Feb 16, 2012

Thursday SHINE....

Today's Reading: Romans 3

Happy Thursday, SHINE!

I have a very special friend giving her testimony today.

I cannot even believe how her story goes with this week's theme of God's grace on our lives, and how he uses our testimonies to reach others.

Several weeks ago, I asked Samantha to write her story for us. I wanted to share it with all of you. I knew bits and pieces of her story, but not the full version.

I've known this precious girl since Elementary school. God has brought her back into my life--full circle--and I could not be more blessed because of it.

So, grab your coffee or hot tea--and soak up Sam's story.

Samantha and her baby girl, Ryan O.

So Jill mentioned that maybe - I should share my testimony with the SHINE girls. To be honest, my nerves went into overdrive as I read her email.....I have a lot of insecurity in sharing.....I question myself - do I really have something of value to share? Something that could make a difference in someone else life. So I told Jill I would pray about it, figure out what to share and when I felt led to tell the story of my walk/journey with Jesus I would email her.....so that is what I did, and this is what you get :) Praying it will make sense to at least one of you ladies! 

First I will start with where I am today. I am a single mom - that has been blessed beyond measure...and certainly more than I ever deserved! My life...my journey is a true testimony that God is good, He is all knowing, and LOVES us without condition! God has changed my heart and my life & I want to share all that he has done for me! My prayer is that I am an example to my precious daughter Ryan, and she will know the Lord as her heavenly Father always. I strive to bring glory to God with my life. My journey has been one full of twists and turns....so hold on, here we go!! 
I grew up the oldest of 3 kids - for the first 5 years of my life I was an only child. And I was a total daddy's girl, I LOVED my father, strived to make him happy, wanted to do whatever he did....my earliest memories are of my father - ALL of them. We moved from Decatur to Conyers  just before I turned 5 years old and my parents bought their first home. Soon after our move my brother was born and a short 14 months later my little sister was born. If I had to guess I'd say  I was about 9 years old, though I do not recall exactly how old I was when our family started to fall apart....but sadly it did. And as my family fell apart and my father backed away from us both physically and emotionally, I did damage control as best as a small child can. I got tough. I became my moms best friend comforting her and being a sounding board for her heartache and worry. I protected my brother and sister as much as a small child can...trying to assure them everything was ok, taking on whatever I needed to so they were ok. My father moved out of our home when I was 13 years old.....it was crushing.  As a teenage girl, I experienced complete and total abandonment and at the very same time I stepped up as the other "parent" in the home. My father did not call me or ask to speak to me when he called my brother and sister, he did not get me for weekends, he just completely checked out of my life almost as if he could not bear to face me. So naturally, I became angry....and convinced that something was wrong with me, if my father did not love me anymore clearly something was wrong with me. 
Fast forward to high school. I happen to be one of "those" that loved high school - I had great friends, lots of fun and probably to much freedom. My inter circle of friends were (what we thought of as) the "cool" kids.....you know hanging with the older people, dating the cute boys,drinking, smoking, sneaking out, etc., etc. Lord forgive us, we were so far from the "cool" arena - but none the less, we had what we considered fun. I would sometimes attend church with friends, heck I even played on a church softball team - but I found church to be a bunch of people that put on their best mask for a hour or so once a week. I certainly did not feel like God was relevant in my life, had never heard anyone speak about Jesus as if he were living in them, other than when at church on a Sunday I never really saw anyone read the bible or hear why you should - my memory of the bible at home was a huge white bible that sat on my moms dresser....more of decoration than the living word of God. 
Anyway -I started dating Brad in 1993 my senior year. I opened up to him and truly loved him with my entire heart. He and I were married on September 12, 1998 - and this is the first time I think God tried to really reach me...but I had NO idea. The day we were to be married, as I stood in the brides room, I heard "Don't do this". Of course, I promptly shook that off and headed out the door for my father to walk me down the aisle. Brad and I were married a short six months before we separated for a month and started counseling. Our marriage ended in October 1999 and our divorce was final in January 2000. 
I can honestly say that going thru my divorce was the first time I really ever remember praying to God. Crying myself to sleep, covered in shame, having had every fear about all I lacked to be loved being reinforced - vowing to NEVER allow anyone get close enough to my heart to break it again....but I cried out to God "If you are out there, please help me, please help me understand." 
At the time I lived in Covington, and each day I would pass this really small, unassuming church on a hill. And every time I would pass the church I would hear "You need to go in there"....this went on for weeks...finally I caved. Not sure what I expected, but I went one Sunday morning - alone. I remember friends being shocked that I would go alone - but remember, I was tough. :) My first thought as I entered this small church was that people had on jeans?!?!?! and what in the world was that about?? but oddly I felt more comfortable there that I had ever before in a church. Now I have no idea what the sermon was about, but I remember dropping a card in the offering plate asking the pastor to contact me....I had questions. He contacted me and we met in his office to discuss if I was going to heaven. I of course said I was going to heaven, I mean I was a "good" person....HAHAHA! The pastor spoke to me about Jesus and the sacrifice he made on my behalf (he used an egg analogy...seriously) and we prayed together - I was SAVED!!!! I walked out of that office so free, light and excited - I shared the news with everyone I knew! The following weekend I was baptized with my entire family and my ex husband there to see. 
