Saturday, June 28, 2014

Confessions of a Closeted Christian

When I was little, my family paid lip service to the Mormon Church. I say it that way because, with the exception of a couple of hazy memories attending services and a few memories of attending primary (like Sunday school) after school, I don’t remember any of my family participating in church activities. We certainly didn’t talk about God. We didn’t say grace before supper. None of that.

I was, I think, seven when my mom, having grown disillusioned with the Mormon faith – one she’d never found particularly comfortable but converted so that her marriage to my father could be sealed in the Temple in Salt Lake City –  returned to the church of her upbringing, the Episcopal Church. Eventually she began to take me with her.

I liked the Episcopal Church. The church itself was quite beautiful and I liked the ritual of mass, the call and response, the peace offering, the communion music, the donuts after. I was baptized one Sunday a few months after I started attending. It wasn’t a full immersion baptism, just a simple dousing of the forehead.

After a while though, I stopped going. I have no recollection why.

These were turbulent years. My parents grew colder toward one another. There was abuse. There was neglect. Our house was a cacophony of noise – my brother’s rock band rehearsing in the basement, my mom practicing the piano in the living room, my sisters’ battling stereos, my father’s TV turned up loud. All of it to keep all of us separated and to drown each other out.

One day, when I was about 12, the Mormon missionaries came to our door. I was alone but I understood who they were. I let them in. And, before I knew it, I had agreed to let them give me lessons. They were nice. I was lonely and sad. I didn’t want to go back to the Mormon Church but I didn’t want to disappoint the Elders. So they gave me the lessons – I don’t actually remember them – and then one of them baptized me…this time fully immersed wearing a white, ill-fitting jumpsuit. After that, my attendance at church was spotty at best. I didn’t last long.

In junior high, I met a really nice family – I went to school with both son and daughter – and they took me under their wing. They were very religious and dutifully attended their Pentecostal church every Sunday and every Wednesday evening for Bible study and youth group. I began to join them. They gave me my own Bible with my name embossed into the imitation leather cover.

By then I knew I was searching for God. I needed help. I needed to understand why things were the way they were. I was becoming bitter, angry, depressed. I had hope that I would find God there. But I didn’t. In fact, it was when I came home from that youth group one night that I received the worst beating of my life. After, I stayed the night across the street at a neighbor’s and cried myself to sleep.

I didn’t go back.

In high school, I returned a few times to the Episcopal Church. I went to youth convention two years in a row even. I sang in the choir some. But the kids I’d known the first time around had formed a tight-knit group and I felt like an outsider. Shortly after my second convention, filled with despair and self-loathing, I tried to commit suicide.

It was a serious attempt. I overdosed on Tylenol and, by the time I was discovered, the medication was already in my bloodstream. I was flown by helicopter to Denver where I was admitted to the ICU. I stayed there four days and then another seven weeks downstairs in the locked psychiatric unit.

I have never felt so alone.

When I emerged, I had no friends. Thankfully, my first day back to school, my new Biology lab partner, Beas, persisted in convincing me she wanted to be my friend until I relented. She introduced me to many more people who became my friends. Things were looking up.

But, after that, I didn’t believe in God anymore.

I didn’t know what to believe so I said I was agnostic but I believed that if God existed, he wasn’t interested in me.

And it’s been like that ever since…

Until now.

The start of 2014 wasn’t so hot. I can’t really get into details because the story largely isn’t mine to tell but the events as they unfolded impacted me deeply. I was a wreck. Even though I’d suffered from anxiety for years, the anxiety was so bad I finally sought help from my doctor. I went back to therapy for a while. I started to feel a bit better.

But I was also feeling really lost.

And then, starting in early April, things began to happen. Synchronicities. Nothing earth shattering. Just…a lot of little things. Mostly people I admire, respect, and love talking about God, about believing in God, about faith and grace.

When a former volunteer stopped in my office at work one day to say hello – I hadn’t seen her in years and almost didn’t recognize her – and told me she’d been volunteering a lot through her church and then looked at me and said, “God is good, Jane. I don’t know why I’m telling you that. There are certainly people in this building I wouldn’t say that to. But I’m saying it to you. God is so good,” I was dumbfounded.

I talked it over with a friend, a Christian. I told him what I wrote above – about how I’d searched for God and he didn’t answer so I gave up. He said, “How do you know he didn’t answer? Tell me, what happened after your suicide attempt? What happened when you came home?”

I met Beas.

That may not mean much to you, Dear Reader, but that one thing – meeting that one 15-year-old girl – changed my life forever. Most of my friends now have never met Jen. But 2/3 of my friend list (roughly 200 people) on Facebook is no more than four degrees of separation from her.

How is that, you ask?

Let’s take Acr0nym as an example. Acr0nym has never met Jen, doesn’t know anything about her. But! I was introduced to Acr0nym by Peej who dated Owen who was married to (and divorced from) Dayna who was introduced to me by Beas. She introduced me to some of my most beloved friends I still have today – Brad, Dayna, Spethman, Nykki, and still others. That is an awful lot of a lifetime of love.

Pretty crazy.

So my friend, when I told him about meeting Beas, said, “You don’t have to do it and you certainly don’t have to do it now but maybe, at some point, you might try talking to God?”

So I did. Not that night and not for a few days. But I did.

Turns out, I do believe in God. I do believe in Christ. I do believe Jesus died for our sins. I think I’ve believed all along but didn’t want to admit it.

So I’m confessing it now.

And trust me, I know what some of you are thinking. And it’s because of what I know some of you are thinking that makes this particularly difficult to write. I’m prepared to lose a few Facebook friends over this.

But I also know that people who love me and know me best know this doesn’t turn me into someone you don’t know and can’t stand. I’m still me.

Now I’m just out and proud.

God is good.


Elizabeth Bartlett said...

Religion can be a great comfort, and it affords many people happiness and I'm glad that it is giving you those benefits. The bible itself throws me...I cannot worship something I know to be cobbled together by many people over many years. Still, I do believe there is a God and that we have souls. After is all a mystery to me. :)

As long as you don't change, which I highly dought you will, your friends will stick around. *hugs*

Melanie Bruce said...

Hi sweet lady Jane-- I am Christian also, and I get what you are saying. It's counter-cultural in a way to engage in God talk. If you have not read any Anne Lamott, you may want to try her. She is a messy, moody, complicated Christian-- my kind of girl!
Love ya, my darlin'.

Margi said...

This:But I also know that people who love me and know me best know this doesn’t turn me into someone you don’t know and can’t stand. I’m still me.

Now I’m just out and proud.

I send so much love your way!

chippa said...

I wish we lived in the same place. I've got tears of joy.

God is good. Always.

MsSparrow said...

I'm proud that you have come to peace with your beliefs and are allowing them to give you comfort. Just because I don't believe the same thing you do, doesn't mean that I need to shit on you or be a jerk. Everyone should have something that gives them peace, that gives them comfort and if that is God, then I am happy for you. If it isn't, then I am happy for you.

All I really want is for my friends to be happy. And if this is leading you down that path, then Hallelujah.