Jessica DiGiovanna - My Testimony
Written by Jessica DiGiovanna.
If you’ve stumbled on this post it’s because you’re probably someone who wants to read more about how I came to know Jesus the way I do now, or you’re curious to see what finding your faith is like, or you want to discover Jesus… Quite frankly there are many reasons you could be reading this. But, one thing I want to make clear is that my story is not created by me… it has been the work of God through my entire life and my story isn’t even done; it’s just the beginning (as I hope to live many, many more years on Earth). But for now… I give you the 23 years that have brought me to the point where I am today; where I know Jesus as my Savior, where I know the Holy Spirit as my Helper, and where I know God as my Heavenly Father.
Like many others, I was born and raised in a Christian (Catholic) household. That was all I knew for my whole life until I was about 13 years old. As a kid I loved God… I thought he was the coolest. I would write to Him in diaries and pray to him all the time so innocently. I believe I was saved from a very young age as I know I grew up loving Him for my childhood years. However, I didn’t know I was saved until I was 22… that part of the story I will get to later. But for now, imagine a 10 year old me: attending Catholic mass every week, reading the magnificats at each church so I could memorize the service, writing in my diaries to God, and attending CCD every week. I was a “good” Catholic as a child growing up.
Then I hit middle school and the idea of a bible study was first introduced to me by a neighbor who is good family friends with my family. This was my first experience out of the Catholic church where I heard the concept of “having a personal relationship with God.” At 12-13 years old I didn’t understand much of what that meant, but I knew this was way different than your traditional Catholic activities that I had known up to that point (church and CCD). I attended this bible study for a couple years during the summers with my childhood best friends and had the time of my life. All in all… life was good and I hadn’t known much struggle and knew that God was who I was supposed to look up to and had to keep attending church to keep up the good looks with him.
All of this changed on November 27, 2011 - where my faith was completely shaken, my heart was broken and my family was changed forever. It was an abnormally nice Sunday after Thanksgiving with clear skies and “warmer” weather for November. My dad was one who seized the day and never let a moment be wasted, so naturally he went to the reservoir close to my house to canoe with my youngest brother and dog. A seemingly beautiful day turned tragic when cops showed up at my house saying an accident had happened, my dad was missing, my dog was with animal control, and my brother was in the hospital. I can recount every second of this day so vividly 9 years later, it still shakes me to my core. Somehow the canoe flipped in the reservoir and my dad wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Frigid temperatures and heavy clothes made it impossible to swim, thus causing his drowning. I was absolutely heart broken, angry, scared and confused. Writing those adjectives down doesn't even describe how I felt quite honestly. But as you can imagine, it was the worst experience of my life and something that changed my family forever. But one thing it also brought was my first doubt and questioning in who God was and if He really is “all-good.”
Enter the lowest point of my life this far where I entered a state of perpetual anxiety over something bad happening to my family and losing people in my life unexpectedly. I lost trust in God no matter how many times a bible verse was given to me and how many times people said “it happened for a reason.” It took me a couple years or so to finally find a new normal with my family… I was just going through the movements of what it meant to be a “good” Catholic with still attending church and CCD, but not actually believing it or wanting to be a part of it. Slowly throughout high school I started to find my faith again and thanks to my neighbor as I mentioned earlier, FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) came to my High School and finally - I started to feel reconnected to my faith again and had some hope in God. I kept going through the motions, but truly was not living a life that would glorify the Lord - but I always knew He was there.
Going into my freshman year of college at Virginia Tech, I liked to think that I would find a good Christian group to go to and that I would attend the Catholic services (I mean the church was literally on campus), but I quickly became absorbed into the stereotypical college life. I surrounded myself with people that were not active Christians and it sucked me out of the faith I thought I had. I fully lived the stereotypical party college life all 4 years of college. This is not to say that I regret anything from my college experience, but only to point out that during this time I had truly lost touch with the foundation I grew up on… but honestly, I don’t know how much of a foundation I had to begin with. I don’t believe I fully knew who Jesus was, why I was supposed to love him, why God is good, why I had to go to church, why I had to be Catholic, why I had to wait until marriage to have sex, why I shouldn’t get drunk, why I should love others. I understood nothing, which made it so easy to leave the faith I thought I had.
