I grew up in church. My dad was a pastor, which meant that I had to be at church every time the doors were open (and many times when they weren’t.) Life wasn’t exactly easy back then. There was a lot of pressure as a preacher’s kid to pretend that everything was okay even when it wasn’t.
There were times when it felt like the world was crumbling apart around me, and church was not a safe haven for me. It was a place in which I felt isolated and judged, and as soon as I was old enough to say “to hell with it,” I did. When I was around 20 years old I walked out of church with the intention of never going back, and I didn’t for over a decade.
When I moved to New Orleans in 2012 I met a guy named Jeff. We were standing between the makeup counters at Macy’s in Lakeside Mall, waiting for our mutual friend, Shannon, to return, and when he invited me to NOLA Church I used colorful expletives to explain why that was not going to happen.
He continued being my friend, as did Shannon. We spent a lot of time together, and I drank in front of him, cursed in front of him…I waited to be judged, but he never did it.
Several months later his girlfriend (now wife,) Candi, invited me to the same church. She’s cute and ridiculously sweet, and I challenge you to say no to her. (It’s just not going to happen.) Anyway, she asked me to go because she was being baptized, so I went.
In the post, “Let’s Talk About Church, Or Things You Didn’t Think You’d Hear Kenlie Say,” I said that I was “cautiously optimistic” about NOLA Church after my first visit.
I went back a few weeks after my first visit, and Pastor Monte preached a sermon called “Jesus Revealed.” You can listen to it here, and you should. It changed my life.
In his sermon he said, “You’ll never get good enough to get God, and you’ll never be good enough to keep Him once you do get Him.” Since then I’ve read over Ephesians 2 many times feeling grateful for that truth.
That day, as I sat so steeped in sin that I couldn’t see a way out, Jesus became the light in my darkness. I asked Him to come into my life and make me new.
Over the next several months I asked God to purify my heart, to take way all of the pain, and to make sense of all of the chaos that I had inflicted upon myself. He made me new, and His grace released me from all of the shame that I had been living in for far too long.
I talked about being adopted into God’s family in a post called, “My Public Statement” when I was baptized in October of 2013. I was baptized as a child as well, but this time was different because I finally understood what it meant.
In that post I promised not to become “a Bible thumping lunatic who loves to talk about Jesus all the time.” Um yeah…I probably shouldn’t have promised that because the radical life change that I’ve experienced thanks to Jesus is pretty awesome, and I love to talk about it.
In April of 2014, a year after I first walked into NOLA Church, I wrote a post called “One Year Later” in which I described how different I felt.
“In my late teens and early 20’s, I was an insecure, suicidal, dishonest person who desperately wanted to feel loved and accepted. I didn’t think it was possible that I could forgive those who hurt me, and I didn’t care who I hurt because I was in so much pain. I lived crippled by that pain for years, and now I’m free from it.
It’s by God’s grace that I’m not dead. It’s because of His love that I get to live in freedom now. I’m loved. I’m forgiven. I’m His.”
Now, as we approach the Summer of 2016, I am more in love with Jesus than ever. I’m part of the worship team at NOLA Church. I read my Bible daily with the intention on learning to hear God’s voice and attend an awesome Bible study group. I spend time in prayer and reading The Bible because I want to understand who God is and how He wants me to live, and I realize that Jesus is always just as close as the mention of His name.
I’ve experienced His forgiveness and His grace. I’ve learned so much about the impact of that. I’ve also learned, though some tumultuous experiences, that He is always faithful.
I learned another important lesson that would have saved me so much agony at 20 years old if I had realized it:
In Luke 5, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Churches will always be filled with imperfect people. We’re flawed. We were all born sinners, but God loved us so much that He sent His son to save us.
I’m so thankful that He loves me; I’m thankful that He’s strong when I’m weak. I’m thankful that nothing can ever separate us from His love, and if you’re reading this, I hope you know without a doubt that He loves you too. If you don’t, send me an e-mail, and we’ll talk about it…
But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.