I love Easter. To me it is a time of renewed sense of who we are in Christ and what He did for us. It also means cascarones, chocolate Easter bunnies and family dinners. A few of my favorite things. But I can’t help but think of my own redemption story. Each of us has a redemption story. Maybe yours is not done being written yet, or maybe like myself, He redeemed me at a particular juncture in life, yet I find the story of redemption continually being written in my day-to-day life. For me, to live redeemed is not a one and done event. With the ebb and flow of life I need His redemption, blood, grace and mercy every single day.
Today I share some of my redemption story. My story is every bit of the prodigal child returning home. The long and short of my redemption story is this: I had to learn not to place my perception of God on the hurt people had caused. I had to stop blaming everyone else for my decisions, take responsibility in my decision to turn away from God and the consequences which were brought on by that.
I was raised in an area known as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 10 miles from the Texas – Mexico border with the Gulf of Mexico to the East of it. It is not an actual valley, but it has some of the best Mexican food you will ever eat and was one of the best places to grow up. This is where my story begins.
I was raised in a very loving home and I can honestly say I never heard my parents yell at each other. While we were not a perfect family (I don’t think any family is) I never experienced any type of abuse or suffered major traumatic events. The life my parents lived on a public stage was very much a reflection of their private life at home. It was common place for me to wake up and hear my parents praying in the living room, or walk in and find them reading the Bible together. And this routine is still normal for them, perhaps why they have been married 40 years now.
My parents were also very heavily involved in the ministry, during a time which I feel, it was modeled to them that the more involved you are in church, then the more saved you were. I am not saying its bad, but I don’t think there was the emphasis that there seems to be now on also taking time for your family, which is vital. Our entire life revolved around church. Which was great, we experienced powerful moves of God. My father led song service, my mother played the organ and we were at pretty much every single musician practice there was. This was before the days of iPhones, iPads and whatever else people use these days to distract their kids, you just were expected to sit there and behave. Which is probably why I prefer the sound of a good Hammond Organ over almost any instrument. I buttered my fair share of peanut brittle pans. Saturdays were usually outreach. There was youth night. There were all night prayer meetings. Church was our life.
I look back on those years with fondness. Some of my best memories were during those times. In the early 1990’s as I was approaching my teen years, everything began to change. I don’t think I ever really processed a lot of it until really just the past few years. I merely stuffed it down into a deep dark hole in my heart and moved on, playing the part. Hurtful things happened during that time. Essentially everything I had ever known was completely removed from our lives in a matter of a few years. Seeds of bitterness were planted in me. They were not bad years, life was still good, but it was different. I was different, my perception of who I thought God was had shifted.
Because of our proximity to the border we always seemed to have missionaries staying at our house. As a result of this, I had some amazing opportunities to spend my high school summers in Mexico travelling and living with missionaries. There were without a doubt life changing experiences where my world view was completely changed.
However, I never dealt with the root of my issues, facing bitterness and overcoming my hurts. I simply lived from experience to experience but never grounded myself in God. By the time I graduated high school in 2000 my jaded view of life won over and I was pretty much ready to do things my way, explore life outside of church and the rules and regulations I thought it represented. Not to say that I did not attend church during that time. However, looking back I can say I did it more out of obligation then I did because I loved God. Essentially for the next 9 years, I ran as hard as I could away from God and those who loved me most. Bitterness, shame, anger, guilt, resentment will cause you to do a lot of hurtful things and lead you places you never thought you would go. I know I put my parents through a lot, but if there is one thing I can say is they still loved me. The very people who I was trying to push away were the very ones who continued to reach for me. Close family friends still loved me. People all around me loved me and supported me, but I failed to see it.
For years I blamed them for the decisions they had made and the things we had to face as a family as a result of their involvement in the ministry. I admit I was acting like an entitled spoiled brat. But might I also add, ministry is hard work. It’s not living in a big fancy house, driving the latest model car, taking 2 or 3 vacations per year and speaking at conferences all over the US and world. And for the ministers who do get to experience those things, it doesn’t come without a hefty price tag. It is because someone has already gone before them who sacrificed greatly and there must be a continual sacrifice on their part. Some of the greatest ministers I know who appear to “have it made” are also some of the most giving sacrificial people. My whole point is people who think ministry is glamorous, it’s not. Yes, it can be very rewarding but there are also elements which you have to face on a daily basis that can be downright exhausting. And if there is any place the enemy wants to attack more, it is a ministers home.
