Caitlin met me in my apartment on a Saturday morning. We have been around each other off and on for the last few years because of attending the same college and church, but we rarely had a chance to deeply chat. Everyone: God shines in her story. In moments when it seemed like everything was against her, God always provided a way. Caitlin’s love for Jesus is real. You can tell she clings to him daily and every choice is better because of him. Here is Caitlin’s story:
April 1, 2017
CAITLIN: I did not grow up in a Christian family. St. Louis is super Catholic and so with my mom’s extended family, I grew up being the flower girl and going to long, Catholic weddings, but obviously didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t really grow up knowing Jesus or knowing anything about him. We didn’t pray before meals. I didn’t own a Bible. I stuck out from my family before I was a Christian-just having a different personality and different interests, and then after I became a Christian I felt a lot more distance in our lives.
So even from the beginning, I think I was just really different from my family. My older sister and I never really got along, and were just very different kids and teenagers, and now even very different adults. My parents fought almost my entire life. There were a lot of times of almost-divorce. A lot of intensity, a lot of chaos. There was a lot of alcohol abuse which definitely influenced my later decisions and my own abuse of alcohol. My home life was just really chaotic and I never really wanted to be there.
During my first semester of my freshman year of high school, I was in an aerobics class at school (laughs). Big high school. We did, like, Richard Simmons videos. I met this girl there and she and I instantly hit it off. I went to her house that day and text my mom from her phone because I didn’t have a phone yet. She had a Sidekick and I text my mom from her phone and was like, “Hey, mom. I’m going home with my new friend. Come pick me up later!” and my mom was like, “Okay…” So I went home with her – and I didn’t realize it at the time because you’re not really conscious of these things when you’re younger – but she came from a very broken family. Her mom was super nice, but when people don’t know what real, unconditional love looks like and they don’t know Jesus, they don’t really have the tools to really express that love. So they just do what they can – like they love you and they try to express love to you, they just don’t have the tools to do it. They did what they could. I think my dad loved us, but didn’t know how to express it, so never expressed it. He worked a lot so I think the fact that we never had to worry about not having food or not having a place to lived made it okay for whatever else he did.
So, that friend and I started hanging out and the second or third week of my freshman year of high school, we asked her mom if we could have a drink. She was like, “Well, I want it to be in a controlled environment.” So, she agreed and she made us Crystal Light lemonade vodka slushy things and we drank them. After that, my life was about finding more places to do that and more people to do that with. My freshman year, I played soccer for my high school. Body image was always really bad for me. My sister was, like, a rail and can eat whatever she wants. My mom and dad were obsessed with how they looked. They tanned and wanted to look good. I was just this chubby girl. In middle school, boys – and girls – were awful and made fun of me. In high school when I started playing soccer, it was really good and helped me be active. I was normal teenage and was insecure, but I’m sure that factored into the choices I made that year. I just made really bad choices and did stupid stuff. I drank as much as I could just because I thought it was cool. I was just used to seeing my family drink, so I was like, It’s not bad. I knew you weren’t supposed to drink until you were 21, but…no one’s doing anything and no cops are here – it’s fine. My parents still don’t know. They just didn’t watch that closely. I had a tracker on my phone, but I would text them from this girl’s house and be like, “Hey, we’re going to the movies, but my phone’s dying so I’m leaving it here to charge.” I would leave my phone at her house and we’d go to a party.
The summer after my freshman year, I didn’t want my parents to catch onto how bad of a girl I was because I was so rebellious. I had a girl who I knew in middle school that went to church and I asked her if her church was going to a camp or something that I could go to so my parents would think I was good. The only thing I knew was that kids who went to church were considered “good” kids and I wasn’t a good kid. She was like, “Yeah, come with us to CIY Move.” So I went, but I listened to my iPod during all the sessions. I would sit and listen to Mac Miller and I remember playing Frisbee with these shirtless guys. They probably weren’t even there for the conference; I was just a weirdo. When we got back the next week, I was just back at doing whatever I wanted to do.
