“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Matthew 23.24
So I’ve been reading Not A Fan. by Kyle Idleman. I’m about halfway through it and all I can say is, wow. It’s abrasive if you’re reading through it and realizing you’re not being the follower Christ intended. I mean, think about it… I’m the kind of person who was raised in church. I was baptized when I was eight years old. As a kid, my family rarely missed a Sunday at church. I knew all the hymns, I knew all the books of the Bible, I went to vacation Bible school, and I was part of the youth group. But, as I grew up, my whole family seemed to grow away from church. I really started to struggle in my faith in high school. It’s not that I ever stopped believing in God, just that I stopped seeing Him being relevant to my family. Sure we still went to church, and I was even on the praise and worship team. But I stopped seeing the Christian life being lived, and started seeing it being acted. I started to resent my parents. Because, like every 15, or 16-year-old I could see the hypocrisy of it all. That’s true with all kids that age, right? You hit 16, get that driver’s license in hand and all of a sudden, you see the world in black and white and everything makes sense, and you have solutions to all the world’s problems. Honestly, I still believe that I heard more logical political thinking in my junior year U.S. history class than I have ever heard from a working politician… Maybe we should extend the right to vote to ambitious 16-year-olds… or give them like half a vote… I don’t know… Anyway, the point is that faith went from being something I lived, to something I put on. I was still going to church (when my parents would take us, typically only on weeks we had praise team) and I was in FCA at school and I went to the youth group with my friends at the United Methodist Church. On the outside, it looked like I had it all together, right? Wrong.
Not many people know this about me, but I struggled with depression from the end of my sophomore year till the spring of my junior year. Yeah, yeah… I know… whiny little emo kid, upset at the world… But I think what really set off the depression was that I kept putting my trust in people, and those people kept letting me down. I was so tired of being disappointed. I’ve always valued a person’s “word.” Call me old-fashioned, but when someone says they will do something, I expect them to hold to their word, because I would hold to mine. As a high school kid, you learn from your peers that people today don’t much value their word anymore; broken promises, lying “friends,” betrayed trust… That gets pretty heavy for a kid who stops thinking that God can help them. And I just sank. No one knew.
The event that should have been the most eye-opening for me both was, and wasn’t. I went to a Deeper Life week of church camp with a couple of friends from another church. That week was probably the most pivotal week of my life, because it made me realize this one thing: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25) That wasn’t the exact scripture that was read that week, but I feel it is an accurate summation of the things with which I struggled. I kept putting my faith, and trust, and hopes, and desires, and dreams, and dependence on people. People are fallible creatures it’s just who we are. It’s unrealistic (especially to you 15 and 16-year-olds out there) to ever think that you can make it through life without someone you rely on at some point eventually letting you down, making a mistake, or even yourself making mistakes… We are human beings, and imperfect creatures. The only one we can trust absolutely to never fail, or change, or disappoint is God. That realization changed my life. Unfortunately, the rest of my family didn’t get to experience that week of church camp that I did. Things at home stayed the same. We all fell apart, but continued to go through the motions. I watched as my parents’ marriage fell apart, and I felt completely helpless to stop it. And the truth is, it wasn’t my responsibility to save their marriage, even though I had gone the past nine years of my life thinking it was. The burden of being that support to each of them was smothering, and my faith didn’t seem to be working. I was ready to give up. The biggest mistake I ever made was not telling someone. By isolating myself in that downward spiral of disbelief and disappointment, I made myself vulnerable to all kinds of dark thoughts, including the thought that nothing I was trying was making a difference, so it didn’t matter whether or not I was even around. I began to devalue myself, yet at the same time, I held on to hope that someone would pull me out.
That year, late in winter, I went to a Lifesaver’s retreat. For those of you who don’t know, Lifesaver’s is a peer counseling/ suicide awareness and prevention group. Yep, even with all the things I was thinking, I was on the outside, one of the kids who had it together enough to counsel other people through their issues. One of the exercises toward the end of the retreat was that we all sat in a gigantic circle, in pitch-black darkness. We passed around this small plush heart, and we were told to “reveal our greatest pains.” Sounds corny, I know, maybe even cult-like. But as I heard the incredible stories, the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking stories of my peers, I broke down. The ones I thought wouldn’t understand because they didn’t know my family’s history, or the ones who were still friends with that ex-boyfriend, or the ones who didn’t have to worry about money… They all had a pain like I did. And though it was a secular event, I felt the Holy Spirit there with me more than I ever had. I wept. The people from my school who knew my voice hugged me afterward, and then you know, we acted all cool like none of the mushy stuff ever happened. But after that weekend, I sincerely made the effort to turn things around.
My parents may disagree, but that was the point at which I began to distance myself from them. Not because I ever stopped loving them, or wanting them in my life, but because I needed space. I needed to be able to think things through without their influence. I needed to figure out who I was supposed to be as an adult; who I wanted to be. That was also the time I started praying. I had prayed before, but not consistently. I began to pray for God to send me someone to help me out of my rut; someone who I could trust, and who would trust me in return. Someone who would value me despite my weakness. Someone who would call me beautiful. Someone who realized they needed God as much as I did. Someone who I could see becoming my future husband; a knight in shining armor**….
Two and a half months later, I started dating Mitch. All of that pain, all of that uncertainty and disappointment was preparing me to understand his struggles, his pain, and his loneliness. I knew from the first time I saw him that I was going to marry him. I mean, after all, we did have the same favorite colors, same eye color, same blood type, we both sang, and had the same top 5 favorite Rush songs- in the same order… What more could a girl ask for, honestly? We made each other better. Neither one of us valued ourselves before we met, but just having that one other person in the world that understood… That was all either of us needed.
