The Most Miserable Person in the World

What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made?  No, I don’t mean that time in middle school when you tried to cut your own bangs and ended up with about an inch and a half of hair in the front that stuck out from your forehead when you tried to curl it and spray it into submission.

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Looks kinda cute on her but was horrific on me, and I did it more than once! Photo Credit: Pinterest

Yeah – you remember that time (or four – depending on how many times it took you to learn not to do it on your own).  It was the time you tried to trim them when they were wet, and you pulled them down tight and cut them at the length you wanted them to be…when they were dry!  Yeah – that time 🙂  Takes a while to get over that mistake, don’t it!?

But that isn’t the mistake I mean.  I mean that big, life changing (or at least life diverting) mistake that took years, maybe even decades to recover from.  I have a few like that, but one of the most costly mistakes for me was the time I spent trying to act like Jesus wasn’t real and wasn’t sovereign over my life.

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That all started back in 1997 when I was a freshman at UNCW.  Fast forward to 2004, and I’m married and looking for a new church in a new town with my new husband.

Yes.  You read that right.  I was still ignoring Jesus but looking for a place to go to church.  I was newly married and knew that, like my parents, my husband expected a girl that was going to church.  And, I wanted couple friends to hang out with, so we visited churches in our area.  I was raised in the Methodist church and Bill was raised in the Baptist church, so we went to both.  Sometimes friends invited us to their churches and sometimes we went to churches we’d seen in the area around our apartment.

We finally visited First Baptist Church of Indian Trail (FBCIT) around 2005 because Bill’s mema had seen a service from this church on TV and suggest that we try it out.

Mema had mentioned this church to us several times after we moved to the area.  I was against it though.  It was a Baptist church for one thing, and it was huge!  It took 3 services to accommodate people on Sunday morning, for crying out loud!  But, it was around 5 minutes from our apartment, so we finally went.

The Wednesday after our visit, as was the church’s practice, they sent people to visit us and invite us to come back.  We went back the second Sunday and asked to be placed into a Life Group (that’s a Sunday school class for those of you old-schoolers like me).  That day, we were taken to a class that hadn’t been together very long but was for newly married couples like us.  We met the teacher and his wife and 3 or 4 other couples. After service, they were all going to lunch and invited us.  We went, and that was it.  FBCIT became our church.

I don’t remember a ton from those early years except the life group.  It was growing fairly quickly as other couples were added and some started having children.  A few of the ladies in the class who sang in the choir invited me to join, and I did.

I know now that God meant for us to be at FBCIT.  It was the church and those were the people God was going to use to woo me back to Himself.  I sang in the choir.  I went on the choir retreats.  I listened to the sermons.  I participated in the life group lessons.  (Sounds a lot like the first 18 years of my life, doesn’t it)?

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God began convicting me during this time.  I can’t tell you much of what He said or did though.  For one thing, I don’t think I’d ever been convicted before – or maybe I just didn’t recognize God’s voice.  For another, I’d gotten very good at ignoring anything that might be from God: ignoring it, rationalizing it, getting angry at it, whatever I needed to do, I did to avoid whatever He was doing or saying to reach me.

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Then, one morning during life group, we had a substitute teacher.  I have no idea what the lesson was about, but I will never forget this one thing he said: the most miserable person in the world is a Christian who isn’t living for God.

I almost burst into tears right there in the middle of that class with all those new friends we’d made.

That was me!

He was talking to me!

I WAS miserable!

I hadn’t known exactly what was going on, but I knew something was wrong.  I hadn’t realized it until that very moment; I had become an expert at pushing is back for after all those years.  I had gotten good at doing church things and living like a Christian, but I wasn’t living for God at all.

Whoa!  Talk about a turning point!  I still had a very cold, hard heart of stone, and it would take a few more years to soften it completely, but this moment definitely got my attention.

Look back and take note of the life-diverting moments and turning points you’ve experienced?  Would you share them here?

He’s a ‘Hold On To You’ Kind of God

Once you belong to God, He keeps you, even if you don’t want to be kept. I’m thankful He doesn’t let His children go. (I know somebody just said ‘amen’ to that)!

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I’m sure there were many ways God held on to me when I decided to walk out on my own, but one way was by keeping me in church. The whole time this mess was going on, I never stopped going to church. Weird, right? I really don’t even believe in Jesus at this point, but I am sitting in church!? I know. I know.

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On the surface, the thing that kept me in church was my parents. I knew they expected me to go, so I went. From the time I was 18 and moved out of my parents’ house, I found a church to attend in the difference places I lived. That was God keeping me. That wasn’t me. Now, I’m not saying that I went every Sunday, and I certainly wasn’t involved in the activities at the church like I was when I was young, but I still went. That’s one of the major things that kept me from totally going into oblivion. That, and God had a Christian husband in store for me, but I didn’t know that yet.