During my sophomore year, I started dating this guy and it was just really bad. He did drugs and then by extension, I started doing drugs. Nothing major. I just smoked weed and drank. That was a really bad relationship – we were just non-Christian, hormonal teenagers. We would just drink and do whatever. It was super stupid. I obviously did not respect myself. I was finding validation in what this guy thought of me, how bad he wanted me, what he would get me, and how I looked. Those were the things in life that mattered to me. Nothing else really mattered. I could have been such a good student. I remember: my junior year, I took AP Literature and I got a C- in the class, but I got a 5 on the AP Lit exam and my teacher was like, “What the heck? What’re you doing?” and I was like, “I just don’t care.” My whole attitude was just: I don’t care. I don’t care about anything.
At the end of my sophomore year, I realized the girl I had become friends with – we had been friends the whole time – was just really mean to me. I told her that she was rude and mean and that she should be nicer to her friends. She treated me and talked to the same way she did with people she didn’t like. I literally text her and was like, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore so don’t talk to me.” Looking back on that, I’m like, Caitlin, what the heck is your problem? Why would you do that to someone? Since she was so mean, she didn’t have a lot of other friends. What was really ironic was that I was supposed to go with her to Michigan for the summer and party on her grandparents’ lake house. We had already talked to a bunch of guys up there that she knew and we were just going to drive around a boat and make bad decisions and do stupid stuff. So, now that obviously wasn’t going to happen because I text her and told her I didn’t want to be her friend. I wasn’t going to go to Michigan with her.
It wasn’t like school was really hard and home was better. Home was really hard. School was better, but also hard. I was just a rock and had really thick skin. I was just like “screw you” to everyone and just tried to protect myself. What’s ironic is that we went to CIY in Holland, Michigan. So instead of going to Michigan to be the worst I’ve ever been and party all summer, I ended up going to Michigan and God changed my life. So the first night of the conference during worship, I just remember sobbing – just the nasty, snot is running out of your nostrils into your mouth and everything is crying, yeah that kind of crying – and I was like, What the heck is happening? Why am I crying? I don’t cry. This is stupid. I don’t believe in any of this crap – this is some B.S. I don’t care. And on the second night of the conference, a woman preached and we all got these little red strips of fabric and there were these giant red fabric pieces hanging from the ceiling and you were supposed to go tie your strip of fabric onto the bigger one. It represented giving up your sin. This lady came and preached on Rahab out of Joshua and was talking about how God can use anyone. For that night, my group was on the floor and I was one of those obnoxious girls that had to be on the front row. So I was on the front row and I was on my knees at one point, sobbing. I was like, What the heck? Why am I doing this? I’m not sad – ever. Why am I acting sad right now? Why am I relating to a prostitute? Why do I feel like I’m bad? Because in my world, I’m cool. I’m not bad. I don’t do bad things. I value the right things. Life is fine. But hearing her talking about the sadness of someone’s life being turned around and used for God made me feel something. The next day, I went and talked to my youth pastor’s wife, Stacy. She was trying to explain stuff to me and I was just talking in circles, God’s not real. Why would you people ever believe in something that’s invisible. It doesn’t make any sense. If you can’t see, it’s not real. She basically was like, “Caitlin. Shut up. You’re talking in circles and you don’t make sense. You’re just trying to talk yourself out of it.” I said, “I know.” She asked me, “Do you want to accept Jesus?” I said, “Yeah, but this is too public.” So we left and went behind a bush and I accepted Jesus. A few weeks later on July 17th, 2011, I got baptized. I did not know what it meant. I knew nothing. That was a changing point – but not really. Home life was still hard, still chaotic; maybe even more so after that point. I had to give up my friends in high school because they all still drank and did drugs and I figured I shouldn’t do that. No one ever told me not to do those things. I mean, the people at church didn’t know my past, but I knew I just shouldn’t do that because I didn’t think Christians did that. For the next year of high school, I know God helped me and guided me. Even though I didn’t really understand my baptism, I got the Holy Spirit. There’s no other way I would’ve gotten through anything. During my junior year, I played field hockey. I had a reputation, so girls would be like, “There’s a party…” and I would be like, “Ahh, uhh, I got stuff to do! I’m a Christian now and am, uh, good.” (laughs) I’m a Christian now and I probably shouldn’t do that. By the middle of my junior year, I was kind of backsliding. I remember: my friend and I went to another friend’s house (a friend I hadn’t given up) for a party and I took one drink of something. I was like, “Wait, no, I shouldn’t do this!” And I was like, “We should leave right now.” So we left and my friend was like, “Why?” And I was like, “I don’t know.”
