Thursday, December 17, 2009

Belief: Part 1

Recently I received an email filled with interview-type-questions about something very exciting happening in 2010. A woman I respect on so many levels invited me to be a part of something and needed some back story on me, my beliefs, and my life thus far. So we discussed a few things, and a few weeks ago I spent an entire day writing pages of pages of stories, secrets, and understanding to help her get a better perspective of where I was coming from in lieu of this project.

I wrote way more than she ever could have wanted, I am sure. [we are talking many, many pages of text. It felt kind of like a sophomore year term paper] And although the purpose of all those pages was to help her gain perspective, what it really did was help me gain some perspective. Perspective on why I should never be ashamed of who I am, or what has happened to me. Perspective on why there is no reason to be sad about a broken engagement or a lonely holiday season. Perspective on why I believe what I believe and on a rekindling of my heart and spirit.


My parents raised me to be a gentle, kind, and honest person. When I was younger, I went to church every week- but for me it had very little to do with God, all those years. My mom was always very active in the church as I was growing up, especially when I was a teenager, which lead me to be a volunteer Sunday school teacher when I was in high school- but I don't remember us ever talking about God outside of church much. It wasn't like we had nightly Bible readings or prayed together or discussed the gospel at home. Although, I'm not sure it didn't happen and I just wasn't aware of it. My sister always seemed to have a "close relationship" with Jesus from a young age. She participated in summer ministries and really seemed to identify with the word "Christian"- and for a long time I had never understood that.

At the time, if you asked me, I probably would have said I was a Christian, because that's all I knew, but in hindsight, I have NO IDEA what I actually BELIEVED back then. I was ignorant to it. Growing up I was a "good girl" (for the most part). I did what I was asked, I was active in about 283284 things in high school, and I genuinely just loved people- all people. Though I’m not sure it was always for the right reasons - I was insecure and wanted to be liked by everyone, known by everyone, appreciated by everyone – and so I made it my personal mission to be friends with just about everyone I could. I would like to say it was because I had a heart of gold, but I am quite certain, at least in the high school days, it was a tad bit more about my wanting an image of gold.

When I graduated, I went to college in Madison, WI. (about 30 minutes away from where I went to high school) Edgewood College is "a Catholic college in the Dominican tradition" but back then- the only way you would know it was if you really paid attention; very close attention. Sure, there was a chapel on campus (attached to my dorm, actually.) and some of our teachers were "Sister" or "Father"- but campus ministry was as prevalent on Edgewood's campus as it would be at any state school I would have visited. It was available, but not forced, and rarely even heard about. Basically, the way I saw it, Edgewood was given money by the Catholic church and that is why it was called a Catholic school.

For awhile, I remember actually being curious about faith in college, and having discussions with some close friends and hall mates. I found myself admitting I did not believe. That the Bible was a work of literature and that Jesus must have been a good man, but I just don't know about God. I’m not sure if this is what I really believed, or this is what I wanted to believe. I’m not sure if I was saying what I thought would make me appear smart, or relatable, or sure of myself. I really don’t remember much about how I felt back then, but I do remember a few of the things I said during these conversations- and a lot of my discussion had to do with logic, and reason, and science.

Nearing the end of my sophomore year, my dad got a new job in Texas. My parents asked me if I wanted to move or stay in Wisconsin. It was a HARD decision. A few of my very best friends from high school attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison- and they were literally a few blocks away from me at Edgewood- and some might say I had an unhealthy dependency on a few of these friends. I had a hard time thinking about going on with my day-to-day life without them and trying to imagine my life in different state, so far away, was hard. Until I had a revelation that one day, they would go on and find husbands/wives and get married and start families. And I realized that I could not live in the basement of their houses. And I needed to go and stand on my own and take a little journey of self discovery. A journey to see who I was on my own, with out the comfort of everyone I knew for so long just a few blocks away. I needed to see who I was when they weren’t in earshot. What I would say if I wasn’t influenced by their opinions every five minutes, how I would choose to spend my time if I so got to do so, and if I could survive.

So I decided to leave Madison and head south. Apparently this came as a shock to many people- even to this day I hear from friends and classmates who swear they never thought I would leave – and I understand that. I LOVE the city of Madison. It will probably remain my favorite city in America for a long time- when I go home to visit, I always make sure to spend one day alone- walking down my favorite streets, reading in my favorite parks, just drinking in the warmth as my heart fills with pure contentment. I love Madison still, and I loved Madison then- but I knew I had to move on. It was time.

I started looking at schools with in four hours of my parents- I figured I needed a little cushion since I would be moving somewhere in which I didn’t know a soul. One of my favorite things about Edgewood was the school size. When I was there, it was just a couple thousand students- so classes were nice and small. We were offered so much individual attention from our professors and I am so thankful that I was able to learn in that environment. When I started looking for schools, I looked for a small school within four hours of my parents.

