I feel as if it is always good to give a story of myself to whoever is reading, but I want to focus more on my call to ministry than anything else. Some of you may have heard my story before, others may know only bits and pieces, and others have very little to clue who I am at all. One thing that can probably be agreed on is this: It’s a whole lot easier to read a story than listening to one at least in terms of remembering details.
I would describe my spiritual journey like that of a rollercoaster; there have been many highs, lows, corkscrews, and everything in between. I grew up in a small town where everyone was religious. My family and I went to a small Baptist church and I remember hating having to go on Sundays. When I was 5, my dad began bribing my brothers and me to not go to church by offering to take us to the movies instead. Being the naïve children we were, we accepted instantly. A year later, my parents got divorced and I blamed God for it. My conception of God was that he was an all-powerful being that humans worshiped and by worshipping him, he would have favor with us. I prayed to God asking for my parents to be brought back together and when that didn’t happen, I didn’t want a relationship with God.
My mom, brothers, and I moved to Corpus Christi with $100 where we began our new life. It was definitely hard; my mom would work all day and do school at night. I became independent and raised my brothers partially. Every week though, we went to church because my mom wanted us there. I was the black sheep in Sunday school since I did not know the biblical stories like everyone else. During the summers, my brothers and I went to the church retreats which was where I would say I encountered God for the first time. I think being in nature and worshipping every day led me to think that maybe my conception of God was wrong.
When I was 10, I asked to be baptized because I felt like it was the right thing to do. My logic was if I become baptized and scripture says those that are baptized will be saved, then I wanted to be. My grandma became my biggest supporter and encourager in my faith. She helped me understand what a relationship with God could look like and led me to be intentional in my faith. Two years after I was baptized, she died of cancer and I instantly blamed God. I couldn’t comprehend why she had to die or why God would take her away. Without having those answers, I turned away from my faith altogether.
Moving into high school, I was not going to church and only focused on being popular, playing sports, and making good enough grades to get away from my family. The last part was probably of most importance to me. Since I had grown up independent, this was my next step in being on my own. The summer after my sophomore year of my life was probably the lowest point in my life. I developed depression from a combination of things including bad influences from friends, family issues, and trying to understand who I was among my friends. To combat these issues, I secretly turned to alcohol.
I struggled with alcoholism for a couple of months, but I always hid it well. I never missed class and still continued to make good grades. I locked away my feelings of hurt and pain so that no one could see it. But one night after drinking, this thought entered my mind. I kept hearing “Why are you doing this, Tayler? What will this accomplish?” At first, I thought I was somewhat crazy (aren’t we all a little bit though), but the thought kept appearing over the next few days. During one day at school the next week, I was bragging to my friends about the plans I had for the weekend and this college student said “Why are you doing that? Don’t you know that is dangerous?” It wasn’t the same exact words I had heard in my head, but it was close enough to make me stop and think about what just happened.
The college students name was Grant. He was involved in an organization called YoungLife and although he did not tell me what the purpose of the organization was, I was still intrigued by it. There was an event at the end of the week that Grant invited me to; I had a great time once I got there. I still had no idea what the purpose was but there were people from my high school there and it looked like a huge party. I was confused as to why I had never heard about this organization before until the religious aspect came into the picture.
I could not leave because I did not drive, but I also could not find myself to pull away. As each song was played, I was filled with emotions of anger, sadness, and shame. There was a scripture lesson that night which I consider to be a watershed moment in my life. The scripture was from Matthew 9:11-13, which says:
And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he had heard it, he said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Looking back on this moment, I know realize it was the Holy Spirit changing my hardened heart. I realized that I was sick, not just with depression but in my heart. I had turned away from God completely because I thought that I could promise myself a happier life, but ironically I had caused myself an even worse one.
