I wanted to start my re-entry into showing my heart more on my blog by sharing the story of how I came to faith that God was real. I know, really not “P.C.” to blog about my faith, but I’m going to do it anyway! Ha!
My childhood was picture perfect. My dad was a school teacher and my mom stayed at home with us through junior high. We were raised in a middle class, Baptist family that went on trips across the country, grandmas farm for the holidays and church every Sunday. We prayed before our meals, read Bible stories at night and centered our family on Jesus. I remember being so bored in church growing up, back before they had kids church, and always falling asleep in my mom’s lap or doodling the whole time. I was scared into becoming a Christian when I was six years old after finally realizing that if I didn’t say the sinner’s prayer that I may go to hell. I was so afraid to die and go to hell that as soon as I realized what was going on in the sermons I quickly wanted to say that prayer and be “saved”. My brother and I were drawing pictures of a train in his bunk bed one night and I drew the conductor as God, the train car was filled with people singing as they were going to Heaven and the last car was the coal car, the people going to hell. I definitely didn’t want to be in the coal car, so I told me dad that I was ready to become a Christian, you know, in case I died in my sleep that night. I remember kneeling by the water bed and repeating after him to say the prayer. My mom came home a few minutes later and I told her, “MOM! I’M GOING TO HELL!! APRIL FOOLS DAY!!”, it was April 1st, 1991. I was given a white Precious Moments Bible with my name on it and was baptized later that month in First Baptist Church in Fort Stockton, Texas.
I began to try to forcefully convert all of the other denominations in my school yard out of fear that they too would not go to heaven if they didn’t say that prayer. I thought that going to the Baptist church was the only way to go to Heaven, and I had a lot of inner conflict about my friends not attending!
Our lives were filled with family fun, tradition and togetherness.
It wasn’t until junior high that I hit my first rebellious streak. I was boy crazy and gravitated towards the moody, quiet guys that needed to be “saved”. I made the cheer squad in my tiny town in 6th grade and began to leave the house with knee length shorts and as soon as I got to school I would roll them up as high as I could. I didn’t know why my parent’s were being so harsh on me with “modesty” and it was really starting to bug me! I would tie my shirts up for cheer practice and naively flirt with high school boys. I craved attention and dreamed of my future boyfriend and husband daily. I was a good christian girl at church where my dad had become a Pastor and at school I would curse, flirt and “rebel”. I lived a divided life and although I wanted to be both people to gain the approval of everyone, it really was hard to not let one life bleed over into the other and cause a problem! My parent’s realized that I was starting to go down a path contrary to what I was raised to do and after asking me if I wanted to homeschool for Junior High I was ecstatic and said a big “YES!”. I do believe that being sheltered during those years really did save me from going down a totally different path. I was craving attention from my father and to be homeschooled and have tons of one on one attention and freedom really brought me a lot of emotional stability.
My freshmen year is when we decided that it was time for me to go back to public school. I came out of public school in sixth grade wearing layers upon layers of makeup (my mom was a mary kay rep!) and worrying about how to look cute and entered ninth grade wearing no makeup, humble clothes and having bible verses painted on the straps of my backpack. I was so nervous to enter back into the real world and look so homely, but I equated homeliness with godliness and humility. I quit wearing shorts, quit watching TV and everything that I did had to be centered on God or I would interject God in somehow to “redeem the time”. I had this mistaken belief that you had to earn your way to God through doing things. That you “loved” Him if you kept His commandments. I took that to the extreme, because once again, I was afraid to burn in Hell and be rejected by God. It was always about doing more, being radical and staying humble in the midst of people mocking my faith. I laugh now at all of the things that I would do, but remember that my heart was just afraid of God rejecting me. When pep rally time would come I would go and sit in the principle’s office to avoid “idol worship” (these were all my own ideas too, my parent’s didn’t suggest them! ha!), I would wake up at 4 AM to read my Bible, although I would fall back asleep and forget everything I read by 4:20, I hosted a Bible study and a prayer group before school and would hand out 200 hand cut verses to everyone I saw every morning before school started. A Wicken girl even threatened to talk to her lawyer about me passing out religious stuff at school, but since it was student led, there wasn’t anything she could do but refuse to accept it. I felt like I had hit an all new level of zealousness since I was having someone talk about suing me in 9th grade! All of my art projects were paintings of Jerusalem or something to do with Christianity and I would hand make a Bible verse each week out of cut out letters from magazines and safety pin it to my pants… MY PANTS, people! It was serious times back in 1999. Y2K was about to hit and the end of the world was upon us, so I was ready!
