In my early twenties, I frequented many gay bars in the Birmingham and Atlanta area, and struggled for years with my personal worth and identity. My heart is heavy for those affected by the shootings Sunday morning in Orlando. Sharing my walk this Wednesday is my way of being more transparent as a Christian. Below are pieces from my original testimony while sharing more personal and painful struggles.
Growing up in the Bible Belt of the South, I don't ever remember not going to church as a child. At the age of six, in Birmingham, Alabama, I remember asking Jesus to come and live in my heart while at Briarwood Christian School. It was a very simple prayer, but with faith as a child, I sincerely meant it. I wanted to be with this wonderful Jesus of the Bible and for Him to be with me. Looking back on my childhood and teen years, He was with me - like the time I screamed out to Him when my body got trapped under a floating pier, loaded with people at the lake, and I felt a supernatural peace come over me till I could find my way out from under the floating wood boards that where pushing me under every time someone, unaware, stood over where I was gasping for air between the slats. My walk with Him was real and wonderful, and I never felt truly alone.
As a child, I struggled with my weight. I went from the average weight of a five year old to becoming a heavy first grader. I continued to get heavier. My weight, fair skin and red hair made me feel so awkward and different from everyone else. As I grew into a preteen, I encountered pornography for the first time at my grandparents house where they had cable. They didn't pay for Playboy, but late at night, I would stay up, scanning the scrambled channel for a peek of what was happening with all the heavy breathing. I felt really guilty, but drawn to it still. One night, I thought I heard footsteps down the hall, so I quickly changed the channel to a some show that no preteen would actually be interested in. My grandfather walked in to check on me and said, "Tina, I hope you're not watching something you shouldn't!" I probably lied and promised I wasn't out of fear. What I took as disapproval, I now see as concern.
Seeing those images didn't seem harmful at the time, but it flipped a switch and I felt like an addict when around cable tv alone. (Wish I could have had a photographic memory for more important and useful things.) Since many of the images I saw involved women as the focus, I struggled with secret fantasies of women. However, I still wanted to have a traditional marriage with children. I tried to maintain control over my mind and not think certain thoughts, but it had become quite clear that not only would I struggle with food and my weight, but now with sexual thoughts too.
In June of 1988, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told me later, that the night before her outpatient biopsy, she had a vision of wing tips fluttering in front of her, as if she were being held in the arms of amazing love. She said she felt an enormous sense of peace. Things were quite different for all of us after her diagnosis and in the years to follow. In June of 1989, on a Friday night, she went home to be with the Lord. The day before she died she was the most peaceful I had ever seen anyone. She told me she was going home and not to worry. I knew deep down she was right. Honestly, I didn’t understand, but had heard of God turning tragedies into triumphs and that gave me hope during such a difficult and painful time.
In the summer of 1992, my dad and brother and I went to Africa, for three weeks, to visit my dad’s cousin, Larry, who was serving as a missionary in Kenya. It was a mind blowing adventure and I experienced things I will never forget. Most memorable was a three hour bouncy drive on unpaved roads to a small concrete church settled in a beautiful field. All of the sudden, it became like a spectacular movie scene. Villagers came dancing over the tops of the hills already worshipping the Lord in glorious singing surrounded in sunshine. They were worshipping God before they even stepped foot inside the church building, what a refreshing difference that was from how we worshipped! I remember the curious, cute children pointing and giggling at me, because of my red hair. It was the most amazing trip, and I saw God work in many ways.
Sadly, after witnessing so many wonderful things, I unexpectedly went down a treacherous path. It was never a conscious decision to walk away from the Lord. It happened very gradual, like a child who goes wandering around and then looks up only to realize that they have somehow gotten away from the parent they love and are filled with panic, sadness and despair. Even though, I secretly struggled with fantasies of women over the years. I had fallen in love with a man at work who was dating two girls at the same time. (Seems like that was a big red flag, but wait, there's more!) He was also struggling with his sexuality and was secretly seeing a guy on the side. So it was like a love hexagon.
