"To give one's testimony" in Christian culture means to tell their story of how they came to know Christ.
If you've been following along for a while, you know that I was raised Catholic from birth, became an Atheist in college, and became a born-again Christian in 2013. People often ask how and why I converted from Atheism to Christianity, and that's a subject I hope to do justice in the future. However, it's not one I will be covering today as it's a topic I don't even know how to begin to tackle. I will be sharing my experience that started when I was 80% sure that Jesus was real, Jesus rose from the dead, and Jesus was the son of God.
At the time, I was still around 20% skeptical and not convinced.
A year before, when my doubts grew into firm Atheistic beliefs, I didn't tell any of my close friends because I didn't want to hurt their faith. Instead, I debated religion every chance I could within the walls of my University. I wrote a (super biased) paper examining Christianity from a social, psychological, and feminist perspective. I talked about this with a couple of my friends who were Atheists, but not my closest friends. My closest friends, who were also raised Catholic, were feminists so they understood when I would analyze religion from a feminist perspective. My best friends were (and still are) incredibly socially aware, and also analyze organized religion from a feminist perspective. However, I wasn't just analyzing religion at this point, I was completely dismissing it and didn't want to jeopardize my friends' faith.
In the spring of 2012, I started dating someone who didn't know what he believed, which was great because I didn't either. That summer, a best friend of mine who was away for school was back for the summer and wanted to go to youth church with me. We started to go to youth church on-and-off in grade 11. We went to Catholic school and mass with our families, but when we could go, we would also go to a nondenominational youth church on Sunday evenings. That day, I was happy to join her as I loved the environment, but I was sure I'd leave unconvinced (she didn't know that I was an Atheist at this time). The plan was to hang out as a group: my friend and her boyfriend, my boyfriend and I, and then my friend and I would go to youth church. Last second, my friend extended the invitation to my boyfriend. I didn't even think of inviting him because he had never gone to church before. My boyfriend, however, started believing in God at that service.
My friend went back to school come September, and I stopped going to Youth Church, but my boyfriend had started talking about God. I tried to be happy for him but with every argument he had for Christianity, I had 10 against. I thought the cute community and the powerful worship music all got to his head. From a psychological perspective, it made sense that he would feel moved and therefore believed there was a God.
At the time, I was still debating religion in my University courses. One day a university professor chimed in by saying
"back then, do you know how radical it was for women to go approach a group of men to say Jesus had rose from the dead? Do you think a group of men would believe these women if there wasn't anything believable about the situation? Women weren't supposed to approach men the way they did. Women weren't educated back then, and they definitely weren't believed. I think there's something powerful about the fact that women found Jesus' tomb empty, and that a group of men believed them enough to go check it out for themselves."
I decided to look into what this professor was talking about. That began a year of research I did in my personal time. I was committed to disproving Christianity with everything I got. Eventually, I gathered enough evidence for Jesus, and was, as I said above, around 80% convinced that Christianity was real.
It was around Spring 2018 when I decided I wanted to connect with Christian scholars in attempts to answer the remaining questions I had. Around this time, my boyfriend at the time had found a Church he wanted me to start attending. He only went once before I joined him at this nondenominational Christian church near his house (2 minutes from his house, 45 minutes from mine, but he, my family, and my friends were in that city, I went there a lot).
As soon as I walked into this church, I experienced the Holy Spirit in a powerful and undeniable way. I didn't know a lot about the Holy Spirit back then, and didn't even realize at the time that what I had experienced was the Holy Spirit.
During that service, a woman I had never met, and have never seen since, took the microphone and started speaking in tongues. I had never heard anyone speak in tongues before, and didn't even know that was a thing before this day. It was super weird to hear back then. No one has spoke in tongues in the mic at that church since.
Then the young woman (who I later learned was a year older than me) came up to specifically pray over me.
She prayed mostly in tongues and then said "live in me."
I assumed she prayed only over me because I was new there, but it turns out that this woman didn't even go to the Church, she was just visiting.
There's a scripture that talks about how publicly speaking in tongues can drive people away from God, and so many denominations shy away from doing this.
