My Story // Part 4: The Light

One morning I was sitting in my room writing when I heard a loud voice listing Bible verse after Bible verse. 

I was confused at first, but then remembered that my mom had told me that she had invited the homeschooled girls’ basketball coach that she assisted over to talk about her beliefs. My mom had told me that she had noticed the lady do some strange and different things, but that she thought that they shared similair beliefs.

I peeked out of my door, my mom and the lady were sitting at the kitchen table, both of their Bibles open.

My Story: The Light

I had never heard someone list off so many verses like that, it was effortless. 

I listened in from my room, “Yep,” I thought, “that lady is crazy.” 

When the lady left, my mom turned to me and said, “I’m pretty sure she’s in a cult, it’s called the church of Christ, she says it isn’t a denomination.” 

How can something not be a denomination or a sect? I wondered.

“What did she say?” I asked.

“I don’t think she thinks we’re Christians.” 

My mom has always been the strongest and godliest person I know, so that seemed insane. 

I thought we would move on, accept the fact that my sisters’ basketball coach had some wacky beliefs and never talk about it again, but that booming voice kept coming from our dinning room. 

I could hear the pages of the Bible flying every direction.

“I don’t think we’ve been obeying the Bible, Grace,” my mom said one day, “I don’t think we’re Christians.” 

“Mom, that’s insane. Her crazy talk is getting to you.” 

“Every story about someone becoming a Christian in the Bible says “and then they were baptized”, if it wasn’t a part of salvation why were they immediately baptized? The jailer’s family was baptized in the middle of the night, if it wasn’t a step, why didn’t they just wait?” 

I was in disbelief that my mom could believe something like that, “What about the thief on the cross? He wasn’t baptized. Are you saying that if someone dies without being baptized that they aren’t saved?” 

My mom wasn’t shaken by my questions, “The thief on the cross died under the old law, Jesus himself said he could go to paradise.” 

“That’s crazy to think that.” I shook my head.

I went to my room and I wrote a paper, I wrote all the arguments for the sinner’s prayer I could find, all the arguments for grace and belief only.

I gave it to my mom, she gave it back covered in Bible verses and the corrected context of the verses I gave.

One night my mom was crying, “Grace, He doesn’t hear my prayers.”

“What?”

I haven’t been baptized for the remission of my sins, and God doesn’t hear the prayers of sinners read John 9:31, Psalm 34:17, Proverbs 15:29, Isaiah 59:1-2. All these years I have been praying to Him, but my sins have separated me. I’m not a Christian. I don’t know how your dad will react, but I need to get baptized.” 

I was in shock. How could my mom believe she wasn’t a Christian? 

The next night my dad picked me up from the movie theater I was at with a friend, “We have to go to that church of Christ building,” he told me when I got in the car, “your mom is getting baptized.”

We drove in silence before I broke it, “What do you think, Dad?” 

“I think she was a Christian before, but if this makes her feel better to do it, then she should do it.” 

“Do you think we’re Christians?” I asked.

“Yes.”

Yet, all those verses kept running through my head.

My mom was baptized that night and added to the church (Acts 2:47).

“God, I know I don’t have the strongest relationship with you,” I prayed one night, “but does that mean I don’t have a relationship with you at all? Is baptism essential? Are they right?”

I knew if they were, I wasn’t saved. I prayed the sinner’s prayer at five, I was baptized as an outward sign of an inward decision at twelve, there was never any talk about remission of sins or that baptism was a step just like hearing the gospel (Romans 10:13), believing (John 8:24), repenting (Acts 2:38), confessing faith (Romans 10:9), and then baptism into Christ, that for some part we had left out.

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Sunday rolled around, we went to the church of Christ building where that lady who studied with my mom went and where she was baptized. I sat with a few of the high schoolers.

“I have a question,” I asked one of the girls next to me, “since I haven’t been baptized, you guys don’t think I’m a Christian, so I shouldn’t take communion right?” 

The girl looked uncomfortable, but she nodded yes.

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, I just don’t want to offend anyone,” I told her. I decided not to take it. I had been taking communion since I was five, it felt wrong. I felt like I was doing wrong by standing down from my beliefs, but I wasn’t even sure if I was right anymore.

