Updated 2022 February 19th
From atheist to Christian and lost to redeemed, I’d like to share my faith journey with you. I’ve been Christian for 16 years now. The written word is a powerful tool. Writing down your testimony can last years beyond your time walking this earth. It is my hope that my message here is enough to point people to Jesus and light the way for others to seek after him.
He is my Jesus, my Jehovah, my Savior, my God. He is my redeemer, my shepherd, the one that comes looking for me when I stray. I follow him. I live for him.
I did not know him. I was atheist. I thought Christians used religion to comfort themselves with some kind of answers for the afterlife and some kind of rulebook to not do wrong to others. I didn’t believe there were really any gods out there. This life was all we know and all we had. Facts and logic were my approach and religion didn’t fit into that. I was a self-proclaimed atheist. I did enjoy studying religion. I found it interesting. Groups of people ushering together to make sense of life and declare truth here and there, I did not understand these people or their ways. I came to develop a strong dislike for Christians in particular. I was solidly not Christian and felt disdain for the way they treated people who weren’t like them.
I was raised by Christian parents in an entirely Christian extended family, but I was not raised in church or in real knowledge of the faith. My parents are different denominations. My Mom’s side of the family is Mormon (LDS). We did have bibles. In childhood I think we all accept whatever our parents tell us about religion. It’s in the teen years people start to develop their own religious beliefs. By my early teens, I had decided I did not believe in God. I don’t recall any particular moment or experience that played a pivotal role in that declaration. I do remember being 13 and people being upset at my declared atheism. My freshman year of high school I was exposed to Wicca by people at public school, and a casual Wiccan phase followed for I suppose around 2 years. By 16 I was back to the everyday atheist. Though I was of good character, I wouldn’t argue that I was a teenager of good behavior. I had my ups and downs, drinking, smoking, and playing around. Throughout high school, I would get high. I would buy pills at school. Most of my friends were on drugs. All of my friends were of similar religious beliefs. I did not hang around Christians and they did not hang around me. I still remember the summer before my senior year one wild night in particular. I stayed the night at a friend’s house and we snuck out to party. It was the kind of drug house my friend had to go get permission for me to enter insisting that I was cool and no worries. I drank the night away gaining a few bruises from falling over too drunk to move. I woke up the next morning heavily hungover laying on a strange bedroom floor and I didn’t know where I was. After that night, I decided some things needed to change. That was the first time I quit drinking. I was sober for several years. I even got a little wild on the living right bandwagon and quit smoking too. No more drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol. I was losing desire for those things. They weren’t fun anymore. They were empty things.
Shortly after, I started having religion on my mind a lot. I started exploring a little bit. I was adamant that I would never be Christian though. I wouldn’t be one of them. They’re judgmental and they’re mean. I would never want their religion. I think it took several months when I look back on it. I was looking into Christianity. I had a teacher at my public high school I asked questions to. I had many, many questions. All I really knew about Christianity is they have a Jesus guy that died on a cross, a bible, 10 commandments (though I didn’t know what they were), and there was a story about Noah and a flood I had seen in nursery décor. I did not know the basics of the gospel message. Christians often grew up Christian and have a tendency to think everybody knows the basics. Remember how much is new to us converts.
I became a Christian in 2005 on November 10th. I was 17 years old.
After months of questioning and feeling more and more interested, I was fascinated by the historical factors. I had never known that Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical figure. Josh McDowell presents the trilemma of lord, lunatic, or liar. You have to decide which one he was. An introduction to worship music kept my mind on these things and gave some insight to how Christians see things. I began trying to read the bible while I was still atheist. Well, at that point I guess I was at some agnostic in-between unsure of what exactly is true. The bible confused me greatly. I did not fully understand what it was or how it was divided or why Christians didn’t still do the things in the Old Testament. Despite my unfamiliarity, I found the bible to have a power to it. The apartment I lived in at the time was haunted. Noises were common and one issue was a knocking/tapping in the walls. You could feel a difference in the room when it would come around. There was something there. I had seen ghosts since childhood and this was not the first place I’d lived that was haunted. (I actually stopped seeing ghosts as soon as I became Christian.) I could feel when there was an evil presence in the room. This apartment in particular it was my bedroom that all the noises would come out of. I realized when I pulled the bible out they would stop. That became my go to when the knocking would get on my nerves. I remember another time my radio came on by itself playing my favorite Christian song at the time on K-love. These were not the things that led me to become a believer though.