"So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?" -1 Corinthians 14:23
However, I believe that God used the illogical that day to bring me back to Church- to bring me back to Him. That woman was obviously led by the Spirit because this moment was a defining moment in my faith. Since this moment sparked curiosity in my heart, I believe God brought that woman to the front of the Church that day. My old church didn't make a habit of having people do this, in fact I've never witnessed someone grabbing the mic and talking in tongues since.
The ride home, my boyfriend at the time and I were in shock so we mostly nervously giggled and shared a couple "I don't knows" followed by long silences. He asked me what she prayed over me and I simply said "I don't know, I didn't understand it."
I went back to that church the following Sunday with him. I couldn’t stop thinking about the experience I had the Sunday prior.
It's funny because God completely blew logic and reason out of the waters that day I encountered the Holy Spirit. I was 80% convinced through logic and reason, and I was convinced I needed just a bit more evidence before I could draw conclusions, but God had something else in mind. Instead of giving me reasons behind ordinary, mundane experiences in life, He gave me an unbelievable, outrageous experience that could only be explained by something far beyond logic and reason.
God wanted to live in me, God was always there, but I had shut the door. All I needed was to let Him in.
I started going to church with my boyfriend on a weekly basis. I took The Alpha course at my pastors' house to learn more about God and The Bible. It’s here where I met 2 other women that would later become my best friends.
During the Holy Spirit weekend of The Alpha course, my pastors, and the other participants there, prayed over each person individually. When it was my turn, I felt the Holy Spirit more powerfully than ever before. I don't remember exactly what anyone prayed over me, but I knew that there was some speaking in tongues, but it didn't take up the whole prayer. After I opened my eyes, and wiped the tears streaming down my face, my boyfriend turned to my pastor and said "did you say 'live in me?'"
My eyes widened. My pastor said "I'm not sure what I said, but perhaps you have the gift of interpretation of tongues." I then explained to everyone that the woman who was visiting the first day I came to church prayed those words over me. Everyone thought that was really cool, but these are pastors who have seen people healed instantaneously, so they weren't shocked by the Holy Spirit like I was.
At this point, I was as convinced as I could have been without the experience of miracle upon miracle that I have now experienced (as I write this) in my life. My life and heart, however, still did not reflect that of God's yet. That would take a lot more time and lessons.
At a Christmas church movie night. I am on the floor in the middle of the image with long brown hair, red pj pants, and a grey t-shirt.
Then on January 20th 2014 I fainted randomly and had seizures every moment I sat up. A year of severe trauma, being completely bedridden, and severe fear damaged me. It changed me. I didn’t understand how a healing God could cause me pain. Did I need to pray more? Learn more? Was I doing something wrong? Why could my loving father do this to me?
This season brought me so close to God that I never ask those questions anymore.
When I developed POTS on January 20th 2014, the first thing I did was pray. I never understood the fear of God before that day, and I've understood it clearly every day since. As an Atheist, I thought the fear of God could only occur in response to a tyrant king and not a loving Father.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. – Psalm 111:10
But as one of my favourite Christian authors, Lysa Tekeurst puts it:
There are two Hebrew words for “fear” in the Bible. One is pachad (pakh’-ad), which means terror. That’s not the word used in this verse. The word used is yir‘ah (yir-aw’), which means a reverence for God. “The expression describes that reverential attitude or holy fear which man, when his heart is set aright, observes toward God” (Matthew Henry Commentary). To observe toward God is to look for the hand of God in everything. When we have a reverential attitude and look for the hand of God in everything, we start seeing things from the perspective of wisdom. This becomes our focus. Lord: I need to anchor my heart to the Lord so I can set my heart to the wisdom of God. Jesus is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24 NIV). In Christ“are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NIV).
If you've been following my account for a while, you know that the next couple of years looked like hell on earth.
However, I still believe POTS was a gift in my life as odd as that is.
POTS drew me closer to God than anything else would've been able to do.
POTS showed me what real suffering and agony is.
POTS has equipped me to become a more empathetic future counsellor.
