In my first year of grad school, I was invited to a party with other library school students. I had never really been to a party party, and I drove there nervously, gripping the steering wheel and worrying about where to park. When I got there, some of my classmates were smoking outside, and in my anxiety I walked past them straight into the storm door. Ohhh my classmates said as I bounced off the glass. I mumbled something about having thought it was open, and everyone was kind enough to pretend that they hadn’t seen what just happened.
Inside, I was given a tour and offered some jello shots, which I declined mostly because I wasn’t sure how to eat them. Weren’t shots supposed to be liquid? I eventually found some alcohol in beverage form and as I sipped it the pain in my face subsided (though not necessarily the pain to my ego). It’s been twelve years since that night, but I cannot overstate the grace that I was given as everyone studiously ignored what they had seen and the big smear of my face on the glass.
I don’t remember what we did that night, but I do know that the librarian party eventually turned into a game of trivial pursuit. Don’t laugh, it’s true. We divided our teams by gender–there are so few men in library school that we figured the guys should stick together. My team was behind most of the game, but made a comeback run at the end and found ourselves in a position to win. The men chose a sports question for us to answer.
As a teenager, I labored under the belief that God favors the cheerful. This idea was cemented by my subscription to Brio magazine, which I read every month with a certain morbid fascination. Especially when Point of Grace was on the cover, which seemed to happen at least twice a year. Based on those pages, God wanted a certain kind of girl: pretty, modest, earnest. I wanted to be sincere like that, but I have never been very good at pretending anything and it’s not really in my nature to be without sarcasm. Or to enjoy Point of Grace, who seemed like perky cheerleaders for Jesus with their cheesy lyrics. He’s dying to reach you!
(Not pictured: my Newsboys shirt. Insert “Not Ashamed” joke or maybe “Going Public” but definitely not “Shine.”)
It would be rewriting history to say that I wasn’t a good girl in high school, because I totally was. I listened to Christian music and I wore shirts from my favorite bands. I woke every morning before school to read my Bible and attended youth group faithfully every week. I didn’t go to parties or drink or kiss boys. In fact, when I signed my purity pledge, PBS was there to film a documentary on the True Love Waits organization. (I would give just about anything to find that footage now.) But I chafed against the system, wondering why, despite my hard work, God seemed to favor everyone else. The prayers that weren’t answered and the people who hurt me made me wonder if God was punishing me for something terrible that I had done, and, if so, what that might be.
This is the tragedy of growing up in a system that assures you things will work out a certain way if you hold up your end of the bargain. There is no way to be good enough, and when you give up trying, you lose the whole system. It doesn’t sound like a great loss, but when I lost the only way I knew to get to God, I lost God, too, for a while.
Of course, my classmates didn’t know any of these things that night. Did they see me as reserved or sad or anxious? I was all of those things, but I also enjoyed their company and felt welcome just as I was, door-smacking included.
The men’s team pulled the card and read us the sports question. I can’t remember how it was phrased, but the question was about the NBA LA Laker who was known for still being a virgin. My teammates shook their heads at each other and the boys began to high-five. Hold on a second, I said. I know this one. My mind spiraled back to those Brio days, the player who encouraged all of us to be abstinent just like him. I closed my eyes and pictured that cover and the name came out of my mouth before I even knew that I knew it.
A.C. Green, I said. It’s A.C. Green.
Now it was the guys who were shaking their heads and the women were celebrating with me and I couldn’t wait to tell Mike when I got home. In the midst of my fears that my Christian upbringing had not trained me in anything that was very useful, on a night when I felt even more ill-prepared to live in the world than usual, I was given the gift of knowing the answer because of that same upbringing.
It seems appropriate, somehow, that a party where we played trivial pursuit would be my saving grace, a stepping stone back to faith. This, too, is the alchemy of the Lord, painful memories of feeling forgotten turned into the beautiful sounds of laughter.
This is my contribution to Addie Zierman‘s linkup for the release of her book, When We Were on Fire, which I reviewed here. I mostly paint those days as hopelessly melancholy, so I decided to challenge myself to write about something funnier.