pilgrimage

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3, NIV)
 
Since I was a small child I have understood that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. I made a public profession of faith at 8 years old, was baptized and declared a member of my family’s church. The years that followed continued the practice of Sunday School and student activities and church choir tours and even a mission trip, but in all those years I never understood discipleship. I’m not sure it was ever actually taught, and if it was, it was not made clear. Above all else, I am a student. I delight in knowledge and seek to know the depth of things, and so I cannot imagine that I was instructed in discipleship and, more importantly, how to have a relationship with my God since I did not discover these truths until my late 20s.
 
Despite attending church and being raised on a foundation of faith, I entered my teen years uncertain about everything I had been taught. I was irritated by religion, and I didn’t understand the difference between religion and faith. I was a young girl with too many thoughts and too many questions that no one seemed to address. My faith in God and my acceptance of Christianity was tenuous, at best. I felt surrounded by people of little depth, and I didn’t understand that this was not the way God intended. It’s little surprise, then, that I found myself in the midst of a darkness that defined my adolescence.
 
The catalyst came in a job promotion for my dad that required a move from the only place I could remember calling “home”. Moving to a new town, a town of history and closed social groups, propelled me into a depression fueled by anger and resentment at this life change. I remained in that state for twelve years, surfacing only months at a time to make another attempt to be a “good Christian girl”. But all around me were peers who did not see past my introverted exterior, nor did they care to pierce my defense mechanisms, and I would inevitably retreat back into the darkness. My adolescence lasted well beyond the teen years, and it was defined by a constant searching for relief from the anguish and despair that constantly weighed on my heart. I could not express my emotions in a way that could be understood by the average person, and I never knew anyone who wanted to invest in me long enough to probe the depths of my spirit. I often wonder if I would have found release from the pain had there been just one person willing to explore what I was feeling, to listen and try to understand. Being the firstborn, my parents had no experience with a child like me, and their own personalities were far removed from the person I was becoming. At that time, they had not yet realized the magnitude of their own relationships with Christ, and so we all struggled just to keep peace. I’m sure they wondered many times how a child with so much given to her could be so unbearably miserable. I often wondered how my own parents could not understand the child they had raised. I finally gave up after high school graduation and turned my back on everything I had been taught about God.
 
My deepening despair continued throughout college, eventually affecting not only relationships but my health – physical, emotional, and mental health. Spiritually, I was bereft. I rejected everything that related to God or spirituality. I actually gave it little thought at all, preferring to seek peace through other avenues. Of course, peace did not come, but I was so consumed by my depression that I had no energy to raise myself up. And I did not acknowledge the One Source of that peace. When I think on those years in my early 20s, I have very few memories. Much of it lies in the corners of my mind, clouded by a haze that I cannot seem to pierce. I often wonder if this is God’s way of protecting me from the memories that are now so painful. I wandered aimlessly through college, finally graduating with a degree that, on its own, could never lead to a career. And after 18 months of trying to find something career-like, God finally rescued me from my self-imposed prison.
 
At the age of 26 I took a job as a counselor in a rehabilitation camp for emotionally disturbed teen girls. This brief period — for I only lasted three months — was truly my “wilderness experience”. The camp was designed as a last resort for the girls; they lived around the clock in open structures built by their own hands from the trees of the forest in which we lived. They were responsible for cutting down the trees, stripping the bark, chopping the posts, building the structures, and then performing every chore necessary to maintain a camp in the woods. Meals were cooked over open fires and grills, latrines were built in the thick of the trees, showers were given on a reward basis. And as a counselor, I lived that same life with one 48-hour rest period every week, awarded from noon to noon. I suddenly found myself in the midst of God’s creation with nothing sheltering me from the full force of His Spirit. Awakening each day to the sound of a deer at my shoulder, seeing the first light of the day creep through the treetops above me, hearing not a sound in the stillness of the forest brought me closer to God than I ever imagined a person could be. For the first time in my life, I understood the concept of “being still”. And I truly came to know my God.
 
My wilderness experience was the turning point in my life. Once I acknowledged the LORD and crawled out of the pit I’d been in for the past decade, God took hold of me and put me on a path to knowing Him. I was quick to embrace Him, to seek His way. I knew what lay down the wrong road, and I never wanted to choose that path again. Since that moment I have learned that God takes us exactly as we are, with every emotion, every question, every worry and fear and doubt, and He embraces us and envelops us so that we can glimpse the depth of His love. It really is unconditional. And I understand that more than most. As I came to seek Him and learn who God is, I discovered that what I’d heard all of my life is true: to know God, we must get to know Jesus. It is Jesus who taught us all we’ll ever need to know in this life, and it is Jesus who enables us to know our Creator. Jesus has freed me from the prison of my own making by showing me my place in this world. I have one purpose in this life: to love the Lord, my God, with all of my heart and all of my mind and all of my soul and all of my strength. It is all I’m meant to do on this earth. And by doing that, God teaches me that every human task is to be done for His glory.
 
My journey has been rocky, but it’s the story I have been given to tell. My time on earth will be short, by God’s standards, and I want to make the very best of it. I’ve wasted enough time already. But I’m thankful that I don’t travel this road alone.
 
Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)

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