Okay, here we go. My hands feel a little shaky right now as I’m typing this … upstairs in the office, wind blowing outside the window to my right, stillness in the house — quiet, to help me think. This post has been on the blog calendar for months now. It would come time for me to write it + inevitably, I would delete it from the calendar + tell myself, “I’ll reschedule this post for next week.” I can’t keep putting it off, though, because I know I am supposed to share this post. Despite the fear, the worry, the possible critique or backlash. Here we are.
If you’ve been following our journey for any amount of time, you probably know that our faith is really important to Caleb + I. It really is the foundation of everything we do, every decision we make, how we run our business … you name it. Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge the fact that I know there will be many people reading this post who don’t share the same beliefs as us + I completely + utterly respect that. I’m sharing about my faith + beliefs because my personal story is something I feel I have to share, as it has changed my life + also helps explain why we do things the way we do around here; why faith is actually so important to us … specifically today, to me.
I grew up in a home where I always knew I was loved. I’m so thankful for that because I know this isn’t true for a lot of people. We were raised with good morals + we went to church on Sunday mornings. However, as a kid + then young teenager, church was extremely boring for me + it definitely wasn’t something I looked forward to doing each weekend.
When I was in middle school, a friend of mine invited me to go to a summer camp just outside my hometown. There would be lots of fun outdoor activities, cabins, + friends … but it was a Christian camp. I decided to go after several of our friends had already signed up + the summer after sixth grade, I found myself at Spencer Lake Christian Camp. My week at camp was actually an amazing experience that opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on Christianity. I saw college students leading worship + heard speakers who were engaging + excited about the life-change that Jesus had brought into their life. My interest was definitely peaked that first summer at camp.
The following two summers, I went back to camp with the same friends. Each year looked similar for me … go to camp, learn more about the Bible + Christianity, become more intrigued, feel excited + hopeful about living a life as a Christian believer — only to go home + forget about it all after just a couple of weeks.
A really significant turning point in my life came my freshman year of high school. Something you first need to know is that growing up as a child + into my middle school years, I was extremely overweight. I have really horrible memories of being teased especially those middle school years … one time being called “Jenny Craig” from the back of the bus by an older high school boy. It was really traumatizing for me + honestly made me believe that I wasn’t likable or desirable as a growing young woman. Self confidence = 0. During the middle of my eighth grade year, I convinced myself that being skinny would make me happy + I embarked on a rampage to lose a bunch of weight before entering high school.
September rolled around + I had lost around 50 pounds. School started, I was a brand new freshman (or should I say “fresh meat”), + I had also made the school dance team. It was just a few days into the school year + I remember vividly sitting next to a couple of senior football players in one of my upper level AP classes. I had never, EVER been “hit on” before, so when these guys started showing interest in me, I simply couldn’t believe what was happening. It was a 180° turn in my adolescent life. Me? Pretty? A BOY is wanting to hang out with ME?
You can imagine that one thing led to another + my desire to be accepted + called “attractive” took control of my life almost immediately. “Fitting in” meant going to parties on the weekends with upperclassmen who, honestly, I really didn’t even know that well but I went anyway because their acceptance was the only thing I cared about. Looking back, I think I can credit the weekly blackouts to the fact that deep down, I felt so uncomfortable in those settings that drinking myself into a stupor was the only way to escape what I was really feeling.
I made a lot of bad decisions that year + found my name beginning to hold a really bad reputation. The summer after my freshman year of high school, I actually got taken in by police at a local music festival + eventually given an underage drinking ticket. My parents (obviously) found out what had happened + after all was said + done, I ended up sharing with them what the past year of my life had looked like. I simply remember my mom only being able to cry + my dad (who I looked up to + respected more than anyone in the world at the time) telling me that if I wanted to screw up my life + go down such a destructive path, I could “go ahead.” That’s all he said to me.
It was a huge wake up call for me. I mean, I knew in my heart of hearts that what I was doing was unhealthy + ultimately not how I wanted to live. I felt unhappy, embarrassed, + unfulfilled. Getting in trouble with the police + having to confess my behavior to my parents put me in a place where I felt as though I needed to make a decision. Either A. Keep chasing acceptance no matter what it looks like, or B. Figure out what I actually did want to chase after in life.
I went to my best friend (since 2nd grade + still to this day!) Ann Marie + told her I needed help. In tears, I apologized for all the times + had lied to her + ditched her over the past year. She looked at me, hugged me, + said, “I forgive you.” It was so simple but she meant it + I knew it. She told me over + over again how much she loved me + wanted to help me get through this difficult season. Nothing would change our friendship + I thank God still that He used her SO evidently in those moments of my life to show me who HE really was.
