The first time I ever prayed, I was 8. One of my friends had parents who were divorced. She still got to see her parents, but they didn't live together anymore. As a little girl that was living in constant fear of conflict and explosive anger, that seemed like the only solution for my home life. So, I closed my door, sat on the floor of my bedroom in front of my bookshelf and closed my eyes. I started crying uncontrollably as I prayed over and over, "God, if you're there, please divorce my parents." I wasn't even sure if I believed in God, but I knew I needed help.
The first time I felt God tug at my heart, I was 14. I was at a youth conference. I heard the gospel for the first time in my life. The man described the death of Jesus in great and horrific detail. Then he asked, "Now, how can you reject a Savior that did that for you?" I wasn't sure what Jesus did for me, exactly, but my empathetic heart certainly didn't want to reject a man that was brutally attacked.
The first time God saved my life was a year later. I was a freshman in high school, and had come to a point in my young life that I felt like I couldn't do it anymore. My family hated each other, I felt rejected and ridiculed by them constantly. I had just entered high school, and was facing new people, new classes, and felt the old friendships I attempted to maintain slipping away. One night I grabbed two bottles of prescription pills and a glass of water and set out to end my pathetic life. I wrote one last time in my journal and laid in bed, waiting to die. Darkness took over, but I didn't die. I woke up the next morning feeling no effects of the medicine, and like even more of a failure.
The first time I felt God's Hope was when I was almost 17. My parents had finally separated after a terrifying conflict at our home. In fear for our lives, my mom, my siblings and I packed our things and left my father. As dysfunctional as my family was, I had still grown used to the chaos. Being uprooted completely tore my life in half and I felt myself slipping into an empty well of despair. The youth pastor of the church I had been attending with a friend called me and shared with me that I had an opportunity to go to heaven when I died. Needing something, anything that would help want to keep living, I prayed along with my pastor to assure that I would go to heaven.
The first time I felt God's Pursuit of me was when I sprinted as far from Him as I could get and dove into a life full of alcohol, irresponsibility, anger, and destructive behavior. He sent a coworker to me that walked me through the process of figuring out how to fix myself and eventually walked me back to Christian community. It was there that I realized that God was all I had. And all I needed.
The first time I felt God's Grace was when, after all I done and said and how far I had run away from Him, He saw fit to lead me gently "back to where we left off" with no shame, no guilt. Just love and guidance and His hand holding mine the entire way. I was met with people who were willing to take me back up into their arms and hearts. I was met with people that wanted to see me living a life of surrender to God, and not one where I did it all myself.
The first time I felt God's Shield was when my father suddenly passed away. I felt Him protect me from the weight of the grief, and every now and then, He would lift His protection and allow me to be burdened by the sadness, grief, and anger. Then, He would shower me with His love and healing.
The first time I felt God's Mercy the night when He showed me just how ugly and diseased my heart is. And instead of abandoning me, like I thought He would and expected Him to do, He whispered gently, "Look at your heart. It is so very ugly, Lindsay. Look at it. And look at me: I'm still here." He had never abandoned me like I convinced myself He would. He never rejected me, like others before Him had. He never manipulated me, or guilted me into loving Him.
All of that, each and every moment of it, leads to August 27, 2012.
That was the first time in my whole life that I surrendered myself to the Lord. My whole life. Not my money, my worries, my family, relationships... but me. Because He has made it abundantly clear that all this time, it wasn't my service, or songs, or tasks, or prayers that He wanted. But, he wanted just me. And all of me.
The first time I felt God's acceptance in it's fullest was that night that I finally surrendered to Him. I wondered if after 14 years of knowing all the right things to say and do, if I would feel any different. I knew what people said they felt, had read books, and had even had a taste of it myself. But, although I called God mine, I never let Him call me His. I was an adopted child that wouldn't let herself live in God's house, eat God's food, sleep in God's bed, or drive God's car. I was missing out on the blessing of belonging to Him. That night, I had my answer. In the quietest moment before I fell asleep, God said to me for the first time in my life, "You are the daughter of The Most High King." And I knew I finally belonged to Him.
It has been a long race, a long journey, a long hike.
With many tears and sleepless nights and anxious break-downs.
But I'm done.
I've thrown in the towel.
I'm done running.
Since 1999, when we left my father, I have lived in 27 different places. 27.
I have finally put my roots down. Here in Lynchburg, VA. And here with God.