“I’m a Christian.”
“Cool, me too! I’m….insert denomination here, what are you?”
First, here’s a story of my background and my faith:
I used to answer that question, “Lutheran”. That is what my mom had me baptized when I was roughly a year and a half. She didn’t take me to church growing up though unless it was for a wedding, baptism, first communion for one of my Catholic cousins, etc. I think my baptism was more or less something she did for the family’s approval.
I knew of God growing up, but we never spent much time talking about Him. It wasn’t until I was 11 and a half or so that I started going to church. I met a neighborhood girl who would change the course of my faith. I believed in God, so to speak, before then, but I never delved too deeply into the subject until Amy Wells came along.
I went by her house one Wednesday evening to see if she could come outside to play. Her mom told me they were going to church, but then invited me to come along. At first, I was skeptical. Who goes to church on a Wednesday first of all? Isn’t that a Sunday only type of deal? Secondly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about going to church in general. I did later ask my mom if I could go. This was in part due to the fact I was miserable at home due the sexual abuse going on, by the hands of my mother’s boyfriend. I was also curious to learn more about God and thought I might enjoy going to church. My mom thought it would be good for me, so she said I could go.
It was a non-denominational church and everyone was quite friendly. The evening started out with worship, loved that part the most. I have always loved music. Singing is something I have always enjoyed, though I didn’t know any of the songs, so I just did the best I could to learn them. If I listen to one verse, learning the rest is pretty simple. Not long into the service then, the kids were called to their programs. So, I went with Amy and her brother Brian out of the sanctuary and into a Sunday school room. We played some games and then we began watching Gospel Bill. This episode was about your life before sin, about how God can change that, and what your life is like once you decide to follow Him.
Something in my heart knew right away that I wanted to trust Him, to let Him in. I knew I needed a savior and more than ever, needed a friend like Him. So, when they asked if anyone wanted to pray that special prayer inviting God into your heart, I raised my hand. Excitedly, a lady prayed with me. And for awhile, I was so on fire for God. Going to church actually excited me and not just because I got away from home. I really loved being at church, a place where I could sing about God, talk to Him, and be with others who loved Him and so it seemed, loved me too.
They eventually switched churches and this one was denominational, I think it was a Methodist church. I liked this one a little better. They had Awana, which reminds me a lot of Girl Scouts, except we learn Bible verses and sing about God. We earned patches & ranks, worked both together as a team, and also had individual goals. I was thoroughly thrilled to be a part of that. I even saw someone I went to middle school with there. Her and I became good friends for a little while. I thought it was cool that she, her dad, my dad, & myself have the same birthday. It was definitely a positive experience. The last church I went to was as well, but this one seemed to fit me and my walk with God better. During that time, I received my very first Bible, a gift from Amy and her family. It stuck with me till it fell apart.
About a year after I began going to church, my mom, the jerk, and myself moved. We didn’t move far, but I didn’t see Amy much after that. For a little while, I wasn’t going to church. I missed it, a lot. Eventually, I became friends with my upstairs neighbor. She started inviting me to church after a little while. This too was a non-denominational church. This one was the first I went to that wasn’t in an actual church building. They met in the downstairs of a bank. They were small in number, but huge in love and faith. I met so many amazing people there. I made some good friends and even met my first “boyfriend” as it were. I loved small group, talking about where our faith was and where we wanted it to go. I of course loved the worship! That is and always been my best way to praise God, to connect with Him, through song.
But then December 4th, 1992 happened. This is a day that I shall never forget. It was the day I couldn’t keep what I was dealing with inside any longer. I had told my mom a few times, but nothing ever changed. A few friends suspected, but no one said anything. I was writing about my feelings on the way to school one morning and a girl I would talk to on the way till she got off at her stop noticed how upset I was and asked me about it. I showed her what I had written and she looked worried. She told me I needed to speak up about it, told her I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I got to school and couldn’t stop crying at that point. A girl I barely knew in homeroom asked me what was wrong, so I showed her what I’d written as well since I didn’t feel like talking about it right then and there. She told me something needed to be done and took me to the school guidance counselor. After that, my life really turned upside down. The cops were called and I was in and out of class all day. By the end of the day, I was ripped from my home by a social worker and the jerk had been arrested. I stayed with a friend and her family for about five days. Angela and her mom both said they’d suspected. In fact, Angela said he’d weirded her out and she felt uncomfortable at my home, so she made sure we usually hung out at her place…which trust me, I didn’t mind. At this point, I felt pretty lost.
I was eventually put into foster care. I lived in a few different homes. I will admit I could be quite difficult to handle for one and for two, I was picky. The first home was with an older couple. They were old fashioned and set in their ways. Combined with my stubbornness, well that arrangement lasted for about a week. Then I went to Waunakee to become a part of the Babcock family. They didn’t go to church, so I rarely went. There were too many issues between myself and my foster mother. My foster dad was awesome and the kids were pretty cool, usually lol, except for the one who was about my age. So between dealing with her, my foster mom, and the kids at school, I eventually begged to leave. I was tired of being made fun of constantly at school, fighting with my foster mom, and fighting with & being stole from by my foster sister. I made some good memories there, but I was more than ready to leave.
