That’s right. I had the oversized T-shirt to prove it.
It was left over from some weekend bible retreat, and had felt like a good investment of my precious $20 spending budget, at the time. A week later I was walking down the halls of my public middle school with “Jesus Freak,” proudly stamped across my chest.
Ok maybe proudly is a strong word. Let’s be real, as an awkward middle schooler who lacked a strong path towards personal identity, and craved belonging at the utmost, this was a risky statement. All it took was one judgmental glance and a few snide remarks from some peers, and the game was off. The T-shirt was off.
‘The moral gain of sporting the “Jesus Freak” T is not worth the social risk.’
It was promptly downgraded to the night-time T-shirt drawer.
My heart twinged with sadness and guilt.
I was one of a kind in my small rural school. Most everyone claimed to be Christian, but no one had the level of devotion that I did, and we all knew that. I was at the top of my class in all things Jesus—rivaled only by my best friend and fellow bible thumper, Jen.
Jen was the one who introduced me to her church of speaking-in-tongues worshippers on the outskirts of town. She was the one who encouraged me to follow my church leaders’ instructions to carry a bible around with me everywhere I went, even though I was 10, and it was pretty much social suicide. She was the one who introduced me to light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board, and who would practice her Ouija board on me at our slumber parties.
Do you remember her?
I bet you had a Jen in your life too. Someone who was just a little bit weirder and darker than you were comfortable with, but you just had to keep coming back for more, hoping she would open the doors to discover more layers of magic when the adults weren’t looking…
It was with Jen, that I first stepped into the light of Divine Love. I had my first experience of rapture with the Divine alongside her at the altar, when I became moved by the presence of Jesus. The devotion to this presence was instantaneous within my heart, and my devotion swelled throughout my pre-pubescence.
As I was nearing the end of my middle school career, I realized I was in danger of fully taking on this identity of a bible thumper, and started to back-pedal. My middle school legacy was on the line here. ‘Do I really want to establish myself as the Jesus Freak, as I enter into High School next year?’
On the one hand, it was a good excuse to play the ‘good girl’ card, and avoid any hope for an awkward dating routine. On the other hand, I feared a permanent stamp of ‘not cool’ across my forehead for all of High School eternity.
So I compromised with myself, and I learned to hide my devotion in safer places like my church youth group, and downgraded to a bit more socially acceptable evangelical church that some ‘cooler’ girls went to. As I entered high school I started new friendships, and eventually Jen—and my intrigue with the things that went bump-in-the-night—faded into the background.
As I grew up into ‘normalcy,’ my relationship with Jesus and church seemed to mature from a playful magic, to a serious tone of authority. I became rigid because I could no longer play. I settled into the reliable routine of dogma. Black and white. Simple. Predictable. Unarguable. This is how I learned to guard what was real in my heart.
As an adult, I eventually lost the light of that connection to Christ all-together, in the alluring sea of normalcy… I wrote-off that bible-thumping middle schooler inside of me.
But not to worry, those rigid gates and murky seas wouldn’t last for long. Yet that’s a story for another time…
As I look back at that time in middle school, before I turned the corner as a young adult, I am grateful for a lot of things.
I am grateful that I was able to feel something real in my connection with Jesus, a feeling that many of my peers were too focused on mundane pursuits to let in. I am glad I trusted my inner wisdom even though I was going against the grain.
I am grateful for Jen. For all the Jens out there. Because without her, I wouldn’t have had an outlet to express my flavor of weird, and to be unconditionally accepted for it, let alone be pushed to become it.
I am grateful for my choice to train myself into society and to learn the ways of ‘normalcy.’ To do my best to fit in, and to relate to others through my own identity as a ‘normal’ youth.
All these things allowed me to be a bridge between the normal and the weird. They set me up to be the person that I am today, and to offer my gifts of walking in both worlds.
So why is it that I feel moved to tell you this story today, on the cusp of Yuletide and Christmas?
I had to hide my devotion to what was real for me, in order to ‘survive’ the halls of that middle school. I had to adapt and blend in, but you better bet that I hid those secret connections in plain site. I would pray for people if I saw them arguing or upset. I would listen deeply to the impulses of the subtle, and to the words never spoken between friends. I would channel love through music, while also guarding the preciousness of my voice.
In those times, I learned the true definition of what it meant to be a Christian. I learned to live it, instead of just proclaim it.
At 10 years old, I was a walking prayer. I can say I embodied the teachings of Jesus. As I struggled to speak about it, I learned to walk as the light of Christ. And just like the Sacred all around us today, I was hidden in plain sight. And though I am grateful for the lessons, part of me still wishes I never had to hide.
Today, unlike the times of persecution of the Ancient Ones, there is not the same risk to my physical well-being. That is why I am clear in my own heart that the time for hiding is over. I am strong enough in my identity now, and I have given meaning to my journey. For myself, as for many of us, it is time to be the bridge, and to unveil the Sacred for all to see.
This is the path of light and love that Christ laid out for us to follow; to pass through the fears of death (of body or ego), and to embrace the wholeness of who we truly are.
I used to be a Jesus Freak…and in a certain light, I think I still am.