I will use her.  I will lead her into the wilderness and comfort her. There I will restore her vineyards; turning the valley of trouble into a gate of hope. Hosea 2:14-15

There is something I find uniquely exhilarating and pure, wild and rugged about being in nature.  Breathing in fresh mountain air. Watching the sun dance off of a waterfall as it descends into the pool below with a roaring and steady splash. The peace that comes with sitting on the shore in your saltwater-drenched skin as the billowing waves roll in.

It’s refreshing and real and vitalizing for me.  But more importantly than the cerebral and physical sensations that come with being outdoors; I feel in nature a nearness to God that I don’t experience anywhere else. It’s as if the temporary escape from civilization rebirths in me a deeply-rooted and instinctive need to be close to the Creator.

I think for most of us, that same inherent desire for the nearness of God surfaces during challenging times.  My God story starts this way.

About a year and a half ago, life tossed a myriad of deeply difficult situations my way.  Of course, all of these circumstances escalated simultaneously; as they often do. I had reached the end of myself and knew only God could carry me through.  I deeply longed for the comfort of my childhood faith and wanted desperately to cry out to God for help.

But it wasn’t that simple, I convinced myself.  For years I had run from God, devising my own moral scale and convenient Sunday morning, cultural Christianity. I grew up in church but had somehow come to believe that God’s love for me hinged upon my behavior and ability to conform to what the church considered as ‘acceptable’.

This misconception first reared its ugly head when I went off to college at UGA.  The first few months of freshman year were overwhelming, to say the least. I felt so much excitement at my new-found freedom, yet so much pressure to join the right sorority, fit in and excel academically.  It was a self-destructive culture of drinking, partying, and hook-ups; and I bought in.  On the outside, I felt asserted that my lifestyle was normal for a college student. But on the inside, I felt consumed by anxiety, dismally empty, and entirely alone.

I stopped going to church. And as I got deeper into sin—I started to believe the lie that I wouldn’t be welcome there anyway. I would still read my Bible each night and highlight the verses that resonated with me.  At the time, I had no idea why. But looking back, it’s a reminder to me that even at our darkest, God relentlessly pursues us.

…Finally we fall into a heap, broken by sin, and instead of saying “I told you so,” He says, “I love you so. Here, let’s get you cleaned up.”- Beth Moore

One day in the fall of 2014, I walked into the Barnes & Noble across from my office to find a leisure read.  At this point, I had been graduated from college for over a year and had moved to Atlanta.  I was attending church on a regular basis. But after all, that time running from my faith, I wasn’t really sure that God still loved me. And I was positive that even if He loved me, He certainly couldn’t use someone like me. I resigned to be a church attender; no more, no less.  That’s probably about all that God had in store for a fair-weather Christian like me.

Wandering through the aisles, one book caught my eye. It was ‘Sex and the Single Christian Girl‘ by Marian Jordan Ellis. Admittedly, I was hesitant to read a book that I was almost certain would challenge me to shift my current lifestyle. But on this day, an inherent yearning for renewal stirred within me.

And so, eclipsed by the disappointment of another heartbreak and exhausted by striving to be worthy of love, I reached for the book. I read the back and then flipped through the first few pages. The misinformed notions I had about the church and God began to melt away as Marian used a gentle yet honest tone to communicate the spiritual warfare on sexual purity and marriage in our culture. And then she had the audacity to tell me that I was cherished. Cherished. That word poured over me like a deluge of truth as tears started to fill my eyes. I knew I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe I was worthy of being cherished.  And I was certain that my behavior the past few years didn’t merit such a luxury.

Grace (n.) the free and unmerited favor of God

As I read Marian’s book, the lies I had believed for so long about myself and about God began to relinquish their grip on my hardened heart as grace came pouring in. For the first time in my life, I began to see what God saw in me all along: A beloved daughter of the King.

Jesus sees all of our hurt, he knows all of our mistakes, and he is aware of all of our flaws. And yet he still desperately loves us! If we would only trust Him, He will lead us toward the freedom to live in the fullness of his promise for today and the confidence that he is working all things for our good and for His glory. (Romans 8:28).

Redeemed Girl Institute is the perfect opportunity for anyone hoping to start or strengthen a foundation of faith. I had the pleasure of attending RGI this past summer, and it’s such a rare and beautiful opportunity to disconnect from the busyness of life for a few days to lift our gaze, and focus on God. It was such a blessing to meet other girls who struggled with the same things. The opportunity to repent and pray for and with one another precipitated a lot of healing in my own heart and the hearts of other girls (James 5:16). One of the girls said, “I think this week is the closest I’ve been to Heaven on Earth.” And let me just echo that with a resounding yes! You will get to listen to fabulous bible teachers speak on culturally relevant topics, take part in beautiful worship each morning and night, meet some of the sweetest girls you have ever met (so don’t be afraid to go alone, plenty of girls did, including me!), and spend your spare time at the gorgeous beach in Destin, FL!

At the end of the week, I was baptized by Marian in the ocean.  What a joy to be baptized (in nature, no less!) by the woman who pointed me toward the Lord. Leaving RGI; I felt closer to God than I ever had before, equipped to live out my faith in the ‘real world’, and with a new confidence that God could use the pain and mistakes of my past to point others to Christ.

The things I learned and the relationships I formed at RGI continue to be such rich and edifying resources in my daily walk. I can’t tell you how many times this past year I have thought back to an RGI lecture to navigate a difficult situation, help a friend, or as a general reference point to lead a life that brings Glory to God. If you are considering going, my only suggestion to you would be this: sign up today and tell your friends! It’s the absolute perfect setting to not only grow more intimate in your relationship with the Lord but also develop friendships that will be pivotal in your faith journey.  You won’t regret it!

For His glory,

Emily Fernie, RGI graduate

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