So, here I am – blank. I don’t know if I believe in God. I don’t know if I believe in anything spiritual. I don’t know what I believe in, if anything. As it turns out, and I wouldn’t recognize this until much later, I didn’t know myself.
I contemplated the idea of attending a church, just to explore different beliefs and see what I thought. I realized I still had that tendency to judge some other’s beliefs as wildly inappropriate or psychotic, not because I actually felt that way, but because that is how I had been trained. I knew, though, that my parents would disassociate themselves from me if I did, so I chose not to go because I decided I would rather have that relationship, strained though it may be, than explore my own mind.
I had become increasingly aggravated with living in Florida (I had never wanted to take the risk moving here, I missed my friends, and the heat was (is) oppressive). So, I moved back to North Carolina, thinking I was coming back to myself and all my glory. I bought a house and determined that I was going to meet a good guy, raise a family, be comfortable in my job now that I’d been away long enough to get out of a bad situation, and be happy there for years to come.
Sometimes, you have to go back to the beginning to get a true understanding of yourself and move forward. Sometimes you have to go back to let go.
I was miserable. Within four months, I realized I had made a mistake, albeit a necessary one. I fell into extreme depression. I had no identity. As many times as I had thought I had stopped this, I recognized the deeply ingrained behavior of making decisions out of fear, irrational ones that were not for me, but for others. I determined to get to know me.
I remembered that I had wanted to do wedding planning as a career. I had put the idea out of my head because it would require to me be in churches, places of “false religion.” I remember mentioning this and being praised for my astuteness here. I got in touch with a local wedding planner, started as an intern, and became an employee. It’s a stressful job, but when you have someone tell you that you’ve made the day they’ve been planning for and all of their wishes come true, it’s totally worth it.
I started volunteering at a local art gallery (Craven Arts Council and Gallery in New Bern, NC). I started out reading a poem for one of their events. I hadn’t done this in a very long time out of simple fear of judgement and shyness. The poem I read is Patchwork Heart. The compliments and praise I got inspired me to continue. I became a volunteer at the gallery and moved from docent to board member to Vice President to President in under a year. (See article here.) I got to know some people who had polar opposite and very similar views on religion and I embraced all of them. One of my fellow board members encouraged me to do a Pecha Kucha presentation. For those that don’t know, this is an event where you share 20 slides, 20 seconds each, on a topic of your choice. The slides are meant to be photographs, but I did something slightly unconventional. Finally, I felt comfortable talking about my religious experience and I decided to share that with the town. (Listen to and see the presentation here. You’ll hear my voice!) The response from the crowd was overwhelming. I will never forget this moment: A woman walked up to me, near tears, and said, “Do you help strangers?” She hugged me and thanked me for sharing. I had no idea that sharing my feelings could be so beautiful.
One other thing that came out of the presentation was that I was invited to a Humanist church. And I thought, why the hell not? So, I went. I was also invited to an Episcopalian church. I will say that everyone I encountered was very kind and helpful. But, you know what, organized religion is just not for me. That is what I finally realized. And I was ok with that. I haven’t been to a church since, but I’m happy to have religious/spiritual discussions with friends and strangers as I continue to explore what spirituality means to me.
So, there’s my story. I still don’t know what I believe. But, I think that the audacity to claim that one knows the truth is against what any God of love would teach and so I don’t pretend or claim to know. Is that pride? Maybe. Is that naiveté? Maybe. I don’t really know. I wasn’t there when it all happened. I’m content to go by what I see evidence for and wonder about the rest. It will be revealed in time. Besides, isn’t there excitement in mystery?
What’s your story?