On March 1, 2020, Erika Gresh shared her faith journey with us. It was a significant challenge for us to remember that we don’t share from a position of “having it all figured out” and to remain humble as we continue to pursue a love relationship with Jesus even in hard times.
Erika gave us permission to publish her written story as well as the video of her sharing in the worship service. Here’s her story:
The easiest way for me to tell my story is by explaining the three major phases of my life:
The first phase occurred when I was about seven or eight years-old, and I was essentially going through a “breakup” with my birth father. I was born into a divided family – my mom and my stepdad in one house and my dad and stepmom in another. To say the least, the life I lived at my dad’s house was scared me. I constantly left like my presence was bothersome and I spent most of my time playing in my room, trying to stay out of the way. Their house didn’t feel like a home and I had a list of rules I was to abide by. Rules that required me to ask for permission to eat, rules that allowed me in only certain rooms of the house, rules that rarely allowed me to contact my mom, and when I was given the chance, calls were usually monitored and there were certain things I wasn’t to speak about. In addition to the rules, there was a considerable amount of mental and physical abuse. While there were some good days, I spent the better part of my time there feeling like I was walking on eggshells and was terrified of making a mistake. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t had my mom and stepdad to protect me. I knew they weren’t perfect, but I also knew they wouldn’t hurt me and I was safe to cry to them, cling to them, and beg them for help. I started therapy when I was in the second grade, talked to social services when I was in fourth grade, and by fifth grade, my birth father decided it was best to stop visitation.
While it ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me, and something I secretly wanted, I was devastated at the time. My own flesh and blood, no longer wanting anything to do with me, telling me that I had caused these problems and dug this hole for myself. It’s been about 13 years since I last saw the house I grew up in, the two dogs I grew up with, or spoke to my dad, his wife, both sets of grandparents, and a little sister, who was only a baby at the time. When life at my dad’s house was at its scariest, I found myself lying in bed at night, talking to the sky.
At the time, I had no relationship with God, knew nothing about Him, didn’t go to church, and had never read a Bible. But somehow, I knew God was in the sky, that I was talking to Him, and that I had His undivided attention. He became like an imaginary friend to me, someone I didn’t talk much about, but someone I talked to daily and told everything. To look back on it now, it’s amazing to see how He came to me and how, without knowing anything, I knew it was Him and that I could trust Him.
2: GAVE MY LIFE TO CHRIST
The second phase is when I gave my life to Christ. I was in high school, living your average high school life with my mom and stepdad, who I now called dad. My life consisted of a group of best friends, driving recklessly, and worrying too much of what everyone thought of me. Overall, my friends and I were good kids – we did well in school, we were active, social, and we stayed out of trouble. But being good kids eventually became boring, and sophomore year we began experimenting with drinking, hanging around boys with bad intentions, and going to parties we had no business being at. I had done a great job at pretending the past never existed, but I always felt a void – small enough to ignore, but big enough to feel. For so long I had assumed it stemmed from the family that was no longer around, and the thought of it being a spiritual void never crossed my mind. But the more I ignored the void, the bigger it got, and I became overwhelmed with guilt and worry that God was disappointed in the life I was living.
My 2016 New Year’s resolution was to get right with God and make better decisions. Within the first months of the new year I befriended Adelyn Noble, became a regular church attender at Northstar, and was baptized that May.
The third phase is when I stopped listening to God and began listening to the enemy. Once I came down from my spiritual high, and was settled into my new Christian life, I was left with the realization of all that I had lost throughout the years. My friends from high school decided they didn’t like the changes I had made for myself and cut me out of their lives. My family still supported me, but they didn’t understand my faith or who I had become.
I often questioned the choices that I made, thinking if surrendering my life to Christ was the right thing to do, why was everyone so mad at me for it? I started reliving the past and began carrying around its baggage as if it defined me. I began to hate everything about myself and assumed that if I wasn’t worthy of man’s love, I could never be worthy of God’s. I developed a fear of abandonment and started convincing myself that everyone I cared about would eventually leave me which resulted in me ruining many relationships. I was feeling emotions and remembering situations that I had been suppressing for years, and in 2017, I became severely depressed. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do to make myself feel better: I began journaling, exercised regularly, tried aromatherapy, read my Bible every day, and prayed every night.
While physically I was doing everything right, mentally, I had let the devil inside my head and was listening to everything he told me. I stopped seeing my friends (because I believed I had none), I started skipping classes (because I didn’t think I had what it took to succeed), and every night, instead of praying for healing, I began praying that God would take me in my sleep. I became exhausted, was sleeping 16 hours every day, was too tired to go to church, too tired to shower, and woke up only to do whatever was necessary for that day. I became numb and began to search for ways to feel something other than the sadness, which resulted in me traveling down the dangerous path of self-harm. The enemy had convinced me to keep quiet about my struggles, telling me that to ask for help would only be a burden to those around me. So, I complied and kept my pain a secret, ensuring no one would suspect anything was wrong.
