interesting. My best friend (the same girl I was randomly paired with as a roommate my freshman year) and I had been going through this phase of making silly bets. For example, if I didn’t wear my hair in a ponytail for a month, I avoided such and such consequence. As each of these silly bets came and passed and as my life struggles felt like they were getting more and more complicated, I felt this nagging urge that there was “something else” out there. I kept feeling this unexplained desire to do something more, something better. One night as my best friend and I were planning yet another series of bets, I decided to get the “church thing” out of the way, for once and for all. See, she had been nagging me for quite some time about going to church and to Street Level, and I was running out of excuses not to go, aside from simply not wanting to. So I instead offered that my consequence for failing whatever bet we set was that I would go to church, just once. My best friend was thrilled to say the least. Eventually, the unexplained desires I had for more continued to grow, to the point where I confronted both my feelings and my best friend with a “Fine! I’ll go!” response to church.
I remember sitting in the pew that Sunday. I sang the songs disgruntledly, did the things, read the verse, and went through the motions with every intention of getting it over with as quickly as possible. Then, something happened in church that had never happened to me before: I learned. Pastor Tim got up in front of the church and became the harsh truth that I needed to hear. For the first time in my life, I heard The Bible read word for word, and the gospel was explained to me without being watered down or easy-to-swallow. I remember sitting in the pew in awe, jaw possibly dropped, realizing that the things that he was saying were true. For some reason, at that moment, gears started to turn that had never functioned before and something inside me realized that God was real and the sacrifice Jesus made was real and that He had orchestrated me sitting in that church and that pew because now was the time that He wanted to reach me. I realized that He had been there all my life, slowly nudging me and leading me to discover and embrace Him and all He had to offer for me.
The change for me from the person I was before to the saved Christian that I identify myself as now happened so quickly that it still makes my head spin. If you would have told me six months ago that I would be passionate about Jesus and reading my Bible and fellowshipping with my amazing new family in Christ, I would’ve told you that you were certifiably nuts. As I look back, I see all of the parts in God’s plan for saving me and how those parts clicked into place. He exposed me to a roommate who was a Christian and she was an important part in bringing me to my faith. He kept me from my dreams of England because He needed me to be here to find Him. The part that amazes me the most about my life as a new Christian is that God used me right away, even before I thought I had the knowledge and skills to be useful for Him. He has been active in my life ever since I gave it to Him, even giving me the opportunity to go on a missions trip, further showing me that He uses us all, especially the “underdogs”. God didn’t wave a magic wand and make my life perfect after I surrendered myself to Him, but I now realize that I was getting in my own way by taking things into my own hands instead of letting go, admitting my sinful nature, and letting God take the number one position of importance in my life. I have felt the greatest connections and acceptance that I could have ever asked for and better than I could have imagined through the Kingdom of God and with His people, and I can’t wait to see how he grows and changes me in the years to come.