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I have already told you the complicated relationship I have with optimism. I tend to veer towards the negative, instead of believing in the good – in any situation. Over the past year, I have made an active choice every day to choose joy and that has changed my perspective on life tremendously. I worry less, I shrug off the small things easier and I have gotten better about seeing the good before assuming the worst.
Bred in Faith
I also have a complicated relationship with my faith. I grew up in a very devout family. The way I saw my grandparents and extended family live in faith is my idea of a pretty fantastic relationship with God. We went to church every Sunday morning and Bible Study during the week. My grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles were all in the church choir and served in various capacities within the church.
Everyone knew everyone and seemed to genuinely care about each other’s wellbeing. My grandfather would drive three brothers in their 50’s (all with varying degrees of mental retardation) to church. My brother and I would sit in the front with him and the brothers would climb in the back. God broke the mold with my grandfather, and my brother and I had first row seats to watching and learning from him. As a result of years watching him, I created a picture in my head of what a Christian is supposed to look like.
After church on Sunday, we would all head to my great-grandparent’s home for lunch. There would be at least 20 family members. The men would be out back, usually gathered around my great-grandfather. The women would be in the kitchen stirring a giant pot of creamed corn or snapping beans and enjoying fellowship. When I think back on the times I have felt most at peace in my life, it would definitely include those moments on Sigmon Dairy Road.
You see, faith was more than just a relationship with the church. It was in how my family lived. They are good, genuine people. They didn’t ever throw their faith in your face, use it as a crutch to continue to sin or think less of anyone in its name. My family simply loved Jesus, were thankful for every blessing that came our way and prayed hard for anyone in need. They didn’t just pray either, they acted. Do you need a ride? My grandfather would take you. Do you need a meal? My grandmother would make it. Do they have all the answers? No. They have faith. They were, and continue to be, walking examples of everything a good Christian should be.
Faith No More
After my parent’s divorced and we moved away from my extended family, my relationship with faith changed. We church hopped for a bit, trying to find a place where we belonged. We eventually settled at one, but the activities and commitments of five children led to our church attendance being more sporadic than consistent. In no time, it seemed we were your classic Easter and Christmas churchgoers. Because I was so busy, I didn’t really think much of it. It wasn’t until I moved away after college that I realized a piece was missing.
During the spring quarter of my senior year in college, I suffered from crippling anxiety. It wasn’t something I had really experienced before and I didn’t know how to stop it. In retrospect, I was overwhelmed with college ending and my plans to move to Nashville. I didn’t know a soul in Nashville. It was a big step. But I was so deep in the anxiety that I couldn’t rationalize my way out of it (a story for another day).
As soon as I moved to Nashville, I knew I needed help. I couldn’t control the thoughts in my own head. So I met with a psychiatrist and was put on anti-anxiety meds. It was not something I necessarily wanted to be on forever, so once my mind calmed a little, I searched for ways I could prevent anxiety and cope when I did have it. I thought back to the times I felt most at peace. And it clicked. I was missing faith.
Finding My Way Back
I started going to church in Nashville. It was an enormous building with an insane number in its congregation. It was nothing like the medium-sized, everyone knows everyone church I went to growing up. I joined the choir. I wanted to recreate what I felt as a child. It didn’t work. Around that time, I began a relationship that would consume everything. Consequently, my foray back into my faith was cut short.
That relationship ended and I started to date an old friend. We would eventually marry. He provided me with a sense of safety and peace that I hadn’t had in so long. That, coupled with the fact that he was Jewish, further derailed my search to reclaim my faith. We both agreed to not overtly raise our children in either faith, out of respect for our different religions. Neither of us were actively practicing anything, so it didn’t seem that big of a sacrifice.
We divorced when our children were very young. As a result, I found myself without my safety net and without a clear path. I kept coming back to how I felt as a child, enveloped in love, in peace, and in faith. And I remembered what I loved so much about my family’s faith – it was in who they were, how they acted, how they lived.
Above all, I want that for my children. I would love for them to develop the wonderful character traits I did as a child of God. To know the Bible stories and use their lessons to help them out of tough situations. To sing the gospel and feel the power of the music flow through them. I need my children to have that feeling in their soul that they are connected, they are safe, they are loved and they are at peace.
Also, selfishly, I want it for me. I want to feel that there is someone bigger than me. I want to worry less, pray more and give it to God. Then, hopefully, I can finally feel that peace again.