By Patrick Garza
I was raised “right” by my parents. I was told I was “Roman Catholic,” like I really knew what that meant. My original sin was washed away when I was a mere infant; I was told this was called “Baptism”. Later I ate my first stale wafer handed to me by the old man that talked a lot, I dressed in white, and apparently it was a huge deal. I was told Jesus would save me from everything bad as long as I ate the cardboard cookies, told the old guy my wrong-doings, and prayed to Jesus and the saints. Follow these rules and Jesus, the savior, would protect me.
The year is 1998. It is the year the blissful part of my childhood will end. I am 5 years old. 2 months into Kindergarten and everything is great. My class gets along so well. We are perfect little angels to each other. Then I walk in on this day, and there is a new face in the crowd. We are told his name is Mike Miller. He is going to be, “another star in the class galaxy,” according to our teacher. I go to meet him, “Hi, I’m Patrick.” “Get away fatty, I don’t care who you are loser,” he replies. I well up with tears. No one has ever said such mean things. He laughs menacingly, “You gonna cry baby?” Some of the others laugh along with him. I run to my teacher in tears; she simply replies, “Buck up.” I must pray to Jesus and the saints, and then he will stop making fun of me. He doesn’t. He slowly makes all my friends turn against me and start making fun of me. He becomes the black hole in our galaxy.
I am 10 going on 11. It is a Sunday morning. My family and I are kneeling on the carpet in the tall, humid church. The majority of the pews are empty. We are super early. I am told to pray. Money has been tight, and we have just lost the car and the house. I kneel and try to say the prayers I have been taught. Doesn’t God get bored of hearing the same Hail Mary’s over and over? I know I’m getting bored. Is God really listening to me? It sure doesn’t feel like it. I don’t feel anything. How could Jesus let this happen? If Jesus really loves us, he wouldn’t let such bad things happen to good people. He must hate us… or maybe we are just bad people…
Four years later, I am getting ready to go into high school. I have seen all the movies and television shows; the bullies in high school are going to be at least ten times worse than Mike Miller. I begin to get sick every day. Headaches, vomiting, and worst of all, I am getting crippling panic attacks. My chest feels like an elephant is sitting on it. My arm is going numb. I go online and type in the symptoms, and it says, “Heart Attack.” Panic Level: 10. I start to cry and think about how short of life I have had. I run to my mom. We go to the hospital. My mom says, “Pray.” Like that’s going to help. I become desperate though. My heart rate won’t go down, so while lying on the hospital bed soaked in a thin layer of my sweat, I begin to pray. God if you really exist, you wouldn’t let this happen to me. You would make this go away… nothing. I still can’t feel it. Why can’t Jesus heal me like he did with so many people in the past? I guess the only logical explanation is that he doesn’t exist, and never did exist. The doctors walk in with some Xanax, and finally my heart rate goes down. Thank you science! Good ol’ Xanax is prescribed, so I will never have to experience those attacks again. But they come back, and I catch myself praying to the God I know is not there, I chuckle to myself and pop a few pills to feel better. Xanax is my true savior.
Two years pass and my life is in a downward spiral. 16 years old and I’m extremely overweight, diabetic, still taking Xanax, smoking cigarettes, smoking weed, drinking, and majorly depressed. Somewhere I hear Xanax is really bad so I decide to stop taking it. Not a good decision on my part. The very night I stop taking the pills, not only do the attacks return, but in greater numbers. They creep in the shadows all day like a murderer; only emerging to kill me in the night. My “friends” distance themselves from me so they don’t have to deal with my problems. I am alone, no one to help me, no one to talk to me. Panic and depression don’t mix well. I begin getting suicidal thoughts. I have nothing to live for. You know where the knives are. You know where the pills are, just do it. I attempt, Failure. Why is everything I do such a failure? I begin to cry out to non-existent God. Nothing happens once again. My parents sense trouble in my life due to my grades. I refuse to talk to them. They can never know all the things I’ve done and gone through, It would hurt them too much. So they send me to a therapist and I live to see more days thanks to her.
I am 18 years old, just graduated high school. I am paying my old friends from high school a visit at school. My mom is home sick, and I don’t want to be around that. On my walk home one of my friend’s mom pulls over beside me and offers me a ride home. I jump into her minivan only to see there is a group of my friends riding along. “Where are you guys going?” I asked. “Church, want to come?” They replied eagerly. “Ummm… No thanks.” I told them. The rest of the car ride though, they tried to convince me to go with them, telling me of songs, dances, and other shenanigans. After about my 20th time saying no thank you, I remember why I was out in the first place, my mom was sick, so if I went to this church service, I would have to spend less time in the infected house! So I accept, not expecting much out of it, because after all, I know in my heart, there is no God. Upon arrival at church it is weird; everyone is just so… friendly! There is free food too! A fat guys dream! I guess I’ll try this ‘God’ thing again.
Two months after that day, I still regularly go to this church where I am slowly learning about the Bible. It’s mostly the people that make me want to keep going. They are so friendly. They help me realize that I need to kick away my habits. I am about to go to church and I am still unsure about everything, so I pray about it. God? Hello? What do you want me to do? How do I live my life how you want it? No response. So I head off to church once again, unhappy. Then something happens, for what seemed like the first time in my life God answers my prayers! How? The sermon the pastor is givinghas to do exactly what I had prayed about. It feels like God himself is talking to me through this pastor. I can’t stop crying, but I’m not sad. I could feel it! As service ends, they start singing, “There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain.” I see all my addictions, and how they are chains on my ankles pulling me away from God. It is time to quit.
Why now though? Why not all those other times in my life when I needed God the most? He was there though, carrying me through it all, even though I didn’t believe; he answered my prayers. I just didn’t realize it. I am truly saved.