The following is an account of my life saving encounter with God. – Tammy McDaniel
Throughout my childhood, my immediate family was both educationally and financially poor and my mother’s live-in (mostly alcoholic) boyfriend choices never helped matters. They made general living conditions worse. I grew up quickly and knew my mother wasn’t stable and without a father, I was on my own.
Sometime between the ages of seven and eleven, I would cry myself to sleep. With my limited children’s Sunday school understanding of Jesus and God, I desperately prayed that Jesus would become my daddy. I remember wanting to call someone daddy more than anything. I wanted the daddy that picked you up and loved you with tight, warm hugs to keep you safe. I vividly recall my tear-soaked pillow as I pleaded with Jesus, “please be my daddy, I have no one else.”
By my teen years I had long forgotten my late night, distraught prayers. I had so much unresolved sadness within me that it eventually turned to anger. I said a lot of mean things and behaved cruelly. When I was 14 years old, my mother met a good man. She is still married to him today. He wouldn’t tolerate my rebellion and disrespectful behavior. The volatile environment created by my behavior finally led to a rage-filled event. The consequence of that event created two and only two choices for me. Neither choice was appealing, but a choice couldn’t be avoided.
I involuntarily volunteered to begin counseling for anger management and incorrigibility. Without knowing it at the time, those weekly counseling sessions gave me the tools I needed to understand and defeat my anger. The trajectory of my life would be forever changed.
In my early twenties I walked away and renounced the little faith I had accumulated from the occasional children’s Sunday school class and the few church services I attended with friends in high school. I didn’t have a strong Christian leader in my life to answer my various questions about God and life. I began to belittle Christianity. I surmised that Christianity along with most religions were systems created for the weak.
In my early thirties I started to grapple with depression. I couldn’t understand it because I had created what most would consider a successful life. I had a secure job that provided me with a good salary and great benefits. I drove new vehicles. I would buy all the latest electronic gadgets. I owned a nice home in a good neighborhood. I traveled. Within my socioeconomic crowd, I had it all and then some.
The initial stages of my conscious conversion journey began sometime in 2003. I know I was conscious of it because I resisted it. Through my conversion process I began to unearth seeds that unbeknownst to me at the time were planted throughout the prior decade.
No matter what my life may have looked like to an outsider, privately I had fallen into a dark depression. I had no one to turn to because everyone I knew thought I had a great life. I had “everything” as they would put it. What in the world did I have to be sad about?
I used wine to medicate myself on a daily basis. Other than going to work, I began to isolate myself. The weekends were my favorite time because I could be alone for two straight days. It gave me uninterrupted time to think and drink. I couldn’t quite grasp why I felt gloomy all the time.
On sunny days I’d lift my head up over the arm of the couch and look out the French doors at the massive blue sky. I imagined what the fresh air smelled like. All this beauty, right outside my window and I couldn’t muster the energy to take the few steps needed to go sit in the sun. Life was right there, the greenery of the lawn and trees seemed to glow and call my name, but I would sink back into the comfort of my couch and bundle up as if it was cold and rainy.
I had worked so hard to leave my childhood and that poverty lifestyle behind me, but I remained insecure and on many levels scared. I worried constantly about losing everything. I studied friends and colleagues who seemed so self-assured and content. I wanted a sense of real security and contentment. More than anything, I didn’t want to be afraid any longer.
One self-contemplative evening I found myself realizing that my friends that had this strong sense of self had something in common. They all grew up with and have unconditional loving parents. They all knew that no matter what happened in this world that they had a safety net; mom and dad. This thought depressed me even more.
I didn’t have a safety net. More than anything I yearned to feel safe and more than I wanted to admit it, I wanted to be loved. I wanted to know that if everything in my life went wrong, someone would be there for me. I wanted the protection of unconditional love. I had no clue how to obtain it. I imagined you could only be born into it.
