I’ll never forget the night I sat on the floor of my half-packed room, shoving clothes into trash bags as a cop stood in the doorway reminding me that I need to leave immediately. “I can’t leave tonight, I have nowhere to go,” I remember telling him. I understood his concern. Just an hour before I was on my bed, grasping white-knuckled onto a hammer, while my stepfather screamed threats from downstairs to come up and drag me onto the street.
I was six when my mom married my stepdad. There were brighter memories of him taking my brother and I to the park. Memories of him playing games with us and our family going on seemingly happy vacations. To me he had always been “dad,” but that night with the cops, he was a stranger. Drugs, laced with loads of shame, can do that to a person.
That year, 2016, was a doozy from the start. A few years prior I stepped away from church and by 2016 no longer associated myself as a Christian. I had been dating an agnostic for two years and they were the darkest, most lonely years of my life. He was abusive in every definition of the word. Oddly, a majority of our fights were actually centered around religion. Even though I no longer considered myself a Christian, I still defended Christianity amidst my doubts. I think in reality the real fight was internal and with myself — fighting against completely letting go of the faith I was raised to believe.
In February of 2016 my two year long relationship came to a painful halt. That night of the break up it was like something possessed me. I had already been wildly depressed and suicidal for months prior, but that night my desire to die was uncontainable.
Something came over me that night and I fell into some kind of manic episode. I was in my car searching for my hiking bag, which I knew had a four-inch knife in it. I always kept my bag in my car, but for whatever reason I took it out earlier that week. I tore apart my car looking for something— anything else — that could inflict pain.
All I could find we some small, dull, child’s scissors buried in a pile of crafting supplies. I used them to saw at my forearm, rigorously running the blunt blade back and forth until little drops of blood finally seeped through my skin. Then my phone rang, shaking me out of what felt like an out of body experience. It was my friend Paisly calling to invite me to the Friday night young adults service at Harvest Church. I didn’t go to the service, but I truly think God used a friend during a dark moment to remind me that God was still there.
Returning to a familiar faith
Not long after that break up I ended up dating a close friend from work, who attended Sandals Church. We jumped right into a relationship and had only been dating for a few months before he brought up marriage. I remember giddily calling my friends to share the news that I’d be married before the end of the year.
Then that night with the cops happened.
My (now new) boyfriend was the first person I called when my father started to lose it. “I’m throwing things down the stairs to keep him from coming up and I don’t know what to do,” I told my boyfriend, but he never showed up.
The next day I asked him why he didn’t come help. We were in his apartment packing away his things. He had just flown in from a trip up north to see about a new job opportunity and was two days away from permanently moving up there after receiving a solid offer. He started rambling through a list of excuses and again my stomach sank. This was another break up conversation.
He told me he wanted to start over. Deep down I knew the real reason and later it was confirmed: there was another girl. There were many. I was just one girl on a list of expendables.
I spent that night in the spare room of my friend’s house. It felt empty and foreign. I was defeated and shocked, unable to fully process all that had happened. Within 48 hours I lost my home, the man I thought I’d marry and the only person I ever called Dad. I had no job, no plan, and no hope. As far as I could tell, no wanted me and I had nothing to live for.
There in that stuffy condo, I reverted back to a baby girl and sobbed the deepest cry of loneliness. I laid in the dark and called out to God saying, “If you are real, then show me, or else I’m giving up.”
That weekend out-of-the-blue, my friend Jon invited me to Sandals. I was hesitant to attend a megachurch, especially one where my ex still had a reputation for being the “good guy.” But I was desperate.
On the way to church I figured if I was going to try to seek God, I needed to go all the way. For the first time in almost three years I played worship music. I skipped a few songs, then I let it stop on “your love never fails.” I skipped again. This time the acoustic version of “your love never fails” played. Afraid to admit that could be more than a coincidence, I turned off all music. Church had already started by the time I parked and I ran in just in time to hear the last worship song: “your love never fails.” I felt like I was being jolted with electricity and my spirit just knew, and couldn’t deny, that God was calling me. “I’m listening,” I told Him.
That was June 19, 2016 — Father’s Day — and the sermon was on Acts 1: “How to Get the Most Out of Life.” My desperate, broken little heart so badly wanted that “more” out of life. I eagerly waited for Pastor Matt to share the first bullet point on his notes. When he did, it took everything in me not to break down crying. It was simply “learn all you can about Jesus.” That day changed my life forever.
It took some time before I attended Sandals regularly. For a few months I was living near Malibu working for a non-profit. A lot of healing happened there. My supervisor happened to be a Christian and we spent countless hours sitting in her office talking about God. At the time I figured Malibu was my new home — my new future. But, a few months went by and I kept getting this feeling that I needed to go back to Riverside.
My thoughts were confirmed one day while I was working on a film set for Free America. We were telling the story of a woman who lived most of her life incarcerated, but turned her life around and was now a poet. The crew was in a classroom trying to figure out how to make the dry erase board behind her more appealing. “Write a poem,” someone said. So she rose slowly and wrote on the board: “LOVE is the movement. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
There it was again, that jolt of electricity. I just knew that the message on the board was the Holy Spirit giving me a glimpse of what God was about to do in Riverside and at Sandals Church. So I cut my internship in Malibu short, and went home.
Joining the movement
Almost immediately after moving back a new friend, Jimmy, invited me to a young adult’s gathering at Sandals. They were doing group sign-ups that night, where I agreed to help co-lead a community group.
God used that community group to challenge me and grow me in incredible ways.
As I helped lead the group alongside a man who was a stranger to me, God taught me to have compassion for the gender that caused most of my wounds. As I became more involved in young adults ministry and interacted with men in leadership, God showed me that healthy Christian men can be safe.
Now here we are, in February 2019. It's been over two years since I joined a group and almost three years after that desperate night in my car. I wrestled so much with sharing my story. It’s so much easier to keep the intimate details safely stowed away for no one else to see or know. But my mind was made up when, at the beginning of this month, I sat in church and realized who I was sitting in between. To my left, Jimmy, the guy who invited me to my first Sandals event; and to my right was Jon, the guy who invited me to church back in 2016. Me, in the middle, perfectly happy and content to be sitting between my friends: two dudes.
It’s crazy to think that just three years ago I felt very alone and very betrayed by men and people in general. To go from that to feeling completely safe and at home sitting in between two guys on a Sunday is monumental. I never feel alone anymore. God has brought so many precious friends and wise leaders into my life. He made a promise to me that Father’s Day back in 2016 that His love would never fail and He’s kept that promise.
During my whole journey over these last few years, it’s as if I could hear God saying, “see what I am doing.”
God was healing, mending and rebuilding me, and the people around me. Looking back I can see that there really was a movement of love stirring — God’s love.
Learning about God’s love would be impossible without others. So much of His mercy and kindness radiates through relationships. I learned mercy because my community group showed me mercy. I learned to love others, because they loved me. I saw God’s glory shine through the testimonies of the people around me. Being real means so much more than sharing vulnerabilities or our life problems. It means acknowledging that the church began as a movement of love 2,000 years ago and that movement is STILL going! Love is when people of all kinds gather together and promise to fight for each other, no matter how difficult it gets. It means using our testimonies of redemption and healing to show desperate hearts that there is hope found in Christ. We are simply the ambassadors welcoming others to Jesus’ open arms. That’s church. That’s the movement.
To find your place to be real, go to move.sc/groups.