My Testimony: A Story of Grace and Mercy

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Most days I feel like a failure. At the end of many days, I tell my husband, “I feel like I am forgetting something.”  I am a detailed planner. My to-do lists are all organized whether mentally or physically written out on paper.  As I have aged, my ability to give myself mercy for not accomplishing everything has grown. I realize life is messy and never how you plan it.   However, I still beat myself up regularly, trying to convince myself that I am not good enough.  It seems like I am in a continual process of accepting mercy and grace.

My parents and family have been some of my biggest cheerleaders and support system growing up.  My church families have always been tremendous; without all of this fantastic upbringing, I truly wonder if I would have survived this long.  For some time, I have desired to share my story. Since so much of it is wrapped with other people’s lives, I have been wary of doing so.  But God has put it on my heart to be bold.  Maybe someone who reads this will relate and find solace and compassion.  I truly hope it brings hope.

As a child transitioning to a teenager, I felt very awkward.  This is very normal, and I probably handled it like most kids.  Looking back, I think I was pretty moody.  When I looked in the mirror, I saw a hideous creature.  My hair curled in all the wrong spots, and I could never get my bangs to do the right thing.  My face, arms, legs and back were covered in acne.  I always saw myself as overweight, even when I was not.  I remember never feeling comfortable wearing bathing suits or shorts or sleeveless shirts.  My excuse was modesty, but the truth was that I was so self-conscious of the numerous spots covering my skin that I hid behind clothes no matter how hot it was outside.  Some summers I could get enough tanned, dry skin that my scars were not as visible.  Those were the summers I loved.  I found that music took my mind off of my imperfections.  I grew up in a musical family, had a great piano teacher, and wonderful music directors at church.  When I felt low, I could sing a song or play the piano, and away went my worries.  Especially when I sang songs about God, which was the majority of my musical repertoire.  Music was the one thing I could do well.  I knew I was not perfect, but I knew I could get better.  And again, my support system encouraged me to flourish with my musical aspirations.  I wanted to sing for God, for He was the source of my joy.  When I was down, turning to Him, especially musically, lifted my spirits.

While all this was happening, a lie was being etched in my brain and heart.  “Andria, you will never be good enough to get a boyfriend or get married or be in the spotlight.” I felt so ugly.  Even though I was never told that I was, I felt it. My mind told me over and over that I could never be a singer that performed solo because I was not pretty enough.  I did fight those thoughts, reminding myself that if God wanted me to sing, He would make a way. I remember walking around my back yard and around the property at my church praying to God, pleading for him to take away my acne.  I went to skin specialists and tried all the crazy medicines.  Nothing really seemed to kick it.  My way of handling it?  I tried to rid them my way.  I picked at my skin until I was all red and bloody.  This is what created all of my scars.  And honestly, probably what kept my skin from healing.  I balled myself to sleep on so many nights, feeling like I was never going to get out of this cycle of abuse.  I would tell God that I would stop, but I didn’t know how anymore.  I just hid it the best I knew how.

As I entered high school, I was still dealing with so much of this.  I covered my face in thick coats of make-up and wore very baggy clothing.  I joined the choir and continued my piano studies.  And I had some serious boy crushes.  They all seemed pretty pointless to me, but I could dream, right?  Yet, one of those boys actually turned out to like me as well.  My first real boyfriend.  I was ecstatic!  I felt special.  I felt like God had given me a gift.  I couldn’t believe that a boy would find me pretty, and yet he did.  He complimented me and paid attention to me. He wrote me the sweetest of letters and walked me to my classes. He loved music as well, so we had a HUGE common bond. We discussed faith in God, music, family….it all seemed too good to be true.  I slowly stopped abusing myself.  Freshman year turned to Sophomore to Junior and then Senior.  The boy still loved me, still showed me affection.  I had lost weight, mostly from skipping meals whenever I could (which is SOOO not healthy) and my skin had begun to heal.  I felt prettier and happier, yet something inside me was still broken.  There was a loneliness I could not put my finger on, and it didn’t make sense.  So many days I wondered if anyone really cared about me.  I doubted my best friends’ really did. I doubted that my family did.  I felt like no one really knew me, and that if they did they would run for the hills.  Music was still my refuge. Prayer gave me comfort, but not peace. I wondered if God really had a plan for me, but pushed ahead.

