Seventeen is a weird number. When you’re sixteen, you can drive. You earn a freedom like no other. When you’re eighteen, life gets real. You can go to jail and get tattoos. The only change at seventeen is R-rated movies. It’s the verge of being designated an adult, the verge of figuring out life before it comes and whips you, saying, “Hurry up! It’s time to go.” On Halloween, I turned seventeen. It’s felt like an eternity, but I know my life is just beginning.
I’m a huge believer in the fact that your story, your life, will make an impact on someone. More importantly, as Christians, our testimonies can change lives. People can deny God, but they can’t deny your experiences. Whether you grew up in the church, a believer since childhood, or have had a life-altering experience, your story matters. Don’t ever think differently.
Testimonies are the stories of your walk with Christ. They are ever-changing, always adding on to the last sentence. It’s the story of your life. In honor of seventeen years of living, here’s mine.
This story is long. In order to understand my tale, you are going to need a little bit of background.
I grew up in a large family: two happily married parents and three older brothers. By sixth grade all of my brothers had moved out and I was the only one left. We have attended the local Methodist church ever since I can remember. As a baby, I was baptized into the Christian faith. I grew up as a VBS and Veggietales girl. Nothing special, really. It’s a common start for many Christians.
My family was “that family.” People would look at me and say, “Oh, you’re a Yelovich,” or “There goes the Yelovich’s!” My parents ran a Sunday School class. My brothers were popular in the youth group. I was the little baby, involved in all of the music programs.
Now you’re ready for my story.
In elementary school, I knew all of the Bible stories like David and Goliath or Jonah and the Whale. However, at school, I didn’t really fit in. I was incredibly tomboyish, and preferred playing sports with the boys at recess rather talking in the corner with the girls. I was all brunette curls, purple glasses, and lanky arms.
Fast forward to junior high: I went through Confirmation in sixth grade and became a full member of the Methodist church. Church was pretty good, I guess, but school was another story. Junior high was a time of drama and homework and puberty all wrapped in one giant mess. I began to straighten my hair, wear contacts, and boys started being boys. I was best friends with the most popular girl in school. We were the “It” girls. We could sing. We were athletic. We were pretty. We thought we had it all figured out. At home, my parents were constantly telling me I needed to improve myself. I wasn’t respectful. I wasn’t nice. I was selfish. To put it blatantly, I was a total brat.
There was another side to this junior high mess. I’ve always carried the label of the “Mom friend.” People come to me with their problems, expecting me to listen and have all the answers. I accepted my title gladly, but at the time had no idea how to handle it. Numerous friends of mine were depressed and I shouldered all of their burdens, but nobody was willing to help me with mine. You see, the summer of seventh grade started a pattern; I lost a loved one. I went to a funeral that summer. The summer of eighth grade, I lost two more. Two more funerals. I began to convince myself that I was going to lose everyone I loved. I pushed my friends away, letting very few in my inner circle. I was sad and I was lonely.
By the time eighth grade ended, I was in a terrible place mentally. I was a shell of a girl and I hated it. I hated putting on a fake smile everyday, pretending to be the happy girl everyone thought I was. I wasn’t my best self and I decided it was time to change that. I took a drastic step and cut off all of my junior high friends. Over the summer, I worked on bettering myself and becoming close with my best friend who is still by my side today. I lost another loved one that summer, making it summer number three. It was time to start a new chapter and I had no idea who my friends were going to be.
Freshman year was a hot mess. The youth group was in shambles. I refused to go. I hated every part of it. At school, I had numerous acquaintances, but I was so, so lonely. There was no one that I was close with. So, what does any person do when there’s a void of loneliness? They find a significant other. Freshman year, I found my first boyfriend.
There are only a few things you need to know about this. This guy was great, but I was so lonely I latched onto him. I ignored the only close friends I had. The boy and I didn’t make the best decisions and there were repercussions. My parents lost all trust in me. I entered another summer broken and hurting, having no idea what to do. I didn’t turn to God. I felt like a screw-up, unworthy of anything remotely good.
It’s funny how at your lowest points, God flips everything into perspective. Everything make sense. That’s exactly what happened the summer after my freshman year.
