I’ve been on a short blogging hiatus lately due to do various reason such as vacation catch up, other writing projects, and other demands. There is great stuff coming in the next few weeks. I have been working on this manuscript (and it’s QUITE LONG) the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy my testimonial and find rest and peace on this wintery Sunday.
A teardrop falls from up in the heavens
Drowning the sorrow of angels on high
For the least of the helpless, the hopeless, the loveless
My Jesus, His children, He holds in His eyes
– Jars of Clay (HE)
“Amy, put your name on the board.”
My heart pounded and I broke into a sweat. I approached the looming green chalkboard which by that point had ten or so names scribbled across it in all various sizes. Mrs. L, my first grade teacher, was not having a good day. With shaky hands, I wrote my name in a small printed format. My lips were quivering, but I was strong enough not to cry at school. The thought that kept permeating through my brain was that my perfect track record of not getting my name on the board was broken.
I was a good, follow-the-rules type girl. There were instants I should have gotten in trouble, but the teachers let it slide because of my well behaved reputation. In kindergarten I called a boy “stupid” after he scribbled on my new white shirt with a crayon. He got in trouble, but I did not. When he proceeded to tell the teacher I called him “stupid,” she interrupted him. She told him to sit down and be quiet. Because the teachers seemed to favor me, I posed a threat. Until the day I got my name on the board.
Then I felt like everyone else.
All I did was pass a newspaper clipping to Sam, the boy who sat behind me. We had to find numbers in a newspaper and we were helping one another. I really did not think it deserved my name going up on the board. Especially because I was helping somebody. I was determined to not get my name on the board ever again.
I maintained my “good girl” image well into junior high. Because I still followed all the rules, I never found myself in any large degree of trouble. Sometimes I liked the attention of being the good girl who can get into trouble when she wants to. I remember sitting in my first detention. The teacher smirked and said, “What are you doing in here?”
“I got a detention. I’m supposed to be in here,” I answered.
He laughed, “Well, ok.” It was almost like he did not believe me. Detention was a two afternoon sentence. But he waived the second day for me.
Back in those days getting in trouble was talking out of turn or being late to class. The “really bad kids” fought occasionally on the playground or used profanity. Smoking, drinking, having sex with multiple partners, drug use, or theft might have happened. It was not talked about in junior high and it was not normal in my world. In the comforts of my Christian school all those things were “bad” and we swore we would never do them. The peer pressure talks were in full force. We watched anti-drug movies and were told to save sex for marriage. I had no desire to experiment or rebel from the high moral system I was taught at home, school, and church.
I believed the secret to living for Jesus was following all the rules. If God set these standards for living, why would I step outside of them? Would I not find despair if I chose another way? Even though my faith matured significantly after junior high, I continued this pattern of thinking
As high school students mature, they are more open about their lifestyles and their choices. By senior year I realized it was not just the kids that dressed in black and showed up to class high on drugs that were experimenting. It was the cheerleaders, the honor roll students, and the popular cliques as well. It was some of the friends I used to ride bikes with in junior high school.
I sat by one of the most popular guys in art class. He was very chatty and spent the whole forty-five minutes talking about partying and all the crazy things he did while he was drunk. His parents allowed him and his friends to drink in a supervised setting. This was not a deadbeat kid who is barely passing high school. No, this kid was a church going, Bible believing charming guy. He was adored by teachers, the girls loved him, and he was an A student. As he shared about his exciting life, most of the kids sat and listened intently. It was almost like the sophomores were taking notes. One of my friends admitted she was trying to get into his crowd as if she was seeking to join an exclusive club.
There were many others like him. Part of me was jealous. Obviously I was not on the invite list to these smashing parties. They seemed to be having more fun than what I was having. If I really was living for Jesus and my social life centered around youth group, church, mission trips, Bible Study, and church drama team, why I was depressed? My “fun” seemed embarrassingly silly compared to partying. I should be happy and they should be miserable. More so they should get what they deserve—despair. Whereas I should get recognition.
But I was not getting any recognition. The teachers saw me as a face in the crowd. No one at school outside of the six people I hung out with me knew me. I always had friends and never walked the halls alone, but I was constantly lonely.
Sometimes I wondered if I filled this empty void inside of myself with youth group, mission trips, and Christian music instead of drinking, sex, or drugs. During my senior year I was selected to be the devotions leader for a Spring Break mission trip. No surprise there. I had that role for years. When I saw one of the other leaders chosen was a popular athletic jock from my high school, I almost felt like saying, “Get out of here. This is MY territory. This is my place to shine. You don’t belong here.”
But does not Jesus say the opposite. Is it not Jesus who steps outside and embrace the weak, the broken, and the sinners? Did he not call out to Zaccheus? (Luke 19:1-10) Converse with the woman at the well? (John 14:1-23) Embrace the little children on his lap? (Matthew 19:14) Did he not correct the “rule followers” and call them out on their merciless thinking? (Luke 10:25-37)
I did not get it back then. I did not understand that Christianity is not a lifestyle, but a relationship. In my first year of college I slumped into a cycle of panic and anxiety that bred depression. I needed people in my life, but my constant panic and emotions drove them away. I was no longer living at home and my high school friends were scattered all over the place. Because of changes in church membership, I no longer had a home church. It was like every inch of security was ripped out right under me. I was falling apart quickly. I could not continue on this downward spiral
I promised my roommates and my family I would go to the free counseling center on campus before I did anything irresponsible. After several counseling sessions I knelt in the corner on my dorm room with a notebook and I wrote the following:
Maybe it is time I cracked down and started talking to you…you know one of my number one faults this year has been trying to do everything on my own. And you know I have found it doesn’t work. So I just want to come to you in this noisy dorm room and tell you how much I love you. And how much I need you in my life. Or I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it through. Can you help me?
I believe that God answered, “Yes.”
Tim Keller in his book Prodigal God says the following:
“Elder brothers [those who follow all the moral standards] inability to handle suffering arises from the fact that their moral observation is result oriented. The good life is lived not for delight in good deeds themselves, but as calculated way to control their environment.” (50)
When we continue this path, we find ourselves struggling to forgive those who wrong us. We pursue judgement instead of grace. We adhere to racism and classism versus understanding. We are without love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Once I sought the Lord on that cold January afternoon, I began to pray to him on a regular basis. Slowly I began to pray for other people’s needs as they were put on my heart. I realized we are all a bunch of prodigal sons and daughters in need of Jesus. Not because we kept every single rule and showed up to church every Sunday morning. God loves us because of Jesus Christ. (John 3:16) He gave us more than what we ever deserved or could ever imagine.