Most of our battles are won and lost in our minds. Whether it’s the first day of school, a playoff football game, the proposal, securing the impossible client or going for your dream, we have several options. But no matter which one we go for, the most important choice we will make is whether to act in strength or not.
I have talked about writing a book and launching a platform to write and speak into the lives of others as long as I could dream. But something broke in me about a year ago. A friend shared his story of redemption in a series at church and it sparked a deep inspiration for me to do the same.
I began writing. One page turned into ten. Ten pages turned into 100. Before I knew it, I had more than 100,000 words of content. And then I talked to my editor. I started talking about it. People began to pray for and about it. Other people began to believe in the dream even more surely than I did. As they dreamed with me, my dreams started becoming a reality
Thoughts turned into steps. How? Because I chose strength.
When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Moses questioned God. I am no better. I have known my entire life God has called me to this purpose. And yet, every single day, I wake up and question if God is sure about choosing me. Maybe so-and-so would be better to write this book and share this story.
And every single time, God might as well put His hand on my shoulder and tell me, “This is a special assignment for you. And you only. By not trusting Me and taking the steps, you aren’t just missing out on My plan for you but you are causing someone else to miss out. I didn’t bring you to this point in your life just so you could say you survived Hell on earth. If you never do another thing as long as you live, you have to write this book and tell this message. Nobody else can do this assignment.”
It is hardly ever easy but I choose strength everyday. I choose to keep taking steps toward the dream. So far, God has proven Himself faithful every step of the way.
As we continue to work on the book, my priorities are authenticity and progress.
The message God has given me is about finding your place in your Father’s house and living confidently to be all you are created and called to be. It’s a story about authenticity. I tell you that because I will always strive to be genuine with you. There is no secret blueprint anywhere I am following on writing, speaking or building my brand. It’s just me, being ME. Some days might look dramatically spectacular. Other days might be mundane and empty. I’m human. Both exist in my life. I promise. Being authentic is only possible because I choose strength.
One thing I have learned so much about this last year is enjoying the process. As long as I am moving forward, that’s progress. It’s true in the gym, in relationships, in our jobs and in the pursuit of our dreams. Moving forward requires us to choose strength. Some days, that might be that I wrote 100 more words or secured one more subscriber on my website. Other days, it might look like book launch day or my first major speaking gig. No matter what the day looks like, my goal is to make progress every single day. Choosing strength creates the opportunity and appreciation for progress.
I would love to roll this website out as a finished product and it already be perfect. That isn’t happening. Why not? Because I am choosing strength. The truth is this whole thing is still a massive work-in-progress. I choose to take you guys along for the ride. Be a part of the process with me. What does that look like?
My website will change. As I create more content and get feedback from you guys, I will constantly strive for valuable content and efficient delivery.
I need your help. I will never pay for digital engagement. That means the brand has to grow organically. Subscribe. Like. Comment. Follow. Share. Tag. Retweet. Forward. Whatever you do to engage in conversations online, do it.
Expect progress, not perfection. But that goes without saying, right?
I was standing in church on a Sunday night a few months ago when these words poured over my heart. It was the only prayer I could pray for weeks. It kept me awake at night.
“What is more? What does that mean, God?”
It went on for months. I laid awake and wondered what on earth I was asking God for. I love my life. Why would I ever want to change it?
The truth is I didn’t. I don’t. But God does. He’s so eager to give me more, but….
Why hasn’t He yet? I could always use more of His strength, power, wisdom, patience, kindness, love, etc. Bring it on, God.
And then a few weeks ago, it hit me. I sat straight up in bed at 3:31am.
“How am I supposed to give you more, Felicia? Where do you have room for more?”
But God…I LOVE my life. Please don’t ask me to give up something I love.
Whatever lesson you need to teach me, I promise I’ll learn it the easy way. I promise.
(Yeah right. I’ve never learned anything in my whole life the easy way.)
I have argued with God. I have tried to get Him to tell me what I’m giving up my precious life that I love for. “No deal,” God said.
“You either trust Me or you don’t. I’m asking you to give up some things you love for something you love more, which is MY plan for you.”
Studying God’s character is a lifelong journey to even scratch the surface of it. But I do know a few basics from reading His word.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,” – Ephesians 3:20
“…Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9
It’s in moments when I want to question God’s intentions that I am reminded of these truths. He has never failed me yet and I know He won’t.
