– Teresa Perez. { Jeremiah 29:11 } –

HELLO! My name is Teresa, born and raised in New Jersey, I am 33 years old. Currently residing in Sunny Florida. Growing up my fondest memories were always helping others, talking them thru their problems, even at a young age, I loved being there for others and making sure they were ok but mostly happy. I was always making people laugh and enjoyed being silly.

Looking back on my journey, there were a few specific moments that were memorable and also clear that God was speaking into my life.

As a child I was a very happy go lucky kid but things began to change for me after my parents separated. I became somewhat rebellious and felt like I was always different and didn’t quite fit in.

I was always a giving kid and from a young age I was exposed to very poor places though traveling. It  made me want to give all those kids all my toys and clothes. I was able to get them tons of candy and play with them. I left there with a heavy heart but I promised I would be back to help when I was older and stable.

I remember believing in God but not actually knowing or having a relationship with him yet. The curiosity was always there tho and seeked for something greater.

I remember being about 13 and ordering a book called “The Power for living.” Which is a Christian book by Jamie Buckingham. I don’t know any kid that age, that would be so intrigued by such a profound and deep book. I read it within a few days and at the end of the book it allowed you to do a prayer and give your life to God. I didn’t even hesitate in fact I was excited to give my heart away. Like I mentioned before I’ve always seeked for more and felt right about this decision.

For days to come, I felt different, I had peace over my “teen problems,” I was even at peace with my parents, and lastly I felt so much joy.

I shared this experience right away with my best friend Nestor, he’s still my best friend and actually more like a brother. I got him to read the book and I also started journaling. That was my outlet, I came home, prayed, and journaled almost every day. Things got better and I was on a better road from then on.

Fast forward to my late teen years, I was still a very happy, funny and very silly girl. I had lots of friends, went to school and worked really hard, I never wanted to be a burden to my mom who was raising me alone.

I began to resent my father for not taking part in my life, I was somewhat of a “Daddy’s girl” prior to the separation. Slowly but surely at this point, I started to get off track although I still attended church I was there but not there, if that makes sense.

Work, School, my “Cool “ new car and lastly my boyfriend, all occupied my time. I always believed God was there and sometimes even had some guilt and would say a fast prayer here and there  but sadly I was off to “explore” life. I had a timeline and I was on the go.

The world was mine or so I thought…For the next couple years I engulfed myself in material things, accomplishments, shopping, moving across the country, being in a very serious relationship, schooling, career, some partying and mostly drinking. All accompanied by some reckless behavior, I always thought to myself it’s ok, I’m young right? “One day” I’ll change, not now, later. I have time!!! It all became toxic, I hung out with people who were fun but didn’t always have the best interest.

The person who I thought I was ready to  marry, soon became an ex and then a stranger. I blocked it out of my mind and heart. I became a little bit of a cold person. I was a mess but I wouldn’t dare show this to anyone ever. My pride would never allow this. I didn’t cry, I learned to look past it and sweep my pain under the rug along with more pain from my younger teen years, it was a defense mechanism.

Anyone that came close to me I would quickly send them on their way.

On the outside I was well put together. I mean I had it all right? I should be happy. Wrong!

I began to have really bad anxiety and even panic attacks. I began to fear so many things even driving…I refused to tell anyone or share but I did take active steps to resolve it.

I read books and took classes that helped but also learned to live with this. At this point in life, I had a great job, I started dating again and still didn’t allow anyone fully into my heart but I was no longer bitter.

I started traveling, started being a little more authentic in some areas of my life but something was always missing.

I would have talks with trusted friends and always said that there had to be more to life than this? I climbed up the corporate ladder, more money, more awards  to add to my collection, more business trips, more and more things. Yet nothing was enough…Nothing would keep me genuinely happy. There was always this tug in my heart to keep searching…

What was I doing wrong?

Why was I still not happy?

I received a journal that year, after driving one of my friends crazy with my quotes, dreams and vison of life should be.

I wrote lists upon lists of things I wanted to accomplish and a bucket list as well. I even started journaling again but as I journaled more and more it took me back to my days when I journaled to God. And I got another journal from another close friend and this time I dedicated it to God.

Wait a minute, was that it? It instantly hit me like a bucket of ice water.

My missing piece was God! All along that’s what I was missing.

I no longer prayed the way I used to and If I was honest I barely had a relationship with him anymore.

It struck me like the biggest AHA moment I had ever had.

How did I get here? How did I get so far from Him? Why did I stray? It made my heart sink with deep sadness and disappointment. It also made me quickly think of my next steps.

I knew from a while back something had to change. Most of all, I had to change.

This was a hard pill to swallow but I was willing to do whatever it took. I prayed that night like my life depended on it and asked God for forgiveness and guidance.

I also cried like never before and asked for change.

