Updated 2020 May 23rd
This is my story, my faith journey.
My story in a nutshell:
I was atheist – hardcore atheist at that. I hated Christians. Then I became one of them. I set out to prove them wrong, and I found the unexpected. I became a believer in 2005 on November 10th. [Check out the topical blog directory under the “my faith journey” category for more on why I was atheist and how I became Christian.] I didn’t go to church for over a year after becoming Christian. I thought you had to choose a denomination. So, I chose what I thought was the oldest denomination – Roman Catholic. A few years in of stagnant faith, and I felt tugged to go to a little country Southern Baptist church I’d been invited to. I had so many questions. The more I looked at the Catholic Church history and teachings the more I felt like it wasn’t true. So, I became a regular at First Baptist and adopted the label of Southern Baptist. I even got baptized there in May of 2009. I thought I had found my forever church home. I loved the small church feel. I loved the country feel. I loved the pastor. I loved my Southern Baptist identity. It was while I was there that I started reading the bible. The more I studied, the more I questioned. I began to notice that some of my interpretations were different than other people at church. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to go deep. Everything at church felt so surface level. Later on I would go through about 2 years of seriously considering bible college.
Things took a new road in autumn of 2009 when I began to feel called to do a church visiting project and blog about it. I wanted to explore Christianity and learn more about all the denominations out there. Researching denominations and different church teachings was fascinating to me. And there I went in 2010 sampling the buffet of Christian brands and blogging about my reflections. In 16 weekends over a period of 6 months I attended 40 church services at 31 different churches of 20 different denominations and 5 non-denominational churches. People thought I was out of my mind. Many weekends I went to several church services a Sunday. I almost always went alone. I wasn’t lost. I was wandering around on purpose. I felt like I was supposed to do this “project”. I wanted to explore churches. I was the visitor. It was a very unique experience. I questioned if nondenominational was really a better label for me, but I felt at home in my Southern Baptist church. Can you be nondenominational and go to a church with an associated denomination? Is that even a thing? The things church folks do and don’t do were still somewhat of a foreign concept to me even 5 years into being Christian. I was never really one of them. I wasn’t raised in church. I integrated into the churchy stereotype, but I never really fit in with all that. I finished the church visiting project and went back to where I had been (First Baptist). In my heart, I knew it wasn’t over. I was called to wander. Not all who wander are lost. Some are learning by exploring.
It was January of 2011. A simple invitation to visit a church with a godly co-worker turned out to be the beginning of a new chapter. I fell in love with his church. It grieved me to feel called to leave First Baptist and begin attending New Life Worship Center, but after months of wrestling with it I moved on. It was the first Apostolic Pentecostal church I had ever been to. There was so much I didn’t know… I found myself presented with so much new information and doctrine that matched scripture in this deep way I had never seen. At the same time, there was much I disagreed with the Apostolic church on in regards to ‘standards’ of godly living, holiness, and submission to church authority. I studied these things with an open mind, drew my conclusions, and carried on in my faith. The pendulum swung so far in the opposite direction of what I used to be that I buried myself in my best attempts at righteousness and purity. Conservative Christianity became a big part of my identity. Church was a lifestyle.
It was 2014 that I started to slip away from church. As life got busy with college, the last thing I wanted on the weekends was to have to leave the house. Anxiety eating me alive, I chose to stay home as much as possible to self-care. Soon it had been months without going to church. Then it became a handful of times a year. Time went on. The pendulum of Christian lifestyle slowly began to swing back closer to the middle, not so extreme – dare I say nearly an average Christian lifestyle. The longer I was away from church and organized religion altogether, the more I was free to tug on my roots and shed what didn’t feel like me. Some beliefs stayed firmly rooted. Other beliefs were shed and discarded. Over the years, my core beliefs stayed the same (Oneness, baptism in Jesus’ name, salvation beliefs, etc). It’s the lifestyle issues that I grew more lukewarm on and compromised over time. By 2018 I knew things were different for me. I saw things differently. Perhaps, life experiences had changed my perspectives on some things. 2019 was a year of examining every piece of my faith and re-examining it to see if I still agree with it. 2019 had been a year of bible study, deep seeking, revelation, restoration, shedding shame, forgiving sin, moving on, and wondering where I belong. I have questioned God. I have questioned myself. I have questioned church. I’ve questioned organized religion altogether. I’ve even scrunched my eyebrows with wonder as to why humans are designed to crave love and connection; my crave for friendship and fellowship in common faith seems to be at the core of humanity yet so distant to me. Always the black sheep. Always the woman who questions what she’s told to do or believe. Always the one to go my own path.
I left the church. I officially and formally decided to be done with church. I hadn’t been “in church” in years. It was October of 2019. October 13th to be exact. That was the day that I closed the chapter. I had been wanting to leave church. I had been saying for quite some time that I didn’t want to follow a denomination, didn’t want to follow a church, I just wanted Jesus. I didn’t want the mess. I felt like I couldn’t be Apostolic Pentecostal anymore. It’s not that I didn’t want to be. It’s that I thought I couldn’t be because I lived differently and wasn’t holy enough and never fit in. I needed closure. So, after months of not going, I decided to attend a final church service. A friend met me there and knew what I was doing. I could barely make myself go. I couldn’t stand being there. For some reason, I felt like I didn’t belong in church and shouldn’t be here. I couldn’t wait to leave. I spent half the service texting a friend. Finally service was over. I said hi to a few people. And I walked out those doors.
