Many of you have asked about my story, so I thought that my birthday, the beginning of a new year, was the perfect time to share how my journey with Jesus began. Enjoy!

 Mariposa

I grew up in the beautiful mountains of NC. My parents had moved there right after they got married to hike and explore the Appalachain Mtns.  My dad was a carpenter and my mom stayed home with my younger brother and I, and we lived a simple, but happy life.  My family began attending church when I was 3. And when I was old enough to start school I was able to attend a Christian school where I was given a strong foundation in the Truth and how to walk in a relationship with Christ. This in itself was a miracle because my family could not afford the tuition to send me to this school, and an anonymous person paid my tuition and God provided a way every year for me and my brother to attend! I accepted Jesus as my savior and was baptized when I was 9 years old.  I had a strong relationship with the Lord. I remember when I was 11 and 12, I would take my Bible and my dog, Bear, and walk down to through the woods to the creek to spend time with the Lord. I spent a lot of time in the Word and prayer and listening for God’s voice.  I was very active in church, in the youth group, in Young Life and volunteering in the community.

And then something happened in my family, and I found out that someone very close to me had been struggling with addiction for a long time.  Some of the people in my church were very legalistic and their reaction to this and their treatment of this person who needed God’s love was anything but loving. I ran to a lady that I trusted for help and she prayed for me that the addiction would never have a hold on me. The addiction in my family grew worse over time and I felt like I was living a double life – living for God at church, with my Christian friends, and being surrounded by a party life at home. It was a very confusing time in my life and I felt like God was so far away.

I grew tired of “fighting the good fight” and instead chose to live the lifestyle that was around me – to see what else was out there.  I stopped attending church and started partying with my friends. I can honestly say that I tested the waters and addiction never grasped me.  Drinking was always something that I could either leave or take and my intensions in partying were never to get wasted or high – I just wanted to have fun hanging out with my friends!

Not long after that, I found out that I was pregnant.  My boyfriend of 1 yr. responded to the news with “There’s money that can fix that.” I was scared, but I knew that abortion was not the answer for me.  I had already made a lot of mistakes, and this was a road I didn’t want to go down. Some other people tried to convince me to give the baby up for adoption saying that I would never finish school, I would never find a man and I would never have a life if I had this baby. But I decided to keep her anyway- no matter what happened, and my boyfriend chose to pack his things and leave town. My parents and friends stepped in and surrounded me with support. And now my beautiful Caroline is now almost 14 – I can’t believe it!

Choosing to be her mom has not always been easy, but it’s a decision I have never regretted! I had started dating an old friend while I was pregnant with Caroline – he helped me and supported me throughout my pregnancy and when Caroline was born he treated her as if she was his own. I felt that God had shown me mercy and sent him into my life even though I wasn’t living for Him. And a year and a half later we were married.  Partying was still a part of our lifestyle. Even though I recognized God’s hand in my life I still was not ready to surrender to Him completely.  Six months after we got married my husband’s job offered him a promotion that required a move Spartanburg, SC.  Upon accepting the offer, we decided to have our second child and I was given the opportunity to live my life-long dream of being a stay-at-home mom.  I made a decision then that it was time to get my life straight and start seeking God again.  Because of this decision I faced very strong opposition from the enemy and an intense spiritual battle over my life began.

When we moved to SC, I quickly became friends with a neighbor who had a child the same age as Caroline and we were also both 4 months pregnant.  She started talking to me about God at the pool one day, and from our conversation we seemed to agree on what we believed.  She invited me to go to church with them one Sunday.  My husband was working, and we were sharing one car at the time, so my neighbors picked me up for church.  When we pulled into the parking lot and I read the church sign “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” my heart dropped.  I knew some about what the Mormons believed, and that it was different from what I had been taught, but I was stuck there for the service.  So we went in, and the service started just like any other church service I had been to – singing, praying, scripture reading… So I just said a prayer, that God would show me very clearly if this was of Him or not.  As soon as I prayed that prayer I started feeling extremely sick – intense headache and nausea and I immediately had to leave the room!

On the drive home from church my friend said, “Wow, the spirit was so strong in there today.”  And I knew right away that the spirit she felt was NOT the Holy Spirit that I had known. Once I visited the Mormon church, I became a sort of target for their missionaries.  They were always calling me, coming over, and inviting me to do things.  These people were my friends and I liked them, but I didn’t know what to do.  So I went and spent time with them.  But at home I had dusted off my Bible and started reading it again and praying to the God that I knew.  Every time I met with the Mormons something crazy happened – God made it loud and clear to me that this was not where I needed to be.  And even though I hadn’t walked with the Lord for several years, His truth was still in my heart.

One day we were sitting in my friends’ living room with the Mormon missionaries and after we discussed some things they asked me to profess that the book of Mormon was the extended word of god.  I hadn’t read the book of Mormon, but I knew in my heart that it was not the Word of God.  And whether it cost me my newfound friendships or not, I looked them in the eye and told them that I believe the Bible is THE Word of God and I do not believe in the book of Mormon. I was at peace with my decision to claim Christ alone and knew that the Holy Spirit had given me the strength and courage to stand for His truth, even though I was not strong in my faith. I know that I was able to stand firm in the Truth of Christ because of the strong foundation that was established in me as a child.

