My Conversion Story: Part IV — Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

(Read Part I, Part II, and Part III)

My mom was thrilled for me to be asked to the Senior Prom as a freshman. She happily agreed to have my makeup and hair done at a fancy salon for The Night To Be Remembered. My parents were separated again by this time, but my dad was planning to meet us at the designated location for pre-prom photography. I remember watching his long elegant stride skate across the grassy space between his sports car and our meeting spot. He approached, kissed me on the cheek and whispered in my ear that he and my mother were getting a divorce and I wouldn’t be seeing much of him any more. He leaned back, looked at me as if almost looking through me, turned and skated back to his car as briskly as he came.

I stood there stunned, trying desperately not to show emotion. I had spent my childhood mastering my emotional fortress. I wasn’t about to chip a crack in it in order to dignify their efforts at what (at the time I seemed certain) was another attempt to ruin my life. I quickly wiped away my mascara stained tears and blew upward from my lips hoping to cool my reddening face.

Obviously I had seen the Big D coming. I had even longed for it, thinking it would mean the hot and cold, back and forth, love and hate would be over.  What I didn’t expect was for the blow to hit on a night like this. I thought we were at a truce for special occasions, yet as I would learn in the coming years, special occasions would inevitably become the platforms for causing pain and erupting disaster.

Not long after the divorce another blow struck in an unexpected corner of the ring. My dad announced he was taking a leave of absence from his high profile career in our small town and checking himself into rehab.

Rock. Bottom.

It was the beginning of a pivotal journey of admirable strength and dedication in my dad’s life, for which I am forever thankful and increasingly impressed by. But on the heels of the divorce and all the licentious reasons for the divorce this event was miserably, indescribably hard on all of us. Our exotic laundry was slowly hung out to dry one dirty garment at a time for all our small-town peers to gawk at. Friends stopped being able to come to my house. My dad’s license was revoked, permanently maiming and temporarily halting his career. Slowly, our unreasonably expensive cars were impounded, our utilities were periodically cut off and past-due rent statements were piled next to the sporadically useless telephone.  

Over the following months, the gown of confidence I discovered by the end of middle school began unraveling at the seams. I knew I had to be unlovable. I wanted so badly to escape from this world and to be born into another life. Despair and anxiety controlled my every thought. My deepest desires to marry a good and loyal man, to be a mother and to be happy, would only be mocked by more rejection as soon as anyone got to know the real me. I learned about reincarnation and dreamed about how I could end this current life. My depression and hunger for attention in an environment with little supervision or guidance led me down so many destructive, crippling paths.

In between wrong turns, I steadily poured my energy into determination and ambition. If I didn’t have the courage to end my life, I decided I would at least do everything I could to make sure my works would separate me as far as possible from my family. I worked myself numb at sports, academics and my after-school jobs. I pridefully hid my true self from most, behind an apathetic face of independence and feigned indifference. Behind closed doors, I fought brutally with my siblings and my parents, spitting hateful words of resentment and disappointment to the whole lot of them. Publicly, I strove to be the model of responsibility, morality, independence and outstanding character. Most privately of all, I searched and whispered for God to be real.

The first day of my senior year I stood against the wall in my 7:00am AP Chemistry class hoping to be assigned a seat next to my friends. Instead, I was directed to a desk in front of a boy I somehow had never noticed before. A boy that might have been an angel sent to answer my prayers.

Brandon was a strong, but soft spoken, handsome, blonde athlete that on those merits alone would’ve caught the attention of most high-school girls. Unexpectedly, the thing that struck me about him most was that he was unapologetically, boldly and admirably Christian. I had never met a Christian like this before. How could I have never heard of him?  He teased me for months afterward about our first conversation that morning:

“Hi, I’m Jessica.”

“I know, I’m Brandon. I sat behind you last year in a few classes.”

“I...uh...yeah...I know…we just never...you know, talked, so I didn’t know if you knew my name.”

He saw through my lie, but like God’s angels do, he didn’t give up. It turned out that we, in a senior class of nearly 350 students, somehow had every single class together that year and, by no efforts of our own, we were partnered next to each other in each one.

I didn’t recognize it at first, but by the end of those first few weeks back, I knew that what I was feeling was called happiness. I couldn’t wait to see him every morning and even though he stoically hid it from me, rumor had it he felt the same.

Unlike all my past crushes and boyfriends, Brandon came from an amazing family centered on God and love. During one of our homework “not-dates” he asked me if I had been saved. Whether I had been or not, I was not about to blow this question. I promptly said yes and went on to convince him that I was totally, absolutely a Christian too… just, uh, like him. Yeah, that’s right. No doubt about it. Go Jesus!  

Since I said I was a Christian, he began asking me for prayers all the time.  When he drove me home or picked me up he unknowingly (or probably knowingly) taught me to pray out loud, to trust and slowly to love. I wanted to spend every free moment with him, but he forbade it. He taught me about self-control and discipline. He showed me what priorities should look like and the importance of chastity. He could see the longing in my eyes to be held and kissed and patiently explained how those acts right now would only hurt me and he would never do that to me.

Just like my unraveled superficial gown of popularity, my tough armour of anger and despair began falling away. His family took me under their wings as well. His mother invited me over to bake cookies and to meet her for tea as she nursed and cared for my soul. I was too prideful to admit I didn’t know what I was doing and that I was no more Christian than I was Jewish or Buddhist. But I faked it until I made it and before I knew it, I found myself praying once again.

God was real and now instead of my ambition, I started to see that maybe, just maybe He was my ticket out after all.

Sorry, Dear Readers, I promised to end today, but there is so much more of my journey that I want to share. We are climbing back up from the valley and the hike is too beautiful to be rushed. Please hang in there for Part V next month.

Jessica Schaefer