My journey to faith has been a long one; and so will this post be. I apologise in advance. Or not really. One of he first things you’ll find out about me is that I LOVE to talk. I’ll use that here and turn it into writing.
So, my faith journey. I am now 28 years old and I found God for the very first time about 18 months ago, in September 2016. The crazy thing is, I grew up in church and spent most Sundays there until I was 17. So I guess I’ll start there.
I grew up in the south of The Netherlands (or Holland for most people). My father was raised in the Dutch Reformed church, whereas my Mom was Catholic. As we were living in the south, and the predominant religion there was Catholicism, I was raised a Catholic too. As long as I can remember we would go to our local church, dedicated to St Paul. My parents were active there; my mom did the child and youth services and my dad was treasurer. My elementary school was Catholic as well and had ties to the church. So many of my friends went to church as well. I had a desperate need to belong, to feel included. So, I did what others in my class did and did the complete Catholic thing; I was baptized as a child, I took my communion in my pretty white dress and confirmed my faith around my 12th birthday. When I sat in church there was very little in the service that I could relate to. The stories that were told were just that to me. Stories about people who live so long ago. Looking back I sort of viewed Bible stories in the same light as a fairytale, since any good Disney movie has a lesson to teach.
When I moved on to high school I joined the church choir. The mother of a friend was the conductor and together with my neighbour the three of us became active in a special kind of church service. For several years we would hold monthly services in the style of Taizé, which sounded very inclusive to me. We would all kneel for the entire duration of the service, but had tiny benches over the backs of our legs to sit on. What I enjoyed most about those evenings was the dinner we would have before the service. I remember the services themselves being rather boring and very planned. They had strict structure, like a Catholic service. I found very little relevance for my life in either service. What I did love though, was the singing. Do not let my membership of the choir fool you, I cannot sing a note to save my life. But music soothes my soul. The Taizé style of music was what I needed at the time, simple and repetitive.
Looking back I can honestly say God never played a part in any of that for me. I participated in all of that either because it was implicitly expected of me or because I wanted to belong.
But all that changed when I was 17. I had decided to take a chance and spend a year abroad. I did a high school exchange program and ended up living for 10 months in Lost Creek, West Virginia. I was placed in a lovely, though slightly crazy, host family. I don’t remember if they told me beforehand, but my host family (Bob, Donella and their daughter, Vicki) went to church, TWICE, every Sunday.
So that first Sunday they took me there too. I was a nervous teenager who had just landed the day before, in a foreign country, faced with the reality that I would not see anything I knew for the next 10 months. I was not in a good place, let’s keep it at that. I walk into a small room with pews in three sections. And the first thing I remember seeing is a group of people in a circle up front. They stand around someone and they are swaying back and forth and talking softly. I was partly scared, nervous and curious so I moved closer to hear what they were doing. I was horrified to learn I could not understand a word they were saying because they were not speaking English.
At that moment I burst into tears thinking I had ended up in a cult. Bob, my host dad, comforted me, I remember. I don’t think any explanation they gave my that day sank in, but that night was youth service. Randi and Daniel, our youth pastors, were amazing. What captivated me most was the music. It was so relatable. Modern melodies with Christian lyrics that were relevant for my life.
I learned what church could be like in West Virginia. The people at New Beginnings Church showed me how community works, how to share Faith and love and prayers. The most important thing I learned there however, was a fact I had never learned at home. A fact so basic to Christianity that I still find it hard to believe I never knew until I was 17; Jesus died to forgive me my sin. I learned that there and found it beautiful. The people were beautiful, compassionate, caring and amazing. Everything they did came from a love shown to them on the cross. I truly believe that. But my head was harder to convince back then. I looked at that story of Jesus on the Cross with the same eyes as earlier. I thought of a fairytale. It sounded too good to be true, so it couldn’t be. I wished it were, I hoped it would be, but I didn’t believe it could be.
So after 10 months I left to go back to Holland. In my small town there I knew I would never find a church similar to New Beginnings so I didn’t keep it up. My parents had stopped going to church a long time ago, when our old pastor had retired and they didn’t agree with the new one. Coming back I was conflicted. I didn’t know what I believed, but I knew I wasn’t a Catholic anymore and I left it at that.
And then life happened; I went to college, moved to The Hague. Got my bachelor’s degree and my masters. Found a job and started working. Fast forward to a college reunion in April 2016. I was on the dance floor talking to an old friend and a girl who I had always seen around at college and talked to a little, but didn’t really know that well. Her name is Anne and we clicked. We talked some and she asked, sort of out of the blue if I was interested in going to church sometime with her on Sunday. I said I’d think about it, because honestly I hadn’t thought about anything related to religion or God in roughly 10 years.
City Life Church
But the thought nagged me a bit and wouldn’t leave me alone. So I decided to go that immediate Sunday, because I knew that if I didn’t I would probably chicken out and not go at all. So I texted Anne and told my parents I wouldn’t be home that weekend.
My very first service at City Life Church was an experience. A full band with 4 singers, back-up singers, drums, guitars; the whole shebang. The music was awesome. Hillsong of that means anything to you. They also had a guest speaker from Indonesia that day. His topic, I remember clearly, was generosity. My thoughts during the sermon swayed from ‘I like what he is saying’ to ‘Does it have to be about money?!?’
But the people, the atmosphere and the music felt good. That’s the only way I could describe it at the time. I felt good there. (Seriously as I typed the word good there, auto-correct changed it to God!!).
I also felt like a hypocrite. I didn’t know what I believed or if I was even interested in believing anything. But gradually the message of unconditional love and warmth and forgiveness settled in and I started to think how awesome it would be if it were true. So I was still in fairytale mode.
But at CLC I had heard about this course called Alpha; an introduction into Christian faith and a place to discuss it openly. I signed up for it the next time it started which was September. Again, I loved the atmosphere there. I could be honest about my gears and rational brain having trouble with faith and believing without seeing. We talked and people felt similarly.
About three sessions in the topic of discussion was forgiveness. The Sunday before was the first time I had consiously decided to open my heart to God. Until that point I had doubted if I was good enough, but someone at church had said not to wait for when that happened. God doesn’t work on the ‘good enough’; God works on the broken to make them whole. So I opened up and nothing happened. At least not right then and there. But God came to work the next Alpha. During the discussion on forgiveness I felt Him. He hugged me and let me know that I could forgive myself, because He had done that already.
And then I knew. But knowing doesn’t make life perfect. So in my other blogs I’ll take about my stumbles and how I see God at work in them, how I keep faith and where I go when I don’t have any.