The Personal Tesitmony of Carley Owen

 

 I grew up in a typical Baptist church. We went every Sunday morning and I took part in choir, mission friends, or GA’s on Wednesday nights. When I was 8 years old all of my friends were “getting saved”. I didn’t want to be left out and I was also afraid of dying and going to hell, so I decided I was going to get saved too. I went down front, filled out my card, and everyone came and hugged me saying how proud they were. Before I got baptized I had to talk to the pastor and take a little class to make sure I knew what was going. After that, I didn’t feel any different and life went on pretty much like normal.

 Somewhere around my 7th or 8th grade year was the summer that all the cicadas came out. In Sunday school we had been talking about the plagues of Egypt and it was also the time when the “Left Behind” series was popular. My mom had been reading these and even watched a couple of the movie versions. I became terrified that the end of the world was coming. I remember lying awake at night afraid to go to sleep that I might wake up and be “left behind”. One day I asked my mom about being saved and told her I wasn’t sure if I was and if she could help me. She told me that it was between me and God and that I’d figure it out and be okay. I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant but it was enough that she said I’d be okay and I went on. Later that year at a Disciple Now Weekend the guest speaker was talking about how just because you believe in God doesn’t mean you’re saved, that even the devil believes in God. That really threw me because I thought being in church and believing in God WAS being saved. I again began to question whether I was saved or not. We had begun an extra devotional book to encourage a “quiet time” in Sunday school. I threw myself into trying to read my bible every night and pray. I wanted to be right and so I figured if I did everything that “right” people did, I’d be okay.

 Not long after that, we were promoted to the youth group. I was scared at first because I was still in Junior High and most of the kids where in High School, so I didn’t participate much. I made it through the rest of Junior High the best I could and got ready for High School. Life in high school was a whole new world. When I started school I really wanted to fit in and be popular like my older brother. I joined the crowd, hanging out with my friends on the weekends and lying to my parents about where I was and what I was doing. During this time was when I really began to see what was going on behind the scenes. I was still participating in the youth group and felt like I was finally fitting in, but for all the wrong reasons. The “leaders” in our youth group, the older ones that I looked up to and was trying to be like, where the same ones I saw at the parties drinking and having fun. Somehow, I knew there was something wrong with this picture. I became disgusted with myself and them, and I quit the party scene and the youth group. I was discontent with my life but wasn’t sure what to do.

 During my 10th grade year I started dating a guy one of my friends introduced me to, he was Church of Christ.  I was so unhappy with everything about my church, I decided to try his. I went several times looking for something better than what I had, it was far worse than mine. I began fishing around looking for a new church thinking maybe I could find something different out there. I tried West Heights and it was as bad if not worse than First Baptist. My parents weren’t thrilled about my “excursion” and I quickly settled back in at First Baptist figuring it was probably the “least of evils” out there anyway. I would go to church on Sunday mornings; sit through Sunday school hating every minute of it because of the front we all put on and the cliques. Then I would sit through the service with tears rolling down my face thinking, “Well this is as good as it gets”. I was so unhappy and miserable. I had tried the “if I’m not saved, saved me” and the quiet times and the prayer lists and everything, but nothing ever made a difference. I decided I better just make the best of it and learn to be content with my life.

 By then my junior year had started. I was taking drafting at the Vo-Tec and Hannah Tutor was in my class. We had grown up around each other, but were never close friends. I didn’t know much more about her besides she was sweet and friendly and was just as relieved as I was that we at least knew someone in the class. As the year went on we talked a lot and became good friends. One day as we were cleaning up and getting ready to go back to the high school she asked me if I wanted to come to church with her that night. I took me off guard a little but I thought it wouldn’t hurt. She was so excited and I thought that was a little strange cause I never got excited about church. When we pulled into the parking lot I was like “I didn’t even know this place was here.” I had lived in this town my whole life and never noticed that there was a church there. The first service I sat through was unusual but not uncomfortable, and I had never seen anyone cry or shout in church, but I decided I liked it. Not long after attending Grace, Caleb and I started dating.

I began to come to Grace when I could on Sunday and Wednesday nights. And I slowly began learning the truth about salvation, what was wrong with the way churches were today, and the way church was supposed to be. At first my parents didn’t say much about me coming to Grace, but when Caleb wouldn’t come to my church, things changed. They didn’t understand why First Baptist was any different from Grace. They told me I had to be at First Baptist on Sundays, so I would get up and go to the 8 AM service, Sunday school, then rush off to Grace in time for the preaching.

I was excited to be able to come to Camp in June and make some of the Lighthouse Birthday Celebrations. This was one of the first times God talked to me. Bro. Mike was preaching about how the angels were amazed and didn’t understand what God did for us. I remember the service was quiet and everyone seemed asleep, but God was telling me that he loved me. It scared me a little to have God feel so real and to have him talk to me.

I can’t remember much more happening while I was in high school. We finished up our senior year and Caleb and I decided to go to MSU. I was excited because I was going into art and looked forward to my classes. We took turns driving back on the weekends and Wednesday nights for church. I soon became consumed with my classes. I hardly ever got to see Caleb and the only time we spent together was driving back and forth to Pontotoc. I knew from these drives that something was going on with him. He spent a lot of time on the phone with Bro. Terry trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing. Toward the end of the semester it finally boiled down to this; Caleb was leaving and what am I going to do. I bowed up at that and told myself that he could go home if he wanted to but I’m staying. I didn’t want to be a college dropout plus I didn’t realize I was still chasing a career.