The man that preached that morning used more verses than I had ever heard in a sermon before.

I was in awe, I felt so happy to finally just be given the Bible, not some political rant or a feel good speech from the pulpit.

My brother and I talked about how different it was on the way home.

“Did you write down all those verses?” my brother asked me, “I’ve never heard so many verses used at once, it was awesome. He really knew the Bible.” 

I felt confused. I had braced myself for a cult, for lovebombing, but all I had been met with was sincerity. I wasn’t used to sincerity.

These people were friendly, and they loved the Lord and clearly knew their Bibles. They had no doubts on where they stood with God and His word.

I realized that I wanted that. 

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One night I opened my Bible to study like I usually did, I was reading through Proverbs at the time and during my reading I came to verse fifteen of Proverbs twelve:

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.”

I’ve been closed, I realized. For years I have wanted people to just give me book, chapter, and verse and now that people are, I am not listening. The least I can do is listen

“God, if you can hear me,” I prayed, “please help my heart to stay open to your word, I just want to obey you.” 

I stopped sleeping.

I couldn’t sleep.

I read through those verses about baptism over and over again.

I read all the stories about salvation, even the ones that didn’t mention baptism seemed to imply it when I put it next to the rest of the Bible.

I cried, read my Bible, and cried some more. I would open my mouth to pray but all of my sins came to my mind along with Isaiah 59

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:  But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” -Mark 16:16

“Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”-Colossians 2:12

“The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”-1 Peter 3:21

Through faith; the answer of a good conscience toward God.

Repeated over and over again in my head.

It’s obedience, I realized, that’s all it is. 

Why did what I was told by denominational people make me feel like it was disobedient to obey God? Like I was lacking faith to obey God?

The next day was Christmas, I didn’t sleep that night, the day passed in a blur.

I knew the truth.

I couldn’t ignore the Bible anymore.

I was afraid to be baptized though. I knew it was a big commitment, and I knew that I was wrong about a lot of the Bible. I didn’t want to make a commitment without understanding it fully. No more incorrect beliefs. I had been in the dark long enough.

The preacher’s wife came to my house the next day to study with me.  

We read through John 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-5,

2 Timothy 2:10, says IN CHRIST. How do we get into Christ?

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”-Galatians 3:27

After the study, I said the words I had been dying to say, “I need to be baptized.” 

“Are you ready?” my mom asked me.

“I know what the Bible says, I know what I need to do.” 

I grabbed a change of clothes, and we were off. It was the scariest car ride of my life. I didn’t know where my soul would go if we got into a crash, all I knew was that I needed to obey the Bible immediately.

“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”-Acts 8:36

My first thought after coming up from that water was, “I am His, I can die now.”

It wasn’t in a morbid way, but I felt such a calm knowing I had fully obeyed the Bible, knowing that I was saved.

If you think this is the end of this series, it isn’t.

Like all things, this is only the beginning. 

My Story // Part 5: The Start

My Story // Part 3: The Downward Spiral

Real fast before this post starts, I just want to thank everyone for the encouragement on my last one. I read some of those comments with tears in my eyes and they really helped my perspective on this broaden a bit.

Currently, please pray for both me and this other person, we are both trying to get back up from this and I’m praying that we can become at least friends in the future. I care about this person, please pray for both of our Christian walks even if him and I aren’t going to be walking side by side as anything more than just brothers and sisters in Christ in this life.

That’s all I wanted to say, thanks. Onto the story…

I can’t remember when it happened exactly, I guess it was such a slow build up of everything, but one day I looked in the mirror and all I saw was a hollow girl with empty eyes and a rotten heart full of hurt and bitterness.

I felt broken.

The second breakdown I had was at my co-op, I was searching for my friends and I couldn’t find any of them, it’s because no one cares, I whispered to myself in my head.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. The room was too loud, everything was too bright, it all became a blur. I stumbled out into the empty hallway and made my way to the girl’s bathroom and went to the very last stall.

I was shaking, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t catch my breath.

I couldn’t breathe.

