Religion has been around me in a huge way my whole life; in the little St Francis figurine and Mother Mary painting in my grandparents’ hallway, in the aroma of incense constantly burning in our neighbor’s shrine, in the dusty rolled up prayer mat in the back of the wardrobe, in the bible in Mum’s bookshelf and in the brightly colored hajibs worn by my aunties.
I never got it. The ceremonies and rituals? I could never work out why. I always felt people did things in ways I couldn’t understand simply because they were raised that way or somebody had told them to, the same way I’d been told to never eat pork. Surely they didn’t like wearing those funny headscarves? And going to church with Gran was always so boring. She must’ve just liked the little free crackers and grapejuice. Not that it was enough to fill anyone up- they were always so stingey with how much you were allowed. I tried going up to get some once and was yelled at to sit back down, so I never really got to try til I was older and went to church alone.
I was a teenager the first time I attended an Anglican church. It was only because I’d liked the look of the garden outside and the Catholic and Baptist ones in the area weren’t as pretty. I liked how friendly the old folks were towards me. They offered me baking and a cup of tea every time and I was even given a name badge. I felt an unfamiliar sense of belonging which I enjoyed, so I returned on my own several times, and dragged my little sister along with me one Christmas. The atmosphere there was warm and friendly, but I still felt I was missing something.
One time I was invited to a spiritualist church. The lady up the front claimed she spoke to spirits and could deliver messages to us all from heaven. She was very vague when telling people about their deceased grandparents. She would say things like, “Your Grandmother tells me you have something of hers. She’d like you to keep it in your bedroom.” And the person she was speaking to would say, “Oh, wow! Yes, I do have her old teapot, but this whole time I’ve kept it in the kitchen!” And everyone would gasp at the miracle of it all. I didn’t end up coming back to that place.
When I was fifteen I planned to take my own life. It wasn’t my first attempt, but I’d thought this one through and I was pretty sure my plan would work. I wasn’t sure what I thought of the “afterlife,” or if there even was one. But wherever I ended up, it was sure to be better than where I was. And hey, even if I didn’t end up anyplace at all, at least I’d no longer have to feel what was going on around me.
A few vehicles passed. Buses were too slow and most cars were too light. I’d worked out the speed and size of truck needed to send me off out of the world. Soon I heard it coming. My vision was blurred, my mouth salty and my cheeks wet. In my head I quickly went over what I’d written in the notes left on my pillow. Not that it would make much difference if I’d changed my mind about them or forgotten to add anything now- I’d be gone soon.
The car almost touched my toes as I went to step out just in time, but something caught me and turned my face into the light, as though I didn’t exist and it had flown right through me like a ghost. I caught my breath.
And that was how I found Him. In a pair of headlights.
I was saved at a set of headlights and forsaken again at another. My story is long and heavy to carry, so I’ll continue this chapter later on. For now, let me skip some years ahead.
Late last year, after years without taking part in any type of church service whatsoever, I found myself homeless, jobless, hungry, pregnant and without a dollar to my name. I don’t recall exactly how it happened, but one Sunday morning during that time I was sitting up on the edge of a crater, looking out over my city and eating a box full of fruit which had been given to me from a church down the road. I remember just taking in the view before me, the taste of the fresh fruit and realizing that I was still here, alive to witness it all. And despite what my mind was telling me, I had never really been alone that whole time. He’d never left me since the day I found Him when I was fifteen. Even before that; He was there all along. He knew me and wanted me to know Him too. So that’s when I made the greatest decision of my life.
That afternoon, on the 27th of October, I gave my life to the one who had saved me years ago. I didn’t leave the church til 11pm that night and I’ve never cried as I did that day. I can hardly explain what I felt. But God spoke to me and suddenly everything made sense. Nothing I had done mattered. Nothing else did, but for the fact that He loved me. He promised me that He would keep me safe, and my baby too. He told me not to worry, for I had chosen the best possible father for my child by choosing to accept Him into my life and my heart. And He has never broken His promise.
I’ve stopped looking for love in magazines. I’ve stopped searching for it in little capsules, at the ends of bottles and in the arms of strangers. I’ve given up on finding love in films and photographs. I realise an audience can’t give me love, no matter how many dollar bills they throw. No, the love I’ve found is perfect and complete. What makes this love perfect is that it’s always been there, I was just looking for it in all the wrong places.
The love I speak of isn’t temporary or conditional. It’s pure and holy and irreplaceable. It makes every other time I’ve ever felt loved feel almost meaningless in comparison. This love doesn’t come from outside me and brush my surface. It bubbles up from within me, shines down upon me and radiates through me, all at once. It cradles my heart with a security unlike anything I’ve ever known and it pumps through my veins as though it is the very life of me. It is the very life of me.
Religion has been around me in a huge way my whole life. I never understood its purpose. Some parts of it I still don’t understand, but I’ll never stop learning. One thing I do know now is that faith is so important. Having something to hold on to and reassure you that everything is going to be okay. Someone to catch you and something to believe in. Giving your life a purpose and meaning and really living it to the fullest. I’m so grateful that I have found mine. I have been abundantly blessed and in the short months since my big decision I have come so far. As frightening as some of the challenges I’ve had to face have been, I’ve put all my trust in my new found faith, knowing nothing I face will be on my own, and I’ve never had to look back. I wouldn’t change a thing for all the world, for the gift I’ve found, I think, is greater.