Callin’ Baton Rouge

Okay, so I had intended on posting this 2 months ago…Whoops! Definitely long overdue and a perfect example of why having the intention of doing something is useless without the follow through of actually acting upon it! Ha. See y’all? I was just teaching you a lesson through my tardiness. You’re welcome. 😉 Well here it goes. Be warned it’s a long one…

With the details falling perfectly into place, there was no doubt in my mind that Baton Rouge, Louisiana was to be my new home. After a whirlwind summer made up of:

  • an unforgettable month living the life with my beautiful, amazing, insert-all-positive-adjectives-here, sister, Moira, in West Hollywood
  • countless hours spent with my cousin and best friend, Dana, doing anything and everything around Chicago
  • soaking up time with friends, family, and my puppy Coconut

It was finally time to pack up and begin the 15 hour caravan journey down south. My mom, Gramsie, and Dana were kind enough to volunteer to make the drive and help me move into my new apartment. I could not have done the drive, the unpacking, and making my apartment into a home without these three. Saints, I tell ya. I loved that they also had this time to get to know my roommate, Michelle, as I did too. We got to explore Baton Rouge and New Orleans and experienced the yummy food, friendly people, and just a touch of football excitement. (GEAUX TIGERS!)

After a few days they were off back to Chicago and I was on my own. Except I totally wasn’t. People, let me tell you that Michelle and I ending up as roommates was NOT coincidence. To this day I believe that God brought that angel of a lady into my life to not only become one of my dearest and most special friends, but to truly be a light in my life and help me find a real relationship with Jesus and renewing of faith.

Before my move to Louisiana my life and actions reflected the GIANT gaping hole in my heart and soul that could only be filled by The Lord.Now, I’m not sure if anyone who knew me before would have seen that about me, or even thought I was any different than the next 22 year old fresh out of college, but I felt it. I’m sure that there are people from my past that could have called me and my struggles out for what they were, but even I regularly convinced myself through my shame that things were okay with the typical justification that we hear so often in the world. “Well, I did this, but…I’m still a good person.” Good compared to who? “Well, this happened, but it’s not like it’s that bad.”

Friends would assure me that I was fine. I was overreacting when I felt ashamed. It was funny, I had been entertaining, there was nothing to worry about, it won’t happen again, etc. So I would continue the binge drinking and all the wise choices that you can usually find influenced by it. How many mornings did I have to wake up with a sinking, shamed, pit in my stomach and the words “I’m never drinking again. I’m so sorry. How bad was I?” on my lips before I changed my ways? I’m not sure if many people really knew just how low I was getting before I left. Depression and anxiety were starting to creep in when I let myself think about my actions for too long, so it was only natural to go out and forget about them, right? I did this enough to where I actually started to convince myself to let go of my moral compass. I quieted the voice that was there to guide me throughout my life because it was easier to do that and live for the next fun moment, than to deal with the conflict that raged inside of me when I listened to it. If the Holy Spirit is a flame inside of us, then I was doing my best to find the Costco-sized Candle Snuffer to put it out with. I hardened myself to the person I felt called to be and let myself give in to who the world was successfully convincing me I was. My self worth was found in the approval of other people. Like I said, I was not in a great place. But why tell you all of that?

Because here is the truth if you haven’t gathered it already: I knew my justifications weren’t right. I knew I was created for more. I knew I wasn’t living a life of substance or purpose, but a life centered around happy hours, after hours, or any excuse to have a drink in my hand, and the weight of this reality was dragging me down. (Side-note: I am not condemning or criticizing anyone that chooses to drink. This is my own personal experience and is written with no condemnation toward anyone else.)

But I still wanted to run from the truth (or the Truth I guess you could say!) and keep out anyone that would bring me face-to-face with it. Michelle fell under the category of someone who would make me face this truth. Although we didn’t know each other well before we moved to Louisiana, we had met several times, talked/texted regularly, and were obviously Facebook friends. From the first time we talked I saw that Michelle was an amazing person. Anyone that knows her can back me up on this-she has a joy that shines so brightly from her that to know her is to love her. She also is rock solid in her faith and not afraid to share her pure love for Jesus. THAT is what worried me. Before we left for Baton Rouge Michelle had written a blog post about her One Year Commitment to God. I read it and saw how much she believed, trusted, and loved Jesus without any care of what people thought of her. That boldness and strength did not sit well with my weaknesses and insecurities. She believed in an Almighty God and I believed in…well, I didn’t know. This made me uncomfortable and my mind instantly began running through scenarios where she would try to convert me, or force her faith on me. HA! When we actually got settled in and began hanging out together I saw how far off my assumptions had been.

