Spiritual: adjective, \’spir-i-chə-wəl\: of or relating to religion or religious beliefs.
Crisis: noun, \ˈkrī-səs\: stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.
I didn’t intend to go through a crisis. I mean, I avoid drama at all costs… which is why I was never a very good lawyer in my previous life. But unknowingly on January 4th, I started something that has changed me forever.
Let me give you some background.
I grew up in a family that went to church. It was never something I enjoyed, and I distinctly remember crying on Sunday mornings not only because I had to wake up early on the weekend, but I had to put a dress on. The tragedy!
When I started high school, I was invited to visit the youth group at a different church. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that the only reason I agreed to go was because a boy that I was majorly crushing on was in it.
Nevertheless, I took to this youth group like a CrossFitter to a barbell. In fact, my family started calling me “church lady.” Isn’t that special? I was at Sunday school, church, choir, and youth group on Sundays. I was at Bible study on Mondays. And I was at Wednesday night supper on, well, Wednesdays. I travelled on choir tours. I went camping with the youth group in the summer. I helped teach vacation Bible school. I was ALL IN.
I will admit that being involved in the church as a teenager kept me on the straight and narrow. Though my big crush never noticed me (I was really awkward back then!), I am grateful for having had such a positive influence at such an impressionable time in my life.
The odd thing was that as soon as I graduated from high school, my church life ended. Other than going to the Christmas Eve service when I came home during the break, I quit church cold turkey.
As I became “more worldly,” I began to question religion. Who was this condemning God who only let certain people into heaven? Did heaven even exist? How am I supposed to believe the Creation story when there is scientific proof of evolution? Why was I taught to “love my neighbor” when there seemed to be an awful lot of hate going on among Christians? Why were some people considered “good Christians” when they obviously did not lead a “good Christian life” outside of Sundays at church?
The hypocrisy I saw in real world religion made me feel like I had been tricked all those years in high school. Bamboozled. And I was not about to let myself be made a fool. I was done.
Through my 30s, I became one of those people who likes to say, “I am not religious, but I am a spiritual person.” I read self-help books on spirituality (thank you, Oprah!). I tried meditation. I even attempted to read the Bible straight through in order to understand it (only made it to 1 Kings).
Then came CrossFit.
In case you avoid physical activity or don’t watch late night ESPN, CrossFit is a form of fitness consisting of “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” I promise you it is a lot more fun than that sounds. CrossFit’s goal is to prepare you physically for the unknown and unknowable. We do a little bit of everything to create all-round fitness- running, rowing, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, kettlebells, gymnastics, plyometrics.
There are over 10,000 CrossFit gyms worldwide, and its proponents are… Well… Shall we say “obsessive” about it? In fact, some call CrossFit a cult. And I understand that.
When I started CrossFit at age 37, CrossFit became my new religion. I lived it. I breathed it. My days became filled with reading articles or watching videos on it. It satisfied me spiritually, giving me incredible self-esteem for the first time in my life. I tossed my self-help books aside to read “Starting Strength” and “The CrossFit Journal.” I became so passionate about it, I eventually opened a CrossFit gym. I found great fulfillment in helping others achieve physical fitness.
But something happened along the way. My kids became older. They started asking questions I didn’t know how to answer. My oldest son kept asking us to take him to church. How do you tell your child, “No, son, you can’t go to church.”
Last year on Nate’s 13th birthday, I woke up and decided I would take him to Church of the Highlands, a church he had been wanting to visit. I don’t know why he picked this church other than the fact that we had driven by it numerous times as it was under construction. Maybe there was a girl there that he was crushing on? I don’t know.
I admit I had my opinions about COH. It is what you would call a “mega-church,” with multiple locations across Alabama. The church plays “rock music” with a full band, not the good old-fashioned hymns I was used to. There is smoke. There are lights. There are people raising their hands to God. You actually watch the pastor on a big movie screen because he is preaching at a different location. Weird.
I was certain COH would be one of those churches where everybody looked like me (i.e., white and middle to upper-middle class) and would be a church that preached fire and brimstone to non-believers like me. I was convinced all of its members could rattle off a Bible verse for any occasion and tithed in order to fund fancy new campuses across the state of Alabama.
I told my husband that there was no need for him and my other son to come with us. I was just going to check the church out and cross it off my list. I would do my good deed for the day- take my boy to church on his birthday- and that would be that.
I was unprepared. Boy, was I unprepared. Because as I walked into a packed auditorium- so packed, chairs were set up outside the lobby for overflow- into what I thought would be everything I hate about religion, I felt an overwhelming sense of… something. It was as if I was exactly where I was supposed to be. My feelings were unexpected and, honestly, made me uncomfortable.
Nothing was as I thought it would be (except for the music and the movie screen). I learned that all are welcome at COH and that it exists for non-believers like me. It teaches a message of love and acceptance and of finding your purpose in life. It stands by the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” in its message and its deeds.
Nate and I returned the next week, and then I think my husband and other son joined us the following week. My husband, who did not grow up going to church, also felt there was something special about COH. We kept going and going. We were dumbfounded that we had found a church that we actually wanted to go to. We still are.
Fast forward to January 4, 2015. COH was beginning its 21 Days of Prayer to kick off the New Year. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. Pray? Every day? Ummm, I am kind of new to this church thing. Don’t go pushing it, COH.
But in a sermon the prior week, one of the pastors was encouraging participation in the 21 Days. He said more than once to just go “ALL IN” for those 21 Days. Now, I am a believer in signs. Is it a coincidence my gym is named ALL IN CrossFit? I decided to go ALL IN and join the 21 Days.
Long story short, my 21 Days of Prayer were transformative. When I began to pray on Day One, I felt very fragile. Very insecure. Very emotional. Who was this person? I was tough, stand-offish, and distant- a persona I had worked years to perfect. I don’t cry. I look ugly when I cry. Really ugly.
But when you spend 20 minutes a day praying to your God, you begin to peel back the layers of who you really are. You may find that you are actually an extremely sensitive person with a compassionate heart that has been scared to reveal itself for fear of being hurt. You may find that you have a great capacity to pray for others and then unbelievably see those prayers being answered right before you. You may find that there is an even greater purpose in your life and that you need to have faith that you are on the path to find it.
I emerged from those 21 Days a new person- more positive and open towards others. My husband and children loved the new me! I found immense gratitude in my many blessings, and I developed a closer relationship to God.
One year ago today, I would have scoffed at the notion that I would become a “Jesus freak.” If a friend had posted a link to this blog on Facebook, I would have probably kept on scrolling.
But this is where I am- on the tail end of a spiritual crisis and on the beginning of a spiritual journey. I still question, and I still need to understand, but I am grateful that I even have the desire to question and to understand.