And I found LC; Louisiana College. [And I had no idea what I was in for.]

Louisiana College is a Baptist University. Having been at Edgewood and forming the above mentioned opinion, I assumed this meant that the Baptist Church gave the school money and perhaps a chapel building would be somewhere on campus. I thought I would go about my day to day life at LC, much like I did at Edgewood. I thought it would be another college, in another town- filled with stories of drunken debauchery, rallies and protests, tailgating and parties at the off-campus houses.

And then I moved to the Bible belt.

I quickly learned upon arriving, that just about everyone at LC chose LC because they wanted to further their "relationship with Christ" while attending college. Not at all what I was expecting. NOT AT ALL. And NOTHING like my time at Edgewood; No drinking, no boys in the girls dorm or girls in the boys dorm, no smoking, no parties, attend chapel service every week, many bible studies going on around campus, and an optional, yet majorly attended Monday Night Worship hosted by the Baptist College Ministry, which was all over campus.

I spent the first few weeks arguing with the freshmen girls that lived in my section of the dorm. (since I was a transfer student, I was living on the floor with all the freshmen.) The arguments would all end like this:

Roommate/Suitemate/Hallmate: But the Bible Says....
Me: But if I don't take the Bible literally... If I think its a work of literature.…
Roommate/Suitemate/Hallmate: But the Bible Says....

It was a never-ending cycle. And I was frustrated.

After a few days of classes, however, I started to meet more people my age, and realized that not everyone at LC believed in Christ because they had "always believed" and that some of them had opinions of their own. I must say to their credit- not many more days after, the girls who argued with me as above, started to understand this a bit too- and soon a soul search of their own was born; "why do i believe this", “is there more than just because I’ve always known this”, “how do I share my faith more clearly” etc. – these are some of the most exceptionally smart and genuine girls I know, and I am so grateful for the learning experience we had together, especially those first few weeks.

I was invited to church by several people. [Clearly they were doing their part at "finding lost souls" ;)] I'm pretty sure during the first month of school, I visited four churches. One church really stuck out for me; a place called Donahue Family Church. The people there were kind and REAL- there wasn't a fake hug to be had- all of the hugs were REAL. When people asked how school was going, they REALLY wanted to know. And the worship leader/assistant Pastor, smiled when he talked about God. He smiled when he sang on stage. He smiled when he was praying and giving thanks. And all the time, all the smiles, they were REAL.

Donahue had a decently popular college ministry, and not too long after my first visit, I became a regular attendee of both the church and the college group, Fusion. Even when I didn't know what I believed, they accepted me. Even when I argued with every word they said, they took time to listen to my concerns, my objects, and my distrust. They still invited me to go out for ice cream, and play volleyball, and watch movies. Sometimes we discussed Christ, but not always. It seemed like every week I had more questions.

These people I met were SMART. We could hold intelligent conversations about any number of things, and yet they still had FAITH, such strong faith. A lot of my preconceived ideas about believing in God had to do with God vs.. Science- and I guess at some point in the previous two years at Edgewood, I had started to believe that Faith in God means you are shallow minded. (yes - I am ashamed to admit that. I am ashamed that I thought that. I wish I had been open minded and understanding when I thought I was.) But these people were definitely not shallow minded. They were brilliant. And they believed and believed with every part of their being, even the parts that doubted. Their doubts made their faith stronger- I am still trying to find the correct words to accurately describe that, but it remains indescribable.

So i continued to go to church with them. Twice a week. And i continued to go to small group with them, and let them pray for me, and ask them questions, and I bought a Bible- because I wanted to see what all this was about. Not because of everyone was doing it, as much as because everyone seemed to have something I was lacking- something deep down to the core of their being, yet I couldn’t explain what it was. It was appealing. It was attractive. And it deserved respect. I wanted to know more.

Yet I continued to fight it, for what seemed like a long time. I was prideful and stubborn to say "ok, yes, I guess I do believe" in the beginning. I was so scared. To be wrong? To believe? To submit? I don't know. But I was terrified. And I don't actually remember the moment I decided. I didn't pray "a sinner's prayer" or "ask Jesus into my heart" or anything like that. I never had a moment where BOOM! suddenly I believed. I have no idea when it happened, or where it was, but I can say that my life has been better because of Christ. It happened much more slowly than a bolt of lightening. It was gradual, and a bit like a conquest, and I have no idea WHAT caused me to go from unbeliever to believer; but I do know some things that happened that aided me in the decision, that perhaps when they were all added up together, there was no other choice for me but to believe;

-watching other people truly worship. hands raised, hearts open. when i first started attending church, i didn't sing along. I more or less watched the congregation. And i was often moved to tears. I didn't know why, but just watching these people whom I had come to love being so connected to something they couldn't SEE but just believed, it stirred me. They didn’t know, but they still knew. They didn’t know because they saw Jesus face to face- they knew because they saw Jesus in the faces of others. They didn’t know because they heard God on a mountain top- they knew because they heard a mountains worth of personal experiences.

