CHAPTER 1: FAITH!

CHAPTER 1: FAITH!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Presents Teens Talkin' Faith

Chapter One

FAITH!

JUST FOR STARTERS, LET ’S TALK ABOUT FAITH . . .

At fifteen, Brandy was presumably a lot like you or some of your friends. She was a star athlete and incredibly social. Brandy hung with the “in” crowd and didn’t have many worries. Her world revolved around school, friends, sports, and occasional parties. It was after one such party that Brandy’s world was shattered. On the way home from this party, the truck she was riding in was hit by another vehicle and rolled three times. Ironically, out of the five people involved in the accident, Brandy was the only one badly injured and the only one not drinking that night. Brandy was left unconscious in the cab of the pickup while the others escaped to safety. Unaware that the truck would ignite, her friends were more concerned about staying out of trouble than rescuing Brandy. They either left the scene or scurried about trying to hide all evidence of their underage drinking. While they were scattering beer cans, Brandy was burning.

More than 75 percent of Brandy’s body and most of her face were burned before a brave young man pulled her free from the hot flames. She lost her soft, smooth skin and her pretty hair. She lost her right ear, a finger on her right hand, and her entire left arm. Brandy lost her spot on the all-star softball team and her “normal” teen life of flirting with guys and hanging with friends.

In an instant, Brandy’s life as a teenager changed. For many teens, appearance is extremely important. Acceptance is paramount. How teens look, dress, or what they are involved in can often determine their sense of belonging among their peers. Think about yourself. Are your looks important to you? Do you play any sports or a musical instrument? Are you involved in any clubs or after-school activities? Considering your life, can you imagine stepping into Brandy’s shoes? Picture yourself so badly disfigured that you are no longer recognizable. Contemplate the changes you would have to make in your day-to-day activities if you lost one of your arms. Suppose you were the one left in that burning truck. Could you survive the pain, isolation, and extreme change? Would you even want to?

When I heard about Brandy, my initial response was to whisper to God, “Why . . . why did this have to happen? How can one girl go through so much?” But Brandy is able to see beyond my prevailing questions. Her faith has made her strong. A few years after her accident, Brandy and I became friends. The first time we spoke, she told me that she thanked God for her life today. She also astounded me with her wisdom when she said, “I don’t blame God. Really, if I blame anyone, I blame myself because I was there. I chose to go to the party. I knew that the driver of the truck I was riding in had been drinking, and I chose to put myself in that situation.” However, Brandy understands that placing blame on herself, God, or the others involved in the accident has no benefit. So, instead, she acknowledges with gratefulness that she has evolved as a person and that her life has significant purpose. Yet that realization is not one that she came to readily. It was a slow awakening.

Five months after the accident and two days before her sixteenth birthday, Brandy was released from the hospital. Once home, she wanted to hang with friends and be a “regular” teen again. Although Brandy physically looked like a different person, inside she was still the same. This was very painful for Brandy because even her friends felt awkward initially. Like so many other people, they stared. So, when she went out with friends, she made decisions to drink and to be sexually promiscuous. Brandy struggled with the reasons why she made these choices, especially after all she had been through. Yet, she tested herself and her faith because she wanted to be “in.” She wanted to be accepted.

Eventually, Brandy came to realize that many of the decisions she made after the accident were an attempt to prove to herself and her friends that nothing had changed and that she was still the same person. However, each time she participated in risky behavior, she knew it wasn’t right. Slowly, Brandy grasped the notion that she didn’t want to be the person she was before her accident. She realized that she used to be snobby, sometimes even rude to people. Her relationship with her mother was tense and argumentative. They didn’t get along or do much together. At the time, Brandy felt that appearance was important and faith was insignificant. But Brandy grew to care more about people. She began to appreciate her mom, and they became closer than ever. She also came to understand that looks, in fact, don’t matter. Instead, she learned that it is who you are inside that truly counts. Brandy began to cherish her relationships and value her faith.