The next home didn’t work out too well either. I was being hit on by one of my foster brothers and my foster parents were really difficult to get along with. We just didn’t mesh well. I ran away, twice, within a couple of weeks. So, I went to a group home. Three weeks in, I met Shirley. At the urging of Crystal, one of the girls in her home, I decided to give living there a try. There were some issues there too, but overall I was quite happy….especially because I finally found a church home again. A girl at school named Heather and I met through being a part of the high school musical and little did I know how meeting her would change my life. She first told me she was a Christian and asked what my beliefs were. She then invited me to church when giving me a ride home from practice. I happily agreed. I had missed going to church. I often felt like a lost soul and being a part of a church family always made things better.
The church I began going to was an Evangelical Free church, which in my opinion was as close to my non-denominational church experiences as I could get. I loved it there. The worship was amazing! Often times I’d cry because the music just moved me that much. The sermons usually spoke to me. I would even take notes. I eventually joined the choir there and even got baptized there (though that came later), as a symbol of my faith. I went on camping trips, state and national retreats, and so much more with the youth group. I loved it because I actually felt like I was accepted there. I made real and long lasting friendships. My faith was probably at it’s strongest for my youth during that time. I was truly happy at school, at home, and at church. Life felt pretty good. I was doing so well, not stealing & lying like I’d had problems with. I was thriving.
In the fall of 1995, I went home to be with my mom. In the end that didn’t work out. My mom was rarely home and I still felt as alone as I did when I was a kid. She sent me to live with my dad, briefly. I thought she should have known better, given he’s an alcoholic. That lasted about a month and a half. I then spent some time at a help center during the day and then temporary foster care at night. Then my foster parents from Waunakee took me in as a favor to my mom, since they’d become friends. That too was short lived. I didn’t want to live there and I made sure they knew it. I loved Ron, my foster siblings, and had a couple of friends…but overall, I loathed the town. It was full of cliques and I never really felt like I belonged. Plus Tammy and I still butted heads A LOT and I couldn’t trust Shelby. I just wanted out. My mom sent me to my grandma’s for three weeks, just after I’d turned 17. I came back and then lived with my mom again until a few months before my 18th birthday. In the time I was there, I still had issues with my mom not being home, didn’t want to go to school because I was tired of switching schools and being bored, etc…but I was going to the Evangelical church I loved. It was in that timeframe I was baptized. I was sad my mom wouldn’t come. My grandma came up from Milwaukee to see it and support me though. It was a touch and go situation for me. In some ways I was doing alright, but overall, I was not where I ought to be, but didn’t know how to get on the right path. I admit I made some pretty bad mistakes in this time.
Four months before I turned 18, my mom shipped me off to Milwaukee to live with my grandma. Through my youth pastor in Madison, I found a new church to go to. It was a Baptist church. There weren’t really any differences in how they worshipped, the way the pastor spoke, or how they treated one another. It didn’t take long before I decided to become a member. I would go to that church on and off for many years. I am thankful for all I learned there, the friendships I had, and the time I’d spent growing in my faith. While sometimes I felt later on that I didn’t belong, overall it was a very positive experience.
Since then, I have been to church numerous times. The one I’d spent the most time at was more of a New Age church, more or less non-denominational. They’re all very welcoming, some feel perhaps too welcoming. It didn’t bother me any. I love hugs! They’re very relaxed, many come to church in jeans, even the pastor. The worship is very heartfelt and moving. The sermons have spoken to me. I also met some wonderful people and got to know an old friend a lot better. Though as I grew, I knew I needed to find a new church home. One must go where God leads them. That took some time for me to figure out, what my next step would be, where I would best grow in Him, where I could best serve Him.
So now, I go to a Lutheran church. Ah back to where I “started”. They have one Sunday that has contemporary services and the rest are their traditional ones. My boyfriend is used to the traditional ones and I find I thrive more in the contemporary setting. The traditional Lutheran services remind me of the Catholic ones, too formatted so to speak. Stand up, sit down, repeat after me, and the like just isn’t my cup of tea. So Doug and I talked about it before attending his sister’s church and decided to give a few churches a try. First we tried the Lutheran church his dad goes to, one that he himself has gone to for a number of years. It was too traditional for me. They do have contemporary services every other Sunday, but we haven’t gone to one of those yet. First I asked him to try the New Age one that I’d gone to before. That was too contemporary for him. So next we tried a traditional service at his sister and brother in-law’s church. It was okay, but he agreed we could go to one of the contemporary services. I fell in love it right away. I left feeling energized and ready to live for God. He said even he liked it. So, we agreed to compromise and go to both. He and I both get what we need with God.
I have been to a number of churches, some I was serious about, some only went once or twice with friends or family for special occasions. I been to Catholic, Lutheran, Lutheran Evangelical Free, Evangelical Free, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Non-Denominational, e.t.c churches. They have all had some different to offer. Sometimes I wish there weren’t so many different denominations though, that we could all just consider ourselves Christian and leave it at that. Sometimes I think having those different sects within the Christian faith divides us, when we should all be united in Christ’s love for us and our love for both Him and for one another. I do understand that each person needs something different and our walks with God are as unique as we are. But is one denomination better than another? It seems that some feel that way. I don’t think any one sect is better or more Christian. If you love God with all of your heart, you live to honor Him, and you love others like Christ does…this is what matters, not whether you’re Lutheran or Methodist. When people ask me “what I am”, I simply say, “Christian” and leave it at that.