In the daytime I smiled and loved everyone.
At night, I prayed and cried for everyone else, family and strangers alike.
I was the sort of child that prayed that God would save every person, even all those who had already died. I even prayed for Satan.
The idea of anyone not loving God, of anyone choosing to burn in Hell instead, baffled me.
Growing up we attended a variety of churches from the strictest of evangelical home churches, to Pentecostal churches, to churches my grandfather would deem “worldly”.
I think I always understood there were many people different than us. But I didn’t fully understand how different we were until I was around ten years old.
My father moved us around a lot for his work. For one year we lived in Columbia Missouri, eight of us kids squashed into a small duplex. Mom liked taking us to the mall or park or anywhere to get us moving and burning energy.
One of her favorite places was JC Penny’s (aside from JoAnn’s of course).
I remember her finding some necessities for us kids … Mom rarely could find something for herself that she’d justify spending money on. The cashier was a friendly sort of women and smiled at all of us kids.
“Your children are so well behaved,” the cashier said. “How do handle so many?”
The lady rang up Mom’s purchases, then asked Mom if she’d like to sign up for their awards program.
“I’ve tried before but can’t without a social security number.”
I watched curiously. I knew we didn’t have social security numbers, but I didn’t know what that meant exactly.
My grandpa told me that they were the mark of the beast. I’d seen a few end time movies … fascinating but terrifyingly poorly made stuff that I didn’t think I understood. I wasn’t sure if my grandpa was right, but I’d believe him until I could study it for myself.
“I don’t think you need a number for awards!?” the woman said. “If you want, I can try and sign you up?”
Mom was tired, but she’d never been able to say no. She told the lady she could try.
I watched the lady excitedly try to tackle this thing she’d been told was impossible, to help a woman she admired. But after minutes of futile effort, she finally had to admit, “Yes, you’ll need a social security number. Why don’t you have one, if I may ask?”
“Religious beliefs,” Mom replied. “Thank you for trying.”
I remember thinking, “My grandpa must be right.”
I remember wondering what sort of future I would have. Would I be able to do anything? Not that I cared. It was more important to love God and my family than to have awards from a store.
In fact, awards were no big deal.
Yet … I’ve never been the sort of child or person who was okay with being told I couldn’t live fully just because I wouldn’t live by made-up rules.
And even at ten years old, I understood this was how and where evil started. With small things like rewards. What if I someday couldn’t do anything. I didn’t realize it then, but that’s pretty much how it is and already was then.
Impossible to live without a social security number.
When I was twelve I became serious about studying what I thought I believed. In some ways, I found I couldn’t believe everything my family stood for. At twelve years old I started researching to become the person I wanted to be … someone who followed God above family and stranger.
It’s a good thing, too, because only months after this I experienced my first real betrayals from both family and strangers, and I no longer saw only good in people.
I saw the evil God punishes, and it sickened me. I’d prayed for these sorts of people? How could they even live with themselves?
When I was fourteen I decided I wanted to go to college. What for, I didn’t know. A teacher? An illustrator? Or maybe something else? All I knew is that I wanted to go, because I loved learning.
But I was told that without a social security number I’d never be able to attend a university.
I lived in the land of the free, where supposedly all you had to do to fulfill your dreams was work hard. But now I was being told I had to have all this paperwork, too.
Biblically, I didn’t believe a social security number was the mark of the beast.
Inwardly, I felt it had to be.
But I wasn’t going to accept it. I wasn’t going to hide away and live like a hermit. I was going to fight for my dreams, and I was going to live.
But how could I when I couldn’t even get a drivers license? I mean my dad said I could, but he also said it was evil and he wasn’t sure yet if I ought to have one.
I wasn’t sure I wanted one, except I wanted to be able to go places.
At sixteen the weight of not being able to live and do anything hit me hard. I remember waking up on my sixteenth birthday and wondering why.
Why did our government have to be so cruel? Why did I have to have my beliefs? Why did I have I have to love school, but I couldn’t even pass my GED without an ID that I could never acquire?
Would I even be able to legally get married? Most pastors wouldn’t perform a wedding without a marriage license. And the government wouldn’t hand those out without the proper documents.
Who gave the government permission to oversee our rights anyways?
I was angry and I was depressed. I had so much life to live, and all I could do was keep studying math far above my grades.
To make matters worse, I felt like I was the only one not content to fade away from memory. I was the only one that wanted to exist on my terms.
And so, amidst all my angst, I kept learning. I kept asking my dad for help. I kept studying scripture. I kept hoping.
What have you done to keep hoping when everything and everyone seemed set against you?