I’m Rachel and this is the story of me and Jesus, of how He rescued me and changed my life.
This is a story about freedom and joy and overcoming.
I grew up in Nevada and Colorado with five siblings, and we were all homeschooled. My childhood was permeated with insecurity and a drive to please. My father struggled with alcoholism and gambling. He was in and out of my life during my early years. We went to church with my mom, and I always believed God was real. But my understanding of the Gospel growing up was this: Being a Christian is a get-out-of-hell-free card. We are baptized so we can go to heaven and be saved from our sins … and that’s pretty much it. I was so driven by fear and guilt, and I pictured God as a strict father. I decided to be baptized at the age of 11 because I was so afraid. I wanted to do the right things and be obedient, but I had no real freedom, relationship with Jesus, or Life.
As I came into my teenage years, my family was devastated by my dad’s affair and my parent’s divorce that followed. I felt confused, abandoned, and unwanted. Not knowing how to cope or talk about my big feelings, I turned to ways to escape and avoid all the negative feelings. I developed an eating disorder and became anorexic. I also spent as much time away from home as possible during high school. Many weekends were spent at friend’s houses. When it was time to choose a college, I wanted to get out-of-state and start my own life.
My church experience up to that point was primarily works- and knowledge-oriented. The message I heard from my church community growing up was this: It’s all about what you know, how well you can argue, and what you abstain from. Being a member in the “right” denomination was of utmost importance.
I hoped college would be different, and I had high expectations. But I quickly found myself lonely despite being constantly surrounding by people, and the vast majority of my relationships were very shallow. I was trying harder than ever to be a good Christian, attending as many Bible studies as I could during the week and volunteering in my free time, but I felt as distant and confused as ever.
The summer before my junior year, things started to spiral downward. My eating disorder resurfaced in full force and I became bulimic. I was deep in shame, and I started isolating myself from most people as I struggled. I felt so helpless, empty, and confused. One night in my dorm, I hit rock bottom. I remember thinking, “I don’t want this life” and “I can’t stay stuck in this place.”
For the first time, I acknowledged my own helplessness and need for the Lord.
I cried out to Him and told Him that I wanted things to be different, that I wanted to really know Him and I didn’t know what that looked like or how to get out, so He had to do it. This conversation was the beginning of a beautiful journey towards knowing Him.
I began seeing a counselor at my university and started to work through a lot of the family issues that I had buried under the rug and the hurts I had stuffed down. The Lord did a lot of healing in me through this, and I was able to recover from my eating disorder. I also wanted to know the Lord more and more and really sought Him.
One Friday night, my best friend invited me to a house church gathering at a professor’s house. She’d been telling me about it, and I was curious. When I walked into their little house, I immediately felt loved and accepted in a tangible way. I now know that was the presence of God in their home. About 30 students gathered there that night, and I listened to their conversations around the dinner table and on the living room floor. People were speaking about Jesus in a personal way, as if they really knew Him in more than an intellectual sense. They had real peace and real joy, and I could see it so clearly. As I continued to spend time with this community, I was struck by their immediate, costly obedience to Jesus. That night, I knew that whatever these people had …I wanted it.
Over the next few months, I got to know Jesus for the first time. There were so many things that I’d heard or read my whole life but that just hadn’t downloaded from my head to my heart up until that point. I finally realized that I could never be good enough in my own strength and effort and that it was all His grace and work. He set me free from the legalism I’d been stuck in for years, and I was able to embrace and receive His love and forgiveness. Jesus wants us to be free more than we want to be free, and He wants us to have Life more than we want to have Life.
I had tried so hard before to satisfy myself and find meaning in life (through boyfriends, being an excellent student, pleasing everyone …) and had been so disappointed. Jesus showed me the peace and joy in laying my Life down and trusting Him with everything. I was baptized in a fountain on campus on a rainy Thursday night. It was such a sweet season as I explored my new life with Jesus. I was passionate and zealous. However, I still had a lot of growing to do.
After I graduated from nursing school, I moved to Little Rock to start my first job. I met my husband, Daniel, shortly after. In this season the Lord taught me so much and was stirring my heart for the poor and marginalized in our city. I felt my heart being pulled to the inner city, and Daniel and I moved there once we were married.
Our house was cockroach-infested and had zero insulation, but we loved living there. The Lord blessed us with really sweet friendships with our neighbors on the street, and it was such a special time. Our lease was up after a year, and we decided to go on a bike tour for several months before our move to Fayetteville. We spent two months bicycling the West Coast, and the Lord gave us such beautiful gifts of friendship. I really learned what a blessing hospitality is during this trip, and it’s something I hope to carry the rest of my life. Following that trip, we moved to Fayetteville and Daniel began his graduate work.
Last spring, I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement,” where I was struck with God’s purpose in the world and His heart for all nations. Then, because Daniel and I both had the summer off, we were able to travel for several months in Africa and China, visiting friends of ours on the mission field. During that trip Jesus really taught me about how important it is to support and stay in contact with our friends who are living overseas, and what it feels like to be in a foreign culture and being the odd one out. It’s been a really important lesson for me in this season as the Lord continues to bring internationals into my life.
Jesus has blessed me with such sweet community here in Fayetteville, and I am always in awe of the ways He is acting in my life. Things aren’t always easy and rosy. There have been plenty of times of discouragement, pain, boredom, confusion, and so on. However, I cling to this hope: He never fails. He never turns His back, and He always does what He says He will.
Isn’t that good news?
Rachel and Daniel have been living in Fayetteville and worshipping with Grace Church since December 2016. Rachel graduated from Harding University in 2014 and works as a school nurse at Fayetteville High School. She enjoys yoga, cycling, cooking and blogging.