Indiana Wesleyan University would be my next step, even though my boyfriend was staying closer to home.  Yep, we talked marriage, kids, life, but I needed to be away from home.  I loved the music program and the campus and got great scholarships, so IWU it was.  I had the sweetest roommate, and she and I got along great!  My parents continued to encourage me and love me in so many ways.  My boyfriend called me and sent me long letters. Yet, the loneliness and the feelings of worthlessness began to affect my social life.  I mostly stayed in my room and studied if I was not practicing, working, or sitting in class.  My grades definitely did not suffer, but I did.  I had a handful of friends there that I spent time with whenever they dragged me out of my room. However, by my second semester, I was not ready to continue on at IWU. I was depressed and felt so alone.  I also felt like the distance had strained my relationship with my boyfriend.  My mom and dad found me another school closer to home.  Gardner-Webb University seemed perfect.  I had renewed motivation and felt excited about starting over.  Everyone was so welcoming! I’ve never thought I was a true introvert, but my insecurities pushed some of my initiation down. At GWU, everyone tried to get to know me. It was alarming and comforting, somehow.  I got to work in the music department for my school job, which turned out to be one of my biggest blessings.

There I met Noelle Lee, the most outgoing and peppy person I had ever met.  The smile on her face was so bright.  And there was no way I was getting away with not being her friend.  This girl knew how to motivate and bring out the fire in a person.  We became roommates and best friends almost instantly. I cannot tell you how many heart to heart conversations we had in one semester.  I think I spilled my guts to her more than I had anyone to that date.  I had still been in the habit of hiding.  My scars still bothered me and from time to time old, abusive habits kicked in. However, with Noelle I felt like I wasn’t strange or hideous if I shared my fears.  She edified me and reminded me that I was a princess because I was a daughter of the King.  No matter how I felt, God made me beautiful.  What a lasting impact her encouragements have made on my heart.  My loneliness decreased more and more.  I began to find my worth in God, where I should have found it all along.  However, darker days were coming.

My sophomore year of college brought joy and new beginnings.  I got engaged to my boyfriend, started to see myself through God’s eyes, and I began to have a stronger desire to peform musically.  I even changed my major to a performance major!  This was a slap in the face to Satan, I am sure. For so many years all I felt like I could ever do was teach. Yet, upon encouragement from educators and God’s leading in my prayer life, I believed I should pursue a performing degree.  This meant many more songs to learn, MUCH more practice, many more recitals, a lot more stage time.  I was scared and thrilled all at once. It seemed like going into my Junior year that a future was finally becoming clear.  Little did I know the twist that was about to occur.  My fiance began pulling away in many ways.  I felt so distant from him, and he seemed preoccupied.  I prayed for him and for us, and sought advice from several other close friends. One weekend, I felt a strong pressing that I should visit him.  He was at home, but I was stuck at college without a car.  My dear friends drove me the two hours so I could see him in person.  I did not know what to say, but God told me to trust Him.  So I told the man I loved that if he needed space to figure anything out, he should take it.  I wanted God’s will for his life.  Valentine’s Day weekend, he visited me and told me he was going to take the space.  He asked for my engagement ring back and said he needed to figure some things out, saying he would give me the ring back again.  Suddenly, I felt overwhelmingly confused, heartbroken, and hopeless upon his departure.  That lonely feeling that had gone away swept back into my heart so deeply that I walked several miles in the rain to my friends’ doorsteps. I was so ashamed of myself.  I felt like everything was my fault and that I had hurt him but that I didn’t know how.  I felt uglier and more hideous than ever.  For months, I lived in a fog of emotional turmoil and confusion. Somehow my grades did not suffer, but my heart did.  I prayed and prayed that God would fix this and fix whatever was going on with him.  I prayed for him to show up and bring the ring.  The day never happened.

