Written by Angeline M Duran Santiago
We want to write down a list of excuses to prove why we don't have time for God. Another list we want to make is one that shows why there is never enough time to seek Him. Therefore, we conclude, that He is not a reality in our lives, because if He were, He would make the effort to reach out and make himself available to us in our most desperate moments. It's funny how we complain about his so called non-existence in our present distress, but I wonder what would life be like if we could look through the magnifying lens of the past and our daily lives to witness how although we don't have time to seek and discover who God is and wants to be in our lives, He still is at work in our lives.
After speaking with some people, I've heard them say things like, "Well, that's easy for you because you grew up with all that church stuff." I smile inside because so many assume to know me or all about me. No. The woman you see today is not here because she was "raised" in church. I understand being broken and going through depression. I understand having expectations in life and not seeing them accomplished. I know life hurts, but I know God heals.
Like many Hispanic families, my family was one of those who made trips every now and then to the botanica. I remember the number and dream books, the scary statues that stared at me reminding me of the statues I stared at when I went to church, the music, the big leaves, and I remember the smell of incense that filled the botanica. Those same scents were later transported into my home. I remember soaking in a bath filled with leaves to heal my legs. I remember a room where people danced and chanted and came together for something spiritual, but it wasn't God, not the God of the Scriptures that was being envoked or praised. I remember clearly the room of statues with the many altars in my Grandma's home. There was such a fear and a cold, scary feeling each time I had to pass through that room in order to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I felt as if those statues called out to me and I just wanted to run out of there.
As a child I was exposed to many things that formed me. Some of my life moments were negative, but some were amazing. One of the things I remember was that in the midst of being surrounded by family that encouraged us to follow the religious traditions of our culture, through all the different voices coming in and out of our lives, my mom seemed to be able to plant the seeds in my life that told me, "God hears." "God is real." Although my early prayers as a child were mixed from praying to God, reciting learnt prayers and praying to God, Mary the mother of Jesus and my guardian angel all in the same night, God truly knew my seeking heart and heard me. He would have that moment in time where He would pull me out of the pit, out of the miry clay and place me on the solid foundation of His truth.
My *Catholic upbringing allowed me to be exposed to the belief that you go to church on Sundays and still have additional beliefs on the side, because they go together. So, to be in a conversation where someone would tell you to light candles to a saint, visit the botanica, and pray to God all in the same paragraph, was normal to my environment because that is what we knew. But, when I attended mass on Sundays, I always felt like something was wrong. I struggled with the fact that I wanted God to speak to me and all He did was stare at me through those cold, stone eyes. I struggled with the image of the statues and people lighting candles to them because I felt if they were real, why didn't they come out and heal my brother who was suffering so much? I challenged the statues to hear my mind and I would mock them but none of them came back at me.
I remember visiting the mummified nun, Cabrini. The nun sharing said that if you were in the church garden and the swing moved, that her spirit was present and that if you went and sat on the swing, healing took place, miracles happened. So, I went. The swing moved. I sat. I challenged her to show herself. She still hasn't showed up. Through all the religious mumbo jumbo I was exposed to, there was still a spark that had begun in me and it was through the gift of a bible that the spark began to grow. I read the ten commandments and saw it there in my face, "You shall have no other gods before me." I read all about the worthless idols and handmade gods that people chose rather than choosing the God who reveals himself to us when we pray and seek Him. I read about the power of God and how He healed people.
*Please note and understand I am not putting down anyone that is Catholic, just merely sharing my own experience.
I was nine years old and I read the whole bible in merely months, only to read it again and again. I wanted to learn more. So, I was placed to take communion classes with my brother and as the teacher taught us lessons, the words I had been reading would come into my mind. I would raise my hand to ask questions about the books we were given and the lesson we were taught. I was told my questions were inappropriate. One Saturday, the lesson was about the "day of the dead." I couldn't understand why we had to celebrate the day of the dead. The nun said she'd have to speak to my mother about my behavior. I stopped going to the classes, and oh yes, never continued with those holy communion classes. I didn't want to touch the feet of the statues or kiss them. I didn't want to light a candle or take holy water and place it on my head. I wanted them to show me in the bible where it said I needed to do that. No one could answer me. I went to the priests and asked questions. I went to the nuns and asked for help. No one could help me. One nun told me that if I believed reading the bible was helping me, then I should continue to do so but not tell anyone.
