Some people are born with one purpose or one dream in life. Not Elissa Anne. From the age of nine, as she paced around the backyard whispering stories to the trees, she began to dream of the many ways God would use her to touch and impact the world.
Not limiting herself to writing books alone, she has fulfilled dreams of becoming a piano teacher, composing music and lyrics and recording some of these songs.
Raised in a Christian family she has had a personal relationship with Jesus since she was four years old, but as a teenager she struggled with guilt and shame, wondering if she was acceptable in God’s eyes because of her many perceived imperfections. In 2001 Elissa embarked on an interstate adventure to study at Tabor Bible College in South Australia and the first lecture she heard was on Romans 8:1 “Therefore there is now no condemnation.” She learned that all sin: past, present and future sin has been forgiven and she was able to receive the love of God at a deeper level.
Now, Elissa’s greatest passion is to write about God’s grace and his ability to love the people that some brand as being evil or the very worst of sinners. That is the overarching message of her first series: Covenant-999, of which Victori Song is book one of three!
I am currently 31 years old (as at 26th February 2014). I grew up entrenched in Christianity. I had a Christian family, went to church pretty much every Sunday and attended a Christian school.
Despite being told that God loved me, I struggled constantly with condemnation. What I mean by the word condemnation is a constant feeling of shame because I knew myself to be a failed perfectionist. My drive to be perfect led me to suppress emotions like anger and even sadness, and to pretend I had everything together. I avoided swearing, masturbation (and all things pertaining to sex), listening to secular music, and other things that might appear less than perfect. I made a vow to God when I was 16 that I would read my Bible and pray every day for the rest of my life (and I kept that promise for all of a few years). I tried to be polite, obedient, respectful, patient, kind, forgiving. I was trying so hard to maintain all these things plus much more, that I nearly drove myself insane.
At age 17 I remember sitting in a car alone and screaming at God: “What do you want from me?” I never felt like I was good enough. All I could see were my imperfections and how I would never measure up. I was spiralling down into depression, beginning to feel that life was hopeless because it would never meet my own standards of perfection and happiness (which I also mistook as God’s standards).
At 18, I moved to Adelaide in South Australia straight out of high-school. I was unconsciously running away from my feelings of failure and trying to start again. In Adelaide I started studying at Tabor Bible College and the very first lecture I heard was on Romans 8:1 “Therefore there is now no more condemnation.” It felt as though I had never read this verse in my life and yet I had probably read it no fewer than half a dozen times. The lecturer taught us a proverb: “It doesn’t matter what I oughta, I’m still God’s daughter. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done, I’m still God’s son.” I heard more and more about grace that year and it started to become so much more than just a cliché “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound…”
In the meantime, I was losing control of my emotions and no longer capable of pretending that I was okay, so I sought a counsellor. One counsellor told me outright that the amount of shame I displayed was common to sexual abuse victims, only I had no conscious memory of any abuse. I got upset and decided to see a different counsellor. During a session with the new counsellor, God showed me the picture of molestation that occurred when I was a toddler.
It was no accident that I heard about the grace of God, and then discovered that I was abused. The effects of the abuse – the shame, the extreme irrational perfectionism, the avoidance of all things sexual (except having crushes on boys) – could only be dealt with in the context of grace. If I had not learned about grace, and still believed that God needed me to be perfect and had doubts about his acceptance of me in the midst of depression and shame, I honestly don’t know where I would be today. Maybe death by suicide. Maybe an atheist. Maybe the most self-righteous yet self-hating person in the church, still suffering from perfectionism, shame and depression … But God knew best.
A year into Bible College, I met a group of people who believed that what we were learning about grace applied to the whole world, not just to Christians (or to be more specific, not only to those who confessed / repented / put faith in Jesus). They taught me that God had reconciled the entire world to himself: John 12:32, Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:18, Romans 3:24, 5:18. I began to believe that the whole world was already saved but that people who don’t have faith are simply not experiencing their salvation and need to activate it by faith.
This same group of people described hell to me in this way: Picture a father holding a baby in his arms. The baby is kicking and screaming, feels insecure and does not want to be in the father’s arms. Heaven on the other hand is that exact same father holding a baby who knows he/she is secure, loved, accepted and belongs with the father. They called themselves hopeful-universalists. They showed me that there was enough evidence in the Bible to support the possibility of universalism – in other words they believed it was likely that most people would turn and be saved but they couldn’t be absolutely certain that everyone would.
Throughout the three years that I lived in Adelaide I memorised a lot of Biblical evidence to support universalism and learned much about grace and unconditional love. I took antidepressants for a year or two, delved into my psyche with a great counsellor and was able to at least begin a journey to emotional and spiritual healing.
At age 21 – 10 years ago now – I moved back to Sydney with my hopeful-universalism stuffed in my pocket and tried to share it with my family and friends. Needless to say, I offended some people. Others became worried about me and my salvation. People argued with me. There was no one who agreed with me in Sydney and I felt very alone. So I weighed things up that people were saying to me, I stopped arguing, and I considered the possibility that I had been led astray.
I went back to doing the things that were socially acceptable in Christian circles, because I genuinely love God. I attended Imagine Nations Church (IN) and was heavily involved in the worship team because I genuinely enjoyed it. I re-developed the habit of reading the Bible every day. I tithed, I gave, I volunteered for Westcare and all these things came from a genuine place in my heart: not an obligation. But looking back, I know that to some degree I was people-pleasing.
