May 26, 2017 Religion has become a rather awkward subject to talk about. Not necessarily because of what the original beliefs of the religion state, but rather how its followers often carry out or portray its message. As someone who is a practicing Christian I do get various questions from time to time of what I really believe. Some are out of genuine curiosity but some of the questions are skeptical questions. Truthfully though, I don't blame anyone for being skeptical. While Jesus’ teachings were of love, hope, and joy, it's more common to see His “followers” waiving signs or fighting in the comments section. While none of these actions are condoned by Scripture, the Bible is often miss quoted to provide an easy pass to look down on others. From my previous posts, you would probably guess that I grew up in a religious home. Which, by the way, if you have read my previous posts, thank you! It’s currently 2017 and you could have chosen to read about anything, fidget spinners possibly. But it means a lot that you would stop in and read my “thinks”! Thank you! Yes, I did grow up in church. I knew all of the Sunday School songs, attended church about 4 times a week, went to “Vacation Bible School” every year, and was homeschooled through a Christian program(Yes I was homeschooled, yes all of my life, yes that could very well be why I’m awkward). I prayed a prayer when I was 5 (I still to this day do not remember this), got baptized sometime after, prayed another prayer when I was around 12, got baptized again, but still had no idea what I believed. I remember being very confused. I had always viewed God as an angry being that I was to somehow bargain with. To me He was a controlling power that would “strike you dead” if you didn't do what the “Bible” said (or its miss quotes). He was also an easily offended being who enjoyed belittling people. And even though I thought God was all of these things I continued to pray “sinners prayers”, walk down “alter calls”, and “rededicate my life” in fear of eternal torment. By high school I was extremely confused with what I believed. I began studying numerous religions in search of my life’s questions. After about a year of studying various beliefs, I did not find any of my answers. I got tired of searching and went back to praying my prayers of “salvation” every day. The churches I grew up in had taught that salvation was by the “grace of God”. I put that in quotations because the description that I was given from many of the churches I attended do not match the words. I had been taught since a youth that by “asking Jesus into my heart” that I would be saved from eternal damnation. I was also taught at some of the churches that I could only find forgiveness if I truly expressed sorrow for my sin. This included crying down to a church altar or being “sorry enough” for my actions. If you’re wondering, yes I have done both before…many many times. After high school I was preparing to come to college. I moved to America from Japan at 17 years old to start my new life. When I arrived to the States, I was not in very good shape mentally or physically. I had not been to treatment for my previous sexual abuse traumas, there was still verbal and physical abuse happening in my home, I was severely under weight from my eating disorder, and I was very angry with God. Ironically I began attending college at a Christian university. The college that I attended does not share all of the same views that I follow now, however I met many people who were professing Christians that were actually happy. Throughout my college experience, I began to recover from my eating disorder, met my husband, made many wonderful friends, and began volunteering for various religious activities. At one point I had even become the chaplain of a female juvenile prison ministry. I had become extremely religious, but I was still not at peace. I still wrestled with many questions such as, does God love me? What happens when I die? What do I tell people when they asked how I got “saved”? Fast forward a few years Seth and I had gotten married and were living in Texas. I had just started my flight attendant job and he was working three jobs to help us get by. On top of that we were struggling in our marriage. As with any newly married couple we were learning how to keep everything together while trying to pick up any skeletons that were coming out. After a disagreement between us, I picked up a trip and left home for about a week and went to visit my sister after my flight schedule was done. I received a phone call from Seth one night. He told me that he had some exciting news and that he had just become a Christian. I was extremely confused. We had both attended the same Christian college and I had always thought he was more “spiritual” than I was, and we were both members of a church in Texas. He asked me to come home so we could talk about everything and that he wanted to be more committed to making our marriage work. I returned home but was very skeptical about his new “faith”. I also made it a point to watch his every move to see if any of this was real. To my surprise, he was much different. Although he was already a great husband, he became an even better one. He was more loving, gracious, patient, and at complete peace. After watching his faith grow, I began to ask myself many questions. The same questions I was asking in high school and college. The questions I had asked all of my life. About 6 months later, I asked Seth if we could talk about God. I had done this many times before. Usually this would lead us to having conversations until late