My name is Nicola Alvarez and I feel led to write about my life and what brought me to God.  Though I have always known about God and Jesus, I am a "new" believer in Jesus and you'll understand why I put it in that context as you read through this.  Being new I'm not sure if there are rules or guideline to follow when writing out my life as it has been but in order to give the full view I need to go back to my early childhood. 

I was born on September 8, 1976 to an unwed mother of 19.  Growing up I never knew my father.  In place of my father I had my sister's father.  My mother married him when I was about 2 and they had my sister when I was 3.  They were divorced about a year later.  Some of the few memories that I have during that period of my life were of the violence that took place in our home.  When I was four my mom met my stepfather.  He was the only "real" father figure that I really had growing up.  I remembered when my mother told me that they were going to get married.  I was so happy.  I remember jumping on my bed and spelling out my new last name in glee.  I was finally going to have a father.  My mother chose that time to become a "Christian" and a member of a Baptist church in which I loved attending.  Shortly after that, on Halloween, my nightmare began.   

      My stepfather began molesting me at age 5.  Going against the threats of my stepfather I told my friends at school what had happened.  I thought that I would be safe, that no one else would find out.  I was wrong.  My friends were devoted friends and told my teacher who in turn included the authorities.  I was made to confront my mother and stepfather.  Now you're probably wondering why I felt the need to tell you such an awful and personal moment in my life.  If you bear with me you'll see the relevance.  My mother then included the church thinking that it would be good for me.  After I told the church's pastor what had happened it was concluded that I was lying.  It hurt me deeply but I didn't hold it against God only the adults in my life.  Throughout the years I was removed from the house only once.  When I was seven my mother had quit attending the Baptist Church and decided to join a strict Pentecostal church.  Pentecostals, in case you don't know, believe in speaking in tongues, which I quickly was able to fake.  I loved the attention that I received for having "come to God".  I only mention this because, although I am ashamed for my behavior, it supported my later opinion that religion is a bunch of hypocrites and phonies.   

      At nine I confronted my stepfather again.  He denied it of course but my mother said that she would pray to God and He would tell her who was telling the truth.  I had been praying to God for years in the hope that He would make it stop.  I finally thought that it was over.  My mother "prayed" for two hours and when I finally asked her, "Mommy, what did God say?" her response was, "God said that you're lying.  Your dad would never do anything to hurt you."  I was devastated!!  How could the two people that I had the most faith in turn their backs on me.  How could God hurt me so deeply after my devotion and my faith that He would make it end?  From that point in my life I turned my back on Him.  I didn't need Him.  I hated Him for his betrayal and I hated the phoniness of church.  I would have nothing to do with either.    

My life continued and when I was 13 my mother finally left my stepfather after many more incidents on both of their parts.  The part my mother played, however, was the one that only helped in my hatred toward God.  She used Him as an excuse for everything she did that a parent shouldn't do.  She had a scapegoat that couldn't say anything in His defense to a hurt and confused child that had closed her heart and mind to Him.      

When I was 15 my mom kicked me out of the house.  I lived on the streets of Denver for 2 years.  During that time I endured several more "episodes" and God hardly ever crossed my mind except when I felt the need to remind Him of how much I despised Him.  I was more concerned with surviving.  I went from being a shy, quiet child to being an obnoxious and rude young woman.  Survival of the fittest is the rule of the street and I was going to survive.  I earned, with great pride, the street name of Venom.  At 16 I almost died of pneumonia.  I spent my 16th birthday in a hospital room next door to the psychiatric ward fighting for my life.  That incident has never left me.  Sometime during that next year I decided that I really did believe in God and that if I was going to die I didn't want to die hating Him.  It was a conscious decision but I never really came back to Him.  I apologized to Him for all of the horrible things that I said to Him though.   

