I’m going to be honest with you…I don’t really feel like writing today…but I’m writing this more because I feel like I need to than I want to. You see, I’ve had today’s topic- specifically, my testimony- planned for this date for the past few weeks, and I feel it’s kinda funny…because this past week has been the continuation of a lesson God has been trying to get me to wake up & learn since the moment He got my attention. I’ve just been too stubborn & distracted by everything else to actually learn it.
I grew up in church, attending Sunday school, wearing pretty dresses & the hated pantyhose. I memorized John 3:16, said grace before meals. I “prayed the prayer” when I was 6 years old, got baptized…then RE-“prayed the prayer” when I was 13 & got RE-baptized. Yes, that’s right…my testimony is one of your average, middle-class, millennial testimonies. I spouted Christian beliefs, I attended youth group & church camp, I invited people to church. While my heart was in the right place at the time, from where I stand now, I see I honestly had no clue what the true meaning of the Gospel was or the true power of God in my life. My faith is not something that happened easily, in a flash, or in the reciting of 1 prayer, but something that God has been doing & transforming in me over YEARS. It’s something I will always be learning & striving after.
Things changed when I got to be a senior in high school. Lots of doubts, circumstances, & issues rose up that began to destroy my weak faith. My whole of idea of what it meant to be a Christian…all the things & people I looked to for the definition of “Christianity” began to fall. A mere sentence of an idea crept into my mind from a History course I was taking & it was the first crack of doubt in the dam of my faith. Then, a person in a place of Christian leadership added to it by demeaning me, my intellect, & my relationship with God. In college, it all got worse. I attended a “Christian” university, a place that felt like it was divided into 3 groups- the legalistic, latin-memorizing Div school Christians, the happy hippy Christians, & everyone else that didn’t care. Again, I felt like I didn’t fit into any of those definitions of Christianity so I further questioned what was right. Then someone who meant the world to me, who lived such high Christian standards, turned out to be human & tripped up. Then, I felt such a huge loss through the death of a friend & the separation of a friendship because of it. All of a sudden I felt so alone & isolated. I was drowning in school work to keep up my As, I had no friends & no family I felt I could talk to that could understand, & I couldn’t figure out who I was on my own, let alone in Christ. The depression & isolation just grew, the bitterness & anger began to take over, but I did what I could to put a mask over it all.
Then, one day, when I was a Huddle Leader at a week of FCA Leadership Camp…standing in line to get coffee on the campus of UNC-W…(because who wouldn’t need coffee while trying to herd a bunch of high school, adolescent, girls- they really were truly marvelous, btw), I had a vision. No…there were no angels singing, no bright lights from the heavens, no birds flying near. Honestly, it appeared more like an animated political cartoon than anything. I saw myself standing on top of a mountain, smiling at the world because I had it all. Then something, no clue what, came along & SWOOSH…knocked my feet out from under me. I began rolling, tumbling, falling head over heels down the mountain-side. I knew…this was me, with what I thought my faith, knocked out from under me. As I tumbled down the mountain, I saw all these little pine tree saplings jutting out from the side of the mountain. And yes, my poor sister will hate me for this, they were labeled in Comic Sans font. Each sapling said things like “Family,” “Friends,” “The Church,” so on & so forth. I would tumble, reach my hand out, catch one to stop myself from falling. I would stop. Then *SNAP* it would break in half & I would keep on falling. Every. Single. Sapling. Every one of them failed me…none of them could hold the weight of my faith. Then, out of the corner of the “political cartoon” vision, I saw a hand reaching out to me & I heard the words “Just grab my hand, Emily. You keep reaching for everything else, but I’ve been here ALL along, I am anchored to a rock that CANNOT be moved- so GRAB. MY. HAND!” So I did. I know in my heart it was God making me grab hold of Him. Not idolizing other people or an institution- things that are all human & corrupted by sin, just like myself. None of them can hold my faith because none of them are GOD.
Since then, things didn’t magically get better. No, I still struggled with severe depression, anger, anxiety, & bitterness. It literally took years to work my way through, but it was slowly becoming a march in the right direction. I decided that I wouldn’t rely on anyone else to tell me who Christ is or what it means to be a Christian, but rather, to turn to the Bible. If what others did or said didn’t line up with that, then THEY were wrong, not God.
Even still, I continued to struggle. It got worse when I began my teaching career. I felt so incredibly useless like I was making no impact, like I was working myself to death for nothing. I became so incredibly bitter through it & I often took it out at home. But oh, am I thankful that God put my sweet, dear husband, David, in my life. Through all of it, he CONSTANTLY showed me the love of Christ. He would get up early in the morning to make coffee & breakfast for me. He would lead me in Bible study while I just sat in my chair, slumped over, & would just grunt in anger. But again, God used this as a means to demonstrate the gospel to me. The summer of 2013, I was reading “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan & the book of Romans. Between the love my husband had been demonstrating to me & the combination of those two books, it was like a light exploded in my brain. Literally, Romans 5:8 became so REAL- “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” While I was hateful & bitter towards my husband, he STILL loved me when he didn’t have to- not because he was required but because he LOVED me, because he WANTED to help me. Christ did the same.