Shortly there after I sold my home in Covington and moved to Atlanta. So there I am newly single at 25, selling Real Estate making great money, living in a great duplex in the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta,and as you might guess church fell off the radar for the most part. My cousin Melanie and I...we just pretty much were living it up, everyday...helping one another along in masking our misery. We attended Northpoint for the first time in 2002....I remember pulling up to the church and seeing HUNDREDS of cars leaving, and I said aloud "Well there must be something to this place otherwise all these people would not get up so early." So Mel and I attended Northpoint for a while....sometimes after a long night out still smelling like the bar, but we were there. Pretty soon Buckhead Church opened on Roswell Road, and Mel and I started to attend there. Things changed at Buckhead Church, we both became more frequent visitor's, we both made friends, started hanging out with some fellow church goers, etc. Something else happened and we took different paths - God urged us both to get more involved.....I had the overwhelming feeling that I should volunteer with the middle school ministry and Mel felt led to the elementary ministry - Mel followed the Lord. I on the other hand, packed up and LEFT! No way I could possibly help or be a good influence on those kids. So as Melanie started to grow in the Lord, I took off running in the other direction. I saw a change in her, good changes and I was happy for her. But I continued to chose the path of the world....the path that I controlled regardless of how poorly I was controlling it, it was still mine. Plus, all the talk about trusting the Father - to be honest it just did not sit well with me. I was grateful for the gift of my salvation...but I did not trust anyone especially a father. 
So off I went....on what we will call The Dark Days. I made one bad choice after another with my finances, the men I dated and the friends I surrounded myself with daily. I abused my body and punished myself for being less and unlovable. I believed that I was not good enough for love, that I was easy to leave and if God had a plan for me it was that I would do without the love I was so desperate for in my heart. All the while still being tough for those I loved, holding them up, cheering them on....but each day my spirit died a little more. Funny thing is now that I look back, I know that God was still with me, He was right there with me in every dark place I have been....I just still was not ready to surrender. This went on for longer than I like to admit....until the day God reached into my life and changed everything. 
On Saturday, June 13th 2009 - I took a pregnancy test because I thought I might be late. I actually went to the CVS in Decatur, bought a pregnancy test and a 12 pack of beer (I was going to the pool). So I peed on the stick, jumped in the shower to shave.....and SURPRISE!!!! Now I will not bore you with the details surrounding my relationship with Ryan's father....but I will assure you that my pregnancy was not planned, not one her father wanted to see continue and I was terrified! As sick as it makes me feel to tell you this, I was at first convinced that I was being punished for all the bad things I'd done - I was so blind to God's love. But quickly I recognized my baby as the blessing that she is, and I found myself clinging to Jeremiah 29:11. I prayed everyday that if it was God's will for this baby to be in the world, then it would be. As Ryan grew in the womb, my heart started to feel again....I had not felt real love in so long that it took me by surprise. I would cry sometimes completely overwhelmed and scared by the amount of love I felt in my heart for this baby that was not even here yet. Ryan Olivia was born on February 17, 2010 and it was as if I took my first breath of air - I think it was the first time in my life that I grasped the love God has for me. 
The first year of Ryan's life was hard and stressful in many ways - working out the issues with her father consumed much of my time and effort. But I prayed through out the year, He gave me the strength I needed and things settled down with regard all of that. Late in year 2010 I started asking what to do about my job  "Lord what should I do??" I heard "Be Still". (as a side note I would not know Psalm 46:10 tells us this until 8 months later) But it was CLEAR - so I decided "OK, I'll do it. You say be still, I will be still, I will stop trying to make everything my way, I will wait, I trust you". 
I surrendered....FINALLY.. While I was waiting for something to happen with regard to my job, I was led to read a book called Captivating and cried my eyes out while reading it, convinced that it was written to me personally, I was led to attend a women's retreat, I was led to Athens Church, then to a small group....NOTHING was changing on the job front - but EVERYTHING was changing! The minute I finally surrender to my heavenly Father, I started to change from the inside out. He has gently led me along and I found myself wanting to share, wanting to be bold, wanting to make sure others knew about this!!! I am moved to tears when I consider that He loves me. When I finally surrendered I started to understand and believe the promises made and then saw those promises kept in my life. My heart and my life were transformed. Moments like sitting at a red light with tears filling my eyes and running down my face...as I realize for the first time, maybe ever in my life, that my heart was truly full of joy, or when I realized that what I thought was maybe God speaking to me....actually was God speaking to me. I learned the difference between having faith and being faithful, and realized that He created me to be exactly who I am...flaws and all. I have learned to take the back seat while listening and seeking His will for my life (which by the way is not something that comes easy to this control freak) and I am on an amazing journey that has begun to heal a wounded person, heart and soul. And ladies, I fell in love - I am in love with Jesus. 
When Ryan was born and I would rock her to sleep....the only song I could only ever think to sing to her was Amazing Grace - I prefer the Chris Tomlin version, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8YRapsaRfE - Very recently I realized that this was a song that came to mind not by chance. So I guess my testimony, or all I am trying to say is that not matter how far you have run, where you have been, how stubborn you are, or if it is simply how little you think you know....JUST surrender. Listen for Him, Seek Him, Trust Him, really give it ALL to Him! He loves you, He knows you...every single piece of you and HE LOVES YOU!! 

Much Love! 

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