THE CORNER – FINDING MY FAITH by Teri Templeton
In my bedroom, there is a corner that is open, but blocked somewhat by furniture. There is a tall dresser and a small hope chest on each wall. They don’t quite meet, leaving about a two foot square, so that corner is just big enough for a basket to sit and dust to collect. The corner is on the outside wall of the front of our house, and our house faces south, so direct sunlight never reaches that corner. I like a lot of sunlight in my home, so my curtains are open every day, and still that corner is neglected in the shadows. Do you have a corner like this in your home? It’s a place that is mostly shadowed and only slightly useful. It isn’t completely dark like a closet or a cabinet, but it doesn’t get enough light for a plant to grow either. I use that corner to hide some of my dirty laundry that requires hand washing, so the corner has a purpose, a job, and it does its job well. It’s not an abundantly used corner. That corner has a lot in common with my life before I opened up to Jesus.
As a child, I wasn’t raised in church. I had a little exposure at summer bible school and a handful of Sunday school lessons. I was taught that attending church was not important and those “religious folks” are no fun. I was taught as long as I believe in Jesus and am a good person, I will go to heaven. I didn’t know what it meant to believe in Jesus. I didn’t know who Jesus really was. I didn’t learn how to pray, other than the Lord’s Prayer. I deliberately shut God out completely as a teenager, when my Mom was diagnosed in her late 30’s with Huntington’s Disease (HD). It is a hereditary brain disorder, and it claimed many family members. This disease slowly affects the nervous system, and it is fatal after a 10-20 year progression. My Mom passed away when she was 48. My brother and I had a 50/50 chance of carrying the disease. Predictive testing wasn’t available yet, so I wrestled with this in my own way – I hid in a shadowed corner.
I decided my chances were so high to have HD, that there was no hope for me. I was destined to a short life, assuming my health would start to decline around age 35, and I decided God was not for me. How could he be? This is a terrible, ugly disease that plagues my family, and that just doesn’t make any sense. If God loves us so much, why did my Mom have HD? I wouldn’t say I hated God, but I strongly disliked Him. I turned my back to Him and barely gave Him the time of day. I made a lot of poor choices and lived a self-serving life. I hid all the hurt, feeling like things were ok there – just enough – kind of like that corner of mine. I was productive, doing my job, eventually raising a family, all while suppressing my fear and doubt. I was happy on the outside but terrified on the inside. I felt alone in my corner, afraid of death, anticipating the onset of HD. My corner had enough light to love my circle of people, and do all the things we do to survive, but this was not a thriving corner. This corner was just enough.
Eventually, when I closed in on my mid-30s and things were getting harder at home and at work, I found I was not strong enough or wise enough to stand alone. My loneliness and fear had overcome me and I couldn’t hide it anymore. The fear of HD taking over – well, it was buckling. Did I have HD or not? Could my husband finish raising our children without me? Was there enough money to put me in a nursing home when the time came? How many more years’ income would I be able to bring in before I’d have to quit working? Financially, could we afford this and that? Not a day went by that I didn’t notice something about myself and wonder if it was a symptom of HD – a twitch in my arm, a run-in with a doorway, or a clumsy fall. I kept those feelings to myself too. And, so, I decided I wanted to get the predictive testing done for HD to better plan the future for our family. That decision proved to be a journey with a lot of twists and turns. Over time, my insistence of being in control of it all myself left me sitting on the floor of my corner alone and scared.
- The average lifespan after onset of HD is 10-20 years.
- Individuals have been diagnosed as early as 2, and as old as 80.
- The mental and physical effects of HD are often described as having Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS at the same time.
- Those with HD are often blamed for behaviors they cannot control.
- HD causes certain areas of the brain to atrophy, or break down faster than normal.
- One out of 10,000 Americans has HD.
AWAKENING – BECAUSE HE LIVES
And then in the fall of 2012, at the encouragement of a couple dear friends, I picked up my dusty Bible. I was 37 years old, on the road to learning my HD test results (though few knew this), when I began reading Matthew. I had read the Bible some before, but honestly believed it all to be made-up – some silly – some hard to follow – some common-sense stories of old. I didn’t understand all I was reading, but that didn’t stop me this time. The Bible is a living thing with a heart and a pulse and warmth, and I was drawn to keep picking it back up. I read about Jesus’ ministry, the man he was, the lives he touched, the lessons he taught, the sacrifice he made – in a whole new way. I felt gentle whispers to “keep reading, Teri.” If you don’t know the history of the Bible – the purpose and context of each book, how it was written, the truth about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ teachings in just three years of his life, the large number of people who saw Jesus after His resurrection, the difference between grace and mercy – I urge you to seek these things out for yourself. Scripture becomes meaningful when your heart is open. I found hope and truth there in His Word. Hope for heaven. Hope for joy and peace in my heart. Hope for me.
