" ..This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun. And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ..."
--2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (NLT)
I didn't know how true this passage was, figuratively and literally, until I experienced it for myself. It is only fitting that I share this story today, exactly 7 months after my life took a 180 degree turn and changed everything that I thought I knew, or thought was secure and stable. I was inspired by Paul's testimony while he was on trial in Casearea (Acts 26) on how to write this story so here it goes....
SN: I didn't realize how long this would be when I first started writing it so I hope you'll stick around with me until the very end!
About two years ago, a friend of mine came to me and was adamant about sharing his belief in Christ, and although made grudgingly, I promised him that if I gave my life to Christ, I would tell him. Now, at that time I had zero interest in subscribing to any sort of religious belief. I used to be one of those people that would scoff at the idea of Christianity. I used to struggle with reconciling the disconnect I felt as a Black woman when the world kept telling me that the image of God was that of a White man. I used to reject any notion of religion because I believed that it fueled hate and violence. I used to live for the pleasures of this world (drinking, lust, etc.) because I believed that these things ultimately didn't matter. I didn't realize how much I was wallowing in my own ignorance until God happened to me...
I didn't realize it at the time, but I had so many layers of anger, and hatred built up over my heart because of the hypocrisy that I experienced growing up as a child in the Church that always made me question my faith. Hypocrisies that would begin at home when I would witness anger and violence even on a Sunday morning when my family would be getting ready to go to Church. And so the older I got the more I began to subscribe to my own beliefs, to build my own connection with God, not realizing that this very thing would pull me further from him until I reached a point of what I used to describe as"spiritual stagnation."
Over the past two years there have been a series of people and situations that have happened, many of which I can reflect back on and say were all part of God's ways to try and reach me and bring me back to him through Christ. Whether it was surrounding me with other college students living so intentionally for Christ and their life's purposes that it motivated me to want to do the same. Whether it was visiting professors and graduate students at my now graduate institution who spoke so passionately about their faith that it almost made me feel like I was missing something. Or whether it was spending Thanksgiving with a family that wasn't my own and being embraced by an overwhelming amount of such genuine love while they all sat around the table and sang hymns. Although these moments may seem small, hindsight revealed just how significant a role these individuals and interactions were to me getting to this point of faith. Slowly, I began making a series of personal changes in my life that would bring me to a place of being willing to open my heart to Christ whether it was choosing to stop cursing (and I used to have a potty-mouth for those who have known me for a while), stop drinking excessively, stop going to parties/clubs, and probably the most significant of all, to stop having sex. These alone caused several of the relationships in my life to shift significantly, and pulled me away from people I never thought life would remove.
However, no other experience or individual can compare to the most direct vessel that God used to open my heart back up to Christ: my ex-boyfriend. No other relationship that I've developed with anyone over the past 2 years had challenged my faith more than this one. At the time we began dating, I didn't identify as being a Christian (although I spoke of very Christian-centered values without knowing it). However, he had recently begun a journey of a renewed faith in Christ, one that he had hoped to share with me. But the longer we stayed together, the more we realized that we did have different spiritual beliefs, something that would later cause friction in our romantic relationship but would be the very thing that God used to get through to me. God knew that my love for my then boyfriend was stronger than the love I had for anyone or anything else in this world. And because of his renewed faith, this was also a test for him to see if he could be obedient to God despite the internal spiritual battle he was having about dating a non-Christian woman. And let me tell you, there is nothing more uncomfortable or disheartening than knowing the person you love most and the piece of them you care most about, is the very piece of them you are causing the most stress.
Because I was at a place of "spiritual stagnation", I was still open to the idea of going to Church together so I could learn more about what I really didn't know. In April we began going to The Gathering Oasis Church in Atlanta, and when you talk about "right-on-time" messages... well lets just say I got a full dosage of them each Sunday. From the first service we attended (which ironically enough was on Easter Sunday), I began feeling those barriers I had over my heart, breaking down bit by bit. I couldn't verbalize what I was feeling, but I just remember with each sermon feeling a sense of conviction, that at times brought me to tears, caused me to start worshiping and even lift my hands in sermons, something I had never done before, and not because I felt obligated but simply because I felt this overwhelming sensation take me over each and every time we went back (i.e. The Holy Spirit). And then there was this one night, we had gotten into a very intense argument about what I had mentioned previously, our spiritual differences and the difficulty in reconciling all of this in our relationship. Afterwards I began praying for clarity about the whole situation because my heart was very heavy, and only about 1 minute into praying did I see "Luke 15" flash in my mind. Now for someone who had really never read the Bible before, I didn't know a thing about this particular passage so I stopped mid-prayer and looked up what it was (not the old fashioned way because I guess I'm a true millennial, so I went on Google). And I stumbled upon the "Parable of the Lost Sheep." I read it, and began crying because it was at that moment that everything that had been happening in my life became so clear.
After that night, I began being more intentional about my experiences in Church, with reading the Bible and although I had not yet given my life to Christ, I knew it was going to happen. The decision I ultimately made however was to pursue this outside of my relationship with *insert ex-boyfriend name here*. Although this ended up being the thing that ultimately drove us to end our relationship, I knew that this selfishness was exactly what I needed to make sure that whatever experience I had coming to Christ was personal and genuine, and not to hold onto our relationship. On June 28, 2015, we broke up. But that same night is when I felt the strongest presence of the Holy Spirit I have ever encountered. The presence that came from being in a place of complete brokenness that I felt more compelled than ever to get down on my knees and pray to God for strength and in doing so I professed with more conviction than ever before that "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior." That night I gave my life to Christ. After losing one love I gained another. It took literally ripping me apart from the one thing in my life I felt the most comfort in for God to truly reach me.
Although we are no longer together, I am eternally grateful for God putting this individual in my life as my best friend, as my partner, as someone who cared so much about my spiritual life that he challenged me and showed me what it means to love someone. When all is said and done, through him I was able to find a love that doesn't compare to any other. I still get emotional about the fact that God loves me so much to have worked so hard to bring me back to a place where I can truly believe and have an intimate relationship with him. From someone who NEVER thought I would profess any belief in Christ again in my life, to someone who strives to live so intentionally for him each day. Life has a funny way of changing you, and I'm just so grateful and truly blessed (literally) to have gone through this experience.
The work I'm doing now as a graduate student, although via engineering, involves working with religious institutions as a mechanism to engage communities most impacted by environmental injustice in conversations of sustainability. This was something that God placed in my heart years before I became a Christian again but all of life's experiences these past two years have brought me to this place (both figuratively and literally) to be able to do the work and impact lives in the way that I believe God has destined me. I'm excited to see where this journey takes me and even more excited to continue sharing that journey here.
If you made it with me to the end, thank you, and I hope that you will continue taking this journey with me! God Bless! :)