Vices vs. Verses: A Testimony

There has been a lot of discussion in my church lately on the importance of personal testimony and how individual stories can impact the world. Giving testimony on one’s faith is empowering and gives honor and glory to God because we are relaying the story of how He saved us. Peonies ‘n Mint, though loosely based around random discussion on what Life brings to the table, has grown to include more and more discussions on faith and belief as well. I do not usually dive into topics that may cause conflict, as I’m sure anything centering around religion may, but when it comes to my faith, I’m going to choose not to be afraid and go there…

I was blessed to have parents who felt the importance to have me grow up in the Church. I was baptized two weeks after my birth into the Lutheran faith and attended church regularly every week following. I began school in a Lutheran day-preschool at the early age of four. From there on I was given Bible lessons every day up through senior year in high school. I had to memorize Bible verses on a daily basis, I attended chapel services at least three days a week, and I was taught the stories of the Bible as an academic course. To say I knew the Bible like the back of my hand is an understatement…

Having religion as such a central part of one’s education should be a wonderful thing. However, I’ve come to believe that growing up in such a fashion leads to two very different types of people: the one who centers all thinking on his or her faith OR the one who takes advantage of that education and rebels. I am ashamed to say that for a long time I fell into the latter category.

Upon entering my higher education years, I left daily catechism to begin studying in a public university. In a better world, I would have matured throughout my college years into a steadfast and faithful woman of God. I should have taken the time to read the Bible on my own, revisiting familiar passages in the Word. I should have pushed myself to dive into devotions and actively allowed prayer into my life. I should have searched and joined Bible Study groups on campus to share in fellowship with my fellow believers. Instead, I allowed my past knowledge to be enough and left my faith on the back burner.

It isn’t surprising, then, that when I was faced with my first real trial in Life that I turned my back on God. I experienced the first true pain in the twisting shadows of heartbreak. I should have clung to God and His encouraging words such as 2 Corinthians 12v9: But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Rather, I blamed God and played the victim saying He had turned His back on me.

To make matters worse, I not only closed myself to God, but I opened myself to many vices of the world. I was no longer Ashley, but some foreign wraith of the girl who once prided herself on reciting Bible verses in front of her church congregation. I began to drink heavily. I was well known at many local bars, finding myself on first-name basis with barkeeps all over the county. It was rare for me not to close down a bar on any given Friday or Saturday. I found any and all worth in the compliments I received from men I met at those bars. I tried every unhealthy diet in the book because I was solely focused on looking and acting the part of a good bar-fly. I began to associate with people of the same ambition. I swore, I lied, and I didn’t give a damn about my reputation.

Acting in this manner led me to be an extremely lonely individual. Feeling lousy, depressed, and of no self-worth, I jumped at the first opportunity granted me at a real relationship. Enter Army. I blamed all my hardships on life on that starting factor: my breakup with X. So, naturally, I believed beginning a new romance would provide me with the self-worth necessary to make me happy.

The one positive thing to come from this stage in my life is that I became an extrovert. When you don’t care what people think, you’re much more prone to talking to strangers and being more social. With an increased bravado, I agreed to a blind date where I met Army for the first time. In retrospect, there wasn’t much to our initial attraction past looks. I suppose he intrigued me because we seemed to have common lifestyles: we both liked to drink, we both liked to workout, and we were both lonely.

Those similarities worked for a while, until they didn’t.

God brought me to my senses in a very clear and pungent way. (Literally.) One day in early summer, Army and I attended a festival at a local winery. It was typical that our time together centered around alcohol, and the day started off well enough. We pitched lawn chairs in the winery’s vineyards facing their outdoor stage where several bands were set to play throughout the day and we headed to grab growlers of our favorite beverages. In a streak of pure brilliance on my part, I had stayed up late the night before, ran a 5k race that morning, and opted out of eating any food whatsoever prior to the festivities. So the 64 ounces of sangria was all I had in my system. Things only continued to go downhill from there and a series of very unfortunate events (points of which I am still too ashamed to divulge in public) transpired. Ultimately, the afternoon concluded with Army screaming obscenities at me while I bawled in front of over 500 people. It was, and remains to be, the single most embarrassing moment of my life.

