The Story: Part 3 – When Godly People Do Ungodly Things

coffeeI settled well into my new worship leading position at the church. Things were going well. I loved leading worship, and I knew it was my calling, so it felt both challenging and comfortable at the same time. I still wasn’t making a real community though. I don’t know if I just felt like this suburban group of families wasn’t my people because I was the only young single person not in school, or if I just wasn’t opening up because it wasn’t the Nashville group of friends that I wanted, but either way, I didn’t dig in to community at all. Instead, I rented a small garage apartment in the city, affectionately called The Treehouse, and frequented the trendy coffee shops and bars in my neighborhood on my time off. I quickly made young single friends with the same interests as me, but not one of them was a believer. At least, if they were, they were not walking with the Lord. One such friend was another musician who worked at one of the coffee shops a few blocks from my apartment. He was six years younger than me, a former sniper for the 82nd Airborne division of the Army, and had more adventure and intrigue than was good for one young boy. We were like two lonely train wrecks covered in magnets and quickly became inseparable. Maybe we were just so different that the mystery drew us to each other, but either way, it was bound to be a mess. Before I knew it we were more than just friends.

I feel like this is when I need one of those Save By The Bell time outs, so the narrator can tell me how terrible of an idea this is, but no one stopped me. Mainly, because no one knew. I had no accountability or Christian friends that weren’t just people on the phone, and you can tell them anything you want them to hear.

Isaiah 29:15

Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?”

I knew the whole time in my head that what I was doing was wrong, but I really didn’t care any more. Things weren’t going the way I had planned. While I was still leading worship and believing in God’s existence, I was ready to take matters into my own hands. And take them into my own hands I did. I became sarcastic and bitter, and hung out with others who were the same way, criticizing everyone who wasn’t as cool as us, eventually practically living with the boy. We were ridiculously jealous of each other, and suspicious that the other was cheating. It’s crazy how quickly the devil just slides right in.

Over the next two years I tried making Christian friends with people I’d met that were at other churches. People that had the kind of community I wanted. I don’t know if it was because they already had their own community, or if they could see through my double life and didn’t really want to be friends with a shady worship leader, but they never reciprocated. I was aching inside. Longing for Christian friendship and community. Was I driving them away? What was wrong with me? Though my life was riddled with sin, I continued to have a daily study time with God. Attempting to seek His will for me, yet unable to give up sin in my life.

Finally, I cracked. The 2 year boyfriend was spending way too much time with another girl for tutoring and I couldn’t handle my jealousy. Though I had no non-religious reason to break up with him, I just said, I can’t do this anymore. It was painful and tearful. It was the longest relationship I’d ever been in, and I knew it meant me being lonely again because I still didn’t have friends, but I was desperate to not live a double life any more. There is no other explanation than The Holy Spirit withing me. There was no strength in me.

In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.
I don’t know if your story sounds anything like this. If there is something you feel like you need to be rescued from because you cannot save yourself in your own strength, but I promise you, if you will call to Him, he will listen. He told us He would, and I know from experience, HE DID! And boy, did He do more than I could ask or imagine!
Stay tuned for Part 4…
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The Story: Part 2 – The Feast

Debbie Forrest 2010

There is something that happens in a girl when she is in her late 20s and single. No matter what else good is happening in life, there always is this longing to have a partner. Enter in, desperation and rationalization (dum dum dum, this is where the scary music enters into the background). There was a guy that worked out at the Y that was interested in me. He wasn’t my type. I wasn’t sure he was even a Christian. But, he had a hilariously contagious laugh. After about 10 times turning him down for a date, I finally said yes.

Skip to two months later and we were full on dating, meeting parents, talking about the future, and spending way too much time together. There were loads of red flags, but I chose to ignore them. I blame it mostly on the fact that I was so emotionally exhausted from investing in the kids at work, that I just didn’t have the energy to think about what was going on in my own life, but honestly it was just nice to have a person.

