Today's contributor is someone I love dearly. We have a sweet history because our families go way back (my dad was her mom's high school Spanish teacher ... yikes!), but we didn't actually link up until I moved down to Florida. I thought to ask Stefani Bonilla to contribute to #TestimonyTuesday because she is a PK (pastor's kid), and PK's usually have a unique point of view considering their upbringing and the expectations they've had to endure. Stef definitely has a unique perspective to bring to the table, so please sit back and enjoy another week of #TestimonyTuesday!
Hey my name is Stefani Bonilla. I’m a former athlete and recent college graduate.
I grew up in a strong Christian home. I never thought I would have a testimony to share or even thought it would be acceptable to have a testimony. A former Youth Pastor at my home church once said the best testimony is none at all. I never truly understood that statement.
The way this made me feel was:
How could I possibly preach to someone who I have nothing in common with?
How could I possibly relate to someone who was abused all their life or whose parents have problems with drugs and alcohol?
I was being trained to bring the love of God to the lost since such a young age, how was I to reach the lost if I had no idea what they were actually experiencing?
I do, in fact, have a testimony
I made the decision to go away for college. I made this decision in spite of what my parents suggested and out of anger. I was tired of hearing “no” to everything I wanted to do, and I was tired of the feeling of being watched. So I left; I started college in Louisiana and the result of that was that I came back home with emotional and spiritual baggage.
After six months, I got a softball scholarship at a Christian college in Florida and decided to come back home. You would think I would have changed my ways and rid some of the bad habits I picked up while at LSU … good joke! Lets just say there are more Christians found in public party schools than private Christian schools. Talk about an emotional roller coaster!
Reflecting back I realize that I compartmentalized my life: my life in Louisiana, my life in my Christian college and my life at home with my family; and then graduation totally threw me into another huge, emotional mess! All the parts of my life came crashing together and I didn't know who I was. It got to the point where I would lock myself in my room all day for weeks straight. My parents didn't know what was going on and I didn't either.
I was just trying to hide. Hide from the mess I had made and one that I didn't want anyone else to see.
But the truth is, I could hide from everybody but one. I couldn't hide from God. He saw every thought, action and word from me. My effort to hide was in vain, of course, because there is no hiding from God. God found me where I was and reminded me of my injuries.
My [physical] injuries | the back story
As an athlete, I was trained that there are no excuses and to push through everything. Push through the pain because excuses have consequences. Although it’s a great life lesson, I've applied it wrongly in situations in my life.
During my athletic career, I've had three significant injuries; my ankle, back and my pinky-finger. Just to give you history on these injuries,
I first sprained my ankle senior year of high school at a church camp. When I got it checked out, I ended up having a second-degree tear in my ligaments. It was two months before my senior volleyball season, so I had sufficient recovery time, only it didn't heal completely. Fast forward to my senior year of college, while playing softball, my "smart self" decided to jump a fence where I landed in soft sand and sprained my ankle, again. This time I heard a loud pop and it just happened to be three days before the first game of my final season. You would think I would have taken it easy and waited until my ankle healed before playing again. Wrong! Instead of informing my coach, I decided to have my ankle wrapped tight and play. Just to put things into perspective: I couldn't extend my ankle more than 90 degrees or put weight on it without pain. I was a catcher, so I had to squat, run and jump for hours every day. Still, I didn't inform my coach and continued to play. It wasn't until the last month of my season that the coach was made aware of my injury.
The second injury I suffered was to my back. Sophomore year of college I was playing rugby when a friend of mine ran at me full speed and pushed her body down into my lower back. I've never lost complete control over my body or felt pain radiate up and down my back before. Since then, my back has never been the same. Then, again in my senior year, I was participating in a canoe race with my team. One of my girls slipped while pushing off the canoe, and in effort to help her aboard, I pulled out my back. When I jumped down from the canoe, I couldn't straighten out my back. It was the weirdest feeling ever! All of that making fun of my pops when he’s pulled out his back was like a slap in the face. I never thought it was a huge issue though. I rested it over the weekend and then kept playing without really catering to my back. I would apply heat to it on-and-off, but as a catcher it didn't help being tackled at the plate and having to get up and shake it off. My back hurts more now than ever since I don’t play softball anymore.
