My journey of faith began at the age of eight, when my grandmother convinced me to go to confession with her. I hesitated because it took place at her Russian Orthodox church, behind a gold curtain with a tall, bearded man in a gold robe smelling of incense and wine. But it was her once-a-year confession, so she insisted.
The priest asked, “Have you sinned against anyone? Has anyone sinned against you?” His questions surprised me. No one had ever asked me anything like that.
I told him about my neighbor who kept teasing me. I claimed to forgive her, but went home and promptly told her, “I told the priest on you!”
She replied, “Do you even know Jesus? Have you even asked Him in your heart?”
With that she left, and I pondered her question. Right then and there, I prayed and asked Jesus into my heart. I have felt His hand on my life strongly ever since. After that I remember praying nightly, a simple child’s prayer: “Lord, let me move to live with my mom.” To everyone’s shock, He soon answered that prayer.
A month before my ninth birthday, my grandparents, with whom I was living, took me to visit my mom. Before we arrived in Reno, my grandma made me promise several times that I would not move with my mom. Twelve hours later, I was in the hallway of the motel in which my mom stayed, praying for a sign. There in the quiet, I felt His peace about staying.
And though it made no sense because my mom was an addict and had two other children living in a closet of a motel, God used the next five years of chaos and premature adulthood to build within me a greater faith.
Prior to moving in with my mom, I had felt dissatisfied with the religious upbringing I’d experienced with my Russian Orthodox grandparents. I wanted more.
Two years later, I found what I was looking for at a small Baptist church down the street from our new rental in California. For me, church couldn’t have come at a better time. Years of carrying the weight of trying to keep my mom clean and hold my fractured family together had left me exhausted. Since my mom forbade me to confide in others, I turned to God in prayer.
Once again, He met me in my place of need.
In fifth grade, after yet another school change, a counselor-in-training from the local state college connected with me during “math groups”; these ended up being like the counseling I so desperately needed.
At the time, I didn’t recognize God’s provision, but I do now. God knew what I needed: a friend. I don’t remember counseling per se, but he listened as I shared with him all my family drama. He was a safe place. Someday I would like to be that for someone too.
As I approached my teen years, I became more and more unhappy at home. My dad had joint custody of me by the time I was in seventh grade, and oh, how I looked forward to my time with him. When I was with my mom, I felt trapped with no way out. If only I could just speak up and tell her the truth. But despite our broken relationship, I did love her and desperately wanted her approval. So I remained silent.
God intervened once again, making a way for me to live with my dad. Although the process of the transition was painful, even including my mom kidnapping me for ransom, eventually I settled into life in my dad’s home. I finally felt like a normal kid with a normal life and friends for the first time since fourth grade.
Unfortunately, my mom and I grew more and more distant every year. I started saying no to requests for money, or to watch the kids, or to live with her on a more regular basis. On my seventeenth birthday, my siblings were removed from her home for their safety, and she blamed me. As she became more and more verbally abusive and manipulative, my dad filed a restraining order against her on my behalf.
That was the hardest year of my life. I fell into depression and anxiety, believing I had no purpose in my life. I wondered if anyone would care if I was gone.
That time was also the best year of my life. Eventually, I stopped doing things my way and gave them all to God. Subsequently, I felt called to full-time ministry. I have followed Him hard since and haven’t looked back. I have no regrets in serving Christ.
God has given me a future and purpose; He has surrounded me with godly people to help guide me. He has been with me through it all, and if it weren’t for Him, I don’t know where I’d be.