Many times throughout the years I have "bargained" with God.  I'm sure you know what I mean.  I would tell God, "If you do this for me I promise to do this or that".  I know that God knew that, although I sincerely meant them at the time, the promises would soon be forgotten.  I spent the next 2 years in and out of bad relationships until I finally met my son's father.  I moved to Ventura in 1995 to be with him.  Two months later we moved in together and two months after that I was pregnant at 19.  When my son was born we suddenly decided that we needed to start attending church.  I wasn't religious and my son's father is Catholic so the choice of what church we would attend was obvious.  My son was baptized against my better wishes at 11 months.  I left my son's father two years ago and have been a struggling single parent ever since.  My son attends "church" on Sundays with his father and although I "believed" in God I still didn't want any part of church.  I believed that as long as I was a good person and lived my life the best I could that God wasn't going to send me to hell and if He did He wasn't the kind of God I wanted to spend eternity with anyway.       

Now I may seem like I'm heading off on a different path but bear with me.  I have a best friend that I met when I first moved out here six years ago.  She is married with two stepchildren whose father is Jewish.  For his birthday this year someone gave him the book "Left Behind".  I'm sure many of you know of that book.  Well, of course he wasn't going to read it and so it sat in the same place that he had set it, on their living room table, for at least two months.  While I was visiting one day I decided that I felt like reading something and saw that sitting there.  I picked it up and read the back.  It seemed interesting enough not to bore me to death and so I asked if I could borrow it.  I brought it home and read up to the second chapter.  I didn't pick it up again for three weeks and when I did, I couldn't put it down.  By the end of the book I was in tears.  I didn't want to be left behind.  I cried and prayed for forgiveness.  I asked God to come into my life.  I expected it to be like in the book.  This feeling of peace and knowing that God loved me but all I felt was this hallow void inside of me and the doubts of,  "Did I do this right?" "Am I saved or am I still going to be left behind when He comes for us?"   

I felt the compelling need to attend a church, to learn what it is that God wants, needs and expects from us, but I didn't know where to turn.  I couldn't stand to listen to my music any more and the hunger that I felt led me to find a Christian radio station.  Listening to this station one Sunday on my way to work I heard a pastor speaking on parenting (still a big mystery for me) and I was immediately impressed though I thought nothing of it until I heard that the church was in the neighboring town.  As I turned off my car and went into work it was quickly pushed out of my mind.   The next week I was still dealing with the dilemma of where I was going to start attending church and then I remembered the pastor that I had heard on the radio the week before.  I had no idea of what denomination the church was but I hurriedly got ready for church and looked up what I thought was the church in the phone book.  I drove for an hour and a half trying to find the church while listening to this pastor over the radio, when, I finally gave up and started to head home.   

As I reached the freeway the address came over the radio but being from a different town my first thought was, "Where exactly is that?"  As if answering my question the radio concluded by pinpointing the area for me.  Excitedly I drove home thanking God for His help and guidance.  I dropped my son off at his dad's and drove back to the town and straight to the church that I had been seeking.  That day after services I spoke with the pastor and once again prayed for God to come into my life.  This time I didn't fill empty as I left.  I felt new and loved.  Wanted and accepted.   

Now you're probably thinking that was when I was saved by God's grace and it probably was, however I was still having doubts.  Not if I wanted Jesus in my life but if He was real or myth.  Though I have attended church religiously since that Sunday two Sundays ago and have started attending the Bible study, I still felt false.  I just had to know if He was a real man.  I read "More Than A Carpenter" and although it helped, it didn't fulfill my curiosity.  I turned to the encyclopedia.  It took me three tries.  I first read on Jesus but it only confirmed what the Bible said.  Then I tried John the Baptist but that didn't help much either.  I needed someone that could tie Jesus into the events and people that I knew from history books.  I looked up Herod.  There was my proof.  Among other things, the key people that it mentioned were Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.  If I hadn't been sitting already I probably would have collapsed in shock.  Jesus was a real man and if He was real then so were His teachings.  God left me no out this time.  I have no excuse not to believe in His Son, Jesus.  I became a true believer [that] day.  [The next] night as I attended the Wednesday service I asked God to take away this dullness inside of me and allow me to feel something.  It didn't take 10 seconds before I was crying uncontrollably.  I felt so touched, blessed and yet more unworthy than I have ever felt in my entire life.  How could God love someone like me so unconditionally?  I have to be honest when I say that I don't know but I am more grateful than I have words for, for His love and devotion to the child that has slapped Him in the face more than once.  I know that I'll live my life for Him from this moment on and will never doubt Him again.  

      Nicola Alvarez
August 16, 2001

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