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On January 11, 2007, at age 21, I finally whispered to myself: There is no God.
I felt the world collapse beneath me. I'd been raised to believe that God was necessary for meaning, morality, and purpose. My skin felt cold and my tongue felt like cardboard. This was the beginning of the darkest part of my life, but the seed of my later happiness.
I grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota — a town of 5,000 people and 22 Christian churches (at the time). My father was (and still is) pastor of a small church. My mother volunteered to support Christian missionaries around the world.
I went to church and Bible study every week. I prayed often and earnestly. For 12 years I attended a Christian school that taught Bible classes and creationism. I played in worship bands. As a teenager I made trips to China and England to tell the godless heathens there about Jesus. I witnessed miraculous healings unexplained by medical science.
And I felt the presence of God. Sometimes I would tingle and sweat with the Holy Spirit. Other times I felt led by God to give money to a certain cause, or to pay someone a specific compliment, or to walk to the cross at the front of my church and bow before it during a worship service.
Around age 19 I got depressed. But then I read Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, a manual for how to fall in love with God so that following his ways is not a burden but a natural and painless product of loving God. And one day I saw a leaf twirling in the wind and it was so beautiful — like the twirling plastic bag in American Beauty — that I had an epiphany. I realized that everything in nature was a gift from God to me. Grass, lakes, trees, sunsets — all these were gifts of beauty from my Savior to me. That's how I fell in love with God, and he delivered me from my depression.
I moved to Minneapolis for college and was attracted to a Christian group led by Mark van Steenwyk. Mark’s small group of well-educated Jesus-followers are 'missional' Christians: they think that loving and serving others in the way of Jesus is more important than doctrinal truth. That resonated with me, and we lived it out with the poor immigrants of Minneapolis.