A year passed and for a while after that, it began to seem as if it were us against the world… My parents didn’t like that we were spending so much time with each other exclusively, and our friends were taking bets on how long our relationship would last. I recall three months being the longest wagered… My then 17-year-old self started to kick in… I knew what I wanted, and I didn’t see a reason not to have it. I applied to Southeastern Illinois College for a full tuition scholarship in Theatre. I got it. I made plans to move out of my parents’ house after graduation. At that point, the only one who seemed oblivious to the chaos that was my home was my dad… (sorry dad, I love you…) As I think about it now in retrospect, I’m a little more able to see it from my parents’ perspective. By that point I had completely alienated myself from them. My reason for that was to make it easier when I moved out for school. Unfortunately, that was a stupid thought on my part and just ended up making things harder for all of us. Because when I finally did let my parents back in to what was going on in my life, they were sort of blind-sided and didn’t take it so well… In fact, words were said, and being as headstrong as my father, I called them on it. I packed my stuff, and I left.
Granted, I came back the next night, but I felt like I had to prove my point. I was ready to be seen as an adult in their eyes, and they weren’t ready to treat me as such. Silly me, running away just made me look like more of a child… Me and dad didn’t talk after that… In fact, we didn’t really start talking again until Mitch left for basic training three years later…
Anyway, in the three years that followed my dramatic move, I went on with my life. School was going great, my relationship with Mitch was great, my life was exactly what I wanted, save for my family. I don’t know if it was triggered by my leaving, or if it was just a giant pressure cooker of chaos that would have exploded eventually whether I moved out or not, but things got hairy. I remember one time in the middle of the night my sisters called me from a party that had gotten broken up by the police. They wanted me and Mitch to pick them up and vouch for them as if we were their parents… Now I don’t know how intoxicated they would have to have been to think that me and my baby-faced husband could ever pass for someone’s parents, but let’s just say, they weren’t being logical. I told them to call mom. I assume they did… But that’s the kind of thing that was happening on a regular basis. Everything spiraled out of control! And I’m still pretty sure it all goes back to that one verse of scripture, and our inability as human beings to be content in it: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25) If we forget that fact, we will crumble; I’ve seen it happen in my family. You can’t expect people to satisfy spiritual needs that only God can satisfy. God made people to satisfy our human and physical needs, not to take His place.
A lot has changed since then… Me and Mitch were brought closer to God and to each other after he enlisted. My brother is finding his voice in all of this, playing trombone in school, and slowly figuring out that God is absolutely necessary for success in everything. My sisters are not struggling with pot, or alcohol any more, and both have chosen to depend on God more*. My parents divorce court date is April 27th.We’ve all made mistakes, and let each other down. But now more than ever is a new beginning for us all. We’ve struggled a lot, and we’ve fallen, and God has been there through all of it whether or not we chose to see Him there. That’s my story. That’s the Campbell’s condensed version of how I got to where I am today. I know there are still things that need to be worked on in my life, but it’s not something I can do by myself. I need God. And I thank God for helping me to realize that.
I want to be a true follower of Jesus, and not just a fan, and I know it is going to be difficult, nay, impossible if I try to do it on my own. I don’t expect it to be a simple, instantaneous process. I feel it is going to take time for God to work in my life, and show me how to grow in faith and spirit. I know there will be costs. I don’t know what they will be, but I know that nothing worth fighting for is ever easy. I pray that God continues to reveal who He wants me to be, and leads me in wisdom toward his truth so that I might be a guide for others to follow. I pray that he takes my will and just utterly destroys it, and instead makes His will mine. I pray for strength, and I pray for guidance, and I thank Him for keeping me humble, and keeping me reliant upon Him. I’m full of adrenaline in thinking about the future. I know God has something magnificent planned for my life, and for my husband’s life. And I look forward to experiencing what life has to offer us as we continue to seek God.
*I’m especially proud of my middle sister, for choosing The Love Dare for her relationship- B, God is good, and whether or not it’s what you think you need from Him, He will carry out what is best for you long-term. Continue to lean on Him and please, ask me any questions you may have. I consider it a joy and an honor to lead you closer to the Lord.
** After me and Mitch had been dating a while, we had a conversation about dreams, specifically recurring dreams. I told him that when I was about 7 or 8, things with my parents weren’t the greatest and when they used to fight, I would go make a pillow fort in the closet and just chill there till they were done. At night I would have this recurring dream where I was sitting alone behind a booth at the Dairy Queen in the town where my grandma lived. I was alone and scared, sad that no one was with me. Then, a blue-green eyed young man with sandy brown hair, in a white tunic and pants would come out of the door that led to the bathrooms. He would smile at me, and lean over the back of the booth and look down at me. He would ask me why I was crying, and I would try to tell him because no one wanted to sit with me. He just smiled and handed me a bouquet, and said everything would be okay, and that he would see me the next night. I had that same dream for months.
Then Mitch, wide-eyed and staring told me about his recurring dream as a kid. He was a knight! In an order of 5 knights, red, blue, green, white, (and a 5th color I don’t remember) but he was the one in white. Every night, they would ride their horses to a series of doors, in a castle, and for some reason, he always chose the same one. He woke never remembering what was behind his chosen door, but with a happy feeling that he had picked the right one. We just sort of stared at each other after that conversation… Had we been meeting in our dreams as kids? Or was it just a coincidence? I like to take the more romantic standpoint and say that it was good I brushed my hair each night before bed, because I met my Prince Charming in my dreams.