For the next five months, I began to change my life around. I became involved in YoungLife and ultimately joined the First United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi on my own. I transitioned from being in YoungLife to joining the youth group at my youth group and being involved there. Although I did not know all of the answers about the bible, I felt welcomed and loved. I somehow became a leader in the youth group. Just as I was learning about the bible, I also was given opportunities to share my testimony and the (little) wisdom I had. During the annual summer camps, I was made a small group leader since I was able to think critically about scripture and apply it to different situations in life, but also because I was able to be relational with the campers. I think the aspect of falling away from God was something that others could relate to well and I could never be condemning of others because of what I put myself through.
The summer after I graduated from high school I was made a counselor for the high school summer camp, which allowed me to serve behind the scenes, wash dishes, share my testimony ever night with a different group of kids, and talk with anyone who wanted to talk. I loved all that I got to do; I think it was mostly because I was given the opportunity to serve in ways that most people would not think of as service. The first night, I shared my testimony and then had a separate two-hour conversation with a boy who essentially a younger me before I found God again. He was struggling with alcoholism and having an identity crisis. I remember thinking “What are the chances that I get to have this conversation?” After a conversation filled with tears, hope, and prayer, we both left knowing that there is much more in this life than what we have already experienced.
Two nights later, I got to share in the joy of having a boy in our youth group give his life to Christ. But what stood out to me, was that I was involved in his decision to do so. He said that the way that I loved others unconditionally, was always willing to serve, and finding my joy in God even when things were not good showed him that a relationship with God was worthwhile. I never thought about the way I lived would impact someone’s life in that way.
It was around this time that thoughts of “You could do ministry, Tayler” entered my mind. I always blew them off because there was no way that I could be qualified more ministry. But the thoughts continued to come. I went on a mission trip during my freshman year of college where I got to have a three-hour conversation with an atheist where I was told that I was a nonjudgmental Christian that he liked. But I felt like a failure because I thought my job was to convert not love for some reason. After a few more hours of prayer and reflection, the thought of being in ministry came across my mind again. I responded to this thought with “If that is what you want God, then make it clear to me”.
The moment I came back from that mission trip, it did become clear. I was given a youth internship at my home church for the summer where I got to do sermon series, disciple a group of guys, and take part in planning events for the church. After the summer, I was offered a youth internship at a small church in Austin where I did outreach to the surrounding neighborhoods as well as disciple those in the youth group. As part of my campus ministry, I was placed on the leadership team where my role was to interact and connect with not only people who were new to UT but also to form relationships with those already within our ministry. This past summer, I worked for a nonprofit organization that focuses on the literacy of inner city youth by having college level students lead a summer day camp with reading, exercise, and team building components. For this school year, I am a coordinator for the leadership team at my campus ministry where I focus on disciplining other members on the leadership team. The latest door that God has opened for me is an opportunity to be a college pastoral intern at a United Methodist church in Athens, Texas where I will shadow the pastor in all of his tasks and then have the opportunity to do the same on my own.
Throughout my entire life, I always saw a relationship with God as something where I am supposed to change myself before I could come before God. In doing x, y, or z I would be happy. But I have learned that if I go to God and seek Him, then I will be changed from that and will become happy. Life does not magically get better though from being in a relationship with God. You will still experience pain and suffering, but through a relationship God, those questions you have can be answered. The other thing I have taken away from what I have experienced so far is that if you give God control of your life, then you will be happier. We are not all called to pulpit ministry, but that is where God has me for now and I am happy with that. I am proud to be able to use what I have experienced in life to serve others. I still have so much to learn and experience in life, but all I can do is trust in God and wait, knowing that despite all I have done God has been there and will continue to be along this journey.
My encouragement for whoever is reading this is that it is not too late to change things in your life. You may be struggling with something much deeper than you think. I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t for the first contact I had with Grant at lunch one day. Please reach out if you need help. Humans are meant to be in community with other people because we can help each other. And last, if you think God is talking to you, just listen. Do not fight the thoughts as hard as it is not to do so. I believe there is a plan for everyone; you may not end up in the pulpit doing ministry, but the when we give to God our fears and allow him to lead us, we ultimately allow for the best things, in the long run, to happen around us. Amen.