Take It From Me
If you have read my first blog post, you will remember that I said I knew God was calling me to write this blog to tell my story... which brings me to this post. I have touched on parts of my testimony and childhood in other posts but there is a chapter of my life that I have not shed any light on as of yet because God is merciful and patient with me and has given me the words to write posts up until now without having to visit that chapter, and if I am completely honest, there has been some avoidance on my part. I even pre-planned the titles of several consecutive blogs, hoping that maybe that would mean that I could just skip over this particular topic. And I could. There are many things that I know I am supposed to touch on and share about- that is why God gave me the gift of writing- but I also know that now is the time to do what I told Him I would do: tell my story...
Vulnerability is difficult and there are many people in my life currently that have had very little insight into my past, and opening that door is not something I am excited about doing. However, I know that God doesn't waste anything- not our pain, not our past, not our poor choices- and for that reason I am compelled to share where I've been.
So far, I've mentioned that I grew up in a home that was spiritually and emotionally void and unstable, and there are things I am still dealing with even now that stem from that. I became a Christian the same year that I graduated high school, so I really did not have a foundation to rely on just a few years later when life as I knew it drastically changed. When I was 20 years old and a sophomore in college, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and died less than 3 months after receiving that diagnosis. Neither of my parents had been healthy at any point in my life, but of course you never imagine that you would have to bury a parent at such a young age, or be responsible for all the many things that come along with losing a parent. Within a year of his death, my mom and I lost the home I grew up in to foreclosure, because when my dad died, so did our means of income and provision. My mom was able to stay with a relative until she later got a place to live, and I couch surfed and stayed with friends during school breaks and weekends until I graduated from community college and began my junior year at a university. Grief is something I was completely unfamiliar with and I did not know how to properly process or live it out. It is not something that you can opt out of feeling; grief demands to be felt. My way of coping was to box up all the emotions that came along with that season of life and attempt move on without acknowledging or dealing with them in a healthy way. Take it from me, it doesn't work that way. Don't get me wrong- my relationship with Jesus is absolutely the only thing that got me through that season of loss- hands down. I came to know Jesus on a level that I may not otherwise have been able to had I not walked through the loss of my dad at that time and at that age. Everything around me crumbled and He remained constant, faithful, and true through it all. Looking back, I can clearly see His grace in all the things that led up to losing my dad- even the hard things- and how He did it all with purpose.
About a year into this new way of life that I had to learn to adapt to- being in college with no real home to go to, worrying about how my mom would provide for herself or cope with the loss of my dad, maintaining a full course load and working- I thought I was handling it all well. For the most part, I was. I never missed a beat. I never let my guard down even for a second to feel the feelings that were welling up on the inside. That was my downfall- I ignored what I should have embraced. I was never angry at God- honestly. I understood that sin is ultimately what leads to death, and that my dad's diagnosis enabled him to get to a place spiritually that I had never previously seen in him. However, I was angry at myself for not getting over the whole situation quick enough. I mean, I had gone back to school. I had started a job. My life was still progressing forward but emotionally I was stuck in a cycle of wanting to "get over" everything and really move on, but as it turns out, just getting over grief is not enough. Just getting over anything, really, is not the point.
