I've struggled with my way to tell my story. I've told parts of it numerous times but have never really sat down and looked at it as a whole. I kind of came away with some key statements.
I grew up with a dad who alternated between jobs as a head pastor, young adults pastor and worship minister. My mom was the children's minister. I grew up in the church and of the church. We started here at First Woodway and ended up in Little Rock, AR. I attended school at a private Christian school, so I grew up with my nose in a book and that book was the Bible. I had the answers and I had a relationship with Christ and that's just how it had always been.
At 16, the church that had pretty much become part of my blood split in front of my eyes because of one very, very bad executive decision. I watched as good Christian men were at each other's throats trying to save something that was already lost because of someone who never should've been given a leadership role, and I watched as the Christians around me caused the place I loved most in the world to dissolve. It doesn't exist anymore. It's just a grass lot sitting in the middle of Little Rock.
So I think age 16 was the time I really questioned being involved in the church. I couldn't wrap my head around why if men were really devoted to Jesus, they could still allow their pride to literally destroy the church. I developed kind of a distaste for the way the church runs as an entity/operates as a business. I still believed in Jesus, just not in the church. This wasn't really an issue until college.
I started school at Baylor, which had been my dream school since I was 3. I remember being 18 and kind of lost because Baylor had been the only thing I'd worked towards, and I'd been working jobs since I was 15 to get there. Suddenly I wasn't sure what my purpose was.
And that's when things went downhill.
In college, I fell in love with someone who didn't love Jesus at all. He knew who Jesus was and in my mind that was enough for me. Basically I entered really toxic friendships and a relationship that was toxic and abusive in multiple ways and I followed suit and became toxic myself.
I never really had a desire for rebellion for rebellion's sake, but I loved the way rebellion looked. It was fun and new and dangerous and adventurous, and I had always kind of been the odd one out when it came to those things. I'd never really had them. I started dabbling in those pieces of rebellion and there isn't any one moment that I can look at and say "that. That's the one that caused me to lose it" because that's not how getting lost works. It's one wrong turn after another, one bad choice after another that leads you to this destination you can't backtrack from.
Momentary choices create habits, habits create lifestyles, and lifestyles make you who you are, and then one day you're looking int he mirror and can't recognize the person staring back at you, and that's where I ended up.
Over time, I began to lose interest in the things I loved. My grades started slipping. My friendships shattered. I hadn't been to church in months. I was sleeping for 14-15 hours a day. I couldn't get out of bed in the mornings and I was so, so lost. I had this voice in my head telling me that life was not worth being a part of. /Looking at me, talking to me, you'd have absolutely no idea that I was at rock bottom because I was so good at keeping that inside.
I felt completely out of control, and that was new and terrifying, so I began to take steps that made me feel like I was in control again. That's how I actually began getting tattoos. That's how I cut certain people from my life. It's how I decided to stop trying churches in college. There was no trust or certainty in the Lord or His plan anymore, because if I couldn't be in control, neither could he.
It took months for me to admit that there was something wrong, but by then, it was a little too late for things to be fixed easily.
I was diagnosed with severe biological depression in January of 2014. At that point, depression still sounded like a euphemism for "there's something really awful wrong with you and you're messed up in the head" and i kind of just refused to accept that that was the answer so I let it be. I self-medicated instead of asking for help because once someone tells you that there's something wrong with your own mind, you do everything that you can to get out of it.
My mom had depression, but she had refused to talk about it with me when I was younger because her family brought her up to not talk about your issues, so I had no clue what the symptoms and signs were, and I spent a really long time being angry with her and blaming her for not telling me that she saw all of the symptoms in me months before I spoke up because I believed that could've changed things. After months of fighting with doctors and my parents about treatment/medication, I finally gave in and kind of embraced the condition. I also swore to myself that I would no longer be tightlipped about my struggles because it could cause someone else to feel the same way that I did.
Once it felt like I finally had a handle on that, the person I had fallen in love with who changed who I was and introduced me to all of the stupid things I'd done told me he wanted to marry me and I felt the Lord pulling me the other direction and I begged him for the answer I wanted for months. I loved this person more than anything in the world and finally after far too long of turning my face, I said, "Lord Let not my will but yours be done in my life" and a Tinder notification popped up on this man's phone two minutes later and that ended that.
