When I reflect on my life – my “story” – and wonder how to present all that God has done, the ways He has changed me and revealed himself to me, His extreme faithfulness to me… a few themes start to stand out, a few ways of organizing the ups and downs and changes. So my “faith story” is a story of pursuit, a story of redemption, and a story of the hope to come.
The Story of His Pursuit
My early childhood was happy. My home was not a God-centered one, but there was much love and opportunity. There was also a strong idolatry of the family, and of perfection.
My mom grew up Catholic and seemed to have a strong personal faith, but was never involved in a church community. My father grew up Jewish and observed some Jewish traditions, but never explained his faith or personal beliefs to us. We celebrated Christmas and Hannukah, and my sister, mom, and I went to mass.
I was sent to Vacation Bible School every summer because my mom worked and needed something for us to do. I sang “Jesus Loves Me” and had no idea who Jesus was; I only knew that somehow God was like an apple – according to a book from Mom to my sister and me. When I was in third or fourth grade, we started attending an Episcopal church, which continued for about 5 years. I went to Sunday school for a few years but had no context for what we were talking about and was afraid of asking questions.
When I was thirteen, my family went through an upheaval, and while there is much to say, I’ll summarize: it was a terrible year. My family had meant everything to me, and I thought it was perfect and unbreakable. My mom was torn apart, but started meeting with the pastor at our church and somehow seemed convinced that God was going to make everything ok. On several occasions, she pointed to certain things as “signs” from Him.
I saw my mom hold on to her faith – and I also believed that God was with us – but simultaneously I was falling apart inside. My emotions were too much for me, and I discovered that when I didn’t know how to handle what I was feeling, I could rub scissors against my skin. I enjoyed the numbness and euphoria that came with the pain. My journals reveal little from this time – I kept everything inside and only noted what didn’t hurt to write about. But the soil was fertile for later depression. And I had discovered how to control my uncomfortable feelings – I had found my own way out.
Fast forward through a few more difficult years, and somehow we started to function like a “family” again – in appearance only. By the time I reached high school, my best friends were all Christians, and God used them mightily in my life. For years they invited me to youth group socials, movie nights, parties, summer outings. For years I declined.
Then my grandmother, whom I was very close to, was diagnosed with cancer and moved in with us for her last 7 months. My mom quit her job to take care of her. It was hard to watch, but I saw my grandma’s strong Catholic faith. She went to church as long as she could walk and was always calm, always generous, always tender – despite her pain and I’m sure her fears. All we saw was her peace. In December my friends invited me yet again to another church function – a progressive dinner followed by dessert and a dance in the church gym.
For some reason, I said yes. My sister and I both went. That evening I witnessed a love unlike any I had experienced. I saw joy and warmth in the youth group kids and staff that blew my mind. I wanted what they had. Sarah and I came home on a high.
We found out my grandmother had passed away that night. My first thought was, “God took her from me, but he is giving me something else.” Miraculously, a spot on the annual youth group ski trip – usually full for months – opened up a few days later, and my friend called to see if I wanted to go. A week later I was on a plane to Colorado, where I would pray to accept Christ on New Year’s Eve, 1998. I was swept up by emotion – I saw the joy and carefree love the youth group kids and staff had (or seemed to have), and I wanted it. I loved the idea of someone who loved me no matter what, and I clung desperately to the idea of “God the Father” who was as personal as an earthly father, but perfect in His tender and complete love for me.
But my love for God and understanding of His love for me was superficial. I wanted the security and the comfort, but I didn’t realize that loving God and following Him would also mean sacrifice, compromise, and pain. College years came, and right away I joined a campus ministry and made a few fast friends. I was involved in a women’s Bible study, went to prayer groups – all of that. But after a few months, I stopped attending events, stopped returning phone calls and showing up for coffee dates. I wanted to live my own way, and I had desires that didn’t seem in line with the Bible.
The anger and depression that had been simmering for years came to life full-force and I entered a period of intense rebellion and deep depression while I sought ways to control my life and experiences. A woman told me she loved me – unconditionally! Just as I was – and it was hard to resist the kind of love that I had always wanted – particularly when I felt unable to reveal my complicated and confusing emotions to other friends or to my Christian community.
