This is probably going to be different from any of my other blogs, and I think that is okay. To be honest, I wasn’t very keen on writing this particular one so soon, as we are still getting to know each other, and one’s testimony can be very raw and vulnerable. However, as I kept pushing this subject out of my mind and brought other topics to the Lord, He impressed upon me that this was the one He wanted me to share. So, in obedience, here I am.
Let me start by saying that I do not remember very much of my childhood. And I am not talking about the usual, “You don’t start remembering anything until you are at least seven.” I actually looked it up, and that is what the newest study said. I blocked out most of my youth, and the age I can start recalling all new memories is about 15 years old. I grew up in a military family, with my dad doing his medical residency and fellowships with the Army. As a result, my family moved a lot. On top of that, my parents decided to homeschool us because it just made sense not to pull us in and out of schools every other year while we made our trek across North America. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of isolation in those earlier years just due to the nature of my dad’s occupation.
I want to pause this narrative to give a disclaimer. My testimony is my testimony. And the testimonies of family members are theirs. I am giving them the respect of their privacy not to divulge all details, but please believe me when I say that we serve a big God who radically changes lives, even when you might think it impossible.
You know how when you are a child, you don’t know something should not be a certain way because if it is the only thing you are ever exposed to, you just come to believe it’s normal? That is how it was for me with things that happened in my family. Occasionally, I get snapshots of memories from my childhood, and the earliest that it has gone back was to when I was three years old and remembering intense discord in my family. The snapshots continue over the years, and I can recall moments of strife, instability, grief, fear, feeling unloved and unwanted, and seeing and hearing things that a child should never have to see or hear.
I am the oldest of four, with three younger brothers, and I remember always knowing that it was my duty as their big sister to do my best to shield them from whatever was going on so they could live in innocence. I remember specific conversations that were had with me that should never have taken place because no child should have to bear that kind of responsibility or feel like she was carrying the weight of a family on her shoulders. Not that it mattered much if I was told in person or not because I became a professional eavesdropper, listening at the top of a stair landing, or pressing my ear to a closed door, because the not-knowing was honestly worse than actually knowing.
Even with all of that family drama happening, my parents still demanded excellence from me. In theory, there is nothing wrong with excellence and trying to be the best you can be, except for every time that your humanity gets in the way and a mistake is made. Without grace, it’s a futile pursuit. Trying to live a life with perfection in every aspect is…impossible, as I am now so happy to say. But back then, it was hell on earth. The mental anguish, the emotional tortures, and the spiritual battles that were taking place in my heart became so overwhelming that at the age of 12, personal horrors crept into my life.
I became depressed and anorexic, depriving myself of food because I honestly thought that food was the only thing I had control over in my life. Being able to decide something seemed to make everything else a little more bearable, until it didn’t. I don’t remember at what age, but sometime later, I became suicidal. I remember this vividly because it was the lowest point in my life where I truly believed that it would be better to be dead than suffer another day on this earth in the hell I was living. Do you want to know the real kicker? My parents never had a clue I was struggling with these things because of how well the “perfect Lauren” could perform. There was the one time I remember I “slipped up” and screamed at my mom that I was going to drink the laundry detergent and die, but she just thought I was overreacting. She had no idea the hours I spent thinking of ways to end my life, and only by God’s grace, I never went through with anything that did. I never got any help, and the only counseling that I ever had was because of some of those overarching family issues, none of which addressed my struggles and were primarily focused on some other specific family members.
So, where was God in all of this? Both my parents claimed Christianity, and my dad had this thing where he wanted us to be comfortable in all places of worship, so we bounced around from church to church and all different denominations. Rarely did we go to the same church more than a few times, and it was inconsistent at best—from what I can barely remember. I do know that at a young age, maybe five, I had accepted Jesus as my Savior because the Sunday school teacher said that if we didn’t, we would go to hell. And by any five-year-old’s logic, that definitely wasn’t a good thing. I had no relationship with Jesus; the Cross meant nothing to me. If I knew anything religious, it was only because I was made to memorize it for something, like an incantation or prayer. I thought God was horrible, mean, unloving, and I said these words out loud once, “If there is a God, He hates me.” How incredibly and blessedly wrong I was.
The summer of my 15th year, my parents randomly decided to send me to a camp that my brothers had attended the previous summer. Since my brothers had the best time (because what boy doesn’t love sleeping outside, running through the woods, getting dirty, and not showering for a week?), it only logically followed that I would have an amazing time. To this day, I will never understand what possessed my parents to send me there; the mere facts that I didn’t want to go (and would have saved them money) and that it was typically my brothers who got the camps in the summer usually would have been the deciding factors. Oh, did I not mention that it was a Christian camp? So basically, my parents out of the blue decided to send me into the woods to sing Kumbaya for a week with no shower. Trust me, I know how ungrateful this sounds, but at this point in my 15 years of living, all I wanted was to die and have nothing to do with people trying to tell me that God loved me because I knew what a lie that was. But, go I did, kicking and screaming. Seriously, I cried when my parents left.