Satan knows I’m fighting this battle right now so He immediately whispered the lie in my ear that maybe I shouldn’t write my book. It is taking up a lot of my time, isolating me and forcing me to face a lot of things I never thought I’d share with 5 people, let alone 5 trillion. (Because when you write a book, you might as well assume that everyone on the planet now and forever will read it.)
Satan has told me to not be that vulnerable with the world. He’s told me I should be spending the hours I’m pouring into content into people. He’s even taken me back to fifth grade when my teacher told me I suck at writing. And to the ministry leader who laughed at me when I started writing a book in high school and asked, “who do you think would read a book you write?”
He almost won. I almost let him win. I almost called my editor a few weeks ago and said, “Hey Allison, now is not the time. Maybe later.”
I tried one last thing though. I started writing with worship music playing in the background. And I started praying. Like a lot. Like on my knees. Completely surrendered to God as I asked God for wisdom and direction.
Last Wednesday morning during prayer service at church, God spoke to me. I sat down on the ground, closed my eyes and FELT His embrace. And in that moment, I knew the book is not going anywhere but onto bookshelves and Kindle apps everywhere. I can’t wait to share with the world about my journey of finding my place in my Father’s house.
If you know anything about my story, you know fatherlessness is an understatement. But the reality is I always had a Father – I just hadn’t found my place in His house yet.
We win when we worship.
But guys…it gets better.
Because God didn’t create us to do life alone. He brings people in our lives at just the right time to do and say the things we need at just the right time. Tonight, I was talking to a friend and he mentioned my book tour. I was standing in the middle of the street when I got that text and just stared at the screen until a car behind me honked its’ horn. (Oops!) Book tour? Wait? Yeah…book tour! I’ve dreamed of writing a book for more than two decades. I’ve started writing a book probably ten times. I’ve read a couple thousand books in my lifetime. I have been on book launch teams. I’ve read and written about the book launching process. NEVER ONCE did it occur to me that I might have a book tour.
Because I’m human. And I don’t think like God does. (Or apparently like my friend does but ya know…). In that moment, God used a friend to remind me that He has immeasurably more in store for me than I can even imagine. But in order to prepare for the next season, I have to be willing to give up and let go of some of my current season. It means glancing at life and gazing at God. It means trusting God in the waiting. It means being okay with margin.
“Okay God. I’m ready. Let’s go.”
**Allison, if you’re reading this (which I know you are), get ready. We are going for an adventure of a lifetime! #CarterWritesBooks
About four months ago, I sat in a doctor’s office at Vanderbilt Eye Institute and heard some devastating news. After a few weeks of tests and scans and different opinions, my retina specialist walked in, pulled up a chair and gave me the monologue that I replayed in my head every day for the next three months.
Here’s the key phrases:
“retinal detachments in both eyes” // “inadvisable to operate” // “hemorrhaging in both eyes” // “prepare to lose all or most of your vision within three months”
If I’m honest, I freaked out initially. I seemed pretty chill on the outside but I was a little out of sorts on the inside. I felt so lonely, scared and angry. I struggled with why. But then I had an encounter with God I will never forget.
I was standing in church one morning and Bethel Music’s “Reckless Love” began to play through the speakers. As our worship team led, I lost sensation in my knees. I struggled to whisper out the words, “It chases me down. It fights til I’m found. Leaves the ninety-nine.” In that moment, I wanted to believe that. I wanted to believe that God was doing something I just couldn’t see. I was also really scared. The very moment I felt a tear form in my eye, I turned around and left the building. I practically ran out and around to the alley in the back of our church. I leaned against the concrete wall and slid to the ground. And for the first time since the news, I bawled my eyes out.
I could still hear my church family inside singing the words to my all-time favorite worship song and it almost felt like God was using them to reassure me audibly that His love really is overwhelming, never-ending and reckless. It took me a couple minutes to gain composure. But once I did, I began to pace up and down that alley and chat with God. I agreed that He knew what He was doing and that if me losing my vision would somehow reach someone far from God, I would agree it was all worth it. I also asked if there was any other way, please break this diagnosis in such a way that only He could get all the honor, glory and praise for it.
