“I have seen these kids mature and have also gotten to know and love their parents. The opportunity to teach the kids about Jesus has been humbling, and they constantly remind me what it truly looks like to have a childlike faith.”
“As a teenager, I created a tough façade for the outside world, so I would not seem weak,” said Ariana Arevalo. But in reality, I was crumbling and desperate for intimacy wherever I could find it. I sought validation and acceptance in friendships and in inappropriate relationships, but nothing was ever enough. I knew about the Creator who made Heaven and Earth, but that’s about all I understood about the Lord. The hard times I endured as a kid shaped my view of God and left me with a lot of anger and sadness.
“At the time, I believed two destructive lies about myself: that people would always leave me because I am too much to deal with, and that I would never be enough. At night I would get into my parents’ liquor cabinet to drink and curse the Creator I had been told about. All my cries were never heard, it seemed.
“A friend invited me to Watermark my sophomore year in college at Brookhaven in Dallas. At The Porch that night a few members had just returned from a discipleship trip to Ethiopia, and it made an impression on me that people would travel all around the world to share with others about Jesus. I heard His name over and over again in the sermon as I listened to the speaker at Watermark that day.
“I heard all about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for my sin, and the unconditional gift of God’s grace. At first it didn’t make sense that the Lord would love my broken, sinful heart. I wrestled for nine months with the truth that ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8) Finally, in the summer of 2014, I’d had enough of living for the world, and I trusted in Christ as my Lord and Savior. There were family disagreements over my decision to change churches, but this was the first time I had conflict with my parents over something good, rather than the consequences of my bad behavior. I bought my first Bible, took part in Equipped Disciple, soaked in God’s Word, and began to learn about my Savior.
“I also took part in re:generation, Watermark’s biblical recovery ministry. Assessing, confessing, and repenting from my past sins were hard but necessary steps in my journey with Christ. In community with other believers, I learned more about abiding with Christ and what it meant to surrender the lies I’d believed about myself and God in favor of biblical truth. I didn’t have to perform to earn God’s love; I needed to be the real, raw me living in surrender to God’s will for my life. God’s Word made it clear that Jesus accepts and loves me as I am, even as His grace and truth continue to transform and sharpen me.
“God’s grace continually surprised me. Even during the first few years of following Christ, I would catch myself calculating how ‘good’ I could be to please the Lord. But all those efforts were dead religion. What God really wanted from me is a ‘broken and repentant’ heart (Psalm 51:17). That continues to be one of my favorite passages in the Bible – one that helped God’s grace make sense to me when it seemed too good to be true.
“One of the best parts of my walk with Christ is serving in Watermark’s Kids’ Ministry. I started serving in a room of two-year-olds and have stayed with that group of children for the last five years. I have seen these kids mature and have also gotten to know and love their parents. The opportunity to teach the kids about Jesus has been humbling, and they constantly remind me what it truly looks like to have a childlike faith.
“When I first trusted Christ, I held tightly to my tough exterior. But, I had a mentor and friends in my community who helped me see vulnerability and weakness as an advantage. As I loosened my grip, God was caring and patient with me and never left me alone. When I abide in His Word and acknowledge how known, seen, and loved I am by Jesus, His love changes my mindset, and I have peace. I’m still a work in progress as God continually sanctifies me – a process that won’t end until this life is over. But every day, I live in His mercy and kindness. I would not be here were it not for His grace.
“If I was speaking to someone today who lives by performance or seeks validation from a persona they believe others will accept, I would tell them that God sees through the performance and the persona. He knows and loves us, and He displayed that love on the day He died on the cross. And He continues to show us grace and mercy every day (Lamentations 3:22-23).”