Bailey Gunnerson's Testimony
So, I grew up in a pretty chaotic atmosphere. There was addiction in my family, and… just a lot of unhealthy situations for kids to grow up in and that was just reality for me. And I didn’t really know that it was abnormal or weird, it was kind of just the way that it was. That was home. I knew that my parents were really unhappy in their marriage, and I just kind of grew up feeling like this is just the way that life is. But I was also really scared and frightened and sad, all the time.
There was a certain time, I think I was probably 6 years old, when I realized things are not normal compared to other families. When I would I go over and play at other houses, I knew “this isn’t the way that it feels when I’m at home.”
When I was six, my brother was also diagnosed with severe autism. So, I remember kind of feeling like “life is really out of control, life is really hard.” And we moved around a ton too because of my dad’s job so I didn’t really have rooted relationships with external family members outside of my immediately family members or friends. It was a really frightening way to grow up. And then when my parents’ marriage continued to get really, really bad and I grew up with an alcoholic parent. And being an adult now and really looking into the havoc that substance wreaks on a child’s life is bad.
You know, it took me a long time to even understand how much of an impact that had on me as a person. So yeah, alcoholism, that is what I grew up around. And then having a brother with special needs and then moving around, it was just, really hard. And then when I actually turned outside of my family to get help from an adult, that adult ended up taking advantage of me and that also contributed to just a ton of childhood trauma.
And then we finally settled down in West Seattle when I was 9 and there was a neighbor across the street and this neighbor was a super sweet family and really inviting and I ended up getting really close with their two daughters who were around my age. And they invited me to vacation bible school at a church down the street. And, I mean, I was actually homeschooled too, and we had grown up with a Christian curriculum but my family’s not Christian. It was more of morals, but not a real relationship with Jesus.
So yeah, so I started going to church down the street, and it was amazing. It was fun, and I could be a kid and there was an escape from this really scary life at home. And I kind of had these two worlds where it was like I was spending so much time at church and then would kind of go home and go back to like this really terrible situation and then just go back to church. And that was how I got introduced to Jesus. And I was pretty young still and what I understood was “there’s a man whose name is Jesus and he’s God and God’s son loves you. And so, if you want to be one of his, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you can. You have to ask forgiveness for your sins.” And those were things I didn’t entirely understand at that age, but it did make sense.
People are broken, and people aren’t perfect, but Jesus died for me and my family because he loves us, and so I decided I’m going to follow Jesus.
There was no specific moment I can remember, but I journaled a lot at that time and I would write prayers out like “I love you Jesus, you’re the best.” All my siblings and I were caught in the middle of a crazy situation and I was so reassured that there was this heavenly father that was perfect who would never hurt me.
And then when I was 13, my parents divorced. And I think that I never really expected them to divorce. Like they were kind of separated a few times but, I always like they’re going to figure it out. And that was incredibly painful and isolating. Just awful. Divorce is terrible. And I don’t really know why it was that, that like really did it for me, but I think I was just exhausted. Exhausted from being hurt and feeling taken advantage of and having all of these private feelings that were just really difficult for me to process as a kid. And I think for the first time I was just really angry. Like “why is it getting worse and not getting better?” And um… and then something just happened where I was like I don’t want to follow Jesus anymore. And then, any kind of faith that we had grown up around, it was gone. My parents were like “we don’t even really believe in this, we were just kind of doing this for each other. This didn’t really mean anything.” And I was just kind of like, “…what?...”
So, by the time I was 14, there was no more church, there was no more youth group, there was no more praying. It was like, “I’m just going to do my own thing.” And that’s when things started to go from bad to worse.
So, a considerable amount of time passes like this and then I was 23 years old and life has just completely fallen apart and I ended up becoming an alcoholic.