My resolve that morning was, “No matter what, I will praise you.” From that day on, I did. I woke up every morning and thanked Him for allowing me to see that day. I never let it get the best of me again. I made a conscious decision to live every day like I was able to see because I could. And I continued to praise God for the miracle I knew He was going to perform in my life. Many of my friends and family prayed for and with me day in and day out. So did other people from churches from across the country. Actually, many of those people are still praying for my vision. I somehow always had a peace that other people thought I was crazy for.
I went back to see my retina specialist about a month ago. The cracks in the walls of my retinas had healed up completely and the hemorrhaging had ceased. The retinas had not torn or detached any more in three months. And my vision tested at about the same, maybe a little less than three months prior.
“Your vision won’t get any better, but it shouldn’t get much worse either.”
I believe God still performs miracles. I believe when He said, “It is finished” on the cross, He was just getting started. I believe God could say the word and I could have perfect 20/20 vision, which I have never had in my life. I also believe if He doesn’t, I am still a living miracle and testament to His goodness and grace. I believe in the power of His name. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of my Heavenly Father.
I think most of us are looking for God to show up in our lives in one way or another. I know I spent most of my life looking for Him to just show up. I had it all wrong though. God is already there and He’s just waiting on us to show up and trust Him. He wants to perform miracles in our lives. He wants to use us as displays of His love and redemption. All we have to do is show up and say, “No matter what, I will praise You.”
It’s Easter week, which means my heart is about to jump out of my chest. There are so many reasons why Easter is my favorite week of the year.
If you know me well, you have heard about the Saturday night Easter invitation I very reluctantly accepted seven years ago. I had been deeply hurt by the church in the past. I was determined to not let my heart feel that pain again. I told my friends “no” several times before I said “yes.” I walked in full of skepticism and doubt. I walked out curious and yearning for more. Today, my life is completely different because I said yes to that invitation.
But there’s more to the story really. Two years ago, a ministry leader saw something in me and trusted me to try “owning” some aspects of planning and preparation for Easter services. It was nothing extravagant but here’s why it matters. When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time serving at my church. I was there so much that I had a key to the place. But a few years after I left that church, I screwed up. I made some colossal mistakes that I honestly believed disqualified me from ever serving in church again, and certainly from being trusted with any amount of responsibility. But God doesn’t disqualify us from His Kingdom work. He designed the church to be a place that welcomes and utilizes broken people. Two years ago this week, I got to step a little further into ministry and see more of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at my church that creates an experience like I had five years before when I stepped into Cross Point for the very first time. Two years ago, I understood a little more about second chances.
This part of my story takes me back to John 13. Jesus is about to be crucified and will conquer death. I don’t know about you but if I knew I was about to die a brutal and humiliating death, I don’t think I would be on my hands and knees washing the feet of my followers. I mean, He was about to die for them. Is that not enough?
Thank goodness Jesus doesn’t think like I do. The King of Heaven and Earth submitted Himself humbly to the lowliest of tasks. In this day and age in the Jewish culture, this task was reserved for the lowest of servants. And if you had a good relationship with your servants, you might even hire a Gentile to come wash the feet of your guests at a dinner party.
He washed James’ and John’s feet, even though their motives weren’t always pure.
He washed Matthew’s feet, even though his past should have disqualified him from being a follower of Jesus.
He washed Thomas’ feet, even though he was full of doubt.
He washed Peter’s feet, even though he would commit the greatest sin of all less than 24 hours later when he denied Jesus three times.
He even washed Judas’ feet, even though he had already betrayed Jesus.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?”
This is a question I feel like Jesus asks me often. I didn’t do anything to earn God’s grace, which means I can’t do anything to fall out of His grace. I feel like He’s looking at me sometimes and just has that look on His face like, “Really Felicia? You really think you’re powerful enough to undo what I have done for you?”
Another thing you know about me is that I love serving at my church. If they would let me, I might just live there. But every tiny little thing I get to do for my church is a reminder for me that God’s love and grace is infinite. It’s also a reminder to me that Jesus washed my feet and then died on a cross and conquered death so that I would go and wash another’s feet. With great privilege comes great responsibility. The moment I accepted His love, I became responsible for sharing my story with others. It is up to me to share the gift I have and wash someone else’s feet.