Though Army apologized profusely the days following this horrendous event, things never felt the same after that festival. We became distant from one another. Looking back, its clear that was the beginning to our end.

It was also, blessedly, the start to my new life though.

It’s funny how deep and impacting embarrassment can strike you. I had dealt with other situations with Army, such as getting kicked out of establishments due to his temper and witnessing him want get into fights for as simple of a reason as someone not moving forward in line at a grocery check out… But nothing struck me quite like that festival. I realized that I was associated to such anger, and that didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t want to be the type of person who belittled strangers, who allowed others’ impertinence, who was arrogant and only cared about her own well-being. I no longer didn’t care…

With the feeling of utter shame, I began to reflect on my actions, and lack of action. I looked in the mirror and, though I no longer saw a crying, sniveling little girl, I still didn’t like my reflection. In the mirror I saw a girl who prided herself on her vices. She was vain. She was mean. She lied and swore and looked down on people because she somehow thought she was better than them. And something — buried deep, deep inside me — broke.

I knew I had to change.

Change, however, does not come all at once. Change is a process. I used to think my life change began when Army and I broke up, but now I can see it actually began at that wine festival. That was the moment I truly saw the kind of person I was becoming, and I was disgusted. I slowly began to drink less. While still with Army, I began to opt out of the bar scene, and instead chose to go to the gym or stay home. When he’d suggest going out, I’d order water to his beer. Once we broke up, I decided I wanted to take a hiatus from the dating scene. I no longer wanted to find my worth in a man’s perception. I wanted to find worth in myself. I worked out consistently, I created tighter friend circles, and I started to research new hobbies and activities available in my community. And somewhere along those lines that deeply buried broken girl pieced herself into a completely new woman.

Yet, even after I had grown past my vices, something was still missing from my life. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep pretending I didn’t know what that something was either: a strong connection to God. My faith had truly not been touched since high school. And even though I was molding myself into a new person, there was no lasting mortar to make sure I wouldn’t come crashing down again in the future.

I’m not a strong prayer. I feel ashamed to say that because I’ve had better instruction on how to talk to God than most people do throughout their lives. But, I’m just not. I forget constantly to thank God for His guidance, for His blessings, for His continued work in my life. Nonetheless, God still heard me that summer day when I was online browsing for something new to enter my life. At the time, I didn’t even know exactly what I needed, but He sure did!

I found House while looking for a Bible study group at First Church. Out of the blue, a Facebook friend had posted that she would be starting a Bible Study at the church come September. The topic she posted about sounded interesting, and since I was wanting to try new things, I investigated a bit further. I’m not sure if I actually even made it to the page with the Bible Study topics… all I remember is clicking a button pertaining to a “20 Somethings Group”. I jotted down the meeting location and time and made a mental note to try to join the group the following week.

It took me three weeks to find the House group. House is a Bible study group for 20 and 30-year-olds which meets at a local beach during the summer months. My first two attempts, the group had been holding fellowship in the actual lake, swimming and playing games and whatnot. So I spent the first two weeks walking up to random groups on the beach, asking if they were the House group, and receiving confused looks.

By the third week, I had pretty much given up, thinking the group either wasn’t considerate of newcomers or the group simply had no interest and didn’t truly meet! So there I was, on that fateful August evening, sitting at my parents’ house, staring into the void when my mom asks, “Why aren’t you going to that Bible study? I thought you were going to give it one last shot?” Since I honestly had nothing else to do, I shrugged and drove over to the beach. Luckily, my fears weren’t validated: House had regrouped on the beach and I was finally able to find them! And, the rest is history…

With every passing week at House, my faith grew a little bit more. Not only was I participating in studying the Bible, but I was able to have deep and impacting discussions on the Word’s content with peers of my own age. After saying goodbye to my bar lifestyle, I also ended up saying goodbye to quite a lot of “friends” who didn’t understand why I no longer wanted to be fun. So, House also provided me with a new friendship pool. Not only were the members of House fellow believers, but they soon would be my closest friends and confidants.