Towards the end of the school year, my church hired a new youth pastor. I started to go again, to test the waters. Come July, it was time for UMARMY, United Methodist Action Reach-Out Ministry by Youth. This is an annual mission trip for those in high school who have completed at least their freshman year. Work crews consisting of a few teens and an adult are given multiple projects to be completed in a week. The work mostly consists of building wheel chair ramps, but can be anything from painting to yard work to replacing windows and siding. All of my friends told me you would go in one person and come out another.
Our trip was to a little town known as Lufkin, Texas. My crew’s first project was a wheelchair ramp inside a paved car port. Proving to be more difficult than originally thought, the ramp took about a day and a half longer to complete than expected. However, our setback created time to bond with our client, Ernest. Ernest was a diabetic amputee who had had a tough life growing up. He told us he was on the track to jail time when a pastor took Ernest under his wing and changed his life. I grew close to Ernest in that short time, finding his story inspiring. Despite that, I didn’t understand the big rave about UMARMY. It was hot, hard work. It didn’t seem to be anything more than that.
Things started to change on Wednesday. On Wednesday, I witnessed a miracle. We were talking to Ernest and invited him to Thursday’s client night, a dinner and worship service for all those who had helped serve or were being served. It was an opportunity for fellowship, worship, food, and stories. Ernest wanted to go, but said he had surgery Thursday and wouldn’t be able to. Our head pastor was on site and asked if we could pray over him. Gladly obliging, we circled around Ernest and laid hands on him. We prayed for healing and peace and when we said, “Amen,” it was evident something incredible had happened. Ernest’s face was indescribable, filled with childlike wonder. The only thing he said was, “I’m going to that dinner.”
Thursday night, my crew was ready to give up, but, fifteen minutes late, Ernest rolled in. Fresh out of surgery, he had popped an extra painkiller in order to eat with us. That night, I understood. UMARMY wasn’t about building ramps or painting walls. It was about impacting people and building relationships, whether you saw the impact or not.
Following dinner, we went through a prayer walk. There were twelve stations. The first began with a rock. You were supposed to write down a burden on the rock and place it in your pocket. The rock traveled in my pocket until the second to last station which said to lay your rock, your burden, at the cross. Give it to God, the card read.
I knelt at the altar for over twenty minutes, staring at my burden, tossing it from hand to hand. I was so scared to let go. I felt like I didn’t deserve grace or mercy, that what I had done was too much. I wasn’t worthy of such a love.
Eventually, I laid the rock down at the cross. This led me to the last station. Before me laid a pile of envelopes. All were a blank pasty white, stacked on each other in a disordered fashion. Each envelope contained a different letter, the one you received up to pure chance.
The paper tore as I removed the seal of my letter. Inside, I pulled out the single most important paper I have ever received. In slanted handwriting was my letter sent from God, titled Peace Be With You. The following read:
“If my promise is only for those who obey the law then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And you are all certain to receive it.
I saved you by My grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from Me. Salvation is not reward for good things you have done, so you cannot boast about it. For you are My masterpiece. I have created you anew in Christ Jesus so you can do the good things I planned for you long ago.
…nothing can ever separate you from My love. Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither your fears for today nor your worries about tomorrow- not even the powers of hell can separate you from My love. No power in the sky above or the earth below- indeed nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from My love.”
NOTHING could separate me from Him. I reread those words over and over as tears fell down my face. He called me, an imperfect sinner, worthy of love. I was loved. I am loved. That letter changed everything. I began to surrender. I began to be made new.
Overwhelmed by God, I decided it was best I sleep. I wiped off my face and gathered my things. I headed upstairs an laid down. I replayed those words in my head, “…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons…” as I closed my eyes to rest, but sleep was nonexistent.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find my dream world. I tossed and turned until I heard something, a voice. It whispered in the back of my head, an almost inaudible sound instructing, “Go back downstairs.” Startled, I looked around the room. There was nothing. I closed my eyes again. “Go back downstairs.” The voice was louder, urgent. It was a whispering sound, different from my own thoughts. I argued with the voice until I finally succumbed and went back downstairs. I had no idea what I was looking for. There seemed to be no reason. It was late. I was tired. I didn’t know what to expect.