This week, that is as simple as inviting people to come hear the message of freedom and redemption at my church this weekend. This past weekend, one of our pastors reminded us this week that it isn’t enough to sing worship songs of praise and gratitude. Out of that gratitude, a commission is born. That commission is to go out and spread the message of His love with a lost and dying world who is in desperate need for a God who brings hope and redemption.
So here’s my prayer for this week. Will you pray this with me?
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your perfect love that gives second chances and redeems broken hearts. Thank you for loving me enough to wash my feet and serve me even though I was nothing but a wretched sinner. Thank you for gracing me with a place where it was okay to not be okay, and a community that wouldn’t let me stay that way. Thank you for choosing to use me to help give someone else hope and redemption. Lord, I beg you to break my heart for what breaks yours. I pray for divine appointments this week. I pray you will continue to interrupt my life this week and give me your eyes to see your people. I pray you will bring so many people into our church and the churches in our community that there is not room enough to seat them. I pray for overflow parking and seating areas to overflow. I pray for hearts to be stirred and chains to break. I pray for legacies to be forever changed and stories to be rewritten. I pray for ears to be opened and for souls to be harvested. I pray for a hedge of protection around our pastors and church staffs and their families as the enemy prowls around looking to steal, kill and destroy. I pray for every volunteer in every church that their hearts would be full of your love and joy. I pray for children and students to find safety, comfort and unconditional love within kids ministry walls. I pray for musicians and pastors to be your mouthpiece and to lead and preach with your divine guidance. God, I pray for my heart. I pray that I would appreciate the still small moments in-between the chaos and excitement to understand exactly what you sent your Son to do, and that you loved me enough to rescue me from myself, in spite of myself. Lord, thank you. Thank you for loving me enough so that I could know and understand that I am enough. Thank you for bringing Heaven to Earth and for exchanging your righteousness for my sins. Thank you for making me a coheir with Christ and for declaring me in your royal priesthood. And thank you for moving me into such a genuine people with such a raw and tenacious desire to see our city break out in revival. Help me to be more diligent and to know that every moment, every conversation counts in making Heaven more crowded. And in your most powerful and precious name, Amen.
If you’re wondering where you’re welcome this weekend – whether you need a place to heal or you just yearn for a greater understanding of your purpose in this world or you’re desperate for community – whatever the case may be, you are welcome at my church. No matter what your story is, no matter how far from God you are, no matter what you have done or where you have been – you are welcome at Cross Point. I say that with confidence because I am a living testimony.
There are 24 services at all of our locations across Middle TN. Find out more.
For the record, it doesn’t matter where you worship this weekend. It doesn’t have to be at my church. I just sincerely pray you spend it somewhere you know you are loved and valued, and that you can call your family.
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21
Southland Christian Church in Kentucky is in a series right now called Joy Bomb. Pastor Scott Nickell kicked it off a few weeks ago with some real truths about joy and challenged us to be joyfully fierce, like the Apostle Paul.
He asked this question near the end of his message that has stuck with me ever since:
What would you be proud to die doing?
I thought long and hard about this. Of course I want to leave a legacy of God’s love and grace. I want to be generous and invest in the next generation. I want to leave the world better than I came into it.
Then I started asking myself about 100 times a day if I would be okay with going out at that very moment. Would dying at that very moment prove to tell the story I wanted to leave behind?
If you are like me, you probably waste a lot of precious moments in a day doing things you would not be proud to die doing.
That realization brought a renewed spirit of intentionality for me. I want to lead such a life that anything I do is getting the ball further down the field for Jesus. And if I die, there is no shame.
So what would I be proud to die doing?
I’d love to be speaking truth and life into an at-risk kid. I’d love to be pouring grace into someone who might not “deserve ” it. I’d love to be ministering to those far from God. I’d love to be standing up for the voiceless. I’d love to be encouraging my friends and family. I’d love to be praying with a stranger. I’d love to be serving at my church.
Confession: I’m not doing any of these things enough. Most of the time, I’m taking care of me, and only me. So my next challenge is to do more of this things I want to be known for. More of the things that will further the kingdom of God.
What about you? What would you be proud to die doing? Are you doing it?
My word for 2017 was COURAGE and it was perfect. It was a difficult but incredible year. quite possibly one of the best yet and while I’m a little scared to let it go, I’m excited for a SHIFT in 2018. That’s my word for 2018. Shift. I want to shift my heart, my focus, my direction.
