Saturday, January 25, 2014

Being a Christian

(Disclaimer: This is not meant to try to convert you to Christianity if you do not believe in it. I'm sorry if you feel it comes off that way, but I am merely writing how I feel. I respect other people's opinions and religious beliefs, or lack thereof. I still love you guys even though we may believe in different things!) 

Are you a Christian?

I’m a Christian.
I am stubborn, sometimes extremely cruel.
I am selfish.
I am a little bit of a basket case.
Sometimes, I am a b*tch.
I am weird to many.
I am loved by a few.
Many dislike me.
I am different.
Lots of people don’t know where to begin to put words to my personality.
But let’s start with one:
I am,
In fact,
A Christian.

It took me a long time to admit that...first to myself, then to others especially. Sometimes I do things that don’t seem like something that my idea of “a normal Christian girl” would do. I smack myself in the head and I feel embarrassed for calling myself God’s daughter many a time when I can act so stupid. Maybe it’s because when I was growing up, I thought, kind of like most people’s personalities, that you could just construe ten words together to describe a person or certain type of person. We all were fit into these subcategories and had to stay there for the rest of our lives, because that was what defined us. And my definition of “Christian” was nowhere near what I was like after going through high school. It was all about being defined to me while growing up, and “Christian” was a word I had stopped using in the same sentence as my name a while ago. Defining who I was felt like it was the only truly stable thing for me in an otherwise very unstable childhood. I wanted a definition put to the name of Alexia Nicole Heathcock when I could never seem to find one. Elementary, middle school, and high school, some of the kids didn’t have such nice words to put next to that name—and that’s okay, they weren’t the type of people that were meant to understand me or love me. There were much better fit people coming along down the road for that, and still are. But then, what does define me as a a Christian?

My old idea, my definition of a typical Christian girl was what I had grown up with: you go to church every Sunday morning in a cute poufy dress, usually in some pastel color and would try to look nice, even though in reality you were totally scratching at the stupid stockings your mom made you wear to dress up your outfit more. You’d squirm in your seat in church and pretend you were listening when really you were just waiting for Communion in hopes that your mom would let you leave early, or at least Sunday School so you could split off with other people your age and finally get to the bottom of what the heck was going on in the sermon the pastor was giving. As you grew up, you’d learn to come into your own faith more and start appreciating the faith that your parents brought you up on in a bigger way. Maybe the dresses wouldn’t be so poufy or the bows in your hair so big, but the magnanimous smile and confidence in God would be. You’d go on all the church mission trips. You’d never get drunk or do drugs, and refrain from cussing or premarital sex. You’d never get wasted at those high school parties, or lose your virginity on prom night, or have your heart completely broken, because you waited until marriage. Frat parties in college weren’t a time for you to dance on the bar. You were too cautious maybe, too confident perhaps in your mind to do such a thing. You knew better. It wasn’t judgment to you, watching the other girls doing it. You just thought you had better standards because you knew God. Your husband would be just as perfectly Christian-like as you were because you both met through church or volunteering or some way that God brought you together, and then you both would live happily ever after with two Christian kids. Let’s not even get started on all your friends, too. Well, they’d be just as buttoned-up and Christian like as you all, of course.

That’s not how it all works out for us, though. I had those foundations laid at my feet in my youth, but little did I know at the time they were extremely broken. My mom was in fact not as strong in her faith as she had led on. My dad wasn’t either. Growing up means you kind of have to face the fact that your parents really are far from perfect, and so are you, and there isn’t a magic potion you take before you become a parent to make you look perfect to your children forever, or even your friends and family. The glass always shatters. As I got older, religion just seemed to diminish in my life as things started to go wrong and I had a huge dose of growing up injected in me. It wasn’t important anymore, I didn’t need it, didn’t have time for it, blah blah--the usual excuses. I’ve done some things before that are un-Christian-like and I just wasn’t ready to be that person who lived completely straight-edged to what I was used to. I thought religion was something my mother hid behind to disguise her cowardice, what I thought a lot of people used to hide just how broken they really were. It was a veil to cover their shattered pieces. It wasn’t real to me. If my parents broke their promise to me when they said they were going to be “together forever”, then it felt like everything else they told me was a lie too, including my faith. As the years went on, I would maybe say a prayer here and there, but it wasn’t like I opened a Bible or really attended any church sermons. I never spoke with the confidence that God was real; I was all “Yeah, HEY YOU, if you ACTUALLY exist could you maybe help me with...” and usually it was stupid stuff, like me asking God for an A on a chem test and to save me from accidentally setting my hair on fire from the Bunsen burner in chemistry lab (as you can tell, tenth grade was not a great year for me in the sciences.) I’m sure He got a few laughs out of my...interesting prayer requests over the years, mainly because He was sitting back and looking at me saying, “You have no idea how much your life is going to turn around.” 

I came to college though, wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and all ready for the exciting adventures that awaited me in Pittsburgh, which was a complete change of pace from my small town in Florida. Most of my friends were very much cut from the same cloth there, all preppy, all nice with decent upbringings. I was not even close to expecting what actually did happen to me. When I first came to school, I’m not going to lie—church was not the first thing on my mind. I was looking for the closest fraternity party that served the best beer, not the closest church. I was completely Kristen Wiig in that scene in Bridesmaids where all the girls are on the plane to go to Vegas, and Kristen Wiig character's already drunk and comes up to her friends, sunglasses on (indoors) and goes, "I'M REEAAAADYYYY! TO PAAAAAAAAARRRRRRTAAAAAAAYYY!" (yes, that reference was necessary.)  God I’m pretty sure just laughed at me and said “Ok Alex, you can try to run from my influence as much as possible but I’m still going to find ways to be there in your life.”