Full of grace. Full of forgiveness. Full of love. ALWAYS there. Never left. Still WANTED to have a relationship with me. It didn’t matter what I had done. God in Ann Marie.
I went back to Spencer Lake Christian Camp later that summer + all of the things I heard the speakers say rung truer than ever before in my heart + head. It did NOT matter what I had done — how bad I screwed up (can I say that 1,000 more times?!), God loved me the same. He was waiting for me with loving, welcoming, + open arms, whenever I was ready to come to Him. After a year of muddling through identity, acceptance, + happiness, I guess I believed that the only form of those things that would truly last had to come from Him. I had heard it but never believed it until then. I was 15 years old + I decided that I wanted to follow Jesus + His teachings.
This is part one of my faith story (it’s really hard to condense this! Almost done, I promise!).
The remaining years of my time in high school consisted of — what I will now call — being a “good person.” I worked hard to get good grades, practiced hard to become a better dancer, + tried my best to be nice to those around me. I felt really happy with all of my “successes” + was thankful for the friends, experiences, + opportunities that life had provided me thus far.
I eventually got accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison + was an excited + eager freshman stepping foot on campus that first fall semester. However, before I knew it, everything in my life seemed to be spiraling out of control. First of all, it felt impossible to get an “A” on any test or assignment I was given; school was SO hard + I felt constantly stressed about my academic performance. Second, no one at UW-Madison knew who I was or cared who I was; I was a number in a system, everyone was smart, + I felt as though I had nothing “special” to offer those around me. Third + finally, my boyfriend of several years + I broke up a couple of months into the semester + I was devastated. It was like one thing after another was stripped out from underneath of my feet + I felt like I was drowning. I was struggling with depression + again, finding my identity as a young woman in this new season of life.
I would say that at this point in my life, faith was definitely important to me, but I was still really confused about what walking with Jesus + being a Christian actually looked like. Work really hard … be nice to people … do the “right” thing … go to church. I was doing all of that, + yet I still felt SO empty inside. I felt lonely + lost after just four or five months on that college campus. I can’t explain it very eloquently, but I was in a really, REALLY dark place.
One night, I decided to attend the weekly meeting for a Christian organization on campus called Cru. Okay, I don’t think I decided, I think God got me there in some amazing, supernatural, divine way because the talk I heard that night about faith changed my life forever. I mean, FOREVER. The speaker shared something along the lines of this: sometimes, God allows things in our life to be taken away (cue good grades, popularity, a relationship) because we are finding our identity + HOPE in those things instead of in Him. How it’s only when those things are gone from our life + we find ourselves in a broken pile of pieces on the floor that we realize He is still there. He ALONE is the only one who will never go away, never fail, never leave. That our identity should be in who we become once we choose to follow Christ … and nothing else.
I was SO far from these truths at that point in my life (let’s be real, I will always struggle with these things until the day I die)! But not only was I finding my worth in how the WORLD viewed me instead of who I was because of Jesus, I was also still trying to EARN Christ’s love + acceptance by doing all of these “good things” + being a “good person.” When I was 15, I had decided to follow Jesus because I was so captivated by His unconditional, never-ending LOVE for me … no matter how messed up I was. But what I didn’t understand was the extent of His GRACE. That ALL I had to do was BELIEVE + ACCEPT that Jesus came to earth to die for my sin + JUNK. That believing He is the Savior + my only way to Heaven for all of eternity after my death is all there is to it. Grace is for all the (millions of times) I am going to STILL screw up, be a jerk … you name it(!!!) … God still loves me. That will never change. And the promise of eternity with Him never goes away because I messed up + wasn’t “being a good person”. That is WHY Jesus came. Because we could never live for God + love others the way He actually calls us to on our own. We will screw it up every time. He looks at the perfect, sinless life of Jesus + his death on the cross … and credits it to ME. I just have to accept Him + believe it to be true.
Like I said in the beginning of this post (which, if you made it all the way through, thank you — I hope it was worth it :)), I just couldn’t not share this because my life is SO different since ACTUALLY understanding what being a “Christian” is. The FREEDOM I find in knowing that God is in control of our lives, He will take care of us + provide us with everything we need, that even if I mess up SUPER bad, the business fails, I hurt someone in a big way … HE WILL be there. He will get me through. And my hope is not in this life but in eternity with HIM in Heaven. I just can’t imagine my life any other way. I really, truly can’t. And I want people to experience what I have experienced if they’re intrigued, Because I was once intrigued. And people poured into me + loved me + helped me learn + figure out faith for myself.
I’m NOT perfect!! Gosh, ask anyone who knows me well! But I AM committed to being an open book + to loving people + to sharing honestly what my story really is. So, there you have it … and you always know where to find me <3 xoxo, M