#52 You Have Never Been Alone

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

When I was 15 I fell into a relationship. Being so young, I never expected that what was about to happen over a span of three months would completely change who I thought I was. As the relationship fell into unhealthy patterns and abusive ways, I unknowingly went into a quiet and dangerous submission. I was pushed and pressured, and eventually my body was completely exploited. At the end of three months, he decided he was done.

I never spoke about what happened, and I let the shame and guilt of what we had done lay silent. I quickly accepted the lies that I could never be pure again, which caused a very deep chasm of depression and loneliness. I was overflowing with hate for myself, and as high school went on, I figured I had already done the “biggest” sin, so why does it matter what I do now? I turned to drinking, hating my family, and receiving “love.” I don’t think words will ever suffice for the drowning feeling of shame I felt.

My junior year of high school I went to a Young Life camp, and there God started to tell me the simple, clear fact that I have never been alone. I was never alone in his basement; I was never alone in the brutal fights that went on in my house; I was never alone when I was too drunk to see or when I felt like I was dying of hunger pains from not eating. His words, “You have never been alone” have carried me through the years and I am constantly reminded that I will, forever, never be alone.

In the spring of my freshman year of college, I had been on depression medicine for a year and decided to switch because of insomnia. The weaning process was one of the worst experiences of my life, but because of it I was debating if I had enough energy to go on a campus ministry spring break trip. I thought going home and watching TV for a week would cure my anxious mind and unsteady thoughts, but for some reason, I decided to take the 16-hour bus ride. I was immersed in love from people who told me truths about myself, and after a friend prayed over my depression and my brain, I played with the thought of not going back on medicine. Ever since sitting on the hard floor crying with her, I have been free and at peace for seven months.

I finally know what peace is. God has done incredible and amazing things through a girl who was too afraid to speak because of shame and guilt. But now I am free and am waiting for what my God will do through a girl who is no longer silent—who knows what true peace and love is. I have awakened, and I have a voice because of Him.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

Matthew 6:26-27

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.

#43 Embracing My Identity In Him

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.

#4 Breaking Chains of Shame

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My God story happened my freshman year of college when I woke up in a fraternity house. Unclothed and unaware of thestranger sleeping next to me, I was flooded with confusion and guilt. I abruptly got up, went to my dorm, balled my eyes out, and thought: “I feel disgusting. What am I doing?” I then thought, “I feel like God probably has a purpose for my life, but I don’t think this is it. Why am I here? This is not what I was made for.”

In that moment, something in me switched. Little did I know, that little thought was really Jesus knocking at the door of my heart, saying, “Let me in. Come. Come know me. Come taste and see.” So I came. In the beginning of this journey, I started to attend our campus ministry to get my life together. I didn’t want to feel so horrible about myself anymore. What I didn’t expect was for God to transform me from the inside out. But that’s what He did.

When Christmas break came around, my Bible study leader dragged me to a conference in North Carolina where I heard Marian Jordan Ellis, founder of Redeemed Girl Ministries, speak for the first time. She was gorgeous, full of life, and she spoke with authority (and a little sass). I loved it. After her sermon, she kicked all the guys out of the room for “women’s time” where she shared her full story with us. She let it rip. She was so real and raw with us, and as she was talking, I felt as if she were speaking right at me. She was pointing out all the shame that we had felt, all the hurt, and all the heartbreak. After being rocked by the fact that our struggles were so similar, she began to talk about her love: Jesus. As she talked about Him, she got choked up and teary-eyed simply telling us how beautiful He is and how He had changed her heart forever. Hearing her speak about Him as if He were so close, I realized that this woman really knows Jesus. This woman really loves Jesus.

I thought to myself, “Okay, I don’t feel as guilty and dirty as I did before, but I feel like there’s more to this Jesus thing than I thought there was. God, I want to know you like that. I want a heart that loves you like that. A heart that loves you more than anything else in the world.”

WOW. Never underestimate the power of prayer. I soon realized that God will never say “no” to a prayer that asks to know Him more. This revelation caused transformation in my life. As I sought Him, He showed up. He opened my eyes to see, and He started blowing my mind. So I prayed for more. “God, I can’t really understand the Bible without you. Please give me understanding.” Prayer answered. More and more, God broke off my chains of guilt and shame, awakened me to His love, gave me understanding of His word, put a fire in my heart, immersed me in amazing communities, gave me true joy, showed me that He SPEAKS to us (WHAT?!), let me see Him miraculously heal my friend’s broken foot right before my eyes (WHAT?!), and brought LIFE to my dry soul. A once depressed, shameful freshmen girl became a new creation—a set free, redeemed, and cherished daughter of God. My life went from complete darkness to light in one year of college.

But He didn’t stop there. As I was reminiscing on that powerful memory of hearing Marian Jordan Ellis, I stopped by her website to see more about her ministry. I noticed that she hosts events all around the nation that gathers college women to hear her story, and it said to contact the “redeemed girl” email. I sent an email, never expecting a reply. Shocked, I read her response: she would be able to come in January 2016.

Following this email, God did all the work. He provided funds to host the event, the venue, and a team of 25 college women from all over campus to lead, plan, and pray for this event. Believe me, I am not administrative. God did all of this. After a semester of prayer, growing in confidence and leadership, and getting the word out, Redeemed Girl Ministries arrived in Lexington, Kentucky all the way from San Antonio. At 7 p.m., we opened the doors of our classroom building to almost 400 college women who showed up for this “Girl’s Night Out” with Marian Jordan Ellis. Boy, they didn’t know what they were stepping in to. After her fun and energetic introduction to these sorority women, Marian, once again, let it rip. Her testimony brought this room to tears, and the Spirit of God encountered these girls. Light hit darkness. Desert souls tasted living water. Jesus walked into these girls’ lives, and hearts were opened. People realized—many for the first time—that they are worth dying for. Over 100 University of Kentucky girls accepted Christ for the first time that night.

God has been bringing waves of revival to Lexington this year, and this was one of them. And it all started with one lost girl whom God gave eyes to see. Thank you Jesus. You’re not finished with us yet, and this God story is not even close to finished. “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing upon your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.This one will say ‘I am the LORD’s…’ and another will write on his hand ‘The LORD’s…” (Isaiah 44:3-5).

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.