POTS made me desperate for the healing hand of God. POTS made me a God-fearing, faithful servant of God. POTS helped me lean and press into God more than ever which allowed my heart to be changed to reflect God's.
POTS taught me humility. POTS taught me how to be vulnerable.
POTS taught me how to give grace.
POTS taught me that this side of heaven is not my home.
POTS taught me more about God's character than any Sunday service ever has.
POTS taught me how God uses suffering. Jesus' death on the cross, His torment and torture, and His Resurrection is the foundation of our faith.
In the summer of 2014, my boyfriend told me that our church was starting up something called “Freedom Session" and that he was going to join. I knew nothing about it at the time, but knew it would be a weekly church event. I had really bad cabin fever, I was depressed, having daily panic attacks, and desperately wanted to be around other Christians in an intimate and vulnerable setting. At this point, I’d only ever leave the house in my wheelchair for doctor appointments, and that took a lot out of me. I was determined to be able to attend Freedom Session in September 2014. I asked my pastor’s wife how long each weekly session would be so I’d know how long I’d have to sit up. It was between an hour and a half to 2 hours. I couldn’t even sit up for a couple minutes at this point.
I was terrified at this goal but decided I wanted to do it. I started "training" myself to sit up more the months prior. In the very beginning I put a timer on my phone and sat up for 30 seconds a day (that's how sick I was).
The next week I did it for a minute and added in some ankle and wrist rotations throughout the day. Before I knew it, I had my own "exercise plan" and was able to sit up for 40 minutes. I didn't know what Freedom Session really was, I just wanted to be around people I loved, who also loved God, for a couple hours each week. I was more symptomatic in the mornings so I knew Sunday mornings weren't yet a possibility, but Tuesday evenings seemed more realistic. I was so terrified to go to the first session that I had to take Ativan because I was leaving my house for the first time (besides to go to a doctor appointment) in 8 months.
I was so scared leaving the house that day but it was so rewarding. My pastor brought a patio reclining chair for me so I could literally lie down during the weekly sessions, I was that sick. At the end of that first session, I realized that Freedom Session was an intensive 9 month program for inner healing. I didn't know why I was there because I felt like all my issues stemmed from my current physical illness. However, God knew what He was doing when He brought me there.
He completely transformed my heart in those 9 months. I dealt with trauma, completely forgave my father (in a way counselling never helped me be able to do), and gained my confidence back. I met 1 of my best friends during Freedom Session, and became very close with the other 2 that I met at the Alpha Course before getting sick. Us 3 best friends were (and still are) inseparable. All 3 of them have a physical and/or mental illness and know what it's like to endure hardship but still faithfully choose God and His peace each day.
Thanks to Freedom Session, I was able to start going to Church. I then slowly was able to walk a bit into Church. I was prayed for constantly by this church and eventually started to volunteer at this church and then work for this church.
Miracles happened each week in my heart at Freedom Session. It was the beginning of true healing from PTSD.
I started to teach the same Alpha program and Freedom Session program that gave me my life back.
I had many Holy Spirit moments throughout this journey that kept me going- ones as unexplainable as the "live in me" story (that I'm not finished yet).
We had a prophetic assembly in which my current pastors (I go to a different church now than the one I went to for 4 years) prophesied things over my life that I never imagined would come true. We received the recordings from this prophetic assembly and were instructed to transcribe them for future reference and to make sure they were Biblical (never blindly trust someone who claims to have the gift of prophecy).
I was in a wheelchair, mostly bedridden, and extremely ill when my current pastors said I was called to redefine church for my generation, that I would be on church in a staff somewhere, that I was going to service children, that God would strengthen me, and that joy was going to define my life.
God has been fulfilling all of these promises in my life in ways that don't make any logical sense.
In June 2015, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me. It was a toxic relationship that I tried to end the week prior but he cried and so I took it back (codependent much?). This breakup was life-changing for me. I had to learn how to exist, with sickness, and trauma, outside of my "safe person" (who wasn't all that safe). God used this breakup to bring me closer to Him and to propel me into a healthier direction.
