Testimony [Carly]

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I’ve recently found myself taken aback by the significance of testimony in scripture. We frequently see God calling His people to remember where they came from. He called the Israelites to remember when they were in Egypt, and how God parted the Red Sea to lead them through the desert into the promised land. We see Paul, fueled in his ministry by the fact that he was a Christian killer until he was knocked sideways, given new eyes by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

In the book of Revelation, John prophesies,

“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;” Rev 12:10-11

Let me reiterate this, we will overcome the great darkness not only by the blood of the Lamb, but by the words of our own stories. Does that give you the same goosebumps it gives me?

While I often feel like my story is a hot mess of confusion which I can’t imagine serving to deliver some grand victory, I also have come to recognize that what the scriptures state is absolutely true.

We need our own testimonies.We need to, when the muck of our own mess starts to feel like it defines us, remind ourselves that God has carried us before and therefore He will do it again. We need to remember the miracles small and large which He has performed out of the dust of our stories, to fill us with the courage it takes to walk through yet another phase of healing/grief/broken relationship/season of doubt.

The truth is, when I hear someone tell stories of great triumph, I am tempted to believe that it’s great for them, but I’m way over here on the other side, wondering if I’ll ever be okay again. However, when I am forced to stop and tell you about how the person I am today is basically a series of miracles strung together and held in tension by grace, I remember… He’s on the move. He will restore this. He’s not finished with me yet.

So this is a glimpse into my little slice of heaven coming to earth and taking over, one heart at a time.

I grew up in Southern California, an only child of two genuinely unique parents. We didn’t talk about God in our home; our religion was music, art, and good humor.  My Dad’s family has a traditional Mexican Catholic background, which fizzled when it hit his generation. These days, there isn’t a hint of Catholicism left, but a belief in the mystical, like palm readings, auras, reincarnation and the like as well as a spoken belief that all religions are the same and lead to the same place. On the other side, my Mother’s family would attend church now and then, but faith was tangled up in my Grandparents’ struggle with alcoholism, and never really stuck at a deep level.

Once or twice a year, my Mom would drag my Dad and I to church, but it all felt irrelevant to me. I believed in Jesus like I believed in Cinderella. It sounded like a nice story but, He wasn’t real, right?

Meanwhile, I was a kid who always felt defective. Being an only child with a wild sense of humor and a tendency to be off-the-wall silly, while also being a natural introvert led me to feeling like an oddball at a very young age. I was teased by both the kids in school and by members of my family. I liked to belt songs and dress up in costumes to get a laugh, but I was very sensitive. When I was told that I was too loud, and that I was “so weird” or that I “take things too seriously”, I shut off. From then on, I gave people a small piece of me, for fear that if they really knew who I was, they wouldn’t know how to handle me.

On top of this, I didn’t look like the typical girl. I remember taking ballet, noticing that I had thighs and hips, and was taller than the average girl in my class. I was 5 years old thinking,“I’m different. I’m fat. I wish I were skinny. I have curly, messy hair, I wish it were straight and blonde.” Thus, the cruel relationship with myself began.

I was a walking, talking knot of pain. I thought I was always too much and not enough at the same time. Too loud, not smart enough. Too fat, not girly enough. Too strange, not brave enough. These lies kept me hidden for a very long time, and still compete for attention in my heart.

When I asked my husband what to share in my testimony he said,“You know, tell them how you were a corner kid.” “A what?”, I asked. “A corner kid. A kid who hangs out in the corner of the room.”

He’s right. Like a lot of kids, by the time I grew to be a teenager I felt worthless, like a mistake, and was desperate for the approval of those around me. Believing that I wouldn’t be accepted, I stayed in the corner, tucked out of the way.

In an effort to feel some significance, I began exploring what I believed about God and ended up creating my own little religion that pulled from the mysticism my family taught. I remember wanting to be connected to the invisible, and how I did that was through getting my palm read and putting together a system of belief that helped me make sense of who I thought I was. At 14, I believed that we were all souls that were re-born over and over again until we learned all the lessons we needed to, and then finally went to heaven where all of the gods lived. I wanted to feel like the way that I was would just be a phase until I moved on to the next life.

