If you have lived in the United States for any amount of time, I am sure you have run into multiple dimensions of Christian culture, whether it is in a church setting, the work place or a Christian social event.

The prayers, the worship teams—often filled with loud, hip music and youth ministries are many times under-girded with sermons of love, peace and prosperity. The Christian Culture that imbeds the ideas of perfection and prosperity often breeds a sense of false community, shallow friendships and shallow prayers. In such circles, I feel out of place, but I still believe in the Bible and in Christ and Him crucified with all my heart.

I have a relationship with Jesus. I hear from Him. I can discern His voice, not all the time. But I try. Wow, do I try. I spend time in the Word. I strive for it being daily and not just daily, but several times a day. I want depth with Him. I want His power in my life because I just can't do it without Him on this earth. But some of these Christian circles
Sorry, I just don't fit in.
​Don't get me wrong. I long for community. I desire long prayer times, where we can just pray and let the presence of the Lord lead our prayers and fill our hearts as we walk out renewed and refreshed. I want His Word on the forefront of my mind, day-in and day-out. I want worship where I am not being led by a human but by the power of the Holy Spirit. I want deep discussions about some of the more obscure things of the Bible. The things that don't make sense. I want to watch and see whom God chooses to make a special revelation to about such topics, without the fear of disagreement, but with the openness of a curious heart. I want true Bible studies where I learn more about Scriptures and their context with both Greek and Hebrew word studies than a person giving me a motivational speech on how to make it through the week with fresh ideas on how to "remember God" on Tuesday morning at work.

You see, I grew up in a home with drugs, witchcraft, and survived three loved one's suicides, walked through my own dark times of chaos, despair and confusion. I missed out on having a dad due to divorce and went to 16 different schools on two continents before the 12th grade. I have lived all over the US, grew up first generation European, and to those of you who understand the depths of that statement, will know that it means having a whole different outlook on life, suffering and politics. I speak two languages and am working on Hebrew and Bulgarian, but none of this is crown of glory. It’s more like a crown of thorns.

​I was shunned and embarrassed because kids made fun of the fact that my mom and grandmother had a thick accent when they answered the phone. I always got comments like, “I can't understand your grandma" or "your mom talks funny." Not many people wanted to come to my house for play dates or sleep-overs because my family was foreign, though legalized and went through the whole nationalization process to become American citizens. I even helped my grandmother study for her test on American history with the same materials I was learning in the 8th grade.

​I was bullied for being short and shoved in lockers in middle school, because, hey, I fit and other kids thought it was funny. Bullying wasn't such a big deal then so I never got that much attention for it. I just dealt with it alone.
​Fast forward to my college years.
​I went to a Christian College. It was my choice. No one in my family made me do it. I wanted God. I got accepted to UMass but decided to go to a small Nazarene College in Boston. My family couldn't afford more than one semester, so I transferred to another Christian school in FL. I was broken, hurt and not really interested in many of the things that other kids were into. But in the end, wound up with the party crowd because they were the only ones that didn't look down on my hurt. After partying for three years in college, I was done. I got so hurt and torn up by the cruelty of this harsh world and the terrible filth of dating jerks; I had nowhere else to turn to but God Himself.

I wanted Him and He got a hold of my heart at a friend's wedding one day. I was a bridesmaid and blubbering my eyes out in front of everyone, not because of her getting married, but because God was speaking to the depths of my soul with such clarity and tangibility. He was speaking directly into the places inside that hurt the most that I began to cave under the tender, yet stern warning to walk away from the lifestyle I was living and press into Him.

​So I did. I gave up my party lifestyle and needless to say, was left friendless again, but not hopeless.
​I had Jesus.
​I wanted friends after having such a powerful experience with God, so naturally I went to church. Though that church offered amazing sermons, ones filled with depth and truth, I didn't find any friends there. I was twenty-one, lonely and about to graduate. I had no family in the area and needed my next step shown to me from my God.

That last semester of college was a dream. God softened people's hearts toward me and He literally brought me friends. Something I had never had before. It was an amazing three months. But I knew it was all God. I knew I had nothing before Him and nothing without Him. I knew He had the power to harden hearts the same way He had the power to soften them. And He remembered me, in all of His compassion and mercy, and he brought me friends.

I went on to graduate college and went to seminary. It was a clear leading of the Lord. He told me it was not for the degree, but it was the next spiritual step I had to make.

So I went. I guess knowing it wasn't for many of the same reasons that other students were there kept me from fitting in again. I had no clear vision or purpose. I was literally just following the next step. I felt dumb and unambitious for not having a clear goal or direction, but I kept on, blindly following what I knew to be true.

