“In high school, I wanted to rebel, but I so badly wanted praise and affirmation from everyone around me,” said Jhonda Johnson. “I was taught to put my best face forward and keep my feelings to myself. It didn’t matter what turmoil or destruction was in my heart from my childhood, I had to look put together on the outside.
“I was sexually assaulted shortly after my high school graduation, and it completely devastated my world. This started a long battle with depression and looking to alcohol and drugs to cope with my pain. My sophomore year of college, I was depressed and contemplating suicide. I had nights where I felt so low, I would calculate and think through different ways I could end my own life.
“To find healing and work on my sobriety, I took a break from college. After a season, like a moth to a flame, I chose to fall back into old habits again. This led to a major wakeup call one night, when I almost overdosed. I knew how I was living was not the life God intended for me.
“As I started to pursue God and go to church, guilt and shame would take over and I would retreat. I was curious about knowing God, but I let my past hurt and pain keep me from any commitments or opportunities. This pattern continued over ten years – continually having an on and off relationship with God.
“Although my situation and circumstances changed throughout my life, my struggles stayed the same. My life continued as a roller coaster filled with new jobs, financial success, and academic achievements. I had been drugfree for ten years, but I was heavily drinking alcohol, finding affirmation in men, and mindlessly spending money. I was miserable.
“When I attended The Porch, Watermark’s young adult ministry, it was the first time I heard someone being authentic by specifically naming their sin from the stage and saying how the Lord redeemed their life. Each time I returned, I would consistently meet new friends who desired to live their lives honoring the Lord.
“One of those new friends suggested I attend re:generation, Watermark’s biblical recovery ministry. The first night I went, I cried the entire time. It was in this program that I really came to know the Lord. The little bit of head knowledge I had from growing up in a church finally clicked with my heart. I understood and believed that I don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. From there the Lord started stripping away so much of my life that I was holding on to and finding my identity in. The Lord used re:gen to break down the false beliefs I had and reminded me who He created me to be.
“From there, I started to experience radical life transformation. I joined a community group and went through the biblical training and equipping class, Equipped Disciple. These new opportunities in my life encouraged me to read my Bible, memorize and apply Scripture, and process my past.
“I decided to go through Watermark’s ministry for people who’ve experienced sexual assault. Through this process, I realized how much I was hanging onto unforgiveness. During this time, the Lord flipped my world upside down once again. I finally was able to connect the dots and find roots to my anger.
“A lot of negativity was still lingering in my heart, but I could notice the subtle ways the enemy was trying to get me to believe lies. When the social climate in the spring of 2020 was hyper focused around social injustice, racism, and discrimination, I was hiding my frustrations and pain. My past hurts and times when I had experienced racism resurfaced in my heart, but I thought there was no need for me to bring it to the Lord. I was believing a lie that these issues were too big for the Lord. Sweetly, the Lord showed me He still cares. He still grieves over my sexual assault. He still grieves over the racial injustice that I – or anyone else – have experienced.
“I have to bring my pain and anger about social issues to the Lord just like I would my sexual assault. I have to bring Him the anger and the sadness, and in the midst of that, He will bring joy. I’m continually reminded that my joy isn’t circumstantial. My joy comes from Christ alone. He wants everything from me, and He can handle all of it.
“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Why does this have to be my story? Why do I have to have this experience? Why did I have to be sexually assaulted? Why was I looked at as less than others because of my skin?’ I see now that it is for His glory. I would not wish my life experiences upon anyone, but if my life and story are what points someone else to Christ, it is worth it. What the enemy wants for evil, God makes good.
“Before, I thought God was a fun-snatcher who withheld good things from me. I realized He isn’t hiding anything from me, He is doing so many things. His hand is constantly at work, I just needed a shift in my own heart to see it.”