I can ask all the questions and a person can get thousands of answers. I can know the religion and the doctrine and the disagreements and the practices. That is not enough. I came to believe that God is real. I experienced feeling his presence when I sought him. It’s not something that can be explained with science or bullet pointed lists or lengthy reports. No, this is different. The only way I know how to explain it is it’s like love. We all know what love is even though it’s not a physical thing you can hold in your hands or study in a lab. We know love to be true because we experience it. It's a powerful presence and connection. We know what it feels like to love someone. You couldn’t possibly convince a person they have no connection to someone they strongly love. It is the same with finding Christ. You feel it. You experience it. There is a connection there undeniably. And that is how I met Jesus. I felt his presence, and I knew this was real. I decided I wanted to follow him. I became a Christian.
I didn’t go to church for over a year after becoming a believer. I didn’t know where to go or what to believe about churches. There are so many and they disagree on so much. Denominations were a big obstacle. I also didn’t know what church people would think of me or if they would welcome me. I lost all my friends in school when I became a Christian, but most the Christians didn’t want to talk to me either. Some of them seemed skeptical or weirded out that I was now calling myself a Christian. I had been openly atheist and everyone knew it. Can you walk into a church alone without knowing anyone? How do you decide where to go?
I felt like you had to choose a denomination. I hadn’t read much of the bible yet and I didn’t have a clue how to study it. I didn’t know if I was a church person or not. A lot of Christians don’t go to church. I had this idea that I needed to figure out what church was teaching what I thought of as “original truth”. Now I would call it the teachings of the early church. I didn’t know what the early church was yet. With dozens upon dozens of denominations within a handful of categories that spill over, I wanted to know which church was the truest. Surely, it couldn’t be any of the newer kinds of churches. In my very limited knowledge of the bible and church history, I thought the Roman Catholic church was the first church. Therefore, it must be the truest. So, I decided that’s what I would be. I picked a Catholic church and went rarely. I don’t remember the first time I went to church as a believer. I’m sure I was a nervous wreck, but it has faded from my memory. It was nothing significant. I didn’t really like going to church there. It bored me. I felt nothing when I was there. I did read the catechism cover to cover at least once. I appreciated having all the church’s teachings in writing. That kind of clarity was severely lacking among Protestant churches. I still wasn’t reading the bible. Time passed.
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 by a friend of the family. I had always declined, being so stuck on following a denomination I thought it might be wrong to visit a church not affiliated with my chosen group. Visiting that church had been on my mind and I felt like going there. I remember driving there the first time. It was March of 2009, March 15th if I remember correctly. I got to the end of my road. If you turn left, you go to the Catholic church downtown. If you turn right, you go to the Baptist church up in town. I didn't know which way I was going to turn when I got in the car. I turned right. I went alone. I slipped in near the back pew on the left side. I don't remember what was preached that day, but I do remember my eyes watering because I felt something when I was there. I felt a small presence of God during a church service for the first time. I wanted to come back. 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. I started researching the differences between Catholics and Baptists. When I visited the church, I filled out a visitor card (I usually don’t do that). They mailed me a thank you card for visiting. I decided to go in and talk to the pastor. That’s very out of character for me. I’m so introverted you have to drag me to even get me to go out to eat. Being willing to go talk to a pastor I didn’t know was me really searching. I was seeking answers. We talked that day in his office for 3 hours. He pointed out a lot of things I didn’t know. I hadn’t really read the bible yet. I was following religion I thought was true, but I wasn’t checking those beliefs against scripture because I just wasn’t familiar with the word of God yet.
