Don’t worry. I don’t have the motive to convert people.
I also still really don’t like that word. Other words I’m still not used to:
I also still struggle to remember when Easter is during the calendar year, but I’m working on that. (I keep thinking it’s in April.)
I’ve identified as one-of-those-Jesus-people for almost 6 years now. And it still sometimes weirds me out that my life is where it is today.
This is a long story. A story that took 19 years and is still being written years after.
I was not raised with any religious background. My parents, my mom especially, wanted my brother and I to decide what we wanted for ourselves. If we wanted to go to church, fine. If not, fine.
But as I grew older other people had a bit of influence over how I saw Christianity, what it stood for, who Jesus-people were. I saw a bunch of greed, envy, pride, and jealousy. Because my brother and I were born out of wedlock, my mom was treated harshly. People looked down upon our family for our heavy metal music, skull apparel, and tattoos. We were darker than the norm.
And if I’m my parents’ child, then they must be against me too.
Christianity felt like a club for snobs, a club for people to condemn other people for their imperfections and lifestyles. And I know now that these people are human, they struggle with things we all struggle with, but in those early years in life, forming my worldview, I knew that I did not want to have anything to do with Christianity.
I mean, you can look at history, recent findings on the Catholic church, and, for me personally, people’s positions against Harry Potter, and have a lot of evidence as to why Christianity is not palatable.
So I knew what I didn’t want, to be associated with a fake and surface-level Christianity, but I also didn’t know what I wanted.
I chose to believe in nothing. I chose atheism. I thought, if Christians are like this, then God cannot exist. I even went so far as to convince myself that Jesus didn’t exist either; he was made up by the church. He was not a real man.
Freshman Year of College
During high school and all my school years, I had been known as the smart, quiet, shy girl. Naturally, I wanted to be like the popular girls at my school, bubblegum nature. I knew that going to college was my chance to be who I wanted to be. I wanted to be the snappy stick of bubblegum, a girl that literally wanted to wear a bow around her ponytail, and wear a fun, light perfume. I wanted to be the social girl, the girl who always said yes to everything, the girl who liked how she looked in the mirror.
So I went to college. I’m a pretty good student. I can regurgitate whatever you’re looking for. But I didn’t make new friends. I didn’t have that social life I dreamed of that included best friends and painting the town red at night. I didn’t like how I looked in the mirror. Why couldn’t I force myself to like other things like pop music and bright colors?
I was all wrong. Why couldn’t I be who I wanted to be? I often closed our room’s door, shutting myself off from the other girls.
Freshman year of college sucked. Sure, I got straight As, but I was in a black hole of depression. The only thing in the black hole was me and this feeling that beauty has to exist in the world. I hoped for beauty. I lived in that hole the spring semester. The only thing I looked forward to was my intro to creative writing class. I often skipped lunch and dinner. I ate a honey bun and coffee for breakfast three days a week after my creative writing class. When I skipped dinner, I lied in my lofted bed with the lights off. I listened to Explosions in the Sky on repeat and told myself that I am a robot. Being a robot is the only way to live in the black hole. I was never anxious and never stressed. Just always angry and empty and the most depressed I have ever been in my life.
Just be happy, I told myself. Just be happy. Why can’t you just be happy like a normal person?
Why can’t you just be normal?
And I thought, what would it be like if I was gone? What does it look like to just stop existing?
Then, the school year ended. That freshman year that everyone talks about as being the best year of your life.
Yeah, I don’t think so. When filling out the rooming application for sophomore year, I chose a random dorm, a random floor, a random roommate.
It was summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Purdue. I met with my friend Abby at Starbucks because she wanted to talk with me. (Isn’t that how these things kind of go?) She shared with me her story of how she came to say that Jesus Christ saves her from herself, from the world. She told me things I had never known about her.
And I remember thinking, this is the kind of deep relationship I want with friends.
