Believing and Belonging

By Cristi Schroeder

The clay pot exploded, propelling pieces of dusty pottery in every direction.  A burning ball of light remained, hanging in the air, illuminating the entire atmosphere. 

All around the sphere, praise and worship filled the small college chapel. Hundreds of young adults sang and prayed, as I saw something I had never imagined, before.

And, I knew God must be real.

My Own Strength

A handful of years before this supernatural experience, I sat between the fluorescent ceiling lights and the speckled tile floor of a 9th grade math classroom. 

Instead of working on algebra, I whispered “yes” to  a new friend’s invitation to her church youth group. 

At that stage of my life, I would do anything not to spend another evening at home.

In childhood, I felt like a little adult in a kid’s body.

I got used to dealing with situations, on my own and in my own strength, with an overcomer’s mentality.  During my tween years, my strong sense of self held me together through day after day of bullying. 

My hardships in a blended family roused me to want to help teenagers who faced tough family situations, too.  Most of my friends weren’t strangers to difficult home lives.  

All In

I was tired of being painfully aware of problems but unsure how to offer helpful solutions. So, I got involved in school clubs offering support to other students. I decided I would someday offer the kind of help I didn’t know how to provide, yet.

I had experienced the negative impact of addiction. Still, my adolescent efforts at friendship were peppered with unhealthy decisions that would likely lead me down the same path that “younger me” vowed to avoid.

I didn’t realize, at the age of 15 on that warm Wednesday night, that my first trip to church with Heidi would be a pivotal moment in my life.  I took a sharp “right turn” towards a completely different future than I ever imagined.

My new church friends offered the unconditional, friendly acceptance I had always craved. 

Everyone was so nice!

And, they were walking miles away from the common teenage traps I kept getting snagged by. The only kind of peer pressure I experienced at youth group was to show up to church, every week, and participate in programs and experiences proclaiming a message of hope to the world. 

I soon understood that God was the solution (or had a solution) for every problem. The Bible was full of answers to my questions.  I was quickly ALL IN on this new way of life. To my core,  I knew the Bible was truth.  

I Believed, But

My high school years were all about church! God was transforming and healing and loving me.

I experienced amazing moments during altar calls and I did things I never would have dre,amed of doing! Crazy enough: I was the lead role in a church musical, but never once sang a solo.

And, I even dressed up like a mime to share the gospel with Spanish speakers in Guatemala. (I’m just now wondering if God was trying to keep me quiet? He probably had good reason!) 

Looking back now, I can see I was in the baby phases of belief. 

As excited as I was, I accepted God’s truths on my terms. 

The stout, personal ambition I have always had rolled right into my new Christian life. 

I liked what God had to say, but I wasn’t so sure I could rely on Him, completely. 

I basically grabbed Truth out of God’s hands and ran with it, in my own strength.

From the outside, my life looked different than it did, before. But I was still very much the same, self-reliant person I had always been. I hadn’t yet learned how to allow God to be God. 

He was my Savior. But, I was still “Lord.” I was holding onto as much power and control as I could, just like I always had.

I believed in God. But, I didn’t trust Him, yet.

For The First Time

Four years after coming to faith, I enrolled in a Christian university. I was the first Christian in my family; the first person to college. I trampled down so many barriers to get there. If someone said I couldn’t do it, I made sure to get it done. 

And, my junior high desire to help people and make a difference in our world had only grown stronger.

Away at school, I began opening my Bible, outside of church services.  I was learning to pray- alone, in my dorm room - not just at the beginning or ending of a service, along with everyone else. 

For the first time, I was pursuing a friendship with God by reading what He said and listening for Him to speak to me, directly. Sometimes a godly thought would come to mind that I didn’t form, on my own. It was amazing to sense God in new ways.

I moved beyond the beginner’s phase of Christianity- grappling with right behaviors and rules- and I considered my internal motivations and desires. God was working on a real heart change.

