Friday, May 24, 2013

My Faith Story

I'm going to try and not make this too long of a story. Please bare with me.

I grew up in a secular home. My parents both grew up in Chicago. My father immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia when he was 4 years old with his parents and two older brothers. My mother was born and raised in Chicago.

My father's family was not religious as far as I know. My father went to a Catholic High School, but was never a confirmed catholic. My mother grew up going to a Baptist church.

When I was growing up, my parents used that age-old excuse about why they never took us to church. They expected us kids to make our own decision when we became adults. I think it was more of an excuse for my father. My mother just went along with it. I believe that excuse is a cop-out for parents. Kids are going to learn what their parents show them. If you don't raise your kids to go to church, they won't when they are adults. Well, most won't. Let me also add that going to church is not what the Christian life is all about. A Christian follows Jesus' ways intentionally which includes going to church on Sunday's.

My parents often told me, while growing up, that I would never amount to anything and that I better find a good man to marry. I knew it was wrong for them to say such things, but I still believed it. It's hard to describe. I look back on it now and ask myself "why did I take what they said to heart?" "I knew what they said was wrong". The point is, you have a choice. You don't have to believe the negative that people say about you.

In my parents defense, my parents were brought up to believe that women should just get married because they can't take care of themselves. My father grew up in Chicago, but was raised with old school, Czech culture. Women only spoke when they were spoken to. Women were raised to learn how to cook, clean, sew, etc. to become a good housewife. Not to mention, my father does not have any sisters.

My mother grew up in an abusive household with an alcoholic father and a mother whose gambling problem was so far gone, she lost their house. My mother was the youngest of 3 girls. She also had a half-brother. Her father was married with a family before he married my grandmother and started a new family.

It's obvious my parents were only repeating what they learned growing up. Now, my parents help me as much as they can. This year alone, they bought us a new TV and a new printer. They just gave me money to get public pool passes for the summer. They have given me the money to buy Christmas presents for my kids for the past 2 years. They are trying to help me as much as they can. I guess I don't want to make it sound like my parents were/are horrible parents. They did the best they could with the knowledge they had.

I had a friend in elementary school named Christy. Christy's family were devout Baptists. This is how I was introduced to Jesus. I went to church with them most Sunday's and also did the Awana program. Christy and I used to go to bible camps together over the summers when we were kids.

I don't remember a specific day or even exactly how old I was when I accepted Jesus. I would guess I was around 9 or 10. I just remember expecting this miraculous change to take place in my life. I now know a miracle did happen, but at the time, I did not think that. I expected to "feel" something. I don't know what I expected to feel, but I remember thinking the process did not "take". Funny how young minds work.

Christy and I did not go to the same middle school so, of course, we lost touch. I had no one at home or anyone else in my life to encourage me to grow in my faith and my walk with Christ. I started smoking cigarettes and marijuana in middle school and even drank some alcohol. I remember not liking any of it, but I wanted to be like the other kids. I had no one to tell me that it was okay to be who God created me to be. I don't know if it would have made a difference. There are some lessons we need to learn for ourselves.

I was never much of a drinker throughout my teens and as an adult. I didn't like the feeling of getting "buzzed" or "drunk". I did it only to "try and fit in". With my family history, it would have been easy for me to become an alcoholic if I enjoyed drinking. As I embrace who I am in Christ, I know that it's okay to not drink and I rarely do. I didn't like smoking either which is why it was so easy for me to give it up when I was 25.

In high school, I ditched more classes then I went to. During my freshman year, I was one of a group of 6 students who ditched regularly together. Out of the 6 of us, I was the only one to graduate high school. I graduated high school, on time, by the skin of my teeth.

After high school, there was no real consideration of furthering my education. I had been a part-time bank teller during my senior year so I switched to full-time after I graduated. In my late teens, early 20's I attempted to take some courses at the local community college. My heart was not in it and I had no direction. I had no passion for anything.

At 19, I found a new job as a receptionist for a small company which is where I met my now ex-husband. I lost some weight and was feeling good about myself. I clung to the first man who showed interest. I had no experience with relationships. We married when I was 23. Our marriage was more of a roommate situation as well as me being a mother to him. This did not hit me until after we had our children.

