I've had a lot of thoughts that I've been mulling over in my mind lately. Thoughts of a serious nature. Thoughts that take time and effort to write about and process. Thoughts that aren't always easy to deal with.
Today, I'm going to share my story with you all. And I'm going to do it for a couple of reasons.
Many of you have been following my blog regularly for a time, and I am so thankful for that. You've come to know many aspects about me and my life, but not many of you know my story. You don't know where I came from, how I got here, why I do what I do, and how I became who I am.
A few weeks ago, our pastor began a sermon series on church practices that our church holds particularly near and dear. The first sermon was on baptism and it got me thinking.
For those of you who did not grow up in any kind of faith background or not in a Christian denomination where baptism is practiced, baptism seems kind of weird. People tell their "testimony" and then get dunked under the water. I mean...seriously...what's that all about? Simply put, baptism is an outward declaration and acknowledgement of our decision to be a Christian. It unites us with Christ and it unites us with the church as we declare publicly that we believe the Gospel and are choosing to live our lives in accordance to the Gospel.
Since I listened to Jesse's sermon, I've been doing a lot of thinking. About my own story. About my baptism. About when I became a Christian. About the life that I've lived. And so here we go. This is my story. Warning: It's long.Very long.
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents both knew the Lord prior to their marriage and so I grew up in a family that went to church and rested on Sundays, prayed before every meal, didn't watch certain shows and movies or listen to certain music because of the message and influence, didn't say bad words, and always apologized to siblings.
I accepted Christ at the age of five while living in Washington (the state, not the district) and was baptized at the age of seven alongside my dad.
My family started homeschooling us after I finished the first grade. And it was at that point that I entered a Christian bubble that I didn't leave for a very, very long time.
My schooling had a Christian overtone to all of it. I did church history. I read books by Christian authors on Christian subjects. I attended Bible study on Thursday mornings with other home schooled families. I attended AWANA and memorized all the Bible verses and then some, always finishing my books early, competing on the quizzing and games teams,and completing all the extra credit things like Take It to Heart and the additional books.
I volunteered with the children's ministry, babysat for people at the church, worked with VBS, danced in the Christmas and Easter pageants, sang in the kids and youth choir.
Somewhere along the way, I became the poster child for all things church. I was the girl all the parents wanted their children to become. When I babysat kids or volunteered in the nursery, all the moms told me what a wonderful, godly young lady I was and how they hoped their daughters would grow up to be like me. The dads told me they hoped their sons would find a woman like me to marry one day.
That kind of talk became hard for me to hear. After years of hearing it over and over again, I got the message that I was perfect in the eyes of those I interacted with. I could do no wrong in their eyes. And so I could do no wrong.
But I didn't feel like the perfect person everyone thought I was. I would get easily angry and frustrated with my brother. I knew I was jealous of people because of things they had that I didn't have. I was prideful of the fact that I could memorize verses so easily and that I could dance and play piano and write well.
I spent hours reading Scripture, doing Bible studies, and memorizing verses, but none of it penetrated into my heart. I knew that I was a sinner, I needed a Savior, and Jesus died to save me from my sins. I knew that and I believed that and accepted that. I also knew things were supposed to change, but I didn't feel like things had changed. I still felt like the same old Sarah I always was and that was hard.
But everyone still expected me to be perfect, and so I kept playing the part. I kept going to church and Sunday school and choir and AWANA and Bible study and doing everything I thought I was supposed to do, hoping that someday, somehow, something would change. And it never did. And then the unthinkable happened.
Halfway through my sophomore year of high school, my world collapsed.
My best friend gave me a laundry list of my character flaws, complete with examples of specific incidences and Bible verses to back them up. She later amended the email with a phone call that added additional faults that I apparently had. My other best friend backed her up.
In just a short time, I went from being the perfect role model to being not so perfect anymore. I hadn't changed, but now suddenly, someone other than myself knew that I wasn't perfect. But everyone else still thought I was, so I had to keep on pretending like I was perfect, while I was breaking inside. She was the only one who realized I wasn't perfect so of course she must be right, right? That's what I thought.
I crawled inside my head for a long time and Satan crawled inside with me. Slowly over the years, he told me a lot of lies. Lies that I believed because someone else had told them to me, too. Someone that I trusted. Someone that I thought cared about me. And that's where I lived for a long time.
