By Leah Roberts
I would’ve never guessed that my story from a year ago to today would’ve turned out this way. God is always surprising me, and I hope that never stops. My testimony is not about what I have done, but what God has done and is doing in and around me. The phrase “God is good, all the time” means so much more to me now.
So here’s my story:
I used to think that I had all the answers. When I was a teenager, I knew everything. When I turned 20, I knew everything. When I started studying my bible for the first time, I believed it held the answer to every question thrown at me. Now? I’m 27 and the more I learn about God, the more I realize I know nothing. I understand nothing. And I am in a better relationship than ever with God because of this new humility. Every day that I walk with God my expectations of being mind-boggled by his goodness are always exceeded. My faith grows stronger and more resilient when I allow my heart to be molded into a follower of Christ Jesus, rather than acting out the façade of being a Christian.
Ever since I was 10 years old fitting in was a top priority for me. I didn’t care who I had to be, I was happy being a chameleon. Nobody ever told me to just be myself. That would have been an entirely foreign idea to me. Through high school and middle school I tried on the shoes of every clique school years have to offer. Not only did my entire wardrobe change each time, but also my taste in music, my behavior, and most the profound part to me was my attitude towards those who were momentarily ‘outsiders’ to my small world.
I used to think that I didn’t have any special left inside of me. At the age of 23 when I started to really study the bible and try to understand God a little more I distinctly remember crying to my mom feeling like God didn’t want me. I felt like I was chosen from a very young age and that I had a large calling on my life, but when I began a two-way relationship with God- I felt like I wasn’t enough. I was never told that God really thinks of me. I fell into depression, and it was at that moment in my life that God sent me someone who would be the hands that helped create the circumstances that sent me searching for a deeper relationship with God. My heart began to crave and thirst for Jesus’s presence like nothing and no one else even existed. Thus began the slow, painful, and absolute obliteration of the box that I had put God into.
I was 23 and newly single from my first lesbian relationship. Although I felt that I had finally found a sense of true self, I preferred acceptance. Because of the pushback from the people that I wanted to like me, I made the decision to never go back to that lifestyle – every one I surrounded myself with was so proud of me! I walked around with my head held high. I was on fire for God and ready to change the world. I was accepted again. I was doing bible studies and started running the tech at church. Life was going smoothly. And then something happened like second half of a hurricane after the eye. I was walking down the stairs at my job, my eyes met with hers, and my soul spoke calm, sweet, and profound words that filled my whole being with unexpected hope and love and joy. It spoke “that’s her”.
It wasn’t long before we tore down each other’s walls and lifted each other up. At the time she was everything I ever wanted and also more than I could ever ask for. After a year, we were deeply in love and I wanted nothing more in the whole universe than to please God. I had my priorities straight. But my little book of answers called the Bible and the preacher at my church said that I wasn’t going to heaven if I continued loving a woman. I began to think that I needed to choose between God and the person that I loved. It was the most excruciating and tormenting decision I felt I had to make. After many sobbing prayer sessions, nights spent holding each other like it was our last, and revising the promises we made to each other with our rings, we unwillingly parted ways. With no hope left and open wounds on my soul I clung to Matthew 16:24 and Galatians 2:20. I believed I was taking up my cross and dying to myself in order to follow Christ and be saved. I thought it was working because I was depressed, miserable, and I hated myself. I thought that’s what God was supposed to feel like. Self-loathing and daily denying of any self-identification or desires of my heart. My anxiety went through the roof. I prayed earnestly multiple times every day for some understanding of why He gave me someone I wanted to spend my life with just to take it away. I prayed for my heart to change and to take those desires away completely. I prayed for a man to come save me from my misery.
The most life changing advice came from a friend and mentor who also fully supported me suffering for what I was led to believe was Christ. God does have a sense of humor. She told me to date Jesus. I thought she was crazy but I was in a dark place and was willing to try anything. I began to have the most intimate relationship that I ever dreamed of having, and everything else in life went quiet. When I was lonely, I asked to feel him lay next to me- and I kid you not- I could feel him there. Some days, I laid on the grass in the sun and just basked in his presence. He even would tell me jokes when I got stressed out at work. I’m claustrophobic and I had an 8 hour plane ride to London. The day before I left I pleaded with him to somehow comfort me and keep me from having a panic attack. He gave me the most beautiful and constant vision of these huge wings flying over the plane and the sense of peace that I carried on the plane, the whole week in London, and the travel back home, it was unexplainable coming from someone who is a home-body with social anxiety and a routine centered person. I see now that I was learning who Jesus really was. What his presence and peace feels like. His personality. His humor. His deep, overwhelming, and unconditional love.
A month or so into “dating Jesus” I felt a prompting in my spirit. It was almost as if I were being woken up from a dream. I just felt Him saying “it’s time.” If you know me even a little bit you probably know I am an introvert. I was always safe and comfortable in my own mind. Unfortunately, being an extreme introvert causes a lot of noise and misconceptions within. I know now that it wasn’t that I had fallen asleep, fact was that I let Him take over my thoughts for the last month or so because all of my questions were too overwhelming and numerous. My thoughts before this relationship were too loud for me to comprehend and left no allowance to even hear what He really wanted to say. But when He said it’s time to me, I had not a single doubt it was Him speaking because it only took one question out loud to answer the collaboration of all of my twisted mind’s internal questions, confusions, and misinterpretations.
“to learn who you are created to be… Mine.”