I felt like I was dying, and as I sank down to the bathroom floor, I wished for the first time in my life that I would just die.

I called my mom several times before she realized her phone was ringing, she came and found me.

“What’s going on? What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” it was all I could repeat.

“Go get in the car, I’ll get our stuff together and your siblings, we’ll go home.”

I was sitting in the passenger seat of our car just sobbing and I couldn’t seem to make myself stop.

Something made me look up and I made eye contact with one of my classmates, he was standing by his truck, holding door open to get in, just staring at me.
I stared back at him, still crying.

He got in his truck and drove away.

The next week I was getting stuff out of my backpack when I felt a hand on my shoulder, I looked up to see him looking down at me.

“Hey, um, Grace.. I don’t know how to say this, but I’m here for you and I care about you.”

I felt so embarrassed that he had seen that, “Thanks.”

Don’t mention it.”

And we never mentioned it again but we started talking in the hallway between classes.

I was so stressed with school, I was failing math, science, and my writing teacher told my mom that I wasn’t trying hard enough but I was trying my hardest.

I felt too stupid too be worth anything.

I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere–I was too rough for homeschoolers, too homeschooled for public schoolers. I was just there, and I hated that feeling.

I started stress eating, food seemed to fill the void I felt.

Then everything became about my weight, I was no longer a person, I was a number that people estimated when they looked at me.

Ironically, when people called me fat to my face, it made me sad, which made me stress eat even more to get rid of that feeling.

But no amount of dr. peppers I chugged down could drown the feelings of inadequacy.

I would look in the mirror and I labeled myself with imaginary stickie notes:

Stupid, ugly, worthless, used, broken, unworthy.

I came to the conclusion that I had no future.

“When I look at you, I can see the light of the Holy Spirit in you,” the preacher would always say to me, one time he talked about me being full of light during a sermon.

He’s wrong, I thought, there is no light in me, is there even a God? Where is God?

“Do you want to die, Grace? Are you depressed?”

I didn’t answer as a slightly older boy walked up to me as I was standing outside of the church building one night. He stooped by my ear, “because I can make that happen. I have a machete, but your neck is so small choking you would be easy.”

I forced a smile and looked up at him, expecting him to be joking in a weird, morbid way, but his eyes were steel, cold, empty of any see-able emotion.

I stood there, not knowing what to do. I never knew what to think of him, sometimes he would randomly kick, hit, or try to trip me as I walked by him, I had bruises on my shoulders and legs often from him. Other times, he would come up to me and start telling me about his day at school or tell me a joke he heard that he thought I would like. It was always a guessing game of what person he would be that morning, that night, that hour.

Everyone was like that for the most part.

One night I had a really bad break down while at home, and my parents found me on the laundry room floor.

When I finally gathered myself back together, I walked into my room to see both of my parents sitting on my bed. My mom was crying, she hardly ever cries. My dad looked frozen.

“What’s going on?” I just wanted to go to bed, to sleep and never wake up.

“Grace, I’m about to ask you something and I want you to answer it truthfully,” my mom said, “are you suicidal?”

I didn’t answer, I didn’t know how to. Sure, I wanted to die and had thought about how I could die, but didn’t most people? Everyone I knew joked about it.

I had decided that if life didn’t get any better by the time I was sixteen that when I got my driver’s license, I would drive somewhere, call the police so they–the people most mentally prepared–would find my body and not my family or someone else, and then do it. I decided that it would be better than just growing up useless and causing more trouble for everyone.

“Answer me.”

“Isn’t it normal?”

My mom was shaking, my dad put his hand on her shoulder. “No, it’s not normal, Grace. You need help. Your teachers have pulled me aside and warned me that you are showing signs, and I think you’re acting this way to cry for help.”

I wanted the conversation to be over, “So what are you going to do?”

“We will find a therapist for you, we want you back, Grace.” My dad said.

“I don’t want to go to therapy, I don’t need to go to therapy. I’m fine.”

Long story short: they found a therapist and I started going to therapy.

I never could figure out how to open up fully to the lady sitting on a chair in front of me. She held a clipboard and took notes as I talked, but sometimes I just couldn’t get words to come, I couldn’t describe to her why I was sad, or why I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t know why.

