I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a reader named Ryan. (Have I mentioned lately that I have the best readers? Because I totally do).
I liked him immediately because he turned Super-Evangelical-Jesus-Freak into its own special acronym (SEJF). I may just use it from now on because it’s so awesome.
Anyway, he had this brilliant thought:
We were packing away the Christmas stuff, and I thought about how back in my SEJF days, I would listen only to Christian music, of course. Now I generally can’t stand CCM, but I noticed that in my world, it’s still not Christmas until we play the Michael W. Smith Christmas album.
It made me think of what other things I must have deemed worth saving. I still wear my little wooden cross necklace. Under my shirt though, not on top where people can see it. Back in the day, you were supposed to wear them on top, so that everyone could see your “witness.” Turns out, it was mostly just bad advertising. But it grew into a different purpose, and that is to remind me that I am a Christian. I need to be reminded lots, and so it’s good to wear the necklace all the time. To be a reminder, though, only I have to know it’s there, so underneath it stays.
Anyway, it all made me wonder what you would say if you wrote about the things from your old faith that you still find helpful to the new.
I’ve been thinking about this question for a couple of weeks now. Because once I burned on fire for Jesus, and then I burned with anger and frustration, and then I languished in the ashes of Depression.
And now I’m sifting through. And there are always remnants.
You grow up, and you start looking critically at the past and at your former self. Some things pass away, but the things that remain usually have to do with faith, hope and love. Especially love.
So here’s my list. A few things I’ve kept:
All of my Christy Miller Books. You guys, I cannot seem to throw them away. (For those who are unfamiliar, this is a Christian teen romance series about a girl who falls in love with Jesus…and a handsome surfer boy named Todd.)
The covers are all pastel, and on the original book covers, Christy Miller has 80s hair and Todd’s shorts are pulled up wayyy too high. I own them all, including the spin-off Sierra Jenson books and the Christy Miller: The College Years trilogy. I haven’t read them in years, but there they sit, at the bottom of the bookshelf, where I hide most of the Christian fiction.
In those early days, I read and re-read those books. So much of Christy Miller’s story mirrored my own. The blond, SEJF boyfriend. The internal struggles. The waiting and the hoping and the heartbreak. The learning and the letting go. My facts and her fiction are so intertwined in my imagination that I almost can’t tell them apart.
And even though I’ve been through enough to see that these books are flawed and a tad reductive (not to mention fluffy) – those pastel covers remind me of a part of myself I don’t want to forget. That high school dreamer who still thinks she’s going to renovate a castle someday. That girl whose heart is untouched by cynicism. The one whose hands are open.
Christy Miller is that old friend that I’ve outgrown but still love. I keep the books around just in case I need that old, invented world: those evening bonfires at Newport beach where everyone loves God. And yes, it’s more complicated than all that…but it’s also not as complicated as I tend to make it these days. And sometimes I just want to see that silver Forever bracelet glinting bright in the setting sun.
My “accountability partners.” Once we met at a round table in Panera weekly, and we read each other selected excerpts from our journals and confessed our struggles. We said to each other Choose joy! and we cried over boys and stressed over AP tests. We got bored trying to read the book of Matthew straight through.
And it’s been years since we’ve called it “accountability” or sat at “our table” at Panera. But you can’t go through all the details of the SEJF high school experience without getting all knotted together at the soul.
We live far, but we meet when we can in various pockets of Wisconsin and Chicago. We met the weekend before Christmas in the Wisconsin Dells, and they sat cross-legged on hotel beds, hair wrapped in towels, while I told them, teary-eyed, about our new church.
Our faith all looks a little different now. We burned bright, and then we burned out. But we are reaching. We are doing it at highboy tables over margaritas. We are doing it short and sweet in text messages and emails.
We’re all still a little tied up together in this thing. If one of us starts falling, we all fall a little. When we move it’s like some awkward three-legged race. But still, a little bit at a time, we’re moving forward.
Jennifer Knapp. OK, honestly, I still have all of my Christian “rock,” filed away in boxes somewhere. (It’s too nostalgic to throw away.) But the only CDs I’ve listened to with any regularity these past years are those of my girl, Jennifer Knapp.
She was the opening act of the first Christian concert I ever went to – a lone figure on a stool in the middle of the stage.
Once, my friend Molly and I took the train downtown to see her (and The Ws) at Moody bookstore. We brought the CD dust jacket with us (remember those?) and sang harmonies while the Chicago suburbs rolled into city.
There was something about her lyrics that always felt so poetic and honest to me, and when I listen to them now, I still hear it: the beauty. The struggle. The doubt and faith all mixed up together.
She “disappeared” from the SEJF scene around the same time I did. I remember reading an article where she talked about how overwhelming the Christian music industry felt to her. She talked about being in “cement box rooms at the back of arenas” trying to quick write something beautiful and inspiring for a record…and I can picture that so clearly, because I felt it too: that pressure to keep manufacturing spiritual insight. To never show that you were struggling; to just keep giving it to Jesus in loud, murmured prayer.
She’s back now, singing again, and she’s openly gay. And I don’t want to get into a debate here about Christianity and homosexuality…but what I do want to say is that I can identify with someone who went away and is trying to come back. With someone who no longer fits the mold but is forging ahead anyway, trying to figure it out the best she can.
This ugly quilt made of my old Witness-Wear t-shirts. I cut all the old shirts into squares during the last weeks of my senior year of high school. Then, to make it even better, I bought ugly, patterned fabric that I felt would remind me of each of my friends and added that too.
My Mom helped me sew it into a quilt with lots of extra white squares, and I brought it to Youth Group Beach Night one night and had everyone sign it the last week of summer. It seemed really sweet at the time.
Pinterest-users and sentimentalists beware: if you sew all of your old, ugly t-shirts into a quilt and have people sign it, you’re never, ever going to be able to throw it away. And t-shirt quilts are bulky and take up lots of space. Consider yourself warned.
In retrospect, I wish I would have written more details about my life. I wrote little about specific events and rarely described people. At fifteen, the details seem minimal in comparison to emotions and passion…and you figure that you’ll remember all those little, important things forever anyway. (Spoiler alert: You don’t.)
Still, I think there is something there, in all these journals. They make it impossible to simplify and write-off the past. They make it hard to dismiss the girl who was me because her heart is so genuine – full of praise and prayer, joy and hope. She is unafraid to ask. She believes it will be given.
And I think there is something important about preserving the history of our hearts. We scrapbook and create photo albums of events all the time. The pages of my prayer journals are a kind of photo book too: they are still shots of a soul.
They remind me who I was. They remind me how far He has brought me.
I rarely ask direct questions here because it seems weird and it reminds me of those fill-in-the-blank Bible studies that I hate. But this is such a good question.
What remains for you? What did you keep? I’d love to know.