“But God demonstrastes His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
These events became the anchor of my faith. I still claim to this day, that summer in 2013 was when I TRULY became a Christian- I finally UNDERSTOOD what God had done for me. While these created the anchor of my faith- to hold fast to Him, no matter what anyone else said or did, it was not the end-all-be-all. I don’t think anyone’s Christian life could ever truly be summed up in 1 moment, at least not until the day they are standing before God.
The funny thing is, this past week, I feel like I’m re-living that political cartoon vision. Except, this time, it’s not other people or institutions crumbling & failing under the weight of my faith, but rather, it’s the idol I’ve built up in myself. It is the image & pride I held for myself & my accomplishments that has crumbled. You see, as I said previously, it has become so easy for me to look to my accomplishments, my job, & finances to be my security. I would become so stressed out if I felt any one of those lacking or compromised. I may not have acted it in person, but I had become so pompous in my spirit & one day something clicked inside me…I knew the attitude growing in my heart was wrong & that God would be doing some major correcting.
So here I am…at the end of one of the most difficult, stress-filled, depressing weeks of my life, & yet in the lesson God has taught me this week, I see so much of His provision & protection. I failed miserably this week. In a few days, I have to go & face my failure in person. My pride is destroyed, I am humiliated. In this week, I have seen my testimony go from me tumbling down the mountainside & grabbing God’s hand to me broken at the bottom of the cross, holding fast & learning to rely on Him. Because I am human. I make mistakes. I fail. Nothing I have is truly my own. The things I thought were “solidly” mine, things I could brag over, or feel smug about in my heart, I now see & know they could be taken away in an instant. One tiny mistake is able to threaten everything, because as much as I feel like I am in control, God has shown me I am not.
I feel like I have struggled more this week than all those years combined. Honestly, it’s probably because I’m feeling the weight of God’s discipline rather than just sorting through things I couldn’t much help. Even still, I see God’s protection & provision all throughout my mistake & its fallout. He preserved what He knew I needed, but He tore down & destroyed the idol of my pride in the process. I am not angry at Him. I have seen Him work in ways this week that I never really thought I would see. I have seen Him literally answer specific prayers within a few minutes or an hour of praying it. Or when crying out in desperation & feelings of worthlessness, I find a Bible verse a friend gave me that deals with exactly what I needed to see in that moment. Or when my awesome Father-in-Law texted me this morning with a scripture in Hebrews 13, about not feeling discouraged in the middle of God’s discipline, but rather thankful that He loves me enough to discipline & grow me. Even with all of those things, seeing God’s specific responses to my broken self, even KNOWING what He allowed He did in love, I couldn’t get past the depression, dejection, & anger I felt towards myself.
“Why? Why do I feel this way?” Why can I not get past these EMOTIONS when I KNOW what God was doing & why He did it?? And suddenly, I saw the story of Lot & his wife fleeing Sodom & Gomorrah. I felt like I was running behind them. I saw him pulling her by the hand, & she stopped, turned to look back at the life she was leaving behind, everything behind her that had been hers that was now being destroyed, & then all I saw was a salt pillar of ruin. She was me. I was willing to let myself be torn down & destroyed because I couldn’t get past my emotions. Because I couldn’t LET GO of the idol of myself that God had destroyed behind me. I couldn’t move forward & follow obediently where God was leading me because I couldn’t get over watching God tear down the false idol I had built up for myself. I couldn’t stop holding on to ME & my dreams & hopes for my life rather than holding fast to Him, relying on Him, & abiding in Him for my everything. I was looking back, grieving the loss of the thing that led to my own destruction in the first place, instead of thanking God & moving ahead in the way He is leading me.
This is where I find myself tonight & it’s where I intend to go from here. I have nothing else, Even if I did have everything…none of it would matter if it’s not what God’s will is for me. If it’s not what is truly best for me. Here I am, broken at the foot of the cross. I have spent years fighting God’s hand away as I tumbled down the mountain, all the time, trying to hold on to everything & everyone else around me, trying to hold on to my self- my hopes, accomplishments, & expectations. All of those little saplings failed me & I have found myself broken & bruised at the bottom of my mountain, but at the foot of the cross, holding fast to it against the torrential winds of self-hate & anger, against the oppressing boulders of worthlessness that Satan is trying to throw at me. I see Satan trying to knock me loose. He knocked me off the mountaintop hoping it would destroy me…but what the enemy meant for evil, God has worked for good, & His will. So, I will grab hold even tighter. I will hold fast to His Word. I will rely on Him for my everything- my worth, my sustenance, my life. And I will abide in Christ. No matter what Satan throws at me, I will ABIDE in Christ, because there is nothing else more worth it on this planet, in this galaxy, or in the extraordinary universe He created. Nothing else.
“But take careful heed to keep the commandments & law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to keep his commands, to hold fast to Him, to walk in all His ways, & to serve Him with all your heart & all your soul.” -Joshua 22:5
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me & I in him bears much fruit. For without Me, you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
Be blessed, friends.