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Why I Came Back to Church - and to God

I recently shared the story of why I left the church. I would then take a five-year hiatus before returning. What finally brought me to that place?

From age fourteen to nineteen, my years away from the church, I gradually descended into a pit of confusion and compromise. Since I was preoccupied with excelling in school and vocal competitions, spending time with friends, busy with theatre productions, and caught up in my ongoing run of boyfriends, I didn't realize how lost I'd become.

Accomplishments became my identity. Attention from others became my purpose. 

A series of key moments would jolt me from my reverie.

A freshman at university, I loved walking with my roommate late at night when things were quiet. We would zig-zag through the streets of Austin north of our dormitory and talk for hours. Her father was Muslim and her mother was Catholic - her own beliefs were profoundly relative. I recall walking past a small church with her one night, white and lit against the night sky, as she stated, "I just don't understand why people think there's only one way to heaven." 

"I don't know why either," was my reply. The words tumbled so easily off my tongue and still somehow shocked me at how starkly contrary they were to the Truth I'd been raised on. In the core of my being, I still knew that absolute Truth existed, but I'd gone so far from living in community centered on that Truth that my words began to reflect the relativism of the culture around me.

Months later, after having physically compromised with my boyfriend beyond what I'd ever intended, I was on another walk with a different dorm-mate. I was trying to justify my choices to her when she simply stated, "But it's wrong." 

Another jolt. Another shock from my comfortable compromise. Right and wrong. Truth and falsehood. Moral absolutes versus a fluidity of preference.

That simple statement led to a series of events. I made a choice that would change the trajectory of my life. I called an end to the physical compromises. I began sensing God's lead and a desperation to obey came over me. He led me to move back home to finish my degree at another university and to get back to church, back to a community where I could grow in knowing God and living for Him. 

One night at a church service, a young man sitting nearby caught my attention. I could tell he was hungry for more of God. During worship, he sang (loudly and off-key) with abandon, hands raised to the heavens. During the teaching, he wrote voraciously in a huge notebook. His enthusiasm was catching and intriguing. While we would later become friends, it was that first night when this stranger challenged me to fully give control of my life to God. 

Somehow he knew that, even though I was at church and going through the motions, I was still trying to be in charge of the direction and purpose of my life. (Now I can see that God was speaking to this stranger who knew nothing about me from his own direct knowledge.) 

This final jolt sent me into weeks of restlessness that finally brought me to my knees in surrender. Nothing belonged to me - not my body, my purpose, my identity, my calling, my talents, my accomplishments - nothing. I wasn't put here on this planet to serve my own agenda. I was put here to love and serve God and people. He is the Giver of Truth and identity and purpose. 

It would still be a few years before I learned about unity among believers and the active presence of the Holy Spirit today, but it was a beginning. Divisiveness took me away from the gathering of God's people and God's persistent love brought me back.

What about you? Are you involved in a community of Jesus-followers who pour into you (and that you can pour into) to all grow closer to God? How might your life shift if you made that a priority?

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