My Faith Story…In Pieces

Where do I begin telling my faith story? It’s come together from so many little bits and pieces over the years. If you’re interested understanding the life experiences that shaped my now-faith, then here they are, in the shortest version I could possibly tell them, which is still pretty long:

  • I grew up with a mom who I somehow knew believed in God, but she never went to church except when there was a funeral. Later I found out it was because she thought that churches just wanted to take your money. We did go to church on Easter Sunday together one time, and everyone there seemed happy to see us, even though it was obvious we were “outsiders.” I wasn’t sure why everyone was so happy to see us, but I thought it must have something to do with my mom giving them money.
  • When I was 8, some neighbors (a churchy-family) took me with them to church. My mom was excited for me to go but I never knew why. In Sunday school, I listened intently to what I remember being a really cool story. I raised my hand to ask a question. Then another, and another. I figured the “school” part meant that the rules were the same as regular school. They apparently weren’t. I learned that day, without a word from the Sunday school lady, that questions had no place in Sunday school. They just got you really annoyed looks from grown-ups. No more Sunday school for me.
  • Throughout elementary and middle school, the only people I knew who regularly went to church were weird. Like don’t-have-many-friends and never-wear-cool-clothes weird. I never did wear cool clothes, but I did have a lot of friends, and they were hard enough to get in the first place, so I wasn’t about to screw that up by being churchy or something.
  • In high school I did a lot of drugs. Not proud of it, it’s just a fact. I hung out with a lot of older people with really “open minds” who said that organized religion was stupid and that we could learn more about ourselves by exploring on our own. Cool. I was the artistic druggie girlfriend, so I figured I’d better keep my mouth shut about god stuff and get on with exploring, because that went with the territory. (FYI: I figured out that “exploring” is also how babies are made.)
  • Sometime during my high school adventure, a close relative went from being a person I looked up to and couldn’t wait to be just like, to a “Christian” person. I wasn’t particularly upset with her newfound religion, although I didn’t quite understand why it meant that all of a sudden she started wearing homely clothes and no makeup, when she used to be gorgeous and fashionable. Still don’t get that one. Moving on…
  • Shortly after that, for some ungodly reason (no pun intended), that same now-churchy relative came home and excitedly told me about something she learned from a fellow church-goer. She just couldn’t wait to show me how the bible “proved” that AIDS was a punishment for gay people because of their wayward lives. Um, gross. Why in the world, exactly, did you think I’d be excited about hearing something like that? And if that were so, then you better go tell god that he screwed something up because more heteros now have AIDS than those poor gay folks. I’m pretty sure that’s when I started despising this god that I wasn’t allowed to ask questions about.
  • By the time I started taking classes in college, I was onto a new type of exploring along with that…uh, other type. I was learning about all sorts of things. Because I (surely) have undiagnosed ADD,  it took me a long time to decide on a major, so in order to keep getting my financial aid, I took all kinds of weird classes. Women’s history, cultural diversity, European art, forensic anthropology, and best of all: comparative religion. Learning about cultures and religion/faith is what I loved most, and the details about various religious practices all fascinated me. But learning about these religions was mostly like reading a travel brochure for a faraway place to me… Interesting, but I’ll probably never actually go there myself.
  • Around the same time I met a great professor who I became close with. He was very encouraging and challenged me to question and learn all I could. He hooked me up with some photography gigs at his church and even asked me to do some photographs for a book he was publishing. I started to look up to him as a fatherly-type person in my life. He was also the director of education at an all-black church in my city, which I visited several times for photography jobs. That church was the first one I’d ever stepped foot in where the people actually seemed like they liked being there. Actually, they seemed to love it (Which between this experience and Alice Walker’s writing, made me pretty sure that black people were the only ones who really knew anything about faith. Yet another reason it sucked to be white.) I opened up to my professor with some faith-questions I’d had, and he began to talk with me about these things. I met his sweet wife and they talked to me about the bible and Jesus. I began to really think there might be something to this faith thing. Then one day out of the blue,  he asked me when I thought I’d be ready for our relationship to move to being “more than friends.” I asked him to clarify what he meant, thinking that surely I had misunderstood somehow. He explained (in his words) that God has given us so much love that it cannot be contained to just one person or one relationship. He said he and his wife had an “open” relationship and he was looking forward to sharing another kind of love with me. (Uh, see “exploration” above.) I didn’t know much about this god thing, but I was pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with “loving” my 40-something professor in new ways. He did, however, blatantly reaffirm the message that I was pretty much only good for one thing (again, see “exploring” above.) Thus endeth my faith baby-steps at the time.
  • Later during college sometime, I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Some parts of that novel made me think about this god stuff in a new way for the very first time. It was the first time I remember thinking that maybe I would be able to un-hate my idea of god or whatever was out there… It was the first time I didn’t think of God as a big, white, angry old scorekeeper. Maybe I was good for more than just one thing. Hmmm….
  • Several years later I met my friend Jeff. He was smart, fun, kind, drank cool beers, traveled, snowboarded, etc… You can’t get much cooler than that. We worked together and became great friends. We spent a lot of time together and we always had the best talks about everything and nothing. He was the only guy friend I ever had who was straight AND didn’t try to sleep with me. Ever. I thought that was a little weird but it was so refreshing that I loved it. And another weird thing…he was a Christian but he wasn’t a whack-job. He knew I wasn’t a Christian and that I wasn’t even sure I believed in God but he still never tried to push his beliefs on me. This dude was strange in a good way. Did the God thing have something to do with it?