I slept most of that summer.  The depression grew.  Then one day another friend, Desiree’ Lulay, who had been the best listener ever, sent me a card with a letter in it.  It was a prayer. I treasured it. Something written on the outside of the envelope stirred something in my heart.  I wish I remembered what it was, but it was long ago.  What I do remember was that it gave me some motivation to live, even though I did not want to.  At the end of that summer, I performed all the songs that had gotten me through my darkest moments at my current church, Christ Wesleyan.  Giving this concert gave me all the more desire to live.  I felt like it was God showing me hope and it provided an opportunity for me to share hope, too.  There is something powerful about serving and sharing the good news of Christ.  No matter how dark your mind is, it forces light into it.

My senior year was difficult.  I was still healing from emotional wounds.  I was still confused about why I would have no future with the man I loved. My friends and family were constants. I don’t know how I would have gotten through that year without the friends from GWU who listened to me, cared for me, supported me, and encouraged me.  My music teachers were and are still the best EVER.  I cannot tell you how many times I had college professors stop and pray for me.  Often, my voice teacher would just begin or end my lesson with prayer, knowing I needed it. I became close to a guy at Gardner-Webb during that year.  It was a relationship that opened my eyes to parts of life that I had never considered, never understood, never wanted to understand. My parents prepared me for life and taught me so well especially about living a holy life, but I was quite naïve. The world we live in now is so different from the one 15 to 20 years ago.  Yet, God had been preparing me for a blow to my mind for awhile. I had NEVER considered it before a dream that I had one night that year.  It showed me clearly that the man I had been engaged to was dealing with something very difficult and beyond my control.  I woke up with one thought:  he is struggling with same-sex attraction.  I shared it with a couple of my close friends, feeling like I must be crazy.  Maybe I wasn’t crazy, they said. I prayed for him daily.  I prayed God would take away whatever was hindering him. I prayed that I wouldn’t get in the way of God’s will.  I prayed that God would heal both of our hearts.  I cannot tell you how many times these very sentences were prayed.  They were written in my prayer journals, and read out loud. I told Satan to get behind me, that God is bigger.  I would scream at Satan til I was hoarse.

I do not always handle things sanely.  I try, but sometimes in my emotional messes, I have said and done stupid things.  Sometimes I have thought that God allowed certain people and situations in my life so that I could minister better or set an example.  This may be, but I have failed royally on many occasions.  I do not think I handled the truth about my ex well.  I tried to by educating myself and praying for him.  I tried to talk with him about it, but I felt helpless. I got close to another man struggling with same-sex attraction.  I knew of his struggle for some time.  He loves the Lord and told me so many times that he has prayed God would take this thorn away. He did not want to live a life that did not please God, but he couldn’t make the thoughts go away.  The pain was real.  The struggle was deep.

Some days were worse than others. As close as we were and as much as I knew he loved me, he could not make any commitments.  He could not truly date me or court me or marry me. He would not do that to me.  As much as I still appreciate that, looking back I should have guarded my heart as should he. Even though we had no labels, our hearts were committed to something more than friends.  Our relationship emotionally went so much deeper than friendship, and my heart eventually broke into a million pieces again. I again felt helpless. I knew that it was not about me or anything I had done or about my lack of good looks, etc.  However I have to be honest, I felt like it was. The lies that Satan embedded, that I believed, were gruesome.  “Andria, see you are not good enough.  You never were.  You are so ugly, you couldn’t even attract a heterosexual.  Those men only loved your heart and your compassion and willingness to stick around.  You are so awful that you made their attraction to men worse.  You pushed them deeper into it.  None of your prayers are strong enough.”  I could go on, but I won’t.  Even though I was taught truth, even though I was being told truth on a regular basis and even shared truth myself, my mind betrayed all of that.  Nothing I could do could change these men.  This was true.  But the impact this truth, along with the lies I had begun to believe, had a dangerous effect.