When I look back on who I was at this time I would’ve liked to think I was confident in who I was and what my goals in life were, but really I was perpetually seeking approval from other people. I questioned my identity all of the time, I surrounded myself with some people that I let define my worth and I cared way too much about what other people’s opinions were of me - I seeked everyone’s approval relentlessly. I looked to famous influencers and self help books to see what the “cool” activities are, which youtube person’s drama I should invest in so that I could be up to date on the society drama. I lived in a perpetual state of being afraid of people leaving me and friendships not remaining constant. I grew dependencies on these friendships and relationships with people, because I was always so afraid they would unexpectedly leave me. I feel like I lacked a ton of confidence in myself and who I really am.
But - I didn’t realize I felt this way until I looked back on my life as I’ve come to know Jesus. I was so comfortable with how I was living, that I didn’t even know I needed to change. I was happy with my life, I loved my time in college (I still do), and I never looked for a reason to even begin finding my faith again, because I thought I had made my life good - but, I didn’t even know how good of a life it could be with Jesus.
After my junior year of college with last Summer (2019), I was invited to a bible study my best friend at the time was attending - I was reluctant because I was far from the Christian life and felt like I wouldn’t belong. Nonetheless, I attended… and then I went again… and again. This was my first time attending a Christian event in college. I started to hear the message of Jesus again about how He forgives, how I’m free if I give my life to Jesus, and how much peace I can find with living my life walking with Him. I was so reluctant to change though because I knew the life I created for myself in college and how hard it would be to turn from it to follow Jesus. Regardless, attending this bible study that summer planted a seed in me. It opened my heart to the Good news for the first time in 3 years.
Then, for my upcoming birthday my best friends bought me a ticket to the Passion conference for New Years Eve in Atlanta, GA. I didn’t know how to say no… so I said sure, let’s go. Y’all, I was so angry for agreeing to go to this… you’re telling me I was going to go to a Jesus conference? For New Years Eve? My college self CRINGED… I so did not want to go. Passion rolls around and I am immersed in 60,000+ people my age all ~worshipping~ God. And I had no idea what worshipping even was - this was not Catholic to me. None of this was Catholic… Drums? Guitars? Lights? Dancing? Hands in the air? Praying on your knees? No… this was not the Catholic experience I knew, but it was so cool. I had never seen people show their love for Jesus like this before… and everyone was so dang happy doing it - it wasn’t forced. I slowly began to get in this new cool Christian groove and my heart was immediately open to receiving God again for the first time. The bible was pointed to as our source of truth and I had never heard that before. This was all so new to me. I left so on fire for the Lord that I was ready to make the change in my life and follow Jesus. But… I get back to school and immediately fall back into my own ways controlling my own wants and desires. However, something was placed in my heart after Passion and I knew God was not done chasing after my heart.
I go on with my senior year for my last semester and the infamous COVID-19 pandemic comes upon us. Like many others across the world, my plans for how I thought 2020 would go completely changed and our worlds were turned upside down. I graduated virtually in May 2020, but continued to live in Blacksburg for the rest of my lease. I am blessed that the job I had lined up for after graduation remained and I found out I wouldn’t start until late September. With the pandemic and starting my job so late after graduating, this caused me to move back home for good to live with my family at the end of July. One of the same friends that brought me to the bible study from Summer 2019 starts talking about how she’s gone to a new church and is now starting a bible study. With moving back home and having nothing but time on my hands, I decide to start attending this bible study… then bible study turned into attending this new church’s Young Adults nights… then new Sunday services that were not Catholic… then sports outreach on Friday nights… and next thing I know I am fully immersed in a Christian community - something I had never seen before. As bad as it sounds, I only kept going to things because my two best friends kept going and I had nothing better to do with my time while living at home. But this series of events is the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me.
The moment I knew everything was changed:
My new friends I made during this group were having a bonfire and potluck dinner night back in September. As we all sat around the fire, we took turns talking about how we all got in this group and it was so dang cool to see how everyone’s paths matched up to be here. As I started to recount my experience of joining the group, it fully hit me how I knew I have fully accepted Jesus in my life. Back at the Passion conference, there was a moment where we were all asked to sit and silence and try to hear from God… I had never done this before, but I sat in silence hoping I would hear something and ended up hearing “I will guide you” over and over. I thought this was just a voice in my head and didn’t think much of it. As I started to attend these new bible studies in July, I hear girls say how you know you heard from God if you can find it in the Bible, and that’s how you know it’s truth from Him. Fast forward to August of 2020, and I attended my first service at this new church my friend had started attending and the sermon was about the Holy Spirit and how He is our helper and He is the one who guides us in our lives. As soon as I heard this, I was like “woah… I heard that He would guide me at Passion.” I thought it was the coolest thing ever to remember this. I hadn’t known who the Holy Spirit was besides the sign of the cross we did monotonously as Catholics and didn’t know anything about it. So to look back and hear “I will guide you” is most certainly something I didn’t think of, but was rather something that was placed on my heart from God. I put this together with the sermon I heard about the Holy Spirit and from this moment on, I haven’t looked back from my faith and learned so much more about what it means to be a Christian.
