I am sharing my testimony tomorrow with the Japanese church. Here is the transcript of the English for you.
I have been on stage in front of people so many times in my life, and I still get shaky and nervous. I also had the hardest time figuring out what I was going to talk about this morning. It’s pretty unusual for me not to know exactly what I want to say, unless I’m speaking Japanese. Hopefully, everything will make sense by the time I finish.
A few months ago, Washiela shared her testimony with us and detailed how God pulled her from her life far away from Him to a life that is now so close to Him. My story is pretty different from hers. God pretty much kept ahold of my life from the womb. Washiela’s story shows more of God’s ability to pull us out of anything to live with Him. I think my story focuses on His ability to preserve and grow us once we have that relationship with Him.
But let me start at the beginning.
I was born June 14th, 1984 in Fort Pierce, FL. But my story begins before that. A few years earlier, my mother had an accident where her back was seriously injured. She lost a lot of the strength in her back and had terrible pain that increased year after year. When they discovered she was pregnant, the doctors pushed her to get an abortion. They were afraid that if she carried me to term, she would damage her back further and be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. My mother has been a Christian since she was 5 and raised in a Christian home. She knew she could never get an abortion, no matter what the risk was to her own quality of life. But she was worried, and prayed to God for peace.
She was flipping through the Bible and came across Jeremiah 1:5-10. She felt an overwhelming flood of peace wash over her and God telling her that those verses were for me. They were written to Jeremiah the Prophet when he was a young man. God told him he had a special plan for his life, one decided for him even before he was born, and he would be a spokesperson for God to the people. He would go to people who did not look like him or speak the same language, but God would protect him. Mom knew that God had a special purpose for my life and with that promise, she decided she could face anything. After I was born, Mom was still able to walk. In fact, she never needed any work on her back until just two years ago. For her faithfulness to God, He gave her 23 extra years of strength.
I was born into a Christian family. My father was a pastor and we were very active in the church. Whenever the doors were open, we were there. I think I always had knowledge of God and that He was in control of everything. Yet, even so, I knew at seven years old, that I had to give my life over to God. I had sin in my life that needed to be forgiven. I asked Jesus to come into my life and cleanse me of the filth that was in me. It seemed like a simple decision. I remember the day (although, I can’t remember exactly which day it was), I remember talking with my mom, I remember crying, I remember the pink-dotted blue fabric of the couch we sat on. But it seemed easy to me; as easy as walking from this room to the hallway.
My parents divorced when I was four years old. This in itself had a profound impact on my life. I loved my father with everything in me. In my mind, he could do no wrong. But we all know that when a divorce happens, the blame cannot go all on one person. After that time, I grew up knowing two very different homes. One was comfortable and real. The other was polished and distant, like a Christmas-card, or that Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s hard to explain just how different those two worlds were, but that’s what my life became – two worlds. I lived between the two worlds in a sort of ocean where I could only just tread water to keep from drowning. I was prone to migraines and fits of crying. I couldn’t control my emotions very well at all.
As I got older, my knowledge of what had happened in my family grew as well and I had to deal with that also. Through the chaos of that time, however, somehow I never lost sight of God. It was something I never questioned. I always knew God was there. I might not have always prayed to Him, or had a strong relationship with Him, but I always knew that He was with me and in control. I studied the Bible as much as I could. I memorized all the stories. My dad was a pastor again and it was expected of me to know the Bible inside and out. I was supposed to be the fastest one to find Bible verses. I was supposed to always have the right answers in Sunday School and youth group. I was supposed to know all the songs in church. I was supposed to be the kindest, sweetest, most helpful, best dressed, and most obedient girl in the church. I was even expected to carry my father’s reputation. Quite a burden for a child. I was so confused about what things were natural for me to worry about and what things I shouldn’t need to think about. I was expected to behave much older than I was and to have knowledge and wisdom beyond myself. So, I worked hard to have those qualities in my life. I thought it was normal to seek the approval of society and for a while, I had it.
Like I said, I poured over the stories in the Bible, particularly the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. I really related to the Israelites in that part of history. On any Sunday morning, you could find me reading through the story from beginning to end. After a few months of doing this, I could finish the whole story by the time we got home from church. I loved that story, but I didn’t have any idea that it could mean more for my life.
I also discovered the 139th Psalm. As soon as my eyes clamped on verses 9 &10, I knew they were meant for me. [read verses] It dawned on me that I could lead my own exodus. I prayed and I really felt God telling me that it was ok for me to leave. I was still concerned about what the world would think of me, but God threw that thought away. He showed me in the verses that no matter where I go or what I do, He would be with me. And that was all that mattered. So, at 14, I announced my decision to stop my visits to my dad’s house. It was really hard. My emotions were not settled right away, although there was an immediate effect on my migraines. They stopped completely.