As I became a teenager, I continued with a passion for the scriptures. When I had a need in my life, I had learned that scripture was filled with times when God's people fasted and prayed, taking time out to seek the Lord. My early teens were devastating. Most of the time I had wished God would have taken me and not let me live. There were more days I longed for death than life. A dark cloud hung over my head night and day. I barely slept. Times of great fear filled my bedroom at night and I prayed myself to sleep. No longer were my prayers to anyone else but the God I had been reading about. My mom was a great source of inspiration and faith. Although many "Christians" were in our lives, not one of them ever spoke to us about inviting Jesus into our lives. We lived and associated with "Pentecostals" in our neighborhood and I just thought they were different, sad people who couldn't let their daughters were pants. Never did one of them speak to my mom about the Lord, that God heals and transforms, that there was hope and that there is power in knowing the Almighty God. It wasn't until my mid teens when someone finally reached out to my mom and left a scripture tract under the door. That was the seed, the beginning of my mom's encounter with God's presence and power. But, until that day, life was hard and I would pray that I would not wake up to face the next day on a regular basis.
My escapes, if you could call it that, was a passion for dance. I would go to the library and take out books on dance and try to learn foundations of dance on my own. I could pick up any dance I saw without a problem. When I heard music, it seemed I knew how to dance it even though no one had taught me what to do. That love for dance opened up many doors for me that allowed me to live my escape from my dark moments as a teenager. I was able to be a cheerleader, be part of dance groups that performed in different shows and places, and I was able to partake in what was then popular street jams put on by the radio stations. My love for dance opened the doors for me to choreograph dance for many events and it was those moments where I felt I was happy.
Although I didn't go clubbing, I enjoyed the weekend dance parties that were thrown in the neighborhood. Those jams usually ended up in fights and having to leave for safety reasons. A few times I had to run as gun shots were fired towards our way, all because of someone from the opposite neighborhood being present, someone with the wrong color beads or the wrong color shirt, or the other dumb reason that people make up to have an excuse to fight. I didn't care about the drama at the party. I kept going because I wanted to "just dance". Dance was my outlet. Music was my medicine. God was calling me through the darkness. I cried out to Him. In my dreams He showed up and showed me my tomorrow. I would dance in my dreams. "God, really?" I would not die but live to declare the glorious works of the Lord.
One day, in a moment where my mom was attempting to finish her own life, God's Mighty presence and power stepped in and cancelled her plans. God's healing power rained into my mom's life, beginning a transformation that in time would also bring my brothers and I into God's Kingdom. I quickly learned that I didn't want to be a part of the church. I knew I wanted more of God, but not the way I was seeing it in the church. Still, the Lord was at work and when the Spirit of God begins to move in your home, you have no choice but to either get out of the way or surrender to that love.
In time, God's tugging could not be ignored and I gave my life to the Lord. I accompanied my mom to a street service in a huge lot in Bronx, NY. I never heard the message. I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that I walked into a street service that was finishing, the man said, "If you want God to do something new and different in your life, give him your life tonight." My body stood motionless in that open lot and under the rain. Someone touched my shoulders and encouraged my forward, but no one was there. My brother and I walked forward and surrendered our lives, our brokenness to the Lord. I hadn't cried for a long time. That night, I cried. Liquid love fell like rain upon my head and my heart was lit up with promise. God had finally showed up.
"Lord, if what I have done in giving you my life and you want me to just live for you, take away what is not needed in my life." I prayed and asked God to show me what to do next. The dance group I belonged to wrote me a letter telling me to never return to the rehearsals. The dance group I had auditioned for and had passed to each new level, let me go and decided to only use dancers with previous dance training. The DJs and the Rappers that had once wanted me to help and choreograph dances for them kicked me to the curb like a sickness. My so called friends pushed me out of their lives. I was alone, more alone than usual. God had allowed me to be emptied out of all that was in my life that was in His way so that he could fill me with all his goodness.
Church folks were quick to tell me how to get holy and close to God by giving me lots of advice, most of it not even biblical. I delved into my bible again to see what was true and was not. I got rid of my earring, my pants, my make up, my music and dance. If the church leaders told me to do something, I did it because I wanted to please the Lord and I wanted to serve the Lord. The more I prayed, the more I loved the Lord. I also learned the hard way that church leadership is not all trustworthy and that the only one we can place our trust in is God. We should always pray even for guidance who to share our lives with or go to for counsel. I dreamed almost every night I was dancing, but not the kind of dancing I knew. I would dream my brothers were with me in the dances and many times we had swords in our hands. Other times my dance included speaking out certain scriptures and I'd be transformed completely from my clothing to the place I was in. As I shared my dreams, I was told that the world was still in me and that God wanted me to get rid of dance completely. I was told that I still had sin in my life and that I had to never think of dance again.