Before I knew it, 2018 rolled around and I began overloading my plate to distract myself. I was working during my free time, attending all my classes, got accepted into Radford’s nursing program, sought medical treatment, and I was ready to be happy again. Over time, the cuts were healed, I was fully consumed with school, and I had a new group of friends who made me laugh harder than I ever had. I was so invested in the business that I had created for myself, that I had no choice but to ignore the depression that lied just beneath the surface.
Fall 2019 approached and I, unexpectedly, hit rock bottom. I had a professor, constantly in my ear, telling me that I wouldn’t make it and that people like me weren’t meant for this profession. The more I listened to her, the worse my grades got, which would send me into an anxious panic. I intentionally put school before everything – including my mental and spiritual health. At night, I would lay in bed crying with frustration, anxious about everything, and angry at everyone. Once again, my mental health was spiraling out of control and because I had kept my sadness a secret for so long, I was far too embarrassed to ask for help. I was in so much pain that I became desperate for relief and reverted back to self-harm in hopes of feeling better. Eventually, the semester was over and after 6 months of mental instability and many unfortunate situations, I failed out of nursing school. My reality became unbearable, my wrists no longer easy to hide, and the thoughts that filled my head began to scare me. I spent the majority of winter break convincing myself that I would never be successful and believing that happiness wasn’t in God’s plan for me. I got to relive the semester over and over with each and every, “Hey! How did your semester end?” Something I was once so proud of was now something I was ashamed and embarrassed to talk about.
4. THE NOW
This brings me to the now. I currently live in the unknown and although I have an idea of where I’ll go from here, nothing is for certain. I’ve had no choice but to talk about my depression and am finally getting the help I’ve needed for so long. Still, I’ve been left with a lot of decisions to make, things to consider, and emotions to process. I wanted to wait to share my story for when I had my life together so I could talk about how great life is now and share all the trials I was able to overcome. I didn’t want to tell a story that had numerous unsolved problems and an unwritten ending. But God reminded me that I am not the reason I survived and I am not the one to be praised – He is. So what better time to share the power and the goodness of God then now, when my life is still a mess and I am just now learning to surrender this to Him.
During these past few months, I’ve tried endlessly to push Him away and do this life on my own. Unsurprisingly, He hasn’t budged and while I sat at rock bottom, pitying myself, He told me to look up and recognize all the blessings I’ve been surrounded by for so long. God allowed me to see my parents who would sacrifice anything to help me achieve my goals, my grandma who is constantly reminding me of how loved I am, my brother who gives me spiritual advice, friends who refuse to let me isolate myself, the Noble family who makes me laugh until I’m in tears, a dog who has captured my entire heart, the Myers family, who’ve taken me in and loved me as one of their own, a church family who will pray for me, and a group of sassy middle and high school youth girls who are living proof that there is still so much good in this world. It’s because of my own selfishness and sinfulness that I spent the last 5 months of 2019 believing the enemy’s lies and thinking I was walking this path alone. But, it’s because of His love and His mercy that I was able to recognize the sea of people that have carried me and continue to carry me through the trials of life.
For years I looked at my childhood and saw unfairness and heartbreak; now I see a childhood that was filled with late night conversations and an unbreakable bond with my friend, Jesus. I used to look at Radford and see a nursing school I wasn’t good enough to complete; now I see God rescuing me from a place I was deeply unhappy in. I used to look at my high school friends and think about what a great loss they were; now I look at my college friends and church community and think how it can’t get better than this. I used to look at myself and see an unlovable daughter; now I see me, the daughter of the Almighty Father who tells me I will always be worth it. So, what have I been so anxious for? God’s got me, He’s got my future, and I didn’t mess up the plans He made for me, I messed up the plans I made for myself.
I want to end my story with a truth that has saved me from making very selfish and stupid decisions: Jesus hasn’t forgotten us. John 14:2-3 tells us,
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Romans 8:18 says,
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Maybe this is something that everyone has already accepted and maybe I put it in my story just so I could hear it for myself. But, in the off chance that there’s someone who has forgotten it, Jesus is coming back for us and we will spend eternity in Heaven. The trials we face now, won’t matter in the end and the heartache we feel today, won’t always be there tomorrow. I’ve learned that surrendering your life to the Lord doesn’t mean that all your problems will be solved or that life will suddenly become easy. But, the beauty of Christianity isn’t that life becomes a fairytale, but that our afterlife will be worth every trial, every tear, and every scar we endure.
I am living proof that the messes we create for ourselves are never too big for Him, and that if we let Him, He will take our messes and turn them into something beautiful. I may be anxious about my future, sad about my past, and lost in my present, but because of Jesus and what He did for me, and for all of us, on the cross, I know that I am heard, I am loved, I am held, and I am healing.