The Sting of Memory

The human memory is a funny thing.

We can’t remember where we put our keys or the name of that lady who sits in the next row at church every week, but random moments from our past are burned into our memory banks and never leave. Those memories might be important memories: the day we met our spouses, the birth of our children, the moment we received a piece of good (or bad) news. We remember those things, and it makes sense that we would.

But other things….they are stuck into our minds with little or no good reason save for the simple fact of how they made us feel.

And those moments….they will never be forgotten. The sights, the sounds, the smells…we can transport ourselves back to those moments far too easily.

It was the first night of my senior year of college. The semester hadn’t officially begun yet, as we had only moved into our on-campus apartment that day and were still trying to get our desks and closets organized. It was a rare cool evening in August, and we had opened our windows to let some fresh air into the space that was musty from being sealed tightly all summer. One of my roommates and I sat at our desks, adjacent to one another and along the windows, as a group of students gathered in the corridor below. From our third floor window, I heard familiar worship choruses wafting into our room.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord…

Our God is an awesome God…

In the secret, in the quiet place….

Shine, Jesus, shine…

It was a comforting sound to me, and at precisely the moment I decided I would go downstairs and join the impromptu worship gathering, my roommate said the words I will never, ever forget:

“Jess, I’m so glad you’re not a zealot like that.”

My heart sank. We say that a lot – that our hearts “sank” at certain news or whatever – but when I say that my heart felt like it exploded and each individual piece plunged into my stomach, that’s exactly what it felt like.

She didn’t mean anything by it. I’m certain she didn’t. (And I’m still not 100% sure that’s the word she meant to use.) But she also didn’t know that she had just devastated me, and had just sent the clear message that I could not be myself.

Because by her standards, I was a zealot through and through. I had changed. I was different than I had been when she and two other friends and I had all decided to room together for an epic senior year. I had studied in Spain the semester before and was very different – but very much more myself – than I had been.

And without saying so directly, she had just told me that was not going to be okay.

With those words, I felt like I was being pushed into a closet. I didn’t feel strong enough in my new faith in God to say anything, really, in response, so I just laughed an awkward laugh and turned my back as I tried to catch my breath.

In the months that followed, I felt lost. I was readjusting to American college life (and was finding that I was more spoiled than I thought by the Spanish practice of a siesta every afternoon and four-day work weeks). I was missing my friends I had studied with (because alas, Facebook was still in development and our communication was only by email and the occasional phone call). I was struggling with a bad haircut and a vicious resurgence of adolescent acne that made me feel unattractive and painfully uncool. And I was trying to figure out what it looked like to live in relationship with the God I had felt so powerfully in Europe while in a familiar – yet increasingly uncomfortable – place.

My roommates were Christian in the cultural sense of the word, but it never appeared to be very deep for them. Truth be told, the same could have been said of me just months before. I had grown up in church on Sundays, yes, but as for what “Christianity” looked like the other six days of the week? I had no idea.

I was changing, though, and it didn’t seem like they were. I don’t fault them. We’re all at different places on our journeys. It’s just that for me, at that time, our journeys didn’t coincide very well. It was a stark contrast to what I had experienced the semester before.

I didn’t know what to do, and more than once I fled to the fields surrounding my dorm to just be by myself…to try to reconnect with God…to cry and pray. I also fled to the school counseling center for appointment after appointment, trying to make sense of what I was feeling.

The senior year of college is probably hard for a lot of people in a lot of ways, but mine was really, really hard.

But I look back on that time and see that my heart was being prepared for something I couldn’t yet identify. My spirit was being primed for something that was coming, and while I certainly didn’t know it at the time, it was all going to be good.


I never do this….but this story is to be continued. Stay tuned tomorrow for more of the story. It’s just too much to tell in one day.


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