I became emotionally involved, and simultaneously ran around with guys I met at parties, “living it up”– I thought it naïve to deny myself. I discovered how “fun” alcohol was and rejected the Bible’s warnings against drunkenness; I was having the “time of my life.”
I didn’t want to follow a Bible that threatened to take away these things that brought me pleasure and comfort during a time of intense loneliness. However, my depression grew, and hurting myself became my closest and most reliable friend.
Then I discovered the power and false strength of starving myself, and I had two friends. I relished my scars and rumbling stomach and felt strong. My Christian friends from high school continued to call, to pursue me, to ask “how I was doing with God.” I hid the truth from them, avoided the questions, stopped returning the calls. I know they kept praying for me.
When I quit going to campus ministry events, one friend from my women’s bible study held fast, continuing to check up on me, to schedule lunches and runs. I felt safe with her and eventually began to share a few things – but only a tiny fraction. I didn’t want anyone to see my brokenness – or know the true extent of my rebellion. But she seemed unafraid of what I shared, completely unphased by what I tried to keep hidden, and God pursued me through that friendship.
I also had an amazing best friend – not a Christian, and God used her to save me from myself. She refused to watch me destroy myself and was brave enough to confront me, take care of me, and walk me to her psychiatrist – the beginning of a long relationship.
I continued to wander for years while I tried to sort out my emotions and fight the addiction of hurting myself. I explored yoga and meditation. I was on various anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. I went to church occasionally and missed it deeply. I longed to have a church community, but I had no idea how to get there. On the surface, many of the Christians I met seemed “too perfect,” and I knew I was utterly broken.
I found community in my yoga studio, where everyone was accepted just as they were and we learned to accept and work with our own bodies and their limitations. At the same time, I longed for God – for the kind of unconditional and forgiving love that he offers, and for the intimacy of his care for his children.
When I moved to New York, I tried out Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I disagreed with a lot of what I heard from the pulpit and had trouble getting used to the expository preaching style. I shied away from anyone who might “approach” me and never went to the muffin/cookie hour, eventually replacing church with a Sunday morning yoga class. That Easter I attended church at Redeemer alone, after months away.
Although I might have given up on God and his church, He had not given up on me. I dated a few guys who were not Christian once in New York, and realized deep in my heart that, surprisingly, I desired to be with a Christian and raise a Christian family. I started to reconnect with my Christian high school friends and was more honest with them than I’d been in the past. I had become involved in a harmful and unhealthy relationship, but God orchestrated a few things to separate us when I couldn’t resist. God opened my eyes to see the truth of my situation – that my relationship with this man was not a sign of strength, but of weakness and desperation.
In June of 2008, I broke things off entirely, understanding that, as much as this man meant to me, I would never be to him what I desired – his first priority, the apple of his eye, the one he loved unconditionally.I had yet to discover that God offered me all these things – and more – in His love. After a weekend of heavy drinking, I realized that I just wanted to start over – to have healthy, honest relationships – with men, with my body, with my friends.
I wasn’t quite ready for God yet, and had no idea what He would bring into my life.I wanted to be free from the things that I had used to control my life and emotions, and wanted to find a way to accept where I was and live honestly.
The next month I traveled with the New York City Ballet Orchestra to their summer home in Saratoga Springs, NY. I bought a new journal, and on the train wrote about my desire to start fresh – a new life. At Saratoga, I met a young bassoonist named Harrison in the orchestra who was also a Christian (not to mention incredibly smart and funny and cute in a young, awkward way). He actually had been attending Redeemer since he had moved to New York a few months earlier, and was about to become a member. We became friends in a fraction of the time that it usually takes me to open up. On the Sunday afternoon bus back to Manhattan, he invited me to come to Redeemer’s 5pm service with him.
I have been a regular attendee since, but it has been a difficult journey. God used the people he had put in my life – those Christian friends from high school, my friend from college, and my husband Harrison – to help me face many aspects of my life that I had swept under the rug or wanted to hold as my own.