As she looked back, Brandy realized the constants in her life were her family, close friends, and faith. Furthermore, she began to see that her faith, a treasure she often overlooked, was the strength that pulled her through. From the very beginning, when Brandy arrived by care flight at the hospital with her skin melted and charred, her mom asked her, “Is God with you?” Although she was really “out of it” and couldn’t talk, Brandy nodded her head, “Yes, God is here.” And even before that, as she lay in the midst of flames, a young man named Jimmy attempted to pull her free, but she was stuck in the cab of the truck. He tried and tried until he didn’t think he could pull anymore, but God was there. In a final effort, with a silent prayer for help, Jimmy says that Brandy floated out of that truck as light as a feather. And following her recovery, Brandy knows that God was with her when she made poor decisions by helping her ultimately to choose the right paths. Brandy believes that if you ask God for help, He will help you. Through right or wrong, trial or suffering, He is there.

Throughout this book, you will find God’s presence. Within these pages, as teens share their confusion and doubts, struggles and fears, triumphs and hopes, they will also share their faith. Regardless of where you reside spiritually at this point in your life, I pray that when you read this book, you allow God to embrace your heart.

Teens Talkin’ Faith will lead you to discover unconditional love and help you to find peace in your life. It is a journey of faith toward God that will lead you to this discovery. If you are already strong in your spiritual or religious convictions, then you may know what I am talking about. Perhaps you have experienced the feeling of peace that enters your life when you turn to God for guidance or solace. Likely, you have felt the joy that fills your heart when you focus on the Lord. You don’t need drugs, alcohol, or sex to find happiness as a teenager. You can find it in God. However, I’m sure that you know there is always room for spiritual growth.

On the other hand, if faith has never been a part of your life, then I am very excited to share the glory of God with you. My message in this book is enthusiastically simple. God cares! You can flee to Him for comfort. You can rely on Him for unconditional love. I want you to know that God is available and waiting for you to call on Him. He is there to guide, support, and, as He did for Brandy, provide courage and strength. His patience is plentiful, and His forgiveness is given freely. As a teen, you may experience small traumas in your life or painful tragedies like Brandy’s. You may feel, sometimes, that you are all alone. But you are not. God is always there. Often, it is just a matter of opening your heart to His presence.

When you invite God into your life, His spirit will fill your heart. He is not a God who reigns from heaven demanding perfection and punishing anything less. Instead, He is someone with whom you can have a relationship. He is a God who loves you completely, with all of your faults and insecurities. You can talk to Him every day, every moment, because He always has time. God also inspired an awesome book that you can turn to for guidance and direction. It is the Bible, and it was written for you to foster your relationship with Him and help you to live a life full of joy and hope.

You might be thinking, Yeah, that sounds great, but how do I know God is really there? The answer is faith. What is faith? Faith is believing without actually seeing. It is relying on your heart instead of your head. Faith is letting go of the tough stuff in your life and turning it over to God, looking to Him for guidance and direction. Amazingly, faith is knowing in the depths of your soul that you are God’s child and that He will take care of you.

Many teen contributors expressed that their faith grew by writing for this book. I hope that by reading this book your faith will grow, too. Like Brandy, you may experience trials or hardships in your life, but faith can help you to persevere. Brandy said that after her accident, she never wanted to give up. “I got a second chance,” she said. “I am not going to sit here and waste what God has given me. I kind of feel like it was meant to be this way, like I am here for a reason.” Her faith touched my life. Her wisdom opened my eyes. People often assume that you must be an adult to be wise. But after meeting Brandy and so many other teenagers, I know this isn’t always the case. Wisdom can be born from experience. The teens who have written for this book share their experiences, doubts, wisdom, and faith with you. I hope that you consider them your friends. Appreciate their experiences and take from each something that you can apply to your life. Find love, faith, and hope on these pages. Find the Lord!

Mrs. T

. . . I BELIEVE GOD LOVES THE WHOLE ME . . .

When everything shifts in the maelstrom of my life, God is there, never-changing. My faith is very important to me because it is one of the only things that can never be taken from me. God is sticking with me, no matter how isolated or unpopular I get. Faith in God gives me more mental self-esteem. I believe God loves the whole me, both the good and the bad. That in itself is pretty cool. My faith is the perfect fit for me, and I know that as I grow, my faith will grow and change with me.

