Guest Blogger - Amy Swanson
I don’t have many memories as a child, but I do remember those sunny Sunday, Florida mornings, going to church, with my mom and sister. The songs, the games, the friends, the week away at summer camp with our youth group, where I accepted Jesus at 12 years old.
Shortly after, when I was 13, life threw us a curve ball that resulted in my mom moving myself and my sister across the country, to Middletown, CT. Away from my dad, family and friends. The circumstances of the time, added to my growing angst as a teenager, lead to some intense emotions I wasn’t prepared to deal with.
As an adult, now, I can understand why we made the move. I can also appreciate that it was the best for our small family. But, then, it wasn’t my idea of a good time.
We found Fellowship Church, petty quickly, from what I remember. Much different 23 years ago, meeting in that quaint chapel, but there was something familiar about those hard pews.
It wasn’t long, however, before I declined the Sunday mornings spent with my mother and sister. It was no longer fun for me; missing my friends, missing my family, missing the way things used to be (long before LP ). And though I now love myself a fired up Pastor Steve message, it was quite different than what I was used to.
Let’s fast forward the 10 years I spent drifting away from any relationship with God. Now, that can look quite different for many people. For me, it looked like chronic depression and substance abuse. It was a dark time in my life, so much so, 10th grade was spent on suicide watch and in and out of “treatment”.
I figured out pretty quickly how to play the system, so when my dad died in ‘99, (the summer I turned 17), I was in a pretty bad place. As I look back, not much to be proud of. Because of this, I believe it was the power of prayer, from my mom and grandparents, which brought me back, to the side of Life. Fellowship Church would be the vehicle that got me there.
It was after I had been a single mother for a few years, gotten married, and was pregnant with my 2nd son, that I found myself back at church. God was pulling on my heartstrings in a fierce way, leading up to that point. The emptiness I was feeling could no longer be ignored. God was slowly getting my attention, and I quickly recognized He was placing certain people in my life, in unexpected ways, for that very reason.
By that point, I had been at “the bottom of the barrel” a few times. Each time, God showed up and met me where I was. This was no different. It was the beginning of what’s turned into quite the spiritual journey.
Slowly but surely, as I got more involved with FC, my eyes were opened to the mess I had made. And it was a doozy. Only by the Grace of God, am I able to share that mess as my message today.
Have you ever started to clean something, only to quickly discover it was filthier than you thought going into it? That was me; layers and layers of dirt, found in my broken relationships, hurt and resentment, and lies from the devil, I had come to believe. I didn’t like what I was seeing.
I am beyond thankful God doesn’t look at the outside, however, sees the eternal potential. It was then, He began chipping away at me, and the mess I had brought before Him; one crusty layer at a time.
That’s one of the things I love about Fellowship Church, how imperfect everyone is! I never felt judged or out of place bringing my baggage through the doors. And the building certainly didn’t burn down as I entered, like some would think! Nothing but love, support and gentle guidance from my new friends.
As a result of hearing the weekly messages, serving as much as I could, and attending the growth groups, I had been compelled to continue praying for God’s will to be done, in my life. Little did I know what God was up to, at that time, but I did know I couldn’t do it on my own. And now I understand that we were never meant to! We’re all in it together, doing this thing called life.
I was starting to feel better than I had, in years. However, I continued to battle this constant nagging of unsettledness. Sure, I was nowhere near the mess I was, but that didn’t stop God from continuing to peel back the layers. I was praying for full healing and true transformation. It got uncomfortable, real quick! But God didn’t stop when it became uncomfortable, He was just getting started.
I think that’s where many of us fall off the transformation wagon. Moving forward seems impossible when you find yourself in a pressure cooker that makes your world crumble. That’s exactly the situation I found myself in. What did I expect? I was asking for the impossible in my life, and sure enough, God responded by moving the mountains... and you better believe, mountains aren’t moved without a little pressure.
The result of bold faith and bold prayers is rarely nice and neat! You have 2 choices, when you find yourself in the midst of these growing pains.... You can choose a no matter what faith, and walk through the fire, to get where freedom lies. OR you can choose to stay in the familiar, even panic and retreat in fear, from the pressure. By choosing the latter, we ultimately remain stuck and miss out on all the goodness God has planned for us (which happens to be bigger and better than anything we could conjure up!).
Fellowship Church played a key role in my walk THROUGH the fire. The serving opportunities, the relevant messages, the growth groups, the friends I’ve made, these things have made it possible to be standing here today. Victorious. You see, I made the conscious decision to choose faith, and continue walking. And that meant to keep going, no matter how hot or tough it got. But I wasn’t alone.