One night we sat down and talked to Bro. Terry about what to do. Caleb was going to finish out the semester and come home. Then Bro. Terry asked me about my plans. He explained how Caleb and I wouldn’t work with me in school at MSU and him at home, and that I would probably quit coming back for church. My heart sank because I knew he was right. I had already proven that to myself once by skipping church to stay and study for a test. I knew my only choice was to come home. Telling my parents was the next step. This was the first time I ever talked to my parents about what was going on with me. I explained how I needed to quit school and come home so I could go to church. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t go to the BSU on campus or even commute to MSU. They set me up an appointment with Bro. Ken, the pastor of First Baptist, hoping he could “fix me”. We met, talked and basically agreed to disagree.

I was such an emotional and physical wreck that my parents finally agreed to let me come home, however I still had to go to school.  I enrolled at ICC and began commuting back and forth with Tina & Gina. Although I was in school I had given up on my dream of a career. With everything back to normal I settled into my routine of life. I went to class, studied, and went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. I grew content and went to sleep because things were better than they were before. The following November, Caleb and I got married. I thought this was the solution my problems. I would be able to make my own decisions, end the struggle over church, and really concentrate on getting saved. Although that struggle was over I had new ones. It took me a long time to figure out how to juggle being married, being in school, & keeping a house. I was now distracted with life. The next few years passed and I became religious because I was so much better off than I was. I went through periods of sitting through services spiritually asleep and then being awake and searching, usually for camp or meetings. I felt stuck, never moving on with God and getting saved. I didn’t understand why or even how to get unstuck.

Several times Bro. Terry preached and God would stir but I’d never do anything. I watched as others got saved, sometimes jealous or sad, wishing it was me. I soon began setting deadlines for myself, like I’m going to get saved before the 1st of the year, or before we take over the youth group, or even before Heidi is born. But those would come and go and I quickly began losing hope that I would ever get saved. Through the preaching I knew it wasn’t God’s fault that I wasn’t saved, but I didn’t know what to do. I finally grew tired of being stuck in the same place and in the November family prayer meeting I told everyone I didn’t want to be in the same place in a year and asked them to pray for me. Over the next few months things slowly began to pick up. I was learning how to really listen as well as truly search with my whole heart. Leading up to camp most of the sermons where directed to the lost. I had hoped I would get saved before camp, but when I felt God working on me I would always sit and struggle through it. In the sermon before camp started, Bro. Terry again preached to the lost. He said that God was going to be there at camp for us and there was no excuse for us not to get saved. Hearing that really encouraged me and made me more determined to get saved that week.

The first day I had kitchen duty and I didn’t get to hear any of Bro. Mike’s sermon, because the TV was not working. I didn’t want to let myself get discouraged and ruin the rest of the week, so I reminded myself that God knew where I was and everything would be alright. Next was Bro. Charlie. He preached on the story of the Israelites spying out the promise land. God had told them to take the land, but they didn’t trust God and sent in the 12 spies. Bro. Charlie explained how the lost need to just trust God and take the land.  I felt God moving on me but before I knew it I was spying out the land and I missed God. After that came Bro Claude and his sermon about God looking for the tremblers. Once again my unbelief snuck up and I began to question whether I was one of the tremblers even though I obviously was. Afterward, I talked to Bro. Terry and he help me see what I had done wrong and got me back on track for the next day. That morning as Bro. Greg preached I struggled with trying to apply it to myself. Afterward, during the lunch break, Bro. Terry saw me struggling and came over to encourage me. He told me that Bro. Greg’s sermon was for someone else and not to worry.  When camp was dismissed, I was disappointed that I had made it through camp again without getting saved. The Sunday after camp Bro. Terry preached to the lost again. He told us not to go back to sleep just because camp was over because God was still wanting to save. I told him I was still ready and that I wasn’t going back to sleep. Wednesday night came and again I struggled with coming and getting saved. I went and talked to Bro. Terry afterward and he told me that it could be as easy as just coming to the altar and that I should at least “TRY.” I knew he was right. I had never gone down to the altar and therefore had never moved toward God.

 The next Sunday I struggled with getting anything out of the preaching. The next day at work Bro. Terry asked me what happened to me Sunday. I wasn’t sure and so I told him “I don’t know”. He told me that I had gone back to sleep just like he had preached not to. I didn’t want to hear that but I knew he was right, why else would I have had so much trouble getting anything out of the sermons Sunday. I had gone back to sleep and didn’t even know it. I was so upset with myself and felt sick that I had let myself so easily fall back to sleep.

 Wednesday night came and Bro. Terry preached on how it broke God’s heart when I wouldn’t come to him and get saved. He used the story of the prodigal son and talked about how the father felt when the son left. At first I struggled with trying to understand exactly how God felt. I finally quit trying when I realized that I could never understand just how bad that hurt God because I had never lost someone like that. That’s when it hit me that I didn’t necessarily need to understand the pain I just didn’t want to be the one causing him pain anymore.  Growing up I have always wanted my parents to be happy and proud of me, not disappointed and heartbroken, why should I not think the same way with God. I saw myself as the prodigal, breaking God’s heart by staying lost and not coming to him. I saw how I have always been able to come home to God, but that I had not wanted to. I was so tired of being lost and was afraid of missing yet another opportunity to get saved. The only thing I knew to do was to go down to the altar and tell God that I wanted to come home, somehow knowing he wouldn’t turn me away. I finally moved. After I went down to the altar I was still crying but it was different. I didn’t feel the battle anymore, and everything was calm.  

For the first time I had finally trusted God. For so long I had pushed off getting saved afraid and dreading when the time came that God wouldn’t love me or accept me. But that night I saw how much God really did love me and had been looking for me to come home to him. I realized how much of a rebel I had been and that it was my own fault that I hadn’t come already. But God lovingly took me in and now I am home. Thank God for loving and being so patient with a hardhearted rebel.