I’m Carolyn. I write for Southwest Airlines. I don’t know about you but I’m feelin’ 22. Oh, and I love Taylor Swift even though she really should go back to country music because nothing will ever compare to Teardrops on My Guitar.
But back to the point, and to who I am besides the obvious. I was raised near the beach in Southern California by a father who was a grief counselor and a mother who worked in college ministry. The ideas of a life greater than this one and a Creator greater than me were always part of my life, because death and life and a bigger picture were entangled throughout my childhood. I sang songs about Jesus in the children’s choir, and believing in Him was never really a choice I made; it was just something I did.
Seal Beach, California, where I grew up, and Crawford, Texas, where my family moved when I was in middle school, have more deeply rooted differences than the beaches in one and ranches in the other, and both have their joys and their sorrows to a teenage girl.
Here in Texas, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes met during free time at school and my best friends were my church friends. There, I had a lifetime of memories and a lifetime of friendships. But there, one of my teachers told the class that Christians believed you had to be good to go to heaven and, when I raised my hand to say I thought Christians believed Jesus Christ as Savior was the only way, he replied with a smile that I remember to this day, “I wish I had electric chairs to shock students when they get the wrong answer.” Maybe it was a joke or maybe not, but to a 7th grade girl it left a bigger mark on my memory than an actual electric shock would’ve left on my skin.
I guess that was the final straw that sent my family back “home” to the buckle of the Bible Belt, where my mom grew up. But as I said, both had their ups and downs, and living in a small town with a culture of Christianity didn’t solve my problems; it simply changed them. I guess that’s because no matter where we run, we’re still living in a broken world with a desperate need for healing.
Growing up, I had been taught a culture of relativity, and that didn’t stop when we moved to Texas. In science classes and even in some church circles, I’d subconsciously learned that if something couldn’t be proven, it couldn’t be true. I’d learned that there was no absolute truth (because theories and science could always be disproven, and re-proven, and disproven again, depending if you got your measurements right in the lab). And if there was no absolute truth, there was no absolute power. Even in my conservative Christian home and my “good” Christian life, I had learned that I could be my own god.
In high school, this translated into interpreting biblical passages for how I wanted them to be. I started trying to make God’s words fit the life I wanted to live, rather than making my life fit what He had told me through the Bible that he wanted it to be. I still went to church and made myself cry at church camp because all my friends were doing it, but I wasn’t growing in my faith; there wasn’t much depth. I still read my Bible and prayed, but my life didn’t change. I had seasons when I doubted that a man who lived 2,000 years ago had really had His facts straight when He claimed to die for my sins and give me an everlasting life after death with Him.
On the outside, I was the “good Christian,” but some of my darker secrets showed themselves to those who knew me best. And I think this type of “following” Jesus – the type that only allows the world to see the good and hides the bad except through accidental glimpses – is a lot of what makes the world hate Him and His followers.
When I met my husband Matthew, he challenged all the viewpoints I had grown up with – but in a way so good. Matthew loved Jesus so much. I know it’s cliché to say, but to Matthew it wasn’t religion; it was a relationship. He didn’t read his Bible to check it off his to-do list; he read it to grow closer to Jesus, just like he took me on dates to get to know me. And that type of love for Jesus is what I wanted, too.
At DBU, I took classes where I learned to study the Bible, and I learned more about loving and following this Jesus I had grown up hearing and singing about but never known that deeply. I’m not saying I wasn’t a Christian until then; that would be like saying Matthew and I didn’t have a relationship until we got married. I’m just saying that in college I was submerged in what true following of Jesus is, and it’s when I made the decision to do that myself with my whole heart.
I’m still far from getting it all right. I still get angry on my rush hour commute (note to self: Check to see if Matthew has removed my horn as threatened). I still take for granted much of what I have and let other things take Jesus’s spot in my thoughts and my affection. I still make bad choices basically daily, and I’m still so selfish sometimes that I shock my own self. But I’ve learned that this ugly side of me is what Jesus died for, and the part the world really doesn’t want to see is what He sees and loves and makes all new.