We quickly discovered that our senses of humor were almost identical, along with our movie selections (our shelves were filled with doubles of the same DVDs,) musical selections of our pasts and present (with the exception of the Worship tunes that we listened to when riding in her car,) our love for candles, laid back mindsets, and so much more. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten along with someone so quickly before. This new roomie of mine never once forced anything on me when it came to faith. It was definitely discussed, but usually I asked, or it was in passing. Michelle talked about Jesus and her faith the same way one would talk about a best friend or family member. Not an obsession.

The more time I spent with her the more I saw Him. That joy that Michelle had was very much related to her relationship with Jesus. Through her kindness, love, and friendship I felt myself slowly being drawn into a relationship with Jesus. I was curious. Why did she love Him so much? I decided I wanted to figure out if my curiosity would turn into anything more, and at the very least I could say I gave ‘that faith thing’ a shot. I went to church with Michelle one morning and really allowed myself to be open to what I heard. And what I heard was someone speaking right to me. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Why would the Creator of the Universe ‘be for me?’ I hadn’t felt worthy of anyone ‘being for me,’ yet I couldn’t help but let a tiny part of me feel this was true. That He cared about me. One brick in the wall I had built had been chipped away in that moment. But I still had so much doubt.

It wasn’t too long before we made more friends and Baton Rouge began feeling like a new home. One of our friends invited us to a Sunday bible study where they served dinner. Michelle and I gladly accepted the invitation. Michelle for the bible study and me for the free food. Remember, I was taking baby steps.  Jake and Abigail were part of a group that moved from Texas to plant a church in Baton Rouge and the bible study was held in their house. I have never been so welcomed in anywhere in my life. We ate an incredible meal prepared by my new friend, Jillian, and really just hung out with some time for worship. (This part consisted of me looking down at the lyric sheet and lip-singing.) Can I just tell you all that that house was filled to the brim with laughter, love, faith, and joy?! All without a single drop of alcohol. Again, I found myself in the presence of people that had something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The more I thought about it, that joy that Michelle had was just like what they had. And what they all had was a belief in The Lord and an active relationship with Him. So another brick was chipped away. I wanted what they had. But still my doubt remained.

We began hanging out with everyone from that night more and more frequently, with Sunday nights becoming a reoccurring event. It was here that I felt that wall I had built falling away, but I still was not there yet. I could barely pray, but when I did it was for God to reveal himself to me. For my walls to come crumbling down. For me to really know Him. I was honest with my friends about how I felt and never pretended to feel more than I did. In return, they never expected more of me. You know the phrase “love them where they’re at?” That’s exactly how they treated me. I felt loved regardless of my struggles and encouraged like I had never been before. They didn’t necessarily approve of all that I had done, but accepted me just the same.

Slowly, brick-by-brick, I let more of God in. I let myself begin to trust in Him and believe. What I struggled with the most was my doubts that God in His perfection, could love me for all that I was. For the way I had lived. For my weaknesses and all that I failed to do on a daily basis. How could He see past that?

And then it happened. As I prayed again for God to reveal Himself to me, that I might see and know who He was, that He would let me know, without a shadow of a doubt, that He loved me, it happened. The only way I can describe it is to compare it to being washed over by a wave, or submerged in the deep end of a pool with no urgency to get to the surface. I was completely at peace. My eyes and ears were opened and I felt so strongly in my heart that I was loved, I was known, I was beautiful. The last layers of my wall came crashing down. There was no going back for me. I knew I was forever changed.

I had gone to Catholic school all my life and never felt like this, but it wasn’t because of my church or education falling short that this awareness had evaded me. I had totally missed the mark. All the time that I had spent in my younger years I brought Jesus down to the level of just another historical figure. I had gotten it totally wrong. It was not the Catholic church that failed me, my parents, or anyone that helped influence me throughout my formative years. I had failed myself by failing to see what was right in front of me the whole time. God loved me so much that He sent His only son, Jesus, to take my place on the cross that because of my sins, I deserved. Jesus loved me so much that He, in His faithfulness and obedience to God’s will, died on that cross and rose again, so that I might one day have a true and everlasting relationship with Him and the Father. HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE?! (Face Palm!)

It was like I was seeing everything for the very first time. So much began to make more sense to me and I just wanted to grow closer and closer to The Lord. Michelle and I were able to grow and challenge each other in our faith, hold each other accountable, and pray throughout the good and the not-so-good of our lives. To say that I was no longer tempted by anything or that I no longer struggled with the sin of my past would be a lie, but each day I felt myself growing stronger in who I was called to be and becoming free from who the world told me I was. I have stumbled along the way, and am far from ever reaching perfect, but every day I pray to be obedient to His will done His way.

I can’t even imagine how different my life would have been, or where I would be if it wasn’t for moving to Baton Rouge, ending up with Michelle as my roommate, and my faith.Thankful for all the people that God put in my path to help bring me back to Him and for all the friendships that have helped change me along the way.

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