She helped me sort through a few things though, she took my messy words and unraveled them and gave them back to me to look at.

She told my mom that I was depressed, but I didn’t have depression, there wasn’t a chemical imbalance in my brain, if there was I wouldn’t be getting out of bed in the mornings at all.

We worked on finding my triggers and learning how to brace myself for the panic attacks.

My triggers: being asked about the future, school (tests, grades, feeling like I’m not doing as well as I should be), and feeling alone.

One thought would lead to another when it came to these and I would start panicking.

The feeling alone one was the worst, I could be with people, someone’s arm around me, and my brain would still whisper “you are alone, no one cares about you.”

My hands would start to shake and my throat felt like it was closing up.

I started fighting it, I started trying to focus on other things, and it worked. It was small progress, but it was progress.

After my therapy sessions I always felt drained, my therapist said it was normal.

I would go home and just cry, I felt so fragile and I wondered how I could ever adjust to an adult life on my own one day. Alone.

I was doing better though, I hadn’t had a breakdown in a month.

Then, youth group night came.

It started out normal, we got there and sat outside the building where we had it, none of the leaders where there yet.

“We should go in,” one guy said.

“Let’s wait for the adults.” I said, but they were already opening the doors and stepping inside the dark building.

They were throwing things, jumping from pew to pew, kicking things.

“Guys, we’re going to get in trouble, stop.”

They didn’t stop, one jokingly screamed in my face before running off to jump on the stage.

I don’t know why it upset me so much, the respect I had for the place had been dwindling, but watching them act that way in a house that I was always taught was for worship God was terrible.

The lack of respect, the lack of the ability to think through their stupid actions.

They’re so dumb, I thought, why is everyone ok with them being so terrible?

“Grace, calm down,” I felt an hand grab my wrist.

I yanked it away, “Don’t touch me.”

The boy in front of me looked startled by my tone of voice, he stepped back. “Whoa, sorry.”

My hands were shaking, I was mad and upset at the same time.

“Come on, y’all, stop the ruckus.” a leader walked in and flicked on the light. “Seriously?”

They started signing us in like nothing had happened, like there weren’t hymnals strewn across the floor.

“See,” someone bumped into my as they walked past, “no big deal.”

How are you?” the leader asked me.

I felt tears in my eyes, “Sorry, I’m just tired.” I tried not to cry but I couldn’t stop.

“Grace, I’m sorry,” one of the boys said, “I didn’t mean to make you sad.”

I went to the bathroom and cried, then I washed my face and looked at myself in the mirror. “No more crying, I’m going to be fine. I’m going to go back out there and stop being a whimp.”

It had already started, the lights were dimmed in the auditorium, the music was blasting, I opened the doors and slipped in. I stood in the back, I needed to find someone to sit by, someone who wouldn’t call attention to the fact I had been crying, someone who wouldn’t make a joke about it, someone who cared.

I stood there and looked, I looked at every one of those kids and every one of those leaders and I realized that there was no one. No one cared about me there.

It wasn’t the first time I had felt that way, but it was the first time the truth of it hit me.

I sat down next to a leader, they didn’t even look at me. They didn’t notice how I didn’t sing, I was just trying my best to keep breathing and to not cry again.

It ended and the lights flicked back on, it was too bright. I ducked my head and got up with everybody else. I can do this.

Grace,” a loud voice called, everyone turned and looked at me as a hand clamped down on my shoulder. The preacher looked down at me, “Are you having a good day?”

I looked up at him, “No.”

His hand hit my back a couple of times, “You’ll get over it, you have to.”

I felt the air get sucked out my lungs, but I forced myself to walk forward with the others, I can do this.

We walked into the next building and it was too bright and too loud, I felt people staring at me, I knew I looked awful.

I can’t do this.

I kept walking through that room, up to the exit door, and I walked right out.

I walked to the next building, my mom taught one of the AWANA classes that ran at the same time as youth group, I went to go find her. I looked behind me and the preacher walked in and made a beeline for me, his face was dark.

