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My story begins in “church play-care” when just a wee lad, growing up attending a Lutheran church until about middle school.

Some church members thought I had a more mature mindset than most, that I was more open and accepting. Moving on to another Sunday school, I didn’t learn much about the bible other than the basic bible stories that most of us know today. Before having us dig into the bible one of my Sunday school teachers would read us books like The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings to pull out the religious concepts. They were books I enjoyed, but at that age the only thing I took from it was that it was light against dark, good against evil. I later learned of other concepts, but at that time, I was too young to fully understand.

In the previous Sunday school, they would tell us stuff along the lines of “anyone that doesn’t go to church or believe everything we do should be shunned.” I was taken aback. Even at my age I knew there were some individuals that saw themselves as “independent Christians” and I accepted those who were different without showing hate. Deep down, I knew God didn’t want us to show hate and I lived by that. I was an accepting and open person to all and still consider myself that way and wished to spread love and acceptance.

In about the seventh grade, things in the church began to change. Members were changing churches due to various reasons. One of them was that our new pastor was a lesbian and handfuls of people did not accept that. I grew up with some people in the church family and in my immediate family who told me that the LGBQTA+ community was, well...bad. I didn’t believe the lot of this. They were people, some were my friends, others potential friends, and all around human beings. I believe they are people and deserve to be treated as such and have the same opportunities, though some unaccepting individuals perceived them to be “the abnormal.”

I met a friend in one of my middle school classes who said she went to another church and invited me to come to her youth group. My Lutheran church became so small that by the time I was old enough to attend their youth group, it was no more. I never had been to a church youth group and thought it seemed interesting so I accepted.

The new youth group I went to was part of an independent bible church. I also joined some bible study groups and made some new friends. They seemed like a fun group of people. However, I noticed there was some drama going on that I didn’t believe was right.

This girl named Annabel had a rough life with her father. She and her mother were both physically and emotionally abused by him. Both parents had a restraining order against each other and her father would attend the early church service while her mother attended the late one. The church didn’t believe in divorce. The youth pastor sided with Annabel’s abusive father and brought attention to it to the church and prayed that Annabel’s mother would come to terms and help mend the relationship. In reality the father changed for the worse as the relationship deteriorated. Those at the church didn’t understand that you can’t change anyone besides yourself.

While Annabel’s mother attended the church, she secretly began divorce proceedings. I continued to attend the youth group regardless, as it gave me some time to learn and have fun, compared to always thinking about high school.

I decided to attend one of the independent bible church’s youth winter camps. We were going up to the mountains and there would be all sorts of fun activities so I hopped aboard. However, this girl who verbally and physically harassed me since the fourth grade was also in attendance and I felt like I was walking on needles trying to avoid her. Coincidentally, they had her bunk across from mine.

One evening I was reading my bible and studying for school on my bunk. This girl began to throw some mini cookie bites at me and proceeded to harass me: making fun of my androgynous-looking clothing among other things. She even came over and flicked my nose. I told her politely to stop, and if she didn’t, there would be consequences. She said, “lol is that a threat, Marion?” and continued to pelt me with food and asked if I’d bought my clothing from a trash can.

By the time I went downstairs to worship and study session I was in tears. I knew the youth pastors would side with this girl just because her parents are popular. It didn’t make it right. My friend’s mom, who happened to be a youth counselor asked me what was wrong and told me it looked like I was about to break down. I was choking back tears and was able to forcibly whisper out the girl’s name.

They called her to come and have a discussion to see if the situation could be resolved. I didn’t understand how they thought they could resolve this since it had been going on since the fourth grade and they were unaware of all those details. This girl played it cool and pretended that it was all a joke, with “oh right, my friends and I throw stuff at each other all the time and it’s all in good fun!” She then skewed everything and said I threatened her, so the pastor turned to me and I responded with, “If she continued on physically attacking me, do I just stand there, or do I utilize self defense?” They sent me home early as punishment.

I didn’t feel as if I did anything wrong. Awhile before, they had kicked out my friend for being gay, they shunned Annabel and her mother from the church after finding out about the divorce, and now I was receiving flack over what another person did to me. None of this seemed right.

I decided to take a hiatus from going to church. For awhile I questioned my faith, wondering why myself and some other individuals were being shunned from the church when we were supposed to live a life of God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. I felt lost and confused and like I was the one in the wrong.

At around this time I was dealing with the stress of high school and family and was going through a rough time. I had frequent dizzy spells and anxiety attacks. When I tried going back to church they seemed to want to push me on the outskirts. I was told that I was sick and God was punishing me for something. They didn’t believe in medicine either.

I stopped going to church once more. My health worsened. I worried so much about having an anxiety attack in public that this stress caused me to skip meals or loose my appetite. I lost weight and almost dropped below a hundred pounds. It got to the point where I had to see a nutritionist and drink lots of water to gain water weight.

Some of my friends who knew of the circumstances urged me to go back to church, but I refused. When I tried to, I had panic attacks. At the same time, I fought with my parents as they told me that religion was essential and said that above all, I should never miss church. I didn’t care about church anymore. A church is a place where you can come together and worship. I didn’t want to come together with hateful people when I could pray and read the bible on my own time. I know there’s no perfect church. We all have our variations of beliefs and differences. I believed the youth pastors were false prophets.

I realized the most important thing was my well being so I went to many doctors. I was diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and once I did my own research, I self-diagnosed with RAD (reactive attachment disorder, which has no cure.) I spent my junior and senior year testing new medications until I found something that worked.

Through all this, I had to make new friends. Most of the church individuals shunned the idea of medication and self-diagnoses and they rejected my morals and values. Some of the individuals I met were not very accepting people and I couldn’t change them. I had to make my own path and do what worked for me. Religion had given me some peace. I’m a cross between a Buddhist and independent Christian. I follow the Buddhist noble truths as they talk about suffering. I’ve done my fair share of suffering, and knowing those truths have helped me a lot. In addition, I read the bible on my own time. I learn a lot more in that sense. I had felt that the churches I attended cycled through the same material every year and I wanted to get more out of the bible than that. My life events and my personal morals have led me to become the person I am today.