And immediately the face of a pastor I had once met with and had some not so good ideas about at one time came to mind –and wouldn’t leave – so I set up a meeting with him. During our second meeting, we talked about my bible study and he faced me with a question that instantly thwarted me into an extremely painful heartbreak that led to many tears for the next few days. We were studying Galatians and he asked me “What is it you feel you have to do in order for God to love you?” I didn’t realize at the time that God was using every situation in my life together in order to tear down, eliminate, and pulverize the walls of what I thought was my theology. This quickly turned into a weekly meeting. This man, who shows radical love to everyone he meets with his bear hugs and wealth of knowledge and desire to not only know God better every day but to emulate Him, and let God be seem in him as best as he can – it confused me. He loved his flock more thoroughly and fully than any pastor I had ever seen or heard of and I was baffled. He spoke of the Bible in ways that pricked my heart and made me bleed because he was so passionate about God’s goodness and showing God’s love to everyone that may cross his path, even when he’s dealing with difficult personal circumstances. It threw me way off, made me weary, but oh so intrigued. His drive and relentless pursuance for Christ-likeness, though, seemed effortless. Whatever it is that he has – I want it. But it also bothered me that it was so new to me. Why is his radical love, forgiveness, acceptance, and peace so foreign to me? I thought my church had all the right answers but I had never felt Jesus oozing from the depths of someone’s soul like I did this man. Even when I did experience God before this, at my current church, it was momentary and jaded.
My search for my true self ended as quickly as it began when God told me that I was about to discover who I was created to be and then he ended that sentence with ‘Mine’. My thoughts immediately shifted and aligned with my experience of what Jesus had been teaching me. I am chosen. I am created by the creator of everything for Himself. I am loved and forgiven by the one and only God. I am adopted into His family, with nothing that can ever separate me from the love of God. I’m special because God loves me and lives inside of me. I’m unique because He has set apart works for me to accomplish. I’m justified by my faith. Any other labels by which I used to use to set the parameters for the ‘me versus them’ of self-identification just seem so insignificant when my eyes are on Jesus. We are all one in Christ.
I used to think that I had all the answers. I was told one time that I was putting God in a box. Sometimes the things that offend you the most are the truest. I used to think that God wasn’t supposed to be fun. I remember going home after the first time I spent time with a group of the women from my church outside of the grounds and had fun, and thinking to myself, I’ve never had fun in a church setting before…is this allowed? I remember when we would go out to eat as study groups the men sat in a different area than the women and I thought that was normal for the family to be split up. I thought that the Christian life was all about giving up all the things that your heart desires for the greater good, that God loved those people more. That thought caused me to stay at a job for 7 years that was daily destroying any confidence I had in my career abilities because that’s what Christians do, right? They suffer, even at work. My God box was so small that I thought my church was the only one that had it right. I looked down on anyone that thought any differently about God than I did and felt sorry for them, closing off any opportunity for me to experience God in any way other than the walls that I was comfortable hiding in. I thought that I had faith, but all I had was deep, ingrained fear and an even deeper, scarred over, and long forgotten desire to be seen and loved. I thought love was earned. I thought God might be nice sometimes but mostly he’s just powerful and angry because we’re shitty people who just keep getting worse. I thought I was being accepted and part of the Christian clique. It was so easy to see division and join the “us” part and point fingers at the “them”. Don’t you see? I was a Christian. I honestly truly wanted to be a good Christian. I wanted God to love me and I wanted to make Him proud. I wanted to follow black and white scripture. But I could only see what I allowed myself to experience, and that my friend was a tiny, tiny box.
Everything makes clearer sense when it’s in retrospect. I’ll never fully understand or even be aware of everything God has done for me, but when the pieces start to fit back together it makes such a beautiful picture. I took my dirty hands off of my filthy mess of a life and gave it to God. I am now a new creation in Christ. I am so incredibly free. I am learning how to harness my ability to walk in others shoes and be able to use that for whatever God has planned for me. I now have a new home called Redeeming Church. When we worship together I finally feel the Holy Spirit moving my heart and filling the whole room. When we hold hands or break bread together I feel like I’m finally part of a real family. God’s family. Like I’m part of something that makes a good and lasting difference in our own lives, in the community, in the world, and in the kingdom of God. There is no us versus them, everyone is truly wanted, welcome, and fully loved regardless of who you are. I feel it’s important to point out that I don’t blame my old church for anything, and I know that God loves them and uses them for good things as well. I don’t hold any negative experience I had there against them. It largely drives me to pray for all God-boxes to be obliterated. It just wasn’t the place that God wanted to reveal himself to me, or where He wanted to put to use the gifts He has given me. I’m now exercising and strengthening my calling of fully loving every person that walks in the door, down the street, at the store, in traffic, at work, and everywhere else because God has poured out his love into me that it just can’t help but overflow. The taint of the word ‘Christian’ has been removed. Jesus still cuddles with me at night, walks with me during the day, and tells me stories that make me laugh. I have opened up my bubble (a little bit at a time) to new people and have made some absolutely wonderful friends. I have learned to love who I was created to be as a child of God. I have fully accepted myself and the fact that I’m not straight and dare I say that putting any further labels on myself is pointless when God tells me I am His and whatever else the world sees is just empty, wasted time. I see God in everything around me and his almighty goodness and love just radiates through me and I have hope and confirmation that it has already and will continue to bring about good fruit in my life and the lives around me. The box that I kept God in has been destroyed and there’s not a single cell in my body or a single voice in my spirit that says to even try to look back. The God I know now would never fit in any box I could even imagine. I am so excited to see what He does and teaches me next. The best part is that I know I will, and I look forward to looking back in another year or five years or 20 years and saying wow, I thought I knew everything then. And while that relationship is over, my journey isn’t. This isn’t my destination, but only the beginning of my story.