I’d known who Bill was since high school although we’d never spoken to each other that we can remember. But, we were in a group of friends who were hanging out while some of us were home on break over the Christmas holiday in 2000. Over those weeks of break, he and I met and started dating. That was 17 years ago, but God had Bill planned for me when He separated the dry land from the water and said it was good.

Bill grew up in a close-knit, Southern family just like I did. He was raised in church (the same church where his mom went as a girl with her family). He spent summer days running through the woods with his cousins, and he spent many a meal with his feet under the table at his grandmother’s house. It’s a little eerie how many similarities there are between his childhood and mine.

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Memmie’s house (Bill’s grandmother)

But all those similarities don’t negate the most important reason: Bill believes in Jesus. God knew that I would need a Christian husband to hold my hand and help lead me back to Him, so He sent me Bill.

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Bill and me – 2014

Bill and I met in December 2000. We got engaged in July 2003 and were married in June 2004. During the 3 years of our courtship, I don’t recall telling him a lot about my worldview although we did talk about it a few times before and after we got married. More recently, he told me those conversations scared him and that he prayed that I’d go back to my faith for the sake of our family.

Thankfully, God was working in my life to reconcile me to Himself.

It took a while.

He let me walk out on my own for a long time.

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In Psalms 81:11-12, God says, “But My people did not listen to My voice: and Israel did not obey Me. So, I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices.”

This verse makes me shiver; it is as if God were speaking specifically about me here because this is exactly what He let me do. He gave me over because that was what I wanted. He knew His child well enough to know that I had to learn the hard way, so to speak.

I was going to have to walk away to get back to Him.

In a recent Bible study, I heard Elizabeth Poplin explain why God gives His children over to their own devices. She said, “That’s what God does. We think we’ll get freedom out there, so we leave and taste it, but it doesn’t free us. He does. So we go back. We have some of the world in us when we come back. He will clean us up”.

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And He’s kept us the whole time. He’s just waiting for us to get our fill of whatever it was we thought we wanted more than Him. He’s been watching. He’s been working. He’s been waiting – like the father in the famous parable of the prodigal son. God waited for me to look His way, and as soon as I did, He came running!

 

Hallelujah!

Please share your stories of how God held you!

Those “What If” Moments

When you look back over your life, and see how things are coming together, and understand how one decision in one moment created a mistake that changed things and brought you to where you currently stand, do you wish you could go back to your 18-year-old or 25-year-old self and warn yourself not to do it?  Sometimes I do.  Then, I realize that our lives were set in motion long before we were even being put together in our mothers’ wombs.  What we did we were probably going to do no matter what, so it is a waste of time to wish you could change it.  The best we can do is to ask God to show us what He wanted us to learn from what we did and how He wants us to glorify His name through that experience and move on – as the person He intended for us to be as a result.

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But, there are times when I still can’t help but think, “What if?”  What if I hadn’t taken that Introduction to Religion course?  What if, when I began having doubts, I’d prayed for God to show me the truth?  What if I had opened the Bible to see what God had to say?

What if, a few semesters after the Introduction to Religion course, I hadn’t taken that Survey of Asian Religions course?  This was another elective, and I chose it so I could have a class with the guy I was dating at the time.  Turned out to be an extremely stupid thing to do for many reasons, one of which was the fact that we broke up early in the semester, so I had to sit through the other 3 ½ months of the semester in a classroom with him!

This class covered Buddhism and Hinduism and other minor Asian religions.  What I saw were a few similarities between these religions and Christianity: how to treat others and how to live, for example.  It seemed everyone had a variation on the Golden Rule.  There were also a myriad of creation and flood stories.  All this information and these perceived similarities burst through a door in my mind, further muddling and blurring what was true about Jesus.  Things started mixing up.  I continued to hear that Intro to Religion teacher explain that religion was what man created as he tried to figure out how he got here and what he as supposed to do.

All this jumbled together.  I didn’t take captive any thoughts.  I didn’t guard my heart.  I didn’t pray and ask God to show me the truth.  I didn’t talk to any trusted Christians.  I just jumped head first into this…hole.

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I remember thinking, “Everybody’s just trying to figure out the meaning of life!”  That led me to conclude that everyone was right; all religions and belief systems were valid.  Everyone just created their own realities – little ‘t’ truths.  What is right for me and works for me isn’t necessarily right for you.  This led me to another conclusion: How can I tell someone of a different belief system that they are wrong?

Ugh!  I hate talking about this!  I feel so silly.  Why didn’t I guard my heart?  Why didn’t I take captive those thoughts?  Why did this happen to me so easily?  Why didn’t I give God a chance to straighten me out?

By the end of my four years in college, I had developed a tolerant, open worldview.  I know a name for it now: relativism.  You do your own thing, have your own beliefs, and you’re right.  I will do my thing and have my own beliefs, and I’m right, too.  I picked off the buffet of world beliefs and created my own worldview that suited me and the way I wanted to live my life.  It was “I won’t mess with you and tell you that you’re wrong, and you won’t mess with me and tell me I’m wrong”.  We’ll all just get along!  It was very nice and non-abrasive.  There isn’t much to argue about or stand up for with this worldview.