I had graduated college, and when I was in college I had developed a terrible drinking problem and I think it was because I had no idea how to cope with all of the things I has been through as a child. So, things went from bad to worse and by the time I was 23, life was just hopeless. I wanted to kill myself. I could not figure out what was wrong with me. I just could not get my life together. All of my friends had moved on and I was sleeping on my mom’s couch bartending. Waking up every single day with a bad hangover and going back to work and just doing it all over again. And I finally… well finally my Dad was like “you’ve had enough. You’ve got a drinking problem and your life is out of control.”
And at this point, my dad tells me “you need to get some help.” And it was the worst thing you’d ever imagine coming true. It was like I had become the thing that I never wanted to become. I was just so lost. But I was also just spiritually lost. In college I’d started getting really into new age spiritualism and going really down, far down that black hole. Tarot cards, astrology and it wasn’t like I go to urban outfitters and pick up a tarot deck and not knowing what I’m doing. I knew what I was doing. I was consulting people. It was real. I was hearing from things, I was having dreams and I was very much into that.
That started when I was 19. And it just progressively got more intense. As I felt like I was losing my mind from drugs, alcohol and partying. But I had never really lost faith in a spiritual world. I had somehow along the way been like “well, Jesus didn’t work for me.” Because I wanted life to be good. And it didn’t make sense to me that life wasn’t good when I was following Jesus. And I think that I just didn’t have a robust enough understanding.
I can remember when I was really angry. There was so much anger towards God. Like “you didn’t make it, you didn’t make it work.” I was really angry with God, I felt like I had been tricked. I was super angry, and I decided to blame it on Jesus.
There’s people who are skeptics and there’s people who are seekers. I think I was much more of a seeker. And now I look back, having never lost my faith, always still searching for “God” and now I feel like that was so indicative that I had had a real experience with Jesus.
Once you belong to Jesus, you can’t un-belong to him. You can try, like I certainly did.
After college, I really became obsessed with making myself happy. It was like “me, me, me, me, me.” And that’s the thing about that path that you take, if you take it spiritually, and combine it with addiction… you’re just the most selfish person. I was so self-absorbed. And I hadn’t always been that way, but if you feed that monster, it’s all consuming.
So, my dad tells me to get help. I had caused so much pain in my own family that when he finally approached me, it was like the worst that it could possibly get. And, yeah, he was like you’ve got to knock this off or I’m cutting you off. And that was the first miracle, just recognizing, “I am not doing as hot as I would like to think I am.”
And, so I just said “yeah, I’ll get help. I’ll get help.” It was like the worst thing that you could possibly admit, but the best thing at the same time. It was like “now I know what’s wrong with me, I have a drinking problem.” Little did I know there was a lot more, but I would find that out later. So yeah, so I started getting into recovery. And I haven’t had a drink since that moment.
At that time, I was still full of a lot of motivational speakers and self-help books and I thought “this is the gateway to my destiny or whatever.” But it was interesting because as I went through treatment, and as I went through counseling, and doing the 12 steps, I had to recognize a higher power, and I was like, “no problem, I already have one!” And I kept consulting my tarot cards and astrology, and then it just stopped working… Like there is no other way to like, explain it… Something clicked, and it stopped working. But there was a deep understanding in my heart that I’ve caused a lot of pain, and these cards can’t forgive me. Who’s going to forgive me? Because like I can’t forgive me, I can’t forgive the way that I’ve ruined my own life. And all of the people that I’ve hurt, these cards aren’t doing anything. I mean… these are stars and pieces of paper, and this is stupid. I was so over it really fast.
And then I just felt lost again. Ok, well if that’s not going to work, if I don’t think this is real then what’s going to work? And then there was this crazy idea that “I used to have this relationship with Jesus. What happened?”
I was finally at a point in my life where I was recognizing how wrong I was about a lot of stuff. And I was so certain about so many things and people were like “nope, you got it wrong” and I was at such a low point that I was finally humble enough to be like “wow, I have been wrong.” And then I thought, “well, what if I was wrong about Jesus? What if I didn’t get that right?”
