Alyssa, 20, Alabama, USA
I was raised in a Christian household, but as I got older, I grew skeptical. Why, of all the religions, would Christianity be true? These initial doubts grew alongside the decline of my mental health, most of which stemmed from extreme insecurity. At home, I was told that I was precious and loved by God, but at school, I was told that I was ugly and that my value depended on my relationship status. The bullying only intensified when, at age 13, my first boyfriend leaked explicit pictures of me.
When the photos leaked, I lost a ton of friends. I tried to reclaim some sense of self-worth by pouring my energy into extracurriculars, like cross country, tennis, cheerleading. When I wasn’t at practice, I was busy trying to get straight A’s in even the hardest classes. In essence, I aimed to combat the judgment and gossip by achieving “perfection.”
I managed the pressure for a bit, but I eventually fell victim to both panic attacks and self-harm. Then, towards the end of high-school, I started partying. My then-boyfriend and I partied every weekend…drinking and doing other things we shouldn’t have been doing. I partied as a means of coping with the depression and panic attacks, though it never helped. With each passing week, I felt like I was losing more and more of myself — and even my touch with reality. I was still attending church with my family, but I was so lost.
At this point, I was still skeptical of my childhood faith, but I wanted direction from a higher power of some sort. My history teacher always encouraged us to examine issues ourselves and read opposing opinions; so, I decided to examine religion as a whole. I began studying a bunch of different beliefs, paying close attention to what made them different.
I listened to a bunch of testimonies and quickly found that the Christian testimonies stood out. Every story of healing — from schizophrenia to various types of demonic possession — was centered around Jesus. Not one person who testified about healing did so without pointing to Christ. Similarly, everyone with a documented near-death experience claimed to have met the same God — the God of the Bible.
Then, came the overwhelming evidence for the Resurrection. I learned a lot about this from Lee Strobel, a Chicago Tribune reporter who began investigating Christianity in the hopes of disproving the Resurrection. After interviewing a slew of historians and archaeologists, he surrendered his life to Christ. Like me, he doubted the faith — until he investigated for himself.
I knew, deep in my gut, that Jesus was the truth. I started trying to pursue a relationship with Him, but my relationship with my boyfriend slowed my growth. He wasn’t merely a nonbeliever — he hated the faith to the point of blaspheming God and burning Scripture for fun. I eventually came to a crossroads: I could either stick with my boyfriend or follow God. I’d been with him for over a year and was pretty invested…but I wanted Jesus more. Soon after our breakup, I got baptized — and since then, nothing has been the same.
Jesus has changed everything. As soon as I began following Him, I noticed a supernatural change in my desires. Activities I once loved became nearly intolerable. As I realized this, God placed an image in my head of His blood pouring into my heart and renewing me, day by day. I turned that image into a painting:
Before I began this project, I asked my friends and family what they thought people turned to for fulfillment. Many listed food, money, social media, beauty, drugs, and alcohol. So, I filled the heart with those things. I then added chains, because I was bound to sin and misery without God. The words on the chains represent the false identities that bind so many people. These include ugly, confused, defeated, lost, hopeless, empty, jealous, alone, depressed, rejected, misunderstood, afraid, and fragile.
The wine flowing from the cup represents Christ’s purifying, life-giving Blood — the Blood of the new covenant. As you can see, everything that the Blood has touched has turned bright white. This is exactly what happens to the heart of a believer. The cleansing begins as soon as we put our faith in Him, but just as this heart is not yet fully white, our sanctification takes time. But as Philippians 6:1 promises, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” And that day will come!
The final piece of the painting is a portion of Ezekiel 36, written under the heart: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” The Lord has sprinkled clean water on me, and if you turn to Him, He will do the same for you.