I had set-up this picture perfect life. We were living in a condo when we got married. After a few years of marriage, we bought a house. 9 months after moving into the house, I was pregnant with our first child. I went back to work 8 weeks after my son was born.

What people didn't know, before we moved into our house, was I was going to marriage counseling - without my husband. He refused to go. At the time, I couldn't put my finger on what the problem was. I just knew our marriage needed work. When I suggested counseling, he shut down. While I was going to counseling, he would give me ultimatums. My boss, at that time, was also my best friend (now I know she was just another person in my life trying to control me). Her advice was to settle for what I had and that there isn't any better options out there. I'm not saying that we should all consider divorce when our marriage is not going well, but it is clear now that I was the only one shouldering responsibility in the marriage. When I started counseling, I wasn't even thinking about divorce, but somehow it turned into me having to make a decision about whether I was staying with him or leaving. I chose to stay for the wrong reasons. Bottom line - I was not ready to give up on my marriage. The problem with my decision is that we had not settled anything. We merely swept our issues under the rug and bought a house - masking the crumbling of the marriage.

My boss/friend, at that time, who was also a working mom; however, her husband was a stay at home dad. She would tell me what I should do about childcare and, well, she just stuck her nose where it didn't belong. And I let her. My son showed signs of asthma and allergies early on as an infant so he was sick often. My boss would give me an attitude if I had to stay home with my son. When my son was about 18 months, my boss and I had a big blow-out and I quit working and was full-time at home. Within 3 months, I was pregnant with my daughter. After our daughter was born, my then husband became more controlling and checked out. My daughter was about 9 months old when I realized my husband and I never addressed our problems and I was right back where I was 5 years prior with this sense of being in this marriage by myself. I couldn't stand the sight of him anymore and decided not to get counseling. I knew I needed out of the marriage, but I was a stay at home mom of an infant and a toddler. I remembered how he handled the situation when I attempted to get help for our marriage when we did not have any kids and I was working full-time. I could have easily walked away at that time and chose not to. He now thought he was in control of the situation since I was at home. I knew if I said that I was unhappy and wanted to get help for our marriage, he would make my life miserable. I started looking for a job and told him as much. I told him I changed my mind about being a stay at  home mom and wanted to go back to work. He was gone all the time for work and I had friends who would watch the kids if I had a job interview. It took about 4 months, but I finally found a job. 2 weeks after I started the job, I told my husband that I would be filing for divorce. He moved out a few months later and the kids and I have been on our own ever since. That was about 8.5 years ago.

Again, I am not advocating for divorce. Had I been following Jesus at that time, I don't know how I would have handled it. I can say with confidence that I would not have come to Christ if I had not left my husband. If I were counseling a Christian woman married to a non-believer, I would tell her to stay (provided it is not an abusive marriage) and continue to walk out her faith while praying for her husband. God can and does work miracles and can do it for you as well.

During the divorce process, I decided to start going to church. I realized I had always been drawn to go, but used my husband as an excuse not to. The kids and I started going to a mega-church near our home. I realize now that I needed to go to a mega-church at first. They don't know if you are new there unless you tell them. You can blend in with the crowd there. I needed to ease into Christianity slowly and didn't want 20 million questions. I began to realize that I needed Jesus back in my life. I was baptized in October 2008. I  had also started the Crown Financial Bible Study at that time. I had $35,000 in credit card debt. Credit cards is how I survived month to month and I knew it was time for a change financially. I completely swore off credit cards and still do not use them to this day. I encourage others I meet with financial problems that credit cards are not the answer.

Since then, I have been through bankruptcy and foreclosure and now, job loss. I don't want to make it sound like following Jesus will make you miserable. It's that I know God is with me through all of this and is creating a testimony for me. God has also provided any many ways. There was a time that I was close to losing my job and I knew God stepped in and made sure that did not happen. The fact that He didn't step in this time means He has something bigger planned for me. I truly believe He wants me to change direction in my life now. I think this blog has something to do with it.

We aren't homeless. We may not get to travel or have ipads or other fancy material items. Going through this teaches you that material items are not important. The fact that we have a roof over our head, food in the refrigerator, a wonderful church family, parents and others that fill in the gaps in different ways shows me that He will provide. God may not provide for us in the way we want Him to, but he will provide in ways you could never imagine.

Phillipians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

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