And then it was crazy. All of these bible verses that I had memorized as a child started to return, and I felt like I really needed to go buy a bible. And then I started to meet Christians who were not like the Christians that I made Christians out to be. They were really cool people who were really giving of their time. That was my whole M.O., I was like “Christians are crazy, they suck…” as I check my tarot cards…
That was part of that self-justification. “They’re crazy and I am not.” And then the people who were being put in my life were talking to me about Jesus because I was curious.
And things continued to get harder, they were not getting easier. Because when you finally start to accept responsibility for your life, it’s pretty rough. There’s bills to be paid, places to show up, and… and things are actually your fault. That’s another thing when you stop being so selfish, you’re like “actually yeah, things are MY fault.” And so I was just kind of reading my bible and I went and got this 12-step recovery bible that was like New Living Translation.
I bought the 12-step bible as a “Christian”. I felt more comfortable with Christianity than I had been with anything else so I’m just going to keep going down this path. But I wasn’t like “I’m a Christian, life is changed.” It wasn’t that way at all, it was just like a new sense of comfort was kind of creeping in, but I was not committed. And people could see that. That was obvious to people that were Christians who were in my life. I was working at a trendy coffee shop in Seattle, and one of my coworkers was a legitimate Christian, he had real faith. He and his girlfriend were super excited, I didn’t know they were like secretly really excited to see me reading my bible before work and stuff. And they were like “do you want to come to church with us on Sunday?” And I had been to church a couple of times around Seattle but had never really committed to anything. It was just kind of like “well I guess I should go to church.” And that was a particularly hard week, I remember I was having a really hard week and I was reading Psalm 23, because I remembered that scripture that you memorize when you’re a child.
So they invited me to church and I went. And I was sincerely excited but really nervous and yeah, they took me to church and before the service started they announced they were doing baptisms that night. And I was like ‘hmm, that’s interesting,’ that was basically the only thought that crossed my mind, was like ‘hmmm, that’s interesting.’ The sermon was on baptism and again it was like ‘hmm that was all like really interesting stuff.’ Psalm 23 was posted up on the big screen, and I lost it. Like, “oh my gosh, there it is.” I don’t know why that mattered so much, but I know it mattered because God was talking to me. And I just had this moment in time where I was like “Oh my Gosh, God is real and he’s listening and he sees me.” So they started singing and they were like “yeah, if you want to get baptized, come up!”
And there was this crazy moment in time where it was like everything else was just kind of quiet and I was really in my head. And it was this deep conviction, “if you do not get baptized tonight, you are going to regret it forever.” There was something about that forever.
I realized “there is an eternity and I’ve been messing around with it, and I’m in really big trouble.” And I didn’t go to church that night with a doctrine. It was just like, “I am in trouble without Jesus. I’ve been doing this for a long time on my own and it has not turned out well.” But then also this relief that Jesus wants to forgive me.
And so, without my coworkers, I just walked away. I walked out of the isle and I walked straight out into the lobby, up to one of the leaders and I was like “I want to get baptized.” She was like “ok, why?” And In my mind, I’m thinking “you don’t understand, I need to do this right now! Why are you asking me?!” But she asked me to make a confession of faith, and I was 100%, there was not a doubt, I was ready. I was ready to follow Jesus.
Yeah so without saying a word to the people I was there with, I went and changed my clothes and then I went and got baptized. And it was so cool because I went down under the water, and when I came up there was a physical weight gone. I was different.
I remember that feeling of joy that my sin was gone. And, I’m new. I’ve been buried with Christ and I’ve been resurrected.
And then it was really cool because the people that I was there with, they were just losing their minds, they ran up to the baptismal font, they’re taking videos and I’m screaming and they went and prayed over me. They followed me to the back and prayed with me. Again, I didn’t know how to pray, I didn’t remember how to pray. I just kept saying, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you for saving me!’ And that was all I had. That was like my little tiny mustard seed and that was it. That was all I needed. And that’s what I love about Jesus, He wasn’t going to turn me away.