I was born into a Catholic family, so when I was still a baby, I was baptized in a Catholic church. When I was six, my family moved to California because my father received a great job offer. It took me a couple of months to get used to California, but I quickly began to love it. There was so much to do there!
We found a new Catholic church to attend in California. We went every Saturday night, and I remember restlessly sitting through services. After our first year-and-a-half in California, my parents enrolled me and my brothers in a private Christian school. Part of our schooling included Bible study (or probably more accurately, Bible verse memorization). We were taught that believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior was the only way a person could be saved. I was young and didn’t really think anything of it. Jesus was God’s Son, and that was all there was to it. If you didn’t believe He was the Messiah, you were going to hell.
When I was in third grade, my father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. I had no clue what cancer was. And because he was my dad, I knew it couldn’t be anything too serious, because he was invincible. However, only a year later, I found out he wasn’t. He died on April 21, 2000 – Good Friday. I was only ten. In my mind, I thought my dad would rise again on Easter, like Jesus. My dad was a great person, so it only made sense. I don’t think I have to explain to anyone that he didn’t.
At the end of that school year, we moved to Tennessee to be closer to family (we were the only ones on the West Coast). We had to find all of our pets new homes because we were unable to take them on the move. I lost a lot of family members on that move. When school started in Tennessee (I was now in fifth grade), I remember hating it. I thought everyone was so judgmental and mean. It was the first time I had ever heard someone say “God hates gays” and it broke my heart. I got in an argument with that person. I had never heard someone say that God was capable of hate.
We were unable to find a Catholic church in Tennessee that my mom liked. One of my older brother’s friends invited us to his Baptist church, so we went. My mom was able to sit through the service without bawling, so we began to attend somewhat regularly. Whenever I had to sit through the services, I remember disagreeing a lot with what the pastor said. We stopped going after a couple months or so. One of my friends invited me to her church (Church of Christ) a couple times. After going twice, I started making up excuses for why I couldn’t go. I was beginning to realize that I didn’t feel like I belonged in any church.
I think I was in seventh grade (maybe younger, I can’t remember for sure) when I decided that there was no God. If there was, how could He have let my dad die? And how could He send people to hell just because they didn’t believe in Jesus as the Savior?
My atheism didn’t last long, though. It soon turned into agnosticism. I knew there was a God, but I also knew He wasn’t the God the Bible described. There was no way He would expect someone who was Muslim or Hindu or whatever to throw away what he/she had believed his/her whole life and follow the Christian faith. It didn’t seem right to me.
In my senior year of high school, though, I started calling myself a Christian again. I believed in God and Jesus, but I still didn’t believe that someone would go to hell simply because they didn’t believe in Jesus as their Savior. One of my friends in high school was Muslim, and never for a second did I think I needed to try to convert her in order to save her soul.
The summer before my freshman year of college, I started reading the Bible. I wanted to finish it in 180 days. It ended up taking a lot longer than that, but I did finish. As I went through, I would underline and highlight passages that I loved or ones that I disagreed with. I tried to read it with a completely open mind though, as if I didn’t know anything about it. There was quite a bit of it that I loved, like all of Jesus’s teachings about loving your neighbor. But there was even more I disagreed with, like how women are supposed to be quiet and fully submissive. I started feeling like “Christian” wasn’t an accurate way to describe what I believed, but I had no other word for my beliefs.
My freshman year of college was my first encounter with Islamophobia. I had vaguely heard of it, but never really thought it was possible for someone to fear Islam. Sadly, though, I met someone who not only feared Islam, but hated it. They believed (and sadly, still do) that Islam is the religion of hate and that all Muslims are evil people. Not more than a year later, I met another person with a similar viewpoint (although not quite so hateful). I have countless times tried explaining to both men that Islam is not a violent religion. However, they are set in their ways. Both even believe that Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians. It was this ignorance (that is the only way I know to describe it) that made me want to start reading the Koran. I began to see how important it is to know more about the world’s religions. I just started reading the Koran the end of my junior year of college.
It wasn’t until the first semester of my junior year of college that I heard of the Baha’i Faith. I was looking at a friend-of-a-friend’s Facebook page. Under the “beliefs” section, hers said “Baha’i Faith”. I had never heard of it, and I was curious to know what it was. I entered it into Wikipedia and read up on it. I remember thinking it was almost exactly what I believed, other than I didn’t know who Baha’u'llah was. After that day I didn’t really think about it and it kind of left my mind. A couple of months later though, I randomly remembered it and decided to read about it on Wikipedia again. After I reread, I decided to check and see what books I could find on the Baha’i Faith. I checked on thriftbooks.com and found a book called “The Elements of the Baha’i Faith” by Joseph Shepherd. I also found The Hidden Words and The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys. I ordered all three.
As soon as the books came in, I eagerly began to read them. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was my faith. I just never knew there was a name for it. I suddenly found myself feeling about Baha’u'llah the same way I have always felt about Jesus. I was in awe. And I felt such love. And that was the part I thought would be the hardest: Opening my heart to another Manifestation of God the way it had been engrained in me to open it to Jesus. But I just prayed to God for Him to let me know what was right. And He definitely did.
On Wednesday, June 8, 2011, I officially registered online as a Baha’i. I received an email immediately saying that someone would be contacting me soon to finish up the process. I can’t even describe the feeling I had at the moment. But it only got better. Less than five minutes later, I got a text from the Office of Baha’i Information. I started crying then. I was so happy. I literally felt like God was hugging me. And I know it sounds cheesy, but I’ve never felt more whole or complete in my life. I know I’m home.