ROMELLE, 14

. . . I BELIEVE IN GOD BECAUSE I NEED SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN . . .

For me, being a teenage kid living in this crazy, fast-paced world today, it gets confusing at times, and I need some solid ground. I find that in my faith in God.

Nobody really knows if God is real or not because not one of us has been to heaven and back, but I believe in God. I think it is important to have faith because without it, what is the point of living a life that leads to nothing? There has to be something more. I believe in God because I need something to believe in, and when I read the Bible, God is my answer. I believe because when I feel like nobody loves me and I am all alone in this world, I know there is someone with incomprehensible love for me no matter what. I know that I am never alone with God watching over me.

In times when I have been frightened or scared, I looked to God and felt better. He is the light when you are in the dark. I’ve been through some really rough times when I thought no one cared and everyone was leaving me, but God was always there. Because of Him, I got through them. God is comfort even during the worst times, and God loves me no matter what I say or do. He is still there and always loves me. That is why I believe in God, and that is why my faith is important to me.

DANIEL, 14

I LOOK AT ALL OF THE MIRACLES . . .

As I take a look around, up, and down and at all that surrounds me, I wonder.

I see people walking by, all different kinds. Trees and green grass growing and blowing in the wind, along with playful children who still hold their innocence, and I wonder.

I look to the old, grinning man—stories bundled up within him, so many years and experiences he must have. I look down to see all ten of my fingers that work and move, so many things that I can do. I look at all of the miracles around me, and I can’t help but wonder, how can there be no God?

For it is moments like these, with peace and serenity, that God must be there, in this beautiful world that we live in, for all to share.

JENI, 14

I STARTED CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENTS . . .

Imagine feeling like you have your whole life before you only to find out you are about to face your second bout with leukemia. You are finally entering middle school, making plans for the future, eyeing the cute guys, talking about next week’s game, and then the news comes . . . your cancer may have returned.

My first encounter with the disease came when I was in first grade. I became tired all the time and never felt like playing with the other children. Sitting on the teacher’s lap or resting were the highlights of my recess. Then one day my temperature shot up, and the teacher contacted my parents who took me to the doctor immediately. Blood results revealed the diagnosis—acute lymphocitic leukemia. I started chemotherapy treatments that lasted for the next two-and-a-half years. Following that, I stayed in remission for almost three years. But then I relapsed at the start of my sixth-grade year.

This time was more difficult because I was older. I knew more of what to expect. I thought about my future, and I didn’t want to die. I had peers who would make fun of me once they learned I had cancer. I am not sure they understood the seriousness of my disease, but their taunts added to my pain.

I started another series of chemotherapy treatments. My family and I were at a turning point with the disease. We had to decide if I would have a bone-marrow transplant or continue the treatment method I was presently receiving. I was fearful of having the transplant because I had known other patients who did not make it after their transplant. But it also helped some people get better. The deciding factor for me was when we found out my three-year-old brother was a perfect match.

I still had concerns because I consider my little brother “my miracle” from God, and I didn’t want him to suffer. One day, while my brother was watching one of his favorite programs, I asked him if he would like to be a hero. He asked me, “Do you mean like Superman?” and I told him “even more than Superman.” I explained to him that he would be saving his sissy’s life, but it would require him to go through some pain and give lots of blood. At first, he told me, “No, I don’t want to do that,” so I was not going to press the issue with him. He turned back and started watching the television, but then about five minutes later, he turned and looked at me and said, “Sissy, I don’t want to hurt, but if it will save your life, I will do it.” Not only is he my miracle, he is my hero.

I left for the hospital and began preparations for my transplant the following day. I started with two weeks of testing to make sure I was in physical shape to begin the process followed by two weeks of radiation. Then, my brother and I went into surgery. Though it was tough for him, he responded very well and was out of the hospital soon. I stayed in the hospital for two months and then had to stay close by to make visits to the clinic daily, then every other day until finally decreasing to once a week. This routine lasted for the next six months. At one point, it appeared I was relapsing because my white cells were not growing. I was required to take extra precautions like wearing a mask more often, staying out of public places, and—the hardest for me—not being able to have many visitors. My outings were limited to the apartment we were renting, the clinic, or a ride in our vehicle.