I dealt with a lot of loss since joining House. And whereas I might have once crumbled over that pain, the people I met in the organization were exactly the sort of people I needed. Each and every one of them has strength and compassion unparalleled to anyone else I’ve ever met. I honestly cannot express how blessed I am to have them; they are simply great, godly people.

And while being surrounded by such great, godly people, its hard not to also become godly. I feel excited to join House for church every Sunday, I eagerly await Wednesdays to participate in our weekly Bible Study, I even organized my own women’s Bible study group — something of which I NEVER thought I’d see myself do!

It’s amazing to think that little over a year ago I didn’t even want God in my life. I didn’t want to care about what He wanted from me. I didn’t want to change from my sinful nature. I didn’t want Him to see what I was becoming…

Yet God always has a way of knowing exactly what we need when we need it. It’s easy to forget and want to rush things to our own timeline, but that never truly works out in the ways we want, does it? No, God is the only one omniscient of our futures and what is best for us.

So, though I continue to struggle against my sinful nature on a daily basis, I gladly welcome God into my heart nowadays. Vices will always surface in a sin-filled world, but the Word’s verses hold me strong in His ways. Philippians 4v13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This I know is true.


 

God works in mysterious ways to bring us to His saving kingdom. As I said at the beginning of this post, testimonies are used to not only empower us to share His Word, but also to glorify God. If you are willing to share, I would love to hear your own testimony! 

The Hardest Decision

One of the hardest decisions you will ever face in life is choosing whether to try harder or walk away.

Have you ever realized there is only one choice that we make in every moment of Life? The choice to try harder or walk away. From loving ourselves, loving another person, pursuing a passion, succeeding at work, or simply being present, we choose to continue thinking, doing, eating, saying, and being what we are or else we break up with it. There is only one way to do everything, and that is completely or not at all.

The choice to stay or leave determines whether we free ourselves or we suffer. The fact is, though, that we often wonder how we make the “right” decision?

This post is written in reference to Try Harder or Walk Away: The Decision written by Rebecca Lammersen. I chose to paraphrase and add my inputs, but I highly recommend reading Rebecca’s entire article as well. Rebecca makes the point that we have to learn how to discern between the doubt of the mind and the surety of the spirit in order to access what the “right” decision truly is.

The issue is that to discern between these differences means quieting the volume of the mind. “The mind is loud and the spirit is quiet,” muses Rebecca. I could not agree with her more. Too often it becomes too easy to listen to the loud voice in our minds shouting. You know, the voice screaming, “You aren’t good enough! There is no good in you! You don’t deserve to be happy!” It takes time, patience, and practice to hear that quiet voice in the background, and discipline to listen to her. Once we listen, there are a range of negative emotions that could occur: sadness, longing, unease. But there are also the positives: pride, love, happiness. So listening to the quiet voice not only takes understanding, but also courage. Lots and lots of courage.

This courage is conceived through faith. We can only have courage to listen to the quiet voice because our faith whispers that peace exists, even if peace is not visible yet.

Peace carries freedom as a gift. Once we entrust in our choice and endure the feelings and conditions that come with the strength of our spirit, then we receive freedom.

Like Rebecca, right now I am struggling too. I’m not sure if it is my mind or my spirit that I hear behind the door. And the reality of turning the knob to see who is behind the door is frightening. Aside from the fear there also lies uncertainty, the Unknown.

“Life is one struggle after the next, a battery of choices every day.”

I could not have said this better myself. Do I stay or do I leave? It buckles down to the knowledge that no matter what we choose, we are the ones in charge of making the choice. We are the ones in charge of producing our own happiness… or our own suffering.

