Today, I'm continuing in sharing narratives that has defined who I am today and who I'm hoping to become tomorrow.
If you haven't already, be sure to check out the first narrative I shared last week: my PCD story, as told by myself, my mom, and my wife.
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The journey hasn't been a straight line; I've often taken one step forward and three steps back. I'm also not as self-assured as many are in their beliefs; I may be wrong about many things, possibly even everything.
It's a hazardous journey, but it's worthwhile. However hazardous it may have been, though, my faith narrative is an honest search for truth, as I hope to find what I'm looking for in the end.
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As with many significant shifts in my story, the first one begins with a girl.
This girl was funny, smart, and incredibly friendly. In my eyes, we were meant to be. Naturally, I wanted to get to know her. What I didn't know is that I'd get to know her, her family, and her faith by the end of our time together.
There is one small caveat, though: this all occurred in grade school.
I was a too-smart-for-my-own-good child who had never stepped foot inside a church. I wasn't raised to believe one way or another; instead, I was simply raised to live and enjoy life. I loved reading, playing video games, and enjoying a good game of catch with my mom. I was a typical elementary-aged boy, picking on my sisters, ignoring my parents, and forming crushes on every girl I met.
So when Jenna first invited me to AWANA, a church program for children, I wanted to impress her.
"Have you ever been to AWANA before?"
The question was harmless, and in retrospect, a simple "No," would've sufficed. Unfortunately, I was prone to lying, so these are the words that escaped my mouth instead:
"Yeah! We play baseball and all sorts of games at my AWANA!"
If we were watching this journey on tape, now would be the first of many occasions necessitating a face palm. Go ahead, do it.
I'm not exactly sure how the conversation went after that - it's been nearly 15 years since then - but eventually I must have said yes, because next thing I knew, I was regularly attending church with Jenna and her family.
The church was fun, friendly, and dedicated to working with kids. It was a perfect environment for me to be introduced to my faith in. The church was of a Baptist persuasion (they've now relocated and changed their name), but that didn't matter much to me as an 8 year old. All I knew is we were playing games, I was able to spend more time with Jenna, and I was learning about a really cool guy named Jesus.
I attended AWANA at this church throughout elementary school. Jenna's family either picked me up or took me home every week. Those car rides were almost as amazing as the church itself. It was nice to be introduced to faith and to a family who surrounded me with love.
I will be forever grateful to Jenna, her parents, her brother, and her sisters. A simple question and a little love drastically changed the course of my life for the better.
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After elementary school, I stopped attending church. Jenna attended another school, and we no longer had the connection we once did. I wondered about them on occasion, but as with most middle-school boys, I was mostly focused on myself.
Middle school was a dark time in my life. It's another narrative for another day, but I was in a scary place during these years. As my mom once put it, I slept through sixth grade - I was very sick - and then in seventh and eighth grade, my naive hope was to find the girl of my dreams and be the most popular kid around.
I failed on both counts, for anyone keeping score.
There isn't much to tell about this time in my life. My faith was stalled and I wasn't interested in fixing it. I was in a dark, hopeless place, and I wasn't sure if I would make it out.
But even in the darkness, hope was present. Even if I couldn't see it, joy was pursuing me.
These years would lay the foundation for my next big step in faith.
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High school was a welcome change in my life. I needed a new environment. I needed new friends. I needed a new chance to be who I was and to become who I'd eventually want to be.
I emerged from a time of deep depression with the clearest signs of hope in years. I was meeting new people, experiencing new things, and redefining myself as a person.
And then along came... you guessed it, another girl.
At the time, I couldn't pinpoint it, but there was something about this girl that intrigued me. Maybe it was the chase. Maybe it was the mystery. Maybe it was my hormones. Either way, I wanted to get to know her and see if there was anything between us.
This girl made it clear, though, that she was a Christian. Naturally, I remembered back to my younger years and boldly declared, "Well I am too!" I hadn't a clue what that meant, but if I got a chance to go out with her, it was worth it.
Again, I had a sad propensity toward lying.
Eventually this girl invited me to church. At this point, I had visited a youth group before, but it was nothing like the one she took me to. At her church, we sang songs I could actually understand, there was more than 5 people to meet, and those people were some of the friendliest people I had ever met!
So I started attending an Assembly of God church with this girl. And for the first time, I began making my faith my own.
Somehow, before this time, I never grasped that the Bible could be understood. I didn't really think anything of the Bible, other than that preachers read it a lot. It might as well have been in French.
But for some reason, this youth pastor (whose name I never even knew) communicated its words in a way I could understand, in a way that meant something to my life. He delivered truth in a way that inspired hope within me. And at this point in my life, I still thought hope was never meant for me.
I continued attending the church for a while. I also eventually dated the girl I liked, but it didn't last more than a week or two. Eventually, I realized I needed to move on and continue making my faith my own.
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Now back in elementary school, AWANA wasn't the only reason I went to church. Sometime after I met Jenna and her family started taking me in, I also started going to church on occasion with my next door neighbor.