hours into the morning. Who is God? How do I know Him? Am I “Saved”? What does it really mean to be a Christian? What do you have to pray to become a Christian? As with the many times before Seth began to answer my questions that I had about the Bible. He also began to tell me about the Ethiopian man in Acts chapter 8 of the Bible. There is a man from Ethiopia who was leaving Jerusalem. Scripture says that, “He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning” (Acts 8:27-28). The man is reading a portion of the Bible when Philip (a pastor/evangelist) asked if he can carpool in his chariot to talk about what he’s reading. When the man recognizes that the scripture is saying that Jesus is the Messiah and that he had not only died for the sins of the world but rose from death, he wanted to know what was stopping him from publicly declaring his faith. Philip’s response went something like “well, if you really believe, go for it!”. And it was as simple as that. At this point in Seth and I’s conversation the wheels in my brain started to turn. For the first time in my life, I realized that becoming a Christian has absolutely nothing to do with a formal prayer or “asking Jesus into your heart”. Instead it had everything to do with Jesus Himself. It also had nothing to do with how “bad” I was. Because sin wasn't making me a “bad person” from a human moral standpoint, it was worse, it was making me spiritually dead. Because “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21). I was spiritually Dead. Dead… I realized that I had never believed in Jesus or trusted Him for who He says He is, the Messiah, God. So naturally I began making all of the excuses in my mind. I was a Sunday school teacher I sang in the church choir I gave to charity I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” I was baptized I was a chaplain I was a pastor’s kid I was a faithful church goer I tithed and gave money to my church I was a member of my church I had told others about the Bible…. All of these excuses racing through my mind until suddenly it was as if the Holy Spirit began to speak to my heart and interrupt my thoughts. “That’s a nice list, but I’m not on it” It was the most sobering moment in my life. I felt as though I was in the presence of God Himself and He was giving me a choice. I could choose to continue to be the “good” religious person that I was, or I could completely surrender everything to God. To be completely honest I don't remember the exact words that I prayed to God. I just remember it was the realest conversation that I had ever had with Him. I remember telling God that “I couldn’t save myself, but He could”. Nothing formal, nothing elaborate, just complete trust. Trust that Jesus was God, that He loved me, died for me, and rose to give me hope in life eternal. And what followed was complete peace. I remember being so excited about what had happened but also being nervous about telling everyone just yet. I just wanted to make sure that this wasn't like all of the other thousands of times I had “prayed” throughout my life. I knew that this was completely different but I didn't want to jinx myself. I did tell a few people because I couldn't contain my excitement. The next day I was still at peace, the next week I was still at peace, the next month I was still at peace, and now I’m still at peace. It has been over 4 years since Feb 24 2013 and God is still good. It doesn't mean that there are no hard times ahead or you will ever find your faith to be weak. It means that I am no longer in command of my destiny. It doesn't mean that the Bible is my safety net to sin or judge others, it means that the love and hope Christ gives sees beyond any of that. *To my friends who are not Christian Thank you so much for reading this post. I don't know how you feel about Jesus. You may follow another religion, not be really that into religion for no particular reason, or have wanted to stay far away from the church because of how a “Christian” treated you. I just want you to know that wherever you choose to hold your beliefs at, I respect you. Some of my most intelligent, compassionate, amazing friends are not Christian. Regardless if our beliefs don't align you should be treated with love, kindness, and respect. I hope that any interactions we may have had together have been pleasant and we can continue to be friends. I am always open to talk about my faith if you are curious too. I won’t push you into a “come to Jesus” prayer or anything weird like that. I might get a little excited if I start talking about spiritual peace or God though. Both topics make me really happy. And I like sharing happy things with my friends. Above all please know that I love you. I also know God loves you too. *To my friends who have wrestled with “faith” The more I open up about my church upbringing, the more people ask me the same questions I was asking myself in high school and college. Please know that you are not alone. There are so many questions and valid questions you may be asking yourself. Please know that God is not the author of confusion, neither does He desire for you to be afraid of him. If you are confused as to what you believe, ask. Ask God. And trust me, He WILL show you who He is. He is a loving God and Father, a Savior, and a Healer. To me he was a Healer because of the spiritual abuse. God is not a destructive mafia man. He doesn't move you with threats and make deals with people. He calls us to His love and knows you by Name. He loves you. He wants to give you peace. Just trust him. Thank you again for reading my post! Much love to you all!