Turn and Face the Strange
As a young teenager, I was very timid, very awkward, and very in love with words, sounds and songs. I was fascinated by the lyricism, poetry and prose of the bible. My favourite verses are probably:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4, NIV)
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8, NIV)
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. (Proverbs 31:25, NLT)
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14, NIV)
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)
Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
It is a stunning piece of literature. It taught me lots of new words and exposed me to many beautiful themes, concepts, and bits and bobs to ponder on. Little did I know, I was philosophising all the way. My parents didn’t get what the heck I was on about; I kept things pretty locked away inside my head – they were safer there. On my first day of high school, aged 13, I came home anxious and confused. I wrote, among other things:
Clearly unsure of what I’m trying to say
Trying so hard not to give it away
I’ll start a sentence then take it back,
sometimes my friends can’t even keep me on track
Weeks later, the first choir rehearsal I ever walked into reassured me:
Oh hush thee, my baby– The Seal Lullaby, Eric Whitacre
the night is behind us
and black waters sparkled green
I didn’t know then how much of a lasting impact that choir would have on me.
Leading Kids to Christ
I’ve now realised that there is beauty in the struggle. I think that was what some of the kids in my church lacked: their faith had been handed down to them, and they’d never had the freedom to question and grapple and fight and return. Faith in Jesus was my choice, and I was free to explore it as I desired, on my own terms.
When I was 15, I was finally old enough to come back to my beloved kids camp and serve as a leader. Cabin leading was fantastic; kids are so awesome, and their creativity should be nurtured, curiosity encouraged, and there should be no boundaries or limits imparted onto them. I learned way more from them than they ever would have learned from me. Usually, camp was a safe place for me. There were a couple of times that I accidentally brought the black dog with me, and that drastically hindered my ability to lead to the capacity I would have liked to. We had so much fun decorating our cabins with colour and bible verses; we decided on rules for our cabin at the beginning of each week, and we painted banners, collaborated as a group on team chants and developed skits around biblical themes.
My kids were my absolute faves. I encouraged them to be prayerful, and to read the bible, and to go hard out for Jesus in worship. I was sharing with them the wellspring of life. I was helping to lead them down the straight and narrow. They were cute, they were gorgeous, and they copycatted like no tomorrow. I was surprised by how much they picked up from and modelled off me. I wanted to help, and I wanted to share my Jesus with them.
Youth group was a playground. The music was pumpin’; the preaching was fire, and we all loved and lusted after the power of the holy spirit. Some of us were pastors kids, others of us were semi-regular attenders, and all of us were united by our faith. Jesus was our stronghold, our prince of peace, and he was our safe hiding place. He gave us refuge from the storm of our raging hormones, difficult traumas, and his presence was most palpable in the deepest of worship. Here, we would sing and cry and pray and be vulnerable together. Some of us would speak in tongues, share bible verses that god put on our hearts, or share funny anecdotes that happened to us that week, and then relate them to a biblical theme. We were all passionate about god, and we all loved the community feel, the mystical nature of god, and the movie all-nighter weekend was a highlight every year.
Kinda weird though; I still didn’t quite fit. I still felt like a bit of an outsider. Why?
Losing My Faith
There were cracks. A paradigm shift was brewing. When shit hit the fan, it hurt like absolute hell, and I danced with death more times than I could count. My family, my friends and my broader support system were my saving grace.
Jesus, my: soul saving, childhood praising alter calling, knowledge stalling diary reading, thought policing perfect living, purpose-giving spirit feeding, anxiety easing avid listening, joy inducing Love And sometimes, I miss him - excerpt from my 2017 spoken word, Confession
Ngā mihi ki a Ranginui rāua ko Papatūānuku: e kōrua, da real MVPs x
… and so the saga continues.
If you’re down for part four, I’ll be there! It’ll be you and me, separated by screen, maybe with a cuppa tea or a wine. Big virtual hugs to all my readers – y’all are cool.
Eke mai e hoa mā!