The draw for me here was Upward Basketball, a basketball program for youth. I loved playing basketball, so I didn't really care where it happened, as long as I was allowed to dribble, pass, and shoot a basketball. It just so happened that this all occurred inside a church.
After I grew out of Upward and my neighbor moved away, I stopped attending the church for quite some time. Somehow, though, this church stuck with me.
So when I needed to move on to a new church, to help form my own faith identity (and to move on from my ex-girlfriend), the Southern Baptist church that hosted Upward was the first thing to come to mind. My old neighbor still attended my high school, so I knew I could still go with him if I desired.
The youth group, by this point, was dwindling. The church had gone through a lot of turmoil over the previous decade, and the leadership was brand new. This church wasn't as youth-friendly as the other churches I had attended, but it was exactly what I needed at this point.
I got plugged into the youth group, and I eventually made new friends at the church, desiring to go even if my old neighbor didn't. It was during these years that I developed a lot of the foundation for my faith. I grew into a leader in the youth group and did my best to follow as Jesus led me.
Unfortunately, during my time in this youth group, I dated around a bit and burned a lot of bridges in the process. It was clear to me that my time was coming to a close with this group, but I wasn't sure what to do if I left. I knew I needed to continue growing and learning, but I didn't know how.
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Of course, along came another girl.
I met this girl through a few new friends at school. I had finally emerged from my depression and was learning to be myself around others. This allowed me to form new friendships that wouldn't have happened otherwise.
I met this girl at a concert. Luckily, Facebook was just becoming popular around this time, so I was able to look her up afterward and connect with her. We hit it off and eventually started dating.
At this point, I was still attending the Southern Baptist church I knew so well. Things were only getting worse there, though. I found myself dreading church and loathing every night I had to go there.
So naturally, I tried everything I could to make things better. I even invited this girl to visit with me, but that didn't make the night any more fulfilling. I knew something had to give.
Now I'm fuzzy on the exact details here - this has been a long journey, after all - but at some point, I decided to see what this girl's church had to offer. And it turns out I truly enjoyed my time there. I started visiting more often, but I could never quite get myself to leave my roots. I felt responsible for the youth group I was already in.
I dated this girl off and on for about a year, and after ending our relationship for the last time, I decided I needed to take a break from girls. I thought they might be the reason I was struggling so much at church, and so I started attending more regularly, hoping things would get better.
Unfortunately, they only got worse.
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And then... you guessed it. I found another girl.
It just so happened that this girl attended the same church as my ex-girlfriend, though. I had liked this girl for a while, but at this point, I was trying to distance myself from relationships; I needed to focus on my relationship with God.
And then one summer day, in the middle of my dating "fast," she sent me an instant message (yes, I'm dating myself a little, even though I'm young). She decided to give me a chance, and I couldn't pass it up.
We started dating, and I started visiting the same Christian Church again. I stuck to my roots in my old youth group for about another year, but I knew the time had come to say goodbye.
A new youth pastor was starting at my girlfriend's church, and I figured I could transition with him, help him out, and maybe find a new faith family. In retrospect, it was a ridiculous idea, but it ended up working out well.
I started attending my girlfriend's church on a weekly basis, helping lead the youth group with our new, passionate youth pastor. He took me in, loved on me, and pushed me to develop my own faith as I searched for truth.
All along, I craved what I once had back when I was younger. I didn't see it then, but I knew I wanted what I once had: a family who would love me and a faith community who would support me.
What I didn't know is that I would find everything I craved and more.
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Interestingly enough, the final piece of my faith journey (so far) still involves that same girl.
As many of you know, I married my high school sweetheart. We dated for three years and have been married for three years. And we've taken the next step in our journey together.
We experienced a lot of pain, hurt, and deceit at the Christian Church we attended during high school. Lies were told, rumors were spread, and hearts and lives were destroyed. So when we moved back into town after college, we knew we'd be looking for something different.
In college, we found a church we loved. It wasn't perfect, and we didn't agree with everything they said or did, but it was a place where we were loved and supported - again, what I'd been seeking all along.
Since then, we've been hoping to find another faith community like the one we had in Manhattan. So far, we've struggled.
We've really wrestled with the fact that we haven't been able to find a new church home. Are we terrible Christians? Are we doing something wrong? Are our standards too high? These questions plague our hearts every day.
My faith has emerged from ignorance, beginning in a small Baptist church, suffering through depression, into an Assembly of God congregation and a Southern Baptist youth group, through a couple of Christian Churches, and into our current state of church homelessness.
It's been a hazardous ride to today, but the journey has been worthwhile. Every piece has been significant. And I believe even this piece, one of wandering and church homelessness, is integral to our future.
So we keep searching, keep hoping, keep praying, and keep waiting. Because faith is worth it. Because love is worth it. Because Jesus, regardless of the hazards he takes us through, is worth it.
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Feel free to join in with your own hazardous faith story!
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Questions: What hazards has your personal journey for truth been through? What moments in your life have shaped who you are today? Where do you hope your journey eventually leads you?
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