We are so greatly loved by God. I wish I would have truly known that before making mistake after mistake, trying to gain the whole world’s approval.
If you learn nothing else from this, I pray that you would know that you are loved by God, and that He knows you personally, and that you can really know Him, too. People can teach this at you all day, but for me this whole faith thing took some time for me to really grasp. Through a series of events, about halfway through my freshman year, something clicked. I began my freshman year of college with high hopes of a new beginning, of the college experience, and of course, of hopes that the boys would think I was cute. While I had friends, sorority life, club sports, good grades, and (what I thought was) faith, I found myself looking great on the outside and feeling empty on the inside. I began chasing after “the college experience” and all that it had to offer. Life consisted of making it through the week just to make it to the weekend.
Hookups and hangovers started leaving me ashamed, regretful, and wanting more out of life. One morning, I lost it. I woke up next to a stranger in a fraternity house. He drove me home, and I didn’t ask for his name. He didn’t ask for mine, either. That was the last time I ever saw him or ever wanted to see him again.
I walked inside with actual stomach pain because of the disgust I felt. I felt gross. Dirty. Used, yet useless. I no longer only hated college; I actually hated myself now, too. I believed the lie that there was nothing better for me because I didn't believe that I deserved any better. I knew that Jesus died for my sins, but it was more of a distant idea that I knew in my head; it was never truly revealed and understood in my heart. Because I messed up so much, I never thought I could be someone who was completely living for God. Thank goodness for God's goodness. After I stopped crying about that awful morning, I thought to myself, "I am at this school for a reason, and this is definitely not it. Because this sucks. Maybe God could help me—I mean, He already knows the plan for my life anyway, right?" WOW. Such a "DUH" thought, but it took me 18 years to figure that one out. Little did I know, that "DUH" moment was God's little tug on my heart.
By putting that simple thought in my head, He was whispering to His daughter: "Come home."
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. - Matthew 11:28-30
At this point, I could use some rest for my soul... so I started attending the Christian Student Fellowship at my school - the University of Kentucky (GO CATS). I had a lot of regrets that made my heart heavy with shame. I thought I was too dirty for church—that's the holy place. That's where God lives. But He got me there... AND WOW, when we draw near to God, He draws near to us in big ways.
When I said yes to seeking God, He placed people in my path to speak truth to me, to pray over me, and to show me the true radiance of having Jesus. The women that God led me to actually shined with the radiance of God's love. I spoke to them, and it was refreshing. That Christmas break, I attended a conference where I heard author/speaker Marian Jordan Ellis share her story to the students. As she shared, she began to cry as she talked about how much Jesus had done in her life. I had never seen anyone so moved by God that they could cry. I didn't ever think God was that real to my personal life. I thought to myself, "She has something that I don’t have. I want that."
I surrendered over my clenched fist on my "college experience," and I let go. I decided to follow Jesus for real. Before I knew it, God started changing my desires as I asked Him to make my heart want what He wants. I prayed "God, break my heart for what breaks yours." After a while I no longer cared about finding the cute boy at the party or looking the best in my outfit or looking good on the outside. God tells us, "I will put a new heart and a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone, and I will give you a heart of flesh; I will put my spirit in you and move you..." (Ezekiel 36:26). And that's exactly what He did. I know longer cared about trying to be a better person on the outside because I started to feel like a new person on the inside. Like I was reborn. I was transformed that year. I came alive. I started to understand the Bible as I read it, and I was so hungry for more of Him! One day I was sitting in church, and I felt the presence of God like I never had before. I began to cry as I felt the realness of God’s power to take my life and do a complete 180. I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for the miracle that was my freshman year of college.
I couldn't believe that girl, buried in her shame a few short months ago, was gone and that I truly was transformed. I clearly felt God’s love and understood that Jesus - who was perfect, who had human skin - didn’t get beaten and whipped and shamed and nailed on a cross, breaking his flesh and bleeding out His love for me, so that I could have that mediocre, empty, dry life. He died and gave up His life so that I could have “life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I was bought with a price, and it only took a step of faith to follow Him and experience His goodness.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, what whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. - John 3:16
Today, I am not perfect, but I am new. My citizenship is in heaven, and I now walk with the power of the Holy Spirit, and He shows me His beauty and goodness as I seek and find more of Him!
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Image: Giselle Keena