So, a kind of unsaid “new years resolution” for me has been to strengthen my relationship with God through gaining a better understanding of Jesus Christ and his teachings.
In recent years, religion has just been a difficult topic for me. I was raised Catholic. My parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles are all Catholic. I was baptized at just a few months old. I got to hold the candle in the front of church when my little brother was baptized. I went through first communion and first reconciliation in second grade. I played soccer for the Catholic church. I went to a catholic school for pre-K, and then again for 7th and 8th grade. In 8th grade I went through confirmation, and then in 9th and 10th grade I assisted as a confirmation table leader.
Thanks to my parents and my family, I have a pretty good head on my shoulders. I know right from wrong, and I stand firm to my morals. I don’t seek trouble, in fact, the though of being “in trouble” is terrifying to me. My family has always said grace before meals. I knew that being nice and being honest would get me farther than lies and being nasty.
However, I found it hard to be fully connected. I never really grasped the fact that you have to work on a relationship to sustain it, or that you have to do the work involved to get the outcome that you want. I struggled with this big time, and I still am struggling with this. I get lazy. I have the roots planted for a great foundation and relationship with Christ. But somehow, I feel as if my growth was stunted long ago.
I don’t know if this is because I felt confined in my Catholicism, or if I was overwhelmed with being that Catholic girl living in the bible belt (I have been asked if I have been “saved” more times than I can count, and each time, I just get confused and laugh… yes?) I felt terrified of my sins, not that I had done anything terrible, but mainly, I just felt that I didn’t do anything that was really THAT good. I didn’t necessarily ever believe that by confessing my sins to a priest would ever absolve me.
As a child- I remember saying my prayers before I went to bed. I remember just KNOWING that Jesus loved me, that I had angels watching over me, etc. I felt so safe in this fact when I was young. So safe, that I still remember vividly, when I truly felt God’s love around me.
I had this habit when I was 4-5 years old of jumping off of my top bunk onto a bean bag chair on the floor below. It was a game to me, I was a fearless little kid. It wasn’t really even jumping, it was more soaring/belly flopping. It was soooo much fun. But this one time I climbed the ladder to the top bunk and leaped off, and instantly realized that the beanbag I was aiming for was too far away and I was about to bust face HARD, probably breaking at least one bone. But instead of panicking, I remember turning my head to the right, gazing over at my dresser and focused in on this little elephant lamp that I used to have. I swear to you, time froze. It was for maybe 0.0001 of a second, but time stopped, and when it restarted, I kind of floated downward, as if I was being placed lightly onto my beanbag. It was like someone had a grip on the back of my shirt and moved the beanbag so I would have a gentle landing. I never saw a great flash of light, I didn’t really even know what happened, because I was only 4. But someone was looking out for me.
I have had other instances too, like 3 months after getting my license and not realizing that you’re supposed to yield while turning left on a green light and letting out a scream as I realizing that a car was speeding right at me, and I pressed my foot to the ground and gunned it through the intersection. I swear I missing a collision by inches, but I felt my car glide through, as if it were being pushed by some other force driving it. Again, I felt so thankful for being safe.
But I haven’t been thankful enough. As I said. I have been lazy. I never owned a bible growing up. I wasn’t familiar with how to read a Bible, I wasn’t familiar with the books, the readings, and His word. I only half listened to the gospels in mass, but I never really got it. I just knew the main stories, like the Christmas story, and the story of how Jesus was persecuted under Pontius Pilate.
In middle school my life changed. I became a selfish girl. It started when I went to the public middle school, Southwest. I was supposed to have been placed in the honors class, where a lot of the kids that I went to elementary school with along with a lot of the kids from my neighborhood. But that class filled up, and I was quickly exposed to a class whose teachers thought that we weren’t as bright or as worthy as other students. All around me girls were getting boyfriends, talking about how much they wanted to get their periods and have sex. And they were 11! I felt so embarrassed and ashamed of myself and my body at that time. I started my period when I had just turned 10, right at the beginning of 5th grade. My body was more developed than most of the other girls my age, and while I was still small and petite, I just felt awkward and ugly and overexposed to these girls who were showing their bodies off when I knew they were WAY too young. I even remember a girl who sat in front of me in class cutting herself daily. One time she showed me how she carved the word “boys” into her arm. I am still haunted by that image. I remember being bullied for being a “goody two shoes.” In band, I remember crying because these girls were picking on me, I don’t even remember why. Eventually I started lying to my family and those around me, living in my own story land in order to get ANY sort of attention. I stopped enjoying going outside, I found chatting on the computer to be more fun, at the time. I regret that now. I went through 4 different teachers that year in 6th grade. That year my relationship with my siblings also started to change. I had once been extremely close to my middle sister, Hillary, but I started to shut her out, getting annoyed with everything that her and my younger sister, Janelle did. Even my little brother didn’t seem to like me, and I seemed to always be getting yelled at for having an attitude. I was completely miserable. This is when the hatred for my body started, and I began shutting out others in order to attempt to control my body. I loved food, but i loved control. The eating disorder started slowly… more of an attempt to fill a void. It was very subtle for a long time.
In 7th and 8th grade my parents switched me to the Catholic school. It wasn’t a great experience, but It wasn’t as bad as Southwest, I admit. I could be myself more, I could be goofy. But even though I was at a catholic school, I had no motivation for school or for learning or for friends. I just wanted to get to high school.