And in the same way, we can also choose to walk away from our decision when we wish. We can back track, we can annul, we can recount our steps. Sometimes we find walls when we turn around, walls that were not there when we first walked down this path. At these moments we must figure out how to either climb the wall, choose a path to its side, or return to the route we just came. Every decision has a number of more decisions behind it. Taking charge of these choices is the key to facing struggles.

Struggle is the wrinkle of Life. It’s inescapable. However, we can also choose to honor struggle for all that it is worth. And it is so worth it! Peace is the acceptance of struggle. As we said before, peace results in freedom.

The problem with struggle, though, is finding the balance in not creating more once peace has been created. So then, how do we not make more struggle?  We listen. This is the key to the door. Listening. We must listen to that quiet voice and tune out the loud one.

This is when we finally realize the door is the object making the noise. There is no fear behind the door, rather the door itself is the frightening part. Yet once it is opened and placed out of the way, the quietness can step forward to embrace us.

When I consider these voices, I think of my faith.

The loud noise, the one shouting hurtful, demeaning, selfish monstrosities at us can only be, in my mind, “bad” things: Sin. Satan. The World. In no way would the harmful thoughts in your mind be from God. Thus, they have no substance. They are meant to deter you from your ultimate goals of true happiness, self acceptance, and all other Good Things that are encompassed in the idea of “freedom.”

It is my belief that God works for the good of all those who believe in Him. Therefore that quiet voice, the one that has embraced you once you learn to listen to it, THAT voice is God. It is His work in you and the sign you need to know what direction to lead your life.

There are two Bible passages that I have been considering lately and I feel they are strong reminders that provide evidence to this belief:

Romans 8:32 – Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?

Matthew 6:33 – But above all, pursue His kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

With these passages in mind, how then can I continue to believe that the storming voice in my mind is the voice of the God who promises me every happiness and blessing in this Life and the next? No. No, I cannot even begin to believe such lies. And so, I with this knowledge, I can move forward into accepting that what the loud voice is saying is absolute ridiculousness and preparing myself to listen to the quiet.

Sometimes the loud voice can harm us though. Sometimes we listen to it for so long, clinging to its hard surface that we receive splinters, cuts, and bruises.

Thankfully, I am the type of person who has the ability to nurture the wounds with which the loud voice harms me. I can take the gifts that time and patience give me and heal my broken heart or crushed self-esteem or injured image. And each time I heal, I become a little bit stronger and healthier as well.

How do I know that I become stronger each time? Because I have opened that door multiple times and been embraced by the quiet voice. I challenge myself to continuously find the key to unlock and open that wailing door. Experience and practice. Those are my liberators. I choose to learn from my experiences of struggle and focus on listening to the quiet voice more than the loud. With my determination, I shorten my search time and find a longer stretch of peace and freedom.

It just so happens that I’m struggling now though. I’m not free. I’m still deciding. I know I can choose to make an easy decision or I can make the choice that will challenge me. The choice that will help me grow.

My problem is I’m not quite sure which choice is which… I haven’t found my key yet. The loud voice blocks me at the moment, a voice shouting lies of “You’ll never be good enough.” and “You try too hard.”

But as I continue to hunt for the key, I know this: the choice to follow the voice of my spirit takes a lot of effort, determination, and tenacity. Sometimes it is too simple to take the easy way out, to become a coward and huddle in front of the door rather than look for a way to push through.

Honoring our spirit takes time, patience, trust, and faith.

So I continue to pray for the World and it’s sinful screams to stop battering me while I search for the key to my friend and companion, the quietness.

If there’s anything I can be sure of, it’s that I won’t stop looking for the right choice, I won’t stop listening for the correct voice.

I’ll be free soon.

The View From Here

Excuse me while I get philosophical for a moment…

Today my church’s sermon was a discussion on the beginning of the world and what belief in how Life began pertains to your life in the present world. The discussion led by Pastor Dave was one which moved me so completely that I actually brought out my phone during the sermon in order to take notes for this post. This is something I can honestly say I’ve never done before; I have never felt the desire to actively scratch comments on a sermon so to better understand, remember, and reiterate at a later time.