The first person I saw was my best friend crying in the back row. I walked over and sat beside her, praying as she wept, elbows on her knees, head in her hands. I still didn’t understand why I had been called downstairs. About twenty minutes had passed when the song came on. Lauren Daigle’s Blessings started floating through the speakers. The chorus reads:
“‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”
I broke down, again. My body shook as sobs wracked my body. Tears puddled on the floor. Somewhere in the midst of my breakdown, hands began to touch me. I was covered by people, prayers being whispered in a jumbled chorus. I knelt there, shaking, until the prayers were done. I opened my eyes and dried my eyes. The weight was gone. I had let go. I was free.
Returning home from UMARMY, I was on fire for the Lord. I was involved again, investing as much as I could in choir and in the youth.
I had been home for two weeks when Ernest passed away, marking summer number four.
Summer number four was different. My mindset had changed. Prior, anytime someone passed, all I could think was that I had lost someone else. I had had someone ripped from life when I didn’t want them to be. This time, I thought to myself, “He could have been gone two weeks before I ever met him.” I realized God’s timing is perfect, it’s intentional. God had a purpose for Ernest and God tied it into my story, too.
Sophomore year started off great. I was a member of the two highest choirs, an officer as well. I was a returning varsity soccer player. I had two best friends at school. Church was awesome every week. I was living life.
And then Katie passed.
Katie was nineteen when she was found in her dorm by her roommate. I grew up with Katie in church. She was a bright, kind soul with a heart for people. Katie was the only reason I joined choir at school, a decision which permanently impacted my life.
Her funeral was the hardest one I attended. I didn’t understand why she was gone so soon, but it was still different than the others. I did my best to be at peace with it. I never thought, “I’ve lost someone else.”
Life began to move on. Things were normal for the first time. I was on top of the mountain just enjoying life.
Unfortunately, life is never a smooth ride. While I was enjoying it, tensions were rising behind the scenes. To avoid telling a story within a story, we are going to fast forward to May of sophomore year.
The third weekend of May was a pivotal weekend for my family. It was the weekend of my brother’s wedding. Normally weddings are wonderful, happy occasions, but this one was different. Just hours before the ceremony, my brother’s bride-to-be called and left him with an ultimatum: her or our dad, her or our family.
He chose her.
The days following the ceremony were a living hell. My parents were heartbroken, shells of themselves as they tried to understand the unfathomable. I couldn’t take being alone in the house with them as I tried to handle my own grief.
Summer slowly arrived. Little did I know, I was in for another summer that would change my life.
This past summer, I chose to work at Camp Tejas in Giddings, Texas. I had willingly signed myself up for early mornings washing dishes, steamy afternoons by the lake, and nights under twinkling stars unhooking people from the zipline.
Camp ended up being many things for me. It was a refuge, an answered prayer. It was a family while my own tried to put the pieces back together. Camp was a place to grow and learn and prepare for the time ahead. It was a place to witness miracles and understand what it truly means to have a relationship with Jesus.
The last week of camp, I chose to rededicate my life to God. By my choice and my choice alone, I was baptized into the faith once again, a symbol of the life that I want to lead, a symbol of my transformation over the past year.
Coming home was hard. I had been healed of my wounds, but my parents were still trying to manage their own. I had to learn to use the skills I had acquired without being surrounded by a support group of dedicated Christians 24/7.
School started and I was thrown back into reality without time to adjust. I felt lost, pining after the summer that had ended so quickly.
Then, my house flooded.
Here we are, back to the now. I believe my summer of growth and healing was in preparation for my house. If I had been stagnant all summer, I don’t know where I would be right now, but I do know that God has a plan. I may not always like it, but there’s a reason for every trial and every triumph. We are pushed to our limits and beyond in order to keep growing in faith. I know that prayer is the most powerful tool that we have and that with that power comes great responsibility. God wants to use us as His vessels for change, we just have to be willing to trust Him and listen.
This is my story. What’s yours?