Nearly two months ago, someone asked me about how I came to Christ. I did such a horrible job trying to explain my story to her that she didn’t even respond after I’d explained it! My poor explanation was partly because I was explaining through text message as I rushed onto the metro to get to work. On the other hand, my story is a bit odd and I never quite know how to explain it. But since we are in a season of remembering Christ and what he did for humanity on the cross, I thought I would make another attempt to share a bit about how Jesus came into my life. I hope you like to read 🙂
In the Beginning…
My mother was a new and devout Christian when I was born. I have never known what my father’s beliefs are, but I have always assumed him to be an agnostic. Growing up, I’d had an unusually deep interest (that still persists) in language, history, culture, and religion. I began studying language and religion when I was about seven years old and developed a passion for learning everything there was to know about every religion I could get my hands on. The religious people I came into contact with at that time were LDS, Catholic, and Jewish – and I can remember questioning them about their respective faiths whenever I got the chance. It was probably so annoying to them, but I didn’t care. I wanted to know.
I have heard some people say that it is really hard for them to keep God on their mind at all times. That is a foreign concept to me. I feel like God is always and has always been on my mind, even when I’m not actually thinking about Him. He pervades my thoughts in such a way that I’m not really able to explain it. One of my biggest questions as a preteen of about eleven or twelve centered on how to please God, and how to best go about living “the religious life.” It was during this time that I stumbled upon Islam. The more I learned about Islam, the more I fell in love with it. The Muslims I knew were so devoted and the strength of their faith far outdid that of my Christian family, friends, and peers. I wanted what they had – a life completely dedicated to God. When I was twelve, after a year of studying the faith, I converted to Islam.
My parents were absolutely not thrilled about my decision to convert. They were also probably a little shocked that their 12 year old girl was more interested in religion than in clothes. My folks, believing that I was going through a phase, gave me a lot of grief about my new status as a Muslim. Despite what they thought, I was not going through a phase. I believed in the teachings of Islam and felt that it balanced and purified my life. I can remember being so happy as a Muslim, and seeing everything around me as through a fresh set of eyes. I did things that most pre-teen girls wouldn’t have done for a religion that they weren’t born into – I fasted for Ramadan, I skipped a class pool party because I didn’t believe in showing too much of my body in mixed-company, I covered my hair, and woke up earlier than anyone in my house every morning in order to recite Fajr (the morning prayer in Islam). I felt so much peace.
At the same time, my family situation was becoming increasingly difficult. My parents didn’t respect this decision I’d made and had begun throwing away all of my books, hijabs, and recorded Islamic lectures. When I entered high school, my neighborhood was districted differently than that of my Muslim friends. It was so difficult for me to practice Islam that I decided to give up and return to it when I turned eighteen. And Islam slowly began to fade into the background.
I joined some Christian youth groups (one of them at the insistence of my mom), and by the time I was 15 and 16 I was attending church three times a week! My increased attendance in church did little to persuade me to return to Christianity, although I did genuinely try to get involved. Church often left me feeling depressed and empty. Being a somewhat emotionally reserved person, I couldn’t relate to all of the crying, shouting, and speaking in tongues. I didn’t feel anything and felt guilty when I tried to fake feeling something. My inability to “feel God” on an emotional level made me feel spiritually inferior. As I neared the end of high school, I felt Christianity was little more than a festival of emotions on Sunday and totally irrelevant during the rest of the week .
Despite my earnest intentions to return to Islam after moving out of my parents’ home, things didn’t quite happen that way. I had entered into a series of lesbian relationships in my senior year of high school that continued into the beginning of my sophomore year of college. There was certainly no way I could return to Islam with a girlfriend on my arm! During sophomore year, I met a guy that I became interested in. We started dating and when I brought up my interest in Islam he made it very clear that in order to continue dating him I either had to be a non-practicing Christian (as he was), or a practicing Christian (as he was trying to eventually become). I chose the boy and we ended up dating for three years.
When he went into the Air-Force, I found myself without a social life. I decided to check out one of the campus ministries to see if I could make some new friends. My experiences with the group I ended up with were both positive and negative. On the downside, they were kind of elitists. They were all part of weird Christian sororities and fraternities and their kindness to those who weren’t members (me!!) was not genuine. They probably thought I was weird because I didn’t keep up with all the latest trends of popular culture, and I thought they were weird because they did. On the upside, being involved with them gave me something to do almost every weekend, and I did get to attend events and conferences where I learned a lot more than I had previously known about the Bible. It was during my time with this group that I was first introduced to some foundational Biblical teachings that still guide my life.
After leaving college, I continued to try to be a Christian. I joined a young adult group at a church near my home, got baptized, defended Christ in conversations with “unbelievers,” and even introduced my future husband to Christ! I did all this despite my internal hesitation about the Christian faith. To be sure, my Christianity wasn’t authentic. It wasn’t that I was trying to fool or impress others, but that I was trying to force something on myself that just didn’t fit. I hadn’t yet had an experience with Jesus. But that was about to change.
By the time I turned 25, I was spiritually exhausted and I felt stuck. My lifelong quest to live the “religious life” and be totally dedicated to God had failed. I recalled the peace I’d felt as a Muslim and wanted to return, but couldn’t because I was already married to a man whom I had introduced to Christ! I decided my only escape was to silently slip away from faith in such a way that I could still study/admire religion and support the faith of others without actually espousing anything for myself. I was studying the history of Taoism one afternoon when I realized that I had never actually taken the time to study Christian history. I was kind of disappointed in myself – I love history! How could I have studied the history of so many other religions but not thought to study the history of the faith that I was born into? I wrote down a tiny starter-study plan and began studying Christian history alongside Taoist history that same week.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1). This scripture has been illuminated for me with each new tidbit that I learn about the history of Christianity and about the lives of the disciples, martyrs, and saints throughout the centuries.
It was through history that I met Jesus for the first time. While studying the life of Jesus, and the lives of his followers and the transitions that the Church went through after His ascension, it really hit me that those of us who believe in Christ are standing on such rich history. My conversion to Christ happened in less than a second. It wasn’t a teary, emotional event. It wasn’t miraculous or exciting. It was a simple, fleeting moment in which I literally blurted to myself – “Whoa, I love Jesus and His church so much!” –during a Haitian Catholic Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and I’m not even Catholic! For the first time, in the middle of a random Haitian Mass, I felt a connection to Jesus and to His church universal. The history of our faith is far from perfect, but it is beautiful. And I want to be part of what God is doing on earth.
So, here we are.
Since I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I am still what can probably be considered a pretty spiritually eclectic person. Many of my views on spirituality are liberal and probably don’t fit within mainstream Christian thought. I still feel as though I don’t really fit into the branches of Christianity in which I am currently involved. And I know that some of my Christian friends wonder whether or not I am actually a believer.
I used to always hear people say that Jesus will meet you wherever you are. I always kind of rolled my eyes about that and brushed it off as some kind of sappy Christian psycho-babble. But what I’ve learned from my own story is that Jesus took things that I love (the study of religion and history) and used those things to bring me to Him. I didn’t have to fake it. I didn’t have to feel pressured into it. I didn’t have to feel guilty about my reluctance to lift my hands during worship or inferior because of my limited ability to “feel” something at church.
He literally met me right where I am. And he continues to meet me here, everyday.
And I hope you’ll let Him do the same for you.
Happy Easter. Christos Anesti!