This sermon, though, was breathtaking. I found myself nodding at his words, marveling at the statistics he researched, and even had tears in my eyes at one point because the story he told was so relative it hurt my heart.

To begin his sermon, Pastor Dave requested we consider the sermon with “a view from where we currently stood” and asked three leading questions:

  1. Where did I come from?
  2. What is wrong with the world?
  3. Is there a solution?

The sermon then progressed into an extensive look at each question and how one might answer. The conversation first focused on God as the Creator of the world. I have always believed in Creation and the power of God’s Word. When I was younger, I did not question my faith or openly debate the possibilities of differences in beliefs. Now however, after attending a public college where so many of my beliefs were challenged, I am amazed at how many new opinions and theories come into the world on a daily basis. Some opinions seem plausible while others are complete nonsense, but it calls to reason that Creation can be a difficult belief for some to grasp.

Personally, there has never been any doubt in my mind that in the beginning God spoke, “Let it be.” and it was. It was not until I became older that this belief really shook me though. I mean, seriously, how incredibly powerful can a being be to make something out of nothing by simply speaking three words?

When I contemplate this unbelievable concept, though, it is not what creates the deepest feelings of amazement in me. Instead, I am completely blown away by how intelligent, engaged, and omniscient God is. Think of the exact perfection and complexity in which the world revolves; everything is collaborated to the concise and accurate measure that it should be.

In example, look at space. If the earth were a fraction of a degree closer/farther away to the sun than it is now, life on the planet would be no more. If the moon were a fraction closer/farther away from the earth, the tides and water levels would be extremely different making the planet uninhabitable. If the earth tilted more or less than it naturally does, then the seasons, ice caps, temperatures, etc. across the entire planet would radically change. However, in the great scheme God designed, the universe is perfectly situated by 1/1000th of a degree for life to continue as it always has.

With this realization of the immense thought and care put into my every day life, it is disheartening to think of the world around me. Mundane topics come and go by the second and each brings about a multitude of hate. I mean, just look at the outcry over a red cup. There is war on Christianity for taking a “good, lovely holiday tradition” and wreaking havoc. I’m sorry, but as a Christian, I could care less about a damn cup. And in no way should such a ridiculous argument portray my religion or beliefs. Yet, it has and it continues to do so daily.

Our culture is hostile to the Christian faith. We no longer live in a time or place where what Christians believe constitutes the norm. It’s not even an accepted point of view anymore! Instead, being a Christian seems to be an open war on the cherished principles of religious tolerance and relativism. If you point out anyone’s faults or question anyone’s life choices, your faith is thrown in your face.

What is wrong with the world? The answer is too long to list. Look at your Facebook feed and you’ll see the tip of the iceberg: racism, abortion, affairs, lying, world hunger, cancer, poverty, etc. Every single thing wrong in the world is broadcast for all to see. Struggle is inevitable.

I have several friends, non-Christians, whom I love and respect. And it comes time when we have tough conversations on why the things that are going wrong in the world happen. It is at these times that I feel my faith the most. These friends sometimes challenge my faith and attempt to ruffle my feathers by saying my belief in God blinds me to the real, tangible facts the world is shoving in our faces. They question how, if there is a God, He could allow such things to happen. Or they question how I can continue to believe in a God when it seems He is no longer present in the world.

It is during those times that I feel the strength of God and can literally see my faith in action. These are the times I can plant my feet, square my shoulders, lift my head, and not only give an account of my belief but also why I believe such things.

It goes to show that Del Tackett, former president of the Focus on the Family Institute, was spot on in this quote:

However, by diligently learning, applying, and trusting God’s truths in every area of our lives we can begin to develop a deep comprehensive faith that will stand against the unrelenting tide of our culture’s nonbiblical ideas.

