Boyfriends and cheerleading won’t define me
Losing friends led Heather Parks into suicidal depression and a fresh discovery
As she pursued her degree, Heather Parks was devoted to cheerleading, her boyfriend and her group of friends, not realising that she would lose them all in one year and have to question her purpose for living.
“Being a cheerleader was how I defined myself,” says Heather. “I was consumed by how I looked and what other people thought of me. I did anything to get the attention of a guy or one of my friends.”
For three years, Heather had a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend until she decided to sleep with him, even though her and her boyfriend professed to be Christians.
“We were overcome with guilt, but did not understand at that time why our relationship was not the same after that point,” Heather recalls.
After seven years together they broke up. Five days later he was dating another girl and was married within six months.
“I was devastated! My best friend and the love my life was completely taken out of my life. I transferred my degree elsewhere in my final year and I did not make the new cheerleading team.”
In that final year of study, Heather lost her group of friends when her roommates moved and she was forced to move home to her parents. The deaths of four dear friends followed shortly after, devastating her even further.
“I fell into a deep depression and considered taking my life daily,” she says. “I actually prayed to God to take my life.”
When she was young, Heather remembers feeling that church and youth group was just a social event to see her friends and hang out with boys.
One night at a youth conference, she was faced with a confronting question: “If you were to die tonight on the way home, do you know for sure that you would be going to heaven?”
She recalls, “The preacher talked about how your good works cannot save you, only believing in Jesus Christ can.
“That night I realised I had only been relying on my works, such as avoiding alcohol, going to church, living a morally correct life, so I prayed for Jesus to change my life.”
Heather admits, “I honestly did not understand what I was doing. I treated saying that prayer like fire insurance.
“At that time, I did not understand that the purpose of my life was to be in relationship with God. Some of the people at church loved God and it showed. They were completely giving of themselves. We had a new youth pastor who I really looked up to and I wanted to live like his family did.”
It was the way these people knew God and had a guilt-free relationship with Him that motivated Heather to leave her boyfriend.
“Our sin destroyed our relationship with each other and with God,” Heather explains.
Through her knowledge of the Bible, Heather also says, “I knew that God could heal people and at that point nothing less could heal me and give me the strength to make it through each day.”
Unable to relate emotionally to her parents, who she hadn’t lived with for eight years, she felt completely alone and decided to read her Bible again.
“Between reading the Bible and a Christian book called The Bondage Breaker, God began to reveal my selfish rebellion against Him, and His purpose for the things happening in my life.
“God showed me that my sin had caused my relationship with Him to be strained. My life had become so busy with friends, cheerleading and my boyfriend that I had completely forgotten about Him. I had no time for Him in my life until He took those things out of my life.
“He showed me that I defined myself by how others saw me, instead of how He saw me, and that the purpose of my life is to be like Him and make Him known to others. I never knew that before.”
During this time, Heather says God also showed the importance of discipleship growth of young Christians, as no-one had taught her what following Jesus looked like when she was young.
“God gave me the desire to teach youth during the few critical years before they are out on their own. Now I finally understand the passion and love I saw in a youth pastor I looked up to as a young girl.”