In October 2016, I found myself desperate, frustrated and disappointed in the life I was living. I had been here before, many times. This time was different.
I knew I had to make a change.
I didn’t know what. Just that something had to change.
My marriage was in trouble, although I didn’t understand why. My mumma had metastatic breast cancer, and I was powerless. I was unbearably lonely, though surrounded by people. I didn’t know how I was going to go forward, doing—being—the same.
Two things came to mind as I contemplated another dark, gray fall and winter:
I can start going to bars, or I can start going to church.
I didn’t understand why those were the choices in my mind. I still don’t. What I did understand was that if I started going to bars, I was going to get in trouble. Serious trouble. I didn’t want to be in trouble. I have been there before, and I like to think I have learned from it.
So, I decided to go to church.
I didn’t grow up going to church. I was raised with a belief in God and Jesus, and a healthy respect for both. But I was also raised with a certain distrust of organized religion and the power it wields.
I chose PCC because I know and respect many of its members. I downloaded the app and watched all the archived messages. I emailed the church and was, by the grace of God, connected to Beth Stoddard. We talked back and forth. I raised objectives, barriers, and Beth tore them down. “Just come, Liz,” she said. “What do you have to lose?”
What do I have to lose, indeed?
I won’t lie. I was uncertain. Nervous. Scared, even. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I called my daughter, Ansley, inviting her to church that Sunday. I knew that, with her by my side, with my “Mom hat” on, I would be okay. Ansley’s reply was, “Of course, Mumma. That sounds awesome.”
And so, we went to PCC.
That October Sunday, Brian Hughes was teaching a message on the parable of the prodigal son. I was familiar with the story—or so I thought.
Towards the end of the message, Brian asked two questions:
Who is God?
What does God want?
The service ended that day with the worship song, “No Longer Slaves,” by Bethel Music.
I’m no longer a slave to fear—I am a child of God.
Growing up, my daddy would often tell me, “I am your father, Elizabeth. IRREVOCABLY!” Usually punctuated with a stern look and a pointed finger. I knew, well, who my father was.
But I learned that day who my Father is. I am a child of God. And I knew the answers to Brian’s questions:
God is Father.
God wants us to come home.
I went back to church—every Sunday. I got a Bible—an NIV, not the KJV I had inherited from my mumma. The print was small, so I went to the bookstore, bought a giant print edition, and began to read.
I called my pastors with questions. And more questions. I found answers, mostly. Always a suggestion to turn to God. To God’s word, God’s truth.
Going to church strengthened me, over and over.
I was asked to serve on the production team. I was nervous, felt unqualified, but I said, “Yes.” I learned as I served, that I received much more than I gave. I rearranged my schedule to always be available.
I began to tithe. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to afford it. But I could. Every week, the money was there. God only asks for 10%—I found it, every week.
A question came up in a group discussion: “Do you believe God loves you?” Around the table we went. My turn: “Yes, I do. I even believe he always has, even if I wasn’t paying attention.”
It was a breakthrough moment for me.
If I were a beloved child of God, at that moment, at that table, while I was focusing and paying attention, then haven’t I always been a beloved child of God?
Even when I wasn’t focusing?
Even when I wasn’t paying attention?
Even when I didn’t acknowledge God?
The answer was “YES.”
God loves me, even if I don’t acknowledge him.
I benefit more, when I do. But I benefit from God’s love even if I don’t acknowledge him.
I kept reading the Bible. I kept going to church. I kept serving. I kept tithing. My faith grew and grew and grew.
I was baptized in June, 2017. I was excited, but again, nervous. I felt the way I had immediately before the birth of both of my children: My life will be forever changed. I don’t know how. I know life will be different.
I was right. The change was, at first, subtle.
Then, the change was noticeable, to me and others.
I was not afraid.
I was not worried about the future.
I lost my compulsion to judge others.
I was not defensive, or sarcastic.
I was more careful with my thoughts and words.
Five years later, just about everything in my life has changed.
My mumma died, fracturing our family.
My daughter’s marriage ended in violence and betrayal.
My marriage ended. I lost my husband, my identity, my security, my home.
My sister became ill. My father entered the final stages of his life.
I moved. I live alone, for the first time in my life.
And yet, I am not afraid.
I’m no longer a slave to fear – I am a child of God.
Jesus saves me. Over and over and over again. He will save me, again, over and over and over, again. I have learned to pray, to study, to serve, to tithe. To trust in the neverending mercy and grace that is God’s love, through Jesus.
And I have learned that I am never alone.