Today we are back in Budapest, visiting St. Stephen’s Basilica AND the Dohany Street Synagogue. It’s not a typo, my recent Churches Around the World post in Vienna was also a St. Stephen’s! Here is a link for more info on St. Stephen’s Basilica. I was …
This is the story of how I became a Christian.
But first, it’s important to look at my parents’ faith background.
My mom was raised Catholic and always had some issues with it. After she became an adult, she looked for another Christian church. She actually ran into a really weird, disillusioning church sect in the process. Nothing ever felt right, and she eventually stopped looking. But she was always a Christian.
My dad has really always been a man of God, too. He’s just never been that into actually going to church.
Since my mom didn’t like being raised in a faith she didn’t agree with, she and my father decided to not baptize me. They wanted me to be able to choose my faith when I was ready.
But the only preschools in our small Iowa city were at churches, so my parents decided to send me to a Lutheran preschool.
And I loved it.
I wanted to start going to Sunday school, too. So my parents obliged, and tried out the services themselves. It still didn’t feel like the right church for them, but they took me to Sunday school every Sunday for years. I also did vacation Bible school.
I really loved church, and I really loved Jesus!
When I was seven, my family moved to a new neighborhood. I already knew a girl, Lauren, in the neighborhood from school. She introduced me to her friend, Rachel, who lived a couple houses down.
Rachel’s family went to a small reformed church not too far away. One night, they invited us to their Wednesday night service. Lauren and I tagged along with Rachel’s family and we found out we really liked this new church!
So we both brought our moms to check it out, and the moms began to love the church too.
My mom started helping to teach Sunday school – even before she officially joined the church.
Since Lauren and her mom were never baptized, either, we were glad to have the opportunity at this new church.
During an early 8 AM service in 2002, Lauren, her mom, me and my little brother, Mickey, were baptized. It was so cool because people we didn’t even know went to the church were at that service that day. My beloved Librarian from school was there, along with my 1st grade teacher. It was so special that they were witness to our baptism.
My parents officially joined the church around that same time, and my mom became deeply involved with many other church functions. When she joined, she reaffirmed her faith.
She finally felt at home!
And I don’t think her faith has ever been stronger.
It was always my desire and my choice to follow Christ. I always felt called, and I think that’s pretty cool. And since I’m the editor of Devotional Diva now, I think it’s so awesome that I can help spread God’s glory.
I love the fact that I chose to be baptized myself and that I remember it. It was such an amazing experience.
My family (and Lauren and Rachel’s families) still attend that special church. We’re so blessed to have a church that really feels like home! But now, I’m doing my own thing. My husband and I haven’t found a church like that in California yet, but that’s okay.
How I became a Christian may not be very typical, but I really appreciate that I was always able to follow what I have always known to be right.
[Guest Post by Lori Tisdale – We know each other through mutual friends nearby, and she asked me to share my story on her blog — I had to host her here! If any of you have stepped foot in the church, you’ll understand what it means to be hurt. But. It’s what we do with our hurt that matters. Please welcome Lori!]
I was the first born of a new pastor and his young bride.
For the most part, I was a very well-behaved preacher’s kid — the teacher’s pet, a devout Missionnette (the church’s version of a Girl Scout). I led the on-campus High School Bible Study, taught years of Sunday School, went on missions trips, etc.
I vividly remember God’s call on my life, at a summer kid’s camp – I was 12 years old. He very clearly told me that He wanted me to use my hands to reach others for Christ. I was not your typical preacher’s kid — you know the kind, they are usually rebellious.
But I was not.
Until I was hurt.
Nearly 25 years into my Dad’s ministry career, he was targeted by certain individuals in our church who felt they were hearing God’s voice and direction more clearly on certain issues. And for years they argued with my Dad, their pastor, about how he handled these issues. Until they eventually disagreed enough that they threatened my Dad to step down, or else.
These individuals were more than just people in our church. They were people we had vacationed with, shared holidays with, and had grown up with.
Their actions rocked our world.
I had been extremely hurt by quite a few people in our church family.
I started to question the purpose of church altogether. Church didn’t feel like family anymore. And I certainly didn’t want to go to church, mostly for fear of being hurt again. Plus, finding a new church after you’ve listened to your Dad’s preaching all your life is rather difficult.
I used the excuse that church wasn’t a requirement to being a Christian, so long as I still had a relationship with God. But in that decision I was turning away from God’s call to ministry.
Along came some new friends who were much less judgmental. After all, when you’re partying and drinking with them at the bar they don’t want to be judged either.
