Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Losing my Religion

When I was a kid I attended Sunday School, I went to Church, I listened to worship music, I memorized verses, we prayed before meals and at bedtime, I believed in Jesus, I was a christian.  Being a Christian for me as a kid was as natural as breathing, my parents were christians, as were my friends and most of my family too so it just made sense. 

As I aged and was some how chucked into my teenage years (did it feel like a catapult ride gone wrong to anyone else?) I was still a christian, but I'd added and subtracted to the above list, I no longer attended sunday school, I now taught it, I spent less time memorizing verses (not that I spent copious amounts of time doing that before but some), trading that time in to study for 8 subjects and to read Teen Beat magazine (wahoo!).  I still listened to worship music, but had thrown a little Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys into the mix.  I still believed in Jesus, but somethings weren't quite as easy, and questions began to develop.  I also made new friends, ones who didn't believe what I did.  Ones who's faith still had a god but one who was a far cry from the god of my beliefs.  We agreed to disagree on our religion and maintain a friendship.  It was the first time what I believe had been tested.

Time passed and I was now a  young adult.  I was preparing to leave home, I was pushing my limits, I was trying to keep everyone happy and still find out who I was.  Again, still a christain but my intense desire to do the right thing had wavered a little.  I still wanted to follow the rules (I like structure, it makes me feel safe) but I also wanted to be me, to find me, to see if some of those rules could bend just for me.  I also wanted so desperately to shake the "perfect" mold I'd been put into.  Up until now, while I had a 'Tude that makes me scared of what's coming with my children, I didn't really cause my parents too terribly much grief.  Because I taught Sunday School, and girls club, had excellent grades, worked and generally made everyone happy, it was assumed, I did no wrong.  Boy where they wrong!  I never really did anything terrible, at least not in the world's eyes, I didn't drink alcohol, I didn't try drugs, I didn't beat anyone up (although I thought about it...ahem).  But I made choices I'm not necessarily proud of, ones that while I don't regret them I certainly wouldn't do them again if I had the chance at a do over.

I moved away from home.  My church attendance stopped right away, I'm not really an extrovert and finding a church home wasn't on my "To Do" list.   As time passed, while I still prayed, I moved further away from God.  I still considered myself a christian, but one who wasn't exactly walking the path.  I knew I was making choices with my body and some of my actions that God didn't approve of and so it was easier to walk on the opposite side of the street, rather than to face Him in the intersection.  My dialogue with Him consisted of pleas, for safety for my mom, my dad and my brother, frustration over a relationship I was in that was clearly unhealthy but I didn't want to admit it.  They were scattered at best.  My music choices had changed yet again and I was onto other things.  There was still the odd worship song in the mix but they didn't control the cd changer like they had before.  But each time one would come one, something strange happened to my heart.  I passed it off as nastalgia.

I carried on that way for the better part of 2 years.  Pushing myself emotionally to a place that I pray with all my might, each and every day that my daughters never find themselves, working for bosses who took advantage of my work spirit and used and crushed it, feeling empty, hollow and tired.  I was so tired of pretending things were fine, for my parents, for my co-workers, for the few lifer friends who'd been in touch, clearly concerned.  I figured I was "fine", I was just finding myself.

Until "that day".  It's a day that stands out in my mind so clearly that when I spent too much time thinking about it now I get the shakes.  It was without a doubt the most pivotal point in my entire life.  Trumping, in it's own way my wedding and the birth of my daughters.

What could possibly trump the birth of your children? You ask.  Let me tell you.

It was the day I lost my religion.

I had just returned home from a particularily hard day at work.  I was still dating "The Ex" (which when said is always preceeded by "Dun, Dun, Duuuunnn"), he lived a 25 minute drive away and, as was expected most nights I was supposed to change out of my work clothes, grab my overnight bag and head in the car to his place.  Where we would inevitably go out for dinner, which I would pay for (in 2 years I can honestly count on 1 hand what he paid for.  But this is NOT about that relationship) and the evening would carry on. I would get up the next morning very early, dress and drive to work to start the day all over.  That was the average routine, oddly enough the night before I had stayed home instead of going.  It had been a rough night and I'd only managed 30 minutes of sleep.  I was not looking forward to my drive, or my evening.

I walked through my door at lightening speed as I always did, ready to change and fly out the door again.  But something had me stopping to lay on my bed, for only a moment.  Well, I passed out, something I never did. 

When I woke up it wasn't leasurely, it wasn't nicely, it was abrupt.  It was as though God had walked into my room, picked me up off the bed and promptly tossed me on the floor.  What I think probably happened was my guardian angel was sick to death of watching my straying butt and said, "That's it!  I'm not covering your tushie any more (because angels do not say "Ass") face Him, you need to Face Him!"

And face Him I did.  God was calling me, I knew that.  He'd been calling me since the day I chose to put my heavenly earplugs in.  In fact He'd been calling me for years before that, He wanted more from me.

I stayed there on my knees on the floor of my room, sobbing.  Feeling as though all the things I had refused to feel for years were being thrown at me.  Feeling as though my heart was being shredded because the reality of what I needed to do hurt.  God was asking more from me that to just "be a christian" to have christianity as my religion.  He wanted/wants a relationship with me. 

That relationship wasn't payment for my salvation.  I'd asked Him into my heart years before and where I go when I die was settled then.  He wasn't asking for that relationship so that everything would go my way the rest of my life.  He wasn't asking for that relationship for my benefit.  It was for His.