I think if you asked my parents back then why they were so bent on me going, they wouldn’t have been able to give very specific reasons other than wanting me to do a summer activity, it was at a Christian camp so it would have been safe, and I could get some of that Jesus teaching. But now, I know it was the Lord, chasing me, pursuing me, pulling me back from the brink of destruction. I survived (barely) the first five out of the seven days of this camp, and I remember thinking, “Just two more days!! I can do this.” It was pretty awful—there were all of these forced group activities during the day; I basically wanted to be invisible. They had quiet time for devotions in the afternoon; I had no idea what in the world that was. And the worst was in the evenings when there was a big worship session where everyone praised this God I had come to hate. I couldn’t even bring myself to pretend to mouth the words to the songs; they were so empty and hollow. I felt more dead inside than I had felt in all my life.
On the fifth night, after we got back to our cabins (which turned out to be pretty nice and had air conditioning—and there were showers, too, I should add), for some reason, the girls in my little corner of the place just started randomly sharing things from their lives. Deep and personal things. Things that had happened to them or that they experienced in their families that were horrible—abuse, addiction, depression, perfectionism in the worst degree, etc.—a lot of things that I could relate to but had never talked to a soul about. I just sat and listened.
There was one girl, her name was Rebecca, and she had sort of taken me under her wing during that week—just checking in with me every now and then. Honestly, I think her sweet nature could sense how troubled I was without me ever saying a word. After the other girls had gone to sleep, I went outside to sit on the porch of the cabin, just thinking about everything I had heard. I remember, vividly, feelings I had never experienced before welling up inside me. Friends, I felt the spiritual battle for my soul: on the one side was my depression, eating disorder, and suicidal thoughts telling me how unworthy I was to be loved, how I deserved everything this horrible life had dealt me, how I should just die and be done with it. On the other side was Jesus, professing His love for me, telling me I did not have to live in this hell and that He could give me life and peace and take every single burden I had been carrying for years.
As I sat there, with un-cried tears from the last 15 years flowing out of me, even as they are now as I write this, Rebecca came outside, sat down next to me and asked me if I wanted to pray. She held my hand as I prayed the most important prayer of my life. I confessed everything to the Lord. I cried out to Him from the deepest, darkest parts of my being, pleading for His help and salvation, His grace and forgiveness, His love and compassion. I accepted Jesus as Lord of my life and loving Savior that night on August 21, 2003.
Words will not be able to do this justice, but, Friends, at that moment, it literally felt like Jesus reached His arm into this deep, dark pit filled with quicksand that I had been living in for years, and He pulled me out of the hole into His marvelous light. Everything I personally had been struggling with—the depression, the anorexia, the suicidal thoughts—were completely gone. I was entirely transformed into a new person. I have never faced those struggles again, nor have I ever received professional help with those struggles. The weight and heavy burdens from my family that I had been carrying for my entire life were lifted off of my shoulders in one fell swoop. Jesus took everything from me that was ugly and broken and dying, and He gave me His perfection and holiness and claimed me as His own. He took my hate for Him and gave me His love. He exchanged my darkness for His light. He took my rejection of Him and gave me His crown. I went home from that camp singing God’s praises with a smile on my face, experiencing joy for the first time in my life.
Sweet Brothers and Sisters, this is what the power of the Cross does. It radically changes lives. And my Heavenly Father is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow and every day after that (Hebrews 13:8), so what He offers to you is the same as it was for me all of those years ago—a new life in Him. All you need to do is accept His gift of grace, acknowledging that you are separated from God because of sin and you need Jesus to bridge that void (Romans 3:23-26; Ephesians 2:12-13). I don’t know what you have gone through or are currently going through, but the Lord knows. Here is what I do know—there is nothing that is not covered by the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus paid for everything when He died on that cross in place of you and me (Romans 5:6-8). And don’t for one second think you aren’t worth pursuing. That is a lie. Sweet Brothers and Sisters, Jesus wants you. He fought for you, and He died for you. And He might be knocking on the door to your heart at this very moment (Revelation 3:20). I implore you to open it and accept the life He offers, free from despair and torment.
Once I returned home, it quickly became apparent to me that the Lord really was in my life for good, and the prayers I had suddenly started saying all of the time were not falling on deaf ears. Within a few days, the Lord sent me a friend from the new homeschool group we had just joined. She invited me to her church’s Wednesday night youth group, and all of a sudden, I was involved in a small group. A few months later, I had my driver’s license and no longer had to rely on my friend and her family to take me to church. My walk with the Lord has grown over the last 15 years as He has continued to mature me and grow me in Christ-likeness. There have been quite a few difficult times in my adult life—marital issues, health concerns, pregnancy scares, almost losing a child, still enduring some of that family drama—and I can confidently say that it is only because of my relationship with my faithful Heavenly Father that I persevere through anything.
Thank you for letting me share this part of my life with you—it’s the best part of my life, that’s for sure. I hope it is an encouragement to someone somewhere.
Much love, Sweet Brothers and Sisters,