Tuesday, August 5, 2014

testimony + my first link-up!

Now may not be the time to invest in relationships with other bloggers, but while catching up on my dear friend Jenna's blog [dearest love], I discovered she and her community are going to post their testimonies tomorrow and everyone can link to them.  I've been wanting to write my story here for awhile, so I know this is my opportunity.

Since it's my first link-up post, I'm guessing I'll get some technical things wrong, but oh well.

God gets everything right.

Dearest Love

"O victory in Jesus, my savior forever.  He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood.  He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him.  He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood."

My story isn't very short, but here goes.  

PS: I consider my testimony to be not only where my walk began but where it has brought me up until now.  My actual beginning is simple, but the path since has been dramatic, emotional, and real.  Doesn't everyone love a good story?  Additionally, my biggest victory in Jesus came after I was already His.

Once upon a time, in California, I was born.  My parents considered themselves Christians, although at the time they were not active in the church, and so upon the appropriate age for Methodists I was baptized.  Woot woot!  My parents publicly proclaimed that they would raise me in the way that God designed and love me like He does.  Even if they didn't say this aloud or publicly, I know they would have, and this is the true start to the beginning of my walk with Christ.  (Besides Psalm 139:13.)  

Fast forward to January 1992 and my parents move me and my brand-new baby sister to a suburb of Atlanta.  In June they bought the house we all called home for 18 more years... right in the Bible belt.

My sister was also baptized in a Methodist church in Georgia, and the pastor of that church became close to my parents for many years.  He planted the seeds in them to revisit their Christianity.  By their leadership, we attended that church for many years, until my parents began bringing us to a new church in town - Hope Church.  I was in fourth grade when we started attending.  

I couldn't wait to join Youth Group and be friends with the coolest members of the church.  Whether I attended youth because I wanted to hang out with the other kids or not, I still paid attention to the lessons and messages.  The seeds still took hold.

On August 2, 2002 (OMG I just realized that was this past Saturday!), on a church retreat, I "nailed down" my Salvation with the youth pastor's wife.  Though I knew logically that somewhere along the way, my childhood self had prayed for forgiveness, my teenaged self was not so committed.  But that night, the commitment was realized.  My heart was sealed.  My name was inked into God's book.  But the journey was only beginning.

Fast forward to August 2007, and I'm leaving for LSU, my dream school, where I honestly did not know what God had in store for me except that He had obviously cleared my path to attend.  (Seriously, sometimes things fall into place so easily you can't help but wonder what He's up to.)  I missed my family, but I still played my clarinet until my fingers almost fell off and studied my little heart out.  I was the exact opposite of a stereotypical college freshman, back in my dorm by 9:00 every night, attending only one party that fall, declaring that I would not let more than a sip of alcohol grace my lips before I was 21 years old.  I was attending worship services and small group meetings at the Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist Church's nationwide campus ministry, but I was leaving them when they were over.  I forgot my lack of restrictions resulting from a lack of parents.  This probably added to my loneliness, considering all the activities college kids do late at night (alcohol excluded! I'm honestly thinking of late-night game nights, deep conversations, and trips for ice cream or beignets).  The loneliness almost stole me away from LSU.

Looking back, I never left His grasp, no matter how far away I might have felt.  But what was to come in that spring would define the rest of my life.

Well, I found a friend at the Wesley.  His name was James*.  James is still very popular among the other Wesley attendees.  He's a huge goofball, a great leader, has a huge heart for Christ and His Kingdom, loves youths like no one I've ever met, and is an amazing worship leader.  He was incredibly passionate, about everything that crossed his path: running marathons, being a worship leader, playing soccer, LSU football and baseball, his friends and family, his studies... and me. 

We began really dating that Fourth of July.  We dated for three years and six days.  In that time, he swept me off my feet, promised that I was better than anyone else, and I do believe he loved me.  But he was passionate, remember?  That passion was towards me being no any other Kelli than the one I was when we started dating.  For my Christian and natural/human/I'm-in-college growth, I was punished.  (For the record, not physically or sexually, ever.)  Emotionally, he ripped me up.  Mentally, he made me lose myself.  I, and especially my heart, went into hiding.  There would be times he would be yelling at me, tearing me up, punishing me for something, and I couldn't even cry.  I couldn't feel the pain he was causing me enough to cry.  How much chronic pain does it take before you're lost to numbness?  Many times, the thought lurked in the back of my mind that God couldn't want a heart so shredded as mine.  I still went to Him, but I was no longer feeling His nearness.  But all my thoughts and energies were directed towards making James happy, and being whoever it was I thought he wanted me to be.  "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."  No wonder the closeness had diminished. 

I always prayed.  I begged Him for James to change, for me to change, for us to make it.  I can be better, I promised.  I can be the person James wants me to be, I swore, just don't let us break up.  I don't think I could bear that pain.

Well let me say this:  Praise God for unanswered prayers, and that He had already bore all my humanness on the Cross.

Three years and six days later, my world was shattered when James caught me in a "lie" [read: misunderstanding] about getting my nose pierced.  That tiny hole in my face was the tipping point, the straw that broke the camel's back.  At that time we were long-distance, and he called me and ended it as emotionless as one orders their sandwich at Subway when they're not really that hungry anyway.  

I was broken, ripped in half.  All the compromises I'd made in the Kelli that God had created, all the pinches and pulls and rips and busted seams of my being were revealed, open, ragged, and empty.  And oh, they hurt so badly.  Where was I?  Who was I?  I don't even know, but God did, and God does, and I can't sing His praises enough for that.

In the three years since that date, I wrestled with Him about who I actually am.  I fought with His truths about my beauty/self-worth/amazingness that He built into my DNA until I couldn't fight or could accept them.  Some of these things I wrestled with longer than others.  The Great Physician placed His stitches on my open wounds and the pinkness of healed skin arose and perfected me.  I have rediscovered my strength.  It's not perfect, but I like it that way.  God tests the weaker parts to make them stronger.  It's a painful growth but it's beautiful growth, because it's God's.  I am God's.  He brought me victory over the worst I have ever known, and I truly would not be here, or who I am now, without my God.

Amen, and amen again.

*Name has been changed.

I started nursing school in 2012.  I dated a couple of transitional guys, but fell hard and fast for an incredible man in November 2013.  He supports me, makes my life better, prays for us and for me, and reminds me what humility, calm, and patience looks like on a daily basis.  (Especially when my firecracker anxiety makes me get upset about stupid things.)  He may be more excited for me to become an RN next year than I am!  I wouldn't have known the beauty of the love he shows me without this experience.  I also want to mention my parents, who have stood by me every ugly day since we started dating but let it remain my decision, and helped me be better every time I reached out for them.  And to my sister, who claims she "doesn't know how to comfort people when they cry," but whose tight grasp lifted me up off the floor when I hung up the phone with James and brought me back to real life.  I love you all.  <3