This is going to be a place where I share about live life intentionally. But first, I think it’s important that I share my story. Because living intentionally in my shoes means understanding where I’ve come from. It’s got a lot of parts, this story, so bear with me as I share them slowly.
The day I walked into the church for the first time, my hands shook and if I hadn’t thrown on a pair of flop flops, my feet would have been slipping and sliding in my shoes, too. It was late September, hotter than normal, even for Southern California and the warm, late summers I’d grown up with. But I was sweating more than usual, too. I could feel the arms of my dress dampen the closer I got to the church. As soon as I got there and found my friend Megan, the introductions began. Lots of people’s hands in my hands, and names I felt I’d never remember. I was so hot. My legs stuck together when I walked and I regretted the dress – shorts would have been a much better choice. No one else was really dressed up at this church. After saying hello to hundreds of people, Megan took us to our seats, the second row on the right. She offered to sit wherever I wanted, even if that meant the back, but I reasoned that if I could drag myself to church, I might as well get the best seat in the house.
Being in church wasn’t new for me. For most of my high school years, church was a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday deal. I wasn’t raised by a family who was overtly religious; in fact, it wasn’t until I was in middle school and attended a play called “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames” that I became a Christian. I’d sporadically attended services on Christmas Eve at various churches growing up, wherever worked with our schedule that year, but it was never a regular thing. The church I began attending after seeing “Heaven’s Gates” was my home away from home for the rest of middle school. But then the youth pastor left, and some new friends I made in high school invited me to their church. My middle school church was a Baptist church with an older congregation, and its dark walls and deep green wooden pews inspired quiet and propriety. But the Pentecostal church I began attending at 14 was much more lively, with clapping hands and people should “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” during the service. It was there I made the first real friends I’d ever had, even if we weren’t really friends back then – they’re the ones I’m close to now.
Sometimes when I think about my time at this church, all I can see in my mind is the ugly, bitter end: the name-calling and character-bashing and gossip and deceit. The shame and humiliation I felt every day for two years. There’s no doubt that it wasn’t a healthy church. But I have to allow myself to look deeper than that. Because while it’s easy to remember the horrible times I had, there is so much I am thankful for: laughter and winter camps and growing up in a world that was safer from some of the external pressures of being a teenager (which is funny to think about now, when the rest of my story is one of pressure taking over my life). For the better part of three years, my Fridays and Saturdays were spent at my friends’ homes, having dinner with their parents and watching movies and doing hair in their bedrooms. If I’m being honest, I’ll be the first to admit that church was its own microcosm of the real world, and there were pressures we all faced (and I was certainly no stranger to those pressures, having fallen deep into them in during high school) but I also have to admit that in the somewhat-sheltered walls of that church, I was more protected than I might have been – but I wasn’t as protected as I should have been, and I wasn’t as loved as I should have been when everything fell apart. This is why I remember the end so quickly, why it’s those moments of hurt that radiate from everything I had to offer that rise to the surface more quickly than the sleepovers and giggles and friends and vacations. In the end, it was the end that mattered the most.
I walked away from this church so quickly and with such a wounded spirit, I swore I would never go to church again. And for nearly ten years I didn’t, at least not regularly. For Christmas Eve services I still attended that church with my friend Steph’s family, more out of tradition and expectation than want. I disregarded God and His plan, but somehow I maintained and developed friendships with the girls who were once the ones who brought me pain during the years where I wanted nothing to do with church. It’s funny the plans God had for me… The breadcrumbs He laid on the ground for me to follow seemed so random and disconnected, but they are so clear to me now. Throughout the years preceeding that sunny, overheated September day, I heard something in the very core of my soul – but I refused to fully listen or acknowledge it. It was there, but it was never allowed to fully surface.
One of my friends from high school was Steph, and even though I lived with her family during my senior year of high school, I wasn’t sure if we would stay close after I graduated. But we did, and God really strengthened that friendship in ways that I had nothing to do with my ability. Because of that friendship, Steph introduced me to a mutual friend, Megan, and Megan and I became friends on facebook. Her faith inspired me, and that voice I kept hearing in the back of my head, the one that had been there for years, was so loud and clear to me. It was God, calling me because to Him, waiting for me patiently and ready to embrace me. My own close friends were going through so many of their own trials at that time, so it was Megan to whom I reached out, and it was her who invited me to visit her church, Calvary Chapel, and it was the doors of Calvary Chapel I walked into the exceptionally warm Sunday morning in late September, sweaty palms, wrinkled dress, and all.