Tomorrow, I start my new job as the Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church, and I couldn’t be more excited! But to be honest had you told me this would be my first job out of college, I would have laughed in your face, burst out in tears, and then ran away to go cry myself to sleep in bed.
See, I had this problem of running away from my calling. More specifically, I had a hard time embracing the person that I am. It started pretty young. When I was in elementary school, I was bullied. The “friends” I did have could become my worst nightmare at any point in time. No matter how hard I tried to change who I was or be who they wanted me to be, they always pushed me around, making me struggle to find my place.
Next came middle school and a new school district. Here, I found people who liked me, but I always wanted to be a part of the popular crew. However, it is really hard to penetrate a circle of friends who had been together for literally years when you are the new kid. Also, I lacked the “in” clothing of American Eagle, Aeropostale, and Hollister. I constantly longed to be someone who they would want to like, hence trying to make myself someone who I was not.
High school was much better. I began to find my confidence or so I thought. I was involved in activities that fit my interest and found my group of nerdy, awkward friends who I will forever cherish. But high school is where I developed the idea that no one would ever like me if I was too involved with religion or made that my vocation.
In 2009, I went to a conference called Covenant High in Christ, CHIC for short. At the conference, the idea struck me that I would be involved in ministry in my life. During that muggy week in Knoxville, TN, I embraced this new feeling and owned it. But coming home, I lost that confidence. There was no way people would like me if they found out learning and talking about religion was my passion. In fact, they would think I am weird and stop being my friend.
Also, it definitely wasn’t cool to be a Christian. I mean Christians are terrible people who wreak havoc on the world, destroy other people and their sense of self, and wish to have absolutely no fun, right? I didn’t want to be associated with people who made others feel uncomfortable for the beliefs they had or who shamed others. That’s not how I saw Christianity. In my mind, Christianity was a radical love for our neighbors that casts all of our own judgements aside. But the judgmental Christianity was the only Christianity I saw around me.
So when I went to college, I was disenchanted, angry at the world, and mad that “Christians” could be such terrible people. I spent the next year and a half successfully running away from my calling, religion, and anything that had to do with the church. I went to church a couple times, just to tell my parents that I went or just because I had too. It was easy to fake that I still liked church. However on the inside, I was dying, yearning for something other than faking it, and searching for a religion that was more than just following the rules to get into heaven.
Then my sophomore year, I saw a sign for a spring break trip to Mexico that was only $400! I didn’t care what organization it was through. It was a freakin’ $400 trip to Mexico, so I was determined to go. Little did I know, this trip would change the course of my life wether I liked it or not.
On this trip, I met people who were passionate about service and loving other people for who they were. The faculty mentor for the trip subtlety challenged my idea of what I thought it was to be a Christian. Today, that faculty member is one of my biggest mentors and the reason why I have the job at First Presbyterian Church.
Coming home from Mexico, I became more involved in Campus Ministry Commission (CMC) as the co-coordinator for Justice Journeys. This was a group of people who loved God, truly cared about other people, but never were in your face if you didn’t believe exactly what they believed. All of the people that I have met through CMC are part of the reason I began to embrace who I truly am.
Come March of my junior year in college, I hit rock bottom. I was the most broken and miserable I had ever been. My then boyfriend of three and a half years broke up with me. I was absolutely devastated. Without realizing it, I had built my sense of self around this guy who ended up tearing my heart out, throwing it in the dirt, and stomping on it. I had no idea who I was anymore. All of my future plans were gone. Unfortunately, they all revolved around him. I was disenchanted with my major (see “So Guess What? I changed my mind.”) because it didn’t seem like a good fit for me.
I spent days in bed crying, sleeping, and not eating. I was in a state of depression that utterly scares me to look back on. A couple days after my break up, I brashly made the decision to switch my major to religion. Now that I look back on that decision, it was actually incredibly calculated, but I couldn’t see that at the time. All that I knew was that I need a change of pace. I need to find something else to do other than an education degree. Switching my major was the first step in rebuilding my sense of self and self-esteem.
The next step was admitting that I needed help. Badly. Though I felt better after switching my major, I still couldn’t eat and spent most of my days crying and shaking. I was so anxious, nervous, and depressed that I could not function. So I went to a counselor, which honestly was the best decision I have ever made. During these sessions, we figured out that anxiety and depression had been something that I had been dealing with my whole life. I just never recognized it as such.
For me, it was so powerful to finally have something to call my constant nervousness and inexplicable bouts of sadness. Knowing I had anxiety was the first step to embracing myself. Then through the summer, I began to focus on who I wanted to become without the influence of any dumb boys in my life. I thought about the jobs that I would like to do after graduation. I would become a wedding planner or an event planner and leave my religion degree in the dust.
People would suggest going to seminary, but I shut that down hard and fast claiming that would never be a good fit for me. However, as the fall progressed, I began to see that everything that I had once said absolutely not to, was probably what I needed to be doing. I began to be more open to the opportunities that came my way, rather than just immediately saying no.
I began to allow myself to explore who I am and embrace my nerdiness and my passions. Because honestly, it is never worth being miserable just because you think someone else might judge you for what you love. Embracing your own call and sense of self is one of the most important and shaping ideas I learned in my four years at Concordia.
So that’s how I got this position. I finally stopped saying no to myself. I allowed myself to explore. I allowed myself to fail. I allowed myself heartbreak. And more importantly, I allowed myself to say yes.