Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rejoicing in Suffering

"But rejoisce that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed...So then those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do so" ~1 Peter 4:13, 19

I have always wondered how it is that we can suffer and yet rejoice at the same time, but here it is right here. God wants us to rejoice in the fact that we suffer because as Christians we will be persecuted, looked down upon, and judged. That is only a little of the suffering He talks about though. If I look back on my life and look at my own personal story, you may be surprised to learn that I am absolutely in love with God.

I have been telling people lately that I am an open book. They can ask questions about my life and I will answer. This is partly because I feel no reason to hide the experiences that have made me who I am today. If it weren't for the hard times, I would't have grown and learned. I wouldn't be as in love with God as I am today. Therefore, in this blog I will be sharing my own personal testimony of faith and how I have grown more and more in love with God through the years.

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I grew up in a single-father household. A rarity it seemed to me, because most of my friends assumed that a single parent household meant that I lived with my mother. When people heard I lived with my dad they assumed that my mother had died. No one could understand how a mother could abandon her children. I was only 5 when my mother left my father for another man. Many would think that I would hate her for this but I don't. They ask me if I have regrets because I didn't have my mother there. Of course, there were times when I needed a mother figure, I mean what girl doesn't need an older woman to look to when she's growing up. However, I do not regret not having her there. If she had been there, then I probably wouldn't be the person that I am today.

However, I did grow up feeling guilty. I felt as if her leaving had something to do with me. I won't go into the full reasoning here, but you can always ask if you would like. It took years before I finally figured out it wasn't my fault and is still something I have been working through recently.

So growing up, it was me, my dad, and my beautiful younger sister. I did go to church every weekend, but it was more to see my grandma and half brother (and to experience her amazing cooking). The church she attends is one for Christ Scientists, and I never truly felt comfortable at the church. I love the people, but not the teachings. To me God was just a character in a book just like in all the other books I had ever read (and I read a lot).

It wasn't until I was about 9 or 10 years old that I had learned that you could have a relationship with this "God character" that I had read about. This was when I met a girl from down the street. She became one of my closest friends and her family were the ones to buy me my first personal Bible. I had read through bits and pieces of it, talked to them about it, and they would work with me to answer questions as well as ask me questions. I didn't know what an Evangelical Christian was, but I did know that what they were telling me was interesting. I didn't go much beyond that however. They moved away before I was finished with elementary school.

When I was in 7th grade, my older sister Catherine started dating a pastor's son and attending church. She took me with her a couple times, and even started doing daily devotions with me each night. She shared the truth of God's unwavering love for me and how He wanted me to be one of His followers. I knew she was telling me the same things that family had told me years before, and I longed so deeply to have that relationship. I prayed with her one night to ask Jesus into my heart and became a Christian.

Shortly after that, a girl from my middle school, Kylee, invited me to attend youth group with her. God really was working to keep me following Him! Through the years I continued to attend youth group. But I struggled a lot with the idea that God could love me for who I was, mainly because I didn't love me for who I was.

My older sister graduated high school at the end of my 7th grade year and went off to college in California. I didn't have that role model at home anymore of what it meant to be a Christian, but I did have youth group. But it wasn't enough to make me believe that I was good enough to be loved by God. I continued to struggle with my self-image and the idea of being grateful for who I was and loving what i looked like. The summer before I started high school, my struggles came on head strong when I started skipping meals. That was the beginnings of what I consider to be an eating disorder. It wasn't full blown anorexia, but there were many episodes of not eating for days on end.

Throughout my freshman year of high school, I continued to not eat, exceptions only being when friends would want me to join them for lunch and even then, eating was minimal. I became depressed and spent a lot of time locked in a bathroom stall or sitting in an empty classroom crying to myself because I felt as if I wasn't good enough. God had left me in my mind and didn't truly love me and if the One who made me couldn't love me for me, why should I. It wasn't until March of that year that God finally cought up to me. He had been chasing me for months and just waiting for me to stop running from Him so that he could hold me in His arms and show me just how much he loved me. It was the first night in a long time that I had found myself truly still and crying out to God. I was sitting in the bathroom at home, razor in hand, and ready to kill myself, but first I was taking my anger out on God. I was cursing Him, when out of nowhere, it was like a voice stopped me and told me that I was wrong, He said "I never left you! I have always loved you and never will stop loving you. The question is, are you willing to love yourself as much as I love you?" There was no doubt in my mind that God was calling out to me to come back to Him. Follow Him. Trust Him.

It wasn't an easy journey back to being happy with who God made me to be. It wasn't until I started listening to God again, that I realized He truly had been chasing me all year. He had been speaking to me and i hadn't been listening. But how do I know this you may ask? Well, my older sister had me memorizing Psalm 139 in order to be able to visit her the summer before my 10th grade year. That entire Psalm is about how God created every aspect of who I am for a reason and loves me for who I am. I had spent the time memorizing that Psalm without actually listening to what God had wanted me to hear, until after that night.

I continued to be strong in my journey with God. I started college in 2007 knowing that God had brought me to Mount Mercy College, though I didn't know why. I started in nursing, but God soon led me to major in psychology and sociology. He knows that i am a good listener and a people person, so why not go into a field where I can listen all day! Though I continued to believe that God does love me, I didn't do much to continue to grow in my relationship with Him.

I stopped reading my Bible, other than on Sundays. It was as if I felt empty inside, and yet I continued to follow God half-heartedly. The passion I felt had dwindled, and I was blindly following without actually applying myself and applying his teachings. I was baptized my sophomore year of college. Was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, and continued to follow blindly.

My junior year, I knew I had to fix my relationship with God. However, God also showed me that if I were to fix my relationship with the Heavenly Father, then I would need to repair my relationship with my earthly father. Though I grew up with just my dad and younger sister, I didn't really have an open relationship with my dad. He was emotionally distant and therefore, I didn't open up to him either. In as long as I could remember, my father hadn't told me he loved me or was proud of me. In my mind, if my earthly father couldn't love me or be proud of me, then my Heavenly father may not either. I constanly compared my two fathers and knew that this was wrong. I started talking to the counselor at school and we worked out a plan. I was really good at writing out my feelings, and therefore, I worked out a letter to my dad and gave it to him to read. It outlined everything about my life that I didn't think he knew, including the eating disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts/tendencies. Since he read that letter, our relationship has improved. We talk more, and the summer before this last year of college started, he told me he loved me and was proud of me. For the firt time, I truly believe that my Heavenly father feels the same way.

God is truly amazing. He has been working in my life constantly within the last year. He has helped me forgive my father, reconcile our relationship, and continue to grow. He has helped me forgive my mother and is working on me to try and reconcile some kind of relationship. He has led me to an internship at House of Hope, a place I never imagined myself working at, and He has shown me that I truly am strong when I listen to Him and do what he says.

I am still continuing to grow in God, and honestly that will never stop because you can never stop growing more and more in love with the one who Created you! Though I have been through suffering, I can rejoice in the fact that I have always come back to God!

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" ~Philippians 4:13