5th grade wound down while my family found ourselves at a new church. This one was Alliance, something I assumed was part of the name, not a denomination. You'd think for all the churches we visited, I'd have a better grasp on denominational differences. You'd be wrong.
I got to know the kids in my new Sunday School class, thrilled to no longer be excluded. By sixth grade I started attending the church service after Sunday School ended, along with my other junior high pals. We didn't even sit with our parents!
I thought I was so mature, scribbling out sermon notes alongside encoded musings about my latest crush. My friends and I used the boys' initials as a starting point. Ken Coleman became Kacey Catalpa. Clever, we were, using trees in our nicknames.
From the outside, I appeared like any other pre-teen girl: giggling about crushes, making prank phone calls, going to youth group, and doing homework. On the inside, a jarring shift occurred. I didn't have language for the insidious self-hatred consuming every part of me.
I'd attended a Christian grammar school since kindergarten. I knew all the right things to say. I memorized the verses and sang the songs. Depression visited anyway. Although I had some friends, I wasn't popular. I felt left out and misunderstood at every turn. I cried myself to sleep most nights, convinced no one would care if I died. I was certain God didn't care about me. I made a plan to kill myself but couldn't follow through and loathed myself that much more.
Church was no refuge. I begged my parents to let me skip youth group. Instead, they forced me to keep going and I found myself on a leadership committee of sorts. As such, I headed into Chicago one March evening for Second Saturday, an youth group event, while Geoff Moore & The Distance played.
That night I prayed the Sinner's Prayer, desperate for relief. I had nothing left to lose. Geoff Moore invited whoever had prayed the prayer to stand up. I stood, surprising my youth group leaders and friends.
No one knew the depth of my depression. No one asked me why I stood up that night, content merely that I had.
My depression ebbed away by the time I graduated 8th grade, a few months after I committed my life to Christ. I sensed a difference in me. Everyone did. But we didn't question why. Because Jesus.
The thing about untreated depression is that it can leave scars. The thing about church is that you can still feel empty.