Names have been changed for protection from lawsuit-happy pastors.
My family is Roman Catholic. When I was little, we went to Mass every week. My sister and I were baptized when we were a little older than usual, I had my first communion, and then we stopped going to church. Somewhere along the line, when I was in sixth grade or so, my mother had some sort of spiritual awakening and we all had to go to Mass every week and I had to go to CCD. By this time, my rebellious streak was in full swing and I hated everything about this. After I was Confirmed, which I only did in case I wanted to marry a nice Catholic guy one day, I stopped going to church. My mother said I was old enough to make my own decisions. I went on holidays and once in awhile if I wanted to go to dinner afterwards, but that was about it.
Fast forward to 12th grade. I was a student writer for the local paper’s youth section. In one of our meetings, someone had suggested that someone write something about this new church that had opened in the mall. Somehow or another, I ended up being assigned to it. In typical Sierra fashion, I kept putting it off and putting it off.
I was working at a grocery store at the time, and one of my good friends worked with me. She and her boyfriend (who I may have had a huge crush on) invited me to go to church with them. I agreed, just because. Turns out, they go to that mall church I needed to write about.
It’s probably important to note right about here that I was bullied every day from elementary school to high school. Every day, every class. I was bullied for my weight, my teeth, my hair, my clothes, my socioeconomic status, and anything else you can think of. As you can imagine, I had zero self-esteem and never stuck up for myself. In 12th grade, it was much worse. I cut my hair in a very common short haircut, which happened to be like one of my good friends. Because of this, the only, like, three friends I had turned into my worst enemies. Thinking back, this is the most ridiculous thing in the world, but it was positively a life ruiner at the time. Fun story: It got to the point where I came home crying one day and my grandmother called the principal. The principal in turn called said ex-friends into his office and said, “Sierra’s grandmother called up here and said you’re picking on her. Stop it.” Yeah, that’ll make them stop. Thanks for that, principal.
I went to youth group with Natalie and Sam that night. I had never quite experienced anything like it. Everyone was so happy to see me, even though they had never met me. Everyone was friendly and hugging me and my head was about to explode. I don’t think I’ve ever had that many people my age be nice to me. Ever.
When the worship band started playing, I was speechless. My only other Protestant experience had been at a bone-dry Presbyterian church a few years before that, where I sat there wondering how long one man can talk and really missing the Catholisthenics of sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, stand. I didn’t know church could be like this. After the band was over, we played games, had a little lesson, altar call, and then went home.
I’m sure the scene is really typical for people who grew up in non-denominational/evangelical churches, but this was crazy to me. I loved every second of it.
I went back to youth group the next week, sans Natalie and Sam, and ended up responding to the altar call. If Jesus was like the people I met there, I wanted to know him.
I wrote my article a few weeks later. I wish I still had a copy of it. My former CCD teacher emailed me after it was published and reminded me that I was Catholic and not to abandon the RCC. I sometimes wish I would have listened to her.
So there’s that. It seems really normal at this point and that’s because it was. Things didn’t start going crazy until a few months in. More of that in the next post. This one is entirely too long.