“I think a lot of kids who grow up in church get older and realize they didn’t understand what they were learning,” said Emma Dotter. “But with the help of my parents, who loved Jesus, I understood the gospel early in my childhood. I saw areas where I fell short (Romans 3:23), and believed in Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection.
“But somehow, I began to misunderstand what being a Christian practically looked like for a kid. Good Christian girls don’t get in trouble. And the easiest way to get in trouble in my family was to make bad grades in school. We moved a lot growing up, and, in middle school, I really began to struggle academically. Instead of being honest with my parents, I thought the answer to maintaining my ‘good Christian’ image, was to cheat in school. That began a strategic pattern of lying and cheating throughout the remainder of middle school without getting caught.
“Before high school, I went to a Christian summer camp where we spent most of each day learning the Bible. Surprisingly, I loved it. Before this summer, I thought studying the Bible was like schoolwork—which I hated. The trajectory of my walk with the Lord changed as I admired college student leaders who talked openly about their sin and excitedly and wholeheartedly studied God’s Word. I went home and was honest with my parents about how I’d been cheating in school, and began praying, ‘God, would you help me read Your Word? Would You give me a hunger for the Bible?’ I prayed nearly every day that reading my Bible wouldn’t feel like homework.
“From then on, I was committed to actually following Jesus. That meant no more cheating in school, and I was willing to accept that might mean failing classes (which I did, later in high school). I wanted to obediently live for Jesus, tell my friends on the dance team about Him, and learn the Bible. But while I was every youth pastor’s ‘dream kid,’ my relationship with my boyfriend was unhealthy and inappropriate—I kept that hidden for years.
“By God’s grace, I got into college. I started as a dance major, made friends who taught me what godly dating relationships should look like, and spent my summers working at a Christian camp. I still struggled academically, but the Lord grew my heart and passion for ministry. Eventually, I was confident the Lord was calling me to vocational ministry. I was terrified to tell my parents, who’d walked away from church for a season. But God had been working in their hearts too, and to my surprise they told me they’d been seeing how God was growing me.
“After college, I took a full-time ministry job and began spending my Fridays at coffee shops for hours at a time reading and writing Bible studies. In this season, I began encountering lots of college students who’d grown up in the Church like me but didn’t know how to study the Bible. This sparked a desire in me to seek more training and equipping to write and teach (Ephesians 4:12). Ultimately, I ended up moving to Dallas for the Watermark Institute, a 10-month ministry training program.
“For the first time in my life, I was like the star student in class. I thought the Institute was going to be full of people like me who’d spent every Friday diving into God’s Word for hours, but that wasn’t the case. My head-knowledge of the Bible gave me confidence, but it really affected how I communicated with my peers, and I struggled socially that first semester. I hated that I was wired the way I was and that I’d studied the Bible as much as I had.
“Through the discipleship and mentorship of others, I realized I was resenting the exact thing I prayed for daily as a teenager! I was sitting in the fruit of years and years of answered prayers. Studying my Bible used to feel like homework and a chore, and suddenly talking about and studying it was one of my biggest strengths. That’s only through the hand of God in my life.
“Now, a few years later, I’m on the Join the Journey team here at Watermark. My job is to help people in our body read the Bible regularly and to remove barriers, so it doesn’t feel intimidating. I get to help people fall in love with God through His Word like I did.
“For me, Jesus has been my anchor in life – the only thing I can count on, and the Bible reminds me of that. Whenever life has been hard and difficult, I’ve appreciated the discipline I prayed so hard for God to grow in me. It’s worth it. If you read and study the Bible even when you don’t feel like it, you’ll be so grateful for the truth stored up in your heart. When circumstances are shaky, there will be a firm foundation (Luke 6:48). When we see evil in the world, we can make sense of it with an eternal perspective (Colossians 3:1-3). Learning who God is through the Bible influences how I personally respond to this world, but it also gives me hope because I know this world is not forever (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).”
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