Besides the obviously red flag of me knowing in my spirit that the Holy Spirit was in him, there were other things, too. My roommate and one or two of my friends would cautiously question me about them, but I somehow found reason to rationalize them. For one, he was racist. He would say he was absolutely not, but then would tell jokes that would give me a sick feeling in my stomach, or say that he had black friends at work, but he’d never invite them for dinner. Seriously, even typing this out makes me ill that even associated with someone like that, much less date them. Maybe I thought I could change him. I don’t know. While I should have run at the first hello, I didn’t start backing up until three months in when he told me he’d bought a ring and asked my dad if he could marry me. I was sick. He hadn’t gotten on his knee yet, but I knew it was coming soon. I didn’t tell him no, but I said, not yet. That is when things started to really turn.

At first it was verbally abusive, but within weeks it turned into him shoving me against walls, threatening to throw things at me, and raising his hand at my face. He would always apologize immediately, of course, saying that he was just really hurt by my response, but I knew it was in his heart. The more I thought I about it, the more I couldn’t live with myself. I could reason, somehow, that I could personally take the abuse, but I would never want a child of mine to have to endure that.

Over the next month there were other things that happened, like the time I hosted a couples wedding shower at my house for one of my best friends. He not only picked a fight with the groom, but then called his best friend over without my knowledge to back him up, and proceeded to insult the groom and his groomsmen in my backyard causing a scene. I can still remember the bride crying in my kitchen. I’m still embarrassed and ashamed about that more than anything from that time. You wonder how or why anyone would stay in something like that. I can only say that it is the masterful work of the devil, and that I can now sympathize with women in abusive relationships.

I believe I was 5 or 6 months in at this point. I’d broken things off, but was still feeling tugs to answer the phone when he called, or meet him for lunch during the workday. I was in turmoil. Seeking out a counselor to go see. Praying the Lord would fix my mess. And then one night, God spoke. I know that everyone hears from God in different ways, but He speaks to me in dreams. Very vivid dreams. They always come at pivotal points in my life, and this night was no exception.

The dream: It was a sunny early evening when I stepped onto my front porch. As I looked down my street I could see people all dressed up in their finest, excitedly getting into their cars as if half the town was going to the president’s inauguration. There were diamonds and sequins, and makeup and hairdos. I knew where they were all going, but I had not dressed up that evening. I casually walked to my car and drove off. As I passed through the streets of my neighborhood I saw more and more people getting into their cars. There were white people, black people, rich people, poor people. Everyone wearing their favorite things. Pulling up to a stop sign I happened to see someone I knew. It was a guy I had worked with that summer at Barefoot Republic camp outside of Nashville. He excitedly waved as I rolled down my window to say hello. As he leaned into my car window he looked puzzled that I was not dressed up. I could easily see what he was puzzled by and said, “Oh, I’m not going tonight. Justin doesn’t want to go, so I’m just gonna go hang out with him at his house.” Then, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You mean, you’re going to miss the wedding feast of the Lord?”

And then I woke up. With a lump in my throat.

Just writing those words I have to pause to finish as I tear up. I knew that morning that by my own choice I was missing out on amazing things God had planned for me. Not that I would ultimately miss the feast in heaven, but that I was missing his joy, freedom and the feast that He wants to give us on earth.

Again, I wish the story ended there and I moved on from that day forward with joy and promise, but while I cut ties with the guy, I still had to go to counseling for a couple of visits just to stop crying every day. I didn’t continue with the counseling when I moved back to Houston, maybe I should have, but it would eventually take me nearly 3 years to get over the wounds of the emotional abuse that I didn’t even know I had. Stay tuned for Part 3.

Is there anything in your life that is holding you back from the feast that the Lord has for you? Maybe it is here on earth, something you hold on to out of fear or comfort, but maybe it’s actually taking the step to believe in Christ as your savior and committing to him. Obviously, as you can see in my testimony, that even with Christ as my savior I have made mistakes and had some difficulty in my life, but I know without the glimpses and downright slaps in the face from Him, I would not be where I am today.

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The Story: Part 1

show10Many people have heard parts of my story before. There are good parts, bad parts, and parts I’d love to leave out, but I think I’m ready to share it now. I’m going to start with what I call “Part 1”. It’s the overview that I’ve told often, leaving out the gritty details. Now, I will confess that some grit is better left untold, and I will omit some things, but I wanted to share the necessary parts in hopes to bring you some encouragement.

