When I was a freshman in high school, I attended a church in Northern Virginia called Reston Bible Church. It was a fast-growing church; our pastor, Mike Minter, was a very engaging speaker, and there were tons of teens in the youth group. There was always something fun going on. Our youth group was called "The Gap" and we didn't meet in the big church because I guess we had outgrown the small room in the church basement next to all the Sunday School Classes and the nursery. The youth group rented out space in an office building about two miles away from the church building. It was also strategically located across the street from "McTaco Hut", a grouping of three awesome food chains that were bombarded each Sunday and Wednesday by a load of Jesus lovin' kids.
I went to church almost every Sunday, and tried to make it Wednesdays when I could. We lived about twenty minutes away and I wasn't driving at the time, but my parents made an effort to take me. I know my mom was praying that if I just kept going, maybe it would seep into the rest of my life. I was at that point in my life where I really wanted attention from boys, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get love and acceptance. You want to talk about screwed up in the head, that was me. I am not sure how I managed to be exposed to God's word so consistently, and not be moved to change. I can't believe that my heart was THAT hardened. I had a couple of close friends there; Julie, who is here in Richmond with me, was the one who first brought me, and Catherine moved from Washington State and her dad asked Julie to be her friend. Julie thought Catherine's older brother Jon was cute so she was game. However, those two became very close over the next couple of years. I thought Catherine was LAME. She was so Christian! She never wanted to go meet boys at the mall, and she was just such a goody-two shoes. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure she thought I was the devil.
I guess I never got too close to anyone else there, although I did stuff with them all the time. I suppose that if I let them in too close, they would have known what was going on with me, and I knew it wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. Also, many of the kids came from serious money, and I didn't. Northern VA is one of the richest parts of the nation, and while I never went without, I guess I didn't feel equal to the other kids. I was in trouble ALL the time; skipping class and talking to people I shouldn't have been talking to, and putting all of my energy into finding "love". I had girlfriends, but no one close. I was very competitive when it came to guys and let's just say that didn't earn me any love from the girls. I was a mess.
I am very saddened by the fact that God was waiting for me to throw all the garbage away, but I clung to it for SO long. Throughout my high school years, there was always someone who would take special interest in me (be prompted to help me and pray for me). One lady in particular, Cyndi, helped out in the youth group, and she was so interested in my life. She would always send me cards with "God loves you so much, Angela" and Bible verses, and she always wanted to talk to me about what was happening in my life. I avoided her as much as humanly possible. I always felt guilty, because for some reason this lady loved me and cared about me, but there was no way I was going to stop doing what I was doing. I wasn't going to become some boring Bible chick and devote myself to waiting for marriage. She was very perserverant, but I didn't know how to handle her attention. I thought she was kind of nuts, to be honest.
Cyndi went with us that year on a bike trip we took to Florida. We took a bus down to Flagler Beach, and then we all got on bikes and rode about 50-60 miles a day inland towards Disney World. It was so awesome. We had a big truck following us around with all of our luggage, and we made camp each night in a different place. We took canoe rides through water reserves (not the Everglades, but alligators included!), and rode through sand, up hills, and through breathtaking countryside. When we finally got to Disney, we had to ride in the back way, and then wave as though we were in a parade. I had so much fun. I actually took this trip twice; once freshman year and then again junior year. The first time I took a friend named Jen; unfortunately we were not friends at the end of the trip. My fault. Junior year Julie came, and though the two trips have blended in my mind some, the overall experience was one of the most fond memories I have. I remember Jen and I getting in trouble for staying out past curfew in Disney. I remember raccoons coming up to the edge of the water and staring at us as we canoed past them. I remember riding past people living in complete poverty in rural Florida, all of them sitting in front of ramshackle houses and staring at a bunch of white kids in matching shirts riding by. I remember how good it felt to be at the front of the group, pushing myself to be faster and faster. I remember how my leg muscles felt like they were on fire the first night. I remember prayer time and skits, and Space Mountain. I wish I could do it again. I actually think that they still do the trips. If I had any inclination to move back that way I might be tempted to help out in the youth group. Even for a heathen like me it was a good time and I have very fond memories of it.
Top left: Me, Kady Sue and the youth pastor's daughter
Top Right: Disney Campground
B. L.: On a boat?
B.R. : In the canoe with Mr. Varney, Brooks, and Cyndi
I stopped going to youth group and RBC all together after I was 17 or 18. By that time I was drinking and hanging out with some really shady characters. I really wish I had taken hold of God at that time, because my pain and my problems just got worse. I was engaged to an alcoholic when I was 20, and when I mercifully extracted myself from that situation, I became a big party girl and was with a man who treated me like garbage. For four years. During this time, I was at a different bar or club at least five nights a week. I did do three semesters of college, got all A's and B's as a matter of fact. But the pull of sin was so strong in my life that I didn't keep going.
I am sad that I wasted so much time...but..I'm still young! It has taken me some time to let go of my past; still not there ALL the way yet, but God is good and I was able to look up that weird lady from my youth group, and call her and tell her that God had heard her prayers for me. My life doesn't have to be a story of shame anymore. It is a story of overcoming. Not mine, but God's. He overcame my own destructiveness and has been building me up ever since. I still have times where I want to tear it all down. That's part of me. But God doesn't give up on me when I am ready to give up. He sees me through the dark times and rejoices when I am once again aglow in his light. I don't really know how this post got to this, but it's the truth of my story; my ongoing, unfolding walk with God. I am grateful for it.
My past makes it easier for me to relate and love on those who may seem unlovable to those who haven't been in the same darkness. If I hadn't been down, I may not have called out for help. Thank you, God, that you were just waiting for me to ask.