When I graduated from high school, I went away. Instead of going off to college like most of my friends, I not only left the state but left the country. I flew from Virginia to California for 10 days of singing and dancing before setting off on a three month journey that would change my life forever.
You see, when you spend an average of 5-7 hours a day on a bus for almost three straight months, you have a lot of time to think. You have a lot of time to process and get inside your own head. And that's what happened. And Jesus got inside my head with me.
He opened up my heart and showed me that though I had placed my trust in Him for my salvation at age five, I'd never really given my life over to Him. I trusted Him to save me from an eternity damned to hell, but never to control what happened until I got to eternity. And so on that tiny tour bus that broke down more times than I can remember, I truly gave my life over to Him and He started to make the changes that I always knew were supposed to be there. He started to change my heart and my soul and my mind so that I desired to be more like Him. I wanted to be perfect not because people expected me to be perfect but because Jesus was perfect and I should strive to be like Him. I changed on that tour bus.
And then I came home. And no one knew how much I had really changed.
They tried to put me back into the same box I had been in for years. Into that perfect box that I didn't fit in anymore because I never truly had. And that was hard. There were long, tearful nights as I struggled between who I once was and who I had become.
Nine months after I came back from tour, I went off to college. I left the people I knew and entered a whole new world where I could be whoever I wanted to be. And I finally knew who I wanted to be. I wanted to be known as a follower of Christ, not just because I said I was, but because people saw that I was.
I finally broke out of my Christian bubble and learned what it meant to truly own my faith and defend my faith. I met atheists and agnostics who didn't always understand my commitment to my faith. Some respected it, some mocked it. I had a conversation with a hall mate where he asked me if I met the perfect man who had everything I ever wanted in a partner but didn't share my faith, what I would do. I told him I'd walk away. I had friends who didn't understand why I wouldn't date seemingly great guys because of their lack of faith.
I rediscovered my love of dancing. I went through a period of dryness and questioned if this was even worth it at all. I made incredible friends and memories and learned so many amazing things about myself, about life, and about my Savior.
And at the end of my senior year, a whole lot more changed.
One week after completing my senior year in college, I went with many other friends from InterVarsity to Rockbridge, a Young Life camp out in the middle of nowhere Virginia for a week or refreshment and fellowship. I participated in a new track called Identity Transformed and got the biggest smack in the face from Jesus that I'd gotten in a long time.
He showed me that while my heart had changed a lot in the three and a half years since I went on tour, I was still dealing with a lot of hurt. There were still a lot of wounds that had scarred over but had never been cleaned out so that they could truly heal. And He showed me what those wounds were and that He was the only one who could heal them. But it was going to hurt. It was going to hurt a lot. It was going to hurt more than anything I could've imagined, but in the end I would be better for it. It would sanctify me and bring me closer to my Savior and to who He created me to be.
And the next several months were incredibly difficult. Dealing with that pain and those wounds, many of which resurfaced in new ways just as they were beginning to heal, was one of the most difficult things I could've ever imagined. But I can stand here now and I say that I am a stronger person because of it, and I am more confident than I have ever been in my Savior and my faith.
That's who I am. That's what has made me me. That's what has shaped me. All of the experiences have colored the way that I view the world. Some of them for good, some of them not always for good. But I know that I'm not finished yet and so I will continue to tell my story, because something I've been learning is that my story can help others in their journey.
Last year, at Rockbridge, I wrote a poem about what I had realized and learned, which is something that doesn't happen very often. I'm not a poet. I've never particularly enjoyed writing it, though I do enjoy reading it. But I always hated poetry sections in English classes because my poems felt so ridiculous, frivolous, uninspired. This poem that I wrote was quite possibly one of the most inspired things I've ever written.
I shared it with my chapter on Wednesday evening at Rockbridge and again with the whole camp on Friday morning, and the response I got was overwhelming. So many girls came up to me afterward and thanked me for sharing my story because they could relate and it helped them so much.
I learned that it was okay that I wasn't perfect and that not being perfect and knowing that and reveling in that is 10x better than being perfect will ever be.
And that's why I continue to do what I do. I've got some new ventures in the works (both writing and otherwise related) that I'll be sharing with you all soon. And they're all things that I hope will continue to bring my Savior more and more glory each and every day.