My decision to become a Christian was reluctant at best. I don’t know if anyone truly decides to follow Christ on their own accord without some sort of divine nudging. I know I didn’t. I was 16 and didn’t see a need to make this whole Christian thing real. I fought my slowly growing need for Christ kicking and screaming until the very last moment. I couldn’t have realized at the time what was happening in me; years later I was finally able to put words to the growing tension within my chest. All I knew was that the things and people I looked to for love, comfort and security didn’t quite suit me anymore. I had no outlet for my frustrations. Mentally, I was slowly losing hope that anyone would stop and see me; I mean actually see me. That ache, that divinely beautiful moment of turmoil, became the catalyst for my whole world to be changed. The fact remains, Jesus saved my life about 10 years ago in extraordinary fashion on an ordinary day.
I grew up in a tiny town in New Jersey. Both my parents believed in Jesus and raised us as such. We’d attend the weekly Sunday school classes. We had Saturday morning bible study; it was part of normal life. I didn’t know there was any other way. I like to say my childhood was picturesque. Although we were far from perfect, we had a good life. My parents enrolled us in the best schools, we were always in sports or art activities, and took annual family vacations across the US. That was sufficient for the 10-year-old me. I loved God because everything seemed right. It was easy to attribute the good things in my life to Him. But like most kids, middle school brought about puberty, new ideas, boys and a mini identity crisis. I really wanted to be popular, to hang out with the cool girls, but honestly, I was far from it. The moment my focus shifted from trying to gain concrete things like cookies or the first spot at four square to something as elusive as popularity is when a wave of new insecurities crashed into me. All of a sudden I wasn’t reading books for entertainment but for escape. “If I could just be like that character, then…”
It wasnt long until all that I knew to be good about my life, about my world, about God was shattered. In 7th grade, my identity was scarred by the attention I received from our school janitor. The things he’d say to me, the way he looked at me, and the things he did alienated me, making me feel dirty or broken somehow. By day I would see my friend muster up the courage to tell their crush she liked him. She would slip notes, “Do you like me? Check yes or no” into the lockers of her version of Justin Timberlake and I would giggle and laugh with her. But by night, I would wonder what was wrong with me? Why were my friends able to navigate the thrills of middle school love and all I had was this? As you can imagine my faith in the “God” I knew was unsteady at best. I didn’t seem good enough for Him. Thankfully, I moved to Florida the next school year. I vowed to live the most normal life and kept my secret for another six years.
Fast forward to high school, I was a freshman on the JV Basketball team, a top musician in our band, the editor for our Health Occupation Club newsletter and everything in my life was once again picturesque, at least on the outside. Internally, I was constantly trying to live up to everyone’s expectations while repressing my memories from the past. Have you ever seen a unicyclist balancing spinning porcelain plates on slender wooden dowels, wearing a 50lbs army vest, while sporting a dazzling smile and reciting the Gettysburg address? Well that’s what I felt like. Emotionally I was drained and looked to my friends to comfort me. At the time, all I had were shallow friendships, held together by the common desire to not sit alone during lunch; they didn’t, and couldn’t, provide the support I needed. Regardless, I put up the front that I had everything together. Nothing could ever be wrong. This is where the tension built. I found myself trapped in an almost Catch 22. I desperately wanted someone to see that I didn’t have it all together. But, I could never put myself in such a vulnerable place to let my carefully constructed walls down. Ironically, I became the person all my friends would confide in about their deepest secrets. This pushed me to my breaking point one Sunday at my church, in the third row, closest to the window. I sat like I had sat for my whole life in a church pew. But this time, I didn’t go through the motions just to keep up with the Jones’. I sat. I had an internal conversation with God. I began to yell and ask why. It’s funny how such a silent conversation echoed and boomed in the walls of my mind. I realized that although I doubted the realness of God, my question for him was deeper than the “If you are real then why?” or “Where were you?” At the root, all I wanted to know was, “Can you still love me like this?” Foreign tears streamed down my face as the preacher continued with no knowledge of the unraveling that was happening just 3 rows away. I hadn’t cried in years but at that point I wasn’t stubborn enough to control the physical reaction taking place, shattering the image I had built for so long. Then, at the height of this one-way verbal match, with my face in my hands, I said, “Well fine then! If you say you want all of this, then take it.” That was the moment that saved my life. That was the moment I subconsciously knew I’d be sold to Christianity forever. In that moment, the tension in my chest, that I had been living with for years, vanished. I took a breath and it was as if I was breathing for the first time. My shoulders, hunched from the years of emotional baggage, felt lighter. Relief washed over me. I remember looking out the window to what was normally an unspectacular view of our church parking lot and noticed the sun. Service ended. I stood and walked out the door. Out of the thousand times I had prayed and cried to Jesus, it was the 1001st time that saved my life.
Now if I were to say my life was a fairy-tale story after that point, it would take away from the reality of living on planet earth. No, I did not have a carriage sprung out of pumpkins or mice as coachmen but I did have hope. For some reason, hope, that deep feeling of expectation or trust, changes everything. My journey as a Christian has been a slow but steady race. It would be another 3 years until I finally told my family about the events in 7th grade. Even these 10 years of being a self-proclaimed Christian have not been easy. But what I do know to be true is that each day, I wake up, place my feet on the floor beside my bed and breathe. Each day I can breathe again. The tension that plagued me for so long without my consent or knowledge is gone. I’m convinced that this is what the Christian life is like; and ordinary day with an extraordinary God.
My lovely niece,
I knew we are so connected. I had experiences similar to your 7th grade experience from the age of 8 to 12 years old. I know where you’ve been and the pain you felt. And I am so proud of you. I am so overwhelmed by His work in you. And I know your best is yet to come! I love you with all my heart.