I did a J-term at New York Theological Seminary and took a world religions class there. We were invited to attend a Jewish Synagogue one Friday evening, so I went. I was impressed at so many aspects of their culture.  I left there thinking, "If there were Jews that believed in Jesus that is where I would fit in most." But alas, I knew nothing like that existed, so I went back to school and church as always.

Back in seminary, I was immersed in chapels, theological classes and had to participate in some community thingy that was supposed to bring about a sense of community. But it didn't.

I was alone - broken and a mess. Went through two bad relationships, an engagement that ended with infidelity and finally a suicide and the church I was attending at the time was not cutting it. It wasn't meeting my needs. But I knew God. It may not have looked like it at times by the decisions I was making, but I knew Him. I wanted Him and I knew what He wanted from me.

Right before my ex-fiancé's suicide I had quit going to church. I started meeting with about three girls on Saturday evening that would do a Bible study or book study and go through the latest Christian book. I liked it. I had more fellowship there than a church service.

So I quit attending church. Then, I met some friends that told me about Sabbath and a perspective of the Torah having not been done away with. I was intrigued, interested. They met on Saturdays and it just fit.
I went. I fell in love. And I stayed a long time..
​They discussed topics that most Churches would not touch. I was mentally and spiritually stimulated, like the first two years of seminary before that well ran dry.

I met my husband there. We started a family and grew some roots. It was great. It was the second time in my life I could say I had friends, but the first time I could say I belonged to a community.

My husband and I started our life together with a Southern-double wedding. We should have known that nothing about our marriage would be “normal.”

This wonderfully tacky wedding, so filled with love and friends, made the physical stuff hardly matter at all. This wedding under the chuppah began our lives together in a little two-bit trailer, where we painted our lovely little nest and got it ready for life. We settled, we planted a garden and things were wonderful, for a time, until our big hearts let two people in our home for a season.
​It was tough, but we made it.
​They moved out and we bought a house together; a house that we thought we would live in forever.

We remodeled it and turned it into our little dream getaway from the city with a deck just right for large amounts of outdoor livin’ and a front porch that just begged for front porch sittin’. It had “End of the Rainbow” walls and a “Misty Surf” accent ​wall. Two things I know my husband hated, but he grew to love because he loved me.

We poured blood sweat and tears into that home: Blood from his busted toe right before I went into labor. Sweat from working on the house all summer, only to end those hot, sticky days of work with a cool dip in the nearby river. And tears we cried from all the puking I did every time I walked into that house while I was pregnant with our first baby.

​God used that season for some powerful, much needed healing in my life to take place.

We had friends, we had family and we had a home. It was all seemingly perfect.
Then it changed.
​Things started getting dark. Something was missing. And it wasn't as cozy as it once was. My husband and I both felt it.

Job opportunities were ceasing due to the beginning of the economic and housing crash of 2008.
Nothing picked back up. Opportunities were limited and options were running out for us. God rescued us.

So we thought.

We were called out of our comfort-zone and not just anywhere; out to the wild, wild West.
How exciting! It was great! We were thrilled. Our house sold without it ever being put on the market, my husband got a job, I could stay home with our baby . . . God was moving in our lives again. We were on an adventure and grateful for it.

Then as soon as we pulled into our new hometown out west, the excitement stopped.

We realized we had just uprooted our entire family, moved all the way across the country where we didn't know a soul. No family or friend to start out with and BAM! It hit us . . . We are homeless, 2,000 miles away from anyone we know. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

We were homeless for two weeks. Our pampered little Eastern selves didn’t know what the Wild West was like, even so in the twenty-first century. It still adhered to the Code of the West. A strict code of no handouts, lots of hard work and letting people cut their teeth on their own ignorance.

It was an interesting two weeks to say the least. But it was clear. God led us directly into the wilderness. What we thought was this mighty escape and exodus was exactly that.

Straight into the desert, just like the Exodus in the Bible.

We were ignorant but, not for long. We learned quickly and had a God that showed us much favor and grace through it.

If only we knew that was just the beginning. We got pregnant again and I thought I would not survive.
But we had our little Rocky Mountain-born baby. We were proud. We were blessed. We were happy.

Sort of.

Then, our big hearts let in two people again; two people that began to wreak havoc on our happy little home. We prayed one day that the Lord enlarge our territory for His Kingdom and His sake. He heard us and within a year we bought a big house for not a whole lot of money with some land out on the frontier.

