My dad is a pastor, so I grew up in a loving Christian home where my parents always taught of God’s love for me. When I was six, I made the decision to accept Christ. As I look back on it, I know it was a genuine decision, but it wasn’t until many years later that I came to truly know and appreciate a deep relationship with God.
I was a pretty good kid as the years went by. In high school, I was the type of kid who would rather stay home playing games or watching movies with my parents instead of going out and partying. I had a strong sense of identity in Christ and was proud of being a Christian. I was the drama and choir geek who, on the outside at least, seemed to be proud of her outgoing, crazy, loud self. However, on the inside, I felt a strong need to belong. I wanted to be the popular one, the girl who got the guy, the one who every girl wanted to be.
I went off to college four and a half hours from home to a small Christian college in a town almost no one has heard of. My dad had gone there, so I figured it was the logical place to go and follow in his footsteps. This school consisted of 1100 students total and only 450 living on campus, which was smaller that my high school. The first year, I did really well and found some great friends. We were the loud group that always had a tendency to draw attention to ourselves due to our crazy antics. In a small Christian school like this, that was not a good kind of attention. People at small schools love to talk, and the topic of conversation around campus was the rowdy behavior of my friends and me. Even though we were behaving by all the rules and really not doing anything ungodly, we had developed the reputation of being crazy party girls. At a small school like that, you might as well have been marked with a scarlet letter. Here we were trying to be good and stay away from that lifestyle, and it made no difference; we still became the outcasts. The hypocritical and judgmental Christians left a bad taste in my mouth, and I decided I would become exactly what they expected me to be—a party girl.
At right around the same time, I had caught the interest of one of the soccer players at the college. He was definitely not the type of guy I normally got attention from; I was hardly noticed by guys at all. He was the quintessential “Latin Lover” from Argentina and was known by every person on campus. He knew all the right things to say and do that made me fall head over heels almost instantly. I knew it wasn’t right. I had always been taught to be “equally yoked,” and he was the furthest thing from God. But I liked the way he made me feel, and God began to slowly slip into the background as I gave myself fully to this guy—something I always said I would save for my future husband. I told myself that God was something I would get serious about after college. These were the times to be crazy and have fun; later down the line would be the time to go to church and get my life together. I was in love and that’s all that mattered. Through the three years I was in that relationship, I was cheated on more times than I could count and it seemed like every few months, we were breaking up and then I’d go crawling back to him all over again. I always knew it wasn’t right being with him, and everyone, including my friends and family, told me it over and over again. Still, I didn’t listen. After I graduated, I moved to St. Louis so I could be near him. Within a month, things changed drastically. I was given an ultimatum that it was either marry him or his visa was going to expire, and he would be moving back to Argentina. As much as I loved him, I knew he wasn’t the man I was supposed to be with. I didn’t trust him and knew that was extremely important in a marriage. I also knew he didn’t share my same religious beliefs and that would cause issues in the long run. After three years of losing myself completely to a guy, I finally ended it.
I wish I could say that was the turn around for me and that I finally found my way back to God, but it took more intense situations than that to bring me back—situations that I don’t think God made happen, but he used them to bring me back to Him. Two of those situations ring clear in my mind. When I was 24 years old and still in the partying stage of life, I went to a party where drugs and alcohol were present, although I didn’t know the extent until later. That night I went to sleep on the couch and woke up with a guy on top of me. I was sexually assaulted, but thankfully not raped. I later found out that he was not only extremely drunk, but coked up on cocaine as well. This was a huge turning point in my life. It shook my whole world upside down as I realized I no longer wanted to be a part of that lifestyle. I yearned for that close relationship with God that I had had so many years ago. I began Christian counseling, which helped beyond belief. I started going to church and joined a small group, but my heart still wasn’t in it. It just seemed to be a routine I did each week.
Six months later, I found myself in the second life-changing situation. My roommate had just gotten married and I was living on my own for the first time. My life came to a crashing halt as my credit card reached its limit, $10,000. I had no idea what to do. I finally had to humble myself and call my parents for help—something I really REALLY didn’t want to do! I went home that weekend and sat down with my parents to draw out a plan. My dad began asking me questions about my relationship with God, and I remember crying and telling him that I didn’t feel God in my life anymore; I wasn’t even sure if He existed. I knew that went completely against everything I was ever taught, but it was how I felt. That’s when my dad told me to issue God a challenge—to show up in my life in such a way that could only be explained through Him. I did exactly that. Over the next couple weeks, God began to show up in amazing ways, and I saw Him orchestrating things all around me. I found a Christian co-worker who invited me to her church and the small group she led. I began growing and really surrendering my life back to God. It was at that time that I knew St. Louis was no longer the place I was supposed to be; I was being called to move to AZ and have a fresh start. So, I put in my letter of resignation and decided I was going to move out here, even if it meant doing something besides teaching. Everyone thought I was crazy for quitting my job without having another one lined up, but I knew God would provide. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sure about God telling me something in all my life.
Since moving to Arizona 9 years ago, I feel like my life has been completely transformed. I feel like a new person that God has been working in every day. I still struggle with things, but not in the same way. Now, I can’t imagine going back to the way I used to be. I was so lonely and stuck in a life I felt I had no control over. Now I know I can trust in God to have the control and I don’t have to stress about things. Renewing my relationship with Christ was the greatest experience in my life. My decision to follow Christ when I was younger had a lot to do with my parents, but my choice to follow him as an adult was completely independent and has meant all the world to me. I am so lucky to serve such an amazing God who called me back to him and answered my challenge, even when I was so far away.
My prayer for you is that you find that same peace in a Savior who loves you and died on the cross to show you. I pray that if you are running from your past, that you would find solace in a God who already knows and has already forgiven you. All you have to do is accept Him. If you would like to talk about this more, feel free to Facebook message me or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing would make me happier than to talk with you about how you can come to have a personal relationship with God. Thanks for reading!
– Erin Whitaker