1984 – We sing a lot of songs at my Christian school. Songs to help us remember the books of the Bible, songs that have silly motions with them, old hymns that Mrs. Montag likes to teach us. We’re getting too old for this to be cool, but when she allows us to sing Pass It On, I still get a little teary when we sing “the Lord of love has come to me, I want to pass it on.” That summer I’ll go to Creation Fest for the first time and find out that people sing songs like this in their actual church services. Every week.
1986 - I’m in trouble for wearing hot pink tights under the acolyte robe at church. I love that I get to serve the church in this way. I love the ritual of lighting the candles in a particular order. I love the symbolism in the robe and the knotted belt. But it’s the 80′s and the dress that I’m wearing has bright pink tights that go with it, so that’s what I’m wearing. After I find out that I’m in trouble, any Sunday that I’m scheduled to be the acolyte, I worry about my clothes. On weeks when I’m not serving, I wonder why it’s okay for the boys to wear ratty sneakers, but not okay for me to wear my hot pink tights. Reverence is replaced with resentment.
1987 – I’m standing in the hall with my teacher. I’m one of the girls in trouble because of the party we had at Nikki’s house that weekend. We drank beer that I didn’t like, Fuzzy Navels that I did like, and made prank phone calls. But we weren’t very good at being bad, so we called people we knew and they figured out it was us. I cry because I feel bad about letting down my parents this way. I cry because I know that as a Christian, this isn’t how I’m supposed to behave.
1988 – I’ve just graduated from my Christian school. I have gone through my confirmation class and for the first time, my faith feels like something that I’ve chosen, rather than something that I inherited. I am sitting on the side of a hill in the woods of a farm in Mt. Union, PA, listening to Roger Cooper speak about a night he spent with his father, connecting to one another in a more loving way than they ever had before. I had been on the verge of that kind of relationship with God that whole year, and this talk sealed the deal. Tears streaming down my face, I stand when Roger gave the call and I ask Jesus into my heart, not just because I’m supposed to, but because I want to.
1993 - I’m in college and I’m meeting people who aren’t just like what I’ve grown up with my whole life. I haven’t been to church in a couple of years, other than when I go home. I worship in the stairwell of the music building, improvising music with my best friend long after the rest of the students have vacated the premises. Instead of candles and incense, it smells of sweaty college students and old pizza. We don’t say words, but the notes of our prayers echo in the stillness.
1998 – The internet is new and the world is suddenly much smaller. I meet my first real atheist. I meet Christians who are gay. I meet people who think that the only real Bible is the King James Version. My views about faith are twisted around and shaken up. Doubts that have always played at the edge of my mind grow larger. My new husband and newer baby girl are reminders that there are things that are very real.
2000 – My faithfulness is questioned not by me, but by someone on the outside. My heart breaks as I second-guess my intentions. I think I’m just doing what I had been called to do, but if my pastor believes that I am idolatrous, maybe I am. The part of me that worships primarily through my instrument mostly shuts down for the next three years.
2009 – My husband and I sit crying together in our living room. He has told me that he no longer believes in God. It’s the perfect moment for me to abandon the faith that has produced pain and anger and questions. But I know that pain and anger and questions will never stop. And my memory takes me to a girl singing about a spark, and I know that the Lord of love still lives in me.