In 2003 at the age of 21, I welcomed my daughter into the world as a single mom. My life completely changed from that point forward. I started to feel like I had a purpose, someone to live for. I went on to complete nursing school and began to work in the hospital. I slowly began to realize people were people, whether you were serving in church or working on your job or shopping at the grocery store. There are people who can be mean and then there are people who can help you. It’s your decision to choose who you will focus on.
I was constantly battling depression and low self – esteem and by 2005 I became entangled in an unhealthy, toxic relationship which continued on for a few years. By 2009 it was starting to pose a threat to myself and my family and I knew I had to get out. I had to make sure my daughter was safe. I applied to the Air Force, went through all the rigorous backgrounds checks, health screenings, etc. And I was accepted. I was going to go in as an officer and leave in August 2009 for training.
But Mother’s Day 2009 changed all of that. I realized I would essentially be leaving my daughter orphaned and I had already missed so much of the first 5 years of her life due to me being in school and working full-time. I didn’t want her to grow up thinking of Mom as some far away concept. So I backed out. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew I still needed to get out of the Valley for our safety. Memorial Day weekend of 2009 I applied to jobs in hospitals in Dallas. The very next week I was flying to Dallas for several interviews. About a month later on July 9, 2009 at the age of 27, as a single mom with a 5-year-old daughter, I left everything I knew and moved to Dallas. I made up my mind it was time for change. Living the life I had tried to live on my own was just not worth it anymore. I attended church the first Sunday I was in Dallas and have not looked back.
After coming back to God I have had to face the issues I never faced in my younger years. I have had to learn to forgive. I have had to deal with bitterness, anger, remove cynicism from my life. I have had to stop trying to understand why hurtful things have and continue to happen and just accept that God is in control. I have had to change my view of the ministry from people who hurt you to people who help you. But the number one thing I had to change was my relationship with God.
Since I have been home, were there days I wanted to walk out and turn away? Yes. Were there times people in church treated me wrong? Yes. Have there been circumstances where to the outside world I had every reason to walk out on God? Yes.
On the flip side, have there been people who have loved me unconditionally? Yes. Who have supported me, given me hope, helped me back up when I have fallen? Yes. They still cared for me when I was rough around the edges.
The bottom line is, I had to make up in my mind that I am not going to church to serve or please man, I am going to church to serve God and to feel His presence. That is where the real change happens. You essentially have to get over yourself and make a decision to move forward.
As a result of my decision to serve God, He has given me more than I could have ever asked for. He has blessed me with a wonderful husband who loves me for me. I sleep in peace every night knowing God is with us. I no longer battle anxiety or deep depression. My daughter is living a life in a safe environment and establishing her own relationship with God. He has blessed our family is so many ways. I shudder to think where my life might be at this point had I not turned back to serving God whole heartedly.
The reality is, people on your job are going to hurt you, the cashier at Wal-Mart can offend you, the receptionist at the doctor’s office can be mean to you, your spouse can change over night and walk out on you, your parents can go through an unexpected divorce, the list goes on. We are all victims who have experienced hurtful, painful things we may not ever understand and it is because we all share this one great thing in common, we are all flesh. The enemy would love to keep you in a “victim mentality” because that is where you will never move forward. But Christ dying on Calvary changed us from victims to victors because of His blood.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)
No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 35-39 (NLT)
Everyone has a redemption story. If yours has not been written yet, then God is waiting to finish writing it. Whether you were raised in church all of your life but haven’t fully experienced Him yet, if you feel there is more to God then just the superficial aspects of traditional man-made religion, if you have gone through a divorce, if your family has experienced great hurt, if you feel church people are fake, if you are blaming your parents for the life you have been given, etc. No matter what your past is, God loves you and is waiting to write your story. He wants to give you beauty for ashes.
I leave you with a few things I have realized in my Redemption Story:
1. Seek God whole heartedly. Carving out your own relationship with God is essential.
2. You have to stop blaming people’s actions and the perception you think they have of you on why you are in the shape that you are in.
3. When offences come from people in church, don’t dwell on them. Forgive and move on. It might take time, but trust the process. Judas betrayed Jesus but that didn’t stop Him from dying on the cross for you and I. Why would someone who has never physically walked with God not betray you?
4. Do not compare yourself with others. The greatest thing I had to overcome was comparing myself to others and the mental games it caused. “I didn’t do things right like so and so, so I don’t deserve this.” “They are better than me because they don’t have my past.” “I will never be able to do things for God because I have failed too many times.” Replace the mental wars and negative self talk with scripture. As I heard one minister say, use “Word replacement therapy.”
5. If you fall, get back up. Dust yourself off. But the main thing is to GET BACK UP.
6. Seek friendships that encourage, inspire and make you want to live your best life in Christ.