Photo by Nicole Tarpoff
I was always uncomfortable when someone asked for my testimony. Not because I had an intense or private story, but because I was “born going to church” and felt like I didn’t have a testimony to share. I thought my “getting saved” story was boring. But let me tell you, I eventually realized my story didn’t have to be about finding Jesus, but about when His love and grace turned my “religion” into an intense, intimate RELATIONSHIP with Him.
My titles growing up have always been: Goody-Two-Shoes, Christian Girl, The Innocent One, and Preacher’s Grandkid. I’m pretty sure I was in church as soon as my mom got over the fear of her firstborn child interacting with everyone’s germs. I was never a rebellious one and I’m quite the rule-follower, but deep within me I wanted to be known by anything other than these names. Quite ironically, being called “the Christian girl” and known as “the preacher’s granddaughter” brought me great shame for many years. I knew I was supposed to be in church, I knew my mouth and choice of words were supposed to be a fountain for His glory, and I knew He was supposed to be a permanent resident of my heart—but I hated drawing attention to the fact that I knew Jesus and that He loved me. Even more, I hated having to always live up to the higher expectations that preachers’ families are held to. On top of that, I also found my worth in what guys’ opinions were of me, what my scholastic accomplishments were, what the community of people I was surrounded by thought of me, and how many minutes I sat on the bench during a ball game. Those were labels I was trying to earn, yet forever failing to obtain them.
Throughout my years of college, I tried to push forward even when I couldn’t find the correct direction to go with my life. I didn’t want to let my family down by confessing that I no longer wanted to do what I had planned and that I was honesty clueless, because they had so much hope and expectation built up for me. For once, I wasn’t ashamed of one of my titles—I was ashamed of the lack of ability to title myself, as every college student frantically seeks to title themselves with their future career.
So… my love for travel, desire for missions, and the final attempt of secretly trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life (before everyone finally realized that I had no more of an idea than the rocks beneath my feet had for me), I ended up in Peru for a month doing a medical/dental/public health combined fellowship. I was at my lowest point spiritually and mentally. Fortunately, I was cut off from most communication due to lack of service, and after a few weeks I found myself sitting atop my host family’s roof looking down at my feet. This was my unanticipated God moment. This was when my life was radically changed and my heart was set ablaze.
My first thoughts were: “Sorry God, I have failed you. Decisions I have been making aren’t what You would want for me. Why is this so hard? I’ve believed in You my whole life and went to church even when I didn’t want to. Are you even listening to me? Why can I not be known as myself, instead of constantly being labeled by Your name, especially when it’s in an insulting way? Why can I not figure out what path You want me to go down and what You want me to be? Why do I still feel so empty and worthless?”
And I felt Him shake me and say: “Gosh, I’ve been yelling your name. Why aren’t you listening to ME? Why are you ashamed to be known as my daughter and labeled by my name? You keep telling yourself that you can’t admit to others your struggles and that you can’t find direction in life, because you don’t want to be labeled as a failure. So you kept walking your same path. FINALLY, you’ve finally admitted to me, your Father, the one who is NEVER disappointed in you, that you are lost in more ways than one. You’ve refused to walk through the door every time I’ve put the life path I have for you right in front of your face, but you’re about to walk through it because I’ve finally got you in this moment of surrender and you can’t ignore my call now. Aren’t you finding pure joy serving during your dentistry days in Peru? Joy can only be found in Me, and I’m trying to get you to see that My mission for your life is dentistry. This is how I want you to serve My kingdom, so go ahead and slap on your earthly label of ‘dentist.’ And why are you always running from Me? You know that only makes Me chase you faster and harder. Stop making all these decisions that you know I wouldn’t choose for you, and stop trying to find your worth in earthly things and earthly people. You know that only I hold your value—and you are far more precious than rubies or gold. Come to Me, My child, come closer. I’m re-igniting your flame. There is no shame in Me, the Lord. You are not a “Christian” girl…for Christianity is not a religion—it’s a state of being like Me (Christ). This is not a religion; this is a relationship…for you are My daughter… My daughters and sons are My most prized possessions. You have known My name and of My works your entire life, but you have not known Me as the person of Christ that I am, as I desire to be known.”
After a few minutes, I looked up at the vast mountains that encircled me in all directions. The scripture reading (Psalm 121:1–2) at the beginning of the song “Shoulders” had been stuck in my head for many preceding months, and in this moment it replayed again and immediately gave me chills: “I look up to the mountains. Does my strength come from the mountains? No; my strength comes from God. The one who made heaven and earth, and the mountains” (For King & Country). I realized…He created the earth upon which I am sitting. He created the heavens that provide eternal refuge and healing from the corruption we face in our current days. He created the mountains, upon which He has come to encounter many of His followers in the Bible (and I believe He is encountering me on one now), and of which can be moved with the faith of a mustard seed. And, among all of His creations, He delicately, lovingly created me, like a masterpiece from a ball of clay in His hands. Everything is His creation, for everything is His and should be labeled as so. Including me.
We serve a loving, never-forsaking, steadfast, faithful God. Once we realize all that He is, all that He has created us to be, and the loving relationship He has intended for us to be in, we can find peace, passion, purpose, our life’s path, and our true, shameless titles. In that moment I realized that I, a follower of Christ, shouldn’t be labeled by anything other than something that honors Him.That identity in Him is NEVER shameful, even when today’s society places shame on us.I began to love my labels and even add a few more to myself, based on the identity of who He truly is and who He says I am. Even more, I realized that through Him we are all held to an even higher standard than any society could ever hold a preacher’s family to. Despite stumbling blocks and a human’s sinful nature, I’m trying to challenge myself to that standard daily.
My new titles are: Disciple of Christ, Ransomed, Forgiven, Follower, Servant of the Kingdom, Vessel, Soldier, Daughter of the One True King, and Future Dentist. And I’m proud of them.
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.