Given how the events of this past week have affected my heart, I’m going to do something I’ve not done for years and share my testimony 1.
My childhood – as with many of us – was a mixture of happy, confused, angry, and sad 2.
I was part of a big extended family, and a stable home. I lived around the corner from my “Pop Pop and Mi Mi,” and a mile down the road from “Grandmother and Grandfather.” Grandmother was the matriarch of my extended clan of aunts, uncles, and cousins. And she did her best to make certain our clan was a family. We took trips to the zoo, the Franklin Institute, and even the Art Museum 3. Sundays brought family bar-b-q’s — with hours of swimming and wiffle-ball. It was a good way to grow up.
But I never really fit. My family was predominantly physical and bombastic, excelling in sports and business and thrived on being surrounded by others. I was a thinker, who enjoyed sports but would rather imagine playing out a scene of Star Wars in my head and pondering metaphysics 4. Quite, reserved, and nervous — I often felt swallowed up.
School was a nightmare. I tended to drift off down my own trails of thought, and would often miss entire lessons as I played in the world which existed inside my head. As such, I fell through the educational cracks rather early on — I was the poster child for “missed potential.” School friendships were also a struggle. I didn’t much understand social interaction, and was very sensitive to the violent relational shifts of the playground 5. I was more than a simple victim, often times I was the jerk — but I never understood why I was the jerk. What’s more, I was weird — and was cursed with actually understanding I was weird. I didn’t fit in. I wanted to fit in, but I knew the way I was wired would never allow me to do so. That’s a tough realization for a second grader.
So the older I got, the angrier I got about my plight. I was intelligent, but you’d never have known it from my grades. I felt I had something to offer to the world, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. So I slipped into convincing myself I didn’t care. It was a lie, but a ninth grader suffering from mental and emotional burnout will grasp at anything for self-preservation. My spiral continued throughout high school, with me becoming a more and more volatile person, culminating in a locker room fight in which I was beaten up and sent to the hospital.
Now, before I continue, I want to draw attention to another theme present throughout my life — the theme of faith.
My Mi Mi was a devout Lutheran, and she communicated her faith to us via the hymns she used to sing. My sisters and I went to Nursery school at Christ Lutheran Church. It was there I met my first pastor, Pastor Cobb — who even attempted to explain Communion to a group of four year olds 6.
My mother’s side of the family had a tradition of sending their male children to a Summer Camp run by a family friend. Camp Netop, in Casco, Maine, was decidely Evangelical in faith. And it was at that camp I first gained an understanding faith was something which could be lived out and not just believed.
My family returned to an Episcopal church when a priest they didn’t hate arrived, and I ended up serving altar during my tweens and early teens. It was in that church, as I watched the priest prepare the elements one Sunday, an alien thought formed in my mind, “Some day, you are going to do that.” I panicked, and remember thinking back, “No way! To do that you need to believe all this stuff 7!”
So despite my personal struggles growing up, hindsight lets me see God had been pursuing me, all along.
Nowhere did this become more evident than after that fight. My parents, who were more aware of my struggles than I ever gave them credit for being 8, brought to my attention a Mennonite high school in Lancaster County. They’d hoped to send me there for a year after I graduated from Springfield, but after the fight they realized they couldn’t wait that long. They offered to send me there for the next school year. I thought it was an excellent idea, and even decided to repeat my Junior year of High School to get some more breathing room. So, off I went to Lancaster Mennonite High School at the end of Summer — moving into the dorm on Labor Day Weekend.
Living in the dorm was possibly the best thing that had ever happened to me up to that point in my life. I was away from what came before, free to explore what I wanted to be, and responsible for making life was in order. Even better, only about 90 out of around 700 LMH students lived in the dorm 9 — which meant we were all the oddballs of campus. And, frankly, most of us “dormies” fit the bill.
LMH was a faith-based school, and so our dorm had a Bible study. At first, I wanted nothing to do with the gathering. It was not my scene. But then, one night, I heard the group singing. More than that, they were singing some of the same songs I’d learned at Summer Camp years before! So, as much as its possible for any seven-teen year old to feel feel it, I joined in out of a sense of nostalgia. It was in that Bible study several months later, during the visit of a Black Mennonite preacher from the Bronx, that the Holy Spirit began showing me both my own culpability in making my life a mess and where my deepest desires for love, purpose, and direction could be found. I broke down in tears, and was embraced by those around me. From that moment on, I’ve done my best to be a servant of Christ.
I wish I could say it’s been a never-ending scenic journey of joy and happiness — but if I wrote that you’d know it was lie. My personality quirks still remain, and much of the time I continue feel like an outsider in whatever communities I find I am a part. I’m an observer by nature, but I do try to minimize being a jerk so I can build relationships rather than my own ego. There have also been many times where I’ve confused being part of the herd with obedience to Christ, but in the end Christ’s mercy has always called me back to the cross. To kneel, repent, and rise again into a renewed journey of faith.
And to this day I can say with the Apostle Paul 10, whether in a short while or long, I do wish everyone could become as I am. A disciple of Jesus, and a servant of a kingdom which is not of this world. Amen.
- If you’ve ever been to some sort of Christian festival, or revival meeting, you might understand why I don’t share my testimony often. When several people give their testimony, people become progressively more evil as stories go down the line. The first person feels bad because they yelled at their parents or smoked a joint, by the end of the sequence the person sharing their story insists they were an ax murderer. ↩
- In other words, “Pretty typical.” ↩
- An unmitigated disaster which lives on in family legend. ↩
- I didn’t have that word when I was seven, but it’s what I was pondering, nonetheless. ↩
- What happens on the playground, stays on the playground. ↩
- He failed, but I remember the experience. ↩
- And…. the joke’s on me. ↩
- Parent’s always are. ↩
- The private Mennonite school was larger than the public school from which I’d escaped. ↩
- In Acts 26:29, to be specific. ↩