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When I open my eyes…

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Open Eyes

by Julie Thoreen

Four-year-old Christy rides her tricycle around her neighborhood, closing her eyes and praying, Jesus, if you are real, when I open my eyes, show yourself to me. She does this over and over again. Jesus, if you are real, when I open my eyes…

When the sun sets, Christy gets off her bike and enters into the warzone that is her home. At a very young age her sexually-abusive father and unpredictable, mistrusting mother force Christy to rely on and trust no one but herself. She knows, even in her four-year-old body, that Jesus is real…Jesus is real, but isn’t here, or maybe doesn’t love me, or maybe just shows himself to preachers.

At twelve Christy makes a promise with God that she will never let what happened to her happen to her future children.

Fast forward forty years.

Christy has four beautiful children and has fought hard to keep her promise–though leaving God out of it. With a husband absorbed in work and frequently traveling, she is effectively a single parent. Beyond that, she has battled alone with undiagnosed and untreated depression and anxiety for many years.

We sit and talk about the complex web of her life for three hours in the Woodland Hills Gathering Area. It is an unbelievable, overwhelming and painful story that I could not possibly do justice to here. Christy explains how she has struggled to juggle it all. For a time she seeks answers in New Age religion. Her youngest daughter has a mental disability and becomes suicidal. She has to confront a relationship she never dreamed of having to deal with again when her sexually-abusive father is injured from a fall and she is the only one left in her family to take care of him.

Everything in Christy’s life comes to a crisis point with no way out. In a moment of desperation, she takes two handfuls of pills. “I should have died,” she tells me. She doesn’t. Instead, she throws up what she can, passes out and wakes up days later to a police officer knocking on her door–her kids have been caught trespassing and smoking marijuana. Soon after, her husband of 20 years leaves. She is a shell of a person, spiraling deeper and deeper towards a bottom that seems to have no end.

Uncertain where to turn, she calls her mother-in-law and begins to explain what is happening. “Start reading your Bible and don’t listen to what anyone else says.” Christy listens. She digs around for her old Bible, opens it up and…understands nothing. It’s foreign to her, gibberish, an alien tongue. And yet, for some reason, she dedicates her life to Christ.

Jesus, if you are real, when I open my eyes, show yourself to me.

God starts showing up in amazing and clear ways to Christy. The next day, she drops her daughter off at the Plaza, the movie theater that Woodland owns and runs with The Lift. She drives past the church and hears a voice tell her, “Be bold.” She stops the car and walks up to the front door. It is 8:00pm on a Saturday…no one is going to be here. She puts her hand out to open the first door. It opens. Maybe they just leave the first door open for people who need a place to sleep. “Be bold.” She puts her hand out to open the second door. It opens. Two men sit alone in the Gathering Area. They look up. “Can we help you with anything?”

She tells them that she just dedicated her life to Christ and needs prayer. “364 days of the year, no one is here at this time,” they tell her. This is undeniably God.

A week later, absorbing all she can from her Bible, Christy hears the word “baptism.” Without a clue what this might mean for her (she had already been baptized as an infant), she goes to the Woodland Hills blog and the most recent post reads, “Baptism classes starting this weekend.” She signs-up, goes through the classes, and gets baptized in Lake Phalen. The word the pastor prays over her as she comes out of the water is, “May your eyes be opened.”

Jesus, if you are real, when I open my eyes, show yourself to me.

At this point in Christy’s story, you might be thinking, “This sounds like a Christian movie…too good to be true…too ‘Hallmark.’” I understand that. Sometimes, when I’m listening to people share their testimonies, I’m thinking this too. Maybe because I don’t believe the God of Heaven can actually move mountains. Maybe because I’m not expecting the God of Heaven to actually move mountains. The God of Heaven is moving mountains, people!

Perhaps unlike a Christian movie, however, the troubles of Christy’s day-to-day life do not disappear when she emerges from the water. Her children continue to struggle deeply with mental health. Her husband requests a divorce. Her depression and anxiety do not subside. She tells me that even now, these struggles are still very apparent in her life. At this point her testimony reminds me that the Bible never promises that knowing Christ will remove these things though. It promises, as Paul says in Philippians 1, that our “love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That [we] may approve things that are excellent; that [we] may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

Christy tells me she’s logged nearly 1500 hours of Bible study now, and I ask her what she has gained from it all. “I finally have value and worth,” Christy explains. “I understand the unfathomable concept of God’s love for everyone. I can forgive and love my husband. I am a part of the Body of Christ and have been given the gift of truth. I feel deep responsibility towards this truth.” The Word of God is powerful. The authority of the Holy Spirit moves powerfully within it, even when we don’t understand it. It defines what freedom, truth and love through Christ look like. It turns love into an action.

Christy’s baptism was just the beginning of her journey. Since then, she has participated in a number of Cultivate classes. She became a part of Sojourners. She tells me she has logged about 1500 hours of Bible study by this point. This last spring, on the one year anniversary of her attempt to end her life, she decided to volunteer for Project Home. A new family arrived that night–a single woman with four children, just like she had been, and a brand new baby. Christy holds the 11-day-old baby in her arms and becomes overwhelmed with awe. Just one year ago she had wished death on herself, and now she holds the gift of new life. It can only be described as a miracle. Thank you, God.

5 thoughts on “When I open my eyes…

  1. Paul says:

    How absolutely beautiful!

  2. Shannon says:

    I am sitting here, perhaps feeling a small fraction of what Julie Thoreen felt as she sought words to tell Christy’s story. Her deep, painful and heart crushing, honest, hopeful and transformational story. Thank you Christy for telling your story, and thank you Julie for your beautiful and honest writing. I hope many people read this and receive the hope that Jesus does indeed still heal, in the midst of this fallen, messy world where evil happens, Jesus meets us in our pain and He comforts and heals. Hurt and harm are not the end of the story. Jesus is. Thank you God!

  3. Carl says:

    Wow! I needed to read this. Thanks!

  4. Gracie A Watson says:

    Christy, I am overjoyed for you and proud of all you have accomplished through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

  5. Patty says:

    Such a breathtaking story so near to the heartbeat of God. May the peace of Jesus continue to reign in your ? Christy. Thank you for narrating your life so well and loving even as it hurts .

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