I know, I know. Y’all forgot I even had a blog. I think I did too, for a while. 2016 has been a major year of change for me and my family. We finally moved back home to rural Duplin County and I finally got my dream job. Well, the dream other than becoming a New York Times best-selling author.🙂 After many years of looking/hoping/praying, I’m a library assistant. This means that I have now read a ton of books that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen. I love my job.
And I’ve been mostly happy. But something has been missing. I can’t remember when it started, but sometime in the past few months, I began to long for a deeper connection with a higher power. I don’t necessarily mean God. At that time, I wasn’t sure if God was the big guy in the sky or a being of light or a myth. I was raised in church but I had never truly felt the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t understand why people wept or spoke in tongues or whatever else craziness I happened to witness. It was never real to me. Nothing in my home church inspired me, ever. I turned away from Christianity. It didn’t help that I’m a “bleeding heart liberal.” I believe in equality and gay marriage and you know all that other stuff the Christian right would have you believe is evil. I’ve learned true Christianity is living as Jesus lived when he walked on this earth. Not judging. Accepting. Unconditional love. “All life is precious,” as Morgan said on The Walking Dead. Yes, as crazy as that may sound, the wildly popular show has been a stepping stone in my faith. I’ve learned that I can be forgiven. My perspective changed when I forgave myself and others who some would argue didn’t deserve my forgiveness. But you know what? Carrying that anger around hurt me a lot more than it ever hurt those guys.
Anyway, soon after I started at the library I found Eckhart Tolle’s novel A New Earth on our discarded books shelf. I had heard of Tolle from watching Super Soul Sunday, which by the way has also been a huge stepping stone in my spiritual journey. Thank you, Oprah! This book changed my life. In it, Tolle writes often of Jesus and other spiritual leaders, citing scripture from the Bible and other religious texts. I realized with some surprise that Jesus was the one I felt most drawn to. I know some of you can hardly believe these words would come out of my mouth. Or appear on this page from my fingertips but here goes! Bear with me. This isn’t easy to talk about. I may lose some friends over this. Nevertheless, my heart is leading me to share my story.
A little over a month ago, I had a meltdown, a psychological break if you will, and left the house in a huff, unsure where I was going. I ended up at my therapist’s office. There is no shame in needing therapy. In fact, most of us are so much better off once we have it. My usual therapist already had someone in her office so they asked me if I’d like to see a gentleman there. I hesitated. It’s always been much easier for me to talk to other women. But I needed a release so I said yes. Moments later, I walked into his office, nervous and emotional. A plush toy from Yo Gabba Gabba was sitting in a chair opposite the entrance. The therapist asked, “Do you need a hug? He’s available for hugs.” I laughed, then I picked up the toy, hugged it tight, and broke down in tears. Mr. P (I want to say his name but not sure if that’s cool so I’ll just call him Mr. P) I profusely apologized and Mr. P told me to never be sorry for my tears. I gave him my sob story while sobbing and he listened, understanding, non-judgmental. After a few minutes, he paused and said he didn’t think he was supposed to say this but did I have a church home? I was stunned for a moment because we had in fact been searching for a church where we felt accepted. I told him as much and that I was hesitant to walk in a place where I didn’t know anyone because I didn’t want to be judged, especially since I’m a single mom. Mr. P asked if I’d ever gone on a pub crawl. I was like “Whaaaa? Well, yeah.” He suggested I go on a church crawl and explained that some years ago, he had been in the same place I was, wanting to find a church home without being judged. I took it to heart.
The next few weeks were spent doing online research into area churches rather than actually going on a church crawl. I never felt comfortable going to any of the ones online. One in particular I was leaning toward…until I watched video of a service. Much moaning and some language other than English. It creeped me out. Discouraged, I was about to give up. Then, Abby reminded me of a non-denominational church she’d frequented when she lived in South Carolina. We searched specifically for non-denominational churches in our area. Lo and behold, we found one. The website looked fun. And their Sunday morning service started half an hour from when we found the site. Yikes!
We hurriedly changed into our church clothes and headed to the church, coincidentally down the road from our old high school. When we walked in, one of the first things I saw in big letters on the wall were the words, “Welcome home.” I can’t put into words how that made me feel. From the sanctuary came the bouncing beats of a live band and the impassioned voices of several phenomenal singers, praising God and Jesus. I began to doubt our decision. I thought, “If someone starts speaking in tongues or beating their beliefs into my head, I’m going right back out that door.”
The opposite happened. The voices of the praise team seemed to fill me up, reaching deep in my soul to a place I didn’t know existed. We were welcomed and smiled at and accepted without judgement. There were white people, black people, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, young old, babies, teenagers, probably gay couples although I can’t tell on sight and don’t care. I was as accepting of them as they all were of me. It felt amazing. We were all blessed to be there in what I finally could think of as God’s house.