I wish I could tell you the moment when I finally knew who Jesus was and what He did for us, but the moment I realized I finally knew Him, was the most freeing moment of my life.
Romans 8:1 - “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
I finally understood why people loved him, why I am free, and how the work is already done. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that was made to pave a direct path to God and all that I need to do is believe in Jesus… that is all. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Over the last 5 months I have never felt more myself than I ever have, and I have never had so much peace and pure joy in my life. I feel like I am who I am meant to be and have no doubt in who I am anymore. The life I was so afraid to leave suddenly didn’t seem as scary anymore. My desires for worldly approval has fully decreased and the activities I used to feel bound to that I let define what a “good time” is supposed to be also diminished. I can’t even explain how these desires have decreased… they just have. This naturally came about as I started to grow more and more in my relationship with God. I was also so afraid of the Christian stereotype and how they’re “weird” and “don’t like to have fun.” But I gotta say I have had some of the best times of my life with the people I’ve come to know in this new community. God doesn’t call us to live a boring life!! Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 - “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil - this is the gift of God.”
However, I do understand God calls us as Christians to live a different life, to live a life that glorifies Him and to live like Jesus, but I also know there is no pressure on me to do this alone - I have the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in me: Ephesians 2:22 - “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” The change I have felt in my life was not brought about over night… for some people this may be the case, but for me, it has taken months. I made it a goal to learn more and more about God and the Bible and my faith and Jesus and everything that encompasses the Chrisitan walk and little by little, I started to feel the change in my heart. However, I know I don’t have all of the answers. I don’t know everything and I can’t answer every question about religion - I also don’t believe we will ever know everything, but I want to keep seeking to understand.
But, what I do know is one of the most important things I am called to do during my walk is love one another; to love every person on Earth - even those that don’t agree with me and that do me wrong. It is written in scripture over and over and it resonates with me every time. It also makes me think back on my life with how many Christians are out there not preaching this. I have no right to judge, but I definitely believe there is a bad rep of Christians for being hypocrites, for being judgmental, and unwelcoming and acting as if they are above others. It makes me incredibly sad. But then I am pointed to the truth in the bible of how we should live: Love. One. Another:
1 John 4:7 - “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 3:16 - “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
John 15:17 - “This is my command: Love each other.”
1 Peter 3:8 - “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”
Galatians 5:13-14 - “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Ephesians 4:32 - “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Chris God forgave you.”
I also know that God will not fail me, I trust in Him. I believe he paves the way for me in a way that is best for me. I will not be afraid of anything I face in my life because God will go before me, beside me, and behind me. I will never be alone:
Psalm 118:6 - “The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
Isaiah 43:2 - “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Jeremiah 17:7 - “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.”
Isaiah 41:10 - “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”
Judges 6:12 - “When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’”
Psalm 46:1 - “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
And for my last final thought as I finally wrap up what I am trying to say in this whole post: loving Jesus and God absolutely does not need to be complicated. It truly is quite simple and I spent 22 years of my life, not understanding how simple it could be. All I need in this world to get by every day is to trust in the Lord, a bible, and a heart that is after Him every day. My “good deeds” as a Christian do not need to add up to be seen as “good” in God’s eyes. He loves me (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:19), He forgives me (Matthew 6:14; Psalm 86:5), He knows me (Matthew 10:30; Ephesians 2:4-5), and He has plans to prosper me (Jeremiah 29:11). I know I will not be perfect, and God knows this - this is why He sent his one and only son, Jesus, to die for us. Jesus literally died for our sins, and I full heartedly believe this.
It has taken me some time to fully open up about this as I have always been afraid of what others think of me, but I also need to understand and remind myself that there is no pressure on me when I give everything to God. I would be doing a disservice to Him if I never opened up about how Jesus changed my life… he truly did. I can’t imagine a life without knowing Him anymore.
If you read all of this and made it this far, I encourage you to reach out and talk with me about anything you read - whether you agree or disagree or have questions. I am open to talk about anything and I will always be open to have a conversation if finding your faith is something you want to bring into your life. I will literally talk about anything. Like I said before, this is not my story, rather it is the story God is writing for me. I will trust in Him and fully believe He will protect and help me for the rest of my life.