I'd thrown away my friendships, family relationships, grades, activities, everything for a poisonous life, and I honest to God believed it was too late to get any of them back.
The life I had created for myself and the future I was shoving towards was a lie and through some weird God-ordained, painful circumstances, I had it ripped away. I had rooted myself so deeply in the people that came with that life that, when it was pulled away from me, I had two choices. Either wilt, and find new ground.
One month after this happened, I received a call from TJ Ono, who basically said "Hey, I heard you sing. A girl I sing with backed out on me and I need somebody for this weekend in Magnolia. It's just a quick D-Now. IT'll be super simple."
I said yes even though I had just started getting back into the Word and had zero business leading students to Jesus when I hadn't trusted his plan in years, but I needed to get out of my headspace and I figured it was just singing so why not?
We get down there, and it was not super simple. Turned out that every single person TJ brought down was signed up to lead students in homes and basically be their mentors for the weekend and I was so pissed. I felt like a fraud and decided then and there to be honest with the girls I was paired with about what had happened and where I was at, and they absolutely loved it. It was the first time an adult had ever admitted to them that they were struggling and they had all of these questions about God's faithfulness and His plan and what he wanted for their lives and what I believed he could do in my life.
For the first time in two years, I remembered what it was like to ache for the Holy Spirit. I had forgotten what it looked like to be hungry for answers and to ask questions and to seek out the will of the Lord in your own life and it took a bunch of 16 year old girls to smack me in the face with their wisdom and love and vast maturity.
Those girls and that weekend were it. That is the weekend I can look at and say that I had faith in what the church is supposed to be again. That is the time that I can look at and say "I finally heard the answer to my prayer."
Long story short, I ended up moving to that town for 3 months because by the end of the weekend, the girls had requested that I be their summer intern. They created a new spot for me to come intern and my dog and I up and moved to Houston wth no place to live and no friends in the vicinity, and to this day, it is the best decision I've ever made. I haven't looked back. I've definitely still made some stupid choices, but since that I haven't questioned God's plan. I've been frustrated for sure, but I've seen God answer so many prayers that I cannot question him again.
And since then I haven't gone back to that person. I've grown up and I've pushed myself and I've been challenged and have come out the other side, and I know everybody says that God only gives the biggest struggles to those who could handle it but that is literal BS because if we could handle the struggles God lets us face, there's be no point in God.
I've watched as every single freaking situation that sucked was turned into this incredible story of redemption, and I know that none of these things sound fun but I wouldn't trade any of the things that I chose because it led me to be who I am right now and I am so proud of her. I finally like being her.
That almost-engagement led to a viral article that reached hundreds of thousands of people across the globe and touched the hearts of women struggling with their own stories who reached out to thank me.
The depression led to my youngest sister admitting to me that she was struggling with self-harm and was afraid she might have it to. That was two years ago and today she is happy and healthy and choosing college and still comes to me to confide in me about her low days.
Those girls are my biggest cheerleaders. They've become the mentors and interns for that church now and reach out to me when they need help answering questions.
There are so many other countless versions of this, and I just keep praying that God uses my past to help other people, kids like me avoid that life and those mistakes.
My story is ugly and it sucks and there are parts that I usually don't go back to in my own head because they're physically too painful to willingly walk back into unless necessary, but those pieces are so important. That pain is so important, because now that I've been there, I know I can never go back and I know the path I took to get to the darkest parts of myself. Without suffering, you cannot understand healing.
I have seen what grace and redemption actually look like and the human condition pales in comparison. I have seen what unconditional love looks like in my friendships and home life and Savior. I have seen what courage and strength look like in my own inability to give up because of the faith I have in the future God has created for me.
And I think best of all I have seen what life looks like. Not just daily life but newness in life. There's mercy and grace and right now I have my dream job and new friendships and I finally have a home church and I know it won't always be this good but I'm seeing the fruits of faithfulness and I am loving them.
So, I guess the point of being so long-winded and blunt and honest in all of this is that there are still millions of people out there right now who are living the lives of 2014 Emily who need us and need our honesty and our grace when it comes to their stories and I hope that maybe the church can see them the way that y'all see me.