That Sunday’s sermon focused on James 1. Up until that moment, I had been adverse to reading the Bible. My reasons were that so many have twisted the words to fit their political agenda or their own beliefs, interpreting it to fit what they wanted to say rather than what it actually says. People hide behind their religions, tucked away in their churches, afraid to admit anything might not be what they thought. Y’all know what I’m talking about, right? So, I was shocked when the scripture resonated with me. For the first time ever during a church service , I pulled up the notepad on my phone and took notes. I also remember the gist of the message being that God isn’t allowing you to go through hard times as punishment. It’s so that you can become stronger and grow in faith and love. That hit me right in the feels.
At the end of the sermon, the minister invited anyone who was touched by the message to come forward and pray at the altar with what I would consider prayer warriors. I kept looking at an African-American woman in a black and white dress. An inner voice told me to go to her. She was the one I needed to pray with. I resisted. I’ve never gone to an altar call. I have never been moved by the word of God to do so. Would anyone point at me and wonder, “What’s she doing going up there? She’s not Christian!”
This Sunday, September 4, 2016, that all changed. My chest was alight with what I envision as sparks of light. In my mind, I saw beautiful lit up stars, butterflies, my Grandma White, ocean waves…it was almost like what I would imagine heaven to be. I began to weep. A woman at the altar was sobbing. I remember Abby crying too and saying:
We laughed and cried and her eyes grew wider and she asked, “Are you actually going up there?” I looked back at the woman in the black and white dress. No one had gone to her yet. Abby tugged on my arm and said, “Go!” Before I could think more about it, I made my way forward and straight to the lady in the black and white dress. She welcomed me with a hug, as did another stunning lady I would later find out is co-pastor Marise. Unfortunately, I never found out the other lady’s name. I should seek her out and thank her. These two women wrapped their arms around me, this person they’d never met who was crying and weakened, and they prayed with me. The black and white dress lady led the prayer, asking for wisdom and grace. For me specifically. She asked God that I would wake up the next morning with joy in my heart. And you know what? I did. I felt like a new person, a more grateful, loving person. I did thank both of them later, but they deserve so much more. This church is leading people to God, to love, with open arms. It’s how Christianity was meant to be.
I still hear the song the praise team was singing as I prayed with Marise and the other lady. It plays through my mind all the time, although I can’t remember the lyrics, except the word “revival.” Weird, right? But I hear the music and I knew it was a sign.
So. Deep breath. A couple nights ago, I couldn’t sleep. That’s par for the course. I was deep in worry about my sister and my other lifelong BFF Angi. She’s going through a rough divorce after nearly twenty years of marriage. Abby is still healing from her last breakup, from her world falling apart. I prayed that God would help me to help them to heal. I asked him what could I do? I didn’t expect an answer, but I got one. See, I was never really open to His voice before. After that prayer at Grace Covenant Church, the doors are wide open on this old broken heart. I used to think God wasn’t listening to me when I prayed. But He is. I was the one whose ears and heart were closed.
God’s answer was that it was time for me to open my heart to Jesus. I was like, “For real? Does this mean I have to get baptized? Because I don’t know about that whole water immersion thing.” I have a fear of my head underwater. Long story for another time. Anyway, God’s like, “Dude, I’m not gonna lead you astray. Trust in me. It’s finally time. I love you. Jesus loves you. Let him in.” So–and this is probably going to make you laugh–I Googled how to give your heart to Jesus. No joke. Is there anything you can’t find out from Google?
Sure enough, I found the Salvation Prayer. I said it and I gave my heart to Jesus. Does this mean I’m going to stop cussing? Probably not, but I’ll try to tone it down. Does this mean I have to become a Republican, as I once feared if I became Christian? No. Separation of church and state is still something I believe in. I also don’t believe Jesus is the only path to salvation and God. I believe Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindu, etc. can all go to heaven. Jesus is one of the most righteous of paths, maybe the strongest since he’s God’s son and all, but he may not be the one to lead everyone to God. Doesn’t that make sense? I think so. Hey, we still live in America, the greatest country in the world (that has never stopped being great). You’re free to disagree. I won’t judge. I won’t say it’s my way or no way. Because I know in my heart that these words came from Jesus. I love you. God loves you. Jesus loves you. God = love. You dig?
So I hope I don’t lose my atheist/agnostic non-religious friends. But even if I do, I still send you light and love. I have found my path after many years of searching. I am home. I’m a Christian. My mom is going to be so happy when she reads this. (I hope)
This is one imperfect sinner’s story of coming to Jesus. I hope that it inspires someone. I hope that God gives me the strength to help my bestest best friends get through these trials and tribulations we’re experiencing. I pray that you, my readers, wake up with joy in your heart. None of us are beyond repair.
I’ll leave you with this video, a song I caught on the radio driving to work today. It resonated with me. I didn’t even know at first that I’d stumbled on a Christian station. God bless you.🙂