One day in Florida, I gave up.  I had lived enough.  Nothing I could do was every going to succeed.  All of my musical pursuits had failed, all of my relationships had fallen through the cracks, even my job seemed pointless because all my efforts were only lending towards the business’ failure. My friends had all moved on in one way or another, so it felt.  I had nothing to hold onto except God, and suddenly I felt like He had failed me.  I thought I wasn’t good enough for God.  Somehow, even though I was taught differently, I believed that I was a complete failure in God’s eyes and that He had given up on me, so why not give up on myself?  I locked myself in the darkness of my room, took an unknown amount of cough and cold and pain medication, and tried to go to sleep forever. Initially,  I wasn’t trying to kill myself, I just knew the medications made me feel less which was better than feeling the pain I had been feeling.  When I stopped feeling anything, that is when I considered it.  I was about to make a call to my parents and a few other people who I loved.  At least, I was contemplating it.  The rest is a blur.  I know my roommate from college and her husband who was living in Florida near me came to my house and made me come with them to their house.  I remember my mom being on the phone with me and saying that my dad and brothers were driving to Florida to pack me up and take me home. All of the plans were made for me.

I had no will. I may have acted like I cared how things were packed or where they were placed when they were taken to my grandparents’ house, but I didn’t care about my life one bit.  I wasn’t worth caring about.  David Beam, Todd Burch, my grandfather, grandmother, my parents, my brothers and their wives, Noelle Cooper, Stephanie Butcher, Desiree Lulay, Julie Stone, Audra Elliott, Becca Beam, Mary Beth Jennings, the list could and should go on….these are the people that showed me that they cared about me BIG and helped me care about living again.

The fog started to roll away when my brother, Josh Reich, strongly encouraged me to help him with the music worship for the teens at CWC.  Yet again, serving the Lord does powerful things.  I began to have goals again.  I started to smile again.  I loved to sing and play the piano again.

The music is not what brought me back to life.  It was my Savior.  It was my Creator, the One who all along had been trying to comfort me and guide me and show me that I was worth more than all of the riches in the world to Him.  No matter how I compared to the standards of the world, I was beautiful and desired and was worthy to be loved.  I didn’t DESERVE it, but God’s grace made it so.  Because God so loved me, He sent His son to bear my guilt and shame.  Because God so loved me, He protected me from more than I ever knew.  Because God so loved me, His timing has been perfect.  Because God so loved me, I can see myself through His eyes of grace and mercy and stop abusing myself.  If I don’t get everything done, life will go on. If I make a mistake, there are consequences, but God will walk me through it.  If I goof on the piano or vocally, I am not a failure.  Marrying someone is not what proves my worth, and my husband does not determine my worth, my beauty, my joy.

God created me to worship Him. God created me to share about what He has done for all the world.  God created me to sing for HIS glory.  God created me to serve Him, honor Him, and glorify Him….in whatever I do. I am not good enough.  I was born a mess, with many flaws and a tendency to believe lies as well as a desire to live for myself.  However, because I believe God exists/sent a Savior/made a way for me be free, I choose to live.  Do you hear that?!? That should be something to shout and give praise to God about!   I choose to live…and live for GOD, not for me. If I chose to live for myself, I would not exist today.  I would not have the loving husband that lavishes desire and affection on me, nor would I have the most precious two year old sitting a few feet from me.  God has blessed me, all in His time.  I just had to choose to live and choose to follow Him.

I have many regrets, but I will never regret serving the Lord.  All my shame, all my mistakes, are covered not by anything I have done, but by Jesus’ blood. Hallelujah!!!!   By the way, the reason I got the two tattoos, “Grace” and the butterfly, are because I wanted a permanent reminder of what God did in my heart after I found my joy in Him.

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