Yes, the logical response to leaving a church with what seemed like a faith that had no real substance was to join a church where the people had all the answers. Linda Whitaker was a slender, kind, happy class mate who wore long skirts and no make-up. She seemed different from my other friends who, like me, tried to wear the most stylish clothes, (including very short skirts—we couldn’t wear shorts back then), lots of make-up, and hanging out with the “in crowd” was really important.
I vaguely remember her inviting me to an event. I probably reached out to her to find out why she was so unique. Of course her response was to have high hopes that I would join her church. I fell in love with the family-like atmosphere where people were friendly and accepting. How I yearned to belong! I soon started being mentored by a couple who joined me weekly in a bible study where I got a lot of attention. I also yearned to have every question answered and to know the absolute truth. I embraced all the answers they offered. They seemed so sure of themselves, passionate about their beliefs, and they appeared to walk their talk.
I was part of what felt like extended family for about 6 months, during which time I opted out of participating with my family on my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. This was traumatic for especially my mom, who highly valued having the family together on these occasions. I imagine that my siblings and father were disturbed as well. But I wanted to be 100% committed to living out my newly found faith walk.
At some point I woke up and realized that my need for answers to every single question as well as the mandate to go out door to door to share my beliefs were not healthy for me. It was better to swim in a sea of doubt than to drown in an ocean of certainty. Or perhaps a better analogy is that I thought it was better to struggle in the quick sand of uncertainty than to die in quick setting concrete.
It was around my time of leaving that I made a decision to start trying out the philosophy, “if it feels good, do it.” My first toe in the water was to have a relationship with Ralphie, who inspired me to have some below the waist heavy petting while we were in the bushes near the library. Yes, the memory is still vivid.
Soon after we had some pretty intense sexual experiences (not intercourse) he dropped me cold. I was shocked, and felt used and betrayed. I made the decision then to never be used by a boy again. I would be the initiator. I would show that I was a liberated woman, and if anyone did any using—it would be me. Sex was going to become a recreational sport for me.
The story of all my sexual experiences during the next few years would take a very long blog post in itself, and I don’t want to get sidetracked. What I learned was to harden my heart, and my conscience to the point where I thought nothing of having an affair with a married man while I was still in a committed relationship with my boyfriend. In the next few days, I am going to apologize to one of my best friends who asked me whether or not she should have sex with her boyfriend. I clearly remember answering, “if it feels good, do it.”
I know I still had some semblance of a conscience in high school, because when at the end of our senior year, the school counselor convinced the class officers (I had been an officer for the past 4 years) to use the surplus in our treasury to buy ourselves an expensive meal in the fanciest restaurant in San Diego, I felt guilty. Later I wished that I had advocated to give the money to a charity, but the peer pressure as well as the fact that an older person who was in a position of authority initiated the action, appealed to that part of me that was afraid to make waves. And loved pleasure.
After graduating from Sweetwater High School with minor honors, and voted “most active” by my classmates, as well as being the feature editor of the paper, member of the marching band for a year, an attender and screaming cheerer at just about every sports event including wresting, and always a member of the good citizenship club and honors club (never straight A’s—but always A’s and B’s), I went straight to San Diego State University. I was groomed to be on the college track, and there was no question for me that I would find out what I wanted to do by going to college.
I feel grateful because in spite of my addiction to sex, I never got pregnant or get an STD even when I traveled to Europe and to the East. I was a full-fledged agnostic by now. I had no use for any kind of rules or restraints. Somehow I continued to get mostly A’s and B’s during the next two years of college even though my focus was on surfing, running, playing volleyball, bicycling, and back-packing.
After my first year of college, I was feeling discouraged because I still had no clue as to what I wanted to major in. So when I had the epiphany on the last night of a five day back packing trip in Yosemite National park that I was supposed to travel and leave the country and college, for the first time in my life I had real direction. Whenever I recall this moment, which happened 43 years ago, I can always feel the presence of God in a very real way.
The year that followed held more trauma than that of my entire rather sheltered life. A painful injury caused by a bicycle accident sent me to the emergency room. A second emergency room visit resulted from me stepping on a stingray when I was surfing. Inept students who were taking out my wisdom teeth in a dental school (I needed to save money since I was paying the bill) did not give me enough anesthetic and I could feel the torturous pain of that procedure. To top it all off, only about a months before I was scheduled to leave on a charter flight to Paris, I hit and killed an old man with my car while he was crossing the street. Because the police testified that the conditions were such that I could not have possibly seen the man, and the kindly judge decided I was only guilty of misdemeanor (unintentional) manslaughter, I had no fines or prison sentence. But the experience was shattering to my psyche.
But a seed of what true Christianity really was about was planted when the victim’s wife called me and told me that she forgave me, and held no ill will towards me. She was a Seventh Day Adventist, people who often take their faith very seriously, and I am guessing her tone of voice was full of compassion. I will never know if I could have seen the man if I had been more alert, but God made something good out of the event with my experience of Christ-like love from this stranger who had lost her husband due to my actions. I wonder if I felt God’s mercy through the decision of the policeman and the judge as well.
I was so excited when I was finally on the plane headed to Paris. At age 19, with a big frame backpack full of what I thought I needed for my journey, I had high hopes that finally I would find my “niche.” Yes, I used those exact words, ones that are so popular in the marketing world. I just knew I had a purpose. I just had to find it.
When I later found my faith in God, I always looked back to that year of preparation to leave for my travels as having God’s fingerprints all over that time period. Even though I had tried to travel previously due to the urging of my older sister who I really liked to emulate, I could never save money or get the courage to do so. But after I got the word from some higher power during my back packing trip that I needed to leave the country, I was able to move forward in spite of seemingly impossible odds.
My thirteen month sojourn from Europe to Sri Lanka is described in detail in my soon to be released E-
book, “Travels to the East”. As a naive nineteen year old traveling alone in Europe, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afganistan, India and Sri Lanka, I was protected at least 7 times from rape, severe injury and even death. Someday I will go back and count the exact number, and list the experiences. Remembering these occasions raises the question, “Why did I survive, when so many who were in similar situations suffered or died terribly?” It continues to be a mystery.