I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
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Like the roads in my home state of West Virginia, my journey in life has been dizzyingly curvy so far. There’s a lot to tell, so buckle your seatbelt!
From my preteens to my mid-twenties, my life was entirely consumed with being the holiest Christian (fundamentalist Baptist) I could be. Every choice I made was based on what God, via the Bible, would want me to do. I loved God and knew that He loved me, and I spent hours of every day in prayer and Bible study. I volunteered at every church function I could. I didn’t know any non-Christians, but if I met any, I would try to convert them. When it was time for college, I went to a remote, missions-focused Bible college in northern Wisconsin. I wholeheartedly believed that my life was not my own, but God’s.
Then I got a string of illnesses, from mono to pneumonia, that seriously broke down my health. But steeped (or someone might say “brainwashed”) in an environment that encouraged self-denial, I did not listen to my body and take care myself as I should have. Instead, I struggled onward at the same fast pace, mentally pushing myself (“relying on God”) to keep up with all the required activities of Bible college–early morning devotions, daily chapel and classes, evening prayer meetings, church ministry activities, and so on–when my body was just not able to. This unsustainable situation eventually drove me into depression. When I could no longer hide or bear it, there was no choice left but to leave Bible college and get treatment.
There I was, depressed and separated from my Christian world by the increasing severity of my illness(es), when through treatment I was introduced to more open-minded, tolerant, and compassionate mindsets. I felt great sympathy with the other patients in my therapy groups, and for the first time in my life I was able to see non-Christians as more than only lost souls in need of Jesus. I became open to the possibility that maybe other people could have good lives despite not sharing my beliefs.
As time went on and my body and mind began to recover, I began questioning my beliefs and thinking for myself for the first time in my life. I started out with mild questions: for example, was my particular church denomination the “right” one? But the more questions I entertained in my thoughts, the more questions came up, until I was questioning the basic doctrines of Christianity and even the existence of God. My doubts were accompanied by agonizing guilt, so eventually I consoled myself by setting out to study Christianity more deeply–not just the Bible, but also theology, Christian history, other Christian denominations, and religious studies from an anthropological perspective. I began all of this study fully convinced that it would confirm my previous beliefs and eliminate my doubts once and for all. But it didn’t. The more I learned, and the more I thought critically, the more I began to see that my beliefs were not only false but also seriously toxic to my health and happiness.
So eventually, I had to leave Christianity. I adopted a new life purpose: just to live as healthy, happy, wise, and good a life as I could. It was daunting and rocky at first, as I was alone and everything was new. I had no friends and no guidance for how to live without my old religious worldview. I also no longer had a plan for what I was doing with my life. I moved around the country a few times, trying out different schools, career paths, and relationships. (States I’ve lived in besides West Virginia and Wisconsin include Indiana, New Mexico, Florida, and Kansas.) Finally I worked up enough courage and security in who I was to just come back home and create a new life for myself here.
Now, thankfully, my life is stable and happy. I have great new friends and a wonderful husband [and–update–twin baby daughters!], and I’m committed to taking care of my body and mental health as my first priority and trying to grow and live as wisely as I can. I’m working a good day job and (sometimes) taking online classes toward an eventual bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University. In my free time, as I’m able, I’m working with my friends on building a local humanist community. And, of course, along with my other hobbies (such as reading, knitting, music, letter writing, and being in nature), I WRITE.
And oh, how I love to write! Writing reconnects me with my childhood—my pre-Christian days—when my world was a colorful adventure of stories, poems, books, and imagination. So, in this way, I’ve come full circle.