I gave my heart to Jesus when I was five years old. I even have a rock that says so at my parents’ house. Is this something that I remember? Not really. Are there tons of other people who probably had the same rock and have since tossed it out? Probably. Are these people still considering themselves Christians? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not the point, is it? I just wonder, was I brainwashed?
I’ve only known a Christian life, even when I haven’t wanted to. I went to church with my family every week, and it was normal. I went to a Christian school for eight years. I read the Bible in class. I sang songs about Jesus with my classmates. I was warned of the dangers of having non-believing friends. So I never even had a choice not to believe.
The small town I grew up in didn’t have a Christian high school, and there were so many other things happening in my family, that I had no choice but to go to a public high school. The thing is, I was excited. I never talked about my faith or my upbringing at school, because growing up it was something that had just always been known. Everyone had always known I was a Christian, because they were all Christians too. We had all made commitments to stay “pure” until marriage, and to not drink, and to never smoke. There was never really any discussion. So going to a public high school where very few people knew me was a chance for me to entirely reinvent myself.
However, there were some other factors. Right before I started high school, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had to leave town for treatments quite frequently. I also was experiencing my first conscious episode of depression. It never occurred to me to wonder where God was in any of it, though.
I started cutting myself, but I still prayed. I dated guys, but I didn’t have sex with them. If I liked someone, I would bargain with God. I would tell him that I would stop cutting myself if just this next guy would ask me to be his girlfriend. And after that happened, I would start again, because I couldn’t stop.
By the time I reached my sophomore year of high school, I had isolated myself from my Christian family, too afraid to tell them that I might have doubts. I started hanging out with two friends that had no desire to have anything to do with God, one of which was homosexual. My mother really frowned upon it, but it was okay. I told my friends that it would be less scary to tell my parents that I was pregnant than it would be to tell them that I didn’t want to be a Christian. Neither of which really seemed like a possibility anyway. I wasn’t pregnant, and I didn’t know how to not be a Christian.
I had taken God out of the equation entirely. My faith had become about church, and family, and shame.
But then I had the opportunity to go to LA with my church’s youth group to go to a conference for New Year’s Eve. My parents, with no idea of my doubts, were all for me going. So I went. And I experienced my first real encounter with God. During one of the services, while I was dwelling in my own darkness, one of the speakers called me out. Not by name, but by heart. He said exactly what was on my mind. He spoke of being unlovable, of being broken, of wanting to die. Which was everything that I let define me. At that moment, everything inside of me came pouring out. God spoke to me. I gave him my life, for real. He told me where to go to college, and from that day forward, I made plans.
I thought I was healed. I thought that I was only dealing with depression because I was trying to walk away from God. It wasn’t long before I found that I was entirely wrong. But instead of being honest about my depression, I hid it, because if you’re a Christian, you must be happy. Although all evidence spoke otherwise, I for some reason believed that following God meant that there were no more problems in your life. This meant that I was doing something wrong if I was still experiencing crippling depression.
I ended up graduating high school and going to Bible college, heading toward a theological degree, and thinking I’d maybe be a youth pastor. Except I had social anxiety that was only getting worse, and the idea of leading any kind of group was terrifying. It took me more than a year to realize that I had maybe made the wrong career choice.
I suddenly fell in love with writing, but knew that God had called me to be where I was at. And then I broke completely. Everything within me screamed at me to end my life. I had no reason to feel depressed and empty, but I was. I experienced small highs, and devastating lows. I wanted to transfer schools and get a degree in creative writing, but even more, I wanted to end my life entirely.
I had a good group of friends who begged me to get help, and when I wouldn’t do it on my own, walked with me as I did what I needed to do to get healthy. I was finally diagnosed with manic depression. I went home for Christmas break and decided to end my life. Instead, I failed.
I couldn’t understand where God was in this. I couldn’t understand why God would make me with a mind that didn’t function correctly. I wanted to know his plan. And I wondered if he had no plan at all. I wondered if he was cruel. But after a few months of meds and counseling, I stopped wondering this. I was better. I was okay with the way I was made.
A few months later, I stopped taking meds all together. Probably a mistake at the time, but I had made it through. I spent another year and a half without having any major episodes. I didn’t want to end my life. I wrote a lot of poetry and music. And I accepted myself for who I am, because it made me a better writer. However, that wasn’t good enough.
Towards the end of my senior year of college, I started dating a guy who wasn’t a Christian. And then my grandmother died. And then he stopped talking to me. And I went on a drive up a mountain, wondering if I should drive off of it. I sat, with my feet hanging off the edge, and I contemplated.
I contemplated the pros and cons of continuing on. I contemplated leaving my faith behind. I contemplated what my life would have been like if I had gone to a different school, if I had pursued something else, if I had lived somewhere else. Because I couldn’t come to terms with a God who would allow me to go through life unable to have rational emotions. I couldn’t grasp why he hadn’t healed me. I could see no good in this, I could see no plan. But I decided to drive home anyway. I yelled at God. I told him how angry I was. He had to know that I didn’t want to follow him anymore. Even though I was about to graduate with my degree in theology and ministry.
For the most part, I kept my doubts to myself. I blogged about them some, but to the majority, I was a good Christian girl. I had decided I was going to move to Portland and live with strangers and get a crappy job and write and drink. But instead, my mom went out of remission, and I felt God calling me home, even though I was angry. Even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow him. Even though I was broken.
But that was more than a year ago. And I spent the last year learning to hear God again. I stopped dwelling on the theological implications of my doubts and my beliefs, and I just listened.
A couple months ago, I found myself at a jungle church in Costa Rica with my Finnish roommate and a team of missionaries who barely spoke Spanish. God pointed out an elderly woman to me and told me he was going to heal her. So my roommate and I started praying for her back, because that was where she had said there was pain. A minute or so later, she looked up at the light and started crying. With my limited Spanish, I could only deduce that she could see. She could see the light. She could see the light! But wait, we were praying for her back. And that was healed too.
So yeah, sometimes I doubt. But maybe I don’t need to anymore. Because I saw God do exactly what he said he would, without knowing or understanding his plan. He healed the blind in the Bible. And he healed the blind right in front of me. So in my doubting midst, there is hope. That day, that woman saw the light. That day, I saw the light too.