Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Story: The Beginning of a Downward Spiral

**This is the next installment of His Story:My Life. To catch up on the first portions of the story, feel free to jump over here.**

I spent most of my childhood in Houston, rather a suburb of Houston. Houston is a good place to be from, and the suburb where we lived was a relatively great place to grow up as a kid. There were lots of other children in my neighborhood, where we filled our days with splashes and games at the neighborhood pool, and filled the evening hours with massive expeditions of Capture the Flag. We were an active family, with soccer games and swim meets keeping the family van moving.

Life after church was just, well, life. All things carried on in a status quo manner, and we were just good people just making our way. There was summer camp, and tents in the backyard, and surprise parties, and orchestra events, and all manner of busyness that goes with a growing a family. And I never knew the difference of the whole God-thing, and never thought to give it a thought.

That was up until my freshman year of high school, when my little world got it's first deep rocking. I was a member of the high school swim team and felt so privileged to be able to spend so much time with my fellow team members. It seemed I had finally found a niche where I felt I belonged, and all the deep insecurities from teasing and striving perfectionism settled into a tolerable rhythm.

But then just a few months into the year, tragedy struck our sheltered little suburb when we heard the news that one of our swim team members had been murdered, along with his older brother and his father. This person, this friend, this team member with whom we had spent many hours in training, was now gone.

Shock, confusion, and great despair spread throughout the community. Their church family was beside themselves. No one could understand how this great family, these upstanding Christians could have been caught up in such violence. They didn't understand where God was in the midst of it all, and for me, on the outside of that church family, it was one more confirmation that church held no lasting benefit for anyone at all.

In the mixed up emotions and angst of my teenage mind, I reasoned that a God who treated his followers like that was not a god to be followed. In the arrogance of my youthful invincibility, I reasoned that I was surely better off on my own, and that church was for the weak, the ignorant, the desperate. And I had already decided that was not to be me. As so I resolved that I was indeed better off on my own anyway. Decidedly, there was no reason to seek after God. He’ll only hang you out to dry and die in the end anyway.

Looking back on those years now, I can easily see how that period of time was like standing at the top of a downward spiral. I was on the edge of the widest circle, moving slowly down, around, and was slowly picking up speed. I just didn’t know it.

At the end of my sophomore year of high school, my family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, a beautiful little city where no one knew anything about me. I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be, because no one knew me.

There was a culture shock that was experienced in Little Rock that I did not expect. The racism that thrived in that town of the South ran so deep that both sides of the fence were tainted with ugly words and evil thoughts. I discovered a new kind of teasing at school, as racial slurs were thrown in our direction as my brother and I would walk down halls lined with much darker skin than our own. The tension was palpable and made school a painful thorn in my flesh.

This straight A teacher’s pet began skipping classes for the sake of avoiding the place altogether. I discovered a quiet park where other delinquents gathered and quickly became friends with my fellow ditchers. Truly, there is only so much that a bunch of teenagers can do while avoiding school, and alcohol and cigarettes were always a part of it. I spent many school afternoons out drinking and smoking for hours. I even showed up to my teenage job slightly tipsy one day. Very dumb.

Oh, if that were where my dumb choices stopped, I would rejoice greatly and write it all off. But with each afternoon where I was tipping back booze rather than sitting in typing class, for each day that I was lighting up smokes and kicking back with new friends, I was stepping further onto the downward spiral with the slippery slopes.

By the end of my junior year of high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, I rarely stayed at school for an entire day. My grades had begun to suffer, and my apathy was overwhelming. On a whim, I decided to apply to be a cultural exchange student. At that point, I was looking at anything to avoid having to return to school the following year. I wrote an essay to compete for a scholarship to send me to Ecuador for a year, and won. Crazy!

So the school year ended, I squeaked by to the finish line, and before I knew it, was packing my bags to spend the following year in a small town on the coast of Ecuador.

Oh boy, that downward spiral was beginning to get very slippery. 

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