  • Several years later, Jeff got a new job and moved to the western part of the country, but we still kept in touch all the time. Still had the same talks, just bigger phone bills. After a particularly crappy year of my life (self-induced of course) I had been thinking about the faith stuff again and pushed him to have a conversation with me about his beliefs, because I knew he would be honest. He didn’t want to get into a debate where he would say something that made me feel bad, but I pushed him into a corner by asking pointed questions about heaven and hell and being a good person and such. I asked him if he really thought I was going to go to hell when I died just because I’m not a good enough person. I mean, hey, I’d never killed anyone, and I didn’t steal (anymore) and I even volunteered from time to time. That’s gotta get my foot in the door, right? I mean, we all can’t be Mother Teresa, even God must know that. To that he said, very soberly and matter-of-factly: Krysten, I don’t think you’d go to hell because you’re not a good person. I think you’d go to hell because you don’t believe in Jesus. My throat went completely dry. I didn’t even know how to respond to that. Even though we’d never ended a discussion upset with each other over our opinions, I hung up the phone so angry that night I couldn’t believe it.
  • For the next several days, I stewed over this. What would drive him to say that to me? I know that he cared about me, so it didn’t make sense to say something so definitive that would likely hurt my feelings. He didn’t even offer an explanation. He just said it like it was common knowledge. I knew that he actually believed in what he had said, not only because he was just an honest person, but because it was so difficult for him to say. So there were only two explanations: He had been brainwashed by something like a cult, or he truly believed in something bigger and higher and more important to him than I could even understand. So I decided…definitely cult.
  • I had a new quest from that moment. I set out to read the bible in order to prove my friend was in a cult. I tried to read the Gideons bible I’d stolen from a hotel party several years back, but I couldn’t understand the language. Later I read a different translation that I understood better,  but still couldn’t find the “proof” I was looking for to show him that he had clearly been brainwashed. While I was working my diabolical plan to flip his faith upside down, he just kept on believing in Jesus and being his regular, awesome self.
  • After a while I became frustrated at not being able to decipher how the bible was making him into a lunatic (a lot of it was actually making some sense to me…so I figured there had to be something else to all this business) so I decided I had to go into enemy territory…church. I figured that there must be something else going on there that made my friend into a brainwashed person who would hurt a friend’s feelings while spouting his beliefs. That was the only explanation, right?
  • After visiting a few churches whose only crime seemed to be unattractive color schemes and boring music, I decided to give in to a relative’s nagging invitation to visit her church. This was a place I had been once as a teenager and did not like. I dreaded it. But finally I relented and decided to just get it over with so she’d leave me alone about it. I told her I would go with her that next Sunday. With a sad look in her eye, she explained that she wouldn’t be there that weekend because of some other plans. Bummer. I was elated that I wouldn’t have to go but now could at least say that I’d “agreed” to visit her church. That Saturday night I went out to the club, as usual. I stumbled into my apartment still half-drunk around 3am. Just before I collapsed into bed, I saw the answering machine blinking. I hit the button and heard that same relative’s voice telling me that her plans had changed, that she actually would be at church tomorrow after all, and was hoping I would still be able to join her there. Yeah right, I will be hungover tomorrow, I thought, as I passed out.
  • The next morning, I woke up promptly at 9am without an alarm clock. I was wide awake. This was a miracle in itself because I worked second shift and always slept until noon. I remembered the invitation to come to church. I did not want to go but since I was awake and wasn’t even hung over, I decided to just get it out of the way so I wouldn’t have to hear her bugging me about it later. I showered, put on my only skirt, and hesitantly met her at the church.
  • When I walked through the door that day, there was a sea of people. Out of nowhere, a man I had never seen looked me straight in the eye and smiled like I was his own sister he hadn’t seen forever. He grabbed my hand and said “I am SO GLAD you are here today! I have been praying that you’d come to church!” I know it sounds a little cheesy, but he was so genuine that I felt a warm comfort for some reason.
  • I do not remember what the preacher talked about that day. No clue. I don’t know what the songs were about, although I do know the music was not my style. But what I do remember was that at the end, when the service seemed to be wrapping up and I should have been thinking about how to make an inconspicuous exit, I was overwhelmed by a feeling I don’t even know how to describe. I don’t know what it was, but I felt like something inside my chest was literally going to explode if I didn’t go to up to the front of that church and pray. Pray? PRAY?? How? To what? To who? Yeah, tell me about it. I don’t know what that was about either. I didn’t even know what praying really meant. But I walked up, got down on the ground and cried and talked to God until the exploding feeling was gone. There were two things I know for sure about that day:  when I stood up from the altar, after praying for the first time in my life, I knew I was a different person. I felt lighter, brighter, more…whole. And I knew that it was Jesus who had changed me from that yucky exploding-inside feeling into the peaceful, complete person I now knew I was.
  • Since that day I have been on a journey of learning and seeking and growing that far surpasses any other thing I’ve ever done in my life. Not only do I know that there is a life after this and that I get to spend it with my Creator, but I know that there is more life here on earth for me, more than I ever could have seen or experienced without God in my life.
  • Now I am part of an incredible church family of regular, messed-up people who are being changed all the time by Jesus. We are a funky bunch, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As my pastor often says, God has changed the price tags on everything in my life. The things I used to think were THE point of life are just a waste of time to me now. And things I’d never even given much thought are the most valuable to me. No matter where I live, what job I have, how much money I make, or who I am with, all I want to do is to show the love of Christ to those around me. I want to bring a little bit of His light into the dark, ugly parts of this world. I want to speak life into people’s hearts and circumstances instead of bringing more death. I want the people I interact with to look at me and think that there’s just something a little different about me. I want them to know that thing is Jesus living through me. That is the most important thing in my life. And that is where my faith story has brought me thus far.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5:14-16

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