Many people think that angels are God’s servants, but they are only up in Heaven and have wings and wear white cloth and glow luminously. I disagree. I think angels walk on Earth with us, and they are apart of our lives every day. I think angels are the people in your life who remind you when things seem to be going wrong that things may not be working out right now, but God is always working in your life. They are the people who make you see the beauty in every day. Some angels have darkness within them, and they see it, but sometimes they don't know how to get rid of it. They show both sides to you and sometimes end up leaving you completely mind boggled as to what you're supposed to do with the love they give you. Angels come in all different shapes and forms, and maybe they even wear black. I’ve had many angels come in and out of my life, and am so thankful for all of them. I can even recall as early as my first week of freshman year meeting some of these friends, these angels. As you can see, God took no time hesitating putting His plan to work in me as soon as I moved away from home. I always have them to thank for helping me take the first steps back to believing in something again, and freshman year was what really made the wheels start turning.

One night that year, I was having a borderline panic attack second semester and didn’t know what to do with myself. Nothing was working out for me...figuring out a major, my grades were awful, I was going out too much and wasn’t balancing my academic work, and just felt like my existence was about to become a pile of shattered pieces of myself (I did not know at the time of course that it was only going to get worse sophomore year. I’m so silly.)  On top of that, this may seem really stupid and trivial, but my roommate and I were absolutely convinced our room was haunted and we were scared shitless. This one kid looked at me though that night, so beyond broken himself but for different reasons, and said only one word that carried heavy meaning with me: “Pray.” I just was sitting there like....”What?! Is it really that simple?”  He most likely doesn’t even remember saying that to me, but it resonated with me. I thought back to when I was younger and the sense of humility I’d feel from praying, even if it didn’t seem like my prayers were always answered in the way I wanted them to be. That night, I prayed for the first time in a long time. I mean, I really prayed. I remember saying “God, I know I did that whole thing where I accepted you into my heart a long time ago. But, I haven’t been acting like it recently. If you’re there, can you come back to me and forgive me for all the mess-ups and the wrongdoings? Even if those mess ups and wrongdoings keep happening?” That night, I heard God speak for the first time; at least I’m pretty sure it was. I’m positive God’s voice sounds different to all of us, but I heard a deep voice say, “Alex.... I never left.” I was really creeped out, and who knows, maybe it was a pigment of my imagination saying that and God really wasn’t speaking to me. Yet, it hit a part of me when I heard that.

That made me beyond determined to find meaning in my relationship with Christ once again. For once, I HAD AN ANSWER!  I started going to bible study, I started praying more and actually reading devotionals. What nobody failed to tell me though is how big of a struggle it is to fall out from your faith and have to take broken foundations and lay them back down and build upon them once again. This foundational structure, your soul, isn’t always stable, so sometimes when you find yourself going one step forward with God, there’s always Satan or some demon in your life, whether it be a person or the bottom of a whiskey bottle or a drug or that one person that you hate to admit is poisonous to your life, because all you want to do is love only bring you back ten. I still to this day struggle, and always will. Yet. It was this redemption, if you will, that made me realize something. You know when I said earlier that I had hated Christianity when I was younger because it was a veil to disguise everyone’s broken pieces? Well, everyone is broken. But instead of our faith being a veil.... maybe it is really the glue that puts back together what broke us in the first place. It’s what actually holds us together amidst our brokenness. That’s why whenever somebody tells me he or she’s a Christian nowadays, despite the fact that they may do some bad things that aren’t conventionally “Christian-like”, I listen. We can’t judge others for being broken in different ways. Christians come in different packages. As God has made me learn, we’re all not the buttoned-up perfect people I had thought we were in my mind so many years ago. Some of us have tattoos; some of us have brown eyes, some blue. Some of us only wear black and some buy out the J. Crew catalog every season. To some, being a Christian may just mean trying to be a good person, and that’s fine. Some Christians curse, some have sex before marriage, and some do other things that make God upset; but God still loves us at the end of the day, all the same.

So, to pick up from earlier as well, I do define myself as a “Christian” now. However, my definition of Christianity isn’t what it used to be, and it probably may not be the same as what you all think of it. Our faith looks different to all of us, it means different things to everyone, and everyone has a different story of how they came into their faith-- which is what’s so beautiful about it, none of our personal relationships with God are exactly the same. Yet, we are all united by a common factor: Jesus. Part of my definition of being a Christian is to love how Jesus loved: unconditionally. To judge with the predisposition of not turning someone else’s words into poison in my own heart to use against them in hatred, because that is not what Christianity is based on. I fall short of these expectations oftentimes, because I am not perfect. Yet.... God understands that, He gets it maybe if He doesn’t really have that problem himself, and he still forgives me. That kind of unconditional love is the type I strive to show other people. I want to rise up, embody my strengths and be the best person I can be. Yet, I don’t want to do that so I can look down on people and see how far I’ve come. I want to get to that point so I can come back down and pick people to bring back up with me.

People oftentimes ask me, “Was it all really worth the struggle? Don’t you ever sometimes wish you just had stuck with your faith and not had to go through all of that to come back to it?” I always say no. You know that quote, “When you have really worked for it, sweated for it, cursed it, and loved have something, sir.”? That is how I feel about my faith and myself.

I am Alexia Nicole Heathcock.
I am a student.
A friend.
A daughter.
A sister.
A lover.
An enigma,
A yogi,
A runner,
A traveler,
An aspiring lawyer,
I’m a writer,
God’s work-in-progress.
Most importantly though,
I am a Christian.

Are you?

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