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Lauren's Story

My story is not one where I never knew God, was saved, and from that point on led a life on fire in my faith. I was born into a Christian family, baptized as an infant, grew up in church, & was surrounded with faith-filled role models. God was active in my life. By the time I graduated high school, I was so sure in my faith, had found a passion for mission work & even made a vow to remain pure until marriage. I was so ready to start college & trust in what He had planned for me.

I moved 12 hours away to a big SEC school in Mississippi where I knew no one. I immediately joined a church, multiple groups, & a bible study through my sorority. I held true to my beliefs when my studies got hard, I made an effort to surround myself with like minded & uplifting people, & held steadfast to my vow to God in the midst of sexual temptation. Halfway through my freshman year, I went out for a “girls night” that somehow ended with us finding ourselves in the off campus apartment of some upperclassmen. That night, I was a victim to a sexual assault that took my virginity. It ruined me. I didn’t understand how God could let something like this happen to me when I was doing everything “right”, I was devastated that I would now never be enough for someone because I was broken, used, & unpure. I resented my God & even more so, I resented myself.

After that night, I hit a downward spiral. I stopped making church & my faith a priority, rarely looked at my bible, & even went so far as to take my purity ring to the local pawn shop. Within a year, at 19 years old, I was taking 6 different medications to “fix” my mental health issues. I was battling a mood disorder, crippling depression, severe anxiety, and attention issues. I was so lost. I had no purpose, isolated myself, & was constantly so close to giving up on everything, including living.

The summer following my sophomore year, I fell into a group that introduced me to a life of partying, drugs, sex, & alcohol. I became addicted to the highs these sins brought me because it allowed me to feel something again. I continuously turned to them when I felt I was lacking purpose, I was unloved, or that something was missing in my life, which was almost daily.

The following semester, the start of my Junior year, I dropped out of college. My parents gave me the option of moving back home to Tampa where they would help me get my life back on track or staying in Mississippi & losing their support entirely. So caught up in my vices, I chose to stay, lost all financial support from my parents, & put a serious strain on our relationship.

The following January, within 2 weeks of this decision to stay in Mississippi, at 20 years old, I was arrested for a DUI, spent the night in jail, & was then assigned months of probation. Having no one to turn to, I turned my attention to a broken man, who’s empty promises were enough to keep me from losing it all. For the next 9 months of my life, I was exposed to constant verbal, emotional, & physical abuse. I was so codependent on him, with nowhere else to go & the unattainable goal that if I loved him enough, I could heal him. Because of my probation, I had cut out my daily use of drugs & alcohol & even had a new job at a local law firm on top of being a preschool teacher, I thought things were taking a turn for the better. But after just a few months, my spiral continued. After a random spur of physical abuse, I was confined to my apartment for 2 weeks, unable to face the outside world with bruises covering my face & body. I lost both my jobs & the few remaining friends I had left. In those 2 weeks, my depression hit me far worse than it ever had before.

Shortly after, I celebrated my 21st birthday alone, I finally felt like I had truly hit rock bottom & something had to change. I was stuck in an abusive relationship 12 hours away from my family, had no job or source of income, & really no purpose. That same month, I ended up going back to church for the first time in over a year, I started reflecting on where I was in my life & where I wanted to go. I made the decision to start back at the local community college & within less than a week started working two new jobs. Yet, with all the positive choices I was making, I still could not convince myself to leave this man who continued to bring me physical & emotional pain.

I found out I was pregnant just weeks after deciding to try to get my life back on track. I was defeated. I had no idea what to do. Once again I questioned God, wondering “Why me?” After months of little to no communication, I reached out to my family & close friends I had pushed away. Aside from one person, everyone’s advice was the same, “abortion is your best option”.