He created me, He loves me, He wanted to know me.  I know that sounds silly, hear me out.  God sees everything, He knows everything, heck He knows my future and yours.  And it's the knowing part that made Him want that relationship.  He made us humans to need contact, both physical and emotional.  He knows that our souls crave love, comfort and reassurance, the things that He couldn't possibly show me without a relationship.

In all the time I spent on that floor, sobbing my apologies to Him and listening, truly listening to the voice of the spirit for the first time, one thing kept banging against my brain.  Ringing loud and clear, He was calling me to obey.

"I want to raise my kids in a church.  You need to raise your kids in a church!"  It was as if my future was flashing before my eyes with the man I was dating and it was not a good one.  And he would not raise our kids in a church, if I even was allowed to have children.

I got into my car, drove to where he lived and ended that relationship. Again, the details of that particular portion of this story aren't important, but I will say that over and over I said to him, "I need to raise my kids in a church, we need to be there as a family."  As I drove home, sobbing because even though I didn't really love him, and even though it was the worst relationship I'd ever been in, in so many ways, my heart was broken.  I talked with my Mom all the way  home, crying into her ear, completly unaware of the joy she and my dad were feeling amidst my pain.  Not that I was sad but because I had made a break through.

After promising to eat some dinner, I hung up the phone with my Mom and the rest is a blur.  I think I ate dinner and I think I had a shower, all I do know is that I collapsed into bed and fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up, swollen kind of like Dolly Parten after her 15th face lift, which is my consequence to hours spent crying (although 10 tears over a commercial and I'm noticably puffier in the AM).  My face was splotchy, but I felt amazing!  For the first time in 2 years I felt I could finally take a breath.  I felt free, I felt whole, I felt renewed.

That day at work (after the shock of my "beauty" wore off my boss) everyone continued to say there was something different about me.  Customers who'd become friends knew I was different, and with each compliment, and kind word my heart soared a little.  Not only because I was hearing heart warming words but because I knew they were true, I knew I was different.

When I look back on that time I can see that time for what it is.  That night in my bedroom,  before I drove to Vernon, was my low.  I was in the lowest place I could possibly be and it was then and only then that I was ready to hear what God was saying.  And strange as it may sound it was exactly what it needed to be, without that time in life, without those experiences I may never have got to the place where I found out that there is so much more to being a christian than what I'd made it.  I was no longer a christian in the textbook, follow the rules sense, I was a christian, in the walking beside my Saviour, living my life for Him way.

You see there are 2 ways to have your faith (this is by no means me judging anyone elses faith, I am strictly talking about my own experiences), you can either believe in Jesus, know about Him and secure your salvation by asking Him to live in your heart.  Or you can know Jesus is who He says He is, you can have Him live in your heart and have a full fledge relationship with Him - a relationship with dialogue, not just formal prayers but a conversation, whether good or bad He wants to know what you have to say (and trust me I tell him when I so think His choices suck!  He rolls His eyes I'm sure and guides me on the path to see their purpose, but I feel better venting) and He can be Lord of your life. 

I believe without a shadow of a doubt that God allows us to get to that lowest point (my own personal darkest hour), that place I was in 5 years ago, to find that difference.  He took me to that place because He longed for me, all of me, to see me flourish in His light and to take away my self inflicted suffering in the most selfless way He can.  He died for me and I needed that reminder, and in that darkest hour you realize that you've become someone else, your faith is all of a sudden real, tangible even and that you're losing your religion, trading up for something so much greater!

So if there's someone you're hurting for, someone you're watching in a place that seems so low, so angry, somewhere that feels so sad, take heart.  He's there, I promise, He's there and whether they feel it or not He'll keep being there and so will you.  Maybe now, you'll know how to pray for them, pray that when that darkest hour comes that they will have the strength to see His light, reach out and take His hand.  And if that person is you, if you feel your hurting so bad that breathing's hardly worth it, that trying is futile, hang on, it'll get better, and reach out your hand, I promise it won't stay empty for long.


Angella said...

Beautiful, Ashley. Thanks so much for sharing so openly.

Ashley said...

I love you honey. And if I love you this much just imagine how much God must love us. There is nothing in the world that feels quite as good as knowing your children see things spirutualLy as you do yourself. I pray that you and Corey will have that wonderful experience one day for too.

Love Dad, AKA PAPA

Anonymous said...

Ok, now I can see through the tears I will write. Ashley I still can feel the ache that was in my heart watching you go through all you did. BUT and hear that BUT... I can remember the joy and the overwelming feeling of peace the night you phoned me. Your tears and your broken words were all that I had prayed for. I prayed that God would give you direction, peace and fulfillment. I didn't know what that was going to look like. I had no idea how it would happen. I asked God three things. To protect your mind, your body and your spirit. Oh it is a great and loving Heavenly FATHER, that loves us so much he gives us room to try and then helps find our way. One of the greatest gifts God gave me was the time I had to do the same thing. It was different circumstances but the results the same. In my eyes it is the step we have to take from being saved and having Jesus as Saviour and coming to the place where we let him be Lord of our life. He won't push.. he waits, loves and waits. Your lessons that you learned in that and the feeling of truth faith and relationship will be that which holds you together when you watch your girls go through the same thing. They will go through whatever it is they need to but you KNOW AND CAN FULLY TRUST that HE is there with them. In your ache for them you will be given peace, and patience. I love you dear and I am proud to be your Mom and Dustin's Mom. I think the calouses on my knees are from the prayers for my children. Our kids keep us on our knees before our loving friend and Saviour.

and Love
Mom / Grammy

Rena said...

WOW! What an amazing testimony! So glad I've lingered around here.