The shift button on your keyboard allows you to get more out of your keyboard than what meets the eye. Just like when you press the shift button on your keyboard, pressing shift in my life will enable me to get more out of it. So how do I plan to get more out of life this year? There’s more to my “word” than what meets the eye.
S is for surrender.
H is for humility.
I is for inspire.
F is for flourish.
T is for trust.
God has incredible things in store for my life this year. I am expecting greatness in my health, finances, relationships, career and so much more. No matter what God does, I know He is carefully writing a story through my life. So, this year, I will live my life in surrender to His perfect plan.
My greatest defect has traditionally been my pride. I hit rock bottom in 2017 as I came face to face with the reality that I had a problem I couldn’t figure my way out of. This year, I’ll continue to live in humility. His word calls for us to have humble spirits.
I love helping people. One of my most favorite things in the world is knowing that my life is not just a period of time in which for me to enjoy myself. My purpose is to be a light to the world. I want to reflect God’s light and inspire others to do the same. I won’t leave my mark by doing great things for God, but rather by doing things for a great God.
To be a testament to God’s greatness, I want to reflect His greatness. I believe that means to flourish. This year won’t be about the status quo, or living in mediocrity. It’ll be about living each and every moment in true worship to the King. I want to flourish, but I also want to be a part of my business, church, friends and city flourishing.
Trust has been an overwhelming issue for me for years. It’s been abused in every way. I’ve had issues with trusting God, people and myself. I’ve not always been a trustworthy person. This year, I will continue to learn to trust God, others and myself. I’ll also work hard to be someone others can trust.
This is the first year I don’t have a very detailed plan of all the goals I hope to accomplish this year. Here’s why: I have no idea what this year will bring. While I do have personal short-term goals, my long-term goals are more about transforming my spirit and shifting my focus. I always tend to gaze at life and glance at God. This year, I plan to gaze at God and glance at life. That’s how I’ll press the shift key and get more out of life than what I ever have before.
Four months ago today, I slammed into a parked truck going 68 miles per hour on the interstate.
While I spent a few days in the hospital and am still recovering from a broken back, fractured sternum, multiple right orbital fractures and severe retinal scarring and swelling, I never let a day go by that I don’t thank God for my life.
Several law enforcement agencies responded to that accident because the calls to 911 were all so sure it was fatal. By every one of the world’s standards, I should not have survived that morning. And I definitely should not have been on the phone five minutes after the crash, walking 12 hours after the accident and at home three days later.
But God’s standards are different. He wasn’t ready for me to go yet. He still has a story for me to tell here. Here’s just five things I have learned since the wreck.
Prioritize prayer. It isn’t the only thing I do, but it is always the first thing. There is power in prayer. God wants to have relationships with us through prayer and His Word. I’ve grown intensely closer to my Creator since the wreck because prayer has become a priority for me.
Live with intentionality. I was passively driving down the interstate when I was literally punched in the face with an airbag. I’ve often thought that was God stopping me from living the rest of my life passively as well. I am so much more intentional with my “yes” and “no” now. I think through things. I don’t just fill up my schedule but I reserve my time and energy for things that matter. I am incredibly excited about some of the things I have chosen to say yes to.
Relinquish control. About a month after the wreck, I moved in with a family who I barely knew and who barely knew me. I was in a back brace, had just found out I will probably never drive again and had no real clue what my plan in life was. I gained a little necessary independence back over time (especially when I moved into my apartment) but there was a beautifully simple season of not having any control over how I got anywhere, or what I ate, or how I spent my days. It was the best gift anyone on this planet has ever given me. And I embraced the lack of control. When I lost all control, I had no choice but to trust God completely.
Lean into community. I had no clue how amazing doing life with authentic community could be. They stepped up and said “yes” to being the army God used to bring me out of complete despair to a life of rich blessings and joy. I learned what love is from a group of people I did not know a year ago. These people just made up in their minds they were going to love me whether I made it easy or not. I have done most of my life very alone, both out of choice and out of necessity. My church family told me this summer loud and clear they would not allow it. And people I barely knew four months ago have now become my family.