As I sought out different ministries and looked for ways to grow in the Lord, I witnessed a group of dancers performing in the street. It was then I knew my dreams were not a sign of my sins, but a call from the Lord to use my gift for Him. It was very hard to put forth the Arts in the Spanish church when I first came to the Lord. Everything was seen as sin and bad. My early experiences in the church was very difficult and pushed me towards feeling alone. But, through it all, I pushed back and continued to do dramas, songs, artistic expressions through painting and drawings and dance. Most everywhere I went, doors seemed to close. I began a clown and puppet ministry as well and that also made many pastors tell me I was bringing the world into the church.
The Lord would do great things through the Arts in my life and I continued to press forward. When I finally had the opportunity to do more, God opened the door to train and raise up other dance ministries in many different churches and denominations. It was a time where the Arts were seen as something worldly and sinful. The more I sought the Lord, the more I was sure God wanted to use the Arts through the church. But, life has a way of allowing waves to come crashing down and my life is no exception. Many things happened in my church life and in my own personal life that took me into a dark place where I felt alone and broken.
Many moments I just wanted to give up and even wished God's mercy would take me away from it all. I went through disappointments, being used, lied about and having all I had created and done taken away from me in seconds. I went from thinking I had my life together to opening my eyes and seeing that my family was falling apart. My marriage was on a downward spiral and on full speed. My career was going well but soon, everything hit me and it hit me hard. I questioned God. I prayed. I cried out. I lingered in the darkness alone. I know He was present but my heart was so numb that nothing could break through. I was left to deal with my hurts alone. I closed myself up inside of my room and my bedroom became my prison. I wanted to sleep and sleep some more. One night, God stepped in and showed me how my kids were hurting because of the depression I was in. He gave me a choice. "Stay this way or get up." I remember I was alone in the house and I said, "Lord, help me get out of this dark place in my mind and in my heart." All I felt in my heart was, "Worship. Praise Him."
I went downstairs into the living room and I looked for some music that I had used many times to worship the Lord. I sat down on the sofa and decided to sit there listening to the songs. I pushed my heart to praise the Lord. I told my heart to acknowledge the one who was my deliverer. My eyes were on Him and no one else. "Oh, that you would set me free!" I cried out. "Rise and dance." Those words were clear in my mind and in my ears. With aches in my body and my life falling apart, I got up and on to the middle of my living room and I began to dance a prayer out on to the Lord. I lifted my hands and I cried out with each step and each movement became a declaration of my need for His Spirit to step into my pain, into each shattered area of my life, and for the Spirit of the Lord to restore me, renew me.
The presence of the Lord entered my home and began to heal me through the dance. Yes, in each step there was renewed purpose. In each twirl, God's Spirit set me free! I began to cry out and sing. I spoke out as the Lord gave me words to speak out until my words were not mine but His. As I recognized God moving in my life, I stood up and began to take authority in Jesus name and I began to walk through my home and command the Enemy to leave. With God's anointing upon my life, I went through each room, even the backyard of my home and I praise the Lord and I commanded every assignment of hell against my family and my life to be broken and done. I prayed in each bedroom. I invited God's presence into each corner of my home. I didn't stop until I was knew it was time to stop. But, it was the beginning of my life coming back.
I'd like to say that things completely turned around. No. They didn't. But, my life was restored and I was back where I needed to be. God is still at work in my life. He is still at work in my home, with my family. I still live with the choices I made, mistakes I made with leaving my job and mistakes I made as a mom, but I have placed all those mess ups in the hands of the One who can make all things new.
Wow! I wrote so much and yet, I've written so little. You see, if I were to write everything, I need to sit down and write a couple of hundred pages to share not only where I was, but what God has done. He took the hunger of a little girl to know God in a real way and He satisfied her thirst because she believed and cried out to Him. I was not raised in the church. I was a few days from turning 16 when I invited the Lord into my life and I was about 17 when I truly understood what that decision meant. But, as a child, my mom planted those seeds I told you about and oh, how they've blossomed.
This is my story. No. This is just part of my story. You have a story to share as well. Maybe you are hurt. You need to believe God listens and cares. Pray and call out to the Lord. He answers. He will. He will give you peace and help you along the way. You will not be alone again. If you are in any kind of dark situation, invite the Lord Jesus into your life and let Him show you what an amazing transformation will take place in your life. I promise you will never be the same especially when the Enemy comes against you. You will have God Almighty to fight on your side and be your help. I pray you have been blessed in some way. I'd love to hear from you if you have. If I can pray for you in any way, let me know. As many of you who share or ask for prayer, you know I will pray with you. But, you have that same ability to cry out to the Lord. Get up and seek the Lord. Cry out to Him. Read your bible and you will see, He loves you more than you can imagine.
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