After six months, I was finally able to go home. I was welcomed by a parade of friends, family, and neighbors. It was such an exciting day for me and my family to finally be at home together. After the nine-month mark, I was able to do limited activities. Finally, after one year, my doctor allowed me to go out in public places. I still have certain limitations and will for some time to come. Doctor’s visits are still a part of my life and will be for the next six years.

As you can tell, I have been through a lot, but I have never been upset or angry with God about my situation. I never wondered, “Why me?” but I did initially question what God’s purpose was in all of this. Now I think I know. God has shown me that He is still in the miracle business, and He has allowed me to use my situation to witness to others about my faith and to minister to those who might be experiencing similar situations.

A verse that God gave me through this ordeal is John 11:4, which says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” I truly want God glorified in my life. My favorite saying is “Keep your faith in God, and He will get you through it. He never leaves your side.” My trust and faith in God have been my blanket of security through this experience and will continue to be what I cling to for my future.

HOPE, 14

. . . GOD PUSHES ME TO THRIVE . . .

The faith I have in God today

It keeps me strong in every way

I hold Him close

He keeps me safe

He lights my paths

When I have lost my way

My faith in God

It keeps me alive

My faith in God

Pushes me to thrive

My faith in God

It lets me know

I should never be afraid

Be afraid to show

Who I am

Or how life goes

My faith in God

It means so much

With every talk

With every touch

My faith is in God

I LOVE HIM SO MUCH

CRISS, 16

EVERYONE IS GOING TO HAVE A DIFFERENT REASON FOR BELIEVING . . .

One night, our youth group was having a lock-in where we spend the night at the church and usually have tons of fun. We were all excited about playing a new game called Romans and Christians. In this game, if you get caught by a Roman, you are sent to “jail” and asked the question, “Why do you believe in God?” When we played, and I got caught and the jail guard asked me, “Why do you believe in God?” I went totally blank. I couldn’t answer. That night, I cried myself to sleep.

Why couldn’t I come up with an answer? I have been a Christian all my life. I go to church every Sunday, pray regularly, go to youth group, and yet I didn’t have an answer. Was it because I had only known this lifestyle because of my parents? And why did this question bother me so much? For the rest of the week, I thought and prayed about it. Then on Sunday night, as I was lying in bed, I found the answer.

In Psalm 27:1, it says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” This verse helped me determine why I believe in God. Without Him, I would have no salvation, no forgiveness, no afterlife, nothing. It is important to believe so I can have all of these things, and I don’t have to wonder what will happen when I die. I know that I am going to heaven. If something bad or unexpected is bothering me, I can take it to God. Everyone is going to have a different reason for believing in God. I can say now that I believe in God because without Him I would be nothing and have no hope. Believing in God is a choice that everyone makes at some point. What is your choice; why do you believe?

KAILEY, 13

HE DIED IN A FREAK ACCIDENT . . .

When I was only five, my big brother Ben protected me. I was in kindergarten, and he was in the seventh grade. He helped me cross the street after school each day. Traffic was very heavy on the way to the A&W root beer place. But we would go there, and Ben would treat me and our other brother to ice cream or french fries. When I was in the first grade and Ben was in the eighth, he showed me the ropes on the playground and held my hand when I was scared. None of the bullies messed with me when my brothers were around. In fact, up until I turned nine, they were my best and only friends. But then Ben taught me how to be “cool.” He showed me all the right moves for becoming popular. He taught me to be more social and to work hard academically. By the time I was in the fifth grade, it was smooth sailing—straight As, tons of friends, and no worries.

That is, until four days before sixth grade started. On this day, I helped my family bury Ben’s body on a hill that overlooked the pasture where we had ridden horses only the week before. He died in a freak accident just after he turned nineteen years old. Life as I knew it had changed. I turned to God. How could this crazy and horrible thing happen? Had I done something wrong so that I deserved to be punished? Ben was good and always helping other people. Why did God pick him to die? Would I ever stop being sad? Would my parents and brother ever be able to “come back” from this thing? These questions kept repeating in my head. I couldn’t make sense of Ben’s dying. I couldn’t stop missing him. I hurt.