What can I say?  It seems like total craziness when I write it now, but that is where my mind was, and I was totally happy with it.

The problem with this type of thought process is that there isn’t any room for Jesus to be a real man, much less the Son of God. I never thought of that when all this mess started, and by the time I had arrived at my own worldview, He didn’t fit in anymore.  If everyone’s reality is right for them, then Jesus isn’t who He said He was.  He wasn’t born.  He didn’t walk among us.  He did not turn water to wine or heal people.  Most importantly, He didn’t die for me, walk out of the grave, or ascend back to heaven.  He isn’t alive and loving us today.

All the truth about Jesus and who He was got gobbled up by worldview I created for myself.  There was no room for Him.  Before I knew it, He was gone.

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That’s scary, isn’t it?  It is scary on this side of that experience, now that I have been reconciled back to the Lord.  But I wasn’t scared at the time.  I didn’t realize the seriousness of my situation.  I didn’t realize that I had turned my back on God.  It just happened.  I was just living in it.  And, I thought I had been so smart to figure it all out.

Have you ever doubted something you thought you knew?  If you are a Christian, have you ever doubted that God existed?  That Jesus was real?  That He really did all the things the Bible says He did?  Maybe you’ve questioned that God had your best interest in mind.  Maybe you wondered if Jesus was really the only way to salvation.  Are you willing to share those doubts and questions here?

 

When It All Changed

Have you ever been walking along through your life, happy in your own little bubble of comfort and familiarity, when all of a sudden – BAM – the bubble bursts, and you realize not everybody is like you?  Yep!  That’s exactly how I felt when I was 18 years old, and I stepped onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW).

The first 18 years of my life were fairly structured and sheltered.  I had a simple childhood.  Most of the people around me had grown up in a similar way.  Most of my friends were from middle-class, southern, Christian families, too.

My family went to church regularly, and I was saved sometime around 12-years-old.  To add to that, my parents were fairly strict, so I stayed out of trouble in high school.  I grew up in a small town anyway.  Everybody knew my parents and me, so it would have been challenging to get away with very much.  I was what you’d call a ‘good girl’, for the most part, but it wasn’t necessarily because I was convicted as a result of my relationship with God and wanted to bring Him glory.  It was mostly to avoid being grounded and having my car taken away. 🙂

But, when my parents cut me loose on the campus of UNCW in August of 1997, I took full advantage of the 150 miles between my hometown and the exciting new place to which I had moved.  I had my wild streak and made up for the lost time in high school.

(It is noteworthy to mention that, although they were a two-and-a-half-hours drive away from me, my parents and my upbringing still held pretty strong sway over much of my behavior.  I did what I wanted to an extent, but I still held it in check.  That distance didn’t mean they had no influence or power over me at all.  I didn’t want them to make me come home, so I took my rear end to class and made decent grades).

Although I got to exercise my freedom and experience some of the things my parents warned me about, the thing that was damaged most by my choices was my faith…and I didn’t even realize it was happening.

During my first semester as a college freshman, I took an elective called Introduction to Religion.  It was a survey of religion as a whole – more of a philosophical look at the institution of religion, if I remember correctly.  I have no idea why I took it though; I must have needed an elective, and it fit into my schedule.

I distinctly remember a lecture early in the semester when the teacher said that religion was man’s creation.  He explained that man-made religion was a way to answer life’s big questions: Why am I here?  How did I get here?  What happens when I die?

Those words stand out to me even now.  That was a pivotal moment for me.  I should have followed Paul’s warning to the Corinthian Christians in 2 Corinthians 10:5…”take captive every thought to obey Christ.”  But I didn’t do that. I highly doubt I even knew that was a thing.

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Instead, I remember thinking that my eyes were being opened.  I was excited!  I felt enlightened!  I felt as though I were figuring out some mystery all by myself.  This was an epiphany – an important revelation to which I was privy.  I thought, “Everyone is just trying to figure out life and make it in this world!  We just do it differently.”

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This enticed me further onto a path that I happily walked down.  I was willing.  I was discovering.  I was eager to uncover more of this new reality about which I was learning.  I didn’t see it at the time, but these patterns of thought were what led me to completely turn my back on Jesus and spend more than 10 years walking out on my own.  I thought I was liberated.  I thought I was so modern.  But I was heading toward a dangerous place, a place God doesn’t intend for His children to go.

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Our minds can be our own worst enemies, would you agree?  What we think has a great influence over us.  That must be why the Bible discusses thoughts and thinking so much and why we’re encouraged to “lean not on your own understanding” but to go to God so He can refresh our minds with His word.  What thoughts do you have trouble taking captive?  What do you do when those enter your mind?  How does God lead you back down the narrow way?