Early 80s to early 90s - Growing up, I heard about Jesus at Christmas and Easter, was dropped off at VBS at Fielder Road Baptist Church once, sang songs about God with Mission Arlington's apartment ministry, then attended church camp with Fielder Rd. when I was 12 and 'asked Jesus into my heart.' After that camp, I wondered why the girls who were so nice and churchy at camp were so stuck up and cliqueish at school. Noticed a LOT of kids from church were this way. Decided I didn't want to go to this church or any other Baptist church, but when I started showing signs of rebellious, peer-influenced behavior in junior high, my mom dropped me off on Wednesday nights. I hung out walking in the halls instead of going in to youth group.
1995 - I started attending a 'spirit-filled' church at the invitation of a friend. Thought it was good fun, liked everyone much better, and became 'on fire' for God. Read my bible in class at Arlington High, and tried to witness to my friends who teased me. I wasn't too much of an obnoxious jerk, but did stick my foot in my mouth a few times dealing with Catholics and Mormons. We went to youth group on Saturday nights, and danced the night away in worship.
Also, during this time, we went to a church that hosted all kinds of Christian rock/punk rock shows called God's Place. Even kids who weren't real Christians came and pretended to be one, because it was the cool place to be. I sold merch for bands, and flirted with roadies. Had a stint playing guitar in a very, very beginner ska/pop-punk band. Some shows were fun, some were extremely embarrassing. Lots of teen punkers or wanna-bes on fire for God during this time. They tried to do bible studies for all of us, but so many of us had no Biblical foundation. We all read the New Testament only, and had no understanding of apologetics or theology. Add to that some of the kids had really strict, legalist parents. It wasn't long before most of my friends had thrown off their identity as Christians. This also coincided with the beginning of college for many of them. Meanwhile, the teaching I was getting was TBN-style word of faith stuff from Benny Hinn, Mike Murdock, and Kenneth Copeland.
1999 - My husband and I became engaged. He grew up in a Southern Baptist-style church, and didn't have a very good foundation. My church was a bit strange to him, where folks danced in worship for an hour and a half, and spoke in tongues. We tried several churches together to find our fit, but it was hard. Eventually, in 2004, we started going to a church my mom attended, and we stayed there for 6 years.
This pastor preached God's sovereignty and introduced me to Reformed Theology, but at the same time would go down the row with microphone, and make sure everyone spoke in tongues. Our church originally had a reputation for being kind of wild during worship, but as he got more into theology, it toned down quite a bit. Still, over all these years, seeds of performance based religion had been planted.
It started with the baptist church: you acted the part on Sundays and you went through the motions. It continued with the word of faith evangelists; you can have a yacht or sportscar if you give away your offerings to the man on TV. If you're struggling, it's because you have no faith, or you have a demon. And the church we called home for six years left me feeling that if you don't speak in tongues, you don't have the Holy Spirit and for some reason, God just doesn't like you as much - maybe you're not as spiritual as the other people who do. Ditto if you haven't been healed when people laid hands on you - you're God's red-headed stepchild or too demon-possessed for God to do it.
Yeah. That messed me up.
But thankfully, during that time, I did learn enough about theology, but at the same time that I shouldn't put my trust in men's words about God.
2008 - I was watching The Gospel of John on TBN one night, and God gave me a supernatural revelation of His love for me. Can't really explain it, one of those you-had-to-be-there moments. This experience would give me the assurance that His Holy Spirit was with me, always had been, and that He was pleased with me.
I finally had the courage (and felt peace and assurance in prayer about it) to leave the church a bit later, realizing how beat down my spirit was after hearing that I am "nothing but dung". When reformed theology is preached by someone who isn't loving, it can be really deadening. We also felt like utter failures as Young Married leaders who couldn't get anyone to show up to potlucks.
2009 - Present
I needed to de-church for a while. I tried a few places here and there, with varying degrees of legalism and performance themes. But I felt so free leaving church, I wondered if I could ever feel whole at one again. Which, to be honest, distressed me. I loved worshiping and singing with others. I wanted community.
I was reading a homeschooling blog by Robin Sampson, and she kept mentioning this book called "So You Don't Want to go to Church Anymore". I read the free copy online, and started listening to the podcasts called The God Journey. This is when some of the walls that had formed around my heart in bitterness and in protection started falling away. I remembered the love I knew my Father had for me. I felt safer just under His wings, than I did when I was also under 'the covering of a pastor'. I started seeing other people with more compassion, and feeling less dogmatic about the dumb things that don't really matter.
We did our own thing for a while, until I felt the nudging to find community again. I found a home church from a listing on Simple Church. We've been with them for a little less than a year, but they have been our true community. And I feel welcome attending my friend's orthodox Presbyterian church when I want to sing some hymns, and hear a good encouraging yet doctrinally sound word. Theologically, I would still say I'm reformed. I don't agree with everything ever said by every reformer, and see them as flawed human beings who see through a mirror darkly. I believe the Spirit still works in ways that are miraculous, that some speak in tongues and prophecies, but it's not everyone's experience or gift. I still prefer passionate praise music played by bands and orchestras. But truthfully, I will probably never find a brick and mortar church with that combo. And where I'm at, it's perfectly okay.
Combine this all with the sanctifying process of homeschooling and parenting, I've learned how bad we humans can really screw up. How sinful we really are. But at the same time, I love people all the more for it. We all need God's grace, He is our Father, and because of Jesus, and through no good deeds, work, or performance of our own - He is already lovingly pleased with us! :-) Woohoo!