It was 2007 and I was entering my 9th year living in Nashville. I had bought my first little adorable 1920’s house on Fall Street in East Nashville, and spent hours fixing it up. I had a wonderful church, West End Community Church, where I had great community after serving in the youth group for a couple of years and then becoming one of the worship leaders on rotation. After seven years of studying the music industry at Belmont, then working in it, I felt like I needed a break and became the Youth and Teen Director at a YMCA in East Nashville that served mostly kids in government housing. It was a welcome change in routine, but it was also a serious turning point in my life and faith, both for the good and the bad.

I began dating a guy that within three months had bought a ring and was asking me to marry him. I think it is totally possible to be ready to marry a person in three months, but in this situation I had a pit in my stomach the moment he told me he’d talked to my dad. I didn’t say no, but I did say, not yet. That’s when things started to turn. It took about three to four weeks of him abusing me until I told him to never speak to me again, but by then the damage was done on my heart, and to make matters worse he was stalking me. He would come to my house at all hours of the night. He would come to my work while I was on duty and spread nasty rumors about me, or yell at me in front of the YMCA members. I started to see a counselor. I was a wreck.

Of course my mom knew little details of the story, like the part that my heart was broken, but she didn’t have to know the details to send me to scripture. She kept asking me to move back to Houston for a year or two until I get back together, and to lead worship at a church there. After I insisted I would NEVER leave Nashville, she told me to “throw out a fleece”. I was not in the mood for Bible lessons, much less some obscure story about Gideon, but I read the story none the less and asked God to give me a fleece. (I’ll let you read the story of Gideon in Judges chapter 6.) The next day I called my realtor and told him I was going to list my house. I told him no signs in the yard or emails sent out because I didn’t want anyone to know I might be moving, especially my work. After that I made a deal with God, “If you sell my house by Thanksgiving for the asking price, then I will know you want me to move back to Houston.” Keep in mind, this was not only just 6 weeks away, but it was also the beginning of the stock market crash and prices were already beginning to drop on real estate. Well, maybe you can guess what happened. Two weeks later I got a call from the realtor. He said, “You’re never going to believe this, but you just got two offers for your house in the same hour. One of them is for $5000 over asking price, and the closing date would be the day after Thanksgiving.” I cried. Not happy tears. Sad, sloppy, tantrum tears. I thought, “*&%$, if I don’t go now, I’m deliberately disobeying God.” A month later I was moved out. I slept on a friend’s couch until Christmas because I was still in denial, but alas, I moved back to Houston 2 days before Christmas of 2007.

I’d like to say things were sunny from day one, but I can be a bit stubborn. Three or four weeks later I was complaining to God that I still didn’t have a job leading worship, and why did he bring me all the way to Houston to sit and do nothing at my parents house. That night I was talking (complaining) to a friend in Nashville who was not a believer. He said, “If you believe God talks to you so much, why don’t you just ask him to give you a job by the end of the week?” Well, my uneducated sir, it’s Wednesday night and that is not giving God much time to work. His response, “You either believe God or you don’t, right?” *cough *cough *cough (I’m choking here). Um, okay, “God, can you please give me a job leading worship by the end of the week. But, if you can’t I totally understand.” Oh, my simple mind. I was just as shocked as anyone when THE NEXT MORNING I got a call at 11am from Rick Ivey at Good Shepherd UMC. “Debbie, hi, I don’t know if you’re still available to lead worship, but I saw your resume on Our worship leader just quit this week unexpectedly and we are kinda in a bind for this Sunday. I saw that your address on the resume is just 15 minutes from us, so I was wondering if you’d maybe come lead worship for us this Sunday and maybe a few more while we search for a new candidate?” I can’t even remember what I said. Inside I was thinking, “You’re kidding me?!” I went in for an interview the next afternoon just to make sure I wasn’t a nut job. That Sunday turned into 3 years serving at that church!

I kinda wish that was all to the story. BAM, God is awesome. I am healed. Let’s all believe. Allelujah! But, of course, as I mentioned before, I am stubborn. Thankfully, the people of Good Shepherd, whether they knew it or not, were loving me through the most difficult time in my life that I’ve experienced to date.

Click here for Part 2 of the story.

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