It is important to remember that if we, as Christians, do not really believe or even understand the truth of God and live it, then our witnessing to others will be confusing and misleading. Most of us go through life not recognizing that our personal worldviews have been deeply affected by the world. Our lives can “depend heavily on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

There may not be a simple answer as to how to fix the problems of the world. In all honesty, we live in a Post-Christian world where sin reigns. Fortunately, for Christians, there is a way we can live in such a culture. It takes us getting our hands dirty and immersing ourselves in other people’s lives, but it’s worth it. Not only can we continue to live our faith-driven lives, but we can also witness the Truth to those our lives’ touch. How incredibly rewarding is that!?

In the end, the Christian faith begins with what we think about “in the beginning.” It matters that when we look at our world we acknowledge that there is a God. The Creator is more than a blind, impersonal force; He is a loving and engaged Father who wants the very best for every single one of his creations. This is my view on Life, my faith, and the world around me.

With this in mind, I have a bright light to lead me through Life and get me through every single problem I face. I pray that, whatever your belief, you also feel the same way and can walk into the world with your head held high knowing you have a purpose for being alive.

Faith: What It Means to Me

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” -Hebrews 11:1

I know I have mentioned this before, but I’ll make the statement one more time: I was raised in a Lutheran home.  I also attended a Lutheran grade school and high school, and Christian university my freshman year. I was taught the Bible since preschool; Biblical stories are more familiar to me than nursery rhymes. I know the principles of my religion, the do’s and don’t’s of good Christian living. However, I still find myself learning something new every day about my faith, and I still question certain aspects.

While discussing such things with some of my friends, I marveled in how differently people assess the term “faith.” In one conversation, faith could be used to examine religion, yet in another it could be a simple feeling towards another person.

“Faith is not having any particular proof to support what you believe, but knowing that what you feel is true and that you would do anything and everything to keep your faith.” -Madelynn

I consider faith one of the most important concepts in life as it pertains to the most basic needs for one to be happy. Faith can be:

  • belief in something even with no proof,
  • confidence in another person,
  • obligation of loyalty to someone,
  • a standard of ethic,
  • or the belief in a certain religion and/or God.

No matter if you are religious or spiritual or agnostic or whatever else, faith is always present in your life.

“Faith is knowing in your soul something another’s eyes cannot see. You can see the affects of something but not necessarily it’s very being or existence. Faith is knowing something greater than yourself exists and if that is so, your very life should be poured out in the pursuit of it. If something is precious enough to believe even though you cannot see it, it’s precious enough to live for. If you believe in something so strongly, should not everything you do reflect it?” -Chelsey

When it comes to religion, my faith has always gotten me through some of the hardest of times. It is a welcome relief that in those moments when I feel ultimately alone, I know in my bones that I am not. I always have my Lord beside me, listening to every drama-induced tear. I know in the end everything will be okay. I know I will live.

Yet, my faith has wavered on a number of occasions. It has been forgotten frequently and has been misused repeatedly. I take my faith in God for granted, using the knowledge that I am saved by the faith He has given me as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for many things.

“Faith is an understanding of the benevolence of the universe and the healing power of loving kindness.” -Kelsey

Earning my trust is a tedious venture, but I cannot express my love and adoration for those who put in the effort. When I choose to place my faith in a person, it is because they have proven they are worth my confidence. This trusting relationship between any two people is one that cannot be replaced.

“Faith can be a feeling. It’s a sense of knowing something is there but may not be able to see it or ever see it. But you know it’s there. Faith is inspirational. Sometimes it makes us do things we would never do but we trust ourselves to know that whatever happens will happen and faith can guide us.” -Rachel

Faith is definitely an inspiration. What could be more inspirational than believing in something that cannot be seen? Faith is more than a feeling — it’s a way of living. It is how you look at the world, and how the world looks at you.

“I don’t think faith is just religion. It’s the fact that everything in the world works out just as it should. Hands down. And hanging on to that and knowing that during hard times everything will work out as it should.” -Kari

Are you faithful? What does this statement mean to you?