Photography: Austin Mann
Photography: Austin Mann

Say the word and there is light | Say the word and dead bones rise | Every start and end hangs on Your voice | For Your word never returns void| Written in a billion skies | Speaking to this heart of mine | “Say The Word” by Hillsong United 

Ten years ago I stood at the edge of the shore in SW Florida, shaking with anger, pain and sorrow. It felt as though the expanse of my heart had been blown apart across the ocean before me and there was nothing to tether me to shore. I  lived the first eighteen years of my life steadfast in the pursuit of God, being the good Christian girl and living out every parameter set before me to ensure I was living a holy life. Was I perfect? Never. But, I was committed and believed my faith to be central to life. No questions asked, I was simply all in.

I was a classic example of the modest, true love waits, youth group regular, camp trips, discipleship class attendee. I followed all the rules. Do not misunderstand,  my faith was not shallow, it was held fast to the belief that God healed, restored and saved. My early years had been filled with abuse, divorce, trauma, confusion, and an array of other issues inflicted by the pain of others. God was my lifeline to what I believed life was supposed to be, Him and listening to Josh Groban sing “You Raise Me Up” while I laid on my floor and cried many nights.

That night at the shore ten years ago,  I simply screamed, “ If this is what it means to follow you – count me out. I’m done.” It was no small proclamation and the vault of my heart locked tight. I ran hard and fast from my faith, the Christian culture I had grown up in and any relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Though I never doubted He existed, I was uninterested in being near a Savior who didn’t show up for you. He became just another father figure who walked away, who didn’t fight for me, didn’t love me enough to pay attention.  I possessed no interest in claiming a religion that I felt did not live out what it built churches and ministries around. [ what I’ve become to know is the Church is filled with broken people who are made whole by His grace, but we are never perfect which is why we need a Savior]

I spent seven years away from God, the Church and any sort of personal relationship with God. It always pulled on the edges of my heart, like a distant echo, a call home, but one easily ignored if enough effort was put forth. I promise you, I put forth every effort. I was as committed to my lack of relationship with God as I was to the one I had spent the first 18 years of my life building. In the midst of those seven years, I traveled, met amazing people, pursued work I believed in, challenged the capacity of my life and although life was unfolding to places I’d never dreamed, something felt unnaturally  hollow.

Three and half years ago, days before  my Uncle James passed away from cancer, again I felt the deep sense of becoming untethered. The haunting feeling I’d had six years prior on that shore.  On a cold, rainy night in Portland, OR on the floor of an old gazebo,  I knelt down- and desperately cried out to the heavens. “ If  You are real, and I know You are, I need You to show up, and I need you to show up now”.

In a moment, I was overwhelmed with the most extraordinary peace I’ve ever experienced. It was as though I didn’t know I hadn’t been breathing until I took a breath.

The following days, weeks, months were the darkest I’ve ever known. I didn’t know who I would be at the end of that journey. For all the trauma, pain and abuse that I had survived had finally taken me out. I felt as though I had become dust, with no form to make sense of the woman who had existed before. [and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecc. 12:7]

I share this, because the most important part of this story, is what happened after.

Eight months later through a series of divine encounters I got on my knees again and laid my life down before Jesus, knowing that there was nothing else more important than acknowledging His goodness, His existence and His love for me. Knowing that there was no way I could be healed without Him.

The past 2 ½ years have been the most powerful journey of love I’ve ever known. For, I have been in the depths of pain and have experienced firsthand what it feels and looks like to encounter Jesus.  It has had nothing to do with religion, doctrine or politics, but a true journey with who I believe is the Creator of our universe. Learning what a personal God, He truly is.

The intention, healing,  purpose and sweet grace that has covered me the past 2 ½ years as I have drawn closer in my relationship with Jesus – has left me in awe. He has shown up through so many friends, strangers, books, slow mornings and a million small things.

To say I’ve experienced wonder in every sense would be an understatement.

I share this today, because, so much of my heart has been positioned to bolt if things started to feel too much like it had before. But, that has  been fear.

Fear I am  no longer willing  to allow take hold of the purpose and journey set before me.

If you’ve witnessed my early life of faith, encountered me during my seven years in what felt like a  wilderness, or know me now – I have had to make a decision, and it’s been one that feels as though it’s exactly how it was always to be.

I am fully committed to be a follower of Christ, a disciple of Jesus.  To wherever that leads me, how ever it disrupts my life or propels me to places I never dreamed of going – I am all in. Because, the healing, love and grace that I have encountered has made everything else pale in comparison.

This transforming journey has had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a personal relationship with Jesus. If you’re struggling with your faith, angry at the Church or believe it to be broken, trust me there is restoration, healing and freedom like you’ve never known.

It’s because of powerful sojourners alongside me that I have been brave enough to pursue the greatest adventure of my life.Today, I pray that  you encounter Jesus and feel heaven come to your normal everyday life.

Keep Daring,

Suzanna

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