When I was 14 and in ninth grade, I pretty much had a reputation of being a good girl. I didn’t go out late at night. I didn’t participate in the shenanigans that my peers created in public school. No, I was the girl the principal called into the office to ask if I could tell her “who did it”. I was already made fun of for my beliefs and my friends who went to church began to change. They chose a path of boys and sex as well as smoking and drinking. I felt myself become separated from them because I was not going to make the same choices. My church activities hadn’t changed until my parents announced that they felt a need to leave our current church. I was devastated. This was where I had grown up. I had a lot of people I loved…including that boy that if we got married, both our initials would be E.M.R. I had a plan to marry him. I was sure God was going to arrange it. I will never forget the Friday night that his family came over for dinner. I believe his parents were attempting to stop my parents from leaving the church because they had never come over before. Not like that. The boy and I sat together on the couch and sort of held hands while watching TV. I thought I would never see him again. My family started going to different churches and we landed in one in the heart of a nearby broken community. It was small so everyone quickly got to know us and it felt like a tight knit family. The pastor was a dynamic speaker. We joined but things quickly fell apart. I was apart of a youth group that consisted of me and my best friend (she became my best friend most likely because we were the only two kids there). I had crushes on many of the boys there and we spent our time daydreaming and gushing over them. Spiritually, I was still just following a list of rules and looking for a guy who was doing the same. That changed a little at a camp named Laurelville. We went in the Fall as a small youth group but also met other youth from our leader’s young life group. I played games and had tough discussions. The worship was great too. Then they sent us out into nature…into the cold and I found a stump to sit on. I wasn’t even sure what to say to God. We were supposed to pray so I started out by saying that I felt so cold and I didn’t like being alone in a dark, strange place. Immediately, I was filled with warmth from the inside out. It seemed like it was the first time I recognized the Spirit in me. God was with me. I re-dedicated my life to Him. But, I still didn’t feel changed and looking back, I didn’t really change. I became more interested in learning more about God and read my Bible on my own but I still was boy crush crazy and it really took over my brain. My first “kiss” was in fifth grade. My first “real kiss” was in ninth grade. The real kiss was with someone who lived hours from me and it was good he lived that far. I basically toyed with boys’ hearts and felt like that validated me. I never dated anyone I was truly interested in because they seemed out of my league. I even met someone I really liked at the camp but he was much older. It always seemed like I was scouting for a boyfriend and that was most important. Yet, I think it was because I couldn’t obtain it. I filled my heart with the views of my peers and they made fun of me for numerous reasons. I filled my heart with fantasies about finding someone who loved me. I filled my heart with TV and music that was anything but Christian.
When I was 17, my dad’s leadership choices at the church were called into question by the pastor and there was a big difference of opinion and it was this situation that revealed the heart of the pastor. My parents decided to leave that church. Being uprooted again made me lose hope in ever finding someone to marry from church. Great thing to worry about, I know. We left the church in the midst of Easter season. No home church on Easter Sunday. We went back to my dad’s old roots…the United Methodist Church. It was a small church but bigger than where we just came from. It had lots of kids and big families. My parents were impressed with the children’s ministry displayed up front that morning. I don’t remember going to another place. That was it. My grandparents had gone to that church along time ago so people knew me and I had big shoes to fill. By now, I had doubts that God cared how I felt. He had taken away my grandparents and I was angry with Him for this church stuff.
