Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Testimony Tuesday - Meet Lenette

Today's testimony comes from one of my newest friends.  Lenette and her family joined our church I think about 2 years ago and she is one of the sweetest people you will meet.  She is always so kind and always has a smile on her face.  I'm thankful to know her and so thankful she was willing to share her story with you here today.  

Hey everyone, I’m Lenette.  I know that there are probably people reading this who have had a bad experience with church sometime in their life.  You may see Christians as judgmental and hypocritical. I get that.  There is a lot of that in our world.  I hope by reading what I have to say today, that you might soften in your thoughts/beliefs.  Maybe you can give church and God another try.  

I don't remember a time that I didn't go to church, but I’m not one of those people who grew up in a wonderful Christian home. 

I'm the child of two parents (mom and stepdad) who both suffer from mental illness. My stepdad is my dad and he always will be. My biological father was only briefly in my life before he passed away when I was nine. 

My stepdad was an alcoholic and used drugs for many years. My childhood was full of the effects of mental illness, poverty, and being around adults who used drugs and alcohol.

Despite all of that, my mother was a Christian and took us to church every Sunday.  I always knew of God, but it wasn’t until I was 14 that I accepted Christ in my heart and was baptized.

I believe being in church kept me from straying too far down wrong paths in my life. I certainly did not always choose the right path but, I believe without God's conviction on my heart, I may have ventured into some very bad places.  

(I never want anyone to be offended about things I say about my experiences.  I hope that I don't sound demeaning to the church I was raised in, but I have to tell my story and that includes how I felt or how I perceived things.)

During my high school years, we started attending a new church. A lot of times, I felt somewhat uncomfortable in services. Back then, I thought that was either how I was supposed to feel, or that I was just weird.  

I felt like I had to try very hard to do everything right; that I had to be like the people I saw in church and I needed to pray and to worship like them. I really lived under the assumption that I had to always be “prayed through” or if I died, I might not make it to heaven.  

My perception was that if I had sin in my life or wasn't doing what I was supposed to do, then I could be a "backslider,” and wouldn’t go to heaven.
There always seemed to be lots of “rules” and “judgments” from members of the congregation.

This pressure, conviction and guilt were a lot for a teenage girl.  I never felt like I was being "good enough."

Thankfully not everything at church was that way. From the youth group at church, I was blessed with a wonderful group of Christian friends in high school.  I believe that they were a great accountability for me and helped me to grow in my walk with Christ. One of those friends is still one of my best friends even now.

When we graduated high school and headed to college, most of us, sadly, went separate ways.  I did live in the dorm my first year with one of those friends, but after that, we didn’t see very much of each other.

College was a hard transition for me.  It was a time where I left my sheltered life in a small town, my family, and most friends. I was pretty much on my own, had very little guidance and definitely made many, many mistakes.

Some of those mistakes are still very hard to think back on.  There are so many things that I wish I could re-do from those four years. I’m sure people who knew me in college could very well attest to that. I strayed from God and church and did things that I absolutely knew were wrong.  Any kind of mess that you can imagine a college age girl getting into, I have probably been there.

But, I believe the Bible, and when it says, 
 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
I believe that.  
Through all of my bad decisions and mistakes, God was pursuing me.  He never left me or gave up on me.

I've always believed that God puts certain people in your life at different times to fulfill His purpose.  I'm so thankful for the people He has put in my life in each season.

I know that I was meant to meet my husband Tim in May 2002.  I am forever grateful for that.  The choice to marry him completely altered my life.  

I attended church so irregularly in college, but after we were married in May of 2003, I felt the need to be back in church.  We lived 45 minutes from the church I grew up in, but most Sundays we would make the journey.

Even after the kids were born a year apart in 2005 and 2006, we still made the journey as often as possible.  I didn't feel quite as awkward in church there as I had as a teenager, but some of the un-comfortableness remained.  

Tim got a job in my hometown in 2007 and we continued to attend church there.   Despite how I inwardly felt, I did love that church.  I felt God there, and loved the pastor and the people.  However, I believe that my feelings of worship and my memories of not feeling good enough from my younger years kept me from experiencing God in a deep, real way.  

Life was so good during those years.  I struggled with health issues, but our babies were small, and we just enjoyed them & our family so much.  I had no idea how our lives would change in the coming years.

In August 2009, Tim accepted a job in the school district where we are now.  This job was a huge blessing, but this was SUCH a difficult time for our family.  The first year, Tim commuted two hours away and stayed with a friend most of the week.  It was so very heart wrenching to be home with a 3 and 4 year old who missed their daddy so very, very much.  Our house was for sale, but nothing was happening.

The next fall, we finally decided that the kids and I would move here and we would tighten our belt and rent while we waited on our house to sell.  It broke my heart to move away from family and start over in a town where I knew two people.  

And then, we lost my mother in law two months after moving here.  I had never lost anyone really close to me before that. She was like a mother to me and losing her is something that has forever changed me.  I began to see life in a new way and it was not good.  I was paralyzed with fear and anxiety a lot
That was the hardest time of my life.  I felt more alone than I ever had in my life.  I questioned God and even began having panic attacks. 

But God always has a plan. Even while I was going through such a hard, dark time, He was working on my future.  

Around the same time, we had begun looking for a church home.  We wanted a church to raise our kids in, but deep down, I knew that I desperately needed a place to feel God and hopefully find new friends. We visited five churches and the fifth one is the one we are at now.  From the moment we stepped into the church, I knew it was where God wanted us.  God brought us here for a reason-

This church is where my heart was changed.  

I sat in church services and Sunday school lessons where people just like me and even leaders talked about how they struggle and mess up and are not perfect.  They didn’t all pray and worship the same.  
There was no pressure to be a certain way.  They were not “not saved” because they still had sin in their life.  

It was like God’s true love and grace was being shown to me for the very first time.  

It was such a deep realization that He loved me and did not expect perfection and that my salvation was not conditional.

I cannot ever explain what that did for me to realize that I did not have to be perfect or do things a certain way to be a Christian.  It has opened my heart to God more than ever in my life.
I learned to accept that it is not the things I do that save me, but God’s grace. God has forgiven me and I don’t need to be concerned of what others think about my soul. I know it seems strange to hear that from a person who was raised in church their entire life; I had just never quite understood the simplicity of God’s grace and mercy.

This is why I have felt so compelled to share my story.  If you have been there and have felt like you could never be good enough – you are good enough exactly how you are.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 
Romans 8:1
The things I have learned in my life as a Christian:
  • It is a journey.  It’s ever changing and evolving and I don’t believe that I will ever feel like I have “arrived.”  I hope God keeps changing me and drawing me closer to Him.
  • He loves me no matter what I’ve done, where I’m at, what I’m wearing, etc. The world does not always give us these mercies but God always does.
  • It’s not a church that makes your relationship with God, BUT having people in Christ love you and accept you can mean the world in your walk sometimes.  That’s why I feel it’s so important to be compassionate to others.  Yes, we can stand for our beliefs, but ultimately it’s our purpose to share the Gospel, not to condemn others.  Pray and ask God to lead you to a church that is right for you.
  • My faith has brought me through so many trials.  Being a Christian does not ensure a pleasant life.  I know there are/will be tough times, but I’m so thankful for the hope that I have.
  • In a way, it’s refreshing that the realization of God’s grace happened at this point in my life.  I just want to share about it all the time and I hope that it helps me express salvation to my children.
  • God has a plan for our life. Even if we don’t have any idea what it is, He is always working behind the scene.

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