When I found Micha on the internet a few years ago, it was the first time a blog made an impression on me. Before that, I thought blogs were for life-tips and recipes, not writing. In Micha I found someone who had been shaped by the same things that shaped me, from Texas evangelicalism to Kathleen Norris, and who wrote about it beautifully. Since then she's become a friend (and written a life-giving book). I'm thankful she's shared this story with us.
Nineteen sounds so young now. But by the time I finished sophomore year I was old in the ways of late-adolescence. In college-time, when seasons move slow and every night is a different adventure, two years is equal to five in real life. Friends everywhere, events to plan, meetings to attend, pranks to play. I breathed deep the reckless joy of my own freedom then. I wanted to do everything so I did everything (and got by with as little sleep as possible.)
Relationships felt so complicated then and my college’s culture of fiery evangelical faith made everything more intense. We were all charged electric, so of course we scorched one another and carried our burns with us into adulthood.
My sophomore year I got to know a boy who ran with a crowd that prayed a lot, evangelized a lot, and didn’t date—only courted. He visited me some mornings in the campus bowling alley where I worked spraying shoes. He sat on the counter beside the plexiglass sliding window, while I signed out billiard balls and controlled the music. One morning, sitting on that counter, he whispered: “Micha, I’ve been praying about this a lot. I’m interested in you. I’d like to court you.”
I fumbled the notebook in front of me and stared around the room for a friend to say hello to or a student who needed my assistance. “Will you pray about it?” he asked.
Would I pray about it? Those were the days before I realized how two well-meaning people can sometimes hear God saying two different things. This boy was godly, I assured myself. Obviously he heard God more clearly than I did. Was I wrong to feel nothing for him? Nothing?
The idea of courting seemed beautifully holy, but when I was honest with myself it frightened me. The intensity of his faith overwhelmed me. Three days later I was actually brave enough to meet his directness. I probably used some line about Jesus. But still, I didn’t lead him on. Still, I said no. I said I’m sorry, I can’t let you court me.
He died three months later. He was changing a tire on the side of a Texas highway and a car didn’t see him. I didn’t go to his funeral that summer but everyone said his casket was white and his parents gave all his friends markers to write notes on the outside. His friends told me his mom said, “If his death brings one person to Jesus, it was worth it.”
. . .
Junior year I wobbled. When I was around the people whose faith seemed most impressive I felt weak and uncommitted. I couldn’t force myself to use their cadence, to pray their prayers anymore. I didn’t want to be around them. Droves of students began going to charismatic prayer services and soon everyone was talking about “gold dust” and “gold teeth.” God was giving the faithful these gifts when they prayed. And sure enough, friends were soon reporting of dust settling on their hands during worship.
By then I had a boyfriend, a boy whose kindness and wisdom was unmatched by the showy faith of the boys who prayed together every morning outside the student center. I liked my boyfriend, who actually watched TV and made jokes and looked cashiers in the eyes. He also hadn’t discovered gold dust on his hands, which was just fine by me.
He took me three hours east to his dad’s house one weekend that fall. We sat around the table on a Sunday afternoon, while his stepmother told us over chicken fried steak of how God turned her molars gold. She opened her mouth wide at the table and there they were. Three gold molars. All for God’s glory.
Later, my boyfriend said he didn’t remember her teeth being gold before. But how many times had he looked inside her mouth in his life? We laughed in the car on the way home but we were both uneasy. I wondered why God wasn’t giving gold teeth to impoverished parents in Ethiopia, where at least they could pull their teeth and use the gold for food for their kids. My boyfriend didn’t have an answer.
All that wasted gold made me furious. “What is God’s glory anyway? ” I said. And looked out the window while my chest tightened. I heard my boyfriend breathe low and long. Some questions weren’t supposed to be spoken out loud.
. . .
That year, I started writing poems. I was taking a creative writing class, one I felt might ruin every hope I had of being the sort of Christian woman I was supposed to be. My professor didn’t want me writing abstract ideas. “Write what’s visible, Micha. Write what is real and in front of you.”
I was afraid of writing about the visible, the ordinary, the unholy. I wanted to please God. And also I didn’t. Also, I wanted to write about boys and doubt and my anger at the intensity of the faith culture I was deeply entrenched in. I wanted to scream at all the pretending and all the performing. I wanted to scream at the pretender inside me.
I didn’t write words about my unraveling faith—its slow, dangerous roll out of my life. Instead I wrote about rain and sadness, about making out with my boyfriend. I made up stories that had nothing to do with prayer or glory.
I was sure that my poems were a line in the sand. They were proof I was choosing to leave my life of faith.
What I didn’t know was that God could stay with me anyway, despite my honesty, my fears, my rejection of a belief that felt inauthentic.
And slowly, though I feared I’d rejected all hope of a life that would change the world, I learned to believe that God chose me—a failure of glory-giving—despite my angry poetry, despite my irreverent questions. I encountered the God I’d always known: He was kind and gentle, big enough to hold both the beauty and the mystery.
I discovered that we’re all weak-willed humans, all of us learning to give glory. I’m learning here, in front of my computer, in the quiet, foggy autumn morning. I’m learning glory while I drive my kids to school and fold tiny t-shirts at the end of the day. I’m learning glory in my ordinary, quiet life.
I still ask God about the boy who died and the gold molars in that sweet woman’s mouth. I still want to understand why God takes and gives in ways that feel chaotic and bizarre. And still I’m learning to believe in the mysterious God who chooses me, not because of my prayer life, my theology, or even my spiritual courage, but because I am already known and loved.
God chooses me. And chooses the boy who died and the kids who prayed for gold visions, and the boyfriend I rejected by the pond, the boy who turned and walked away and left me standing by the water, sobbing, my face reflected back at me in the moonlight.
Micha (pronounced "MY-cah") Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. A former youth minister, she's passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith. She recently released her first book Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer. Boyett and her husband live in San Francisco with their two boys. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at michaboyett.com