What is my testimony?

I pondered this question as I rode in the backseat of a strangers car on my way to work one morning. As a former car insurance agent, I could tell a lot by this man’s car. I could tell that he was probably married and Uber is his full time job. There was candy, bottled water, and even a gaming screen available within arms reach of my seat. The backseat cover was clean and smelled new. It wasn’t cheap and easily rippable. It was sturdy and lean almost like very thin leather. It didn’t bunch up when I moved or crunch underneath me. I could tell this backseat cover was just one of many diligently chosen variables he had made when he decided to become an Uber driver. He was the Uber driver who got up during the wee hours of each day to make his money quick enough to be home in time for the 6 o’clock news. His car couldn’t be any newer than 2006 yet it was in shape. It ran smoothly and handled turns gracefully. I felt like I was riding inside a gondola, silently cutting through the waters of a quaint European city.

I could tell that this car was much like everything else I was seeing inside the vehicle; a carefully thought out decision. See, I’ve had this uber driver before and the last time he picked me up in his white sedan, he told me that he was a retired missionary that spent the majority of his adult life living on a wing and a prayer traveling from country to country spreading the Gospel. His love for Jesus poured out of him like sweat. Every word he spoke from his introduction to his salutation was coated in love. The kind of love that one Christian to another can sense instantly. He was the kind of guy that held doors open and didn’t expect you to say thank you. He’s the guy who smiles when he passes you in the grocery store aisle. He was the guy who still tells his wife that she’s the best decision he ever made even after she ate the last piece of his sandwich & 35 years together. If you saw him at a parent teacher conference, he would be the guy who you’d say, “What a nice guy.” when he left the room. He would probably offer up a pun as a way to break the ice of new potential friendships and repeat it the next time he saw you. And you’d patiently smile at the pun even though it was less funny the second time around.

I sat patiently in the back seat listening to his stories about his travels and lessons. He told me the story of how he wasn’t raised in a Christian household but came to know Christ as an adult during college. A fascinating story that starts with him reading scripture for a class and falling in love with its contents. I thought, “Wow, what a great testimony”. Immediately, my heart sank, because what if he asked me about how I came to Christ? I don’t know where the story begins because I grew up in church. I grew up reciting The Lord’s Prayer before bedtime. My anxiety increased as I heard him start to wrap up his long-winded tale that ends with the reason he ended up in the same vehicle as me.

I’m not sure what I said when he did ask about my journey, but here is what I should’ve said:

I grew up open to all types of fairy tales. I grew up reading them in books, watching them in films and being told them at bedtime. So, it was easy for me to accept that there was a big ‘man in the sky’ who loved humans, animals and gave them good things. What I didn’t know at the time was that just like life, the ‘man’ was multi-layered and it would take life experience to truly know for sure what was fairy tale and what was real.

As I got older, I can’t say that there was a time I truly believed God wasn’t real. There were a few times I wished He wasn’t. And many times I tried to convince myself that He wasn’t. During the aforementioned times, I got good at knowing church. It was like taking a master acting class without meaning to. I could church so good I believed it sometimes. I believed that I had a deeper relationship with God than I actually did. I got so good that I could sense God’s presence based on others and allowed myself to go deep enough to experience the moment but not so deep that I would be changed within. I enjoyed Jesus the band aid. Jesus the hippie who brought everyone love, peace, & joy. I didn’t want Jesus who made me look in a mirror and reevaluate myself and things I was doing. I didn’t want Jesus that told me that the common denominator of all my relationships was me and that I was the a big part of the problem. This was my story all through high school, college, & well into my adult years. I justified doing things I knew weren’t for me by being a good church goer. I thought I could work my way into Heaven & as long as the church people couldn’t tell what I was doing then it was all good.

Finally, I reached my breaking point. I was 24 and had lost every worldly possession I had gained. I had reached the end of my strength and I was struggling to hold on. It felt like I was careening down in between two mountains trying desperately to find a sturdy rock or branch to hold on to before meeting my death at the bottom. but I couldn’t find one. Friendships, failed. Job, fired. Car, repoed. Every time I thought I found a foot hole, I would start falling again. I felt like I was the laughing stock of a very sick joke. My mind, body, and spirit was all but recognizable and I sought anything to make me feel good. My favorite thing to comfort me was men. Men on the internet, men I knew, men who knew me. It didn’t matter, I just wanted to be seen by someone even if it was the wrong person.

I give up. And if your way doesn’t work, I’m going back.

I said to God one night. I wasn’t sure I meant it but I was gonna at least try. And I did. For 6 months I dedicated myself to reading the Bible, praying to God, and consuming any sermon I could find. It wasn’t fun or helpful at first. But after a few weeks I realized that I got joy out of writing down notes from the sermons I was watching. I liked finding cool nuggets of information and sharing them with friends and family. I felt good learning new things about life and myself. For once, I thought, maybe I CAN do this! I started seeing myself change from the inside. I wasn’t as scared or as depressed. The space between being sad and feeling happy was decreasing. I was having more good days than bad days. And then….