Time presses on. I began to work more, I changed schools, and even changed majors. During the first couple years of college, I had a very tight knit group of friends that loved me, held me accountable, and that walked through all those hard things with me step by step. But as life went on, we went separate ways and lost that closeness- and the accountability and encouragement that came with it. With all the change that was happening at that time, emotionally, and sometimes spiritually, I felt isolated. I still felt stuck. I still wanted to just be "over" the grief and the hurt. I made myself as busy as I could to avoid time to feel those feelings. I desperately was searching for some relief or escape, and I knew in my heart that what Jesus offered was what I was looking for. I did. I knew the hope and healing that He had was something I could not get anywhere else. But I was also just tired of being tired. Emotional fatigue will wear you out, and I had spent so much time running from things in my life that I just wanted a break. The world has a way of really shining up things to make them look far more worthwhile than they really are, and we have all fallen into Satan's trap of believing that just one look, touch, sip, click, etc. won't hurt anything. It's just one time, right? And so for the first time in my life, I began to drink alcohol. Socially, of course. At dinner with friends. On special occasions or maybe on a Friday night after work to wind down for the weekend. I was never exposed to alcohol growing up and had never taken a single sip until, one day, I did. It wasn't planned or talked about- I just did it. I legally could at that point, and so it became how I chose to celebrate, relax, and socialize. Occasionally, at first. And just on weekends- you know, after school and work were behind me. And then sometimes, at the end of a hard day when school work was overwhelming or work was stressful. I was working 2 jobs at this point and would eventually take on a 3rd, and juggling it all with a 19 hour class load was exhausting. I was physically tired and emotionally unattached- but I thought I was thriving. It was fine. I was in college and this is just what you did. This is just how I could let off a little steam. This is just how I could unwind and catch a break. I still went to church. I still taught children's Sunday school. I still said the right things- and meant them. Surely there was nothing wrong with me loving Jesus AND letting loose every now and then, right? I mean, I was having fun. I didn't have the time or ability to think about the hard, hurtful things I had experienced, and when they did eventually rear their heads from time to time- it was not anything a drink couldn't fix. If I didn't want to think about the grief, I drank. If I didn't want to feel the heartache, I drank. If I didn't want to share with anyone how I really felt or allow anyone to see any sort of struggle, I drank. When I really was just tired and worn out from the busyness and chaos that I created, I drank. The occasional became the regular and eventually the almost daily. The social drink ended up being the motivation I used to talk myself into going to class or clocking into another shift at work. When it was over, I could drink. That's what the people around me were doing. All the friends I used to have that would have seen the red flags in my life were not around to hold me accountable, and I just shut out the ones who still made an effort. Everyone, including myself for the most part, thought everything was great. I might have been a little hung over, but I showed up to church most of the time. I had started skipping sometimes at this point, but it was fine. I didn't "have" to go to church. I had knew Jesus and He would understand that I needed a break. I had myself convinced that because of everything that had happened and because of how hard I was busting my tail to work and go to school and do all the things my family thought I'd never do, that I deserved to just take a load off. One of Satan's biggest lies that he manipulates us with is that at a certain age, or in a certain season, or because of a certain event, that sin is okay. That it doesn't matter because it's just for right now and it's not even that bad and that you're not even hurting anybody.... sound familiar? That's what I believed. That I had "done the right thing" for so long, and that I could do it again later, so I deserved to be able to relax and have fun, and I deserved to drink...
Life rocks on like this for my entire third year of college, and into the fourth. Because of me changing my major, I had to go three years once I transferred to a university rather than two, and I was just dying to get through and get out of there. I ended up in trouble with campus authority several times for having alcohol on school property or breaking some rule of theirs about something, but it didn't phase me. I had basically zero respect for most any authority in my life at this point- because I simply did not want to be told what to do. I knew what was best for me and I didn't need anyone else's opinion. I was independent. I worked so, so hard from high school on to make sure that I didn't need anything from anybody. My third year of college is also when I began seriously working out and eating well- I completely let everything on the inside go- and I just focused on the outside. Not to mention that I probably consumed more calories from alcohol than anything else, and physically appeared to be healthier than I ever had been. I used that in my favor to get the attention of anyone I wanted, and easily became the center of attention at many social outings. Alcohol has a way of making you say and do things you would not otherwise do, and when I look back on this chapter of my life I can certainly say I was an unrecognizable version of myself that today I would plead with not to ever, ever go down the road I was on.
This way of life was fun at the time, but is extremely exhausting and almost impossible to maintain long term. It is a downward spiral that you don't see coming as it happens. It was gradual over time, and like I mentioned earlier- it was not planned. I didn't wake up one day and decide that drinking until I didn't know who I was or where I was sounded like a good idea. It just happened. It happened as I cut myself off from accountability. It happened as I chose to keep company that led me away from Jesus rather than to Him. It happened when I prioritized my physical appearance over my spiritual and emotional well-being. It happened when I pushed boundary lines and questioned rules that I had never even tiptoed over in the past. It happened when I ran away from problems rather than aiming to find a solution. It happened every single time I chose my way over God's way, and no single step seems very far until you are miles away from where you started and you don't even know how you got there. That was me. What started out as a weekend social outlet became an almost everyday occurrence, and none of what I didn't want to face was changing. It was still there, I just chose to drink and party as though it wasn't. I was running and I was running fast. And eventually, I ran out of gas. It took me hitting some walls that I wish I had never had to hit to get my attention.