That summer at CIY, I went out with Stacy and was like, “Hey. I can’t be a Christian if I don’t do something – if I don’t get involved, because I don’t care.” It’s not like I was reading my bible or praying. It wasn’t that the youth ministry failed me, I was just a kid, ya know? I was the only person at my church who drove themselves to church and went by myself. My parents never went with me. It was all me. She offered for me to come with them to middle school camp as a go-for. It was just a few weeks later after CIY. I was supposed to be a go-for, but I ended up being a leader in an overflow cabin of girls that weren’t even from our church. Looking back on it, I’m like, Why would you ever let me do that? I’ve been a Christian for less than a year and was doing whatever I wanted. At camp, any time a girl would come to me for something, I would just open up my Bible to the Psalms and read them a psalm. I thought, We don’t have to interpret these, I can just read you this. At the end of the week, my youth pastor told me that I needed to be in Momentum that Sunday which is what we called our middle school programming. They told me I was going to lead a middle school small group with an adult, but they never found an adult. So, my senior year, I quit playing field hockey and I led an 8th grade girls’ small group. I was at church regularly – Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. I also worked every single day because I thought it was better to be other places than home.
When I came back from that week at the middle school camp – the summer leading up to my senior year of high school – I told my parents I wanted to go to Bible college and I was going to be a minister. They were like – no/why. My dad radically freaked out against it. I developed an eating disorder the first semester of my senior year from lots of different stressors, a lot to do with home life and just inner unhealed turmoil. Anytime my dad and I saw each other it would end up in a yelling match. I would go a couple of days without seeing my parents. From a young age, I would be home alone from the time I got out of school until anywhere from 6 to 8 o’clock. Sometimes, I would go, like, four days without seeing my dad if we were on different schedules. Any time he did see me, [Bible college] would come up. In November of my senior year, my mom and I drove down to Ozark Christian College to come on a Tuesday Tour. On the way down, my dad was like, “I have the divorce papers. You can sign them when you get back.” That’s happened before – so that just made me feel bleh. After that, they reconciled and he got her a big ring and all that, but from my perspective I don’t think any real reconciliation was taking place. I think she told him not to yell at me anymore, so he just didn’t talk to me the second semester of my senior year. I realized I had a problem. I was definitely stress-eating. It was hard for a kid to live life in those kinds of situations. Any time something bad would happen, I would go get something and eat in the car by myself. I worked two jobs and had my own money and could do whatever. No one was over my money or knew what I was doing. I did go to counseling for it my second semester and get some help to work through that.
The summer after my senior year was super rad. I went to CIY Move. I did middle school camp again. I – on my own – wanted to go to Camp Barnabas which is a camp for special needs kids outside of Springfield. My parents wouldn’t let me drive my car. So…I got on Greyhound Bus – out of the St. Louis Greyhound port, which was the scariest place I had ever been at the time. There was this drunk guy who kept harassing me and eventually got kicked off the bus. I had to fill out an instant report for him because everyone on the bus was like, “He was talking to her the whole time!” I was like, I’M EIGHTEEN. WHY AM I HERE?! (laughs) So, the people from Camp Barnabas picked me up and when I got to camp, people were like,
“So, how did you get here?”
And I was like, “Greyhound Bus.”
And they’re like, ”You do realize that when someone gets out of prison, they get a free Greyhound Bus trip to anywhere?”
I was like, “Uh, no, but that would make sense from what I saw.”