I cringed when people talked about separation from God because that was one thing I did not believe in. I cringed whenever communion was taken and someone talked about God-the-Father forsaking Jesus on the cross – another thing I had stopped believing. And I cringed when people talked about pleasing God, because I felt that this really missed the point that there is no division in our relationships with God, no issue, no end to his forgiveness, love, acceptance etc.
I felt a greater sense of freedom in my personal walk with God because I now understood much more about grace and at the time I did not realise that I was being fake, or at the very least, people-pleasing. I certainly never faked my relationship with God. But, for the most part, I was hiding the things I believed about grace and was still relying heavily on my good deeds to make me acceptable.
I have many positive memories of being part of IN and do not hold grudges against the people there. I am still in contact with some of them, still visit there (it is my Dad’s current church), and feel like it’s a huge part of my heritage. I believe that God had a plan and purpose in my season there.
I feel that God was the one who had led me back to Sydney from Adelaide to be close to family. He also nudged me to move back in with my parents when I was 24, exactly 2 months before mum was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. While I was growing up, mum and I were not especially close. That same feeling of not being good enough for God was how I felt toward my mum. I realised much later on in life, that the reason I felt this way toward her was because she felt this way toward her own parents and toward God as well. It was like a generational curse or something I picked up from her. I believe that what I perceive as my mum’s people-pleasing, perfectionism and self-hatred were major contributing factors to her cancer (this is a personal opinion and not a professional one.)
Leading up to her death, Mum turned to Joseph Prince sermons and discovered God’s unconditional grace, for the first real time, herself. Seeing her relationship with God flourish was impacting for me and it reignited my passion for grace. Mum heard about Pastor Santo Calarco in Narellan who was preaching similar messages to Joseph Prince, so my parents, Sarah and I started attending his church. I officially left IN about 3 months before mum passed away. God used the season of mum’s illness to do some healing work in her emotional and spiritual life and to bring us into a deeper relationship (though still imperfect) with one another. I’m really grateful to have been able to live with my parents, to help look after mum in her illness and to have listened to sermons and attended both of these churches with her.
The combination of meeting Pastor Santo and Mum’s passing, challenged me with the realisation that life is too short to be someone I’m not. I started to literally force myself to write about grace on facebook and many times I had severe anxiety over my own status posts! It was really difficult and scary to break free of the bondage I felt in keeping my mouth shut in the hopes that my friends and family would continue to like me. I have since been deleted by a lot of people and have made a lot of new friends including my amazing boyfriend, Joseph Daniel! I would never have met him if I had kept people-pleasing and pretending to believe traditional things. I no longer suffer the same level of anxiety because I no longer care half as much about being who the church wants me to be.
Meanwhile, between ages 27-28 I began to really delve into my experience of sexual abuse, with God. Prior to 27, I was not emotionally ready to have a functional relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Although I obsessed about men, and said that I wanted to get married and have sex, there was a secret part of me that never wanted to marry because she was afraid that even sex inside of marriage could be wrong (and she wanted to be perfect, of course). At that time, God took me through the torture of getting in touch with extreme anger, irrational shame, and the avoidance of my sexuality. He broke a lot of strongholds through prayer and copious amounts of tears. I’m not sure I will ever feel completely whole in this lifetime, but I believe I have turned a corner.
I want you to understand that one of the main reasons I struggle with a lot of traditional Christian doctrines is because I have spent the vast majority of my life battling extreme irrational shame, and trying to be perfect. If I didn’t believe that God loves me no matter what I do or how much I fail, I would spiral back into depression. I also feel that if this does not apply to the whole world, then it cannot apply to me. The level of shame that I have experienced makes it very easy for me to identify with evil people like Hitler, rapists, murderers etc. I feel as though we are all equally as evil. My conviction is that if God can’t save Hitler, then he can’t save me. If God can’t save the man who molested me, then he can’t save me. I’m no better than them. Part of the reason I do not believe in traditional-hell, is because if anyone has to go there, I think it should be me. And if God is going to save me, then he better save everyone, because I know I’m just as bad as everyone else. And I don’t want to be saved and go to heaven, if even one person is left out. If that were the case, I would wish I never existed at all.
So, at age 28, not long after my mum passed away, I challenged my Pastor about the concept of hell (and I did adhere to it at the time). I told him it didn’t make sense to me. How could God fail to save anyone? He is all-powerful. He is all-loving. He is all-knowing. I gave my Pastor half a dozen books that I had attained while at Bible College where I met my hopeful-universalist friends. He began to study and he became a Universalist. However, he did not become a hopeful-universalist because he went much further in his exegesis of the Bible than my friends had ever gone. He calls himself a Restorative-Universalist and the evidence he has shown me for universalism has brought me to the same conclusion:
I am a Restorative-Universalist.
I am not the kind of universalist who believes that all roads lead to heaven. I take the word of God very seriously and it says that Jesus is the only way to the Father. The distinction is that I believe he will save everyone in the end, whether they have to go through hell first to get there, or not. I now believe that the Hell described in the Bible is the same as the Refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:2) and that it is a purifying fire. People in hell will be purified of their disbelief until they repent and come home to heaven (Revelation 21:24-26).
When I look back over the years that have brought me to this place I feel as though I am exactly where I am meant to be. The level of depression that I suffered in my early twenties has subsided. I still experience mild anxiety, for which I see a naturopath and take a natural supplement called neurocalm. But the more that I challenge myself to be real about who I am, to be honest, and to share what I believe in; the more contentment I feel within myself. I experience more of God’s love, grace and acceptance because I am learning how to love and forgive myself for being exactly who I am.