The last three years were a struggle for me, but they were also what I needed in order to be saved.
The year 2014 saw me at my heaviest weight, my lowest self-esteem, and living with some pretty toxic habits. I was drinking a little too much, I was giving into to gossip, hate, self pity, etc. I had unhealthy eating habits, and I was not working out. I was not in a great place.
Part of the larger issue was that I felt like my life was without purpose. I was working at a doctor’s office and knew that it was not fulfilling me and what I wanted in life. So, once realizing this, the first change I made was returning to college. I enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma and worked hard to finish my undergrad degree in Education that I had begun 7 years earlier. This change sparked a deep self evaluation. I began looking at what else I was doing, where I was going, and what I needed to do to become who I wanted to be. I was trying to do this alone, so it was a slow start.
2014 and the beginning of 2015 saw me change some of my dietary choices, my living space, and the way I viewed my future. I began living a pescetarian lifestyle (now vegetarian), I moved back to Norman and into a small house on campus, and I adopted a dog from the local shelter. I also began planning and organizing my goals and expectations for myself. I was drinking less, eating better, and was becoming more active. I was still going at life alone, though.
A few days before Easter 2015 my grandad sent me a text inviting me to church. My grandparents had done this several times over the years, and I always declined citing previous plans. I wouldn’t even really consider the offer. Just a sorry I can’t make it, but thank you response. This time, however, I said yes. I thought to myself, why not? I was back in Norman, I was trying to figure out my own happy, and going to church with my grandparents was an easy thing for me to do to make them happy, so what could it hurt? How naive I was in thinking that it would only make my grandparents happy. The invitation from my grandparents was the seed being planted to begin growing into who God knew I would become.
That Easter church service was pretty good, it peaked my interest in faith and God, and so I went back the next week and the next. A few Sundays into my visiting was “Senior Sunday”, where our church has a college senior and a high school senior minister to the congregation. This was the service that grabbed me. The vulnerability and honesty of the message that these two young men delivered made me want their faith. Their message began watering the seed my grandparents had planted. I invited my grandparents to study the Bible with me that next week, and on May 9th, 2015 I was baptized. The following Sunday I took communion for the first time in my life. I was 26 years old, and I was no longer living life by myself.
The summer of 2015 really began a fire in my faith and trying to live the life of a Christian- spoiler alert: this walk looks different on everyone. My personal walk meant starting from the basics and finding a way to feel empowered and emboldened to learn and talk about my faith with others. This is when God placed into my path the first woman that I needed in that moment. Jenny brought me into her ministry, set me up with a small VBS group, and I could not have had a better start to my summer. What better place to learn the basics than with the children of the church? That fall I began teaching the 4th and 5th grade girls’ Bible class. In so many ways my girls were teaching me more than I was teaching them. Every Sunday they came in with their servant hearts, well wishes for each other, and openness to talk about God. I found my voice in teaching these girls. I realized that I had something to say, something to teach, and something to learn. The planted seed, now watered, was beginning to grow.
It is hard to explain to people how your life changes when you come to Christ. Before that Easter invitation my life was kind of dark, muddled, and I was not happy. I didn’t realize how unhappy I was until I found Christ and began finding that happy. After I found Him, I began looking at different aspects of my life. I took what I was learning and how I was feeling on Sunday and tried to live each day like that. Did I fail some days? You bet! Do I still? Of course! But I don’t give up on myself and neither does God. How awesome is that feeling?
2016 was a big growth year for me, spiritually. I was meeting the parents of my girls, other Bible class teachers, and church members around my age. I was beginning to feel like Church was a home, rather than a place that I was coming to to wander around blindly trying to figure out life’s biggest questions. I think a lot of people first view Church as an intimidating place where everyone is so far ahead of you that you may as well just stay home, but once you realize no one has all of the answers you begin focusing on your own race. You begin to see that the other runners are there to help and support you, rather than tear you down. Church is easily one of the places that I feel most comfortable at today.
