Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Borrowed Faith

I stood in the corridor, still and mildly confident. The warehouse church had emptied aside from a few staff stragglers. Christmas season was a upon us. I was in a weird place all my own not quite knowing which way was up or which way was down, but my life felt down. 

I had graduated from college 6 months earlier and where I had imagined being was not where I was. With a degree taking me nowhere, a job donning an aloha shirt at a hotel front desk, living in my mother’s 2-sheets-as-walls dining room, I was sure twenty-two was a punishment. If it weren’t for Karen, I know I wouldn’t have been standing in church that night. 

I am the oldest of three children but quintessentially an only child. My parents divorced when I was five. Truth be told, I have no idea how they were ever together, but at thirty-two, I am beginning to understand people really ARE just people! Early on I became my mother’s best friend & at five, it emotionally matured me to thirteen. I carried her burdens, I cared for her in my heart as my own child, I sot to protect her from everything, not because she asked, but because it just came to be. I looked after my brother and sister (only a year and one week apart, they were like twins and I was too old to fit in), I championed for them in wars that were not mine to fight. At fourteen I internally became mother to my siblings, best friend to my mother, distanced from my father, and broken teenage girl. 

My first memories of religion were formed in pre-school and Sunday school. I remember the Sunday mornings my mom towed us 3 kids under 4 in a Jeep Wagoneer to Sunday school alone, “Daddy isn’t coming. He is sleeping.” It didn’t matter to me then, but the message was built on a thousand other actions & statements: Daddy is absent. 

Mom took us to church throughout our lives, but after the divorce and the move five hours north of Dad, Sunday school wasn’t a comfort, it was a tension, a cause of separation anxiety. So, I grew up in “big church,” listening to messages far above my head, bored to drawing on the church handouts, but eventually deciding I wanted to be baptized at 12. Perhaps because, that’s what good girls do. 

It was December 16, 1992, and my brother and I in our Arroyo Grande, California church, made our public statement of faith. I had invited a few friends and don’t remember much else except for plugging my nose, getting wet, & receiving a gold cross necklace, yet every December 16, I remember it. 

Life carried on in what I called my traveling circus but the further on the years went, the more I tried to lose myself in everyone else’s God. 

Catholic school presented the opportunities to perform and behave within the right groups yet break the right rules. I was Christian Ministry leader, a speaker at retreats, yet, so broken inside that boys were the hollow answer to feeling loved. No matter how many religious talks I could give, or chances I had to turn down drugs & alcohol, I always managed to find the ways to become the monocle of spiritual failure. At 19, standing outside of my college dorm building, freshly home from a month living in Italy, I made it clear to God, “I’m done with YOU to punish them. I’m never good enough so this dance I’ve done is over.”

I was angry. So, so angry. I was in an abyss years deep of isolation from my family. My platform in life existed to champion for one victim & hold contempt for one villain. I felt I had every excuse to have been a statistic of what goes wrong when parents suck, but I kept fighting to be the antithesis (and failed).

I wandered through Catholic college bouncing between the vision of devoted bible student and entertaining the party life. I found the wrong boyfriend & learned how good it felt to fight. All of my pent up frustration came out in the form of this one awful relationship. Truth is I was as bad for him as he was for me. Somehow, though, I left college without that engagement ring we had talked about and moving back to the land of the trapped yet free. 

I was 22. I was home and lost. I stood in a church my life-long friend had invited me into. I was tied up in a bondage of depression and I wanted more. I was ready for more. 

I stood in the corridor, still and mildly confident. The warehouse church had emptied aside from a few staff stragglers. Christmas season was a upon us. I was in a weird place all my own not quite knowing which way was up or which way was down, but my life felt down. I was ready for up. I was ready for Jesus. I realized, with two sets of hands on me,  answering yes to the question, “Do you believe that Jesus is your savior?” that all of these years of thinking I was a Christian, I was merely living on borrowed faith. 

A brush of wind pulled from my back as I was prayed over to be made new. I felt Jesus then. Jesus became mine, not my mother's, not the church’s, but mine. On December 21, 2004, I wasn’t just a Christian by title, I knew I was God’s daughter. That night I understood Jesus is REAL. He is safe, forgiving, ever-present, the one who works all my brokenness for His good. 

This Christmas, I am taking a moment to hold closely what Karen invited me into ten years ago and celebrate His perfect love for my constant imperfection.

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