My last injury was my pinky-finger. Yes, small and seemingly insignificant but it still makes the list. I was on first base, my teammate hit the ball and I took off running. My coach flagged me to continue on to third base. It was going to be a close play, so I decided to dive head first, which is never a wise decision. As I’m reaching for the bag, the third baseman took a step back, and my pinky ended up running right into the plate. When I looked down at my hand my pinky was dislocated. I honestly didn't feel pain, most likely because of adrenaline. When I went to the trainer, she popped my pinky back into place, taped it to my ring finger, and I finished the game.
My [emotional] injuries | the application
Basically this is the way I see it, in life we have three different types of injuries.
Some injuries are like my ankle, they happen multiple times and are serious. This could be something recurrent that keeps knocking us down, like in my case feeling guilt and shame. Forgiving myself for the decisions that I made in college is a recurrent injury that I still have yet to let go and heal. These injuries need time and need to be cared for to fully recover. If they aren't given that time, they may become permanent disabilities within your life. I can’t do any strenuous physical activity now without wearing a brace on my ankle. Paralleling that injury to my life, I feel like I can’t join a ministry or take a step closer to God without feeling like a hypocrite or feeling as if everyone knows everything I've ever done and they judge me for it.
Some injuries are like my back; it causes your life to change. Since I stopped playing softball, I've had to change my comfortable soft bed to a firmer one because of the trouble I've had sleeping at night. I've also had to buy supportive shoes to ease standing and so I can work without pain. Sometimes in life we have to completely change our ways because of past actions or decisions. For me, I've had to stop hanging out with certain and change what we do when we hang out. I figured out that in me trying to help someone, such as my friend in the canoe, I have only exasperated my injury. People have a way of dragging us down through the dirt with them. Though we may have good intentions, sometimes instead of letting God capitalize our on weaknesses, we instead give the devil a stronghold in our life. I've even had to change movies and music I used to watch and listen to.
Lastly, my pinky injury can represent mistakes in our life that don’t have much affect on us. It’s an injury I don’t feel anymore, but it’s an injury I see everyday. As silly as it sounds, my knuckle is bigger and deformed, and it will not ever be the same. In my life, I have struggled with pride and anger. Though it is not a disabling injury, I’m reminded of it constantly. I see it in my eyes when I look into the mirror. I think about it constantly when building relationships or even when being corrected. Its an injury I can easily cover up but one that only I have to deal with.
As a catcher, my coach was constantly on my case. She would not let me get away with anything. I remember one time I was in the middle of a blocking drill and I got pegged right on the bone of my wrist. I was at fault because I got lazy and didn't turn my body in the correct way as she had taught me. An instant bruise appeared the size of a softball and left the stitch-mark on the bone itself. Out of pride, I got back up in ready position for the next catch. My coach, seeing me ready, hit the ball with a bat at me again, but this time the ball took a horrible bounce and hit me right in the stomach. Talk about taking my breath away! The coach gave me a second to catch my breath and told me to get up and get ready again. I really didn't realize what a lesson that was to me until these last three weeks.
She was teaching me the lesson of redemption.
After making mistakes or suffering misfortunes in life, we must stand up and get ready for the next hit. Even when you do everything right, life can still hit you. The important lesson I have learned is not the number of times you've been knocked down or even how you've been knocked down, but all that matters is how you get up. Do you decide to live and learn or do you decide to stay in the guilt and shame of your defeat? To quote one of my favorite movies, A League of Their Own: “It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great.” Life is hard, decisions are hard but that’s what makes it so great. Living a life without a testimony is so much harder than living with a testimony. How much wiser and stronger a person are you if you can say no. Like when you say no to alcohol, drugs and sexual immorality?
In the last three weeks, God has been dealing with me and my injuries. He has been shaking me up and opening up my wounds in order for me to properly heal from them. Though there were bumps along the way that scarred me, I've been able to recognize them, and with God’s help, confront them face-to-face. I am now saying yes to God. I am on the road to forgiving myself and to leaving behind the guilt and shame that have come with my decisions. It’s not something that is going to happen over night, but I am going through the process of change. God has called me for a purpose, it’s time for me to rise and answer that call. God is notorious for screwing up ‘my’ plans because He has to make way for His.
“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are! —will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” 1 Peter 5:8-11 (MSG)
The time is coming where I will be living in my destined future rather than looking out the window at all the ways it could be.
Stefani Bonilla lives in Orlando, Fla., with her parents, Pastors Eliberto and Nereida Bonilla of Bethel Christian Church of Orlando, where she is actively in ministry. Stefani is the youngest of seven children, enjoys playing sports and is thinking about going to back to school to be a Physician Assistant. You can find her on Instagram @StefB7.