Every instance of surrender has been painful. I experienced a tremendous amount of anger as I confronted not only my past, but also my present resistance to the Truth, to correction, to changing my ways. I fought at just about every step – about baptism, church membership, tithing, fasting, mission trips, homosexuality, the exclusivity of knowing Christ, the authority of Scripture, the Bible’s instructions about holiness and abortion and divorce and marriage.
Yet, I have seen God redeem so many things in my life. He has redeemed that awful time in my childhood, and he has healed my anger, my pain. His forgiveness of my own past has allowed me and taught me to forgive. God’s tender, loving care for me has filled the emptiness and loneliness that drove me to hurt myself, and again his own sacrifice has redeemed the ways that I disobeyed him.
I continue a fierce battle with depression and try to take refuge in scripture, in God’s promises of deliverance, and in the community of his church. I daily pray to follow Paul’s example of relying on the Lord in weakness and for help from the Lord in resisting my temptations. I cling to God’s promise that He is enough for me and that when I am weak is when He is strong. I don’t need to be the “strong one” in our relationship – even though the temptations are still powerful, I know that I don’t need to be “strong enough” to go for an entire day without eating and I don’t need to deny the strength of my emotions or find an outlet in the flow of my own blood in order to control what I’m feeling.
Jesus bled for me.
I have seen how God has used every hard thing to deepen my relationship with Him and to show me His faithfulness. Not only has the Lord redeemed the hardest things in my life – He has blessed me incredibly besides… my baptism at Redeemer in October 2009, with both my parents in New York as witnesses. My testimony at Redeemer’s East Side Easter services in 2010 for thousands of people, just 2 years after that lonely Easter by myself. The mission trip to South Africa that I took with Harrison, and with it the incredible experience of living in Christian community. My relationship with and marriage to Harrison and the countless trials and ways it has changed me and challenged me to know the Lord even more deeply. And now the healthy birth of our beautiful son Jacob, and anticipation of his little sister, coming any day.
The Story of the Hope to Come
There are also areas in my life where I am still waiting to see God.
In this phase of my life as a mom, I struggle to trust in God’s plan for me – I find myself resisting where He has put me, and I long to work outside our home, to have a job and a title and compensation in the world’s eyes – payment for the long hours of thankless work. I remember vividly Harrison’s first Sunday performing a “folk week” at Redeemer Downtown. It was an amazing success, and the compliments were positively pouring in.
I had spent nearly the entire service in the bathroom with a screaming baby who wouldn’t nurse or sleep. After the service, and after yet another congregant had come up to praise Harrison, he looked at me and said, “We both spent the last hour working hard. But what you’ve done is worth so much more than what I’ve done – and yet no one has seen it. Thank you.”
And yet, I struggle with believing that myself. It’s a tremendous challenge for me to feel valued for what I am doing when it doesn’t result in a paycheck of my own or accolades from adoring fans. I struggle with feeling like my talents and skills are not well “used.” It’s difficult for me to accept that there’s a purpose for me at home, honoring God through the work of loving and raising our son, when instead I long for the world’s praise and reward for my work. I continue to hope for God to bring fulfillment and joy in my current situation.
I am waiting on the Lord in other ways as well. There are many difficult family circumstances in our extended families, situations that have brought incredible pain and sadness. I pray daily for reconciliation and for the miracle that I know it would take to heal such deeply broken relationships. I struggle with overwhelming anger, and it’s hard for me to see God’s hand and to trust in the possibility of redemption. I continue to hope for peace, for a clear answer from God, for healing.
Finally, I continue to struggle with believing in God’s goodness while also recognizing the reality of his judgment. I want to trust in God, in his all-knowingness, in his perfect plan for my life…but I don’t know how to trust His will for those people whom I love dearly and desperately but who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. The thought makes me feel sick to my stomach, and it is difficult to apply this part of theology in my life. My heart cannot figure out how to accept it. I continue to pray that God would bring all the people I love to Him.
Through all this, I do still trust and know that God will work out everything for the good of those who love Him – and now I look back on the history of my own life – and I see God’s faithful, patient, loving arm. And this gives me hope for what’s still to come.