This is Part 2 in a series on my faith journey. It is a link up to Addie Zierman’s Synchroblog, which has the same title as her new memoir, When We Were on Fire. Read the first part here. Thanks for reading my story. And get a copy of Addie’s book. I just finished it today, and it is phenomenal. It is definitely the best book I have read in a while.
Around middle school, I went through more than a whole year of crying. I was sad all the time. Looking back, those were the years that I learned that the world was broken and it happened all of a sudden as I saw my own brokenness, brokenness in my family, and brokenness on a wide scale in the world.
I remember someone on TV suggested that as the new Millennium came, you should put your hopes and goals in a balloon and pop it at midnight. My goal was simple: to be happy again. I think I popped that white balloon with my goal on a sheet of paper inside; I can’t remember now. But now we were in 2000, and once you see the world’s brokenness you can never be the same.
By sixth grade, I was still in the middle of trying to recite the whole Catechism so I could earn a Bible with my name on it. We had started in fifth grade. Now a Sunday School teacher would come to the Jr. High room and ask whether anyone wanted to recite. I always did. But the numbers dwindled, and eventually the teacher didn’t come anymore. It was okay, though, because I hated being the only one.
Jr. High (6th-8th grade) was a huge change from the safe, warm fifth grade. In fifth grade, we memorized and recited and got stickers for taking sermon notes. In Jr. High, all three grades crammed together in an upper room in the church; the middle schoolers scoffed at memorization and talked all during prayer request time. There was a guy who prayed for his cat who ran away three years ago every single week. Sometimes the other kids made our youth leader so mad that he had to step outside. That made me sad. The kids fought so much over couches that the leaders eventually had to remove the three soft, old couches from the room.
My first day in Jr. High Sunday School, a girl with jet black hair that curled slightly asked me to sit with her on one of the couches. We loved to sit comparing the notebooks and pens we used for our sermon notes. We were far from popular.We became Sunday School friends. We found solidarity. Both of us were a bit unsure in this new environment, but her friendliness and smiles kept me coming back. Most of the time. Other times I would stop by my sister’s fourth grade class where I felt more welcome and where the kids were less rowdy and rude.
When I went to small groups, we mostly talked about friendship and how to be godly friends–the never-ending issue of girls in early middle school at that time. But I did love the leaders and felt that they genuinely cared for me.
My friendship with my best friend from elementary school was complicated by the fact that we lived 45 minutes from each other. But at the same time, she was growing interested in boys. I, on the other hand, was learning that I needed friends who sharpened each other like iron, and she didn’t seem to be a Christian to me. I wasn’t sure the new me could hang out with her.
Around this time, I turned to God in a new way. I began to see Him as my Father and best friend. I remember hours spent sitting in our wooden swing praying and talking. At one point, my cat had run away. I was so sad. I prayed and prayed for a friend.
I found one in eighth grade. A new family had moved from the mid-west. They didn’t go to our church; they went to the church down the road. But in Anna, I found someone who loved the same things I did. She also loved to argue theology.
One of the first stories I heard about her was of the time she ran out in the street to chase a ball when a very little girl. Her dad grabbed her shoulders and said, “Anna! You cannot do that again. You could have died.” She responded, “No, Daddy, because I have a soul that will never die.” The catechism was real to Anna. She took church seriously. Her family rarely missed a Sunday.
I debated between changing to her church or just making my commitment stronger–like hers. I took our new members class while still in eighth grade with a mind bent on finding answers. I wanted to make a final decision about whether or not I should belong.
My parents’ marriage was experiencing tension at this point, so I pushed further into knowing God. I did my thirty minute devotions every day. I took knowing God seriously and began to realize my sin more and more. I hated the way I could treat my little brother especially right after having my devotional time in my room. I hated that I could be so sulky with my mom or so complaining of an unexpected stop to the grocery store. I struggled to fight these sins. I prayed a lot. One day I decided that my daily life journals were only making me more emotional, so I decided that I would use my journals only for praying. I filled up journal after journal with my prayers and with Bible verses and sermon notes.
I also began to push for others to take their faith seriously. My sister and I joke now about the time that I yelled at her to do devotions as we sat on our twin beds with the burgundy bedspreads. She became the most consistent person I know at spending time with God daily.
I dug into God as I lacked and then found friends. I still read my occasional Christian romance novel (Janette Oke novels were my favorite), and I loved the fact that the characters so often stopped to pray and were led by God’s will. The lingo was woven into every conversation. Why couldn’t my life be that way? Why couldn’t my family be that way? Again, I felt that I didn’t quite belong to this club of Christians– I hadn’t been a part of it for long enough and I still didn’t fully know their language.
When I look back now, I mostly see a little girl trying to fit in with that Christian culture and with her church, a girl trying to prove that her parents were Christians, that she had the Christian home experience of her friends. But though she was surrounded by warmth and love, she didn’t have that same heritage of faith. She would have to find answers on her own, and she would.
She longed for parents who made rules about what types of movies she could watch. She longed to find answers in the pink spiritual growth books she bought at the Christian book store. She felt guilty when she bought a Teen Answers Bible and saw the topics about sex. She didn’t know how to answer her old best friend when that friend asked whether homosexuality was really a sin.
In the time between 5th and 6th grade, I learned about sex and abortion and the frightening non-Christians. 9/11 came and never actually went, leaving confusion, chaos, and brokenness. In high school, I would lose both of my grandmothers, and I had been incredibly close to both. I would continue to see the shakiness of my parents’ marriage while trying to prove that the home I lived in was a Christian one. I would see the world as black and white and turn to church as an answer in the chaos. And I would determine that this place–this thing–was my safety.
I thought this could protect me from the hard and dangerous things, and I wrapped myself in it like a blanket. It would be years before I would realize that these people were just as dangerous. That I was just as dangerous.
Check back tomorrow for Part Three!