This is the story of how God rescued me from dead religion and brought me to love and life.
I was born into a loving family who valued God, family, and safety. My parents took me to church as a baby and we rarely missed a Sunday throughout my entire childhood. Much of my understanding about God came from my Mother. She told me about Jesus’ love for me, read me tons of bible stories, prayed with me each night, showed me how to worship God, and tried to teach me how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. As a young child I easily accepted that Jesus was God’s son and that He died on the cross for my sins so that I could go to heaven and live with Him forever. At age 8, I joined the church and was baptized. I don’t remember much about it. All through childhood I interacted with God. I prayed about many childish things, mostly selfish things. And He would lovingly answer yes. I became aware of who Satan was through my fears and nightmares. I was fearful of kidnappers and fire and my mom taught me how to pray, memorize bible verses that reminded me God was my protector, and how to tell demons to leave in the name of Jesus (at whose name they had to bow). God walked me through numerous childhood fears and blessed me in many ways. This was the foundation of a relationship with Him that wouldn’t bloom fully until much later.
Good behavior and performance in school, sports, and activities was expected in our home. I was a rule follower by nature, although often my attitude would get me into trouble with my mom. But I liked to do well and school was pretty easy for me. I was a natural leader and had many friends. I never worried too much about if people liked me because generally they did. And my parents often told me how much they loved and were proud of me. I thrived on that and did not want to let them down.
Then came Jr high. It was a rough couple of years for me. I was physically awkward, had a bad hair cut, and suddenly began to worry about being popular and having friends. I felt shy and insecure all of a sudden. I spent a lot of time at home. During the summer between 8th and 9th grade I began to “blossom” physically. My body matured and suddenly boys were paying attention. This soothed my insecurity, because of course guys wouldn’t like ugly nerdy girls, so I must be pretty and cool! This started a pattern of trying to find my security and identity in guy attention. I knew all the good Christian answers about guy/girl relationships. I was waiting to have sex until I was married but I was full of romantic ideas about dating, marriage and falling in love. I was boy crazy, a flirt and dressed as provocatively as my parents would allow. I tried to draw God into my life and my boy crazy thoughts with prayer and bible reading. I never saw how I was trying to get my identity from guys rather than God, and trying to manipulate God into giving me what I wanted. Well boys will be boys and I began to get sexually crude remarks about my body. I would get so awkward and embarrassed and feel so dirty. Eventually though, I adapted to “protect” myself, and I began to make crude comments back. I used my body to my advantage, to feel accepted, secure, and popular. “If you got it flaunt it” became my creedo, all the while I maintained a no sex till marriage stance and attempted to live a “godly” life. Much of this interaction was going on with my friends in the youth group. Looking back I see how God was so patient, loving, and protecting of me when I was being so stupid. He saw the real me and was lovingly reaching out to me and gently trying to help me see truth about who I was to Him and where my true identity and security could be found. However, I did not see God accurately. I had begun to see him as only a disciplinary parent. I thought that if I displeased Him or did wrong in my behaviors I’d be punished: maybe lose something I wanted or He wouldn’t listen to my prayers or love me. I still had fears I could only find freedom from with trusting Him, so I didn’t want Him to leave me or not be pleased with me. I didn’t see until later that I did not truly believe His unconditional love for me and that I was also trying to manipulate Him to give me what I wanted by having good behavior. Good behavior and attitude were both greatly emphasized to me at home and church, the only problem was I couldn’t always be perfect. Every time I’d fail to be perfect I’d fall into pits of guilt and shame, feeling that God condemned me, was angry at me, didn’t love me, and would punish me. I believed I was saved from hell for all eternity by Jesus’ death on the cross but after that I thought I had to prove my love and thankfulness by being perfect. Perfect behavior would prove I really was saved by Jesus, would bring others to God, and ensure I didn’t suffer from God punishing me. What a twisted take on salvation that was! I didn’t drink, didn’t have sex with my boyfriends, and stayed away from the high school and college party life. I went to church twice a week, sang in the church choir, read my bible, went on mission trips, and tried to obey my parents. But my heart was full of selfishness and insecurity and although I looked fairly well behaved on paper, I was living in rebellion that could be seen in my relationships, especially with guys. Math 15:8 reminds me of me, “They honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. “ Outside rules did not consistently result in good behavior and did not bring me closer to God, I found they only emphasized how far away from Him I was. Having rules without much love and relationship with God led me to a place where I was worn out from the burden of defeat. I began to wonder, if I didn’t do all the “right” things would God still love me? I was bored, still sinful, and dead inside despite all this church going, bible reading, praying, and even getting all the things I’d ever wanted which was being married to my high school sweetheart with the wedding of my dreams. So I jumped head first into the rebellion that had been growing inside me. I began to drink, something I’d never done, and went out dancing at the club with my girlfriends and hung out with a mind to live and have fun. Now that I was married, I wasn’t supposed to flirt with men to get that security I craved and my husband did not feed into my ravenous need for affirmation. So I found it in my girls. I also continued to interact with all my friends, mostly couples at this point, in a crude course joking fashion. I played the role of good little Christian girl gone wild, delivering fantasy type attitude that was well received by guys and made me feel desirable and edgy. I was rebellious and enjoyed being a rebel against all the “religious rules and judgements” that I thought people in the church had. I felt like everyone at church painted their relationship with God as so pure and righteous. No one had ever talked to me about struggling with sin, questioning God, or the cycle of guilt and inability to be perfect. So I began to talk about it at church and with my friends, leading out with the “Be real” creed. But in my venting I did not find answers or humbly search for them and it did not bring life. It lead to further my cycle of acting in rebellion, condemnation, confessing my sins and asking for forgiveness, followed by vows to try harder to be “good” and please God. Then I’d fail and the cycle would begin again. I felt far from God and increasingly worse about my behaviors that led to some dark places. Again God was merciful to me, its like He had a boundary of love around me that let me act out in rebellion but kept me from going off the edge to the places I could never come back from. Eventually we moved back to Texas for a while and through normal life circumstances I moved back from the edge of wild behavior but still struggled with the rebel vixen living inside of me who couldn’t quite find her identity or believe God’s love for her. I was still feeling rebellious and far from God. Silently I asked the question, “Will you still love me if I act like this?”
