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Taco Bell Christian—Part 2

by Jennifer Smith 3 months ago in friendship
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The conclusion, and just the beginning

Taco Bell Christian—Part 2
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Read Part 1 for context, or you can wade in the same confusion I wallowed in for far too long. To understand the fast food references, you’re going to want to read about the flying nachos.

The answers to my first questions about God went not the way I wanted. Like I mentioned before, drive-thru hope is what I was ordering up. Was this one of those God-sanctioned tests that I had heard so much about? If something is sitting on your mind — or heart, like they love to say — is that conscience, and is that God? What does it mean to hear Him?

The answer I got sounded something like this: Great question. I’ve never heard His voice, but I have faith it’s possible because the Bible says so.

I did not feel like this was open to challenge. This was not the foundational knowledge and insight I was hoping for. But I did not want to disappoint this friend that seemed to find purpose and delight in sharing his God with me. Those words from my father were still fresh wounds. I was afraid that my doubts and questions made me less than worthy of this fellowship too.

An Unlikely Friendship

It had been less than four years since I almost got this guy fired. The basketball coach that I considered a brother. The only one that sensed my struggle and was now guiding me on this spiritual journey. He almost lost his job [indirectly] because of me. Our friendship nearly never had a chance to start, yet this moment was why one formed — and why it would end.

We had just taken our team picture. Our first preseason tournament started the following evening. Coach laid the cards on the table; he had been asked to consider resigning because of some complaints. He gave no specifics and told us to decide. Not in the way one would imagine someone that transforms Bible passages into motivational posters at a public high school would. A simple majority is what he wanted — 7 votes — and he would stay.

When he left the room, many more personal motivations were revealed. There was the one that had scouts coming and this endangered her only path to college. The underclassmen were in tears. This was the only coach they knew, and this challenged their self-importance. There was a group that sat there in quiet shock. I belonged to this one; we did not have the talent to be affected either way.

Then there were the two girls that had been offended. They had felt so uncomfortable with comments and attitudes exhibited toward them that their parents complained to the Athletic Director. There had been nothing so egregious that warranted a straight termination. Those particular parents held a position of power and influence. This was at odds with the competing ego and fellow legacy alumnus that was our coach.

Something struck me in the moments between them sharing their pain and another forcing a vote to end the night. This was not how a team should operate. I did not mean to speak, but things had to be said. I questioned why we were so quick to dismiss the pain of our teammates for our comforts; if one of us hurt, that would hurt us all. They hugged me. We voted. I only got them three more votes.

That team picture sits in the trophy case at the gym, next to our conference championship.

1 Corinthians 12:12–27 (One Body but Many Parts) would—ironically—be the passage du jour the following season.

***

I give this background story as proof that I did not enter the next couple of years naively. That was not the last time a team or person would face the consequence that was a result of his self-preservation or complete lack of awareness. I had no skin in the game as his player. Literally, my butt belonged to the bench. But as a friend, he relied on me to let him know when he crossed the line — again.

He would give me a lot of oh, shit faces, and my face would read you don’t know you’re a jerk? And those were the character-building moments of our friendship.

In the end, I never got to give him the one Really?! face that he needed. The one I needed to find the courage for.

This story is that.

By Ginna Shernoville on Unsplash

The friend. The girlfriend. The Wife.

I had not yet met the one he knew he would marry at first sight. I was hesitant to tell him about the incident with my father, knowing it would hit the ears of a stranger. And gawd, I figured she was also a Super Christian, and I could not handle a celestial double-team.

I was wrong. It felt like an introduction to this woman was a type of divine answer. She was equidistant in age between him and me. She had just suffered a devastating injury, and life for her was not much different than mine — lots of time for deep self-reflection. We became friends fast, and when they got engaged after 6 months, she moved in with his parents that lived around the corner from me.

There were sleepovers with no sleep, laughs, and tears over lives and lessons. We were playing the same part. We were both trying hard to tie life-changing circumstances to a perceived plan God had for our lives.

They got married just over a year after meeting. But as the wedding date came closer, I bared the brunt of the insecurities. I did not realize that was what was happening at the time. I was only 20 years young, and there were many lessons ahead. I would be learning them while tying tiny maroon bows on kissing bells — favors for a wedding I decided not to attend while in the middle of making them.

Standing there, at the foot of the driveway, she confronted me over a moment I shared with her husband-to-be. A brief moment in passing out the door, coordinating a surprise for her, ironically enough. This was not the first awkward moment, but it would be the one that impacted me the most. It was the one that changed my momentum and opened my eyes to personal motivations — including my own.

To this day, I imagine tossing those bells to the ground like I did the nachos.

***

Six months later, I had prepared what I needed to say for our first meeting post-nuptials. Before I began, they joined hands like some sort of forcefield against this perceived threat that was a fragile young woman who already had tears welling up. I was interrupted right when I started to reflect on my pain and confusion. Right when it felt like I was asking for accountability or answers.

They asked me to stop as I recounted the time(s) when she asked if I wanted to try on her engagement ring and her wedding dress.

(I wish I could tell you I was making this up.)

Our friendships would never be the same after that. I tried, but these friendships had reverted to ones that felt more instructional and parental than jovial and sincere. One afternoon I let it slip that I had been having premarital sex. Yikes. The face the now-wife made implied I would never see my coach/friend/mentor/brother again. I was now a sexual being. A more significant threat than before, I assumed. For all the discussions about God and familial sorrows, we — they — could not muster up the courage and strength to talk about the tough stuff that builds or ends relationships.