Like a flash, I was falling again.

My mom had died and it’s true what they say that you are truly never the same after closing the casket on the person that birthed you. I was doing good God. Why? Why am I being punished when I finally feel close to you?

I was falling faster. BOOM! Hit by the very mountain I was falling from when my father passed 14 months later. Did they do something to deserve this? And who’s next? Are you gonna take away my sister too? Please….I beg you to make it stop.

I was bruised, bloody and worn. In the physical world, I looked fine like nothing had ever changed. I had a job I loved and a car that looked good on me. I was back in church with a true community of believers who didn’t just go to church, they were much like my Uber driver. But I didn’t look like them. I looked like a survivor of a 12 round fight with Mike Tyson. I wasn’t shiny and kind. I was rough and callous and uncaring. I was pessimistic and a chore to be around. And I knew it. I was slowly falling back to being good at church. When I was at volunteer events, worship nights, or small groups, I flicked the switch and became the outgoing and funny me that I wished. I actually was.

One night, I was at a worship night event at church. I was so sad. So terribly sad in every sense of the word. I wanted to worship but my soul was just exhausted. I sat in my chair with my head in my hands and sobbed. The type of sob people in movies do in the shower after a break up. The cry came out of my soul. Tears poured out like a kettle that has been on the stove too long. I opened my eyes and continued sobbing as I watched the tears stain the ground beneath me. As they flowed, I recognized that some of these tears were from 6 year old Janae. 6 year old Janae who watched her mom get abused. 4 year old Janae who watched a police officer kill and innocent black man. 8 year old Janae who was molested and had to relearn how to talk. 12 year old Janae who was bullied by her own family because of the shade of brown her skin was. 16 year old Janae who was coaxed into sexually traumatic experiences with older men. 18 year old Janae who had a gun put to her skull by a police officer during a routine traffic stop. All of these tears flowed and yet some of these tears were older than me. They were pain from my ancestors and relatives that came before me. These were tears the enslaved Africans poured out as they were removed from their homeland. These tears came from Jim Crow and Emmitt Tills mother and tears from my own mother and grandmother. Tears from abuse, abandonment, & confusion over centuries.

I don’t want to go back.

These were the only words I could form. I coudn’t speak them but they sat on my lips as I continued to cry from my belly.

“You won’t…not this time.” The voice said. “This time will be different because now you know me. Release these tears for they are your last. The rest of the road will not be easy but if you accept, no one else from your lineage will cry those tears ever again.”

“…I-..Yes” I instantly felt weight come off my shoulders. I was no longer slouching in my chair because now I had heard His voice and I believed Him. He had taken the burden of all the sorrow I had experienced and made it His own. It was nobody but God. And I was grateful.

A few weeks later, I told a friend of mine about this experience while we were in the car together on our way to another worship night experience. She asked me, “What do you want to get out of tonight’s experience?”

“I want to know the next step. What do I do next? What does He want from me?” I said honestly. That same night, God answered this request. He said, “Worship me. What I am going to do through you will first be through your worship. If you worship me without shame, with freedom, & with no consequence I will change everything. Worship me because I gave your worship to you as a gift and now you need to use it by giving it back.”

So, I did. I studied, prayed and most of all spent 9 months worshipping every second I could get. I was louder, stronger, deeper than I had ever been. In a room full of people on a Sunday morning, I sat at the feet of Jesus telling Him how awesome He is. Telling Him that I didn’t need anything from Him but His presence. Telling Him how in love with Him I am. And how no matter what this is the only place I ever want to be.

I’m sure some people thought I was crazy. I’m sure some people didn’t understand. In fact, I’ve seen some of that footage and at times it appeared as if I was having a stroke. But I didn’t care what it looked like. I just wanted to be obedient, for once. I didn’t know what plans God had for me or what my purpose in Christ was other than to be a worshipper. I just knew I had to worship. So I did.

What I found out later is that while I was worshipping at the feet of Jesus, there was someone else there…watching. Chris, my now husband, who saw my worship for what it was…desperation. Desperation to be close to God and to honor Him with my whole life. Desperation to be better and live a life that made sense and brought joy. One of the things God brought to me through my worship was the man He designed to be my purpose partner. He also brought a group of women I call my sisters into closeness with me. We are family. A family I’ve never known but always loved. He brought purpose out of me. He gave me the gift of words so that I could write to people like you and connect with them and so many others about real life. He brought me into leadership as a mentor, a mother (not biologically…yet), and an advocate. To challenge societal norms and live a life that is counter cultural and out of place with this sex crazed world. He brought me confidence, character, & purity in more ways than one. And with all the things He’s already brought me…there’s more to come!

k, good talk

-J