This is the third part in a series on my faith journey. It’s a link up to Addie Zierman’s Synchroblog in honor of her outstanding memoir When We Were on Fire. Read part 1 and part 2 of my faith journey.
If you had asked me to write a resume of my activities in high school, you would have found that I was at church anytime I could be. I volunteered with the middle schoolers. I shuttled lower classmen to and from youth activities. I worked in the nursery. I went to both morning and evening church. I taught and spoke and led. I helped out at youth events, went on retreats, came early and stayed late. I tithed faithfully. I was forming an identity. I stopped caring that I was almost the only one taking notes during Sunday School.
At our Classical school, we read the old theologians, and I discovered a deep love for theology. I moved from a quiet, shy middle school girl into the role of a leader. A pastor said that I might go on to be a speaker. I say none of this boastfully; it’s not stuff I’m proud of. At the same time, I miss the days when I thought I had the answers, when I felt capable of leading, when I felt God’s work in my life so clearly.
I had a blog. I finally had the courage to look at it again recently. I blogged consistently for a year and a half about topics related to biblical femininity–modesty, being an obedient daughter, Scripture. I had followers and was part of an online community of other Christians my age. I even edited an online magazine. My certainty and conviction are clear as I read through those blog posts. And again, I miss the days when things could be figured out in black and white text on a page.
Looking back, high school years were my golden years. Those were the days of driving myself to school in my silver car with the windows down, listening to folk music. Those were the days of late nights in the car before dropping off girls from my small group. They were the days of long walks, of tons of babysitting, of love and joy and laughter.
I intended to be a pastor’s wife. I felt that I was particularly designed for the role. I wanted the type of relationship in books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and When God Writes Your Love Story. I wanted my parents to be the type of parents in those books–intricately involved in all aspects of any future relationships.
I wanted that perfect love story, and I would do what it took to get it. I wrote letters to my future husband, I prayed through my (albeit very young) singleness, I kept my heart guarded and myself pure. I wanted a great marriage and a love story penned by God.
Each boy I saw either measured up to the ideals promoted in Christian romance novels and dating how-to books or he didn’t. Looking back, how could any guy really once you got to know him? And how could I?
As high school came to a close, my first big highly over-spiritualized decision was whether to attend college at all. I read a popular book that said that women should really re-think whether higher education could help them be godly wives and mothers. I remember waking up at 5:30 every morning to spend at least an hour reading the Bible, journaling, and praying. I remember laying my decisions almost literally before the Lord as I knelt down beside my bed staring at my acceptance letter. In the end, I only went to college because it was what my parents expected.
I was shocked to find that I wasn’t selected for a leadership scholarship at the college I had chosen. Leadership was my very identity, and I wanted to continue it. How could I know that the other students were so much like me–often more involved, often smarter, usually better leaders? This solidified my decision; I would not be a leader in campus activities; instead I would live at home, commute to school, and remain involved in church.
For our last youth group, I prepared a verse and some “wisdom” to share. But I ended up sharing Ephesians 2:2-10 with very little comment. It was–and is–my story.
College started. Those first weeks were weeks of tears in the car and dramatic poems. They were weeks of heartfelt conversations with other freshmen I would go on to barely know by graduation. They were weeks of exhaustion and adjusting and change. We had mandatory chapel and I went and sang with my eyes closed and took notes when the chaplain spoke and judged the students who used their hoodies as pillows to take naps.
On my first date that fall as a freshman, I learned what I decided must be the types of questions I would be asked as a potential pastor’s wife. He meant well, but the date felt like an interview. How would you define the Gospel in one sentence? Which pastor would you listen to for the rest of your life if you could? What do you think of chapel?
I’m sure he asked ordinary questions too, but these were the ones I focused on and remembered. After all, I was trying to become this person, to embrace this role, to make my messy testimony neat and tidy and appropriate. What stands out most looking back was how I tried to create my testimony… no holes, no questions, no grappling. I tidied up my sins, my struggles, the pain in my life into one neat package.
Faith and spirituality were black and white to me. But at the same time, my faith was real. I knew God, and I loved God. I loved my classes and learning how to live out my faith. But I also struggled in this environment where everyone was the same and yet so very different. I struggled with professors who were Christians but who made me re-think doctrines I had taken for granted.
Over Christmas break, we were back together as a youth group. And it was glorious. It was a break from all the newness and from feeling almost unknown. I felt like I belonged again. But it couldn’t last, and we all had to move on eventually.
January came and I added a class at the last minute. Little did I know that this class would mean two classes with the same guy–a tall basketball player who would play a very important role in this story.
Part 4 will hopefully follow tomorrow!