I have always been a "good girl." I was a rule follower, a respectful kid, a hard-worker, etc. I was an honors student involved with tons of activities from music, sports, drama, National Honor Society,leadership seminars, etc. What people didn't really know too much about me is that my home life was not ideal. I'm not going to get much into why things were not always happy but I will say that I often used to use school, activities and music as my escape from everyday life.
Around 8th grade I felt called to start going to church. I had always believed in God. My nana is a devout Catholic who goes to mass multiple times a week and talked to me about God quite a few times. My parents "aren't really religious." This meant that we went to church on Easter and Christmas. My mom felt very uncomfortable in church and my dad was raised Protestant so he didn't really feel comfortable either. So, eventually they stopped going. About 8th grade, some things around home started to get worse and I started to get depressed. I had friends but not too many close friends. I started praying frequently and decided to go to church by myself.
After a few years of going to a Congregational Church, I became pretty involved there too. I felt like I had many adults who cared about me and I felt like I had a lot to offer the church. I volunteered to be a reader, I sang in the choir, occasionally I did a solo or played the piano. I taught Sunday School to the younger kids. Even in this church, I didn't really feel like I had much of a relationship with God. I knew about God and could answer the normal Sunday School questions but I didn't really understand that God wanted to have a relationship with me. I got confirmed in this church and continued to go there until I graduated from high school. My parents even came with me sometimes. (My dad really liked coming but then someone spread a rumor and he stopped coming. He had pledged a certain amount to tithe that year and he wasn't able to tithe as much due to some medical issues of this mom. He was embarrassed to go because of this. We had just switched to a woman pastor and people had spread around that he wouldn't go to church because a woman was in charge. This is a huge shame because I think it really closed my dad's mind about attending a church and being a part of a family of Christians.)
Anyhow, when I was looking for colleges, I was really ready to move away and start my own life. I had decided to major in music ed (though it was a tough decision between music and pre-med) and I was looking at schools. Knowing the finances of my family, I looked at 1 state school, which was okay but nothing special. I looked at a school in NH and really liked it there. I auditioned and got into the music department. I actually got some nice scholarship money too. The tour guide I had was really obnoxious and made me feel uncomfortable but this became one of my top choices. I looked at 2 or 3 other schools that I knew were not for me right away. Lastly, I decided that I would look into Gordon College, a small Christian liberal arts college in MA. In my town, if you went to church at all you were considered a Christian. I had "promised" God that if He was faithful to me when I was growing up that I would attempt to honor Him and so I decided that I would try to look into at least 1 Christian school.
I got into all of the schools I applied for. I decided to go to Gordon. During my application process, I'm sure they figured out that I had no idea what I was talking about in terms of my faith. I got into the music department and had some interviews for a large scholarship (which I didn't end up getting but did cause me to have many open, honest, personal conversations with the staff who was talking to me). At Gordon I decided that I would start over in life. I was surrounded by many kind, caring people and many people whose lives seemed really ideal from the outside. Classes were challenging for me- or at least the classes based on the Bible since I had barely any knowledge.
During my freshman year I became a Christian- knowing and understanding that I would base my life on what I felt Jesus was asking me to do in life. I had realized that Jesus had come to earth to die in my place for my sin. (I have had some of my family say "come on, really. What sins have you committed?" It's true that I have not done anything horrid but sin is sin- lying, gossiping, gluttony, etc. Romans 6:23 says "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.") I began to recognize God's provision in my life, even in times that were difficult. I began to have worth (in my own eyes) and my focus changed from self to a purpose way larger than myself.
The years at Gordon were easy in some ways- I surrounded by many humble, knowledgeable leaders. I met many godly adults who were willing to act as mentors to me (some without even knowing it.. lol). My faith was strengthened daily. I attended chapel and listened intently to learn more about faith and what it meant to be a Christian.
However, times were difficult also- I was given an ultimatum if I wanted to "continue at this Jesus freak school or continue to have a relationship" with my family. I attempted to talk to some of the students I thought seemed the "most holy" about this and they thought I was lying about my whole life story since "people who have been though things like this just don't turn out to be normal people." (This was said by a youth ministry major. To this day I want to find him and tell him off.. lol) Many people just seemed to have it easier than I did.
During my time at Gordon, I met my husband. I was blessed with the faith of his parents and all of my brother and sister-in-laws. I saw examples of godly marriages and faith through a few generations and was again saw affirmation about my purpose. I began teaching and realized that my faith also impacted the way I treated my students. (Honestly, I wish it impacted the way I interact with the staff more. I'm still working on that.)
Fast forward a bunch of years and here's where I am: I am blessed with a church that challenges me to grow in my relationship with Christ. I'm involved with many of the youth programs and I am honored to be a part of the lives of these kids. I still teach at the same school I started at. I love that many of my students respect and care for me as well as for my classes. I know that I am a second mom to quite a few of them- and that, for some, I am one of the most important adults in their life. I have a wonderful family. My husband is very family oriented and my 2 sons are excited about God. (And they're really nice kids, if you don't mind me saying.) Most importantly, I am able to tell you at any given time about some of the things God is doing in my life. I am learning to hear His voice better. I am constantly reflecting on how God has cared for me over the span of my whole life. This puts things in perspective on the hard days. I often think about Jesus' sacrifice for ME (and for you too) and about how I really didn't deserve that.
I also consider that God made me the way I am on purpose. My talents, quirks, interests, etc- they're all there to carry out what God has intended for my life. God has set apart many people in the Bible and he has set me apart too. Do I always know how? No, but God has equipped me for all I need to carry through with his plan for me. So all this brings me back to joy- How can you not be filled with joy knowing that the God who created the universe cares about a relationship with you personally? When I look back and see all the ways God has intervened in my life at different points, it is impossible to not have joy. When circumstances of life get me down, it is encouraging to know that this life is temporary- what is eternal is more important.
So friends, if you are discouraged, unhappy, lacking or just feeling unworthy, I hope that you know that there is a God out there that deeply loves you and longs for you to seek Him out. He has always been there and he will always be there for you- all you need to do is look. If there are any of my friends or family who are reading this who are not believers and you'd like to hear more, I'd love to share more with you. I sometimes am nervous that I won't have the right answers or that I'm not going to speak eloquently enough, but I thought I would put myself out there since I'm challenging myself. My faith has been my biggest source of joy in my life.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" Romans 8:38-39