It took a rejection letter from Harvard for me to…like…care about Jesus.
Let me explain. I’m sitting on my porch right now, eating a fried egg, drinking coffee with almond milk, and reading my Bible. I usually scramble my eggs, but I wandered off for a little bit while I was cooking them, and came back just before official burning of the eggs happened, and there you have it. Fried eggs. And I usually sugar that coffee up somehow, but I have reached the point in my life where SUGAR TASTES BAD TO ME? Getting older, I guess.
Now, about the Bible. It's open, right in front of me. I haven’t like read the thing, you know, because I wanted to, for a while. We’ll go ahead and call it a year. I honestly don’t even know. I’m flipping through it now, and all of the highlights and underlines and things are from, like, college.
So, college. Woooo, child. I like to celebrate anniversaries of things, and March 31 is the however-many-year anniversary of the day I didn’t get into Harvard. I was “supposed” to get into Harvard. It was very obnoxious. They came to my hometown and followed me around for a day, and put the whole adventure, which involved a lot of me being snooty and wearing a pea coat and talking about AP Chemistry, in their newspaper. (Click here, and go to :40 – DON’T SAY I NEVER DID ANYTHING FOR YOU).
Anyway, I didn’t get in, and this shocked the world, and tore mine apart. People treated me like my life was over. I skipped a week of school and just sat in my room, until my Young Life leader, Laura, dragged my sorry butt out of bed and had a conversation with how I could not base my whole identity in something that was going to fall out from under me. This was the first time I ever really listened to her about the whole Jesus thing, and at graduation, she gave me a little Bible -- the one I've got out on the porch with me today. She said that she’d always been gifted one at the threshold of life changes, and this was the first time little old me was embarking in life without the thought that I could do things on my own; I knew that I needed Jesus. And now I had this Bible, full of teachings and things that she said would help.
I spent my summers from then on holed up at Young Life camps, being poured into, using words from the Bible to shape my worldview. I didn’t know a lot about church and stuff, so friends in college went with me to Easter Sunday and explained it all to me. And then, things got weird. I had lived my life until that time being praised for my brain and for academics, so I reverted to that, and took the Bible and intellectualized the heck out of it. I fell in love with legalism; I didn’t drink until I was 21, and I judged anyone who did. Sophomore year, I took a medical leave of absence because my mental health deteriorated, and when I came back and changed my major to Religion because I could no longer graduate on time as a Biology/Spanish/Neuroscience triple major. I learned a million things about ways different people interpret Biblical text, and what that led them to believe about God. I took a philosophy class that was centered entirely around the view that the presence of evil and the benevolence of God could not coexist.
There was a lot of conflicting information is what I'm getting at. My problem was that I was so much more concerned with knowing things about God than I was with knowing God. I was a science nerd -- used to making hypotheses, collecting data, and seeing whether the results supported what I expected.
So take that lens, and use it on my life after college, which is when the shit really hit the fan. If you don’t know the rap sheet, in the span of two years, my best friend was murdered, I was sexually assaulted twice in one year, and was in back-to-back abusive relationships.
And that little Bible sat on the dang shelf. All of my hypotheses about God had tanked. My data was telling me that the world was awful and hard, and that God was having a hands-off moment with me, if not giving up on me entirely. Saying it was a hard season is the understatement of my life. I could not, for the life of me, get back to a place where I thought the word of God was at all sweet. I tried to go to church and small groups, and those sweet people there tried to comfort me the best ways they knew how. Hearing that God loved me, and had good plans for me, all of that used to shoot me into gratitude tears, but all of a sudden it sent me into full-on defense attorney mode with a full itemized list of how I knew that God did not actually give a crap. When your actual life is falling apart, it is very disorienting to hear that God is good, and that He loves you. Every now and then, I lost my shit on someone about it:
“Oh, God loves me? Okay, well, if God really loved me, somebody explain what happened to Maggie. He has good things in store? Then why is it that the men who have said they love me slowly stripped my identity away from me and made it sound like they were doing me a favor? If God is a strong tower and a fortress and all of that, if He is watching over me and protecting me, somebody better explain the whole rape thing.”
