It took not getting into Harvard for me to…like…care about Jesus.
I’m sitting on my porch, eating a fried egg, drinking coffee with almond milk, and reading my Bible. Let me explain. 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? I don’t know what this means. I don’t want to think about it.
Now, about the Bible. I haven’t like read the thing in a while. We’ll go ahead and call it a year. Ish. I honestly don’t even know. I’m flipping through it now, and all of the highlights and underlines and things are from college, at least.
College. Woooo, child. Yesterday was March 31, which is the however-many-year anniversary of the day I didn’t get into Harvard. I was “supposed” to get into Harvard. It was quite 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. (Clich 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. At graduation, she gave me a little Bible. 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 needed Jesus. And now I had this Bible, full of teachings and things that 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 being praised for my brain and for academics, so I just took the Bible and intellectualized the hell out of it. I was super legalistic for a while; I didn’t drink until I was 21, and I judged the hell out of anyone who did. After I took my medical leave, I came back and changed my major to Religion and learned a lot about other religions, and my friend Peter was a little scared that I was going to convert to Buddhism for a minute. I learned a million things about ways different people interpret Biblical text, and what that led them to believe about God. I dropped a philosophy class on the second day because the professor and I got into an argument about how the presence of evil and the benevolence of God could not coexist. I was offended; I had not learned how to be objectively offended yet.
I had to learn a lot of things the hard way, is what I’m getting at. God really leveled with me, and I learned what grace was, and that I was actually an idiot for thinking I was better than anyone else for any reason at all. I was so much more concerned with knowing things about God than I was with knowing God.
And then life after college is when the shit really hit the fan, y’all. 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.
[*Side note: some people seem to think that gaslighting and emotional abuse are not “real” abuse. Do not get me started.]
That Bible sat on the dang shelf. 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.
“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 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 where I had built my identity 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 that as a result of this season, I have had bad experiences with the church, and with other Christians. People know those things because I have been vocal about them. But I don’t want to give the impression that I have given up on church, or Christianity. I have been wounded by them, certainly. And I know that other people have been, too. My Bumble profile used to say, "I love Jesus, but I'm not an asshole" because I felt like it was necessary to include that caveat. When you claim Christianity, it has been my experience that people assume things about you and your life, and they are not always positive. It can be isolating. But I don’t want to give the impression that I have traipsed into a way of thinking where I believe that my opinion is gospel.
Last year was a year where I pretty much did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. Spiritual leaders 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 put my life up for public comment a long time ago, and it's because I thought it might help some people. I was struggling, with a lot, and 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 my mom reads this.
Hi, mom. I love you. Thank you for teaching me that grace is always a thing that is available. She usually helped me see that over tea. I have a history of being very stubborn. The tea helped immensely. 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 – and 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 just needed a minute. I don’t really know what I accomplished, per se, but I’m on my back porch with my physical Bible open, like not the app, 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, I have felt like I am like a puppy with my tail tucked between my legs. I peed on the rug, I need to be disciplined.
That’s not how it is 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. It was a lot of stupid stuff, too. He knew it 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 Anthro 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 Him, but there are lots of chairs out here 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 before the big game tonight. 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.