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Bri Santoro Photography

I didn’t know peace. But that didn’t last.

That bus ride back to Pittsburgh hurt me.

I sat there disgusted. Eyes glazed over. Trying to find joy in the moments of returning back to this city. I went home broken and left even more destroyed. I didn’t have clue as to how to process, I forgot self-awareness. I sat there drunk off of guilt and anger. I couldn’t breathe.

So angry, tears fell. But yet, I felt like a zombie. Nothing felt right and nothing felt wrong. I guess that was the part of me that felt afraid to lay what I did at God’s feet. But really, I wanted for it all to go away. But God wouldn’t let it.

Pittsburgh is home to me. It’s the one place where I feel at ease, where I feel safe. It centers me in a way that no other place could. I ran back home because I needed to feel that ease. I needed to know that refuge existed. That skyline greeted me and I sighed in relief.

But then I remembered: God is strong and mighty enough to find you where you are.

He did. Finally. But he did.

Five years ago, God found me on a floor wrecked from crying. At the time I didn’t know it was God but God knew that I needed Her. Call it lost. Later dragged to a city I barely knew. Then God found me a little church, with a ‘First Lady’’s shoulder to cry on because it felt like it was fit for my tears to land. Then to a Bible Study community that embraced me through my faults. I landed there because of my faults, so why leave them at the door?

I’m far from being fresh out of the box. Grief and pain confined me. Even to this day, I find myself like a cat, crawling into that empty box to play until my heart explodes from contentment.

Contentment. Such a lie. But also my truth.

Chaos brings a calm to my life that I can’t explain. It’s off putting when life seems to be in order. My life was and is rife with chaotic strife. The womb that nurtured me suffered through moments strange and uncontrolled. We lived a facade of happy but a house divided. Divided by illness, divided by incarceration, divided even through love.

So I didn’t know peace.

But that didn’t last.

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Bri Santoro Photography

So when I broke through the haze of contentment into the glare of conviction, there was no other place where it felt safe to lay at God’s feet what hurt me the most.

When you give your life over to Christ, it feels like the attacks on your personhood become much stronger. What life throws at you when you strive to be better can be enough to destroy. Because you believe with strong naivete that life begins again and everything you felt before sinks from you. In my heart, it does. In my heart, it did. But I still dealt with knowing that I lived that person in the past.

The past doesn’t die. It lives with you. As a Christian, you must ask yourself if you want to live with it.

But you try. And may fail. But the beautiful thing is that you get to try again.

Conviction. It was the first moment when I knew that I chose to drag my past alongside me to manifest in present form. I found myself angry at the wrong people. But what starts at anger will turn into forgiveness. And what starts as guilt turns into acceptance. And you look in the mirror and say “that was me. But I don’t have to be.”

The difference between was and is. The difference between being a believer and a skeptic.

I live in the was. My life is a reflection of the was. I was a girl that found herself broken from dreams never realized. I was the girl who struggled with self-worth in the midst of a society that finds currency in acceptance. I was the woman who thought she knew the world only for it to be taken from her. I was the daughter who bathed her life in exaggeration but couldn’t handle herself when she was washed in reality.

I was. Before May 21st, 2017, I was.

After May 21st, 2017, I can’t be. Not for my own survival. Not for the work that has to be done in Kingdom. But the ‘was’ creeps up on me. And I battle.

My life since being baptized has been a battle. I fight to save my sanity. I fight to save my space within God’s kingdom. I have to remind myself that I am not in a fight for God’s love. God’s love manifested through me when I was given a second and a third and a fourth and fifth change to live. God saw fit to keep the ball rolling even when I tried my best to deflate myself.

Under water, it felt like chaos washed away from me. For once. As if I didn’t have to worry about being followed by my past and haunted by dreams unfulfilled. I could just be.

And that’s is what I think about a year later. I think about the strides. I think about the growth. I think about the eagerness to learn more about the Bible. I think about the calm I feel when others acknowledge my personhood through my faith. Yes, I am a Christian. And the affirmation that comes with that.

I think about writing this. I now write for something bigger. I now give you my story not for pity but for God’s praise. Because God relieved me from that hurt and you need to know. And got me to a place where on May 21st, 2017, I needed to symbolize that love. I needed to put a seal on that love.

That moment was love.

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