I was now back to that same feeling my father had left me with. What had I done? Why was I so undeserving of at least a decent discussion? Were they now the “Goddamn Christians” that felt like they were better than me? I hated that feeling. I never wanted to feel it again. I would, though. When you believe you are only inviting the energy you want in your life, you leave yourself fucking vulnerable to being wrong.

They would send me a birthday card before I moved to Hawai’i. Wished me well and stated their continued support and love, “…no matter what choices you make.” Ouch. I held doubts. And when I needed these more mature in age friends during difficult times, those doubts were confirmed.

Our Work vs. Gifts Imagined

The words from my father struck me at my most vulnerable. I wish I could say I felt sympathy for what I believe to be the rationale for this out-of-the-blue attack — empathy was always out of the question — but I do not.

“…and see if there’s anything you’re good at.”

Those words still sneak up in my weakest moments. They slowed me down, all the way down, an inevitability when presented with such a spiteful challenge.

This feels like a good time to tell you that I am not Christian or any other type of -ish or -ist. But this journey was one I had to go on. It opened my eyes to the motivations of people. It sifted out the disappointments from the questions that do not deserve answers unless you first do the work.

This was part of that work. — Part 1 of Taco Bell Christian

The actions and words of my former friends/spiritual mentors happened during some of my most clear-minded moments of the previous two years — thanks to them. People are complex beings with their histories and motives, not gifts. I no longer believe that people are lessons in and of themselves. No longer believe a God puts them in your life for torture or love.

Maybe a God does assign people to us, and we have to determine if they contribute positively to our direction. Too many times, though, I have seen that used as an assignment of their worthiness. It should have served as a warning when my coach told a story of a college girlfriend. He said he loved her but also confirmed to her, when asked, she was going to Hell for not believing in the story of his God.

That realization was the lightbulb moment. The asterisk. The highlight — his God. This realization came way too late but has been reaffirmed numerous times as I’ve watched a nation contort a God into the image of themselves.

***

I often like to play this game in my head called, In a Perfect World…. When talking about big things like religion or politics, I play naïve and wonder why they have to be so heavy and convoluted.

In a perfect world, politicians would represent their constituents.

In a perfect world, we could simply agree to disagree and fight fair and honestly for our ideas — even if those are imperfect.

In a perfect world, there would be no child, veteran, or anyone else suffering needlessly. There are causes for which we have the resources. There would be no arguing over the benefits of providing for our neighbors.

In a perfect world, God would come to people in whatever form they needed. There would be no profiting from His word. No coercion to accept Him; no shame if not consciously acknowledged. His offering. No missionaries exchanging necessities for salvation. And we would still have the free will to let Him in for comfort and guidance.

No worshipping. No surrendering. Accepting. Love with no strings.

***

I have not been in a church or a Taco Bell for many years. Both left me feeling the same way — wanting something better, healthier, and real. Church didn’t leave me with the symptoms of hypertension, but it did leave me feeling heartbroken. The pastor gave a ludicrous speech about why he was not allowing his children to read Harry Potter. He had not read it himself and was relying on the consult of an older pastor. The sole premise was that nobody else besides God could perform acts of magic.

Magic is near the last of the lessons and messages I think of when I consider Harry Potter—or God.

By Oluwakorede Enoch Adeyanju on Unsplash

I started this story as one about healing guts. More than food affects our gut health. Stress impacts our body and brain, and prolonged stress can have consequences on our overall well-being. The words from my father and the actions of former friends taught me the importance of vocalizing needs. Any pain that is inflicted by stating those needs is temporary compared to a lifetime of internalized torture.

If I could go back and question the people that needed to be addressed, I would politely decline. They were not the lessons. I cannot fix them if they are broken, nor should I convince them of my worthiness. My reactions to their painful inflictions are what needed the work. Their words and consequences taunted too many subsequent relationships.

Courage muscle strengthened; correcting the mistakes of inaction and passive acceptance.

As for God, I have had too many moments that seemed divine in delivery to not believe in spiritual energy, and maybe my belief stops there. I may speak for all of us when I say there are many things I will be addressing with Him — or whoever it may be — if given the opportunity.

That golden glow of arches and bells may look enticing, and a light that flickers in the darkness of loneliness may feel comforting. But fast faith is not much different than fast food. I feel confident that a God worth communing with would not want to be served up in a paper bag or plastic tray out of hastened hunger. He would like to be with you in cravings but not desperation.

****

Originally published in Motivate the Mind, a Medium publication, with minor edits.

It was a freeing moment to hit the publish button.

Religion, family, friendships...all complicated by the very nature of our inherent differences. We kid ourselves into thinking they should be easy and natural. Disappointments and heartbreak happen. All those things are part of growing up. It sucked, for lack of a more eloquent word, to have so much pain during a natural time of growth. Looking back at that period of my life, I realized what hurt the most was thinking that experiences like those were not the norm.

My sincerest desire for writing communities is that we are given more access to the stories of people we never knew existed. We have more opportunities to discover that there is no shared normalcy to growing into ourselves.

friendship

About the author

Jennifer Smith

California girl, living my questionably best life in Hawai'i. Wife and mom. A lover of sports, books, craft time, black coffee, and overthinking.

Reading and writing helps me make sense of the world—big W global one, and little w mine.

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