I feel a little sentimental today. (Could be hormones, maybe a little).
While texting with a friend about setting our phone’s lockscreen with an encouraging message, (super important to encourage yourself) I began reminiscing about the images I have on my phone. I have two, an encouraging quote for the lock screen and this one for the background.
Most people glancing at this photo will think, “it’s just a happy family on a beach”. Which we were happy, and we were on a beach, but to me, it is so much more. Allow me to explain.
My husband and I view family vacations as something of utmost importance. We are incredibly busy all of the time just doing life, we feel it imperative to stop and take a break as a family, if only just to take a breather for a week or two. This particular photo was taken during our family vacation in June of 2016.
If you look closely, you may catch clues of the bigger picture of what was going on in our lives at that moment. You see, this photo captured a pivotal time in our family. Notice how long my hair was, but still trimmed across the bottom. Notice the attire we are wearing, not modest by UPC standards, but still modest enough if anyone in the church happened to see this picture it could be easily explained away. Notice my husband’s baby looking, beard-free face!
It was during this family vacation we decided to tell our children we were leaving everything and everyone they had ever known. During the fifteen hour drive on the way to Florida, this is the vacation where I shattered the religious views they had always been taught by explaining what God had revealed to their father and I in the last several months. It was pretty much as awful and amazing as it sounds.
To most people, switching churches is not a big deal. To us, we were crossing a line. My husband and I had been raised to believe, if you attend any other church then a oneness apostolic church, you are bound for hell and not walking in “truth”. And if you attend one of these churches after the “truth” had already been “revealed” to you, you are considered a reprobate. We had passed this ideology to our children. We all knew our relationships with both friends and family would drastically change after we were back home and our leaving was made public.
My husband and I cried, my children cried. There were moments of sadness, moments of anger and also moments of extreme excitement of the future. It is difficult to explain all of the emotions we were all experiencing at the same time.
I remember vividly sitting at the pool and on the beach watching my kids play and thinking to myself, church cannot be this easy. Living for God cannot be so easy that there are no “standards” to make sure we looked different on the outside in order to prove to others that we were Christians. Not just Christians, but Apostolic Pentecostal, you know, the highest order of Christians. (Insert eyeroll) I began to realize I had depended solely on my clothing to be witness to my beliefs, not my love for others. Eeek, that stung a little.
Over the next two weeks of vacation, the amount of relief I felt, the burden that was lifted off my shoulders is indescribable. While the move itself and the transition was hard, the freedom and the amount of love and grace I felt from God himself was undeniably present. This decision was not made haphazardly and without much prayer, and if I have ever been led of God at any time in my life, this was it.
This photo is the perfect representation of our transition out of the UPC. And what is sad, funny or just real life is that I didn’t ever post this on social media until a year later. Why? Because at that point in my journey I wasn’t strong enough to handle the silent and potentially not so silent judgement posting this picture would bring.
But you know what? There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. I am still relearning this lesson all the time and every time I look at this picture it is a reminder of how far we all have come.
No longer slaves to condemnation. No longer living our lives to prove to someone else how holy we are. No longer uncertain if we were to die today, God’s grace would surpass any transgressions we had committed since the last time we were able to repent. No longer terrified if I cut my hair God would allow terrible things to happen to my children. God’s grace is sufficient! We are loved by him no matter what we are wearing or how long our hair is! He meets us where we are, and we rise to the occasion because he first loved us!
I don’t know if I could ever change the background of my phone. My kids have changed a lot in the last couple years and my hair is so unhealthy in this picture it should be illegal, but it is our story. Our journey toward spiritual freedom and I want to remember every last second of it.