Leah, how did you become a person of faith?
I did not grow up a person of faith. Sure, my parents attended mainline denominational churches as I grew up, and as part of the family, I went along, but I spent most of those years watching the clock for one hour on Sundays, and not feeling spiritually engaged. I was the annoying kid who asked questions in Sunday school that no one knew how to answer, and so by the time high school rolled around I had decided that if there was a spiritual reality, a God or other divine presence, I probably wasn’t going to find him/her in church.
What was alive for me were the arts; my whole young life was immersed in theatre production after theatre production. Dance classes, voice lessons, show choir: I did it all. (If you want to imagine me in high school, Rachel Berry from Glee would be not too far off. And yes, it kind of pains me to admit this.) So when it came time to think about college, I was on a quest to find the school that would best launch me toward a career on Broadway. I applied to a ridiculously large number of schools because I was afraid that with the bulk of my admission status being determined by a two minute audition, I’d be lucky to get in a couple. Turns out I got into 12 and found myself with an unexpected quandry. For the first time in my life I prayed intensely to the Universe. “God, I don’t know who you are or if you even exist, but if you do, please show me where to go to school.”
I scheduled my college tours. There were no lightening bolts or burning bushes. I had only one trip left – a school outside of Chicago that, frankly, I wasn’t very interested in but agreed to tour to appease my parents. Despite horrible logistics which involved sleeping in a car at O’Hare airport in 30 degree weather, the day that I walked around the campus, something happened. I was filled with incredible peace that I hadn’t known before. There were goosebumps all over my body. I felt like I could see my life at this school in front of me, and it was good. I wanted that life. And in my heart I felt a shift. “I believe there’s a God,” I mused, “and I think He wants me to go to school here.”
About six months later, I found myself a freshman theatre major at Northwestern University, sitting in my freshman theatre class, waiting for class to begin, when that weird feeling came over me again. A senior theatre major was making an announcement to all the gathered freshman before class started. Normally these announcements had something to do with auditions for a production coming up, or somebody looking for a volunteer to run lights for their show. But this one was different. This senior got up there and said something along the lines of, “Hey. I’m Brad. I’m a Senior in theatre, and I’m starting a group in the arts dorm for students who want to talk about God.” When he said this, the chills filled my body again. My breath quickened. I knew this young man was speaking to me. Later that week, I found myself in the basement of the arts dorm, embarrassing myself in front of total strangers. I wept uncontrollably while Brad played simple songs on a guitar and sang in a way that was so disarmingly honest and real that it undid me. When Brad and his friends offered to pray for me, my weeping turned to sobbing. But despite my embarrassment, I felt more safe then I ever had before. I felt like my spirit was at home. I had met Jesus.