It seems apropos to start with where this all ends. Jesus. As I was making up the list of the 30 people (or groups of people) that have shaped and influenced me I can clearly see that the path connecting them all is the path that led me to Him, Jesus.
The first time I met Jesus as an adult was sitting in a seat at Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg Ohio on Christmas Eve 2002. That night I sat there sobbing, for the first time in years, wondering how I could ever make it in this community of perfection. My heart was cracked open and I fought against it with every ounce of my being. Church, Jesus, God. It was the exact last think I was interested in, I was outright hostile towards all things Jesusy and I did not want this.
Almost two years before this my friend was murdered. The night she was killed, sitting on a balcony I felt a whisper rise up in my heart. A whisper that it's not supposed to be like this, that there was someone out there that had it under control, that had a purpose. I knew that whisper was God, which only served to make me hate him more. Who was this God that would allow my friend to be killed, that would allow such heartache and suffering? I felt abandoned and alone by this God. I held onto that anger for two years. I stoked it and nursed it like a child that I loved.
But that night, Christmas Eve 2002, God was through with my anger. I can't explain adequately the shattering I felt that night. But I knew I had to explore it. I was a terminal people pleaser; to the point that I couldn't really tell you what my favorite color was until you told me yours. (Because how could you like me if I wasn't exactly like you.) I knew that my parents wanted me in church, they wanted me to have a relationship with God.
I also remembered the people I grew up in church with. People that ridiculed me, told me I was stupid and adults that joined in, or at the very least sat idly by while it happened. I didn't want to be like most of the people in the church I grew up in, nor did I want to fake it for my parents sake. If I was going to do this I was all in or all out.
So I snuck to church. I sat in the same services as my parents in a large church, just slightly behind them and to the left. I would leave during the last song so they never saw me and I soaked it all in. I snuck out of my apartment at 2am so my "holy roller" roommate didn't ask me what I was doing and bought a bible at Meijer. I read it in the dead of night and fought the voices in my head telling me that I didn't deserve a God like the one described in those pages.
I spoke to Steve Korn (who will have his own post in this series) who told me that sometimes he (Steve) was an asshole, but that God still wanted him and loved him. He assured me that the people in church aren't nearly as perfect as I believed them to be and that was the beautiful thing about the church. In February 2003, keeping with my torrid late night run ins with God I got on my knees in my apartment and accepted Christ. I told no one for another month.
I continued to sneak to church. I snuck to a bible study. I was afraid my salvation would wear off, that like so many other things I started in my life I wouldn't follow through and finish.
When I finally told my parents my mom was so excited she drove me over a can of Mountain Dew at 1030 at night. (Mountain Dew used to be my love language)
Before I met Jesus I thought, fantasized really, about killing myself everyday. I have written out plans and notes about how I would do it in a way that caused others the smallest amount of inconvenience as possible. Because more than anything, I felt inconvenient. I did all sorts of things that were destructive inside and out before I met Jesus, and for awhile after. But I went to bed the night after I accepted Jesus and I realized with a start, that for the first time in years I hadn't thought about killing myself. It took almost 2 years after that to get over that tendency completely, but I have because of Jesus. He saved me eternally and he saved me physically by removing the razor from my wrists.
As I think about the people that I'm going to write about on this list, I see the love letters that God was writing on their lips to me. Even the few that are on here because of how they shaped me through terrible, abusive, and tragic circumstances. God was there. I can't explain it or wrap it all up in a nice pink bow for you. But God was there, even when I hated him, even when I didn't think he noticed, even when I felt so invisible he was there inviting me to Him.
He's doing the same for each and every one of you. He is writing you love letters in the small and large kindnesses of people you know and strangers. He's sending you comfort when you are hurting and He is longing for you to fall in love with him too.