Then the two people we took in turned into three. Then four. Then five. Not by choice. It was a long eight months. We no longer had a say in our own home. It was completely run over. What we wanted didn’t matter. It was everyone else’s home.

We tried to help. We tried to make it, but it just got too hard, too abusive and too destructive. We had to go back to what we knew. We were clawing for a sense of safety in what became a very harsh and hostile environment. We started with personal and familial safety first and fervent search for God, since we were left homeless once again, but this time in our own home.

We had some fun times during those trying, long months. We brushed up on shooting pool and made some gnarly bonfires, as we sat under the big Western star-filled skies. We made sure we had plenty of time to watch a war movie every week, because hey, we were in the midst of war ourselves.

Lost, confused and really not so sure about anything, we pressed on. Until God made some things very clear to us. Our whole household was going to be cast to the four winds and we had to leave. So, we told everyone to get out, sold our possessions, our dear dog and wonderful kitty. We sold that swing-set that we had so many fond memories of watching our crazy kitten slide down the slide. We sold our dining room table that I had had for almost ten years. Our backpacking gear that we had so many wonderful memories in, our little television that we used as a computer monitor that was just so cool to us. We sold our couches, end tables, lamps, dishes, decorative plates and just about everything. Things weren’t just things to us. Everything had a story, a value and a meaning. And we watched almost everything go in one day. 
It hurt. Oh my God did that day hurt.
It ripped our hearts out.
​We knew the pain of war at that point. We knew the high cost of disobedience, especially how all disobedience has a domino effect on so many others. We knew what it meant to be a causality of war.
I think we both died a little that day.

But, in the end, we must decrease so that He may increase. And He did.

He carried us through those last several weeks there somehow. We learned to count those little blessings in even the toughest times. Like how Rocky got to stay with us till the very end and wound up going to an amazing home. The way God took care of our dog gave us a glimmer of hope as to how He would take care of us in a seemingly hopeless situation. We were blessed and hurting like crazy at the same time. We felt what it was like to have your heart ripped out through your throat and wallet and handed back to you so you could fix it.
​But we didn’t keep our hearts. We handed them over to God like there was no tomorrow.
We were so broken we just gave everything up to Him and He has been so faithful in restoring vast amounts of healing to our wounded souls.

There were scary moments, but we knew the prayer that we had prayed. We gave God the house we bought and said, "You bring who you want here."

He did. He brought enemies right into our own territory. It was scary at times. But never once did I feel or have doubts about being out of the will of God. There were a few times that I questioned our sanity. But I knew we had been led out there and that all of those people belonged there for a time and for a purpose.

But nothing in the prominent Christian worldviews and cultures could have prepared us for the very Biblical concept and stark reality that is; we all have wilderness experiences that can span not only months, but years. And that is a very true and evident part of walking with our Messiah.

We have times in our life that a pep talk will not reach the depths of pain and loss we experience. Loud music and only "playing" church will not meet the desperate need for deep compassion and guidance. We had followed the will of God straight into the valley of the shadow of death.
​Our experience was not popular Christianity, it was Biblical. It was based on the Truth.
​God began to show us truths in the Bible that ministered to our weary, broken hearts, truths about God being in the midst of suffering and always having been. Truths about the realities of Jesus' life, how much he suffered and how we are to share in His sufferings and one day, share in His glory. Even Paul made sense now, where once he seemed like a walking contradiction.

The Bible comforted our exhausted souls to the point where nothing else held a candle to it and its Truth, only the Bible and the few friends we had, most of which lived an hour or more away.
It was tough. It was real. It was down-right soul-shaping...the kind of character formation that many Christian institutions long to see, but only God can achieve through a person being filled with His Word and trusting in His heart, even during the most daunting times.

I am grateful for having had the educational opportunities I did. I grew up in a poor family, so I know that I am blessed to have had those. I am even grateful that those institutions were Christian. I am grateful for the nuggets of truth I gleaned during all those years of misguided and disenfranchised youthfulness. I am even more grateful for that wilderness experience that wound up being the most heart-shaping time in our lives. He removed our hearts of stone and gave us hearts of flesh. He gave us truth and discernment in the most confusing of circumstances, when lives and loyalties were on the line.
Though it was a trying time, it was a time that birthed this book.
A book about God’s heart that He so graciously revealed to the broken-hearted and contrite. A book about true community and how to build camaraderie and unity in the body of believers. A book about trust. But above all, a book about seeing God’s heart. 
​We can only hope that our story has helped you. Encouraged you. Inspired you—to dig deeper than you ever have into a God that is not as far off as many have led us to believe.