“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength [but you would have none of it]” (Isa. 30:15).
I was born into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spent Friday nights rehearsing memory verses and special music, attended church every Sabbath, and was educated primarily in Adventist schools. Not prone to rebellion, I was not perfect, but I genuinely believed in God and woke up early in high school to write to Him, keeping up the practice until college. I remember the day in 2001 when I wrote, “Even if I stop writing to You every day, I’ll still know You’re there.” I stopped writing to God shortly after that. Maybe that was where the thread was loosened?
I still felt the Presence of God and spoke to Him throughout the next phase as I taught English in South Korea and returned to Lincoln, Nebraska, to substitute teach. While working at an Adventist language institute in Seoul, I became disillusioned with the combination of God and business, hierarchies within the church, and too many hellfire sermons. Returning home, I remember going to church and hearing a sermon about a classic Bible story, with a classic interpretation I had heard since the age of six. I did not feel like the church had anything left to teach me. When an offer came to teach creative drama to sixth graders on Saturdays, I took it and stopped going to church.
I did not stop believing in God or Jesus, but my belief was slowly worn down over time by entertaining other beliefs and expressions of God outside of the Bible. Then I went too far. Wondering what it would be like to not believe in angels or other spiritual help, I let go of asking. Around this time a truckload of emotions from childhood trauma resurfaced, spilled over, and pulled me under. Though I had access to many tools of healing such as sound, meditation, psychology, and the sheer determination to go deep in and feel it all, I did not consciously have God.
My life became so, so heavy. There were days when I seriously considered whether I should be alive at all because it clearly felt like I was not living my purpose. Division between friends and loved ones, and endings of all kinds surrounded me, and I felt responsible. My ego was out of control and I fought to maintain balance. For years, though functioning on the outside, I was in deep emotional pain that left me exhausted and craving isolation as I struggled to find a safe form of expression. I began studying astrology in an attempt to understand what was happening in me. Though helpful, it did not stop me from tearing my heart out on a regular basis. It did not stop me from falling into the same trauma-based traps over and over. That is where I was at when I returned home to North Dakota.
I had promised my grandma I would come home to North Dakota and stay on the farm for the month of June in 2020, but when protests broke out in Lincoln, I could not leave. I stayed and participated understanding that Black Lives Matter is a cry from people being oppressed and longing to be heard, seen, and valued as all lives supposedly are. All through the summer and fall of 2020, the words of a song by Leonard Cohen rang through my head, “When they said, ‘Repent! Repent!’ I wonder what they meant.” I understood that our country, myself as a citizen included, had a history of violence and exploitation to acknowledge and repent of. After a couple of intense weeks spent protesting and testifying, I went to ND to be with my grandma for the winter. Still activated, I also came home to confront the church and God.
In order to participate in conversations in church, I began studying the Sabbath school lesson and talking to God again. I returned to keeping the Sabbath. After a lesson on the ten commandments, I admitted to God two commandments that I knew I was breaking and needed help with. I did not hide anything from Him, not my sins, not my questions, not my feelings. So much of my heart was in full rebellion against Him. I knew God could flick me away at any moment. But in my acknowledgement of that, I also acknowledged the power and sovereignty of God, which I had not openly affirmed in years.
Then came the study of Isaiah. I had read Isaiah 58 in a Sabbath school class of the previous quarter to emphasize how God dislikes exploitation and how He asks us to “loose the chains of affliction, to set the oppressed free,” and to “share our food with the hungry” (v. 6, 7). But I was doing it with the “pointing finger” God also warned about (v. 9). I was excited to get into the study, but I had no idea the transformation that was to come.
Through the story of Uzziah I understood the boundaries of God. We are not the creator. God blesses with wisdom and God gets the respect and praise. From Ahaz’s story I understood God’s relentless love for us. Even when we refuse God’s power to save, He makes a way to save us (Isa. 7:14). Through Hezekiah I learned what partnership with God looks like and the pitfall of focusing on possessions instead of God when put to the test. All throughout Isaiah, God longs for His people to turn back to Him, to talk with Him, to wrestle with Him, so that He can heal them.
As I was learning to know and love God again through the study of Isaiah, I was still struggling with consistent surges of trauma response that left me exhausted. At a critical juncture, God stepped in and redirected my path in such a powerful way that I could not doubt His Presence. To share the fullness of those moments is a whole story in and of itself. In summary, God pulled me from a pit that I knew I would go down were it not for His help. It was not an easy lesson, but as He comforted me, I understood that at every point in my life He had held me, even when I believed otherwise.
I came home to testify before the church about all they were not doing, but God has allowed me to testify about all He is still doing through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus. I’m grateful for the faithfulness of my home church so that I could have a place to return to and learn how to repent. To repent is to bring our whole selves to God, not to hide any part of ourselves, not to blame someone else, but to turn and lay our heart out before Him so that He can heal it. I am comforted that God means what He says and that when we turn and admit our sins, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). God is good. Once again, I’m writing with Him in the mornings, and I look forward to where He leads next.