Jesus is risen and alive!
For reasons that I'll explain in just a moment, Easter this year is more significant for me than ever before. Last year is definitely a very close second, but this year takes the blue ribbon. Where do I even start to share this journey? Well ... I guess somewhere close to the beginning.
All my life I've been taught to treat others as you wish to be treated, to be kind and honest, sincere and giving. I've always had God in my life someway or another but I never attended church regularly growing up. I would go with my cousins to vacation bible school, and I'm pretty sure I said the "come live in my heart and save my soul" prayer at least 5 or 6 times. When I turned 15, I started attending a baptist church that some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins attended and it was here that I completed my first actual bible study. Shortly after, I asked my parents to start coming to church with me, but I knew if they were going to come they'd want to go to an episcopal church. We had visited one a few times over the years during my childhood, so that's where Mom, Dad, and I started attending regularly. Not too long after we started going, I decided to join the youth group and signed up to go on a service mission trip with them to Equador. Mom and I were baptisted in this church, which made us members, and I became an acolite for some of the services. Unfortunately, sometime after that, the minister left and weeks following, we all found that we didn't enjoy the services quite as much as we did before he left. We stopped going to church eventually.
There's a huge gap in my story here. I went to college and forgot about God, like many young people unfortunately do. I remember there was one period in time when I applied for a part time job as a medical assistant. I knew this would be the perfect job for me to gain experience for PA school and I needed a job for some extra money, so it was perfect! Well, I didn't get the job. I was so angry with God for letting this happen. He knew how badly I wanted and needed it and He still didn't give me to me (but reflecting back, why should He have given it to me? I hadn't made Him a priority in my life. Now I see that God had his perfect plan and perfect timing all laid out for me. I didn't need this job to get into PA school -- "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11). I stopped praying and I didn't care anymore. Maybe I was depressed, but I remember life sucked around this time. Adam and I started fighting more and things just fell apart. Finally, I decided to give in and apologize to God. I remember it had something to do with a friend's facebook "about me" section. She mentioned that she loved being so aware of God and all of His blessings and her prayer was to never lose sight of that awareness. It made me sad in my heart that I wasn't experiencing that, so my prayer at that time started out as me asking God to mold my heart and help me to want him in my life again. I honestly can't remember how long it took, but my heart did change. God was working in my life. He helped me find another part time job in college that I learned so much incredible information from. More life lessons that anything, but I'm so thankful for that time and that experience.
After I graduated college, I was still praying, but I never opened my bible, only went to church on occasion (read: maybe twice a year?), and still didn't really have a strong relationship with God. I knew that it was growing, and I could recognize that it was stronger than it had ever been before, but it really just wasn't what it was supposed to be. Cue Adam and I getting engaged. I had known for a long time that I really wanted Father Peter (the minister that my family loved from the episcopal church) to marry Adam and me so I emailed him and asked. He required pre-marital counseling but he agreed to performing the ceremony. I guess that's neither here nor there, but it's was still sentimental to me. :)
Anyway, two weeks before the wedding, I flew to Kentucky for a business training, and at the end of the week I went to visit a good friend and meet her husband and baby boy. Before I knew it, the three of us were having a pretty intense conversation about our testimonies and our relationships with God. That night was one of the most profound and shaping conversations I have ever had in this regard. I realized that night that although I had absolutely no doubt in my heart, mind, or soul that Jesus Christ was my personal savior and that I was going to heaven after death, my relationship was still at a level of infancy. I was not shining the light of our Father and showing the way for others. They both strongly recommended that Adam and I find and join a church. As some point in this conversation, my friend (Whitney) mentioned Athens Church (Whitney's brother was a student at UGA at that time, and he had mentioned this church to her). Meanwhile at work, I had been having some conversations about church with two of the girls I worked with and one of them was attending Athens Church. One of my parents' neighbors also went there, and they had suggested that I check it out as well.
Fast forward a year. Adam and I are already married and have been for maybe 9 or 10 months. We still hadn't joined a church, but the conversation I had with my friend and her husband in Kentucky was still weighing heavily in my mind and my heart. I finally decided that Adam and I were going to visit Athens Church. Man oh man, we have not looked back since!! Although we don't still live in Athens, there is a church here in Birmingham that shares Andy Stanley's messages. It's called Redstone Church. But when we can't attend Redstone, we watch the messages online.
Andy Stanley with Northpoint Ministeries is SO incredibly gifted with public speaking, sharing God's word, helping people live meaningful lives, and being the salt and the light of the world. I realize that I don't have much experience with churches in my past, but hands down these messages are the best, most delightful, most spiritual, most meaningful messages I've EVER heard. Every single Sunday I learn so much about God and the bible from Andy. My prayers are more meaningful. I can feel that my heart is changing, not because I want it to, but because once again, God is shaping and molding me. I find myself thinking about his sermons throughout the week ... they don't leave my mind at 12pm on Sunday as soon as church is over. I know that I still have many struggles with things that I don't understand, and I still have much growing to do as a disciple and follower of Jesus, but I also know I'm on my way. God is always on time with his perfect plan. My story is still being written.
(Back to the top) ... So yes, thanks to Andy Stanley and his teachings, Easter is more significant to me than ever before! As I was saying, I still have struggles understanding God's plan and His timing but this is really something I shouldn't question. He has never failed giving me everything I've ever wanted, but these things aren't always received on the timeline that I want, therefore, I have to practice patience during these opportunities. "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Luke 11:9.
Adam and I both think that everyone should watch this particular series called "Christian." I can't even begin to explain it's meaning, but I strongly encourage you to at least go read the synopsis! Here's a link for you all. Click here and enjoy!