When we were on fire

I asked Jesus into my heart that day.  I sat on the floorboards of my family’s old green station wagon, my little 4 year old heart praying so hard I could hardly stand it.  I knew all the right words to say; I had paid attention.  I don’t remember ever telling anyone what I had done, but Mom told me years later that she once asked me as a child if I had Jesus in my heart and I got snotty and told her I had taken care of all that, thankyouverymuch.

I knew all the answers in Sunday school each week.  All the lyrics to the little songs, all the memory verses, all the difficult pronunciations in the Bible stories, it all came easily to me.  We practiced at home as a family; Mom and Dad and Sarah and me, we sang in the car on vacations about when Paul and Silas were in jail, and on the way to the dentist the one about how he’s always there, up in the mountains and down by the sea.  He filled all heavens and he lived in me, and we were on fire.

I asked Jesus into my heart that evening.  We were ushered into a room behind the sanctuary during a Kids Crusade event with marionettes and I repeated the words after Mary Jo Miles as I stared at the maroon carpet.  It made me uncomfortable, how happy she looked for me.  The whole thing was really awkward and to this day I still don’t know why I raised my hand that night.

I hated Kids for Christ, the elementary church program on Sunday evenings.  It was mostly the games, I think.  I often feel terribly un-athletic and not suited for group games of any sort, especially ones that require popping balloons.  But I could highlight my Bible with the best of them and I spent hours paging through my pastel children’s Bible, soaking verses and pages with neon pink and blue ink, scared that I might get in trouble for ruining the book.

I asked Jesus into my heart one more time at a church lock-in, after singing along to Michael W Smith’s Secret Ambition music video for the forty-second time.  Who can resist that Crucifixion montage and paisley vest?  We need God in America again, Carmen sang on the next video and I couldn’t have agreed more.  It was all so simple.  It was 1992, I was 11 years old, and we were on fire.

I ended up at a Four-Square church camp one summer in middle school, where I saw my first condom, just laying right there in the middle of the gravel road.  Other girls snuck out at night but I just lay in my sleeping bag, scared that I might get in trouble for breaking the rules.  We sang When you walk through the water, I will be there, and through the flame at the top of our lungs, but I never did speak in tongues despite my best attempts.  A boy told me my hair smelled nice in chapel one day and I proudly told him it was strawberry Suave.  I had zero moves, but we were on fire.

I sang Jennifer Knapp in praise band and helped make posters for SYATP and Christy Miller was my best friend in high school.  I went to Acquire the Fire and Teen Mania and I went on mission trips to Mexico and Alaska and all the right leadership retreats. I was baptized in the ocean and I went to summer evangelism training at Wheaton College. I had a relationship with God and my heart broke in ways I didn’t understand when a boy I cared about got his girlfriend pregnant.  I had an accountability partner and we kissed dating goodbye and we were on fire.

I went to college – Academically Demanding and Enthusiastically Christian, they said, though I found it to be authentically neither.  I wrote papers explaining the differences between the theology of Calvin & Arminius and we Entered the Worship Circle at our requisite chapel services. I heard prosperity gospel preached at a local charismatic church and still didn’t speak in tongues.  I knew all the points of TULIP and the shorter catechism but I started to understand that I maybe didn’t know all the right words after all.

I lived in Eastern Europe for a year and a half, with people whose Christianity didn’t look like mine.  Catholic, Orthodox, pray in secret, contemplate icons and find God in silence and ritual.  Tears fell hard as I wandered the hills at the 9th Fort Nazi killing camp and I couldn’t comprehend how God’s provision extended to the homeless men on the street.  I believe; help my unbelief.  I was supposed to be a missionary, but I fell in love with an unavailable man, my heart was heavy with unanswered questions and I moved home.

I found community in Middle America, a rich blend of believers, non-believers, sometimes-believers and other-believers.  Married, single, divorced, cohabiting, friends-with-benefits, just friends.  Amidst these people who cared so well for each other, cared for me, despite our diversity in faith backgrounds and relationship status, I found home.  And I found vodka.  And turns out, vodka is a pretty good friend to retail therapy, working too many hours and kissing bartenders.  That was a rough summer, 2009.  I clung to grace, life full of things I didn’t understand.  

After several years of periodic hiatus I started attending a new church where I met my husband.  Things I’d believed about God and myself started to crumble.  Church and faith and doubt and politics and culture and justice issues and questions mixed and it all felt so complicated.  I found voices online like Rachel Held Evans, Amber Haines and Sarah Bessey.  Voices who said the questions were okay.  Spaces where faith and doubt could coexist, where it was okay to not have all the answers.  Where the mess was called beautiful.

Marriage is hard and messy and church and life is complicated and I no longer feel like I’m on fire.  I haven’t for a long time and I think that’s okay.  I’m working out my salvation with fear and trembling and hope and nothing is simple.  But I believe that God is in the mess and I believe he is redeeming all things.  I believe; help my unbelief.

I’m sharing my story as part of a synchroblog in celebration of Addie Zierman’s courageous new memoir.  It’s her story, but it’s ours, too, and I’m grateful that she’s shared it with us.  When We Were on Fire releases today and I’m so excited to read it.

15 thoughts on “When we were on fire

  1. Micah Yost (@micahyost)

    Seriously, this is great. There has to be this whole community of us “90’s” church kids with similar stories. Very different circumstances, very similar waves.

    And there is the understanding and growth, I imagine, of authentically writing it all down. I’m inclined to try it myself.

  2. Courtney

    Wow, this is amazing! I was there for some parts of your story and I can relate to a lot of what you said. Thanks for writing this, friend!

  3. Addie Zierman

    This is so beautiful and lyrical. “I went to college – Academically Demanding and Enthusiastically Christian, they said, though I found it to be authentically neither.” Yes. This was me too. Thanks so much for linking up. So glad to have found your lovely voice.

    1. awastell Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Addie. I’m grateful for your leading on this topic and the larger conversation here. I look forward to curling up with your book and a bottle of wine very soon.

    1. awastell Post author

      Thank you, Leigh. I’m so honored you read my story. Kind of having a fan-girl moment with you and Addie here right now. 🙂


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