Time out! (Dear reader, I know this is confusing. It was confusing to me too. Thanks for making it this far!)
I went from not attending church every Sunday, to just occasionally visiting and then to not going at all. I started seeing other Christians no longer as friends, but almost as enemies, that is if they dared to discuss anything that caused me to feel the least bit of conviction. I even spewed out recriminations at a dear friend who asked me some direct questions about my faith.
Found a new group of friends to spend the majority of my time with and to encourage me in my new ways. We had gotten into the habit of going out to clubs every night after work. Just like the song, it was a Slow Fade. At first, in those dark places I found excitement, but it wasn’t long before I found heartache, pain, loneliness, depression and despair. I let my guard down around someone I trusted and was raped. (Really struggling with even seeing that typed out, but if it helps someone, then it's worth sharing.)
Decided to move to Atlanta to pursue an acting career and thought this big step would surely bring about the happiness I desired. Even with some small successes, I still couldn't sustain a non depressed state of being. After dangerous experiments with drugs, sex, alcohol and relationships, I attempted and thankfully failed at suicide. However, I remained frustrated with my life and angry with others.
I then sought the help of two mental health professionals. In my first visit I used up a whole box of tissue and just sobed uncontrollably. I was placed on 60mg of Prozac. That didn’t work either, because I was unable to feel any emotions. Any mirthfulness I might have occasionally enjoyed was now in a stupor. It seemed the more I tried to find happiness it just kept escaping my grasp. I languished in my depression and longed to feel free from mental torment. Before wandering away from the Lord, I was happy, content, peaceful and full of joy. But during this prodigal, dubious walk, my reality was just the opposite. Why was that? I was living for myself, pleasing myself and yet had never been more miserable in all my life!
One morning around 3 a.m., outside the Backstreet nightclub in Atlanta, I realized that I had lost a special silver earring with a flower embossment. I was walking around the parking lot, upset with the guy who I had gone partying with, who sat in my car while I searched a very unpleasant and dark area. I was in a miserable relationship with him, because I had grown co-dependent upon him for my happiness. I basically had turned him into a false god. Yet, there was no reciprocation. While searching, I felt this strange sensation and heard 2 voices, not audibly, but very strongly in my spirit. One was the voice of Jesus and the other was the voice of my mother. They both were saying at the same time, “Oh, how I wanted so much more for you than this” and the way I heard it, it was if their hearts were broken over my choices. I knew then that God had not left me, but I had walked away from Him. It was then that I knew I needed to repent, change and turn back to my Father.
It was hard changing lifestyles overnight, but God led me to a job as a nanny in charge of four precious children, and I started visiting churches. The best part was I started talking with God again and asking for His direction, instead of leading myself. I started to then ask God for a husband who loved him as well. Funny how God works, because when I first met Scott, I felt he was the one. However, through further discussions, I came to realize that he did not regard Jesus as the Son of God, but as just a good person and teacher. I came under very strong conviction at this point to break off our engagement. I felt I was to pray and give the situation over to God and let Him deal with Scott. Click on this link, http://www.shofaroutreach.org/testimonies.html, to find out what happened.
(I also have to add that as a married couple, we both struggled with images of pornography that we were exposed to in our childhood, preteen years and into adulthood. It really took a lot of work for us to truly be intimate with each other without other mental pictures getting in the way. I want to write and share more on that subject because pornography is like meth, in how it destroys the way people were meant to experience pleasure.)
If you have never seriously looked at the words of Jesus, I encourage you to decide who this man is. He can only be one of three things . . . a liar, a lunatic or the Son of the Living Most High God, creator of you and me. I tried living life my way and I’ve tried living it His way. I can testify that His way is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father without going through Jesus. The one who died for your sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Offering eternal life to those who put their faith and trust in Him. I love Luke chapter 15, because God speaks of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I too was lost but now am found and am so thankful that we have a God that loves us! I placed the remaining earring on a chain and turned it into a necklace. Every time I see it, I am reminded of what was lost, what was salvaged and transformed into something even better.
Thank you for reading and letting me share my walk!
Christina is an
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