Purpose is love. After the wreck, God graced me with a friend who made up her mind that her purpose is to love me well. I have been entangled in an endlessly frustrating quest to find purpose for years now. One night, I was lying in the backyard, staring at the stars while having a phone conversation with my friend. She said a few words that ended my search for purpose. “Your only purpose on this Earth is to love God well and help others love God well. Nothing else matters. That’s it.” That’s it, friends. That is all God calls of us. It made life ever-so-simple for me. I don’t long for that deep sense of achievement-driven purpose I have searched for most of my life anymore. What do I do? I intentionally look for opportunities to be Jesus in everything I do. One of my favorite things to do now is to have meaningful conversations with Uber and Lyft drivers when they are driving me around.
I am so blessed to be back in routine and finding a new sense of normal all the time. But I pray I never go back to the way I was before I got punched in the face with an airbag. I seemed to have had it all together back then but I was actually a disaster. I have been known to thank God for the wreck that completely turned my life on its axis, but it is because I treasure every single thing I have learned in the last four months.
There is nothing special about the water. It’s just water. But it means so much more. It represents life change. It represents a celebration of the freedom I have found in Jesus Christ.
I was baptized 15 years ago when I made a decision to put my faith in Jesus, and Jesus alone. It wasn’t a celebration. Nobody was throwing a party. More importantly than any of that, I allowed the world to get between me and living in the freedom of Jesus. Over the years, I have grown less dependent on Jesus and more self-reliant. I have replaced a love for Jesus with a love for self.
A few months ago, my pastor and I sat down to talk. His brutal and loving honesty forced me to look in the mirror. It forced me to dive hard into the Word of God and remember what my Heavenly Father sent His one and only Son to do for me. It drove me to my knees.
I am still in that journey of redemption. But as I came to the end of myself, I knew I had nowhere to go but back to God. When I finally figured out that I couldn’t save myself from the mess I am, I jumped back into my relationship with Jesus Christ. I learned to lean into Jesus and to trust the same God who created the entire universe with my shame, guilt, fears and pain.
I learned it was okay to not be okay. I learned that nobody is perfect so its okay that I’m not either. I learned that authenticity is a breeding ground for community. I learned that finding my purpose in a relationship with Jesus first, others second will always be more fulfilling. I came to know and understand that God made me in His image and that I am not a mistake. I learned that resting in who I am in Jesus Christ is so much more liberating than seeking my validation from other people. I learned that replacing a virtual community of social media and texting with a physical community of real live relationships and interactions was exactly what God intended for us.
I learned that being vulnerable isn’t easy, but it matters. It matters in relationships and for transforming my pain. I learned to rest in the fact that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I learned that my Heavenly Father will never leave or forsake me. I learned that people will inevitably disappoint but the Son of God never will. I learned that leading a life in pursuit of courage will always make the darkness tremble.
I learned that I can be strong for only so long. I learned that my Bible must be more important than my biceps. I learned that my “heart made of steel” wasn’t nearly as impressive as being real and raw. I learned that while being logistical in ministry is my strength, being relational is so much more fun. I learned that balance is key to living a happy, healthy life. I learned who my people are.
I am the only child of a single mother.
I don’t know who my biological father is. My adoptive father left after less than a year.
I was born with a rare medical condition called Marshall Syndrome, which is basically deficiency of bone growth. I have had 15 major surgeries – 13 of them were before I was 13. As a kid, there were countless limitations and prognosis. I outlived every single one of them.
First grade is when I learned I was different from the other kids. I had thick rubber glasses and hearing aids. My face was flatter than my classmates’ faces. My speech impediment was weird.
In the seventh grade, my mom got married again and we moved back to Tennessee. I spent the next six years imprisoned in the pain and shame of living with a raging, abusive alcoholic and crack addict. I suffered verbal, emotional, mental and physical abuse. Over time, I shut down emotionally. My feelings never mattered. I began to only know myself by the labels put on me – worthless, lazy, dumb, ugly, frustrating, useless and the list goes on and on. My only defense – my own strength.
I began to struggle with suicide thoughts in high school, and honestly still struggled with the very simple question of whether it would matter if I wasn’t here anymore multiple times throughout my life.
In the tenth grade, my friends started a school wide campaign to call me “7-Eleven.” It means I look like I walked out of a 7-Eleven and got my face clipped by a truck. I never let it bother me. I said it was stupid. I made jokes about it. To this day, people still call me that. I buried that pain.