In 2007 we were back in Tulsa. I was a mom now of two little ones, taking them to church and still trying to live a godly Christian life. I truly wanted to be pleasing to God and to be secure in myself. We went to church every Sunday and my husband and I were both small group leaders in the youth group. I believed everything the bible said about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and I was trying hard to teach my children all those things. But I was still not experiencing life, peace, love, or acceptance from God. I was still a failure at performance and fear often stalked me. I feared my family dying, I feared bad things happening, I feared being fat and undesirable. I could not control everything, but I sure tried and if I couldn’t control things, then I would try to manipulate the God who can, through my prayers and service. One drizzly afternoon at the end of February I got a phone call. A girl in our youth group, from a prominent family in our church, had died in a car wreck. The road was right beside my house, one I traveled every day. It was horrible, my worst nightmare, a prime example of bad things happening. I sunk into a dark fear. I didn’t want to leave my house, I didn’t was to deal with this reality. I wanted to run from life. But I couldn’t. I was in leadership and I had an obligation to be at church for my small group during the service they were going to hold. I dreaded that evening with every fiber of my being, but as I stood there listening to this girl’s brother lead worship songs, I heard Jesus speak peace to my heart. He said “I was with Lauren the entire time: before, during, and now. She is safely with me. Its ok and you will be ok too when the time comes for you. “When the Lord speaks to Your heart, it changes everything, this was the beginning of that awareness for me.
In September 2008, I began attending a bible study called Discerning the Voice of God. Through this study I became aware that God was trying to talk to me and if I would listen, I could hear Him. This was not a totally new thought, I believed God directs us and shows us what to do through the bible and circumstances but I never had purposefully sat still and listened for His voice. All my life I had been taught and believed that God wanted a relationship with me but I had kept it one sided. I poured out my heart , problems, desires to Him and I believed He listened and helped me and guided my life but I wasn’t listening to Him. I hadn’t been caring about Him. It had been pretty one sided. The first time I sat still and listened my heart was pounding. What if I didn’t hear anything? What if I did and He berated me for all my sins? What if He told me how disappointed He is in me and what a failure I am? What if I just made stuff up? But He answered. He answered with love and gentleness and acceptance that I had not dared to hope for. His voice was full of love, warmth and life, even His words of correction brought life not the weight of condemnation. This began a whole new chapter in my life and faith. As God spoke to me through the Holy Spirit’s voice inside me, I began to know Him. Scripture came to life. Like Hebrews 8:10 says, God wrote His laws on my heart and mind, no longer was I just trying to live a set of rules from the outside, He was working inside me to want to live His laws. I found out what He spoke to me changed me. When I was in an emotional sinful tizzy that I thought could not be fixed, a couple of words from Him and my emotions stilled. My world went from black and white to color, with all that I’d learned my whole spiritual life about God still true but in a new dimension of realness and color that I had never experienced. I found myself eager to get up early in the morning and wait to hear what the God of the universe would say today! He told me about Himself, showed me what things He thinks about people and situations, and me. He shared His plans and what weighs on His heart. He began to share His life with me and invite me to do things with Him. Did I magically become perfect? Clearly not. Sin is a battle and one that will not be totally finished until Jesus takes me to live with Him in His Kingdom. Did years of lies about God and myself turn around over night? No, but there’s progress into truth . Most importantly I found life, peace, excitement and joy! I also began to find security and identity aside from men and women’s opinions of me. I found out for myself that God is real and He does love me and He does want to be in a relationship with me, just like the Bible tells us.
Some of you may have wondered with goes on in this girl that she opened up her home and invited us over. It was God. Before now, I have never talked much to my neighbors or cared to know them. I wanted to keep to myself and not be bothered. It’s uncomfortable and could lead to issues I didn’t want to deal with if I tried to get to know my neighbors. But God began to talk to me about how He loves all the people in this neighborhood. Then He began to give me a desire to get to know you for myself. At times it has been such a stretch to get out of my comfort zone and initiate contact. In the past I’ve been too insecure in myself, as well as, selfish to reach out to other women. I usually saw myself in competition with them and to protect myself, I had to hide behind my attitude. If I reject first, then I am protected. If I don’t risk trying to know someone, I’m saved the awkwardness, uncomfortableness and risk of it not working out. But I’m so very glad I risked. I have been blessed weekly by your friendship and I thank God for bringing us together and thank you for being willing to come here and open yourselves up to me and each other. Thank you for listening to the rescue story God has started in me. I would love to hear your stories one day.