Slowly I began my conversion, I started reading the bible at first I barely understood anything and I would get so frustrated. As time went by I was enlightened and found the bible fascinating.

I attended my local church and never missed a Sunday but most importantly my heart was on fire and I was hungry for more.

The hardest part was the initial change, I was weak and failed a few times before getting it right. My anxiety was at an all time high at this point but I found the perfect verse that spoke to my situation and my heart “For I know the plans I have for you , declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11. I found peace when saying this and right away whatever anxiety I had would leave and I would immediately be in such a state of calmness and strength, it was almost incredible.

Still God had to do some work in me. I wanted to hand God only some parts of my life. Being an OCD person that I am , I didn’t want to give up all control. I wanted to give God some pieces of my life, certainly not all.

Another hard part was being separated, people not understanding me and my encounters with God. As I became a better version of myself and changed. I was labeled anything and everything from crazy, weird,etc.. I could tell people looked at me different, like “what’s wrong with Teresa?” It is only when you experience God for yourself or one of those life changing moments, in the natural world it seems absolutely ridiculous and crazy.

I knew what I signed up for so I persisted despite anything and everything that came against me, soon started meeting some of the most amazing people, who were on the same path.

I began looking for ways to serve and was called to volunteer. I prayed that God would direct me in my next steps and as my faith grew I knew there was more to come.

He was simply building my character and strength and also renewing my heart. It was all such a beautiful struggle, he took all my pieces and made me new! He broke some things I carried with me..I even began to make peace with my dad, which is a big step here considering my pride.

Some days I was strong and more than a warrior. Some days I cried and wanted to throw in the towel but he threw it right back and told me He is not done with me yet.

He was my strength through it all and I even became vulnerable and soft hearted again. I was able to wear my heart on my sleeve again. WOW!!

I was becoming who I’ve always been deep inside… I was able to give others the grace and love he had shown me. I no longer reacted over silly things.

This was one of my biggest struggles, I had always had a smart mouth and something to say.

Because of it, I was nicknamed “Candelita,” which in spanish it means little fire, lol.

As time passed and I went deeper in, I got confirmation that I would be traveling somewhere to help others. I didn’t know how or when it would take place but I was open to it. I prayed that the right doors would open and just like that they did. I was introduced to the Missions director at church and off I went to Nicaragua.

I honestly didn’t have funding for it but was sponsored right away. I didn’t have the time off but it just opened up for me.

Let me tell you something about the God I serve.. When the plan is according to His will, He will make it happen no matter what! I went with an open heart and remembered that seed of going to help was planted long ago in me when I was kid. I was so overwhelmed with excitement  and nervousness but everything went as planned, maybe even better.

I experienced some sadness by seeing circumstances but mostly joy that I was able to help and serve God. The trip changed me and I  was ready for another one, yet again, God open the doors for me to go but this time to Haiti.

I was beyond myself but I also knew I would be exposed to much worse conditions there. Every day until it was time to leave I prayed for strength and courage.

Off to Haiti I went, I was warned and they were right. This was one of the most wrecking and raw experiences I’ve had to encounter. God changed my heart there and I’ve never been the same. He also gave me life long friends that have become family and so many memories.

Coming back home was rough, I didn’t want to leave I felt I didn’t do enough.

God changed me in this trip, He humbled me so much and showed me I should have more of a servant heart even back home.

I want to conclude my Testimony with something that’s been placed heavily pon my heart and I know this to be 100% true. We can search and search from east to west for “happiness,” we can change the way we look to make us feel better. We can buy houses, cars, vacations and so much more. We can party our lives away and keep busy traveling ,working etc. We can stay distracted. We can pretend on social media that we are happy but are we really?

Be honest with yourself.

We can live up to what society dictates for us to be but still not be satisfied.

We can photoshop our pictures, but we can’t photoshop our souls and that longing.

Sadly, the void we try to fill with “things” and it never works.

I was a prisoner of this and also of people’s approval but God set me free..

I see so many people who aren’t even themselves just to “fit in.”

Don’t be that person.

You don’t have to live that way.

God made you perfectly the way you are flaws and all. It’s a beautiful thing when you can truly accept this.

We will never truly be happy until you have God in your life. He is our source and now more than ever, we should be seeking him.

The best part is He is waiting with arms wide open. Like a good Father that He is and He will never reject us, doesn’t matter what we’ve done.

He is forgiving and merciful. He is LOVE!

I only speak from experience, I hope that by me being transparent and raw and sharing my ups and downs, you too are encouraged. I hope this gives you FAITH no matter what part of life you are in.

My prayer is that my story serves you and you can relate in some ways. I hope you find it in your heart to look for “home” and if you’ve strayed its ok, I hope you find your way back!

I’m so grateful now that I know that all along my missing piece and my HOME it was Him, It was GOD!

Florida.

-Teresa.

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