My freshmen year of high school, my soccer coach happened to be a Young Life leader. Young Life is an outreach ministry that aims to reach every kid; the put-together kids and the kids on the fringe alike for Jesus, by earning the right to be heard in their lives through consistent mentorship.*

I was invited to Young Life by the girls on my soccer team, and thought it might be a gateway into popularity. It wasn’t, but I went to every event that year and found myself at a week-long camp over the summer.

I will never forget hearing about the cross for the first time. All year, as I heard messages about Jesus, I told my leaders that this God worked with my religion because all gods were the same; that I could love Jesus and still not be a Christian.

However, all of my ideas about Jesus came crashing down as I heard the message of the cross. I can’t really explain it, but the realization that this God thought I was worth dying for shot like an arrow straight into the middle of my being, and I began to weep uncontrollably as I heard it. I wasn’t sad; I wasn’t upset; I was loved.

For the first time in my life, a love I couldn’t explain got through all of the layers of pain. With tears streaming down my face, I ran out of the room where the message was being given and into a big field. I laid in the middle of the grass and called out to God for the first time ever, telling Him that I was in; I wanted to belong to Him.

My leaders had been pursuing me for months, telling me that God loved me. They told me He knew all of the hairs on my head and that He loved me completely. I didn’t believe them because that would mean that the way He made me was on purpose, and I didn’t like me very much. But in the middle of that field, I knew with every fiber of my being that He was real, that He was with me, and that He loved me.

All of the other kids flooded the camp after the message and I walked around camp, mascara running down my face, without a care in the world. I was free, and for the first time in my life, didn’t care what any of them thought. I even remember talking to the boy I had a crush on with snot all over my face, looking like a crazy lady. He asked me what happened and I told him, “God is real. That’s all”, and walked away without thinking twice.

From that point on, I started to come out of hiding. Over the years I have had these collisions with God where He’s called me to reveal part of myself. Each time I kick and scream, terrified that I will be rejected, and in every instance He proves that I am not a mistake, and that He can use me for purposes beyond my imagination.

That crazy kid who loved to dress up in costumes and make people laugh? I do that now at Young Life camps for hundreds of kids at a time, and watch how God uses the laughter to break down kids’ walls of insecurity and fear.

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That voice that was always singing too loudly? God called me to use it for Him, singing songs that He’s put in my heart. When I was 19 I was volunteering at a camp up in Northern California. I served in the coffee shop that month and would sing along with the radio under my breath. A musician by the name of Brandon Heath heard and told me that I had a beautiful voice and encouraged me to sing. I was urged that month to pray about this gift in me, which I would have never called a gift at the time. Shortly after, I started writing songs with my guitar. I mustered the courage to play my first show ever that fall, and at the end of the show, a man walked up to me. He said “Hi, I heard you from across the carnival and I just want to tell you that you need to do this with your life.” I thought he was just loopy and thanked him. He stopped me and said “No, really. I wasn’t even listening to you. I came over here to tell you that you need to do this. I am a Discernment of Gifts Pastor and I tell kids all of the time to stay away from this industry because its a dark place. But, I’m telling you that you need to do it”. After a few incidents like that, which left me speechless, I knew God was calling me to sing. Since then, I’ve been able to perform and lead worship on the regular. I watch Him use this voice I thought was no good to bring life and healing to people, and it blows my mind.

The struggle of self-loathing has been a process of long-suffering with God and I. I continue to hand it over to Him, and now I teach on the subject of allowing God to heal our self-image to thousands of teenage girls every year. I hear stories that bring me to my knees about girls hearing me speak and believing that they are beautiful and special to God.

I’m learning more and more, that God is eager for us to hand our whole selves over to Him because what He can do with the pieces of our puzzle is infinitely better than what we can dream up. The parts of me that God has put on display are the things I most wanted to hide my whole life. Its taken years, and I have a long way to go, but as I stand today I believe that nothing about me is an accident. The facets of who I am that have always felt like way too much, are exactly the parts of me He has used for His glory. All of the icky feelings of insignificance have started to wash away as I have watched God use my pieces and make them into the masterpiece He’s seen all along.

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