It was 1993. I was in my second year of college, Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" was at the top of the charts, Dubya's Daddy was ending his run as President, Bevis & Butthead premiered on MTV and my life was about to be forever changed. Up until then, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I knew what was what...and I was none too happy about it. Truth be told, I wanted a one way ticket out of life as I knew and understood it. It is said "once you are born, you begin to die", but for me, it was more like, "once you wake up, you begin to think about dying". The finality of death was like the happy ending of a fairy tale for me. In my blissful enjoyment of the idea of being "done" with all the hurt and disappointment of my life, I failed to think about how incomplete such "happy endings" are. The story, the people in them, the consequences of their actions don't stop with "the end".
But, as I daydreamed about my end, I didn't think about any of that. And the more I didn't think about any of that, the more appealing my end became.
Since I'd rejected the idea of any sort of God at the tender age of 13, I didn't have any thoughts of eternity to give me guilt. Since I was young and stupid, I didn't think about how my death might effect anyone else on the planet. So, I thought and daydreamed and planned and plotted, and yet, never followed through.
Enter Dr. Simon's English Lit Class, Milton's Paradise Lost, and a tiny girl with huge hair.
During one of our classes, Dr. Simon opened things up for discussion on the ideas Milton presented in Paradise Lost. Being the know-it-all that I was, I felt it was my duty, nay, my moral imperative, to enlighten these poor souls to the truth. So, I drug out my proverbial soap box and proceeded to explain why and how I was certain that God did not create man...man created God. After the class, the tiny girl with huge hair approached me and invited me to lunch. I was certain she was looking to plumb the depths of my insight and wanted to hear more about the revelation I just shared with the class. On the contrary, once we arrived at the cafeteria, she proceeded to tell me about Jesus. Though this Jesus she talked about wasn't like the one I learned about growing up and dismissed at 13, and though some of what she said was compelling and appealing to me, I argued with her. On every point. Vehemently. Because that's what I did. Because I was right. Because I had to be right. Because of science and stuff.
After about 3 hours of this, we said goodbye, but not before she gave me some little booklets she intended to mail to her boyfriend. "You need them more than he does." She said.
I took her little booklets home and looked at them for a while. I looked up at my bookshelf and saw the words "Holy Bible" jump out at me. To this day, I have no idea where that Bible came from. Honestly. I shed any vestiges of religion (save the rosary my grandma gave me when I made my communion) when I shed my flimsy faith in the god of my childhood. I reached up for it, my head spinning, thoughts racing, thinking back over when I packed my books and unpacked them and who in the dorm visited my room with books, trying to figure out where it came from. I laid it on my desk and thought back to the last time I read the bible. It was when I was 13. It was when I was in catechism classes for my confirmation. I had so many questions. So much of what I read didn't fit with what I was being taught. So much of what I was being taught seemed utterly contrary and/or irrelevant when compared to what I was reading. I asked questions. I got no answers. And, so, I did what any sensible person would do...I decided it was all a lie.
Yet, here I was, years later, wondering...was I wrong? I was young. It was possible that I just didn't get it then.
I looked at the booklets and began reading. When I came to a passage from the Bible, I looked it up. Then I read the verses around the cite from the booklet. It fit. It made sense. It agreed. Unlike the time I took my catechism lesson and put it next to the little Bible I'd won in a poster-making contest at church. I remember that feeling vividly to this day. Growing up in church, seeing the Priest read from and bow before and even kiss the Bible, I assumed the teachings that were instilled in us had their roots there. But, when I read my little poster-making award Bible back then, I saw that wasn't the case. My face got hot. My insides felt shaky...like when you try to press two magnets together on the wrong side. I got angry. I felt lied to. But, when I read the booklet, I found that what I read, the ideas it was putting forth, had its source and/or confirmation in the Bible.
I liked that.
Over the course of the next few months, I gave church a try again, I read the booklets and the mysteriously appearing Bible often, and I asked my tiny friend with the big hair many questions. But, soon, I was right back at 13 again. Right back to feeling the resistance of the magnets. Right back to feeling like the whole religion thing was all made up and a lie.
I didn't know I was right, but only partly.
The following summer, my friend with the big hair and I wound up living and working in the same dorm.It didn't take long for us to start talking about Jesus and the Bible again...and for me to assume my know-it-all/soap boxy/argumentative position. After all, I reasoned, I did question myself and give it all a try again, and came to the same conclusion. But, my friend was persistent. Annoyingly so. Yet, I continued to go back for more. I even took to cooking her dinner so we could talk longer. Then, one day towards the end of the summer, after weeks of debating and searching the Bible to formulate more arguments and find holes in the philosophy, my friend suggested I just go and read, much like I did after our three hour lunch...not to write a position paper and prove myself right, but to see what it has to say, plain and simple.
So, I did.
I went upstairs to my private dorm room, closed the door, grabbed the mysteriously appearing bible off of my shelf, plopped onto my bed, and read. Just read. Wherever the Bible opened. That night, for me, it was The Book of Ruth. I read the whole thing and found myself sobbing at the end. I'd always been a spiritual person. Growing up, I'd leave church humming the songs and/or thinking about the words that were spoken. Even after I'd dismissed the notion of god and religion, I was still spiritually inclined, still somehow yearning for something, anything, bigger than myself. I tried astrology, mysticism, the occult...nothing penetrated. Nothing moved me or spoke to me or gave me hope like my time in the little Book of Ruth that night. It spoke to me of a God who is ever present, who is loving and caring for His people even when they aren't acting like His people, and who works even tragedy and poor choices into something good and glorious. In truth, I didn't think through all of that, I just felt in my soul in that moment. And it was simply, a moment. I reached the end of the book, tears streaming down my face, and promptly rolled over, turned my face upwards and, with staggered breath said "Ok. Do what you gotta do."
That was my "salvation prayer". With those few and unorthodox words, I surrendered my life to Christ. They encapsulated all that I had read and my friend had shared with me about sin and my need for a savior and Christ's sacrifice on the cross. They were my emotional/intellectual/spiritual "amen" at the end of months of arguing and resisting and talking and testing the waters and wrestling with myself.
The next morning, I woke up and didn't begin to think about dying.
That would make a good place for "The End"...but it really was just the beginning. I'll share what came after in Part II. Stay tuned!