Chapter 5 – Early Teens

Learning to Trust.
My early teens were not just a period of personal turmoil and spiritual awakening; they were also my introduction to a concept that would profoundly shape my understanding of faith and relationships: community. In the aftermath of my transformative experiences, I found myself being gently nudged into the heart of a community that was unlike any I had encountered before.

This community wasn’t just a group of people who gathered to worship in the same building each week. It was a living, breathing embodiment of Christ’s love—a network of individuals who genuinely cared for each other’s well-being, both spiritually and physically. For someone like me, who had struggled with feelings of isolation and misunderstanding, this was a revelation.

One of the most daunting aspects of entering this new community was the challenge of getting to know people. For the first time, I was in an environment where people seemed genuinely interested in who I was, beyond the surface level. These weren’t superficial interactions; they were deep, meaningful conversations that often left me feeling both vulnerable and valued.

Building trust was an intricate dance. My past experiences had taught me to be cautious, to always wait for the other shoe to drop. But here, in this community, I was introduced to a different way of relating. People didn’t just offer friendship; they lived it out through their actions. They showed up, they listened, and they extended grace in a way that mirrored the teachings of Jesus.

It was a gradual process, learning to trust that someone could have good intentions towards me. Every act of kindness, every word of encouragement, and every gesture of support was a brick in the foundation of trust we were building together. It wasn’t always easy. There were moments of doubt and fear, times when I questioned the authenticity of their care. But at every turn, I was met with a consistency that slowly eroded my defenses.

One of the most profound lessons I learned in this community was about intention. In the New Age practices of my past, intention was often a concept tied to personal desire or gain. But in the context of my faith community, intention took on a deeper, more selfless meaning.

I learned that to live intentionally within a community meant to actively seek the well-being of others, to pray for them, to support them in their struggles, and to celebrate their victories as if they were your own. It was about setting aside personal agendas to serve the greater good, to embody the love and sacrifice that Jesus demonstrated.

This understanding of intention radically changed my approach to relationships. I began to see interactions not just as opportunities for personal growth but as chances to contribute to the growth and enrichment of others. It was a shift from a mindset of scarcity—where I had to guard myself against potential harm—to one of abundance, where I could freely give of myself, trusting that the community would reciprocate in kind.

As my trust in the community deepened, so did my desire to contribute. I started small, volunteering for tasks that seemed inconsequential but were essential to the life of the community. Whether it was setting up chairs before a service, staying late to clean up, or offering to pray for someone going through a tough time, each act of service was a step towards deeper integration into the community.

This phase of my journey wasn’t just about doing; it was about becoming. With each act of service, I was not only contributing to the needs of the community but also shaping my own identity. I was becoming someone who lived out their faith through action, who saw the value in every task, no matter how small, and who understood that every contribution mattered.

Through these experiences, I also discovered my own spiritual gifts. Prayer, which had once been a personal lifeline, became a tool for ministry. I found that I had a knack for intercessory prayer, for standing in the gap for others and bringing their needs before God. This gift of prayer wasn’t just about speaking words into the air; it was about connecting with the heart of God for the people He loved.

The more I engaged with the community, the deeper my relationships became. Trust was no longer a scarce commodity but a plentiful resource. I learned to open up about my struggles, to share my victories, and to be genuinely present for others doing the same. This mutual vulnerability was the soil in which true friendships grew, relationships that were rooted in faith and bolstered by shared experiences of God’s grace.

In this community, I found a family. Not a family bound by blood but by a shared commitment to following Jesus and living out His command to love one another. This was a love that didn’t shy away from the messiness of life but embraced it, offering hope and healing in the midst of pain.

My journey of discovering community, building trust, and learning about intention laid a foundation for my life that would endure far beyond my early teens. It taught me about the power of belonging, the strength found in collective faith, and the beauty of a life lived for others. This chapter of my story is a testament to the transformative impact of Christian community—a community that not only welcomed me with open arms but also equipped me to extend the same invitation to others.

This foundation, firmly rooted in the fertile soil of community and trust, became the bedrock of my spiritual journey. It was in this nurturing environment that I began to truly understand the breadth and depth of God’s love—not just as a concept to be studied, but as a reality to be lived and shared. The Christian community taught me that belonging wasn’t merely about being included; it was about being part of something much larger than myself, a collective endeavor to embody Christ’s love in the world.

As my sense of belonging deepened, I noticed a ripple effect in other areas of my life. School, which had once felt like a battleground of social navigation, became an arena where I could practice the lessons of empathy and kindness I was learning within the church. The confidence I gained from being accepted and valued in my faith community empowered me to reach out to others who, like me, were searching for a place to belong.

This wasn’t always easy. Extending an invitation to others, especially those not familiar with the Christian faith, required a level of vulnerability and intentionality that was often met with skepticism or indifference. Yet, driven by the conviction of what I had experienced, I persevered, guided by the Holy Spirit’s prompting to share the love I had received.

Service became a significant theme of my life during these formative years. I learned that serving others wasn’t just about fulfilling a need; it was a form of worship, a way to thank God for His blessings by blessing others. This understanding transformed my approach to service. It was no longer about the accolades or even the immediate results of my efforts but about being faithful to God’s call to love and serve.

This perspective shift was particularly impactful when I began to engage in outreach programs. Working with those less fortunate, I saw firsthand the stark realities of poverty, addiction, and despair. Yet, even in the midst of such hardship, I witnessed the power of hope and the difference a community of believers could make in the lives of those who had lost everything. These experiences solidified my belief in the Gospel’s transformative power, not just for the next life but for this one.

Of course, my journey wasn’t without its challenges. There were moments of doubt, times when the weight of what I had experienced at home and the struggles I faced seemed to overshadow the progress I had made. Yet, it was in these moments that the community stood by me the most, offering prayers, support, and a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

One of the most profound lessons I learned during this time was the importance of perseverance in faith. The Christian life, I came to understand, is not a sprint but a marathon, filled with ups and downs, victories and setbacks. Trusting in God’s plan, even when the path seemed unclear, became a daily exercise in faith and surrender.

As I reflect on the impact of my early teens and the role of the Christian community in shaping my path, I am filled with gratitude for the journey thus far. The seeds of faith, hope, and love that were planted in those years have grown into a deep-rooted tree, providing shade and shelter not just for me but for those I encounter along the way.

Looking forward, I see a future bright with possibility. The lessons of community, service, and faith that were so integral to my story continue to guide me as I navigate the complexities of life. My hope is to carry forward the legacy of love and transformation I received, extending the invitation of belonging to a new generation.

In this way, my testimony becomes more than just a personal narrative; it is a living testament to the enduring power of God’s love, a love that invites us all into an ever-expanding circle of grace and redemption. As I close this chapter of my story, I do so with a heart full of anticipation for the chapters yet to be written, trusting that the same God who guided me through my early teens will continue to lead me into a future filled with His purpose and presence.