I was heart broken. I had always dreamt of becoming a mother & knew it would be one of the best moments in my life. Regardless of the circumstances, how could I give that up? My child’s father made it very clear he did not want the baby, yet still, no part of me could see a scenario where I went through with an abortion. At this point in my mental state, I knew if I did have an abortion, the guilt alone would cause me to lose any hope I had left & the thought of that was terrifying. I put off telling everyone in my life my decision & was convinced I could make a family with this man who wanted nothing to do with me or my unborn baby. I finally got the courage to talk to him about my decision to keep the baby & it ended in yet another disagreement. This disagreement quickly turned physical & he reacted by trying to shove me down the stairs of our home.

That night caused something to switch inside me, he was no longer just endangering my life, but now my baby’s. Even at only 2 months pregnant, my motherly instinct kicked in & the only thought running through my mind was to protect my little miracle. In that moment, I had stopped looking at my pregnancy as an unplanned mistake & started looking at it as a blessing. Finding out I was pregnant had unknowingly given me something to fight for & a sense of purpose I hadn’t realized I needed. That same night, was the first time I called the police on him & he was finally arrested after months of domestic violence.

Following this night, my mindset began to change. I did stay after he was released from jail & found myself in a constant state of panic, unable to eat, throwing up, & losing weight even while growing a child. I assumed it was morning sickness, but looking back now, I know it was a physical reaction to fearing that at any second he would lash out again. During the final conversation we had in person, he gave me an ultimatum, either I get an abortion or he would have someone “take care of both me & the baby.” I remember looking into his eyes & seeing something within him I had never before & I knew he was serious. In that moment, my hope we could someday be a family was lost.

As soon as he left, I called my Dad, told him everything & asked him if he would come help me move out. My Dad drove the 12 hours from Tampa through the night, packed up as much of my stuff as we could fit between our cars, & within 24 hours I had left Mississippi & the relationship behind for good. Moving back to Tampa, I had nothing. My savings had been spent paying out the remainder of my lease, I had no degree, no job opportunities, & no plan on how I was going to raise my child as a single mom.

Announcing my pregnancy to my family & friends brought judgment, disappointment, & even isolation. Multiple people in my life did not accept my son & the circumstances that had led to my pregnancy. It was extremely difficult going through that negativity alone while also trying to mentally & physically prepare for motherhood. I had always pictured pregnancy being one of the most joyful experiences of my life yet all I felt was shame & guilt for being excited to bring my child into this world after what I had gone through. I struggled with not having someone to share the special moments with & constantly wondered if I had made the right decision by leaving the relationship & keeping the baby. I honestly worried my son would be a constant reminder of his father & all the pain he had put me through.

On March 6th, 2019, a little after midnight, my entire world was turned upside down. I welcomed my son, Lincoln, into the world 3 weeks early. As they placed my sweet angel baby on my chest, all I could think was “Thank you God”. I hadn’t thought much about my lack of a faith during my pregnancy, I had mainly focused on just making it through each day. Yet, I had found myself praying throughout my labor for a healthy baby & continuing to pray everyday since then that God would protect & watch over my son. In a way, I felt like I owed it to God to acknowledge His role in bringing Lincoln into my life. My son had somehow given me the strength to leave my toxic relationship when I had thought I was stuck. I knew, without a doubt, my pregnancy & now my child, were a gift from God. Internally though, I continued to have trouble overcoming my guilt & fear of judgement that held me back from seeking community in my faith.

After months of wanting to go back to church but battling with anxiety, I decided one of my New Years Resolutions was going to be to start looking for a new church home where I could feel comfortable. Shortly after the New Year, one of my childhood best friend’s, Alex, & her fiancé decided to move back to Tampa & were looking for a new church to attend as well.

Within a week, I unexpectedly met someone who attended & served at a local church i had been eyeballing. While I was asking him questions & explaining my story to him, my friend Alex randomly sent me a text about how she saw this church on Instagram & thought we should give it a try. I honestly laughed! This was one of the first moments that I really felt like God was calling me to this church, as if one person suggesting I try it out wasn’t enough, I now had two & at the same time nonetheless. Even I couldn’t be that blind to see God’s work!