That summer, I developed symptoms of what was later diagnosed as a hyperactive thyroid tumor- I gained 50lbs sometime between June and November, I developed cystic acne all over, I was depressed, I didn't get a period, and my cortisol levels were all over the place.
At the end of August 2015 I moved back into the apartment I was living in (that my dad owns) before I got sick with POTS, and the apartment I’m still living in. This was a huge step that my mom didn’t feel like I was ready for, as I still was in a wheelchair (a transfer chair no less, in which I needed someone to push me around in) for walks of any length, but the breakup propelled me forward. I needed independence, or at least, a sense of it. I started taking 2 courses in the Fall: one that was done online and one that required me to go to the school (that I was living less than 5 minutes away from) for 2 hours a week. Besides this, my doctors appointments, and church, I wasn’t doing much of anything besides resting and exercising in my spare time. I was trying to be more social but I had definitely become very depressed.
On September 27th 2015 I was baptized. Born again. I was mostly bedridden at this point, still, which is why the following pictures are so powerful. My symptoms were bearable that day, and I stood for 45 minutes (the length of time it took to baptize the other women). I remember that day clearly because that's about 5x as long as I could normally stand at that point, and I couldn't stand like that again after that day, but for that one day I caught a glimpse of what God could and would do in my life.
This is me sharing a bit about my story before getting baptized. My pastor's wife, Ev, who has been a dear mentor to me, is standing to the left of this picture.
This is a friend of mine, Tanya, getting baptized. I am standing (yes standing!) in the middle of two other women behind her.
One of my best friends, Natasha, and I. Natasha is the one who went away for school and came back and wanted to go to Youth Church.
A picture from a CAYA night.
A couple friends and I started a small, young women's ministry out of our Church. We called it "CAYA" which meant "come as you are." It didn't last long, because all of us were dealing with our own physical and/or mental illnesses, and were burnt out. However, the small things I'd do at church on a weekly basis, really helped me to become reconditioned.
One day, months after I had last read my prophetic assembly transcript, a friend of mine needed help in Kids Church. I said yes because I loved the children there and was close to them. I started volunteering every now and then in the mornings at Kids Church. This was really hard for me to physically do, even though I just sat while teaching them. I had to sleep anywhere from 3-6 hours after church every Sunday I volunteered because it took so much out of me. I was still mostly bedridden but committed to going to Church most Sundays (when I could), sometimes volunteering while I was there, and volunteering one day a week besides Sunday at my church. 1-2 outings a week besides doctor appointments, and sleeping/lying in bed the rest of the time.
Months later, I was reading my prophetic assembly transcript and realized what my current pastors said about helping children. God arranged that before I even realized it was happening! I had no plan to volunteer with the kids ministry, but every small detail of the prophesy was coming true in the craziest of ways. The number of kids, how God was increasing my strength through laying down my health for those kids, and more. I couldn't make this up - it was so exact.
December 2015: some kids form kids church and I doing a performance for our annual Christmas brunch service (not on actual Christmas day). I am sitting on stage dressed as Mary. This picture is a public one so it's an allowed picture of the kids.
God was slowly changing me with every circumstance, every heartbreak, every word of wisdom, every Church service, and every piece of hope.
However, it wasn't until Christmas 2016 where I started reading God's word daily and praying daily. The transformative power this had over my life was undeniable.
In May 2016, a part-time job opportunity opened up at my church to be the Kids Church coordinator. I doubted myself and my ability to handle working, but I felt peace to apply. I ended up getting the job and worked there until January 2017.
My job was an amazing opportunity to do what I love, what God had called me to do in that season, and do most of it from home. Slowly reconditioning my body each week through volunteering at my Church gave me the freedom to test out my abilities and limits in a safe place, where everyone knew of my limitations. When that volunteer position became a job, I already knew that my Church family was understanding of my physical limitations, and supported me unconditionally despite them.
A drawing a kid from Kids Church made of her and I.
Volunteer gifts I made
Kids Church room all ready for our birthday party for Jesus.
