Story No. 2: Elisa

We know that there is so much power in a shared story. Stories shared around campfires and kitchen tables have changed our world. They have the authority to capture people’s imaginations and inspire great change like few other mediums. Each of us has a story, unique to our own journeys and experiences. We absolutely want REventuring to be a place where stories can be shared, and we figured it was best to start with our own.

I grew up surrounded by church culture. Ministry extends back several generations in my family- on one side or another, a great-great-great-grandparent was preaching the Word or leading in a church somehow. My first few years were spent overseas, as my parents ministered in Ukraine, taking vacation to visit my grandparents in Zimbabwe, who were also doing ministry at the time.

While now it’s a joy to follow a legacy of such tremendous faith, I was certain that that would NEVER be me. No way was I ever going to work in a church. Experiencing the ins and outs of church planting and leadership through my family taught me that the church isn’t always the easiest place to be. While we try hard to follow in the footsteps of a gracious, compassionate God, we often mess up and deeply hurt those around us. When my family was on the painful side of these experiences a few too many times, I knew that vocational ministry was not something I wanted to sign up for. I also knew that Jesus was the most interesting, loving and compelling person I had ever come across. He was someone I wanted to know better.

I made the decision to spend the rest of my life getting to know him when I was eight years old and my family was preparing to move from Brooklyn, NY to Charlotte, NC. We practice non-denominational Christianity, which just means that we’re not part of an organized denomination. Basically, we’re all trying to follow Jesus as best we can without letting too much tradition (beautiful as it may be) cloud up the call he has for us. We don’t practice infant baptism, but we allow people to decide for themselves when they’re ready to say yes to Jesus and be baptized by immersion. As an eight year old getting ready to exchange city streets for what I considered country life, I knew that this transition was far bigger than I could handle by myself and I needed Jesus to be with me. I already believed in him and loved him, so getting baptized was the next right thing for me. I knew that I made a lot of mistakes that separated me from God, but that Jesus had died on the cross to take away the punishment I deserved. I was ready to accept that reality and begin building my life upon it.

Moving to Charlotte was frightening and exhilarating all at once. Finally, we could ride bikes! And play outside! I missed New York but I loved the new friends I was making and I deeply loved the new church my family was helping to create. Things were good, and I passed through late elementary and middle school with only a few emotional scars. I was a pretty stereotypical pastor’s kid. I didn’t curse, I committed myself to abstinence and I knew all the right answers at church. I knew exactly who I was supposed to be, but I had no idea who I was.

Then, high school happened. Instead of going to the neighborhood school in my district, I was bussed across town to a school with an International Baccalaureate program and no one who knew I was the pastor’s kid. I realized that I could be anyone here. Without any sort of solid identity to rely on, I quickly figured out that acting like the kids around me would win me social points. Cursing? Bring it on! Apathy and disdain for everything around me? Yes please. When I had to transfer back to the school I was zoned for, these habits stuck with me. Relationships with boys and my own misplaced desires made sure that sexual sin became part of my story, too.

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High School me, circa 2010 

I also had tons of questions about God. Is he truly good? Does he really love all of us? Why are some things considered sin and others aren’t? Is he even out there? The Sunday school answers weren’t enough anymore. Being the pastor’s kid, I felt like I had no one to turn to who could answer them. Instead of continuing to wrestle with them, it became so much easier to push it all out of my mind and live life however I pleased. I’d stand in worship at church, utterly confused about why the people around me seemed so moved. My heart was hard and I felt completely numb to just about everything.

It took another cross country move and the life I knew literally being destroyed and rebuilt for me to decide that maybe there was something more to Christianity than what I had rejected. I watched my parents somehow handle a terribly difficult situation with an insane amount of grace because they so deeply loved Jesus and his church. Their faithfulness was radical to me. When we moved to Indiana, the Lord provided for our battered family in so many ways. For the first time, I felt like I was experiencing God’s faithfulness for myself.  Although we moved right at the end of my junior year, a fresh start in a new state was exactly what I needed (though I’m sure I could’ve done without all the corn). This experience allowed me to examine faith in a way I never had before.

As I searched, God showed up, and he’s never left me alone since. In fact, he never left me alone at all, even when I wanted literal nothing to do with him. I knew that either the Gospel is a myth and doesn’t matter at all, outside of a study on sociology, or it’s true and it transforms absolutely everything. Once I decided that I really did believe this wild story of love and redemption, I knew that this was something I wasn’t going to do halfway. I soon discovered that I felt most alive and most myself when I was engaging injustice. When I visited Joplin, MO, in high school during one of the most painful weeks of my life, I swore I’d never return, but Ozark Christian College‘s Biblical Justice degree wooed me back.

Attending OCC solidified my shaky faith. As I dove deep into studying Scripture, I fell more and more in love with Jesus and his Kingdom. Meeting Rhett & deciding to get married young was another thing I swore I’d never do, but love has the power to transform everything. Following God isn’t always easy, and as our culture becomes more and more post-Christian it feels weirder and weirder, but it has been the best and truest and most beautiful decision I’ve ever made. His love is compelling and healing like nothing else can be. From Cambodia to inner city Tulsa to Yellowstone’s mountains to gorgeous New England, this love has taken me on the most incredible adventures.

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Mt. Avalanche: Yellowstone, 2015

Now, I know that I have been saved by grace, through faith, and that I am God’s poem, created in Christ to do the good things he has set for me in advance. This story is mine- but it can be yours too. If you’re local, please stop by 27 Depot Street on a Sunday at 9:30 or 11, or a Monday evening at 7 (or just reach out and I’ll treat you to coffee!) and if you’re not, we’re always an email or a phone call away.

 

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4 thoughts on “Story No. 2: Elisa

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