Ten years ago, I was 14 and had just started to make new friends at my new school whom I had joined in a common love for singing and playing instruments. That was the year that I realized what a good school actually consisted of. Before that, I was living in one of the worst parts of Worcester and trudged through Clark University every day to walk to a school that made me feel very small, as I was probably the only white girl in my entire grade. This new place had a marching band, a winter percussion, a choir, and a drama club, all of which I was very eager to get involved with. (Needless to say, it was a very quiet, very small, very "white" town... you get the idea)
If you ask me today how I made friends, I would tell you that I don't. I happen to meet people that become my friends because of work and all of the projects I get involved with, and now that I'm a mature adult I know how to not be incredibly awkward and obnoxious towards them. If you had asked me ten years ago how I made friends, I would also tell you that I didn't. Though I would say that I was always trying to.
There was a girl in my new school that seemed to be popular and had a lot of friends. Her name was Anjela, and she was a senior while I was in eighth grade. She was very nice to me, and I decided that hanging out with her must be the factor in getting me friends. I was right. She invited me to come to church with her, and I went to youth group with her very Sunday night where I suddenly and magically had friends. I was so happy, and so was my mother that I wasn't getting into trouble. It was a win/win.
A couple of weeks later, she asked me if I would go on a mission trip with the youth group and some adult members of the church. They were going to help some people down in Texas with a rebuilding. I thought, "Sure, I like helping people. I don't know what this God stuff is all about, but I'll play along if it means I'm helping out and hanging out with my friends." It happened during February vacation, and on day one of arriving at the site I knew that something very strange was going on.
A SMALL BACKSTORY...
When I was eight years old, my sister whom I shared a bedroom with, had told me that I could die at any age. When I said that babies couldn't die, she laughed in my face. Of course my mother had told me that you could only die when you're old! Why wouldn't she?! That's what you tell little kids so their whole world doesn't come crashing down on them when they start asking questions about reality. Of course, then my world came crashing down on me anyway since I was convinced there was no way I could get sick and die of something at age eight!
I started having night terrors, and went into a deep depression. There was this awful fear in my daily life that I was going to croak and I would end up in darkness, in nowhere. My mother had never told me anything about God, so I was terrified! I even told my mother that there was no God. God wouldn't kill little kids. -- She really didn't like that. I wasn't entirely sure I did either.
A few months later, it was March. Springtime was starting to emerge, and the rains came. I woke up in sweats, breathing hard after another dream. I had a nightmare that a church had burned down, and all I saw was the plot of land, the fencing around it, the ashes in a strange almost-church-like shape with smoke coming from them and burning embers at the edges. There were two people there, a man and a woman, both crying into their sleeves and holding each other. The man looked up into the sky in tears while his wife wiped her nose. Then I woke up.
I'm 14, going on a mission trip with my new-found friends. We got off of the plane, into our hotel, and the next morning arrived at the site we were going to be helping. As I looked around, I had a strange feeling of familiarity. This feeling that I had been there before would not stop nagging at me. Then the pastor and his wife came from their car to greet us. It was that moment that I realized, it was them that I had seen in my dream 6 years before.
In March of 1997, the Olive Branch Church at Woodforest in Houston, TX burned down. Whether it was to due with race, atheism, or just a crazy arsonist getting ahold of some matches, I never found out. What I did know, was that after speaking with the pastor my dream had not only told me about an event that had probably happened that day, but it had told me the future.
"I've been here before," I said. He was just short of shell-shocked when I explained to him this dream that suddenly came rushing forth to the front of my memory. I told him I recognized the shape of this brand-new building, and all the bushes, fencing, and sidewalks around it. I knew who he and his wife were, down to the outfits they had worn in my dream.
"This isn't where our church burned down," he said. "Our church burned down a few miles that way (he pointed) God must have shown you where we were meant to rebuild, because we only bought this land 2 years ago."
It was that day that I decided my faith in God's mere existence, could never be shaken.
FAST FORWARD AGAIN...
I will fully admit that I went through a lot of trial and error just like any other person. In high school I was boy crazy, and in college I was horribly depressed, drank a lot, and was also boy crazy. Over the years I've tried to make friends with people that were probably never going to be my friends. I've felt like I was two different people, drinking 5 nights per week in my sorority house and then teaching a bible study and being vice president of Navigators on my off time. Some critics may even wonder how I could say I was "really a Christian" when I wasn't always leading the lifestyle that others believed I should, that the bible technically says that I should...
I did a lot of stupid things when I was constantly searching for approval, and when I was in college I hated myself. I hated anyone that tried to tell me what to do, and I hated feeling trapped in the middle of nowhere when I just wanted to start my life, have a boyfriend, I wanted girls to stop being bitches, I wanted my peers in the theater program to accept me into their cliquey group, and I wanted to feel like I was good enough; for anyone, really.
I've had friends that hated gays, and I've had friends that hated God. There are times when I hear people say hurtful things about someone that barely sinned, and "sinners" that are driven away from ever stepping foot inside a church or a temple or a "whatever" because they are so turned off by extremists and judgment. I go to a UCC church where we accept everyone, and I am so unbelievably proud to be there every Sunday with others that love and accept and lead what non-church-goers deem a "normal" life since we're not picketing Planned Parenthood and we're just spiritual persons.
What I have now is a much better attitude towards myself, a professional career that I have to hustle and work my ass off for, way better friends and much more solid friendships with a few of those that survived college with me, and an amazing boyfriend. The path that we walk on can be very crooked and terrifying. I know that without an unstoppable faith that God was at least holding my hand when I was crying about how miserable I was, threatening to kill myself or fighting an eating disorder, (both due to feeling so unloved) I would not be where I am today. I kept repeating mistakes and patterns, but I never gave up on the fact that someone/something was looking out for me and continuing to keep me here for a reason. Now that I stopped being so self-involved, indulgent, and wallowing in my own morbid reflection all the time, I'm finally where I need to be at for at least a "mostly" happy and fulfilling life.
I guess my point is that one day in Texas, that was my moment that kept me going, kept my engine from running out of fuel, right up until today. It will continue to keep me going through all the shitty times in my life, and I can only hope that other people's journeys even come close to finding that moment. It was the moment that spoke to me and continued to speak for ten years by saying,
"I'm listening to you, even when you were a child saying prayers in the middle of the night to the moon because you didn't know who else to say prayers to.
I'm here for you, when your heart is broken to pieces and you feel like that man was your only chance at happiness.
I'm holding you, when your body is being abused from this vicious cycle and you don't think you're beautiful unless you starve.
I'm looking out for you, when you cry out against people that don't accept you and you don't think you'll ever have better friends.
I'm healing you, when you're strong enough to stand on your own two feet I will keep you there.
I'm loving you, so you will always be loved."