Anyway, during 2016 as I was feeling more at home and making friends, I met the second woman on my path who God placed at just the right time. She was another Sunday morning teacher and at some point we had friended each other on Facebook. In February of 2016 she posted an invitation on her page to all of her friends to join her at an IF:gathering. I had no idea what IF: was, but she attached a link to their website in her post, so naturally I checked it out. IF:gathering is one of the greatest gifts to women of faith. IF: is a ministry for women, run by women, and they empower women in their day to day walks. I needed to see her post. I needed to be introduced to IF:. I was still a bit hesitant to put myself out there, so I didn’t respond to her invitation, but I did begin following IF: and with their next study I stepped out of my comfort zone and invited a few dozen women, including her, to join an online study group. That online group grew to 92 women and lasted through several Bible studies. Danee, thank you. Thank you for posting about IF:. Thank you for welcoming me into your life. Thank you for continuing to be one of the most steadfast women of faith I know. Thank you for answering my irrational insecurities with love and patience. You are a gift to everyone who knows you, and you are so appreciated!
The planted, watered seed was now not only blooming, but beginning to take root in a pot crafted specifically for me.
With the IF: studies, new friends, and a regular routine, little by little I saw the toxic habits fall to the wayside. I was no longer fixating on things I could not control, but instead controlling my actions and reactions. This was the second best thing I have done for myself- letting go. Letting go is so hard, and it is a daily struggle, but even if you only manage it 50% of the time you are still winning.
In the summer of 2017 I had just finished up my first year of teaching in the traditional school setting, and I was about to begin my new job teaching in a virtual setting, when I began feeling this pull to be more than what I was. I messaged Jenny and began the process of applying to Graduate school in Ministry. This calling was initially just a nudge, a few opportunities opening up, but I was a little slow to move because I was afraid. I was afraid that I was unqualified to minister. Who am I to lead people to faith? Who am I to be responsible for someone’s fate? Who would listen to me? This was all Satan. God calls on all of us to disciple, so how can I not be qualified?
Late in 2017, one of our current ministers called to ask if I would be interested in leading a Women’s Life Group. I said, yes and then shortly after thought, How? - What if people don’t show up? - Who can I ask to help me with this?. That last question was immediately answered- the third woman God brought into my path at just the right time. Cortney was my first and only phone call. She and I were friends, I have had her daughter in class for two years, but I knew that this would allow me to get to know her a bit better. She thankfully agreed to lead with me, and with that decision a women’s group was formed. That phone call helped me see that this was something I was being called to do. That even though I was nervous, women like Jenny helped break the door down to allow me to walk through. Payton, thank you for calling me!
The first book our Life Group read was Angie Smith’s Chasing God. For those who have not read this book, I highly recommend it. The women in the group began forming a bond that has grown to include new friends and two more studies. These women at different moments have all inspired me to be better, to approach a situation differently, or to re-examine some of my own beliefs or insecurities. These women have gone from being faces in the pews at church, to women I check in with when good or bad things happen, go to Thunder games and grab sushi with, or just give a hug to when I see them on Sunday. These women and the studies and discussions that we have has helped shape me into a better version of myself. How many people can say that they are a part of a group that does nothing but encourage, inspire, and empower? God placed each of these women in my life for a purpose, and I am so thankful he did.
2018, so far, has seen the best days in recent years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t cry to Cortney on Sunday morning asking her to pray for me. If you know Cortney then you know she immediately did so and continues to do so. She is the best. But, overall, this year has brought me to my healthiest in years, self-confidence I’m not sure I have ever had, and new friendships that will continue on. I write all of this not to say, Look at how well I did!, but instead to say, Look at how God has moved in my life - Look at how God has turned faces in pews into a tribe of strong, encouraging women who will drop everything to pray over one another - Look at what God has to offer you.
I went through a three year struggle where I lost some of the closeness of my friendships, where I lost contact with parts of myself, but in finding faith, making amends to old friends, and surrounding myself with a tribe of women who amaze me every day is how God has shown me His love. The second best thing I did for myself was learn how to let go. The first was surrendering myself to God and accepting Him into my life.