It was 1999. I was twenty years old and sitting in a hotel room at a spa in Calistoga, California. I no longer viewed Christianity and Christians with derision (a recent development due solely to my having fallen in love with a boy who held such things in high esteem), but I still could not see how it or they were remotely applicable to my life.
While absentmindedly flipping through the channels of the hotel room television I happened upon an adorably dressed Rockabilly chick. She was seated in a nondescript room talking about something with some guy. The substance of their conversation is not what caught my attention, though. Truth be told, it was her trendy clothes and cute hairstyle that prompted me to pause on that particular channel.
Only after I’d spent a few moments appreciating her style did I start to listen in on the conversation she was having. I was shocked to discover that she was talking about her Christian faith! Who was this girl? No girl I’d ever known who looked like this had anything but disdain for such things. My interest having been piqued, I listened more closely.
She fascinated me with her reflections on pain and redemption, suffering and joy, sin and conversion. I was intrigued, if not yet sold. I finished the program and returned to the pool. As stimulating as I’d found her and her thoughts to be I didn’t spend much time thinking about them after turning off the television set. I was simply not ready to wrestle with such truths.
Her image stayed with me, though. It buried itself somewhere deep within the recesses of my mind. It would not reveal itself again until years later when it would become but a tiny piece of the puzzle that led to my own conversion. Tiny, yes, but hugely significant.
You see, she met me where I was.
Conversion comes without the gnashing of teeth to very few. Even after the truth is mercifully revealed to us converts we still must battle against that part of ourselves that holds on so desperately to the things we held dear in our former life:
I don’t want to give up my vision of the future which I so painstakingly crafted over the last however-many years.
I don’t want to give up sexual autonomy and selfishness, materialism and control.
I don’t want to give up my identity to become more like Him.
But, of course, giving up our identity is not what He asks of us. Yes, we are called to constant conversion. We are, in fact, called to become Christ-like, but we are not called to jettison our personalities. God is endlessly creative. He made each one of us unique. He delights in our differences.
Through the expression of her individuality, the girl I saw on the television that day showed me that I could become a Christian and still be me. Indeed, I would have to surrender many worldly things and sacrifice much, but I could still be me. My view of the world and my understanding of my place in it might radically change, but I could still be me.
I needed to know that. I needed to see that to be open to conversion.
The Church has a beautiful, powerful tradition of venerating individuals who sold their every possession, donned sackcloth and ashes and embraced a life of penance. These people inspire me and encourage me to greater heights of sacrifice and purification. But we are not all called to this sort of life. In fact, most of us aren’t. Most of us are called to live in the world, repent quietly, and evangelize gently.
Never let anyone convince you that expressing yourself artistically, through fashion and the like, must result in an indulgence of your vanity. God has not made renouncing simple pleasures such as these a prerequisite for holiness. Being “the light of the world” and “a city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14) does not require you to dress in drab, shapeless garments so that all with whom you come into contact will recognize you as different from the rest. The peace and joy of Christ that shines through you will be all the evidence they need to know that you possess an unearthly treasure.
Embrace your uniqueness. It was God who gave you your preferences and passions. He gave them to you for a reason. Perhaps His sole motive was simply to allow you to delight in temporal things during this short life. In all likelihood, though, He intends to use those things for an even greater end.
Perhaps you, too, will catch the eye of a curious young girl who will recognize something in you that reminds her a bit of herself and that glimmer of recognition will open her heart just a little. Would it be too much to hope she would hightail it to the nearest church and demand to be baptized on the spot? Maybe. Nevertheless, your image will likely stick with her. You may end up playing a more profound role in leading her to Christ than you ever could have imagined as you were slipping into your favorite dress that morning.