No, I thought, and I ducked inside a class room and slipped through a bathroom that connected the classrooms together.

I found my mom, she looked scared when she saw me, “What’s going on?”

“I need to go home.”

“Go to the car, I’ll meet you out there and take you home.”

I walked back outside.

“Grace,” one of the ladies walked up to me, “are you ok?”

I didn’t answer.

“I can take you home.”

But my mom was already outside, she talked to the lady who later called her to make sure I was ok.

My dad met me at home, we got in his car and just drove around the city and the country in silence. He’s always been a person of few words, but somehow it was always comforting.

I have memories of him taking me out after a bad school day and me just crying as he sat across from me in silence and then he would say, “Things will get better, you know it? Cheer up.”

Mom’s always wanted to know his secret to calming me down, but he’s just a calming person to be around. He’s just there.

When we got home, he turned to me, “You know what makes me feel better when I’m sad?”

“What?” I asked.

“Hanging up drywall.”

I laughed, “Sounds like an excuse for child labor.”

“I’ll teach you how to use a nailgun.”

So I went and hung up drywall in the room we were adding onto our house while classic rock blasted from my dad’s old radio, and things felt like they were going to be ok.

It was just a bad night at youth group, it would get better at church, right?

I decided that I didn’t want to go back to youth group, the problem was my mom didn’t want me to be home alone while struggling with suicidal thoughts. At events, she had to have me in sight and if I needed to go to the bathroom while at my co-op’s gatherings or other places, I would have to tell her I was going and then come back to her after so she would know that I wasn’t having a breakdown in the bathroom. I wasn’t allowed to be in my room and when I was, my door had to be open. I was on suicide watch from her, so me staying home alone for hours wasn’t going to happen.

A leader at Awanas needed help and she told my mom that I could help out in her class. I love kids, it’s very much my element, so I was excited for this alternative to bearing through youth group.

The preacher told us we couldn’t do that because if I left youth group to go serve and volunteer, all the other kids would want to as well and it would look bad.

It made no sense. Maybe if your program is so bad that a bunch of fifteen to eighteen year old boys would rather herd kids up for Bible lessons for hours, it’s just a bad program.

We didn’t know what to do, but we agreed to meet the preacher in his office before youth group and Awanas to talk about some of the issues I was having.

My dad wasn’t invited, but we decided that he should come too, and I’m glad he did….

Not only was the preacher in his office when we walked in, all the elders and deacons were too.

I wanted to turn around and walk back out, this clearly wasn’t going to be a conversation like my mom and I had been led to believe, but I took a seat, trying to keep my hands from shaking.

Long story short: they didn’t listen.

I told the preacher about the LGBTQ+, about the swearing, about the watching and looking at pornographic content, about how some of the kids would talk about how they would murder him if they could.

I saw shock flash on his face, but then, it was gone.

“I know all about all of that.” he said.

I stared at him, “No, you don’t.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but you are one of the only teenage girls among a group of teen boys, what did you think would happen? Boys are boys. All youth groups are like this.”

“They shouldn’t be,” I felt tears in my eyes, “I came here to learn more about the Bible and to be around good company, but there is none of that.”

He brushed me off, looking at my parents. He told us that we were causing gossip, that people were wondering why I was upset that night and worried about if their kids should go to youth group or not.

Will you submit to our decision?” an elder asked my dad.

“What is your decision?” my dad asked, “I won’t submit to anything that will hurt my daughter.”

“Will you submit?”

It kept going back in forth, the elder just kept repeating the question while the rest of the men stared at us.

One offered me an alternative, “I’ll study with you apart from the youth group, how about that?”

Submit.” repeated the other elder.

“To what?” my dad asked again.

“We don’t need you causing trouble and people to gossip, there is nothing wrong with my youth group.” the preacher interjected.

Why is Grace here?” My mom asked, “She’s fifteen, if I had known what kind of meeting this would be, I would have never agreed for her to come.”

It went back and forth, they wanted me to be quiet, go back to youth group, and pretend that I loved it.

“I never want to go back to that place.” I told my mom the next day. “If we don’t all move churches, I’ll go to a different one once I get my license.”