Just a few weeks later, my son Ty, was born. Due to the stress from moving and some other difficult situations that I had been through while I was pregnant, a deep post-partum depression came over me.  I was so depressed that I couldn’t do anything.  I would get up in the morning, after sleeping all night (Ty was a great sleeper!), walk to the kitchen to make Caroline breakfast and I would have to sit down in the kitchen floor because I didn’t even have the energy to walk to the couch.  I had never dealt with depression before, but I knew that if I turned to God, He would help me.  One night I got on my knees to pray and I knew that the Holy Spirit was there. And in His presence, I remember thinking I am lost, – this is what it feels like to be a lost person – how did I get here? I was at the lowest point in my life – I was face to face with darkness, and God lifted me out of it. He showed me that it was not too late. Even though I had gone so far away from Him he still wanted me!  I began to pray, seek forgiveness and I felt the Holy Spirit giving me peace and comfort. I heard God’s voice telling me that I was His child and He loved me more than I even loved my own children.

The following Sunday I took my kids to church (the first Baptist church I could find, because I knew it would be safe there!!).  And before the preacher was even finished giving the altar call, I was running down the aisle, with 3-week-old Ty in my arms 3 year old Caroline beside me to give all of my life to the Lord!! With the new joy of my salvation and the daily strength of the Lord I felt I was ready to face all that my decision to follow Him brought my way.  Christ tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him.  He also tells us that He will never leave us or forsake us.  But part of the process of God “working for our good” (Romans 8:28) requires that we must die to our old life and our old self.

“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Giving my life to the Lord didn’t mean that all of my problems went away. It wasn’t like the Christian movies where someone prays and then God grants their wish and they all live happily ever after.  Instead, it was a 2 year process of God stripping away everything in my life that wasn’t of Him. The night after I gave my life to Christ, I shared with my husband what had happened.   Before we got married we had talked about God.  We had both grown up in church and agreed that at some point we would raise our children in church. But when I shared with him what had happened at church that day he was angry and he didn’t understand. He told me that he hated church and God and didn’t want his kids having any part of it. In the weeks and months that followed he started drinking more and staying out.  He didn’t want me taking the kids to church, so on Sunday mornings, while he was at work, we watched church on tv, and I read the Bible and prayed with the kids. I decided that with the second chance at life that the Lord had given me, I would give my husband a second chance as well and I prayed that God would change his heart.

We were transferred to Winston-Salem, NC and decided to make an effort to be a family and work out our problems and differences.  But the next 2 years were an intense struggle.  Things would get better for a few months at a time and then the walls would crash down around us again.  There were many times when I didn’t know what to do, and God was always there to help me and strengthen me to press on.  My husband’s addiction to alcohol got worse and worse.  There were days at a time when he didn’t come home at all and I didn’t know what to do.  I got down on my knees before God and said “God if you want me to stay married to this man then please change his heart, but if there is any other way then please set me free from this.”

My husband and I were talking one day about priorities.  He had asked me who the most important person in my life was.  I had answered “God”, and he wasn’t happy with my answer – he was angry.  He believed that my husband should be #1, and  told me that I needed to make a decision.

I needed to choose – him or God.

I wish that I could say that I responded in a loving way.  But we had been battling this out for 2 years and I was weary; so in my flesh, I quickly told him “I choose Jesus”.  Later as I was praying, I was reminded of the verse in Joshua 24 when he told the people to Israel to “Choose this day whom you will serve.”

Nothing changed right away, but then one day I got home, and my husbands things were gone and his wedding band was on the kitchen counter.  No note, no explanation – it was over.  I was in shock.  But at the same time, Peace washed over me and I knew that this was God’s plan. I took the kids out to the yard and we knelt before God in prayer and dedicated our lives to Him.

The next day, I found out that my name had been taken off of our bank account and I was left with no means to take care of 2 kids.  When I got a hold of my husband on the phone he told me that he had met someone else and that he was moving to Texas to live with her.  When I asked him how I was going to take care of the kids he said, “Maybe your God that you love so much will take care of you.”  How many of you know that God doesn’t back down from a challenge!?!  My Jesus has proven Himself faithful! This “stripping away” is very hard – it’s not fun and it’s not easy, but if we cling to God and persevere in trusting Him, He will positions our lives for His glory and our good.

God uses our times of brokenness to show us His love and bring us closer to Himself. God’s promises are real and He takes care of those who put their trust in Him – I wouldn’t have experienced that truth if I hadn’t come to a place in my life where my only option was to rely on God to provide.  The Bible tells us “that in all things God works for good for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).  It doesn’t say that He will only allow good things into our lives.  Actually, He tells us that we will have trouble (John 16:33); and that the “rain falls on both the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).  God’s will for our life is not to be happy, healthy and wealthy – His will for our lives is to bring glory to Himself through us. But He does also promise Life to those who believe in Him.

