It’s been quite a while since I utilized this website. I got out of writing for a while, which was a much needed break over the last year… or so. But that’s a different post for a different day.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the Lord tugging at me to share my testimony. It’s taken me a while to try to condense it into words, because there are just so many different side stories to my testimony, but I’ve just about stripped it to the bare bones for the sake of story.
Like a lot of girls who were raised in conservative Christian homes, my testimony starts after I accepted the Lord into my life. I was six years old, so my story doesn’t come from the dark gutters of society. I had a solid Christian family, raised in church since birth, and memorized scripture. I wasn’t on the streets, in a broken home, or a bad kid. I was just a girl, looking at her plate of peas, wondering why she was the only one who wasn’t allowed to go to heaven. I remembered my brother praying that I would get saved, my parents talking to me about it, etc. I knew how it worked. I knew I was a sinner. I knew Satan was bad, and God was good. I knew that Jesus died for my sins and that without Him, I wouldn’t get to go to heaven when I died. So one night I demanded to know why I couldn’t get saved. Long story short, I accepted Christ that night.
Fast forward 10+ years, and meet 17 year old Caitlyn. I was active in church, I went 3 times a week. Involved in youth group, I sang some, and I read a proverb a day to keep the devil away. I listened to strictly 90% gospel music, 10% country love songs. Not a single song on my playlists had a swear word in it. I didn’t date around, I’d never even had a boyfriend. I championed a big fat purple bracelet that said “PURITY” in bold letters so all the boys would know I didn’t have time for their games. This girl was off limits and 2 GOOD 4 U. “Modest is hottest” was my motto as I strutted around in my knee-length denim skirts and ever-so-fancy coulottes, and girls who didn’t wear these were beneath me. A woman who covered her body was worth more, as I was told, so obviously I held more value than those skanks who walked around showing their thighs (the horror!)
However, in spite of all my efforts to be the perfect Christian girl, I was plagued with doubt. These doubts kept me up at night, stole my sleep, and weaseled their way into my faith until only a shell remained. By all outward indications, I was perfect. All the boxes on my Christian checklist were marked.
- Talk about Jesus. Check.
- Obey your parents. Check.
- Don’t show your cleavage. Check.
- Listen to God’s music. Check.
- Don’t swear or associate with those that do. Check.
- Don’t associate with those who drink alcohol. Check.
- Attend church 3+ times a week. Check.
- Be kind and don’t show it if you’re not feeling particularly full of joy that day. Check.
- Be vigilant in regards to your purity, don’t kiss boys before the altar, and don’t date if you ain’t ready to get married. Check check.
- Read your Bible every day even if it’s just a verse so you can say you did it. Check.
I was a pretty looking role model for younger girls on the outside, but on the inside I was hollow. Empty. I tried every way to fix this doubt myself. After all, doubt was just a product of not reading my Bible like I should. So I skipped around, read Galatians once, a few Psalms here and there, and read the birth story of Jesus when Christmas came around. I didn’t study the Word in depth – I didn’t know how.
I was spinning my wheels on a road to nowhere, aimless and just hoping God would think my efforts were enough when I died.
Every day I was waking up and setting out to make God proud of my actions. As if there was anything I could do to make an ultimately holy God proud of me. Every time I messed up, the last thing I could think about was prayer. God didn’t want to hear from me. He was angry at me and disappointed. I would have to sulk for at least half a day to prove that I was truly repentant before I prayed for forgiveness.
It was a miserable existence.
One summer, my parents let me go off to youth camp with our church youth group. This was the first and only time I had been allowed to go, and I was so excited! When we got there, they did the usual Baptist youth camp thing. No phones (except for a phone call to parents once a day), no music, no technology, and mandatory participation in every game/activity. For a homeschooled introvert like me who had never been away from her mother overnight (EVER), this was a particulary emotionally taxing excursion. There was preaching two or three times a day, complete with sermons about what garbage people we were and how youths as a whole were going to hell in a handbasket no matter how hard they tried. There was even a sermon about how the “missing people” posters were probably of people who were going about their daily lives when the earth opened up and swallowed them into hell because they were so evil.
I wish I was kidding.
You can imagine how drained and broken down I felt after 48 hours of this. On the third night, there was a night of singing. No preaching or yelling about how much of a sinner I was , I knew that already. You didn’t need to convince me of what a terrible person I was, you really needed to convince me that God actually wanted me. A few songs in, my drained spirit knew it needed something. It was sick of the doubt and fear that plagued it night and day. What if God got sick of me and the earth swallowed me up into hell!? In the midst of the doubt and fear and homesickness, God met with me there. I had never felt the presence of God in such a real way. I don’t know if He showed up for anyone else that night, but it was almost as if He wrapped his arms around me and I felt Him sitting next to me.
Obviously, this was a sign that I needed to be saved again. So I went and begged a counselor, got her to go to the alter with me, and asked Jesus into my heart again. I remember thinking “I need to do something else. I’m not enough as I am. I need to do something more for Jesus to love me. I need to make Him want me.” When I got back home, I had a long talk with my dad about what salvation is, what it means, and how the Holy Spirit becomes more real to us at different times in our lives. At the time I didn’t really know what happened, I just knew things were different. I knew Jesus was real. I knew He had met me and ministered to me there when I was at one of my lowest points.
Now, I can look back and see that moment and know that that’s when Christianity became real to me. Jesus became real and the gospel came alive. After 12 years of remaining on a plataeu spiritually, I finally began to grow. I began to learn how to study, the Word became an actualy story. The spiritual battle became real, but love also became tangible in the thick of it. In the 5 years since that night, I’ve begun to grasp what grace is and how much the Lord loves me just because I’m His. He wants a relationship with me how he made me, flaws and all. The love He has poured into my heart has rearranged and renovated the insides until the outsides began to reflect it.
I don’t wear denim skirts anymore, even though they’re back in style, I’ve thrown away all my coulottes, and haven’t heard an Isaacs song in years. But I’m closer to Jesus now than I have ever been. Those things I put up to make myself more worthy of God actually drove a wedge between us, because it was never about what I do. It was never about how others’ perception. It was never about whether or not people thought I was a good girl.
What’s the use of looking the part when you’re broken and empty inside? On the outside, I looked like I loved Jesus, like I knew my Bible, like I loved other people. I looked like I was kind and sweet and inherently good. I looked like Jesus had changed my life, but on the inside I was still as broken and empty as ever because I failed to grasp the basis of the gospel. Grace. Grace takes you as you are and changes you from the inside out. Legalism (which is what my mindset was called), says that God changes you from the outside first through manmade rules, then transforms the inner man. Which is a false, empty gospel that quenches the power of the Holy Spirit.
But I am not a slave to that anymore! Jesus has radically changed who I am within, and that change is still working its way outward. The love that Jesus has placed in my heart tears down old barriers and put up new ones. It’s changed how I interact with people and equips me to love and value those who don’t share my views. It’s changed my heart, soul, and mind in so many ways I would be here all day listing them out for you.
Thank you for sharing this part of my life with me and reading this entry after a year and a half of silence. If you want to share your testimony with me, feel free to do so! I would love to rejoice in that with you.
Much love always,