I want to share with you one more story from the #WeWontShrinkBack challenge that I gave last month. This story is so dear to my heart—in fact, I’d say that this story is one of the things that I am personally MOST THANKFUL for in 2015. This story is for anyone who has been praying for a loved one; this story is for all who wonder if there is hope and love available for their lives.
A few weeks ago, I told you that my friend Emily was part of my revision team. Emily and I grew up at the same church, and we were very close in middle school. I remember spending the night at each other’s houses and going on multiple church trips together. We shared a love for country music and athletics, and honestly, it seemed like we would always laugh at the same things. (The last part is still true!! :))
After we graduated from high school, we went to different colleges, and our lives went in different directions. Emily no longer had the desire to live for God or even believe in Him, and she started making destructive decisions.
I remember during the spring semester of my freshman year, my heart was so burdened for Emily. I wondered if I had done something wrong as her friend—why wasn’t she willing to talk to me about her doubts in God? What about all the conversations that we’d had about God together at youth group and at her house? Did my enthusiasm about God make her feel like she needed to pretend that she believed?
The summer after our freshman year of college (2007), we met up for ice cream. We sat outside talking and eating our ice cream cones, but there was no way that one conversation could bring the resolution and healing that I was hoping for.
And as far as I can remember, that was the last time Emily and I talked for several years. When I started my new job in 2009, I passed by her old house almost every day to work, and I would think of her. I hadn’t talked to her and had no idea how she was doing, but I would pray for her.
Fast forward to January 2015. It had been almost 8 years since Emily and I had talked. Via LinkedIn, she connected with Joel, who is our mutual friend who we grew up with at church. In her message to Joel, she said she’d like to see me again if I was open to it. Joel texted me that he had forwarded an email to me that was going to make me happy. I opened it and read that not only did Emily want to see me, but that she also had chosen a new path for herself and her faith in God was now stronger than ever. I read the email over and over, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
We met for dinner at Olive Garden soon after. And I was so incredibly thankful for the good work that God has done in her life. It is so beautiful to hear Emily talk about her new understanding of God’s grace. I’m so inspired to see how much she loves Jesus and how dedicated she is to following Him with every step of her life now.
And of course, I’m beyond grateful to have my dear friend back. :)
I asked Emily if I could share her #WeWontShrinkBack story, so you can read for yourself the work that God has done in her life. Here is her story, in her own words:
I USED TO THINK RELIANCE UPON GOD IS WEAKNESS, BUT NOW I THINK RELIANCE UPON GOD IS RIGHTEOUS.
I used to think…There is no one that can live my life better than me. I am the only me that exists. I know what’s best for my life. If this job will pay the bills and if that guy will fulfill my needs for acceptance, then I will attain them through my own talent and logic. I don’t know if all 20-something-year-olds think they are right about everything, but I sure did! I felt a self-sufficiency of which I was sure would get me through the rest of my life. Somehow, I never really questioned the decisions I made for my life. I wasn’t always certain my next move was the right one, but I was certain that I didn’t need any other person, especially God, to help me. I came to believe that reliance upon God may be a lovely crutch for some people, but He didn’t have the power to make a difference in my life, so I chose to live without Him.
Since birth, I was raised in the church singing Christian songs and learning bible stories. My mom and I prayed before we ate meals and thanked God for providing for our family. Every year, the best, most expensive Christmas gift was signed from Jesus (not Santa), because my mom felt strongly about giving credit where credit was due. I knew she turned to God for strength and showed faith in His promises, and watching that amazed me. As I grew older, though, I simply began to think that this God stuff wasn’t for me.
My rebellion against God’s plan became evident after I got my driver’s license when I was sixteen. I had my first job as a window cleaner, which paid pretty well, and that made me feel powerful! I felt powerful over my own destiny (mostly to buy enough gas to roam around my hometown after school). I got a boyfriend who made me feel different simply by my name being associated with his. I had stopped going to youth group at my church and am fairly certain I skipped as many Sunday mornings as possible. Athletically, I was a successful gymnast, and I graduated with a good GPA and decided to go to Indiana University. I was ready to become an educated woman to gain financial independence along with a purpose for my life. Plus, I thought the parties would be fun.
I must say, some of those parties were a lot of fun. Mostly though, I began a journey of self-destruction and self-delusion which would ultimately lead to an incomprehensibly dark and pitiful existence. It didn’t take long for the consequences of my actions to become evident. I would spend time in emotional paralysis and had moments of feeling like the world would be better off without me. The fun parties never ended but eventually my unwillingness to accept help would result in another broken bone, another close call, another bad hangover, another missed appointment, another hospital visit, another relationship ripped to shreds and on goes the list.
Flicker of Hope
One morning, which was similar to many others, I felt overcome with fear and remorse. These feelings were STRONG; it felt like a powerful awareness that part of my being had died. The thought of what to do next was terrifying; I could not go on the way I was living. I called my mom and she asked if she come over, and I said yes. She asked if I thought I could continue living the way I was living, and I assured her I could not. She asked if I was ready to try something different, and I sobbed. She put her arms around me and prayed. In the next few hours, I felt numb but also a tiny flicker of hope.
I was always on the go and moving to the next thing before I finished the first, but in my emotional paralysis, I was forced to consider the very moment in which I existed. I had to decide what to do next with this necessary flicker of hope before it was gone. I wasn’t sure what it was at the time, but I began to sense a feeling of surrender. I was able to slow down and open my eyes. What I didn’t realize at the time was that God was slowing me down and opening my eyes. For years, God had been doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. He protected me when I couldn’t protect myself. He loved me when I couldn’t love myself. His Son became man and died for me although I refused to die to myself. His decision was made and He was inviting me back into His arms. There is so much I don’t know about God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but I know that I began to believe that His grace is sufficient for me. I certainly hadn’t read that part of the bible, nor was I sure that I was a Christian, but I had made a beginning. I began to notice all the loving people who surrounded me and were patient with me because they knew, and I knew, that it was my only chance at life.
God’s Gift of Love
It has been a process, but I whole-heartedly confess that Jesus Christ is my Deliverer and Strength. The Lord has brought this child from a life of sin and death to a life of forgiveness and saving grace. I still turn to knowledge and logic and eventually sin, but I grieve because I know the Holy Spirit grieves when I choose my way instead of God’s way. Even when I’m unaware, the grace of God alone carries me through as I am lead to repent and redirect my life away from myself and onto Christ. 1 John chapter 4 tells me that God is love, that God abides in me, and that His love is made perfect in me. I remember reading this chapter a few months after my mom prayed, and I cried. I wept, because I knew in my heart that God loves me; there was no way around it. I hadn’t the slightest idea how to receive love let alone give love, but God had penetrated my heart while I wept at that scripture. I had internalized that without God, there was no love, and that the love I knew in my heart was purely a gift directly from God. His Living Word had applied to me that day. My friends describe the process as one layer of the onion being removed at a time. God continues to soften my heart the more I choose to be obedient and seek His purpose for me.
There were countless people who showed me love when I didn’t deserve it. I will never know how many children of God prayed for me when I was living my own way, but in their obedience, I came to believe! My mom prayed tirelessly and I am so grateful for her example of faithfulness. I know today that God is sufficient for her and that His power and love gives her strength and comfort. I know this for her AND for me.
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” –Romans 5:18 ESV
Emily, thank you so much for sharing your story with us! I'm so thankful for you and so excited to see where your journey goes from here! #WeWontShrinkBack
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.