Testimony and biography, part 1

I have to write this out for a job application. So…why not? (This is the unabridged version. I’ll be cutting a lot of this to keep it within the 1-page limit on the application.)

The testimonies of modern young adults often begin with cookie-cutter evangelical childhoods, followed by “college”. In this format, “college” can take several forms, but most often it alludes to depravity, sin, and eventually godlessness. Some of these adults rediscover their faith in adulthood, many do not. My testimony is somewhat strange because I am a strange person, but it is approximately one of this sort.

(“College” can also mean a time of trial and tribulation for those few who perservered in their faiths. We do not celebrate these exemplary successes as earnestly as I think we ought to. Though I am a reasonably bright fellow, I couldn’t hope to design a better evangelical institution for Satan than a modern university.)

I was raised by nondenominational parents who were, in turn, raised in the Catholic church and “saved” in their early twenties, converting to protestantism just after college. They had six kids whom they homeschooled each through middle school, and of whom I was the second. As parents, they were as near to perfect as anyone could be in this lifetime. They taught us about the Bible (perhaps more importantly, I credit my dad for my love of scripture), taught us about grace, took us to church, and tried very hard to live as examples of Christian humility and righteousness.

I asked for Christ’s saving grace when I was eleven at a boys’ summer camp. That would have been…1999.

From that point on, I took my faith seriously and tried to act responsibly. The early Christian life is fraught with overcorrections and often downright comical (particularly so when combined with puberty), but my heart was in the right place. A short while later, I entered public school.

From my two high schools, I can vouch for the usual experience of homeschooled Christians. Ordinary teenagers were dull, boorish, and conformed relentlessly to their pagan popular culture. Conversely, they described me as smart, nice, quiet, and odd. I had some acquaintances, but formed no real friendships outside of my church and never cared to. As a competent athlete, neither was I scorned or bullied. Midway, I transferred to an experimental hybrid of high school and community college and graduated with my diploma and an associate’s degree in technical writing.

During this time I discovered C.S. Lewis, thereafter the joy of thinking clearly, and the book of Proverbs. I began praying persistently for wisdom, like Solomon had. I also had my first eight-month bout with depression, when I was seventeen. Though a depressed, unambitious, unserious student, I only failed a few classes and managed to graduate with a cumulative B+ GPA and no plans for the future. In modern America, this means you go to college. And to go to college in modern America, you need someone else’s money. My mom was understandably in favor of this, although my dad was unconvinced. He always had good instincts.

Certainly, I should have begun praying for wisdom much sooner because this is when I started making some disastrous decisions.

A physics teacher offhandedly suggested that I should consider ROTC, particularly for the Air Force. They offered scholarships for college and would guarantee me a good job afterward. That sounds pretty good to a conservative young man with no career plans. So that you understand how disinterestedly and haphazardly I made these decisions, I only barely applied, at the last minute, to the only eligible university that was still taking applications. Similarly, having decided that only philosophy or physics would hold my fleeting interest, I only decided to major in engineering physics because my parents understandably forbade the former.

But at the time, I couldn’t have told you what the word “engineering” meant. And it was nothing but a placeholder degree; the Air Force doesn’t care what its officers study and I had no interest in pursuing engineering as a career. Understand, regardless of its usefulness, that the engineering undergraduate experience is a joyless, miserable grind from start to finish. This is true even for the most balanced, intelligent, hardworking students. Despite employer complaints to the contrary, the accelerating rates of dropout and suicide among engineering students shows that it is now far more miserable than ever before.

I briefly held on to my sanity in the face of overwhelming odds. I was commuting two hours per day, participating heavily in ROTC, working multiple jobs, sleeping very little, eating mostly starch on a shoestring budget…look, a lot of successful adults will happily tell you horror stories like this about their undergraduate years. It’s probably bullshit. (Like the fish they caught that one time.) The human body and mind simply cannot sustain this kind of lifestyle. To function at a high level, we need sleep. We need vitamins and minerals. Most importantly, we need God. But I’ll come back to that.

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