In the fall of 2014, October 3rd, to be exact, God prompted a layer of scales to fall from my eyes. That’s exactly what it felt like too. What stand before me was the largest giant I had faced, to date. I remember the moment, clearly. For the first time, I saw just how dysfunctional and abusive (emotionally/psychologically) my marriage had been, from day 1, really. I also saw, just how sick it was making me. I was devastated by this realization, especially since we were 2 weeks away from our 7th wedding anniversary. It caused a legitimate mental breakdown on my part. We had officially entered crisis mode.
Let me continue by saying this... no one is perfect. We’re really just a planet of broken people, trying to figure it all out, doing the best we know how. What I have since learned, is God really works in mysterious ways, to save His children. All of them. Hope should never be lost, in any situation. As long as you’re breathing, God isn’t done yet! That goes for you, your family and the people you love, as well. And remember, it only takes the faith of a mustard seed to move a mountain. Which is great, because that’s all I had, at the time.
Over the next year, life got pretty ugly. I needed additional medication, just to function. And by function, I mean not drive my car off a cliff. The tears, the anxiety, the hurt... I cringe as I write this. Again, I had 2 choices, cling to God and His promises, or act by my own power.
What my own power brought to the table was divorce, anger, blame, and hate, followed by running far far away. I was so confused. The one feeling I couldn’t shake, however, was that of needing to be sure God played a part in any decision made, before running for the hills (or in my case, Caribbean).
After months of weekly therapy sessions, numerous trips to my doctor, and confiding in friends, not a single person would have blamed me for leaving my husband. But, I needed to begin relying on what God thought and what He was saying. Again, that’s were Fellowship Church came in.
It was about that time I was driving home from an FC friend’s house. I had started listening to K-Love radio station as a way to drown out my own drastic thoughts, so of course, it was blasting as I drove. A song came on, one I had heard 100 times, but this time a lyric I had never caught before, stuck out to me like a flashing siren... it said “The Battle is the Lord’s”. God was reaching out to me, meeting me where I was, once again. He was speaking to me through music, through my Christian friends, and through Pastor Andy and his messages.
I continually prayed, Lord, if it’s your will, show me the way out! I want OUT! I remember meeting with Pastor Andy, essentially asking for permission to end my marriage. I was miserable. Even so, the open door, I kept praying for, wasn’t appearing. Even if my Pastor supported the idea of leaving a bad situation, I knew I couldn’t give up, just yet. So I decided, once again, I wasn’t going to move until God said move.
I was hurting. I was confused. I was under so much pressure; the screams in my head were deafening. It got to the point where I couldn’t even coherently pray anymore. My prayers had become the echo of my screams of frustration, literally. All I could do was cry.
I was in the deepest darkest hole I had ever been in. As far as getting to church on Sundays, it was only my commitment to serve, and run our coffee bar, that got me there every week. It was honestly a saving grace, because, in the past, my normal response would be to run. Run and hide. But this time was different. It had to be.
If you ask me, the best way to activate God’s work in your life, would be to simply show up. There are times in our lives that that is literally all we can do. The great thing is, God’s strength kicks in where our own ends.
Instead of retreating into myself and shutting down completely, God, again, was pulling me towards Him. Speaking directly to me, through the people at Fellowship. That never would have happened from under my covers.
Sometime in the spring of 2015, as the result of my continued faith and participation, God showed me what the next step was. It was after another conversation with an FC friend that I changed my prayer, one night. It quickly turned into another one of those moments I will forever remember.
That particular night, I was lying in bed, reading my Youversion App devotional. I started with the shortest, yet most powerful, prayer I have ever prayed. It was 3 words long. Words I didn’t even want to say. But God was showing me the door and I couldn’t ignore what He was asking me to do. So, as quietly and as quickly as I could (hoping God wouldn’t hear my words) I prayed, “Lord, Change My Heart”. Gulp.
What happened next, was nothing short of a miracle. This year long devotional, I had been reading for months, having never discussed relationships, proceeded to wreck me, by changing my heart, in a matter of 5 minutes. The verses I read that night answered my questions. ALL of them. I knew what I had to do.
Do you know what God told me, right then and there?? That I was Jesus in my home, and quite possibly the only Jesus my family would encounter. I was also reminded to love the un-loveable and share the same grace I had been shown. God then revealed to me, in His word, that as long as my husband wanted to remain married, it was my job to stay. God’s will for me was to be HIS hands and feet, to my husband and to my children, because, God wanted to heal and save them, too.