So, I became a regular at First Baptist and adopted the label of Southern Baptist. I always enjoyed the services there. I felt like I got something out of the sermons and I was learning. 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. I still remember Pastor Rick encouraging us to read the bible daily. He said in a sermon once if we read the bible for half an hour a day we could read it in a year. I enthusiastically thought I could do that! I had been trying to read it cover to cover like a novel. I am a speed reader. I’m the person that reads an entire book in a weekend. That approach was not an effective way to read the bible. No one had told me how to read the bible or how to study or even explained the different sections to me. I started studying and did my best to understand. 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. I was learning and growing. I lived better. I thought on the things of God more. I became zealous for the Lord. It’s a process. It’s not something you learn overnight.
Things took a new road in autumn of 2009 when I began a church visiting project. I had a cousin who was falling away from her Mormon faith and wanted to start visiting churches. I thought that sounded awesome. I wanted to explore the vastness of 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 on MySpace about my reflections. It took me 6 months to complete the schedule because I suddenly started having to work weekends which had previously been very rare. 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. Christians have their own lingo and their own vocab. It feels like each church or type of church has their own culture. It took a while to learn the ropes. 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 4 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. I did not feel lost at all. I actually felt like I was strengthening my faith.
Even after going back to normal, I wanted to do a round 2 with the church visiting project. I felt like there was more. I had tasted things I’d never experienced before and I craved it. I thought I would hate Pentecostal churches because they are loud, but I found myself loving it. I craved what I called getting my Pentecostal fix. If memory serves me correct (it’s 2022 and this was back in 2010) I continued to visit a certain Pentecostal church even after the project was over. I don’t know what kind of Pentecostal it was. I never felt like it should be my church. However, I enjoyed being a visitor. The sermons were more passionate than what I was used to. I liked it. I enjoyed their services and felt closer to God there. Their worship music was good. It was the first place I ever raised my hand in worship. I remember feeling the presence of God more there than anywhere else I’d been, yet somehow I intuitively knew there was something more to seek. There was something about Pentecostal churches that made me feel alive.
I started slipping a bit. I had some ungodly influence in my life and it started taking an affect. It was rubbing off on me. I was gambling, smoking, mouth like a sailor. I knew I wasn’t living right and I felt bothered by it, but I didn’t know how to live righteously either. I wasn’t sure what was okay and what wasn’t okay and what is a matter of moderation. I wasn’t real clear on the daily living. Churches often don’t talk about living right anymore. I felt like I needed to be more. I needed to go deeper. And I didn’t know how to get there. I started praying God would send me someone to show me the way. I don’t know why that was my prayer, but I was specifically praying for someone to put me on the right path and show me how to live right. In October of 2010, I got a new coworker. This coworker was a godly man and he lived different. He was set apart. He had a different lifestyle than even most Christians. I remember one night (we worked third shift) I felt like I could see God in his eyes. I know now he had the Holy Spirit and it showed. There was something righteous about him. Holiness is what we call it. I had never really been exposed to that way of life, and I liked being around it. I wanted to do better when I was around him. It felt right, and when I was around that way I also felt conviction on the way I was acting. I wanted to be more disciplined.
He invited me to his church, New Life Worship Center. I thought I’d go for a one-time visit. I wanted to see what kind of church produced a godly person like him. It was January of 2011. I still remember the experience well. The presence of God was strong. I’d never seen worship like this. 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 weeks of wrestling with it I moved on. It was the first Apostolic Pentecostal church I had ever been to. It was love from the first day. I had never experienced a church service like that. Their worship was heavenly. It drew me in. I craved it. 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. We all grow at our own pace. There were some things I later came to understand. There are other things I still disagree with. I did a bible study with my coworker not too long after my first visit there in January. I received the Holy Ghost in March and got baptized in the name of Jesus on May 29th.