At the end of my freshmen year we moved to another school close to Lubbock and I was a little bit relieved to start over. The burden of the “works” that I was doing at the previous school were really weighing on me and I took it down about 100 notches for the next school. I would hand write Bible verses to my friends, not participate in pep rallies and request to not read “Catcher in the Rye” for 10th grade english, but nothing too crazy. I wore a tiny bit of makeup and tried to blend a little bit more. My dad became a preacher in that town at another Baptist church and stirred up the community with his teaching about works and salvation. We were asked to leave and began a home church in our mobile home (we went to the wealthiest private school in Lubbock and were probably the ONLY ones secretly living in a double wide trailer! Oh the woes of high school!) and hosted a group of 60 for about 5 years.
Besides refusing to dance (again, Baptist upbringing!) at my Junior and Senior Prom, my 11th and 12th grade years were pretty normal at Trinity. I loved being in the bubble of a Christian school. It was right up my alley! I started my photography business my senior year of high school and hoped to quickly find my husband and get married soon after graduation.
The summer of my freshmen year of college there was a scandal in our home church, we were asked not to come back to the group and my parents divorced a year later. My faith in God wasn’t in a crisis, but the “rules” that I followed were completely abandoned and I began to dress like a normal college girl and do whatever I pleased without checking in with my parents first.
I worked at Cilantro’s and then Starbucks while I was testing out the waters with my photography business and 2 years after I had started it, I was able to quit my part time job and go full time with photography. I had attended Texas Tech for 1 year and 3 days before dropping out and then I felt kind of aimless. WHERE was I going to meet my husband if it wasn’t at college? I was worried about that part!
I finally was tired of all of this husband searching nonsense, you know, when you meet a new guy and send up a silent prayer, “God, if he is THE ONE then please have him take two steps to the left right….. NOW!”. That was me. Like every time I met a new guy. I gave it up and was going to just start dating for fun. My second date was with my now husband (of course it happens that way!) and I canceled all of my dates with the other guys after that one! We dated for 4 months, got engaged and married 3 months later. I was 19 and he was 21.
Tons of success in photography and 5 years later I was burned out completely on photographing weddings (I did 44 my last year!) and decided that I needed a change. A BIG change. We moved to Oklahoma after buying 20 acres of raw land to build our dream house on. I wanted a farm, chickens, horses and the quiet life. We also bought a very small home in Stillwater and my husband remodeled it while he finished up school at OSU. We found out that we were pregnant that Fall and I immediately felt the weight of what I would teach the child about God. Was I going to raise him like I was raised? In legalism, fear and unapologetic judging? Would I raise him to be a humanist? It was an immediate burden, like nothing else was more important to me than finding out what I believed and if it was even real! I was raised in such a strong and unpopular belief about the judgment seat of God and our works being weighed out and given salvation based on them, and I was scared to deviate, but something in me knew that I had to find it out for myself.