- I became really close with a clever girl with a beautiful soul, Mary. We would study outside on the lawn when it was sunny out. and we would end up having extremely long conversations about the questions I had. And every night, I would go to her room, and we would sit in her bed and pray. I would pray that if God was real, and he was tangible, that He would open my heart so that I could understand and accept Him and not be closed off to Him. Soon- my prayers became less about "help me believe" and more "thank you for belief"

-another very good friend, Andrew, poured a lot of time into me. He would make time to explain things, and listen, and make sure I wasn't homesick. He was one of the leaders of Fusion, and he would spend time explaining every tiny little question I had. but he did so in a way that was so honest. And he used resources other than just his own base of knowledge. And it was good. One day, Mary and I went joined Andrew and his roommates to watch a DVD from Passion One Day. (Passion is a college movement started my Louie Giglio. It's pretty popular among Christians all over the country/world) One of the segments was of a pastor from Minnesota, John Piper, speaking on "Boasting Only in the Cross". It moved me. He was standing on a stage, outdoors, on a very windy day, talking to THOUSANDS of college-aged students, and to hear his words, and his plea to them, and even more so to see their reaction what he was sharing- these moments left impressions on my heart. (it remains on of my favorite communications to this day.)

-there are a countless number of individuals from my time at LC who spoke to my heart, to the core of my very being. they helped me to grow and to open my mind to things other than myself. they taught me about true, honest love, and how to help people win. and how to be genuine every day.

-i just felt different. that sounds silly. but i can't explain it. it is an experience. nothing spooky or overly charismatic or anything, but just different. like I honestly started to "feel God" in my life. it sounds kooky, but its not. And its another thing that can not be explained. I didn’t physically touch, see, hear, smell or taste God; but I did feel him with other senses.

And so somewhere along the way, I just believed. No smoke or mirrors, no final number, no crying at the alter, no end all be all; I just believed.

And so i studied. and i read my Bible. and i attended Bible Studies and Small Groups. And I felt like I should be doing ministry. Because Jesus died for me. But more importantly, because there were people out there who didn't know they were loved; loved enough that they were died for. Because there were people out there who didn't have someone in their life, cheering for them. Because there were sad, lonely people out there that needed love, and compassion. It was never about religion. It was never about what you "shouldn't do". It was never about rules and laws and strictness. Not for Jesus, and not for me. It was about love. And it still is. For Jesus, and for me.

and i left school.
i left school to go to work.
i don't regret it.
but i think about it often.

i say i want to go back to school about once a day, and i have been saying that since 2004 when i left school.

but i don't regret it.

because what came next was learning experiences from inside the ministry that i could have never learned by getting any kind of degree... [to be continued- edit: part 2]

6 comments:

  1. I love this story about you. It gets me everytime. Thank you for being so honest, dear friend.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Miss Heather,
    When are you going to write a book?
    and by that, of course, I mean, PLEASE would you someday write a book?

    Also THIS:
    "And I don't actually remember the moment I decided. I didn't pray "a sinner's prayer" or "ask Jesus into my heart" or anything like that. I never had a moment where BOOM! suddenly I believed. I have no idea when it happened, or where it was, but I can say that my life has been better because of Christ. It happened much more slowly than a bolt of lightening. It was gradual, and a bit like a conquest, and I have no idea WHAT caused me to go from unbeliever to believer; but I do know some things that happened that aided me in the decision, that perhaps when they were all added up together, there was no other choice for me but to believe;"

    just YES. yes yes yes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really enjoyed reading your story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I just read this 2 times because it was so powerful. Growing up I have always had a very strong faith, yet always wanted people to like me. I was such a people pleaser and still am somedays. I got chills when you talked about how you 'fought' it and then one day you just believed. I do believe, but sometimes wonder if I really 'get' it. I am really looking forward to part 2!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Found your blog from Katheats. Loved reading this post. Can't wait to hear more!

    ReplyDelete
  6. The second school sounds like it really opened your eyes and introduced you to some great people. I admit, I sometimes feel the same way you did. I am yet to find someone who is as intelligent as the people you met. When I have questions now, people cannot answer them. I think I just know the wrong people.

    ReplyDelete

New to ThenHeatherSaid?

Welcome to my little corner of the world [wide web].
I believe it was Mrs. Potts who said, "It's always best to start at the beginning." If this is your first time, why not jump back to where it all started: http://thenheathersaid.blogspot.com/2009/09/day-after.html

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter