Growing up in the Midwest, I was raised in an upright Christian home. I was homeschooled with my sister, being taught from Christian curriculum. We read the Bible every day and memorized Bible verses. We went to AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, referring to 2 Timothy 2:15) on Wednesday nights, keeping company with other believers. Vacation Bible School was an annual summer experience for us.
We didn't have a TV until my teenage years. Instead, we listened to Christian radio dramas rather than watching Saturday morning cartoons. We read Christian books (C. S. Lewis was a common name in our household). My sister and I kept expectantly watching the mailbox, waiting for the arrival of the Christian children's magazines we had subscribed to.
As we grew older, our interests expanded to include Christian rock music. We listened to Larry Norman, Steve Taylor, and other iconoclasts push the pew-goers' envelope of tolerance. When Rez Band wasn't playing on our stereo, we were tuned into Focus on the Family or some other Christian talk show. Cornerstone and Charisma magazines arrived on our doorstep monthly. Was this the rich and satisfying life we were promised, never to thirst again, or were we desperately trying to fill a void?
Never satisfied with our church experience, we hopped from church to church, looking for a home, looking for a family. We began meeting in home fellowships, looking for a more intimate experience. House churches and Bible studies filled the need for brothers and sisters, yet in many ways we felt like sheep without a shepherd. Who would guide us?
All my life I desired to serve God with all my heart and energy. I wanted to live for Him, to be His servant. Some of our family friends even thought I was destined for the ministry. Perhaps I would go toward Christian publications due to my interest in graphic design, or perhaps to the mission field. But with my growing insecurities, I knew I couldn't walk out what was in my heart.
Then, my parents' marriage began the telltale signs of disintegration. They had met in a Jesus Movement commune in the '70s, but the pressures of providing for a family, house payments, and stress strained their relationship to no good end. The commune had already proved that it didn't have any staying power, and it became clear that my parents also lacked what it took to make things last. The worries and cares of life were eating my father up on the inside. Painfully, they divorced, shattering our life and security as youth. Just as our own turbulent teenage years were beginning, it felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under us.
In college, I shut down -- burned out from our religious wanderings and a soured experience after my father's failed second marriage to an oppressive woman (or so she seemed to me) who was devoted to a stricter Christian denomination. My spiritual quest went into deep freeze as I threw myself into studying and working my way through college.
For two years, college life wore on me, threatening to break down my defenses and the "Christian Quarantine" my parents had instilled in me from an early age. I didn't give into drinking and partying, but could feel the definite tug to compromise my moral scruples.
Upon graduating and entering the workforce, my search renewed, looking for love, acceptance, and a place to belong. With a willing heart, I tried to find a place to fit in. I began turning over new stones in my search for "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," yet I couldn't shake the inescapable, gnawing feeling of emptiness. Something was missing.
Two years of searching later, I found myself crying out to God on a lonely country road, begging Him in tears to show me the place where I could give my all to Him. And the most amazing thing happened: He heard my cry and answered me! He led me to the place where I could walk out what had been so deep in my heart for so many years.
These are painful memories for me, like picking the just-forming scab on a raw wound. Yet I live in a place of healing, and that is the reality of salvation. Even though I had a "good Christian upbringing," I still had my share of dark secrets and hidden things that needed to be washed away. I still needed a Savior and a new start. I still bore the scars of loneliness which had done untold damage to my soul.
Now I live in an environment of love, and have brothers and sisters with whom I can share my life -- my laughter, my sorrows, my energies. We live together and share our lives with one another, working and growing spiritually together. We have caring shepherds who help guide the flock. None are left to themselves and the wolves.
As the years go by, my mind and heart are being renewed. "I have a cause to forget my sorrow and to forget my pain" -- such is the meaning of Manasseh, the name of one of the tribes of Israel (Genesis 41:51), whose spiritual namesake is being restored in the land of my upbringing. So now I have the same hope as Joseph's son had so long ago, and our Father has given me sons of my own to nurture and raise up in His way, to take on that hope. It's the same hope that the Apostle Paul clung to and walked out daily:
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Messiah. (Philippians 3:13-14)
Please come! I hope you'll find what you've been searching for, too!