My name is Jaci and I would like to share my story about how God has changed me.
I come from a very complicated family background. I was adopted and raised by my older sister, whom I call mom and it just gets more complex from there. I used to go to church when I was a little kid, but growing up I lost many family members who were actively part of the church. In the course of just a year, I lost two of my uncles and my Grandma. All three had been cornerstones in helping raise me and I was devastated. As I experienced these losses I stopped attending and being involved in church. When I was in my early pre-teens I was told I was a Christian but I never knew what being a Christian actually meant. I thought it was just something my parents said to people so they didn’t think we were bad people. I never truly understood who God was or what Jesus did for me.
During my pre-teen years as I walked through what felt like the valley of endless deaths, I started to doubt there was a God. If there was a God, He probably hated me and was punishing me by allowing all these people I loved to die. In my teen years, I started to fall into the devil’s traps, doing things I shouldn’t be doing, and I fell further and further from God. I felt so alone. My mom knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to help me. She found Cookson Hills and a few months later I arrived. I knew the devil had his grip on me but I wanted help. I needed to change my life and my behaviors. I started to grow closer with God through my houseparents and the staff. We have a Bible class at school, we do devotions at home, my houseparents pray with me and help talk me through things I am struggling with.
In the beginning, being at Cookson Hills was difficult. I didn’t really want to be here but my other options weren’t any better. It was hard giving up the bad habits that I thought were bringing me comfort. Changing and doing life differently was strange but I survived. As I would learn more about God and start to grow closer to Him, the devil would try to tempt me to fall back into my old ways because I was still weak in my faith. It was like three steps forward and two steps back.
That’s when people at Cookson Hills started talking about this summer event called CIY (Christ In Youth). In order to go as a student at Cookson Hills, we must apply, have teacher references, and be chosen to attend. So, I wrote my essay, submitted it and kind of didn’t think anything else about it. The day I got a letter telling me I was picked to go to CIY I was excited but there was also a voice inside my head telling me not to do it. I was sure God could never forgive me for what I had done and there was no way He could ever love me.
When I went to CIY I felt like I didn’t belong, I wasn’t Christian enough. But the longer I stayed the little voice I had heard before faded until I couldn’t really hear it. The worship was heartfelt and so amazing! I could feel the Holy Spirit moving. I will never forget the moment when I decided to walk in the light of God. It was the second day of CIY and the speaker had been talking about living in the darkness (sin) and how tiring and exhausting it is. Then we learned about how Jesus died on the cross to make us free and how our scars are made beautiful because of Him. Jesus can be the light in our darkness if we let Him. This really stirred my heart. It was like I finally understood who God was and what He did for me. I cried and prayed about how I was tired of living in the darkness and was ready to live in the light of the Lord because I had been in the dark for so many years. I went forward and prayed. It felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of me and I was free. I finally knew what it really meant to be a Christian.
Because of CIY & Cookson Hills, I have learned that the devil will stop at nothing to try and knock me off of my path and away from God. I am so glad that I made the decision to go to CIY. I had an amazing time with my friends and got the ultimate reward of getting to know God better. He is my light in the darkness.