There's a laundry list longer than I care to regurgitate of things I did, things I said, people I hurt... all while chasing something that was empty and worthless. I wasted time, money, energy, opportunity, my witness... I sought "attention" and found it. I sought "fun" and I found it. I sought "freedom" and found it. I sought "entertainment" and found it. I went places I should never have gone. I did things I should have never done. Take it from me, when you wake up somewhere you don't remember falling asleep, it shakes you up a bit. When it happens more than once, when your friends leave you because you've gone too far, when you lose things you can't get back and realize that you just may end up dead or in jail before it's all over- that was my wall. I had put myself in physically dangerous situations. I had driven while intoxicated. I woke up somewhere that was unfamiliar, with people that were unfamiliar- for the last time. I had 1% battery left on my phone to call for help- and I knew if I got out of that- I was done. Done drinking. Done living like this. Done with these choices. The fun wasn't fun anymore. I was someone that I did not want to be.
I had always ran from things emotionally and mentally. Even as a child, when things happened at home that shouldn't have, I would just check out. I would dive into something to ease the pain or take my mind off of whatever it was, and as a child, those things I ran to were not harmful. But clearly, as I got older, the things I ran to were harmful. Physically and emotionally. Because even though I ran to the alcohol, the alcohol took me to places of more pain and hurt. It really wasn't an escape at all. It started out that way. Sin always does. It looks shiny and promising on the outside, but it is empty and void in reality. So when I had finally had all I could take of running and decided to stop- I was lost. God had not left me, but I had left Him. He had been present every step of the way, and I had ignored Him. He beckoned and pursued me even in my running, I just didn't stop. He had brought conviction to my heart about the things I was doing and the way I was living, but I just brushed it off. I knew the whole time that what I was doing was wrong, but my desire to be "free" and to do what I wanted to do and to not have to care about anything- that's the desire that I chose to satisfy. But take it from me- that way of living is anything but satisfying. It appears that way at first but it doesn't last long. That's why the social drink turned into a celebratory drink that turned into almost a daily habit. Because just once wasn't enough. It was enticing and it was fun, but it wasn't enough. So I had to keep going back for more. Sin never satiates our desires because it can't. All the desires we ever have can ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus, but we have to choose to find them in Him. He will let you wander. He will let you try other sources of satisfaction. I never once thought that He left me or lost me, but the guilt and shame that I wore because of what I had done were as real as the clothes on my back. The worst part of this all is that I DID know better. I DID have a relationship with Jesus. I DID know right from wrong and I knew sin when I saw it. That is what sin is at it’s very core- choosing our way over God’s way. That’s what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden, and it is still what happens today. The nature of sin has always been the same- but so has the heart of God. His heart has always been to rescue us out of the sin that we become entangled in. And this is what He did for me.
If you’ve read this far, please don’t tune me out now. The only reason that I have a story to tell is because God has always been about making a message out of our messes. I ran, I hid, I chose my way, I fell flat on my face knee deep in sin. But God. He was there. He was unchanging. His opinion of me and love towards me never wavered. But when I tell you that the guilt almost took me out... I was so ashamed. I was so embarrassed. I knew that I had failed and failed miserably. I knew that I had burned some bridges that I couldn’t rebuild. I knew that people had watched me live this way and they would never, ever forget it. And it took me a very long time to bring all of my shame to Jesus. Why? Not because He wasn’t willing to take it. It was because I was unwilling to hand it over. That was most of my problem in the very beginning. I held on to things that were not mine to carry. Grief, pain, loss, confusion, all the things from my childhood that had been left unhealed.... it is heavy stuff. I could have placed it all in the hands of a sovereign, sufficient God who had healing and hope ready to bind up all that brokenness, but I chose not to. I chose to add to the brokenness. That was something that I just didn’t know how to get past. Sinning before you have a relationship with Jesus is different because when you are lost, as we all are without Jesus, you live like you are lost. You cannot live any other way without Jesus and the help of the Holy Spirit. But I walked this road on the other side of salvation, knowing full well that there was a better way. Take it from me- Satan is a liar. He will pull out all the stops to destract you and deviate you from the plans God has for you. I knew all the right things to say and do, but I still fell into temptation. None of us are immune to his deception and none of us are always going to get it right. I thought God should be just as ashamed of me and embarrassed by me as I was of myself. I thought He should turn His back and leave me in the darkness that I had created. I thought that I should be out of chances and that I didn’t deserve anything but the chaos I had caused. That’s why I didn’t come back to Him with my baggage for so long, because of how unworthy I knew I was of the forgiveness that He offered. And y’all, that is pride. That is sinful too! It is prideful to think that our sin is too much for God! It is prideful to think that Jesus dying on the cross paid for everyone’s sin but ours! It is prideful and to think that we are outside His realm of restoration and redemption! And it is all another lie from Satan. He wil tempt you, lead you into sin, and shame you into staying there. He will cause you to rethink God’s promises and doubt that you qualify for them.