I came in guns blazing. I had picked holes in the foundation of what I had built my identity on and just decided to go back to handling life myself, thank you very much. I stopped picking up my Bible because it was just so much easier to ignore the dang thing.
[People know now that as a result of this season, I got pretty lost.]
And unfortunately, I had some bad experiences with the church, and with other Christians. People know those things because I have been vocal about them. And I'm sure that gave the impression that I had given up on church, but there were people who believed in the same things that I did telling me that I was too messy, too dirty, too lost -- when I had been taught that there was no such thing as "too lost" to be included in the kingdom of God. I didn't feel welcome anymore, and so I needed to walk away for a minute. I didn't believe that my opinion was gospel, I wasn't angry, and I wanted to find joy in my faith again -- I was just completely disoriented.
As a result of the sudden lack of guidance, I pretty much took license to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. Spiritual leaders that I had once trusted with soul-baring conversations watched my behavior and called my entire faith paradigm into question, and critics chimed in to point out how much I was "living in sin"; to all of them, I simply said, “Thank you for sharing.”
I was struggling, with a lot, and let me tell you that all of the judgement sessions disguised as coffee dates sure didn't help -- so then I started to struggle quietly. Struggling quietly is not a thing that I really believe in or support, because it tricks us into thinking that our struggle is too deep and too messy to be brought to the table where the people in our support environments can help us sort through it all and take steps toward seeking freedom, and throw out the bits that are lies. I wasn’t doing that. I was drinking a lot, and this is the part where this conversation stops being PG-rated, and as my mom reads this...
[Hi, mom. I love you. Thank you for teaching me that grace is always a thing that is available. You usually helped me see that over tea. I have a history of being very stubborn. The tea helped immensely. Thank you for everything else you did for me did, too.]
In college, I thought I was better than everyone else because I “sinned less” -- as if that is even a thing – but then more recently I kind of threw out the whole rule book and decided that my actions didn’t have consequences if I didn’t want them to.
I don't know what you call the middle. I just…needed a minute. I don’t really know what I accomplished, per se, but right now, I’m on my back porch with my physical Bible open, instead of walking past its shelf and not feeling anything, listening to a song that makes me feel like Jesus is sitting right beside me, and we are having a chat. We haven’t really had a chat in a while. In the past, during these chats, I have felt like I am like a puppy with my tail tucked between my legs. That I'd peed on the rug, that I needed to be disciplined.
That’s not how it is today. Today, I am in the presence of God, and I feel totally calm about it. I am not nervous. He knows all the crap I’ve done already. He knows all the things I tried to replace Him with. He knew all that would happen, and he signed on for me anyway. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? So, we have just done the white as snow thing on all of that transgression stuff and we are having such a nice chat about my dreams. I am finally in tune with them again. I am curled up in my papasan chair with a baggy Anthropologie cardigan that I have stretched out beyond recognition – it will never go back to regular cardigan size – eating the strawberries off of my oatmeal. I can’t see what He is eating, but He is in the chair across from me, and y’all know that God has access to really good snacks.
I hear Him say that He loves me; that He always has and He always will, even when I did not and do not feel love for Him. He says that Maggie says hello, and that she is happy, and that she and her dad are shooting some hoops at the moment. I know that the whole God and Jesus things are not everyone’s cup of tea, but oh man. Totally my cup of tea.
I made you guys something, in case you need some songs. When I can’t do the whole Bible thing, I start with the songs.
They are songs that Mesha sang to us at that student-led worship thing we did at Wofford, called United, where I would just pray up a storm on that microphone. One is a song that I heard at a church that met in a movie theater here in Greenville. They are songs that, if I am being completely honest, and I must be, kept me alive in the first weeks after we lost Maggie. They are songs that remind me that I am doing alright.
Anyway, I've got to get back to porch time. There may be a season coming where I don't feel the sweetness of sitting out here with God eating strawberries, so I'd better soak it up while I can.