Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Testimony Tuesday

Several months ago Kelly asked me to participate in her Testimony Tuesday.  I was completely caught off guard when she sent out the email, but I hesitantly responded yes.  She has since put TT on hiatus.  But I have a testimony, and today I am going to share it with you.  (It's light on pictures and the quality is questionable, but who wants a pictureless post?)

I was raised in the Mississippi Delta.  I attended a Catholic school and an Episcopal church.  My parents are divorced.  Every other weekend I attended church with my dad.  My weekends with my mom, sometimes we went to church and sometimes we didn't.  When I was old enough to serve as an acolyte in church, I did.  Often times my grandmother would pick me up and bring me with her.  When I had my license (and a car in working order), I would go by myself.  I loved church, church groups and at 15 years old I made the decision to be confirmed at St. James Episcopal Church in Greenville, Mississippi. 

 I was baptized when I was an itty-bitty (and quite adorable) baby.
I am the oldest of three girls.  (Yeah, terrible haircut.)
I left for college and tried to never look back. I never attended church in college unless it was with my sorority or my friend Will Hunt made me go with him. I would sometimes go if I went home. And when Ben and I started dating I would go with him and his family to church in West Point when he was in town. I was far more focused on being spiritual. I believed in God and the Bible and Jesus. I wanted to be good. But boy did I make a lot of mistakes during that time. 

I had so much fun in college.  If you knew me then, you may think I had too much fun.  

And despite having friends who had their salvation nailed down, I didn't.

Ben and I got married and we moved around and never really attended church with any regularity.  After Nolan was born I kind of thought that maybe we should start attending a church.  Ben's parents live here and are members of First Baptist Church.  He suggested going there.  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  When I was seven or eight years old I attended church with my friend Jamie.  During the service at her very Southern Baptist Church, the guest preacher said that if you are baptized as a baby you are going to hell.  And as a very literal interpreting child, I came home and cried and cried.  I was baptized in my church as a very tiny little baby.  My mother assured me I wasn't going to hell.  So instead we started attending the Methodist church here.  But I just felt so out of place there.  No one was my age.  No one stayed home with her kids.  Nolan was in misery in the childcare.  And the list goes on and on.  And it didn't feel like a church home, so we quit going with any regularity. 
 Why is this the cheesiest engagement photo?  And how young do we look?
 After our wedding ceremony and on the way to the reception.  It's such a shame I didn't even know how Godly my husband was when we first married.
Early in our church going days when we were not happy in church, but we went.

So we weren't attending church and I was pregnant with our second baby.  Nolan was going to a mom's day out program for eight hours a week.  The second baby was due at the end of July.  I needed him to be in preschool more the next year.  For my sanity.  So I signed him up at his current preschool.  About the same time (that February) we began going to church there weekly.  I went nearly every week up until the Sunday before Allyn was born - an entire week past my due date.  Allyn was born and when she was about a month old we started attending church again.  Nolan was also in preschool three days a week and I would run into the same people over and over again.  And while Bentonville has a small town feel, it's really not Mayberry small.  So to run into the same people at swim lessons, and the gym and church and school and WalMart, well it's a little ironic.

 My little ray of sunshine.
With the little dude at the beach this past summer.

One school day after DNOW, Laurie invited me to the Sunday School class that her husband teaches.  I was most certainly not down for a class after church.  But I mentioned it to Ben and we decided we would go and Nolan would start attending Sunday school too.  After all, our friend Kacy was teaching so it wouldn't be too bad.  We went and it was painless.  And we kept going.  And I was listening and learning and through all of this I really began to question my spirituality.  What was my relationship with God?  I prayed...selfishly.  I read the Bible....children's stories to Nolan.  I believed.

And then in March of 2013 our daughter was diagnosed with a pretty serious orthopedic condition.  When we got the diagnosis from the orthopedic surgeon in Little Rock I was hopeless.  And lost and I needed somewhere to lean.  And I knew I needed prayer.  So I sent out an email to our Sunday School class.  I cried the whole time I was typing it.  And they prayed.  I could feel it.  Every day.  It was peace.  And slowly (or maybe suddenly), God was back in my life. 

And then she was casted three times and never once have I been uneasy about her journey.  And it is a really scary place.  But was I saved?  Was I living in Jesus?  Short answer: no.  I wanted so badly to be there, but I wasn't.  I kind of felt like I needed something great or maybe I was beyond hope.  I really don't know why.  But there it was.  And then one Sunday we are discussing the story of the loaves and fishes.  And really, isn't that miracle a great story.  But the real miracle comes after the loaves and fishes.  At least for me.  And this is the story that most connects to my testimony. 

So after this very tangible miracle of feeding 5,000 Jesus decided to send his disciples across the Sea of Galilee ahead of him while he goes to pray.  So these disciples are out in the water in a storm and they are losing it.  They are afraid they might go down in this ship.  And then they see Jesus walking on water.  And Peter tells Jesus that if it is Him to have him come to Him.  Peter steps out of the boat and then sinks and cries out to the Lord to save him.  Jesus does and gets on the boat and the storm calms.  Peter and all of the disciples had seen Jesus's miracles and felt His presence and even they doubted.  And He did what He had promised....gotten them to the other side.  The storms were rough and it was scary and they doubted, but they made it. 

I was no different that these guys.  And I was in the storm.  And feeling Jesus's calm.  And I couldn't deny Him any more. 

Do I still feel guilty that I turned away from God for so long?  Yes.  Do I feel guilt that it took my child being diagnosed with a terrible condition to bring me to Him?  More than you can imagine.  But I made it to exactly where I needed to be.  And in my time.  Just in time.  But my story doesn't end there.  I pray it's really just beginning. 

Here is a "mom moment".  Watching N play the iPad.  

Some time around Christmas I became so convicted that I needed to go before our church and make my salvation public and follow in Believer's Baptism.  And I was totally freaked out by it, but I couldn't shake it.  I was so embarrassed to go before this church in my mid-30s and declare my salvation.  But one night I talked it over with Ben.  And he reminded me it's not about me.  It's about Him. 

Brother Phillp had spoken two Sundays about listening to that still small voice so this past Sunday I went before our church and did just that.   I told Ben as he was walking with me that I thought I was going to vomit.  And then afterward in Sunday School someone joked with me because she had been through the same thing and I just kind of sat back in the wings and didn't say I was struggling with the same thing.  What can I say?, I was scared and embarrassed.

So there it is.  My testimony.  I have lived a life that by all accounts has been good.  I have been giving countless blessings and endured some pretty rough heartache.  And those things are real and they are mine.  But none of them matter if they don't give glory to His Kingdom.  But I am so blessed that they got me to this place.

I would add that I know a lot of people may read this and have some pretty harsh criticism.  And you don't have to keep it to yourself.  Feel free to hide behind "Anonymous" tags on your Internet comments.  And I probably won't be able to answer your questions or debate your theology.  I'm not a Bible scholar. 

I know this to be true:  YOU are a child of God.  Jesus died to forgive all of your sins, no matter how far you think you are from forgiveness.  And your life might still look hard from the outside even after you have found peace in Jesus.  But even though you can't explain it, you will know when you're there.

And, thanks for letting me tell you my testimony.


Amanda (McNeely) Vestal said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm so glad that you came to our Sunday School class that first Sunday. We are all blessed to have your family in our lives.

Patsy Wilson said...

Shelley we are so happy for you! What a testimony you have! Share it as GOD leads you and you will be able to meet needs beyond your expectation! God's timing, place and person is always perfect. Scripture will always be there for you and God speaks to us through it. The scripture that has always helped me is "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.". May God bless you in this new chapter of your life! We love you and are thankful for you !

amber said...

Crying happy tears! I LOVE this post! And what is there to criticize? :) Simply perfect... Thank you for sharing your heart!

John Maher Builders said...

Shelley, this is a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing!

Alex and Jill said...

Beautiful testimony. Thank you for sharing!

Holly said...

This is great! I had no idea you had a blog. I read it because Sparkie shared it. I knew immediately who you were talking about when you mentioned Kelly and Laurie because I read Kelly's blog. I am so happy for you and Ben and the kiddos. Hope to see you guys soon.

Willette said...

Shelley, your journey has just begun. There is so much to learn. Get involved in Bible Study groups. I am currently doing my 4th Warren Weirsby B study and love it. It opens your eyes to so many things you just read over. We are happy for you.

Deborah said...

Shelley this is so awesome! May you be blessed as you grow in faith. Pasty, as you and Daddy share a birthday, you should know the verse you quote is the very same he spoke when I asked him what was his favorite scripture. Said that was what he had lived his life relying on!

Joseph Rickman said...

Shelley, this is awesome. It brought tears to my eyes for two reasons. I Praise God for you sharing your very personal but dynamic testimony. Not only will you be
mpKAR blessed forever, we have no idea how many others will be blessed by hearing it. It is also very touching to me because I have known Ben since he was VERY young. Even then he was a thoughtful & caring young person. His parents (Sparky & Charlie) taught him by example and what better lesson is there than those we see lived. We are praying you always feel Gods presence through the trials we all face in this lifetime.