Finding faith: Exploring religion as a teen means falling into the unknown

Growing up in Sacramento, Calif., I remember going to church with my dad. I’d dress up in cute little dresses and do my hair with three of my older sisters. That seems to be last time I remember myself in a dress. At least not until my junior year in high school, dresses have never been my “thing.”

When I turned five, my mom and dad got divorced. She remarried and we moved to Minnesota. I didn’t know where Minnesota was, and in fact, hadn’t even heard of it. But since I was the youngest, my mom took me and left. I didn’t have a choice.

While in Minnesota, my mom cut off religion because everyone in her family was Shaman. Shamanism is about worshiping our ancestors from the dead — only the chosen ones can talk to spirits in the “other” world. My Grandma was a Shamanist, someone who could go to the other side to talk and interact with spirits. Although I always thought it was somewhat scary, it seemed pretty normal since I was exposed to it throughout childhood. But, even then, I still didn’t know a whole lot about why I should be a Shaman.

The only reason why my mom went to church in California was because of my Christian dad. In Hmong culture, when a woman gets married, you’re expected to change your religion to the husband’s preference. Basically, she just went along with what he said.

Being so young, I don’t remember much about my dad’s beliefs. I don’t have distinct memories about going to church, either — though I do recall feeling really happy whenever I had the chance to be inside one. Everyone in my family is baptized except the two youngest girls — which includes me — so I’ve never known what it feels like to be purified.

Now, as a teenager transitioning into adulthood, I want to experience that part of life I’ve missed out on. My boyfriend has a lot of influence on me wanting to learn about Christianity. He reminds me to reflect before I eat and to say prayers of thanks and need. I admire his commitment.

Though I haven’t gone to church yet, I plan to in the near future. I believe that it’ll make me a better person by loving God. My boyfriend says, “By learning how to love God, you also learn how to love yourself.”

The reason why I’ve been hesitant to go to church or claim any involvement with religion is because I’m scared to open myself up to a part of society that I know nothing about. Since my mom stopped going to church after her divorce, I never cared to ask why. I thought it was best to leave that part out of my life.

Maybe it’s time for a change. I feel like people who have strong religious beliefs are more kind-hearted and content with their lives. Friends and relatives who go to church, or at least have some belief system, tend to stay out of trouble. They’re always positive.

I want to change now, because soon I’ll be on my own and I want to make good choices. I want to learn more about religion and make it part of my daily life so maybe someday I can teach my kids.

I think religion can help me become a better person and influence how I present myself. By not having religion in my life as a teen, I’ve noticed how it can hurt you in school and allow you to give into social pressures. I’ve often made myself seem like something other than what I really am.

Lately, things have been really positive for me. I’ve been accepted to my top colleges. I won the National Academy of Television Arts and Science scholarship. I even found my French textbook that’s been lost for the past two years. What’s so special about this textbook? I don’t have to pay $70 to walk the stage with my diploma in a few weeks.

With everything that’s been happening, all I can think about are the prayers and wishes I’ve sent up. I know my Grandma is watching over me. A quote that has always stuck with me is, “Send your prayers up and blessings come down.”

My relationship with Jesus Christ is building slowly but surely. To even be in this position, to expand my horizons heading out of high school, I know that God is good. Some part of me is still unsure, but I’ve started to take the steps to relieve those fears.

I’m ready to fall into the unknown.