BY NATALIE GOMEZ
Religion brought so much life and death to me. When I learned of Jesus, it was with very strict rules and regulations. At the time I didn’t mind, since I had come from a life so full of debauchery. I'd figured I needed to be strictly bound; after all, God was to me purely authoritative and expectant of my compliance. I say religion brought life and death because, in so many ways, I was truly saved from so much death in my life, but the longer I followed Him, the more miserable I became. Ten years into my salvation I was lifeless, joyless and overly prideful. My puffed-up self was spreading so much hate and judgement towards those who “weren’t like me.” Deep down I knew this was wrong, but really, it was all I knew. The misery of religion was so normal now, the strict guidelines that I held in my life helped me to feel somewhat secure - though freedom was always far from reach. I was not free to be myself because being myself meant being a selfish, sinful person. Being myself meant I was somehow dishonoring God. I thank God that I didn’t lose the part of me that always desired to grow and learn more about my faith. With the nudge of a true friend who saw my real self, I was led to hope, to healing. This true friend saw that I was a bleeding mess covered in a cloak of righteousness. I remember the first day I set foot in a healing ministry that spoke truth. I realized that after 10 years of following God, I had no idea how He really felt about me, that He never stopped chasing this very orphan hearted and lost Pharisee sheep. How did I miss the glorious love of a good Father? I remember reading those passages in scripture multiple times and singing those songs about His goodness, but there was a disconnect from my head to my heart. I knew about His love in my head, but my heart was far from Him. In healing I’ve learned that so much pain, trauma and wrong representations of God led me to have this disconnect. I learned that, as much as I denied it, my family life growing up had made me a very broken adult. I learned that I needed to face the traumatic experiences that I had endured and then carefully hid away for many years. I learned that I needed to forgive so much more specifically than what I was taught from a pew. I learned that everyone is broken and that I’m not the only one. I learned that Jesus saw me exactly as I was and that I could never hide my brokenness from Him —and yet he loved me still. Freedom, for the first time in my 28 years of life, was in reach, all I needed to do was to surrender my very hardened heart to a pleasant and loving God. I wanted His love and freedom like I wanted water, because my soul was parched, dry and dying. Healing was like a river flowing into my innermost parts, cleansing my pain, healing my wounds and allowing me to be me. I was supposed to be me, with all my flaws and shortcomings. In humility and grace, I was meant to be me. I was loved for me —not for what I did or knew or preached. I was loved for existing. And so are you. Relationship with the living God has brought me true life. It has brought me joy that I cannot explain and a community that I needed deeply. Healthy relationship has brought me so much healing and so much peace. It has also shown me who Jesus really is: a free, beautiful savior loving those who are hurting and broken every chance He gets. Thank you, Papa, for never leaving one sheep behind.