Then I got to high school. I had my friends. I wasn’t “popular” but i wasn’t unpopular. I was just kind of there. I was still trying to figure out my body and how to dress and accessorize it. Pinterest wasn’t around back then, and being the oldest of my siblings and overall just clueless, I feel like I tried to be stylish but didn’t always “get it.” I felt as if I could just figure out how to make my hair look right, if I could have that perfect relationship with a boyfriend, if I could have those giggly girl-talk sleepovers, that I would be happy. I joined chorus, and since I wasn’t athletic (looking back, I probably could have been, i was just too terrified to try out for cheerleading or soccer) I decided to be a basketball manager in order to get out of school early. I then became a student athletic trainer, and I loved that, but even then, I lacked motivation. I still had this battle going on with myself, coupled with silly high school dramas and fears. I didn’t care about going to church. I didn’t even THINK about God that much during high school, other than helping with confirmation during 9th and 10th grade. My struggles with my body image was there, and my friends knew about it, however, I remained in control of my weight and was able to keep it a secret from my family.
I came to college very sheltered, but at the same time, I felt like “this could FINALLY be my chance. I could finally have that group of girls like on the movies. I could finally fit in.” But I tried too hard. I threw myself into so many clubs and tried to hang out with people, drink, go to parties, as well as go to Catholic Campus Ministries. The pressures of everything was getting to be too much. I ended up quickly losing 10lbs my first semester of college. Then I started passing out all the time, and ended up in the hospital during exam week my freshman year. And I lied to everyone, saying that I didn’t know WHAT the problem was. I returned to school the next semester feeling more defeated than ever, and though I started seeing a therapist, I still felt as if I had already messed everything up too much. I felt as if I was already a lost cause. Finally my sophomore year of college my parents found out what was going on and gave me a 4 day warning to pack my bags and come home.
I went home and worked first at a bookstore for a year and then at Holy Angels, a residential facility for individuals with severe and profound disabilities for a year, and finally I decided that I needed to get back to school. That was my goal. I just had to get back. I cared about getting a career, about meeting friends again, and about hopefully maybe finding a boyfriend.
I have been back at Meredith College for almost 2 years now. I had to repeat my sophomore year last year. I met some really great girls right off the bat and was lucky to feel as if I FINALLY belonged. I was more motivated with school my grades.
Finally, this past year I finally let my guard down. I started to open up and show more of who I am, and the honesty was freeing. I didn’t have to hide behind this mask anymore. I found that people loved me for me. Now I just needed to work on fully loving myself. But how do I do that?
A good friend of mine has begged me over and over and over countless times for over a year to come to church with her. And over and over and over I have avoided it. I was terrified of going to a different church, not because I was scared of it not being Catholic, but because I just wasn’t sure my heart was ready. I believe that Church is church. You can have church in a canoe if you really wanted. I also believe that the love of Christ comes from within. I believe that church is wonderful, but I don’t believe that I am going to be condemned to hell for not going.
My good friend never gave up on me, she texted me every week inviting me to church among other things. She even bought me my own bible and got my name embossed in it along with a daily devotional, Jesus calling. It was amazing! She recently started going to FCA (fellowship of christian athletes) and after some slight begging, she got me to join her. I also joined her in going to a non-denominational church for the first time as well. I was really worried with FCA because I am not an athlete, but I quickly learned that that wasn’t the point. I went on the FCA retreat and my eyes were opened to so many positive people around me who were all actively sharing and believing in the love that God has for us. It was such a cool thing to be apart of, and to witness people truly believing, not just going through the motions.
I don’t think i am not going to give up on my catholic roots. I was born catholic, my family is catholic, and much the history of christianity is deeply rooted on the catholic foundation and has branched off from there. But I have found that this is an individual journey. This is about me and Him. I don’t have to be so confined. Right?
In last week’s FCA meeting with NC State (meeting in the second story of the Cameron Village Chick-Fil-A) they said “you can’t achieve a horizontal love with another person until you focus on that vertical relationship.” That has stuck with me so much, along with this verse read aloud by my Huddle Leader, Cameron, at the FCA retreat. Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still.”
I realize that since middle school I have been fighting with myself. I have constantly been battling with being unsure whether or not I will ever be happy, find a job, find a boyfriend, be pretty enough, smart enough, good enough. I have come to the realization that i AM enough. Because God loves me. Jesus died on a cross for my sins. So how could my sins be so great that I couldn’t be forgiven? How could my time of laziness and lack of motivation be ignored?
“The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still.” –Yesterday it snowed here in Raleigh. We got about 1/4 of an inch, the ground was too warm for much to stick, even though the snow fell in big, fat flurries the whole day long. I decided to go for a walk. I layered up, two pairs of socks, leggings under leggings, t-shirt, sweatshirt, scarf, northface, hat, and those cool touch-tech gloves that allowed me to use my camera and iphone easily. I went down to Meredith College’s amphitheater and was completely by myself. I stood on a bridge as snow fell all around. I stood there for a long time, watching the geese and feeling the snowflakes melt on my face.
I know that God loves me. He created me. He created all of these beautiful things around me. I can’t let myself be distracted with feeling like i’m not good enough. I know that it is still going to be a battle, but I now know that I’m not fighting it alone.