So I wrote off all my previous beliefs, got the Strong concordance out and began to spend 2-3 hours a day studying the Bible. I researched words like “hell”, “love”, “holy spirit”, “judgment”, “works”, “faith”, etc… anything that was controversial and had tons of differing beliefs in the church was what I was targeting in my search. I knew that I could make sense out of it all if I just sat down to do the work. It only confused me more though. I could see how every different denomination got their beliefs based on the different verses that I came across. When Solomon, my first born, was only a few months old and I was several months into this hour by hour search for God I began to feel emotionally exhausted and had a crisis of faith. I was rocking him and just said this sheepish and half hearted prayer, ready to surrender the search with human reasoning, “God, if you are really real, please just show me. And please just give Solomon a destiny.” I was raised on Bible study, not really on prayer. Prayer to me was silently saying “Lord help so and so, help such and such, thank you for the day, Amen.”. So when I said that non-religious prayer out loud I had NO intention for God to hear it, let alone answer it. Within an hour I had received a short Facebook message from someone sending me a link of a youtube interview of the “Kisses from Katy” girl and said that they felt like God wanted me to watch it. I watched it with high expectation that God was answering my prayers through the video. After watching it I thought it was good, but had this feeling of “that’s all you got, God?”. I went to bed feeling exhausted from searching.
When morning came Josh went to work at the golf course and threw the IPAD to me on the bed on his way out. Feeling half way guilty about checking Facebook before my hours of Bible study, I checked it anyway, because what the heck, I was at the giving up point anyway! I had a message from a Facebook friend that I hadn’t ever met in person before. It said something to the effect of this… “I was folding laundry late last night and the Holy Spirit told me to give you this message… “, then she went on to give me a disclaimer about how I would probably think she was weird, but she was just going with it. The “message”, which I was raised to believe that the Holy Spirit didn’t work that way anymore, was an answer to EVERYTHING that I was searching for privately. I was so overwhelmed with the content and accuracy of her message from “God” that I began weeping immediately. I turned on my phone to call Josh at work and saw that I had a text from my brother in law. He rarely texted my personally and all it said was “I’ve been praying that Solomon would have a destiny”. I NEVER use words like “destiny” in my prayers and here was another confirmation to my heart that God did hear my prayer. But what was this Holy Spirit thing?
When I saw the message and the text it was like God turned on the lights in my heart. I know what some of you may be thinking, “that isn’t proof that God is real”, but to ME it was exactly what I needed. I began crying and crying telling Josh on the phone, “He’s REAL, IT’S REAL! It’s REALLY REAL! This changes everything!!!”. I felt like I was floating. I began to take everything that the Bible said and applied it to my life. I started in my thought life and began to clean up my inner mess, then tried to let it bubble over into other relationships. The moment that my faith became my own was so powerful to me, and it was like things that didn’t make sense before started to make sense. The verses that contradicted each other were now read through the lens of a loving Father instead of someone trying to prove everything wrong and make sense of it all in black and white without God’s help.
I had several hard years after that and struggled with the belief that God didn’t love me and that I needed to “do” more to get Him to love me because my circumstances seemed to prove that (5 hard years of trials), but God has taught me that His love isn’t proven in our wealth, ease and prosperity, but in Him sending His son to pay the price for us! Jesus said that we would have trouble in the world, but to fear not, because He overcame it all. I have seen God do miracles in my life when I take Him at what the Bible says and pray according to what it says. Anxiety has left, money came in immediately after a prayer, healing has happened, fear is slowly going and my life is anchored to my faith even though my life isn’t perfect or always “easy”. In fact, my life has TONS of trials, but my faith carries me through them.
I believe that God surely is found when we seek for Him with our whole hearts. When we surrender our striving to Him and then just humbly ask for Him to show us that He is real, He absolutely will answer. He is a loving God, not an angry God and speaks to us through others, through the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, through dreams and visions (of which I’ve experienced all even when I didn’t believe that could happen!). I’ve realized that my life was utterly miserable trying to “follow” the Bible without knowing God, but found peace when learning to be led by Him to the purpose of loving all people. I went from feeling like I had to read my Bible for hours a day to earn God’s love to understanding that God absolutely loves me and leads me by His Spirit. I’ve gone from handing out hundreds of Bible verses a day under the judgment of God to feeling an impression to stop on the side of the road and offer support to a homeless person at an inner prompting. When you encounter God as a loving God, your life changes from the inside out.
More on my journey in photography, how I met my husband, and what my mom life looks like later this month!