So after some time of beating myself up and ignoring God’s beckoning, I finally brought it all to Him. I cried out to Him from a dark place of desperation. I had no where left to run, and I had buckled under the weight of all the shame and guilt of my actions. And guess what? He listened. He loved. He forgave. He healed. He is still healing. Fortunately, I was able to put down the drinking without outside intervention, but it was still a process of substituing bad choices for good choices. With social events, with friends, with where I went and the things I allowed myself to be exposed to. The healing process had begun but the road was still long. Because even though our sins are forgiven when we bring them to Jesus, we still have to face the consequences of that sin. The shame can be undone but sometimes the ramifications of our sin can last for years.... During that period of time in my life, I came to know my husband, but because of the mess he saw me in, the mutual attaction was not enough to build a relationship on at the time. He is not perfect and had made some mistakes in his past also, but thankfully, he stayed a safe distance away as I healed and grew from and out of that season, and God brought us together later when we were both much healthier versions of ourselves. But listen to me- when you sacrifice things in your singleness, you will reap the consequences in your marriage. When you substitute God’s design for things for a cheaper version, you will have to answer for it later on... Every choice we make comes at a cost.
God forgave every sin I confessed and gave grace upon grace upon grace to every poor choice, bad decision, and lack of judgement. Something I think we often overlook is that God will not only heal the hurt and trauma that happens to us, He also heals the trauma and heartache that we cause ourselves. He is not only concerned with the hurt that was not your fault. He wants to redeem it all- even what you caused. I don’t think we say that enough. We talk a lot about God’s healing when it comes to what others do to us, but the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around was that He was even willing to take the mess I made and turn it into something good. Because He doesn’t waste anything. I saw all of that year and a half or so of my life as a total loss. As something that I absolutely wasted and could not get back. But that is far from what He saw. He pulled purpose out of all that pain. He pull hoped out of all that hurt. He pulled a testimony out of all that turmoil. He will use anything- anything at all- that we surrender to Him. That is what He desired the whole time- my surrender. We carry far too many things that we were never meant to carry.
The last thing I would ever want is for someone to see the chapter of my life that I am currently in and think that it has always been this way. I am far from perfect and the Lord is still dealing with past and present hurt- I will always be a work in progress this side of Heaven. We all are. But I have zero reason to broadcast my past like this other than to show you that there is not a thing that has happened to you, not a thing you have done- that God cannot redeem. The prophet Isaiah writes ”To all who mourn, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, a festive praise instead of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3 NLT) That is the exchange He graciously offers us, no matter how far gone we think we are or how bad we have messed up. It all has purpose in His plan for us even when we can’t see past the shame. But shame is not a place we were intended to live, nor is guilt something we were meant to carry. It is our heart that God desires, and He will allow us to hit rock bottom if it means we will cry out to Him when we hit it. I was there. I was at my rock bottom. I would do anything, share anything, shout from the rooftops if I had to- to prevent anyone from walking down the road I walked. You don’t have to settle. For false fun, false freedom, false hope, false life. There is a God who is alive and personal that desires to give us all of those things and so much more.
One of my current favorite worship songs, ”Father’s House” has a verse that says,
”The story isn’t over if the story isn’t good; failure’s never final when the Father’s in the room.”
Whatever ”room” you find yourself in today.... He’s there too. He always had been. He is not ashamed of you or embarrassed by you. If there was a mess too messy for Him, it would have been mine. Your failure is not final. You are not beyond the scope of God’s grace. I hope that if you hear anything in all of this- you will hear that God’s ability to forgive far outweighs our ability to sin. The cross is proof- He paid all debt for all time for all people. I can only proclaim freedom now because I know what it is like to live in bondgage to sin and shame and I can testify that freedom is only, only, only found in the arms of Jesus. I can only share my story now because God rescued and redeemed what I thought to be a lost cause. God’s pursuit of us is never hindered by our ability to wander.
Take it from me, life outside of Jesus is not life at all.
He is truth. He is light. He is life.
He is faithful and good, and He always has been and always will be.
Take it from me, you can’t outrun Him. I tried. He was still there.
Seek Him and find Him today. He is waiting.
Until next time,