As a result of hurt and resentment and pain, I completely stepped out of God’s will for my life. I was running from it, kicking and screaming. For a long time, I kicked and screamed.
It was ugly.
Until I got it. I finally learned to accept God’s love for what it was, all I would ever need! My worth wasn’t found in the circumstances of my life, how bad my church hurt my family or me. My worth was found in His undying love, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness.
I finally learned how to forgive those who hurt me, who hurt my family.
It took longer than I like to admit.
But I finally learned that painful lesson.
My journey kind of reminds me of Jonah’s: God told Jonah His will for Jonah’s life, and due to a number of circumstances Jonah said “Nope! Not gonna do it!” and he ran from God’s will for his life.
But God said, “Oh yes, you are!”
With God’s help (and a lot of grace), Jonah faced his fears, and fell back in line with God’s will for his life. What’s even more amazing is the thought that even with all of Jonah’s running, God still wanted to use Jonah for His glory!
That’s amazing to me!
So here I was, finally returning to church, returning to God’s call on my life, but so very fearful of being hurt again.
And yet God reminded me of the plan He had for me. To use my life to bring Him glory. I can’t say I wasn’t hurt again. But my perspective had changed. Despite my fears, I could rely on God to go before me, to protect me and be with me.
“There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives fear away” (1 John 4:18).
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
Raised in church, as a “preacher’s kid”, Lori has a unique perspective of church, leadership and faith. Lori loves sharing her personal faith journey and what it took to bring her back into a deep relationship with her Heavenly Father. Having a passion for authentic living and connecting, Lori views her life as an open book and loves sharing that with others. Lori’s faith and lifestyle blog explores various DIY/craft projects, kitchen successes (and failures), and God’s life-giving message as it pertains to His calling on our lives (and the life lived in between all of the rest). Lori and her husband Lee and their dog Callie reside in San Diego County. Connect with Lori on her blog: http://mylifeaslori.wordpress.com.
Recently, I attended the Mental Health and the Church Conference at Saddleback Church (#Hope4MH). The good news is that they just posted ALL the videos from the plenary and breakout sessions. You can watch them on YouTube here. If you struggle with mental health or …
[Guest Post by Jenifer Jernigan – Like all authors meet, we met through social media. I love her vulnerability, her voice, and the desperation behind her story. I am honored for Jenifer to share her story, and if you, like her, have felt like taking your life–you are not alone! I know her story is long but please read the whole thing. You will be blessed!]
The summer months found me serving as a youth intern in a local church, teaching, ministering, and loving on kids who became an important part of my life.
The fall semester ushered in months of studying through the Psalms in my Old Testament class and Paul’s Prison Epistles in New Testament class.
I was happy.
My heart was full.
I was in a good place.
But the heat of the summer months melted away to nothing, and the coolness of the crisp fall air blew through so very quickly. And there I was, in the dead of winter, broken, yet again, into a million pieces, heart cold and calloused, experiencing a death all its own.
We sat there, my friend and I, on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop, he numb from the icy-cold air, me numb from my shattered world. Coffee-shop music played in the background. Bells jingled each time the heavy glass door opened. People hurried in from the cold to warm their bodies with yummy deliciousness. They laughed and shrilled with glee. Some shared secrets and made grand plans. Others came to enjoy time alone away from the busyness of their lives.
It was almost like an out-of-body experience, if such a thing exists. I saw them all, the many who walked past. And I heard the music, the bell jingles, the laughter, and even the ahhs as the warmth of the patrons’ treats made its way into their bellies. Yet, at the exact same time, I saw absolutely nothing and heard not a whisper. I was lost in an ocean of broken dreams; a sea of emptiness enveloped me. And years of innocence lost, wrongs done, and wounds inflicted welled up inside me.
The minutes passed by and turned into hours, how many exactly, I have no idea. My friend was the first one to speak.
“Ya know,” he said, “God has a plan and reason for everything.”
Immediately I felt a fire burn deep within. Slowly I turned my head, looked straight into his eyes, and loudly whispered my rage. “Do not play the Jesus card with me! Do you understand me? Do not tell me everything has a purpose and a plan. Are you f#*&^*$ kidding me?”
I stood to my feet, pacing back and forth, heart beating hard and loud, like a thousand bass drums. “Don’t say that to me!” I screamed. “Don’t!”
People stopped dead in their tracks to gawk at my public display of brokenness and pain.