I fell in love with church. I was there nearly every service. I almost always went to Sunday school. Sometimes I’d come early and get in the prayer room. I usually sat up front. I went up to pray at the altar just about every service. I’d pray with other people. I came to prayer meetings. I was on fire for God. I pressed even deeper to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. I made lifestyle changes and began to be more intentional with modesty and appropriate appearance. I made each decision on my own and grew at my own pace. I began to study the bible a lot more after becoming Apostolic Pentecostal. At this point, I had been Christian for 5 years. (Yes, this was my third church and third time labeling myself with a denomination. People thought poorly of that. I look at it and see that it took a convert a while to find her place. 11 years later and I am still Apostolic Pentecostal.) I had a passion for living for the Lord and sharing my faith. I was always inviting people to church. I tried to share my testimonies whenever I could. My faith was fervent.
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 felt 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. I was struggling with the bondage of sin and it fogged my vision. 2019 was a year of examining every piece of my faith and re-examining it to see if I still agreed with it. 2019 had been a year of deep seeking and wondering where I belong. I questioned God. I questioned myself. I questioned church. I questioned organized religion altogether. I 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 seemed 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.
Jesus stepped in and battled for me here. I was backslid and losing my grip on my faith more than I ever had in all the years I’d been Christian. I was depressed and consumed with anxiety. I wasn’t thinking straight. The enemy had twisted my perspective. I had lies in my mind about not belonging at church and not being enough. I was convinced I needed to walk away. I walked out those doors fully intent that I would never step foot in a church again. And Jesus said NO. At the moment, I thought he was nagging me. In hindsight, I realize he was fighting for me. The enemy had a tight grasp and I wasn’t even pushing back. I had lost the battle in my mind. Jesus pushed back and pulled me in another direction. I look back on this day and see what great love God has for us. This was a defining day. I had made my decision to leave the church and I went through with my final service. I slipped. I fell. I couldn’t see straight. And he pulled me back up on my feet.
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 remember sitting in the recliner saying no because I could feel God speaking to me to go there. I finally decided to go. I didn’t know anybody there. I didn’t even know if they still had an evening service. I did Facebook message one person I knew of (didn’t actually know) that went there and he invited me to sit with his family. I remember he said “Listen to the pull.” and that was exactly what I needed to hear. 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. It was a Spirit-filled service and prayer filled the sanctuary. To this day I remember what I heard that night. Not in the sermon or in the songs, but in someone praying in tongues. They were behind me and I heard them crying out in prayer. They prayed in tongues and it was like hearing myself pray but I had lost the ability to pray like that. I know the bible talks about interpreting tongues, but I’ve never seen it. This was different. This person was praying in tongues and it was like my soul was crying out. I heard someone else crying out to God with the depths of their core, the kind of crying out for God you can only know when you’ve known darkness… the kind of crying out for Jesus you do when you need Him to rescue you. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’ll never forget how powerful it was to experience that. 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 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. Some Apostolics can be very exclusionary of anyone who doesn’t look like them. It’s common for people to lack respect for those who have different standards of appropriate appearance. They divide and devour each other over these matters. Long before I ever got to ALC, I had given up on the idea of ever being accepted into Apostolic circles. 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. 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, allows 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, 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 the 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. 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. Church is necessary.
He saved me, and he kept me. He redeemed me. He leads me. He redirects me. He is patient with me. He grows me and he prunes my growth. My teacher, my master, my savior. This God is Jesus, and I want you to know him.
I am imperfect. I stumble. I fall sometimes. I question everything. My mountains may not be your mountains. Your faith journey may look different than mine. We may grow at paces that aren’t the same. We learn on our own timelines. You may be way ahead of me here if you were raised in the faith. That’s okay. We can all walk together on the narrow path. Jesus will meet you if you’ve heard about him your whole life and if you’re brand new to the faith. Whether you were raised in the church or grew up never knowing who Jesus is, you have to decide what to follow. Each day you make the decision to follow Jesus. Each day you make the decision how you will live. I hope you choose to seek truth and hang on to it.
Jesus is Lord. Do you know him?