Camp Barnabas was fantastic. Before that, in the year that I was a Christian, I would have said, “Everyone’s beautiful. God made you. 1 Samuel 16:7,” but I didn’t really, truly believe it. I went to Camp Barnabas and I had the hardest time – spiritually – up until that point.We were in the toughest cabin. It was the lowest functioning cabin. It was an amazing experience and I came to love those girls so much. I had a 29-year-old person named Laila. She really was awesome, but she couldn’t communicate and she didn’t know sign language. She would have fits of rage. She was very large and would just punch me. I bathed her, brushed her teeth, and got her dressed. I remember: the first day during free time, I put her in her swimsuit and we went to the pool, but she wouldn’t get in. I just remember getting so mad. I was like, I just want to get in the water and it’s not like I can get in if you’re not in there because we’re each other’s buddies. I was so mad. It was a rough day. I remember going on the back porch and just crying. God really showed me it wasn’t about me that week. I just hadn’t learned how to serve – it just wasn’t the culture I was in. I was like, Wow – this week, I’m here for Laila. It doesn’t matter if she wants to swim. I’m going to let her do what she wants to do. It doesn’t matter if she wants to walk around all day. We can walk around all day if that’s what puts a smile on her face. If kicking me in the shin makes her giggle, fine – kick me in the shin. That week was awesome. I ended up going home with a girl that lived in Topeka, Kansas and then riding the train from Kansas City to St. Louis instead of taking the Greyhound back…because the Lord is good. (laughs)
When it was time to finally leave for Ozark, I was ecstatic. I remember: that first night…it was the first night in a long time where I didn’t have to sleep with my headphones in. At home, I would always have to sleep with my headphones in with the volume super high so I didn’t have to hear any fights or what was being said. So when I go to Ozark, I was like, Oh my gosh! Ahhh.. (laughs) I can just go to bed and no one is going to fight. This is the best! Everyone at OCC was so fun and I met all the best people. OCC was the place where Jesus and I really met and started life together. When I got baptized, I just knew that was something you had to do. I didn’t really know exactly what it was. Someone probably explained it to me, but not enough to where I really knew. I really started praying, reading my bible, and interacting with people on a daily basis who loved the Lord and loved me for the first time at OCC. Jesus really uses people in my life and part of it, I think, is because people were really negative to me before I met Jesus. I didn’t trust anyone ever. I was a psycho when I first came to OCC. I had never been emotionally, spiritually, physically healthy and had never known real acceptance and love. Jesus has completely redeemed people for me. The first person was Hannah Magelssen. I got put in her discipleship group my second semester of my freshman year. Hannah and I are similar in some ways – like if she had a loud, crazy sister, it’d be me. We’re both very theologically driven. She’s the one who helped me discuss things and figure out what I believed. She pushed me to be healthy and stop doing bad, defensive habits. She’s been a consistent mentor for me even after that. She really helped redeem people for me in that way. God’s also used people like Josh and Somer Quade and their family and also Katie and Josh Marsh and their family to redeem the concept of family for me. They helped show me how people were meant to be in community with one another. God also did that at OCC with how people love on each other there and how they come together for everything.
Even with Marcus and I’s relationship – it’s been super formative. It’s just pushed for health and growth for both of us. Our freshman year, we dated and I broke up with him because he confessed a sin issue to me and I just thought he needed time to work that out with God. We dated again my sophomore year and I broke up with him because I didn’t know how to be emotionally intimate with him and that scared me. I knew that was coming and I just didn’t know how to deal with it. I had never had a man be sweet to me or emotionally intimate. Gah, God gave Marcus so much grace to give to me because I literally broke up with him twice and asked him to get back together…twice. The third time we got back together, he made me wait. That sucked. That was when the new Adele album came out and I was constantly sobbing in my room just like (breaks out in chorus of “Hello.”) I had a hard time being emotionally vulnerable and trusting. It was humbling to ask someone to date you for the third time. It all worked out – we got married. (laughs) I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a deep, pure love for someone and God taught me that. God’s taught me through marriage how to be sacrificial and loving. It’s servitude to vacuum and do the dishes and stay up late to help each other study for a test. God has used Marcus’ relationship with me to teach me more about Him. I was reminded the other day that I’m totally a sinner when I let Marcus down the other day. Like, I’m bad, but it’s okay. Marcus met it with so much grace and that’s how Jesus comes forward and meets us. God can redeem everything. God has continually been peeling back the unhealthiness that was my foundation and replacing it with health, love, and Jesus. Jesus has redeemed everything and made all parts of my life the way that they are. I just know how different it is without Jesus. Like, the worst stuff could happen – everyone in my life could die and I would be so sad, but Jesus is still King. When I die, I get to be with him. If I died, I’d be like, Well, that sucks. I wanted to have, like, a kid and a dog, but I guess that’s okay. We should urgently be waiting for Jesus to come back, but there’s some stuff I want– selfishly – to happen before Jesus comes back. I’m excited, though, for the Kingdom to come and for this life to live because of what Jesus has done in my life and the way he’s redeemed it. With Jesus, there’s nothing I can’t do in the future. God doesn’t abandon us, even if we don’t know he’s there. Before we’re aware of him, he’s still pursuing us. It’s. Awesome.