I was invited to participate in a Bible study with teen girls. I found this to be very serious learning unlike being with all the other kids in the church at the youth events or Sunday school. I hated those classes. It was me and about three other girls. The other girls dropped out because they were busy but I decided to prioritize and study. The female leader had daughters older than me, losing my grandmothers prior, I just felt a connection with her. She became my prayer partner. She invited me to be apart of a production at Easter and I really was still grieving and didn’t want to but it was also a community thing that many churches were involved in and so I agreed. The youth leader from my previous church was the play’s director. Small world. It was around then that the previous church made the news with a scandal. Money missing, no way to pay for their new building, the pastor in an affair with the secretary who took her own life, and finally the fact that this dynamic speaker faked his credentials. It was all a sham. It was all a con. I still felt like I knew the Lord and it didn’t cause me to doubt where I was but it caused me to doubt others. It was my first experience finding out that people claimed to be something and it was all a lie. I remember going to the new building with my current pastor to read scripture and he was preaching as a guest but I quickly felt out of place and scoffed at. I went out of curiosity but felt deeply in my spirit that I shouldn’t have been there. I was embarrassed over it. My pastor and I had gone through some stuff together. My grandma’s death, my previous church’s demise, I graduated high school and I began to trust him. We talked all the time. We shared deeply intimate details about our lives with each other. I developed feelings that I didn’t understand. I justified myself. My brother was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 12 and then my life seemed to spiral out of control. I was stressed to the point of vomiting. I exercised to keep my mind from spiraling out of control and I lost 30 pounds. I was obsessed with being healthy and I was obsessed with being perfect and I was neither of the two. I ran a mile everyday thinking I was focusing on God but I was running from Him. My parents saw all these changes in me and questioned the pastor. It was kept private. Something he and his wife and my parents were dealing with. But I felt like the problem. I didn’t even understand what I had done. I didn’t want to leave another church. I don’t know how I stayed in that place as long as I did. It wasn’t like I cut ties with my pastor. I felt like I was constantly scrutinized. Why was I happy to go to church? Why did I have to run to him to get a hug? And on and on. I scaled back my behavior still thinking I did nothing wrong. What I felt was a serious issue and I buried it down in the depths with all my other sin. I also felt an obligation to protect this pastor because I didn’t want to ruin his life. From my viewpoint, He stood to lose everything and I stood with nothing to lose. But, the reality was that I had already lost. My prayers were that people would see Jesus in me and want what I had. I had a bunch of crazy feelings and a twisted situation and didn’t see how Jesus fit. Shouldn’t He have prevented me from going down that path. I felt screwed up. I had been set up on various dates by friends but those guys didn’t meet my high standards. I often felt confused and I know I hurt the guys when I gave them the “let’s just be friends” line. That boy with the initials E.M.R. also appeared in my college life but he wasn’t interested in me and my crushes I was holding out on, I became bold and asked them out but nothing. Speaking of college, the only reason I attended was because a representative from the school came to my home and filled out my application. What career would I like? Well, teaching sounded good. I liked working with kids. I didn’t apply anywhere because I felt like my SAT scores were not good enough. I didn’t test well. I was successful in college and got good grades. Around this time, I also met my husband through church. He was in the Marine Corps and my parents were his “Secret Faith Friend”- a program for people to connect and pray as well as send goodies to young adults in college and the military. When he came back to the States, his family had a party and that is when we first met but I didn’t give him a second glance…I was caught up in the drama of what I described above and dating a guy my friend set me up with. I had been trying to feel normal. My friends setting me up on blind dates helped me make friends but nothing lasted longer than 3 months and nothing compared to the deep conversations and feelings I had for someone that I couldn’t have. Eventually, I found myself liking my future husband’s best friend and when I told said guy that I liked him, he didn’t return the sentiment. So, this Marine approached me and said things to comfort me since he knew what happened. I didn’t see him again for many months. He would also just seemingly appear at church because he was on leave. Like one Christmas Eve, when I felt a tug on my sleeve and he asked if he could stop in the next day. I didn’t know why he was asking me when his excuse was that he had thank you gifts for my family. He spent most of the morning and afternoon at my house that Christmas and my parents abandoned me to one on one conversation with him. On another occasion, he called me to ask me swimming at his best friend’s house. Talk about awkward. When he held me, I felt safe. On July 23, 2001, I started dating my husband. He was intriguing. He was the opposite of my list of things I was looking for in a husband. I felt drawn to him. September 11th happened and I was scared that this guy would not get to leave the Marines as planned but he was discharged in December. I turned 21. I still held true to my no drinking and no smoking but my purity became blurred. My prayer partner laughed at me in my struggles so I stopped trusting her. After breaking up a few times, I knew God was pushing me and this guy together. He was the one and I stopped fighting it. We decided to leave the church. He was never real into how things were done in that place and we needed to find somewhere that we could share together and start over. My future husband knew all of what happened because I shared with him every single one of my sins and he shared his with me. We chose a different United Methodist Church just down the road because of the pastor’s ability to step on our toes and challenge us to live out our faith. Together we attempted to embrace more of God and less of each other. We joined that church together in April 2004 and were married there one year later on July 23, 2005. My parents and brother later joined the same church and attended with us. God also opened the door to my career in September 2004. I had been substitute teaching in various local districts but I was hired permanently by one that I had never set foot in. That can only be explained by God’s intervention and provision.
I am going to pause here and continue soon with Early Married Life.