Something in me wouldn’t stop saying I should visit that Lighthouse church. Even before I decided to leave the church, the thought of that Lighthouse church was on my mind for some reason. They have an evening service. I declared that I just officially left church for good. God said no. I hadn’t even made it home and he redirected my steps. He pulled me to go to the Apostolic Lighthouse Church (ALC Dayton) on Harshman Rd. I’d never been there, but I’d always felt drawn to that church even before I was Apostolic. It had been on my mind to go there for months. I’d wanted to visit for several years. I said no. Did you hear me? I’m done with church! I’m not like these people. I’m not holy like that. I can’t live up to that. Just leave me alone. God pulled me hard. I felt compelled to go there. I argued. I finally decided to go. I didn’t know anybody there. I didn’t even know if they still had an evening service. I went to the 6:30pm service. Did I not just officially declare that I was leaving church? I’d been thinking about it for over a year. I’m. Not. Like. Them. And yet there I was. I was angry. I was hurt. I had so much going on in life. My life had fallen apart. I was struggling so bad. My anxiety was through the roof to the point that it was debilitating. I was broken. I just sat there wondering why God insisted I be there. Was it the sermon I needed to hear? Did He have a message for me or something? I mean, really, why did He call me there? I sat there in my purple flannel and purple dreamcatcher earrings with dark purple lipstick mentally listing out all the reasons I couldn’t be Apostolic anymore. But I looked around that sanctuary and thought it was odd that it felt like home. And then the choir started. Wow. This is church. I felt God. This is what church used to feel like. I knew there was something there for me. I compromised and said I’d come here sometimes maybe once in a blue moon when I feel like going to church. I knew I had to come back.
I came back to the Apostolic Lighthouse Church on November 3rd. Instantly, I was back in church every week. It wasn’t even an active decision to get back in church. I kept going because I really wanted to be there. I could have never imagined how much God would do for me over the coming weeks. I fell in love with church again. My frequent panic attacks were replaced with peace. My constant (and I do mean constant 24/7 never ending all consuming) anxiety improved. I had a calmness that I hadn’t had in a long time. My emptiness didn’t feel so empty anymore. My worry turned to praise. My fears turned to faith. Within a few weeks, I had a joy in the spirit like I had never had before. Jesus was restoring me piece by piece. I didn’t think that was possible. I was just trying to survive. I was so broken. I was hurting so much. Truly, words cannot express all that I was going through. I needed God. Nothing else could fix this brokenness. He saw fit to redirect me somewhere that I could find healing and belonging.
And then the quarantine hit. It’s May of 2020 as I write this update. With everything that has happened this year, I am so glad God got me back in church before 2020 rolled in. I am so glad I’m connected to this community. I am spiritually fed there. I feel like I belong there. For the first time in my life, I feel like I fit in with a church. There are people from all walks of life and backgrounds there. I’ve never been made to feel outcasted because I don’t follow the traditional standards of appearance. There are others there like me. I’ve never felt unwanted. Honestly, there are people there that feel like family. I was only back in church for about 5 months when our services went to online because of the covid-19 quarantine. It was then that I realized how much I need the church. I told myself not to get attached. I told myself don’t get the idea in my head that this could be a church home. I’ve been church hurt before. I didn’t want to get my emotions involved. I was simply there to be spiritually fed from the sermons and worship with the amazing choir. I wasn’t expecting to find a community. One thing that I did do differently when settling into this church is that I stuck to my decision about remaining independent of denomination. I have not – as of yet – formally joined the church. They are affiliated with Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship. My former church was ALJC and then went UPCI. All are Apostolic Pentecostal. All teach mainly the same thing. They are simply different organizations for one reason or another. There’s nothing wrong with having a denomination. It clarifies beliefs to fellowship with other churches who agree and makes it easier for them to organize together. I just like to be independent and go my own path. I do identify as Apostolic Pentecostal because that is the category of Christianity I nestle in, but I don’t follow UPCI, ALJC, WPF, etc. I’m content with my choice to be independent of denomination and formal church membership. It gives me the freedom to live out my faith in the way I feel is right, study the bible for myself, and not be obligated to wrestle with teachings I disagree with or to answer to anyone else’s standards of holiness as they see it. It’s freedom.
Suddenly not being able to go to church because of covid-19 quarantine was a jolting wake up call to how attached I was to this church. It had become my own even though I tried not to let myself grow roots there. It’s community. It’s fellowship with other believers locally. And that’s ultimately why I need a local church to be connected to: community. The church is starting to open back up now. I think we’ve all realized how much we take for granted that we can go to church when we want. I’m glad I have a place to belong at a church near me. I don’t ever want to not have a church community I’m connected to. I am free to walk my own faith journey yet simultaneously rooted in the core of the Apostolic Pentecostal faith.
There is my faith journey story in a nutshell. To read more about my journey, visit my blog topical directory page and scroll through the blogs there. I talk about why I was atheist, why I became Christian, why I’m still Christian, more on the journey I had finding a church, what I would go back and tell myself, and more.