She changed my life

I was sixteen years old.

(I feel like that sentence really deserved it's own paragraph.)

I finally had my "aha moment." The point in my life when I realized how I was living (you know the typical pursuit of "just have fun") was meaningless. And I got that Jesus Christ was real. I got over my feelings of organized religion. I even got over other Christians because truly that was half of the reason not to become one (and let's be honest, I think getting over other Christians is a life long battle). I was 16 driving down the street on the way to break up with my boyfriend when I gave my life to Jesus. It wasn't eloquent. Whatever steps "they" say you should follow, I wouldn't have known them at the time to say them. But one thing was certain, whether I knew what was coming in my life, it had changed.

There were so many things in my life that were hard because I made them that way.

There were so many things in my life that were hard because of the circumstances around me.

The combination of those two things is the reason why the Lord knew I needed this next picture.

Her name was Samantha. And I can confidently say that the Lord used that sweet little girl to change my life. I can count on two hands the number of people I would say that about.

Samantha was born shortly after I became a Christian. Her mom, Tina Smith, played the piano for our high school choir twice a week. So when she came someone from choir got to babysit. I used to tease our choir teacher, Mrs. Crenshaw, that it was because I sang so poorly. She always denied it but let's be honest. So twice a week I got to watch her big bro, Zach, and hold that sweet little girl.

I know what you are thinking, how did that change things for you?

Samantha wasn't like any other baby. She was truly special. The details are all fuzzy now but the gist of it all is that she had a brain disorder that basically left her like a vegetable. So every Tuesday and Thursday I got to hold her for an hour. I would stare at that sweet face and my life began to change.

Faith never came naturally to me. I was raised half Methodist (Dad's side) and half atheist (Mom's side). While I loved the social aspects of church, I always sided with my mom's beliefs once I was old enough to know I had a choice. And even once I became a Christian I struggled with faith because it just didn't come naturally to me.

The Lord knew that about me and knew just what I needed and He gave me Samantha. I would stare at her for that hour and in my head say over and over, "This is love... I feel like I am holding an angel... You Lord are so creative in Your creation..." My heart for the Lord began to deepen.

Then after a few months of watching Samantha during choir, I started babysitting for the family after school or at nights. I was invited into their home. I felt a part of their family.

For a girl who has a really bad memory, I have so many memories that I still think of often. I remember how they parented with so much joy, discipline, consistency and care. I remember how their relationships with Jesus weren't obligation, but just a part of who they were. I remember how they walked through suffering with total dependence on God and honesty in grief. I remember how they loved one another (still remember them running in the house chasing each other down to tickle each other). I remember thinking so many times, "This is what I want my family to look like."

Samantha passed away on Valentine's Day of my sophomore year in college. Appropriate since she taught me love that she is who I always think of first on that day.

As life changed and we all moved, I lost touch with the Smith family. But thanks to Facebook and family road trips, I got to see them again today! Meet the woman who taught me so much about Jesus, about loving your spouse intentionally, about pursuing Jesus in all things, about leading your kids with joy, about living your life with purpose:

Now it's your turn.

Who is your Tina Smith or Tina Smiths?  Who has shaped your life? Leave us a lesson they taught you.