If asked about my upbringing, I’d say church was a big part of my life. Ever since I can remember, I was attending bible studies, youth group, vacation bible school, and every community event that I could be involved in. Being a part of a small congregation, however, changed the way that I viewed the church and the community I felt most a part of. For 18 years, it had been my second home, with families of best friends, pastors who knew every detail about me, and older members who became quite literally like my grandparents.
In the time that had come for me to move away from college, I was strong in faith, moving forward to what I was told would be best for me. God had guided me to an unknown place at the University of Iowa, to which I could now call my new home. Traveling has always been a large part of my childhood, but living in a new environment was quite an adjustment for me. The landscape was beautiful, air was pure, and people were friendly.
The first choice I made in this new town was, aside from class, to attend a church service. I spent my morning walking across the bridge, up the many hills, and down the streets until I got to the large building in front of me. Nervous already, I walked in, hoping to see some welcoming faces and outstretched hands. Unfortunately, I was not greeted with the same enthusiasm as my church back home. I noticed the groups this congregation had seemed to form with one another, forgetting to open their circle for the lost college child.
Needless to say, that was the beginning of a downhill spiral for my experience away from home. My expectations were above the point of reality and never before had I felt more alone in my life. I sat in the pew crying that morning, praying for an answer to a situation I had not known myself how to handle.
Months came and went, and I continued to pray for an answer. I felt myself stepping away from the trust that first guided me there, and in return, away from God. I knew I was in the face of losing my faith, which was far removed from what I had ever encountered on my own. That, in itself, was one of the most fearful things I’d come to recognize.
Through prayers and many calls home to my family, I knew when I had hit the lowest of lows that I could possibly face internally. I was hit with depression, had constant negative thoughts, stopped engaging in my community, and was not longer going to church.
I can’t say I attribute the knowledge to one day, but after a while when I stopped searching so much for what I believed to be the right answer (to stay and readjust), I felt God smiling down on me, encouraging me to go back to my family. I will always wonder why I was sent there to begin with, but I always have the feeling like it was a way for me to figure out who I was as a person away from what I knew. And that was true, as I grew and learned to love and appreciate who I am in the hardest times and the confrontation I was forced to make with myself, my community, and God.
Moving back to Kansas felt a little different from what I had planned for my life and what I had expected to do in college. I wanted to move away, to travel the world, to study journalism, and to practice photography. Not until I transferred to school at the University of Kansas did I realize that my home never had to be far from my home to begin with. I enrolled in both the design and journalism programs that allowed me to do everything I had hoped to study and more, started joining every organization I wanted to be involved in, and found a new community.
In my search, I came across a wonderful campus ministry called New Church Lawrence, to which since has shut down, but has been transformed by the wonderful leaders into our connection with First United Methodist Church and the creation of Wesley KU. I had never felt more connected in my life and I could feel the weight be lifted completely from my shoulders, as well as a sense of peace washed over me.
I’d love to acknowledge the fact that even though I never knew where I was going or what I was doing, that God positioned me to face a new perspective and gain a new outlook on life; something that I needed more than anything. Finding my way back to God and to a loving community was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve felt and shared with others. By losing faith, I’ve gained it back and now stronger than ever.
Today, I pray that these paths of life lead us in the direction not to which we hope to go, but the way in which we need God to lead us to see everything life has to offer. I pray that we are led closer to Him everyday and that even in the lowest of lows, you will come out feeling the sun on your face and hands stretched up to the sky, praising His name.
This is my testimony and my light through the darkness. I hope you can reflect on yours just the same.