There are as many Christian faith journeys as there are Christians. Each story is unique. My own faith journey has paralleled my journey in 2004 across the United States, from New Hampshire to Arizona and Texas. Through brutal trials and triumphant joys, I have learned that God created me with a purpose for my life.
For over twenty years, my mother and I had cared for several ill relatives. In July 2004, after the caregiving had ended, my mother and I sold most of our belongings, packed what was left into our car, and drove west, in search of a fresh start. I had a vague belief in God, but had not read much of the Bible, and was not aware of His presence in my life. I assumed that I could simply write a script for my life which other people and circumstances would follow. And I do love to write. I would complete my novella, be discovered, and provide a good life for my mother.
When my mother and I arrived in Flagstaff Arizona, we ran out of money and spent a month living in our car. During the night, the temperatures in that mountain town dropped to freezing. As we moved from parking lot to parking lot, my relationship with God began a painful two-year period of growth. Eventually we ran out of money and had to abandon our car. In September, after several chilly nights sleeping in a park, we stayed for a week at a faith-based homeless shelter. After the first hours of gratitude for a warm place to stay, I could not wait to leave. The daily chapel services and Bible studies wore on my nerves, and I craved my freedom. After that week, I found a job managing a data base for a local scientist, and thanked God for delivering us from our experiment with homelessness. It's so much easier to have a grateful heart when life falls in line with one's plans.
However, in 2006, my employer closed his business, and my mother and I once again found ourselves sleeping in the park. I reminded God that homelessness was not part of the script. I found a job at a deli, but earned only enough money to pay for a few nights at a time in a motel. My mother and I would spend a few nights in a warm room, then return to the park as our funds dwindled. We directed all of our energy toward staying warm, finding a meal, and averting our eyes from others' contemptuous glances. At night, as I stared at the dark star-filled sky, I composed a few really good poems, slipped into a deep depression, and finally gave up. I believed that God had decided that creating me had been a terrible mistake. The nearby railroad tracks, I thought, would be a good place to lie down and end this terrifying trial.
One June morning, my mother convinced me to use our pocket change to take the bus to the hospital. During my visit to the ER, a social worker made a phone call and found two beds for us at the same shelter where we had stayed in 2004. As we walked through the gate to the shelter courtyard, I realized that someone had taken my life script, torn it into tiny pieces, and tossed the pieces into the air. As I pictured this imaginary confetti floating to the ground, I realized something else: my depression had lifted.
On the dining room wall at the shelter hangs a poster which quotes Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (NIV) After a few weeks of hearing the gospel at the shelter, I began to wonder if my life was not ending, but actually, finally, beginning. I learned that I thirsted for a personal relationship with God. I declared my belief in Jesus in September 2006. When I surrendered my expectations and my pride, I received so much more.
My mother and I enrolled in the shelter's one-year discipleship program, during which I attended Bible study classes and spent quiet mornings in prayer. I graduated in 2008, and was hired as a shift coordinator. For nearly a year, my mother taught Bible study at the shelter. Lasting friendships developed. I found mentors to inspire me. I enjoyed meeting and ministering to the ladies at the shelter. When I acknowledged that only God could write the script, my life took a radically different direction from the one I had planned. I began to tell others the Good News.
Those quiet mornings of prayer included petitions for my soulmate to cross my path. In January 2009, I met the man who is now my husband. In March, after weeks of telephone conversations, I moved to Texas, where we were married. My mother now lives with us, and has formed a close bond with my husband. As I reflect on those cold, lonely nights in the park, I understand that my cries of despair were heard by God as the only form of prayer I could manage. Even during the dark hours when God seems to be absent, He is very near, guiding us, if we pay attention, toward His plan for our lives.
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