I spent the next year healing and in counseling. The environment at my mom’s was not perfect, but it wasn’t fake either. I was encouraged to read Scripture for myself and not just for memorization. I found a new church and was encouraged there to learn how to serve God and not man. But something happened that I didn’t really expect. Despite my new freedom to pursue God and my life in my own way, I felt like I was missing something. I discovered that, like a drug, I had become dependent on the approval of others. In my new church, I jumped in to all the familiar stations I had had in my father’s church. Of course, I couldn’t be the pastor’s daughter there. He already had three amazing daughters of his own. But I could be one by proxy. I could be the church’s daughter! I already knew everything I was supposed to say. I knew everything I was supposed to do. It seemed, for a while, that I had just changed one set of faces for another. I still sought the approval of men. Quite literally, of men. I no longer had a father in my life, and the only one that I had expected me to do certain things socially and academically. I would frequently join discussions with the men in our church just to see approval for my wonderful knowledge. Not just with our church, but anywhere that I was.
In high school, I found that I had sort of forgotten about building relationships there. My intimate friends changed so often through the years. I tried to pull back and focus on one group of friends, but I still found myself trying to go beyond the limits I set, and trying to please others. If I found a group of people who weren’t really impressed with me, I would study what did impress them. I would become knowledgeable of anything just to get their approval. I am so thankful to God, that He kept me from knowing these things by experience. I never acted upon my new knowledge, but that didn’t stop it from invading my life and actions. Some of the things I learned, I still fight to keep from my mind, and I will probably fight with them until I get to heaven.
I went through high school and started college with no idea that I had a big problem looming behind me. I had a pet. He was pretty big by now and his name was Pride. I had been feeding him for so many years. Before, he had been harmless and pretty small, but now, he towered over me. And he was messy too. I couldn’t go anywhere without him getting dirt and filth on myself, people, everything. Things started to fall apart. I had good practice at looking like I was in control no matter what, but inside, I was sick. I felt the hypocrisy of who I really was, and who I made the world think I was. Often, I would just play the same old cards, but there was no feeling behind them. I realized that I had traded one lie for another, and this time, it was my own doing. I began to resent the people in my life who thought the best of me. I figured they couldn’t possibly really love me, because they only knew what I wanted them to know. I was a whole different person inside. I was bitter, arrogant, and just plain dirty. I realized that others’ words meant nothing to me, because my words were seldom honest. And heaven forbid! I try to show people who I really was. I was sure that everyone was so well-tricked that I could never be honest about the doubts and anger in my own heart. They either wouldn’t believe me or they would turn on me with every weapon they had.
I discovered that I didn’t know how to say “No.” I had been saying Yes to people all my life that I felt obligated to continue saying it. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I was in college and working too, and I was having a hard time balancing everything that I had done before with all the things I had to do now. So, I began there. I decided to step away from any responsibilities I had in the church. I could easily blame it on my workload, since I wasn’t confident enough to take the blame myself. I went to the bare minimum. I attended church, and a Bible study, but any responsibility that came my way, I stepped away from. I needed to get back to God, and only God. I didn’t know of any other way to fix this huge problem I had in my life.
I felt Him calling to me in different things and ways. It was simple really. I felt Him in the clouds, in music, in fog, the laughter of a child…sometimes in the strangest places I found Him beckoning to me. He was calling me back to Him, to the way I had trusted Him as a child. I realized that even if people couldn’t love me 100% exactly as I was, God could. And He did. And I ran to Him.
It wasn’t an easy fix. It’s a process. It’s a rough process of turning from others and from myself back to God. It’s one I haven’t completely mastered yet. But it’s one that’s completely worth it. God’s love and mercy cleansed my soiled heart yet again. It wasn’t like I needed to be saved all over again, just cleaned. I had left my heart in the dirt for so long. I had given it as a chew-toy to that monstrous creature, “Pride.” God took it and made it whole again. And every day, I ask Him to make it new again. I still struggle sometimes, but being a Christian doesn’t mean you are perfect. One thing I discovered was that I was unable to love others how God wants me to, because I was unable to see passed myself. When I confronted my own sin and became honest with those around me of it, they could be more honest with me. I was no longer blinded into thinking that I was immune to sin. I learned what compassion was because I experienced from others in the Body of Christ. And this is the call of every Christian: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love others as ourselves. That second one is just as important as the first: Love others as ourselves.
Lastly, I want to encourage you with some Scripture. My mom always says that when you speak to a group of people, you should read at least once verse from the Bible. That way, at least one thing you said will have been inspired if nothing else was. So, I’m going to have Eri come up and read a couple passages to you. They represent my thoughts and prayers for you, a part of the Body that I have grown to love as much as my own back in Ohio. Thank you for letting me share today.
[Eri reads Ephesians 1:15-23 and Philippians 1:3-11]