“I can’t do this!” I went on. “Do you know how bad this hurts? I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t feel. Except . . . I feel everything. And my mind races. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end at all!”
A madwoman walking is what I was. I mumbled. I screamed obscenities. I cried; no, I wailed in pain. I lashed out at my friend in unimaginable ways. He sat there, silent.
As I paced with fists clenched, the tears poured from my eyes. The pain, the ache, the emptiness inevitably forced me to my knees. My friend came to my side, trying to ease the burden, to lighten the load of pain that weighed me down because years of hurts and heartaches and things that should never happen to anyone had just broken me.
“Don’t touch me!” I shouted. “Don’t touch me! Please don’t touch me!” I cried uncontrollably, hugging my waist, my head lying against the gravel parking lot.
But my friend didn’t listen. He lifted me up from my puddle of pain so I could see into his eyes.
“I will play the Jesus card,” he said, “because it’s the winning card. And the pain you feel right now will one day subside. And you’ll be able to stand, victorious over this emptiness you feel.”
That was 1998. The pain I felt that cold winter night, the ache that left my heart empty, didn’t vanish in a few short days; it took years. Years of God working and me surrendering. Years of God healing and me accepting His healing and realizing there was purpose for my pain.
But I need you to know something; those years found me broken many more times by the weight of pains.
They also found me searching to be accepted. Searching to be loved. Searching to be heard. Searching for the real me. And my search led me from one unhealthy relationship to the next, from one bottle of alcohol to another, and from one shopping spree to the next door-buster sale. During those years I married and had my first child, but I still searched for more. My searching and pain dead-ended in a courtroom, with me uttering a word I never thought I’d utter: “Guilty.”
I then found myself in an extremely dark place for two years.
On a daily basis I contemplated taking my life; I’d attempted it years before, but this time I knew I wouldn’t fail. I emotionally disconnected from my daughter and husband; I felt nothing for them. I was out all hours of the night, driving dark roads, sitting in empty parking lots, hiding from the world because I was so very ashamed of what I’d become.
Driven face to the ground once again, like Paul, I had my own Damascus road experience. And once again my heart screamed out as tears poured from my eyes, God, I’m a mess. I’m a complete and utter failure. I’m stupid. I’m used up. I’m alone. I hate myself. And believe me when I tell You, You want nothing to do with me! I’m sure there are others far less complicated than me. Others who are better suited and much more deserving than me to be Your child.
My insides were jacked up. I’d been deeply wounded by others and myself. And my wounds were bleeding and festering and stunk to high heaven. I had absolutely nothing to offer God. There were no credentials to my name. No great accolades or endorsements to cause heads to turn my way. I was just a confused, shame-filled, broken-down girl.
But God had purpose for my pain.
The day God chose me and turned my insides upside down and right side out, the day He turned my unlikeliness into something extraordinary in His book, I was a hot mess. But today I stand changed from the inside out only because the Word of God has rocked me to the core, healing the wounds that left me empty and lonely. I stand brave, not fearful. I stand whole, not broken. For those of you who are hurting today, weighed down by an oversized load of pain, heartache, hurt, and complete emptiness, may I lay the Jesus card on the table and say to you, “God has a plan and reason for all your pain”?
It’s okay if you can’t see His plan and purpose right now through your pain; and it’s okay if you scream obscenities at me.
And while the perception may be that you’re “the perfect Jesus girl,” the reality may be that you’re standing in a very different, very wounded place this very moment. People may not see that, but Jesus does. It’s okay. You don’t have to be who others think you should be. It’s okay for you to feel your pain. But what’s not okay is for you to stay buried by it, broken down in a puddle of hurt and heartache.
The time will come, and for each of us it’s different, when you’ll have to look your friend Jesus in the face, choose to allow Him to lift you above the pain, and embrace the healing He offers. The day will come when you’ll have to lay it all at His feet and allow Him to carry the load of your heartache. Until that day comes, even if you’re only able to know this in your head, know that God is actively working, there is purpose for your pain, and one day, you’ll stand on the other side of it, sharing your grace story for His honor and glory.
Jenifer is a Bible teacher whose passion is to equip women to d.i.v.e. deeper into God’s Word, teaching them to study Scriptures for themselves. Her book, Dive Deeper, is a part of Thomas Nelson’s new InScribed Studies Collection. Visit with Jenifer at jeniferjernigan.com.
*Excerpt taken from Jenifer Jernigan’s new book, Dive Deeper: Finding Deep Faith Beyond Shallow Religion. (Thomas Nelson, March 2014. Used with permission.)