Addie Zierman is probably one of my favorite people I haven’t met. Most everyone on that list is a kindred spirit, whose heart or story parallel my own in some way. Addie has a brand-new book out: When We Were On Fire. It has not yet made its way to my mailbox, but I am so excited to read it, because when Addie writes it feels like she tells my story: of being “on fire” for God, of the fire going out, of wanting and not wanting to get it back, of trying and not trying to relight it. Only she’s a step ahead of me, and so her words coax me forward.
Anyway, she had a link-up on her blog for others to share their stories of when we were on fire. I’m a tad late for the link-up, but couldn’t resist putting my own story in words. This is probably just the beginning of writing about it; my story has been complex and the words come slowly. But here is an initial attempt to put it into words.
I remember the Sunday School classes: the felt board, the cut-out Bible characters, the memorization of the little orange catechism.
I remember the Jesus Freak youth group days: retreats and conferences, pranks, loving Jesus more than anything, getting up early to read my Bible. I was hungry for it and it fed me. We passed notes in the hall at school: Bible verses to encourage.
I remember the Christian college: my honest-to-goodness deep passion for discipleship and community and missions. The floor Bible studies and encouraging notes I found clipped on my dorm room door. The holy conversations with professors and friends, in offices and dorm rooms and out under the stars. I remember the incredible growth, the deep pain of depression, the healing and providence and sustenance of a good God.
I remember moving across the country to intern at a church: fresh out of college with a ministry degree, full of excitement and anticipation to be back in the church community I fell in love with during a summer internship.
I remember the depression and anxiety starting to creep up that winter, the jealousy and fear. I remember the moments of panic and claustrophobia, needing to get out of the situation, to run away from a church service up to the foothills of the Sierras.
And then–oh, then.
I remember that day. I remember going to a friend-family’s house for dinner to join in late on takeout boxes of orange chicken, beef and broccoli, fried rice.
I remember stopping with a fork halfway to my mouth, an elementary school girl asking, “Did you know that the pastor committed suicide?” I remember glancing, mouth open, to her father, my eyes questioning what on earth she was talking about. I remember his nod, the words, “It’s true…We just got a call…”
I remember the next few weeks, a nightmare of trying to go through the motions and put one foot in front of the other, just trying to survive each day. I remember thinking that if he was so strong and couldn’t beat depression, how on earth would I do it?
I remember the memorial service which I probably shouldn’t have gone to; the people saying nice things; the preacher’s reminder that spoke straight to me: just because he did this and people are saying nice things, doesn’t give you permission to do the same.
I remember going through the motions of Sunday School and children’s church, teaching tinies that God loves them and saves them. I couldn’t ask the question heavy in my heart, so I pushed it further down.
I remember finishing my internship and my other job, miraculously, because I don’t remember much else about work.
I remember leaving my host family and going to intensive therapy at a center for Christian workers. I remember the relief and terror at being alone and not having to meet anyone’s expectations. And after that, the anger.
I remember exhausting hours of counseling. I remember the art supplies strewn across the floor as I tried to process what words couldn’t explain.
I remember not going to church. It felt good.
I remember the shock and sorrow and anger at the situations that brought others to the counseling program: abuse, affairs, depression, burnout, doubt, rape, anxiety, manipulation, divorce.
I remember learning to drink and cuss and be angry with these broken, honest, seeking, hopeful missionaries and ministers.
I remember going to church again. One church new, a beautiful place that welcomed a group of us from the counseling center, broken and angry women. I cried at every service while they loved on us and spoke true things. The other church, “my” church; still reeling and trying to recover, a flock of sheep without a shepherd.
I remember leaving the counseling center, on unsteady legs, to re-enter the world. I remember living with a new family, and then another. I remember endless, fruitless job searching; hours spent in libraries or coffee shops.
I remember venturing out to the Christian Science Reading Room, a place that promised quiet and space to hold my broken pieces in peace for awhile.
I remember not getting there; the ditzy man running a red light and T-boning my car. I remember my car smashed on the street, looking dead; only a scratch on my foot, wondering why it happened like this. I remember thinking that God was punishing me for the blasphemy of attempting to go to the Christian Science Reading Room; a spiteful, mean Sovereign.
I remember the awful things that some Christians said to me. Not annoying Christians who I didn’t like; Christians who I knew and loved. They said doubt was wrong; get it together; you know better than this.
I remember Christians telling me “encouragements,” that God had plans to prosper me, to give me a hope and a future, that everything was in his hands. I remember not liking his hands. I remember people telling me that I was like Jonah, that God was letting me be tossed in the ocean because I wasn’t doing what he wanted.
I remember the intensity of pain and anger and confusion.
I remember a panic attack borne out of living from a duffel bag too long, and realizing that I needed to move home.
I remember the goodbyes, trying to piece things together enough to have closure. I remember being reprimanded and rejected by some, embraced and encouraged by others.
I remember trying to find a church at home, and not being able to make it through services without crying angry tears. I remember trying to read my Bible, and shoving it under the mattress, never wanting to see it again.
I remember the new church plant near my house, pastored by my Jesus Freak youth director. I remember going, feeling angry, defensive, and wary; leaving with hot tears yet not able to stay away.
Then I remember a long time of silence and space. I worked, I lived, I did what I needed to do. Slowly, painfully slowly, my heart grew less tense, less bitter, more soft. I tolerated God on the periphery of my being. He tolerated me being pissed at him. Slowly, ever so slowly, the tolerance turned to acceptance, and then to a tiny smidge of desire.
I remember when we were on fire.
I remember when I was a wet, smoldering pile of ashes.
Then a soft breath warms the ashes like bellows, keeping it alight.