“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”  John 10:10

I laid my life at God’s feet, put Him in charge and left all of the details in His hands.  I moved home to Boone, NC and God didn’t waste any time arranging my life to where He wanted me to be! Two weeks after we moved, on August 15, 2006 Caroline (5) started her 1st day of Kindergarten, Ty (2) started his 1st day in a Christian daycare and I started my 1st day working for Christian organization – Samaritan’s Purse!!  When God restores our lives He leaves out no detail and carries us beyond what we can imagine or could obtain on our own – He blesses us so richly! God knows our desires and needs better than anyone else and when He blesses us He holds nothing back!

It has been the 3 of us for the last 9 years and throughout our journey with God, we have seen Him move in the most amazing ways!  We have always had everything we need and we have had the opportunity to help others as well. God has been so tender and gentle with me in His love and healing. God has cultivated in each of our hearts the desire to share this love that we have found in Him with the people around us wherever He would allow us to go.  We have learned how work together to take care of our home and each other, and how to serve God, our church and our community as a team.  The Lord has opened the doors for many adventures and carried us through some tough times as we started our lives over.

I can say from experience that there is no place safer or more exciting place to be than in hands of the God who loves you and has a plan for your life!!  I praise God that I am free to serve Him wholeheartedly and without reservation!

My ex-husband went down a dark road after he left and was absent from our lives for 3 years.  But when he got the help he needed and got back in touch with us he was able to see that God had indeed taken care of us and that I had forgiven him. Because God has taken care of us and I knew He would continue, I only asked my ex-husband to focus on rebuilding his relationship with the kids. He has been consistent in doing that and we have been able to respect each other and work together, along with his new wife, to do what is best for the kids despite the situation, and across many miles.  It hasn’t always been easy – it has taken a lot of communication, grace and understanding; but it has been worth it for my kids to be reconciled with their dad and find healing.

God has brought us through so much and as I look back, I see so many situations where God’s hand was there to lead and provide in miraculous ways. I am so grateful that the tough things that I have been through have helped prepare me for what God had in store and it wasn’t all for nothing.  I can truly say that those whom Christ sets free are free indeed!  Depression has never again had a place in my life, and I have known true joy instead (even on the hard days!).  Even though my life was surrounded by addiction for several years, it never had a hold on me – the prayers that were prayed over me as a child were answered.  I have found freedom in forgiveness and surrender and God has restored so many things in my heart and life.

God has given me purpose in my pain and I am thankful to be able to realize that all of the nonsense of yesterday helps make perfect sense for the purposes of today. Our Jesus calls us to himself through His infinite love and kindness.  Throughout my life the Lord has let me know that He is here for me and He waits for those He loves to turn to Him. I have had many opportunities to share my story with churches, women’s groups, pregnancy centers, women and single- moms all over.

The last time I was preparing to speak, I noticed how many times I said that I chose Christ – as a young child, when the Mormons asked, when my husband told me to choose…  As always, when I speak, I asked God how I could point the way to Him through my story, and He led me to these scriptures:

“You did not choose me, remember, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

John 15:16

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” 

Ephesians 1:4-5

Wow!  What an amazing God!!  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and allowing me to share how my journey with Christ began 11 years ago!  It is for God’s glory that I share what He has done and I pray that it will encourage all who hear/read it!  I look forward to sharing with you many more stories from my journey.  I hope that reading my story will give you the courage to share yours as well!  We all have a story and everyone’s story is important.  What makes us vulnerable is what makes us beautiful.

When we are winning and life looks good on the outside, people want to be like us. But when we are honest and share our broken and disappointed places, people strongly connect with us. When we connect with others, we can find purpose in our struggles like never before. In this honest and connected place we also find a powerful pocket of influence. God wants to use our hidden places for His glory and to bless us with community. Our weaknesses unite us and God meets us in our mess.  Don’t be afraid to own your story and be transparent – there is someone out there that needs to know that they are not alone!

I know that as I walk with my Jesus by my side and you, sweet brothers and sisters to walk with me as well, the best is yet to come – stay tuned!!! God is doing a new thing in 2015!!  ~ Mandy Southern

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6 thoughts on “Many of you have asked about my story, so I thought that my birthday, the beginning of a new year, was the perfect time to share how my journey with Jesus began. Enjoy!

  1. I am amazed at how similar your story is to mine in many ways. You are so very brave to share! Isn’t it awesome how you can meet someone one time and know that they are your sister in Christ? Keep up the fantastic writing!

  2. Mandy, you are an incredible inspiration and blessing to us all. I am in awe of your bravery, courage and perseverance, though not surprised as these are strong traits of your Croom heritage. Reading this, my heart broke for you -I was not aware of the many tough times you encountered in your journey. I was actually amazed that our stories are actually very similar and so proud of how you rose above. Thank you for the courage to share your story with us.

    1. Thank you so much Jennifer! I think that because I was in Boone and living in “survival mode” for so long it was hard to stay in touch with everyone. I also walked in shame for a long time and didn’t want people to know what I was going through! But I’m very thankful that God carried me through! Love you!

  3. Mandy, thanks for your authentic, vulnerable honesty. I agree with you that if we are open with others that is the time we can truly connect. We are all broken and we all have a story, Amen to that! God is shining through you and your words and showing us all that he is still faithful.

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