Welcome, Northsiders!


[photos by Shalyn]

A post by Indiana . . . 

If you're here because you heard me speak at church on Sunday, hello! I want to take a moment to tell you a little more about me, and I want to copy and paste the written version of the testimony that I was asked to share during Dustin's sermon. 

First, please know that if I haven't already I really want to meet you. I'm usually chasing my children after Sunday's service, but I love meeting new people. This has been hard to do since right after service I disappear to pick up the kids from their classrooms and by the time I make them do a potty run and gather their artwork and discarded shoes, most people have cleared out. However, if you do see me around, even if I look crazed and sweaty, please come say hello. And then maybe help me catch one of my children who have, no doubt, run in three separate directions away from me. 

Second, thank you for being such a warm, lively, and loving church community. Being a part of Northside has made our transition from Texas much easier. We've already made some sweet relationships and we look forward to plugging in further and serving our city alongside you all. 

Third, I was surprised to be asked to share the story of my journey of faith. Honestly, when I was asked to share my testimony I thought, "Did they mean to ask Chris?" I'm always surprised when people trust me with microphones! Thank you for letting me share!

Lastly, Dustin's sermon will be online on tomorrow, and my testimony ended up being a less eloquent and very abridged version of what I had planned to say originally. Nonetheless, here's my story typed out for those of you who weren't in the service (and also for those who don't attend Northside, but were curious enough to click over): 

Some background: I grew up as one of the only Asian kids in a small town in southern Indiana. My parents were divorced and when I was three, my father, who had custody of me, died in a helicopter crash while serving in the army. After that I was raised by his parents who didn't go to church themselves but would use church as a free babysitter for me. My grandma would literally drop me off at the curb on Sunday mornings, and I clearly remember being as young as six, sitting in the front pew of the adult service with my Cabbage Patch doll alone. I wish I could say that my conversion to Christ happened that early, but it didn't. My knowledge of God was minimal and didn't go much beyond silly VBS songs. However, I am certain that the adults of that church started praying for the little dark girl who sat alone in the front row.

My grandparents were pretty hands off as parents and I was an only child, so my childhood, a lot of times, felt very lonely. My race and home situation made me markedly different than my peers and because of that, I spent most of my childhood just trying to belong.

I stopped going to church around age 10 because I started feeling self-conscious about sitting there week after week, year after year, by myself. I felt like a burden when I'd sit with my church friends' families. The tipping point was that there was a church directory being made, and I didn't want to do my photo alone. And that-- that loneliness, that always feeling like an outsider thing-- really defined my life up until I learned about Jesus much, much later.

Now here's where I want to tell you a little bit about myself. If you're in the Critser's community group, you know. I can eat. I eat a lot. I mean, A LOT A LOT. Like during vacation, at our all-inclusive resort, I would order an appetizer, two entrees, and dessert at dinner. And I once entered a hotdog eating contest on a whim and got second place. I'm food motivated and the junkier the better.

And so God used pizza to bring me to Christ.

When I was a junior in high school, I had two dance classes on Wednesday nights, with a break in between. My aunt and uncle's church happened to have youth group on Wednesday nights... a youth group that had free pizza...

So at age 17, I found myself back in church. I would breeze in in my sweat pants, pile a plate high with five slices and hunker down in the back to stuff my face. This was not a large youth group where I could hide out, mind you, but I had no shame. I was strictly there for the pizza and didn't stand and sing along with the songs or bow my head in prayer. I was there to eat.

Again, I'm certain this church started praying for the dark girl in the back chowing down.

Over time, I started making friends there, and at home-- I was now living with my aunt and uncle after my grandfather suffered a stroke-- I was reading the Christian-y books they had laying around and was under the care a family who was really involved in my life and who loved Jesus. I could feel chinks of my loneliness starting to chip off.

After an entire school year, one Wednesday night, it happened. As I was popping pepperoni into my mouth, a kid walked down to the alter and asked to dedicate his life to God. I watched as other kids gathered around him, hands on his back and shoulders, praying for him and really just celebrating the heck out the moment. The youth pastor said a prayer for him and everyone cheered.

I sat my greasy paper plate down in my lap and gripped the side of my chair so tight my hands started to ache. Tears were rolling off my face.

The previous week at home, I had shouted at the ceiling, "God, if you're real, SHOW ME!" 

And as I sat there watching this celebration, I felt like God was shouting back at me, "I'M SHOWING YOU!"

And I carefully put my plate under my chair and walked up to the alter and gave my life to Jesus that night, too.

I was 30 minutes late to my next dance class, but when I got there and felt like I was dancing on air. That loneliness, the heavy heartache I'd been lugging around with me, was lifted. 

Last summer marked a tipping point for me; last summer became the point in time when I could start saying that I have been a Christian for *most* of my life since my moment of conversion happened 17 years prior -- half my life ago.

Since then I went to Bible college, studied to be an evangelist (I really like talking in microphones), and I met a God fearing man and married him. And because of the prayers of the church, the influence of my aunt and uncle, and pizza, my children are given the gift of being raised in a Christian home-- something neither my husband nor I had.

My life has not been perfect since becoming a Christian at 17. I haven't been even close to perfect. These are stories for another time, but my marriage was a mess for a long while, I still lose my patience with my kids, I go through periods of doubt, and loneliness, especially since I'm new to the area, still creeps in. 

But because I belong to God, I am sustained by Him and given grace by Him, which allows me to lovingly serve my family, the church, my community, and other women.

I used to use not growing up in a Christian home as an excuse for not digging deep into scripture or to not make it a priority to have a healthy prayer life, but guys, I've been a Christian most of my life now! And I'm still discovering how God's grace and mercy and love compels me to dig in deep-- with God, my husband, my family, and others. 

That night, 17 years ago, changed everything for me. My whole life, up until that point, was defined by me trying to fit in. To belong. But I stopped letting that be my defining characteristic because I realized I already belonged. To God. That is where my identity now lies.