This guy I barely knew then suggested I talk to a friend of his he thought I would connect with, little did I know deciding to meet this friend of his was going to have such an impact on my walk with The Lord. A quick meet up at Starbucks turned into a 3 hour conversation with one of the most God fearing women I have ever met. Meeting Genesys not only gave me hope that I could find community at this church, but also gave me hope by sharing her personal testimony that my past did not define me or my future!

I tried this church that following Sunday. Needless to say, the entire time my body was covered in chills & I felt a sense of belonging I had been lacking. I joined a small group not knowing anyone, but based on the fact that they were using the book “When God Winks At You” & I felt that was fitting because of God sending me consistent signs to give this church a chance. From the first night, these girls made me feel accepted & have given me so much encouragement & support! I am so grateful for them & their friendships.

My first First Wednesday service, the location Pastor spoke about how to “Stay Woke” in faith, which really hit a chord with me because I had been asleep on God for years. Before the message, his wife, prayed over me & had specifically asked God to show me a sign of reassurance. Not only did the whole message resonate with me, but right at the end, the Pastor emphasized that if you thought your calling or purpose was dead, it’s not. He then added specifically “if you thought the word God gave you at church camp as a teenager was dead, it is coming back to life”. I was shocked, the last time I had been on fire in my faith was at my high school church camp. In that moment, I could feel God behind me, I felt Him lay his hand on my shoulder giving me the reassurance that I wasn’t asleep on Him anymore, that my purpose wasn’t dead, & that God still had so much in store for me.That night, with arms raised I gave my life back to Christ, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy & peace I had lacked for years all because I had finally woken up!

Since that night God had made some pretty drastic changes in my life. Though I still do battle with some anxiety, I no longer have to take medication, instead I have turned to God’s word & been able to work through these feelings medication free. The hole in my heart that ached to feel God’s love has been filled & I finally feel complete again.

Shortly after that night, I began feeling called to talk about what I had gone through & share how God had healed me. I interpreted this feeling as a sign to reach out to a counselor, something I had been putting off for quite some time but God had bigger plans for me.

After making the decision to be baptized as a public declaration of my “new beginning”, I was offered the opportunity to share my story publicly, not only through Overcome but through this local church as well. Never in a million years did I think I would bare my scars so openly, but that just goes to show how God’s plan for us is beyond anything we could ever imagine.

The last few months my life has truly been turned upside down. With my eyes opened once again to the light of the Lord, I am able to look back at the past few years & see that God never abandoned me, even when I purposely chose to turn my back on him. That even if you are a devoted Christian who loses your way, He is waiting for you with arms wide open. I have personally experienced that no man or even child’s love can replace the love my Savior has for me. I know now that no sin, no hurt, & no person is greater than God’s forgiveness & His healing because our God is truly a miracle worker!

Without His love I was empty, unfulfilled, & lost. With his love I am whole, intentional, & at peace. Where I felt I had no purpose, God had given me the chance to serve within kids ministry, He has given me motivation to work towards becoming a nurse, & strengthened my desire to be the best mother I can be. Though I know Lincoln & I may face challenges in the future, by trusting in His plan, I am sure we will continue to prosper.

The most important thing God has given me, is the opportunity to share how He has changed my life. By sharing my story & opening up about my struggles I have already had the chance to help others grow in their faith & I know that by sharing how He has drastically changed my life, others may be encouraged to seek His grace. To whoever needs to hear it, there is eternal hope, unconditional love, & overwhelming joy on the other side of struggle. You CAN get through it, God IS here for you, & you are NOT alone!! Your purpose is so much greater than your struggle, all it takes is trusting God wholeheartedly & knowing He is there, holding your hand & leading you to a victory. It may not be an easy road to get there but the best is truly yet to come!

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