Woah. I had goosebumps from head to toe. I was so full of the spirit at that point, I ran downstairs. There, I confronted my husband, the guy I hadn’t spoken to over the last 6 months, outside of brief, manipulation driven, emotionally charged arguments... I told him what God just told me. I said, “I don’t want to be here, but God is going to fix us.” And for the first time, I believed it.
Divorce was officially off the table, and that’s when restoration began. Looking back, it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But through continued therapy, and Christian council found in the relationships and opportunities at Fellowship Church, this work in progress has indeed made progress.
Trusting in God and being obedient to Him, will lead to transformation. I’ve also learned it’s not just one area of your life He wants to transform. God wants to make you WHOLE.
Because of this, there are many more chapters to this story. Just like you, I am a continued work.
Here is a quick recount of how God has shown up, in my transformation story, once I let Him.... And it’s not what I expected.
Little did I know, at the time, God had brought me through the fire, refined me and strengthened me, for the furnace that laid ahead. This fire was primed to be even hotter than the one I had barely escaped, with burns still smoldering and beginning to heal.
But I didn’t know that yet.
Later that summer, upon reconciliation with my husband, we became pregnant. I was truly so happy to have been blessed with the baby I never thought we were going to have. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was good.
At the same time, God was using me in ways I never could have imagined. One day in particular stands out. As I was leaving VBC (vacation Bible Camp), where I run the snack station, every year, God placed me to again be His hands and feet, this time to a stranger. A stranger I would only know for about 5 minutes before she would lose consciousness and not wake up.
It was a devastating experience, for all involved in the accident that day. By the grace of God, I was able to bring comfort and peace to the woman, who had moments before, been nothing more than an innocent pedestrian... I held her and prayed over her as she lay losing her life on the hot asphalt, that day.
Upon returning to my post, at VBC that afternoon, I was surrounded by prayer and love from my FC family. When all I felt was confusion and pain, I was reminded that God doesn’t waste a hurt and I was ever so thankful that I could share God’s love with a stranger that needed it. I was equally thankful that my church was there to hold me, once again, when I needed it most.
It was a traumatic experience for me. I still struggle with the sights and sounds and smells of the day. But life moves on, right? The following week, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. It’s important to note, I was simultaneously in the middle of withdrawals and detoxing from medications that are harmful for pregnant woman and their babies. I had never been so sick in my life. Again, I needed to draw on the strength of Jesus, as I questioned the meaning of everything I was going through. Wasn’t it supposed to be getting easier, not harder? What was God up to, now?
I quickly learned the answer to that question. We were taking the long road. The road to healing and transformation that went to the core of my being. You know, the place that is heavily guarded by cement walls and isn’t privy to any one? Yeah, there. God wanted that place too.
The road got pretty bumpy. I was at my most vulnerable and trying to be a good Christian at the same time. I say that because we were then sharing our home with a friend who had his own fair share of issues. He was now living on my couch, sometimes with his son, and I could no longer cope.
Seeing and hearing my sweet baby’s heart beat made it all worth it, though. So, I did the best I could and extended my home to someone who needed it. But it wasn’t easy.
2 months later, it all came crashing down when the baby’s heart stopped beating and I began to miscarry. Writing this, I can’t even formulate a sentence to share what that did to me. So I won’t. It was hard. And as you can imagine, quite a test of our still very fragile marriage.
Honestly, the 6 months that followed are a blur. I had to continue reminding myself, through the loss, through getting laid off (yep, that too), through the confusion, it was and is, still in God’s hands. Once again, my Fellowship family has been there to hold me and pray with me. I’ve found so much comfort in those moments.
That was nearly 2 years ago. I lost my identity in that time, but God was wanting to show me who I really was. Who I thought I was, was now nothing more than a pile of rubble. It took quite the wrecking ball to take down that cement wall. And today, God continues to show me who I am, in HIM, as the pieces are strategically put back into place.
Today, I sit here, with my rainbow baby, a beautiful little girl, and my heart is full.
Is everything perfect? Far from it (that’s a story for another time). We’ve simply been carried to the next giant on the path. But we’re stronger and better prepared for it, having gone through what we have. After all, it’s in the valley where roots are nourished and an abundance of life takes place.
All glory to goes to Him as I approach this next season. God’s plans are far greater than anything I could have dreamed up, so I will continue to follow Him. I’m excited to see what’s in store. Thank you Fellowship for holding my hand through the process and teaching me how to choose HIM. Here’s to another 40 years of being the hands and feet of Jesus =)