I graduated high school with honors and headed to my top-tier Southern Baptist university. It was the best and worst decision of my life. I did a lot of things right. And I did a lot of things wrong. I sabotagoed almost every great thing I had going for me. My desperate need for attention took me down a road of destruction and deception. It ended horribly. I’m still living with the consequences of some of my mistakes. Essentially, I put God in that one pocket of my backpack I never opened. I just did what I wanted and then instead of trusting God in moments of uncertainty, I relied on myself.
I was hurt by some ministry leaders and pastors in high school and college. I was pretty done with church as a whole by the time I was 19. About 2 years later, I was introduced to Cross Point Bellevue at their Easter 2011 services. I liked the worship experience but was determined to not get involved, not meet anyone and certainly not trust anyone.
About three years ago, I was diagnosed with Keratitis, which is severe chronic dry eyes. It dramatically changed my life and while it is manageable now, I know my condition is and always will be the thorn in my side to remind me to rely on God.
When I was 23, my mom met and married the love of her life….and the dad I always dreamed of. Seven months after I met him and 57 days after the wedding, he crashed and died in his ultralight plane in Lebanon, Tennessee.
My relationship with God was in shambles. I was angry at God. I was done. Trusting God again was never going to happen. The God of my Bible was not the God of my reality. All He was doing was playing games with my life. He clearly did not have my best interest at heart. The only fragment of a Christian community I had was a very irregular attendance record at Cross Point Bellevue.
It took 8 months before I would even entertain giving God another chance. I attended church from time to time but it wasn’t home. It wasn’t family. It was out of a childhood-instilled obligation to at least look like I was a Christian. I lacked purpose. Community was nonexistent. But if I was going to spend my Sunday mornings anywhere, it would only be at Cross Point. I liked the experience.
Years after I swore off church and 8 months after I swore off God, the kids director at Cross Point Bellevue showed up in my life. She invited me into ministry with her. I had no reason to say no to her. The following Sunday, I began to serve for her as a small group leader. Six months later, I began to serve in student ministry and in guest experience. I found people who did ministry a different way. I found purpose in the details.
I still lacked authentic community. I still found myself lost and looking for the vision God placed on my heart, not just Cross Point’s. I sought out advice. I was challenged to be more relational in ministry. And to find the vision God has placed on my heart for my life. A few months later, I found myself taking a tour of all the different Cross Point locations. I was looking for something more, something different. I was lonely and looking for community. And Jesus Christ.
In October 2016, I visited Cross Point Mt. Juliet for the first time. The church was meeting in an elementary school, which meant setting up and tearing down every Sunday. Mobile church was a logistical ministry lover’s dream. But there was something else. There was this tug in my heart to be a part of the foundation of a church that will influence people for years to come. After much prayer and wise counsel, I officially moved to CPMJ in early November.
It was a different culture. Nobody knew me. I had to rebuild trust. And I’m still building it. But something incredible has transpired in the last few months. As I have become more self-aware and learned to lean into Jesus more, I have found an irresistible joy. I have found FREEDOM in the finished work of Jesus Christ. I have found WORTH in who God says He created me to be, not what others think about me.
Pain still happens. Life is still difficult at times. People still disappoint. I still make mistakes. But guess what? If God is for me, then what could stand against? I am a child of God. I am no longer slave to fear.
I didn’t tell many people about my plans to be baptized yesterday. It was not intended to
be a performance for others, but rather a very intimate moment between me and God. Unlike so many other things I have done in my life, I was doing this for me. I did my own study of the scriptures and after I made a decision I was comfortable with, I talked to my pastor about it.
I didn’t sleep the night before. I was so incredibly excited and anxious. I was like a little kid on Christmas Eve. The sun was rising on my way to church yesterday morning and it was beautiful. I was in awe of God. I prayed for the day. I prayed for each location campus pastor and each person getting baptized. I prayed for each and every person who stepped into a Cross Point location yesterday. I prayed that my baptism would be all it was supposed to be. I prayed that God would be glorified above all else.
My anxiety created some clumsiness yesterday morning. I fell down some stairs with two signs in my hands. I ran into some things. I dropped things. It wasn’t nerves. It was pure excitement.