Alone In A Crowd

Even though I was making new friends at school, my independence prevailed. I was more comfortable showing up to our weekly praise gatherings, by myself.  Alone in a crowd, I practiced real worship. I listened for God’s voice. I wrote in my prayer journal. I invited God to come close.

As I worshiped with my palms towards heaven, I relented my strong will to God’s amazing power.  I realized my own frailty. I felt broken. I didn’t think I had what it would take to make the kind of impact I dreamed of making. I became desperately aware of my need for God. A scripture was shared from the stage. Second Corinthians 4: 7-12 (NIV) says, 

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

It All Exploded

Tired of being the courageous, overcoming, strong one…  I knew I needed the reality of Jesus inside me to shine through. I saw myself for who I was compared to Him: a human piece of pottery that He had formed.

I prayed and praised and worshiped the God who deserved it.

I put Him in His proper place… in my mind and heart and life.

Then, with my eyes closed, I experienced what I described, earlier. 

Like a high definition movie, I saw myself as a broken, brown, dusty pot. God’s light was shining through my cracks with rays going in every direction.  

As I yielded to God’s Spirit and I was honest about my weakness and God’s strength, the light became more and more intense. 

Soon, it all exploded!

It was beautiful and powerful! 

Better than any fireworks show! 

I was challenged by the vision… Would I allow God to truly break through my limitations to do more in and through me than I could imagine? More than I could do in my own strength?

Yes!  

More of Him. Much more of Him and His power! 

This Was Belonging

In that moment, I knew God was real.

He showed me He is big enough, bright enough and amazing enough to do more than I could ever do, no matter how “adult” or responsible or ambitious or driven I could ever be. 

He is God. And, I’m a clay pot.

The revelation was such a relief. 

My life took an unexpected vertical turn that night in the chapel, pointed upward. I could finally look up to a trustworthy, reliable Helper.

Beyond knowing, this was believing. 

And beyond believing, this was belonging.

God invited me into a genuine, One-to-one, light up the world, love relationship with Himself. 

And, I accepted His invitation.

God has proven Himself real enough to take that hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down version of me and by His grace, shine His light through me, to a hurting world.  

This world is full of problems: Teenagers with problems. People with problems. Families with problems. 

Jesus is the answer we need. Savior and Lord.

He is Light in us and through us; on our behalf and for the benefit of everyone who needs help.

Even you.

Even me.

Thank you, Lord!

Cristi Schroeder - Altered Story With Cristi Schroeder

Cristi Schroeder is a multi-passionate writer, pastor and speaker equipping women to discover and pursue God’s calling with clarity and confidence. 

For more than two decades, she’s served alongside her husband, Nathan, who is Lead Pastor of Highland Church in Plover, Wisconsin. 

After earning a psychology degree from North Central University in Minneapolis, MN, she’s worked in a variety of capacities, helping others.  She impacts lives through youth & prayer ministries, pastoral counseling and by hosting small groups and large events.  Cristi’s creative tactics to raise awareness about human trafficking led her into college classrooms, art fairs, community gatherings and all the way to Eastern Europe. She coached a virtual membership community and offered online courses through her business, Altered Story.

Her current work-in-progress is a contemporary young adult novel which she plans to pair with a 31 day guided journal.  She enjoys speaking to women and teens virtually, in person and as a podcast guest.

She’d love to spend an hour talking with you, over coffee, about your big dreams, whichever show she’s currently binging or her favorite personality tool: the enneagram. 

When she’s not helping women live with purpose, she enjoys pancake brunches with her husband, talking with her 2 teenage sons (likely after she’s dead tired, at night) and contemplating how she might somehow become a roller derby star without getting hurt. 

Her vision is to mobilize a Sisterhood of Christian World Changers to make a meaningful impact on others for God’s glory. 

 Collaborations welcome! She starts new friendships, everyday, on instagram @alteredstory and @cristi.schroeder and on Facebook at facebook.com/alteredstory. Learn more at cristischroeder.com

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