Testimony-Tonya Huntsman Price

I am amazed at the work of God in my life even when I didn’t believe.  Hindsight is 20/20 as the saying goes, and looking back I can see that God never let go of me even when I thought He did.  Even though at times I questioned His very existence, in Baptism I was named and claimed by God whether I acknowledged it or not.  He chooses us, not the other way around.

I was raised in a Christian home.  Mom is a very orthodox Catholic.  I was baptized in a Catholic church as an infant and was taught in the Catholic faith as a child.  But our family’s approach to faith was more than a little confusing.  Dad and Grandma were Regular Baptists.

While both Catholics and Baptists are certainly Christian, there are many points of doctrine between them that are decidedly different.  Those doctrinal differences left me confused- and very afraid.  Was God everywhere like the Baptist Sunday School teacher taught, or was He locked up in the little gold tabernacle box on the altar in the Catholic church?  Was I really going to go straight to hell if I died without confessing Every Single One of my sins?  And what if I didn’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer just right?  Did I really “accept Christ as my Personal Savior?”

I was one of those children who asked too many questions and knew too much for my own good. I could read when I was 2 years old without instruction, and had an extensive vocabulary by the age of five.  Even so, I couldn’t balance normally and had gross motor deficits severe enough to require physical therapy.  I was awkward and had issues with anxiety and depression. I was socially inept.  I was ill often. I was mocked, teased and beaten by my own sisters as well as the kids at school pretty much every day.

In the 1970s and 1980s when I was growing up, educators and doctors had no explanation for why I was different and not like my sisters and the other “normal” kids.  The only thing they could do with me is put me ahead academically, but that didn’t address my anxiety or social deficits.    I did not discover the reason I had so many emotional and motor issues until I was 35 years old and going through a third episode of major depression.

Autism is a word I had always associated with “mental deficiency” or low IQ, yet I was-and am- a “high functioning” autistic. I have learned much about autism in the past 13 years- especially that autism has nothing to to with mental ability or IQ.  More importantly, I have learned, by the grace of God, so much more about how He fills in those deficits and puts Himself in the missing pieces.

In high school I questioned Catholicism to the point of investigating Protestant denominations from Pentecostal to Baptist and Methodist, then finally ending up going to Luther League (here at Timothy!)  From Pastor Dan I learned about salvation by grace, in Christ, by faith alone.  To me the Lutheran perspective, and the freedom to ask questions and agree to disagree on non-essentials, made sense, and with my wiring nothing gets to my heart until it gets through my mind.  Hence my fascination with Bible study and theology. I have to do things a bit backward at times.

So I was confirmed here at Timothy as an adult (age 20) and was active in the church.  I was married not long after that, but that marriage did not work out.  My ex-husband was not ready for a child when my son came along, and my obligation to provide for my son was more important to me than trying to save a failed marriage.  Divorce seemed a much better option than living with a man who did not want his own son.

I blamed God.  I got angry. I dropped out of the life of faith for seven years.  I moved away and tried to convince myself I was an atheist and there was no God.  In this time of my life I made a lot of bad decisions and had some serious pig pen time.  I married my second husband who could be a good man at times, and who loved my son, but he was also an alcoholic and was at times abusive.  That was a twenty-one year marriage that was mostly very difficult and painful and ended in my husband’s terminal illness and death from pulmonary fibrosis last year.

I lost my niece and brother in law in a tragic accident not long after my second marriage which made me even more cynical and angry at the God I wanted so badly to believe didn’t exist.  Even then, my grandmother assured me that God could take my anger.  And I gave it to him.  With both barrels.  Still I was cynical and hard-hearted and angry.  My sister, by the grace of God, grew in faith in this ordeal even though she had lost her husband who was the love of her life as well as her daughter.  I couldn’t understand it then, but I thank God for her example now.

I lost myself in overwork.  I worked 70, 80 hours a week.  Anything to just keep moving and not think about how bad I had screwed things up.

Then my health crashed.  I was 30 years old and had uncontrollable high blood pressure, bleeds into the scleras of my eyes, and my doctor warned me that if I didn’t change my outlook, lifestyle and job, that I wouldn’t see 35.

Not long after that I got a different job- I have to admit I loved being the service director of a high line car dealership, but it was literally killing me.  But even in a new job, my home life was the life of the wife of an alcoholic.  There was emotional, financial and at times, physicaI abuse, and the ever present soul-killing loneliness. I was still cynical and angry and hurting.

I had driven past a Lutheran church on Hamilton Rd. in Gahanna not far from where I lived.  I had mulled about the thought of going to the early service and catching a sermon- why not- so one Sunday I finally did.

Pastor Ron Lee, who has since retired, was preaching at Peace Church  that morning.  He was not raised in the church and was a sort of rough around the edges type.  What you saw was what you got.  That morning he was preaching on grace, and I will never forget what he said, because the Holy Spirit was all over that message.

“Nobody deserves to be here.  But by the grace of God you belong here.  No matter where you’ve been, or what you done, or how bad you think you’ve been, you are not too far gone for God.” 

I so needed to hear that.  That a God of grace- my God, my Creator- wanted me to be in His presence, even though I had screwed up big time- I was divorced, I had remarried unwisely, and in many ways I had made an unholy disaster of my life.  Yet I was welcomed at Peace, screwup that I am.  I thank God for the people and the ministries of Peace Church, and for the work of the Holy Spirit in landing me there for the several years I lived in Gahanna.  I was blessed to be part of a thriving Christian community and to have so many opportunities for service and Bible study.

I thank God for the opportunity to come back to Timothy as well.  Now that I live in Marion again and am starting a new chapter of my life, it is only fitting.  I thank God for Pastor Dan and Nancy and everyone here at Timothy for being so welcoming.  We all need Christian community- no matter how screwed up we are, or how we have fallen short.

The Big Rule of Jesus is love- Love God, and love others as yourself.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire and enable all believers to live by that rule, and that we would have the grace to see others as God sees them.