About an hour before our first service, I changed clothes. I took my hat off to reveal the scars on my head I am usually so careful to hide. It was the first time CPMJ had seen me without my hat on. That’s when the words “I’m proud of you.” started to ring in my ears. And each time I heard them, it was as if God Himself was whispering in my ear how beautiful I was.
I attended service with my Bible in hand. Pastor Kyle preached an amazing message about
moving forward. As he taught on Moses and the Red Sea, he shared his perspective on the Israelites. He talked about taking a step into that water before God even parted the sea. He talked about the many faces of the 600,000 Israelites. There had to have been the over-zealous people, the single moms and widows, the God-fearing dads, the teenagers, the single adults. There had to have been a variety of different life experiences and walks with God.
Sitting in the third row at my church home, I closed my eyes and said, “Heavenly Father, I trust you. I trust you enough to take a step in my walk with you. I remember the things you have brought me out of. I remember the victory you have claimed in my life. I remember the fact that you sent Your Son to die on a cross for me. God, I’m ready. Let’s do this thing.”
I got up and left the room to prepare for the single greatest moment of my life. People were cheering. I had hugs and high-fives. All I really remember is God whispering in my ear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” All He has ever asked of me is to trust Him. Yesterday morning, I was able to finally fall back in the arms of Jesus and experience the rest and freedom I have so desperately been searching for.
I went first. I was so excited and ready. Standing at the top of the stairs was exhilarating. Volunteers were talking to me. I have no idea what they were saying. My pastor and I met backstage and he walked me out. It was symbolic of the journey he has helped walk alongside of me for in the last few months.
He helped me get in and told me to do everything I had already been told but didn’t listen to. “Sit down. Move forward. Are you ready? Felicia, hold your nose.” Oh yeah…that’s important. Ha!
And in a completely surreal moment of faith in the God of the universe, I was baptized.
There were cheers. People clapped. Photos were taken. I don’t even know. All I remember was feeling like the weight of the world has been taken off me. It all flashed before my eyes. It took me a second but I raised my arms and declared, “YES!” I remember the cheers and claps. All I heard was God whispering in my ear, “Hey, these people are celebrating you. They’re praising Me on behalf of your decision to rest in Me. And they don’t even know your story. They just love you because you are made in My image.”
I hugged Kyle. He not only knew my story, but he knew exactly how much that moment represented for me on a very personal level. Because before he was my pastor, he was my friend. I got out and made my way through a cheer tunnel backstage. Cheers, high fives, hugs, fist bumps, pictures. Lots of excitement. They weren’t cheering for my ability to hold my breath under water. They were celebrating life change. They were celebrating an outward expression of an inward reality. And none of them knew my story.
Haley Barnes. Blake Grisham.
I quickly changed and spent the rest of the day celebrating with so many people. People I knew. People I didn’t know. I loved getting to celebrate with my CPMJ family. The fact that I kept it a surprise from most of my friends and didn’t have an entorage served the incredible blessed purpose that I got to celebrate with new friends and family.
At one point, I was walking through the lobby and heard my name. It was Hannah. Hannah
is a dedicated kids ministry volunteer at our church. She consistently pours into our kids and loves helping our kids director set the table for volunteers. She and I also have a personal connection through Bucky, the Dad I only had for 7 months. She asked me if she could pray with me. And she did. Right in the middle of the lobby. It was incredibly special.
Fellow volunteers grabbed me as I walked by just to hug me and tell me how proud of me they were. Staff showed me love all day long. As the news spread via social media, the texts poured in. People as far as Thailand were cheering with me.
I love the freedom I have found in who I am in Jesus Christ. I love that I finally see worth when I see myself in the mirror. I love that the same God I was done with just three years ago said, “That’s okay. I’m not done with you.” He never left or forsook me. Just as the prodigal son returned home to his father’s home, my Heavenly Father welcomed me back into His arms with a party. He invited the most amazing people on the planet to be in that building at 85 Athens Drive yesterday morning. Months ago, He began to do a work in my heart and strategically placed people in my life and me in the places I would be challenged to grow deeper with Him.
If you were a part of celebrating the greatest day of my life, you’re family. Thank you. Thank you for loving a girl you didn’t even know. Thank you for your continued investment in the things of God. The best is yet to come.