Healing isn't linear though and for as many things that were going right in this season, there were twice as many things going wrong. I thought I had experienced complete deliverance from suicidal ideation during Freedom Session but that wasn't the case. I gained 50lbs because of my thyroid tumor, completely lost all confidence, and ended up in another really toxic relationship in Fall 2016 (after a year of being single, the longest I had gone without being in a relationship, at this point, since I was 14). My thyroid tumor brought on a lot of extreme hormonal depression. I would lie in my bathtub, without water, fully clothed for hours. I didn't have any strength, I couldn't pray, I would just lie there, or on the floor, listening to praise music for hours. I relied heavily on the support of God, and other Christians, during this time.
In Fall 2017, I invited my youngest brother Devin to come to church with me. He did, and has been going faithfully every week since. He has since become born again and baptized.
One church service that same Fall, God completely changed the direction my life was going. We had a guest speaker, Todd, who was the pastor who came for the prophetic assembly and prophesied amazing things over my life. During this service, he was talking about this church God is calling him to plant. I then heard God say "go" as audibly as one could, to the extent that I literally looked over my shoulder to see if someone else had said it. Once it registered in my brain, I knew exactly what God was calling me to do: go help plant that church. I walked out of the service to go talk to one of my best friends, who was volunteering at the front desk. I shared what God had just put on my heart and explained how I was too overwhelmed to stay in the service. She reassured me that although she would miss seeing me every Sunday, following God's calling always leads to a more fruitful life.
I went back into the church service, unable to concentrate. My mind was buzzing with all the "but.."s I could think of. "But what about my job? What about seeing my best friends?" I knew, though, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would follow God's calling obediently.
I approached Todd and his wife after the service to explain what was on my heart. They nervously explained how they weren't trying to take people away from this church. I told them I knew that but really felt like God was calling me to help plant their church. They then shared how they never had to ask anyone to get involved with the church plant, but people always approached them about it.
I was nervous to tell the rest of my best friends from Church, my pastors, and the other elders of the Church. I was nervous about quitting a secure job, and leaving a church home that knew me, but God has rewarded this step of faith like I couldn't ever have predicted.
Pictures of my last day at my old church in January 2017.
Before our first service ever (I'm in the front row accidentally covering my face) at City life Church.
Our first service ever- January 22nd 2017.
We were told we had to leave our old building because of political reasons, but thankfully we found a cute building I love to rent.
The adjustment period between my two churches left me feeling temporarily isolated. Even after receiving radioactive iodine that removed the tumor, becoming hypothyroid and being treated for it, this depression remained the same. It persisted throughout my relationship and affected it. Once we broke up, I started seeing a counselor who was able to recognize my codependency from a million miles away and started to deal with a lot of deep-rooted issues I didn't realize were still there. I had seen many counselors in the past for short periods of time and they always helped temporarily but no underlying issues were solved.
After God thankfully took the protective measures to remove me from this toxic relationship, I experienced a season of deeper intimacy with God than I've ever had. I was so desperate because of the pain of codependency and the breakup, that I began to see a Christian counsellor, and would desperately cling to God and read Scripture for hours each day. I would endure this season all over again just to have that level of trust and faith in God every moment of every day. I have not once doubted God since becoming sick, but intimacy in any relationship will ebb and flow.
I lost the weight, I saw my counsellor weekly, and we were starting to see a lot of progress. I experienced authentic peace for the first time in my life and I started to change what I could and develop healthy boundaries. Still, the tendency to mentally jump to suicide as the first solution plagued me. We were making progress in all areas but this one.
Then one week my suicidal thoughts began to really scare me. I didn't want to kill myself because of Fozzy (my dog who is my everything) but I was disappointed by the fact that the thoughts weren't going anywhere even though I was making progress in every other area.
Then one night I cried and screamed out to God. I knew God had a purpose for me that was greater than I could possibly understand and that I wanted to pursue that. However, I couldn't stand how I was feeling mentally or physically. I needed relief. Or this would've been it.
I felt called to pray scriptures about deliverance from fear and healing over my life with the power God and authority God has given me. After hours of praying, I felt encouraged, tired, but hopeful. I had finished praying and went to where I spend the majority of my time at my apartment: my desk. I realized that my small "The Best Yes" desk calendar (based on the Christian book "The Best Yes") was on the wrong date, so I switched it to the right one.
"Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me." -John 15:4.
Live in me.
I had never seen that in the Bible before. Other translations say "abide in me," or "remain in me," but I had never known what the woman on my first day of Church, or my old pastor at Alpha were referring to when they prayed those words over me.
It all made sense. Something clicked in me. I prayed that over me. I read John 15 in that translation and multiple other ones. I looked up the context of each verse. I just sat there smiling like a fool.
Live. In. Me.
TW: SUICIDAL IDEATION graphic details for next paragapraph.
Something washed over me that night. It doesn't make any logical sense, I know. But something switched on, or off, however you want to look at it. The nights on the bathroom floor ceased to exist that night (and not just temporarily like they did after Freedom Session, but consistently). I don't sit on the bathroom floor, I don't have visions of me cutting myself or a person hanging from a rope on the trees outside my house when I'm incredibly depressed, and I usually don't ever get depressed anymore.
I don't think of suicide as an option anymore. I live in Him and He lives in me and I won't destroy what God made for life.
It might not be the life I pictured. It's not always the life I want. But it's a life with purpose, joy, and a life intended to serve Him no matter what storm brews or what mountain is in front of me.
I am truly, genuinely free from suicidal ideation. I don't have to fight the thoughts. I am at peace. I am free.
Looking back I can see how a million tiny pieces added up to giving me my life back the way God intended it this whole time. He's called me to something greater than myself and has given me the strength required. I still make sure to guard my heart, as His word has instructed, through daily discipline, prayers, devotions, and setting up boundaries to protect my mental health. I don't take this healing and freedom for granted but have realized it's a gift that I have to open each day.
January 2018 celebrating our 1 year anniversary. I am here (second to the right) with some other Kids Church leaders.
Many Holy Spirit moments have happened in between all these events that stitched me to God's word and held me up when I felt like I couldn't go on any longer, but for the sake of condensing, this lengthy blog post, I am only sharing the main events.
My answered prayer jar where I write down all my God moments and answered prayers. I have over 200 little pieces of paper (just from the past 1.5? years) in this jar that could only be explained by God.
March 2018 when God healed my right hip pain after 4.5 years of pain.
In March 2018, I attended one of my Church's regular "First Wednesdays" as we call them. On the first Wednesday of every month, the dream team (the leaders of our church) get together to pray for each other, our Church, and our city. I've had many Holy Spirit moments during these monthly prayer nights, but this one was particularly miraculous. While we were praying, many people said words I specifically was praying for. Near the end of the night, one man I barely knew at the time, who didn't know I was sick, said "I feel like God wants to heal someone's right hip tonight? Does anyone here have issues with their right hip?" I put my hand up. I rarely talked about the horrific pain I experienced on a daily basis in my right hip every since my hospital stay in March 2014. One of y best friends who was there, and my pastor whom I'm close with, both didn't know I struggled with this. I always have severe, debilitating, chronic symptoms, and when you do you don't list all of them to every person you know.
When this man prayed for my hip, I noticed a bit of relief but didn't want to get my hopes up. I didn't even post about this miracle on my Instagram until a month had gone by because I didn't think I was healed. Slowly after that day, I experienced decreased pain each day until I was essentially pain-free in this area. I went to see my pain specialist about something else and she was amazed at the increased mobility in my right hip.
I don't pretend to fully comprehend the mystery that is God, nor the reason why he healed my hip and not my complete body. However, I do know that His timing is perfect and am overjoyed with this relief.
September 2018 Dream Team bonding night. I am in the middle, directly to the right of the podium.
God is the love of my life and I've only been able to get this far, find joy in suffering, and flourish in pain because of Him. My life doesn't make sense without the Holy Spirit. None of this has been by my own strength, but through God's grace alone. I cannot emphasize that enough. I know 2013 me would be rolling her eyes to the back of her head right now. But 2013 me was also prideful, impulsive, and lived for short-term earthly gain.
Two books that God used to transform my heart and how I live were "Uninvited" and "The Best Yes" by Lysa Terkeurst.