We talked more about how I was feeling about this past school year, and I said, I’m just thankful to be alive, to be breathing and here on earth.
She asked me, who was I thankful to for that?
And that was the shattering point. My whole sense of who I was was uprooted and suspended in space. As an atheist who denounced God and those Christians that yell from the steps of university buildings, was I really opening up to the idea that God existed? That Jesus was a real human-being?
For the rest of the summer, I talked with Abby and read some books. I sat in my bean bag chair at home and thought, “I am crazy for even considering that God is real. I don’t like how this makes me feel.”
Myself a robot becoming human.
Sophomore Year of College
I move into my new dorm, Shreve. I move onto the first floor. I leave my door open.
And it was all perfectly planned. Just for me.
My neighbors invited me over to join them in the other room. I thought they were nice. They seemed to have good relationships with each other. They got to know me.
Then they invited me to Cru, to church. Oh, they’re Christians. Christians can be like this? This genuine, and this loving and accepting of a weird girl who doesn’t really know who she is?
That fall semester, I lived with these friends. I became more at peace with life. I went random, but nothing about this situation was random.
That October, in the quiet of my own head and heart, I said, or prayed, something like the following:
I do not have control over my life. This is who I am meant to be, and I want to be more of me. Even though this is weird and crazy to believe, I believe that Jesus Christ was actually God, that God sacrificed himself to know me. That even though I’ve felt alone, God has planned it all. He has everything under control. God has chased me and rescued me from myself and the world. God sacrificed himself so I can live a free life. I was dead, but now I’m alive.
Thinking about it now, it’s still crazy to me that I believe in this magical thing of Jesus dying on the cross and putting himself in, and destroying, that black hole I lived in for so long. It doesn’t make sense, yet it makes all the sense in the world to me.
God carried me here, even though it was painful. This was a lifetime of grace, of receiving what I did not deserve: freedom, life, joy.
I am broken, and I am surely not normal.
Once I said yes to Christ being the ruler of my life, I remember smiling to myself, giving a sigh of relief.
I am finally me. And happiness does not compare to joy.
From that point, God grew me quickly. I became the sharing leader for women in the Shreve dorm. I discipled, or trained in faith, five girls and was discipled myself by many wonderful women. I went on a summer project with Cru to Chicago. I shared my faith with people who were getting their PhDs at the University of Chicago. I once approached a woman on that campus to ask if she’d like to take a survey about her beliefs, and she replied by saying she doesn’t think Jesus was a real person.
That moment was a reminder to me that God does all the work in his time.
But undergad was ending. I wanted to continue this work, this lifestyle in Berlin with Cru. I wanted to stay. I wanted to meet more people like that woman in Chicago.
But God closed that door.
I raced to grad school, and at the beginning of grad school, I was strong in my faith. I acted on my faith. Over the course of three years, I had my first boyfriend, I got engaged, I got married. I had my first wedding anniversary.
But I also felt like I needed God less and less. I became more anxious. I needed rest. I needed to get things done. Grad school was not regurgitation, it was my imagination. It was producing new things. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, what style I wanted to write in. I didn’t know that part of me. I still needed to develop that sense of myself, become more of who I am on the outside. Reflect more of who I am on the inside.
And by the end of grad school, I was here. But by grace, God gave me a desire to know him again. My mind forgets that the black hole has been destroyed. And new dark places after that will be destroyed as well.
The struggles don’t just end or go away when you believe God exists. But he helps you through them.
I’m still becoming more of who I am. But I love my story. I love that I used to be an atheist. I love that I’m a Saul to Paul type. I love that I have experienced depression and can talk about it with others. I love that I can be a good friend. I love that I know the woes and triumphs of singleness. I love that I like certain things like Doc Martens and dresses, venus flytraps and peonies, tattoos and glittery earrings, witchy style and dark emoji art. I like dark things, and that’s okay.
I love these sides of myself that God has made and sewn together. And I’m learning to love the rest.
So, what’s your story?