Just before it was time to get my HD test results, I surrendered myself to Jesus. No matter what happened yesterday, or last year, or my whole life, no matter how bad my sins were, no matter if my test results were positive or negative for HD, this was a turning point. I committed to follow and serve Jesus. I don’t know the words to describe how this felt, but it was like stepping out of that corner for the first time ever. He made me see that corner for what it was – a stagnant place where nothing can grow. Right there in my bedroom, among many prayers, He called me to commit to him without understanding first. I wanted to trust Him – to teach me and lead me the rest of my days. And I wanted to change my life, whether I had a month left, five years, or fifty years – to lean on God and to thank Him in every way possible, and to serve and give to others. I learned it’s not all about me. If I could make Him my first priority, then He would smile down on me with a new purpose in my life. Jesus said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). He was with me that day at the hospital in February 2013 and I was absolutely in awe when my test results were negative for HD! Praise God! This blessing and many, many, many others drive me every day to love Him back and invite Him into every moment of my life. His strength and forgiveness is undeniable, especially when I am weak and unsure. Jesus – just that name!
HE IS MAKING ME NEW
My life has never been the same and I’m so grateful for each day that I get to continue learning more. I am a new believer, immature in my faith, and I have so much to learn. I started to go to church and found a new love for worship. I started to read suggested books from friends to supplement my Bible reading. I started to go to Bible studies and listening to Christian music. I started to pray out loud and sing to the Lord in my own worship. I began to see things in a different way. Everything I was learning was brand new to me. I had great friends who urged me on and made me feel welcome. I know what I was like before, and I know what it’s done for me. Words cannot change you like that unless they are the truth. Who knew how dark that corner really was all that time?! Life with Jesus is a life that thrives in full color! I wish everyone would choose a daily walk with Jesus – awake to the activity of God all around us.
I will always be a work in progress. Doubt creeps in, and I struggle with patience and lack of understanding – as much as the next girl. But, I trust Him to keep working on me. I don’t know much, but I know I am chosen and loved by God. I know and believe the promise – that God loves us so much he gave up everything to come to earth and sacrifice himself – to save us from death. I’ll say that again – to save me from death – so that I may have eternal life.
This is what the song “Amazing Grace” is all about?! I just never really knew! And He is coming back! I’m the same person, but different too. God is working new opportunities in my life – opening new doors, stretching my limits, taking me out of my comfort zone, and it is all so worthwhile! I am serving in a kid’s ministry and serving in my community. I am giving my time and money to help others. I am praying with my children and loving time with God in my every-day life. I can look at that shadowy corner in my bedroom and know that I don’t camp there anymore. Nobody but Jesus will rule my life. Life without hope and faith in His promise is just a dark, boring corner.
A FEW KEY THINGS I’M LEARNING
It is ok to have faith, even without understanding the problems of the world, like disease, violence, depression. God leaves big question marks in our lives to stretch our faith.
It’s not ok to just get by, to survive in the shadows. Hiding in a corner might feel like a safe life, but we are meant to abound, to thrive and to shine His light to those around us. He invites us to live in His kingdom of love and light, and all you have to do is accept Him and thank Him. You are loved by God.
I was never alone. God reminded me all the times he guided my path and planted seeds all around me. And when I finally could no longer stand up on my own, he was there, waiting patiently, to carry me.
His love is a crazy kind of love. God loves me more than I can fathom. All those years I turned my back to Him and refused to acknowledge Him, he continued to provide. He blessed me with a college scholarship, great jobs, loving family and friends, a place to call home. He even answered my prayer to be a Mom, to have one girl and one boy. I ignored Him all that time, sinning every day, never thanking Him and He just kept giving – who does that? God does! And, because He loves like that, so should we.
It is never too late and no sin is too big to be forgiven. I chose not to know God because of the things I was told to believe about Christians. I made choices that I knew were against his Word and the only excuse I knew was “everybody else is doing it”. I was mad at Him for my Mom’s fight with HD. I was selfish and arrogant. These are all sins – hating God, denying and ignoring God, thanklessness, selfishness, self-serving life, using His name in vain, and worse – all sins. Yet Jesus already paid for my sins before I was even born – when He died and rose again. He is in the business of forgiveness all the time, and so should we.
I don’t believe in coincidences. God has a plan and He orchestrates all things – particular people in and out of your life, challenges and opportunities. He will show you a purpose if you let Him.
Jesus wants a personal relationship with me. The more effort I put in daily to getting to know Jesus, the more I get out of it and the better I feel. When I stood alone, it wasn’t enough to bear the weight for the long haul. Jesus can be your foundation too.
We are meant to learn and grow in a community of Christ followers. I learn best by attending church and Bible studies – get engaged!
I have a choice in my relationship with Jesus. It is my choice to make God my first priority, no matter what the rest of the world chooses, including family and friends. I hope and pray that my loved ones choose Jesus. But in the end I will be accountable (face to face with Jesus) for just my actions alone, my choices and my accomplishments. You have the same choice.
THE CORNER – FINDING MY FAITH
Teri Templeton, November 2014