It didn’t happen all at once, but little things began to turn my thoughts to Jesus. These thoughts were peppered into the most obscure places. Things like a line in a movie, a friend’s comments, or lyrics in a song. At some point, the desire for unconditional love and my mosaic-type thoughts about God collided. I knew that Christians thought of Jesus as their savior. I had the audacity to wonder if someone like Jesus could be my unconditional, loving safety net. On so many levels I knew this thought should be comical, but it didn’t feel comical. This thought was visceral and binding.
Then in what seemed like a flood of recollections, I had vivid childhood memories of lying in a tear soaked pillow asking Jesus to be my dad. My eyes began to frantically dart around the room as my mind’s eye played a slideshow of images representing my entire life from childhood to the present day. Images depicting how poor we were and about the unsafe conditions we lived. I never starved nor was I ever physically or sexually harmed. I thought about the good people that always seemed to be in every stage of my life. I thought about the opportune things that had happened to me in my education, career, and other parts of my life.
As this mental autobiography began to conclude, an unsettling consideration haunted me. Did God answer my childhood prayer? Did he become my dad as I had desperately wanted? Was he there guiding and protecting me all along?
This is when I was (re)introduced to Jesus Christ. I began to see God’s hand working throughout my life. He was always there, even when with great cruelty, I would deny Him. I became extremely thirsty for Bible knowledge. Who was God? Who was Jesus? Why would He help me out so much? As I remembered how ruthlessly I had turned away from Him, extreme shame filled my thoughts. What had I done?
The shame overwhelmed me. In darkness I sat in the center of my bed and cried. I was given so much and I spit in the face of the Giver! How could He ever forgive me? Distressed cries poured out of me. At some point, I had shifted to my knees with my face planted into the middle of my bed. I’d lift my head only to look toward heaven and plead for God’s forgiveness of my defiant rejection. I continued to cry and confess sin after sin. I don’t know how long I knelt there releasing all my pain. I eventually went limp and I slept. When I woke up my room was lit with the sun shining in through the windows. Nothing physical had changed about me, but something was different.
I initially began watching sermons on TV to gain more information about God. They fed me and I found myself longing to hear their message. One recurring message from my TV ministers was to find a local church. I was timid about this effort. The ministers on TV assured me that when I found the right church I would know it.
One early Sunday morning, I slipped into a pew at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Seminole, Florida. I immediately felt comfortable and surrounded by warmth. I became a regular 8:00 AM attendee. I soaked up every sermon and slowly began to help out where I found need.
Even though I was attending church, I worried about being found a fraud. I still doubted so much about Jesus’ story. I still questioned. I was skeptical. My cynical brain needed real assurance. Every time I struggled with a doubt or had a question, I’d come across an answer. Every answer came to me in a way that could only be described as coincidental. The only problem was that these coincidences were occurring a lot. It was as if someone knew the information I was seeking and then found a way to provide the answer. It made me cautiously excited and at the same time filled me with unexplainable joy.
For three or four months I lived on this metaphorical fence before God became a bit more serious with me. I continued on with my half thinking this Good News was too good to be true and the other half knowing something very real was happening to me. My resistance continued to be strong in the face of something very real in my life. Then something extraordinary happened.
I had a super natural experience. There is no other way to describe it. I’ve tried to write about the details of the event and maybe one day I’ll be able to do it justice. I can tell you it forever changed my life and the interaction between Jesus and me that day will forever be etched into the fabric of my being.
After that my hunger for Bible knowledge increased exponentially. The more I learned the more I wanted to know. I became personally saved during a walk on a beautiful sunny day. It was November 15, 2004 when I stopped on the sidewalk, looked toward heaven and committed myself to Christ. I haven’t looked back since.
I began to attend classes through Trinity College’s TrinityQuest program. The evening classes and online assignments were a perfect fit for me. I had excellent professors who didn’t shy away from my excessively inquisitive mind. I had questions and I searched until I found answers. I eventually earned my Bachelor of Science Degree in Christian Counseling and Mediation. My studies at Trinity, personal Bible study, and extended church family have led to a real contentment.
My Heavenly Father is a staple in my every day life. I lean on Him in every situation. Even though I do not always speak to Him in an audible voice, I am always speaking to Him and Him to me.