Then God began to give me answers. Almost a month after Ben died, my pastor was giving a sermon. He spoke about faith and trusting God to take care of every need, about letting God take control of our lives, about putting everything into His hands. He shared a verse from the gospel of Matthew: “Come to me when your burden is heavy, and I will give you rest.” I somehow knew that this was true. And then he read to us from Phillippians 4:6–7. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I was able to realize that when we give our sadness, confusion, and needs over to God, He takes care of everything. He has a plan and gives hope and a future to every person who asks and believes. There is nothing in all of life and death that God will not take care of if we allow Him to take control. As I thought about Ben, I realized that even if he wasn’t there to hold my hand or teach me to be “cool,” he had been there to help me find a deep and saving faith in God. He still protected me.

CLARK, 14

FAITH IS IMPORTANT TO ME BECAUSE . . .

I believe in God because I have no doubt in my mind that a higher power exists. When I look around me, there is so much goodness to be seen. Everything in the world had to have been created and planned ahead of time. As people, we do not simply appear on this Earth. Instead, God places each and every one of us here for a specific purpose. I personally feel God’s presence around me in times of difficulty. He lends His hand in times when hope cannot be found. Faith is important to me because I feel that faith is necessary to build a healthy relationship with God. It is important to have something to believe in, for there is nothing greater than sharing in God’s love. I have heard that if you do not believe in God during this life, and then you find that He truly does exist, you have everything to lose. If you do believe in God, and He does not exist, you have nothing to lose. And if you believe in God all of your life and He does exist, you have everything to gain. It is so evident that God does exist that there is no reason for me not to believe in Him. Faith in God helps enrich my soul. If I place all of my trust in God, I know that He will always provide for me and lead me toward what is right and just.

DILLON, 18

I PRAY TO GOD EVERY NIGHT AND THANK HIM FOR MY LIFE . . .

I believe in God because He has helped me through my life. My mother is recovering from a drug addiction and alcoholism, and my father is a workaholic. Now I live with my grandparents. I pray to God every night and thank Him for my life, health, and wonderful family. I am so lucky to have my two incredible grandparents to take care of me. I believe that God gives you strength when you need it, and He would never give you something you could not handle. He is always forgiving and helps me through the tough times. I believe that there is a God, and He is looking out for each and every one of us. If you search really hard, you can feel the love of God through others. God is incredible and will never give up on you. All you have to do to find Him is reach out.

CLAIRESSE, 15

. . . CONSIDER GOD’S WONDERS . . .

Why do I believe in God? The question should be, Why wouldn’t you? There is one verse in the Bible that I have loved since I was a little kid. It is Job 37:14, “‘Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders.’” This is simply why I believe. You look at how things work, and you just can’t say there is no God.

ELI, 14

. . . WE HAVE TO MAKE OUR FAITH OUR VERY OWN . . .

As long as I can remember, I have gone to church with my family on a regular basis, and had a strong faith and commitment to the Lord. I was always brought up with good values and morals. I also had wonderful grandparents and great-grandparents with strong Christian values who set good examples for me, and I admire them. But as most teens know, we have to make our faith our very own and not something we inherit from our parents. I had to make the decision for myself whether I wanted to accept God as my Lord and Savior. Two summers ago, I went to a Christian youth camp. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen that didn’t usually happen every Sunday when I went to church. I was very wrong, and it was then that I owned my faith and made the decision that I wanted God in my life—not just because I was expected to go to church every Sunday, but because I wanted Him to be a part of my everyday life. I met other teens and realized that it wasn’t just me who had to face temptations and hardships, and that I wasn’t alone.

I also discovered that when things like that do come up and someone isn’t there to help me, I can just ask God, and He will give me the strength to face anything. No matter what, God accepts me for who I am and won’t turn His back on me like a friend or boyfriend might. I have experienced miracles within my own family and have been blessed in feeling the comforting peace that God gives me when it seems no one else can. I have learned to trust the Lord with my future and live for Him daily. Whenever I have a problem, God is the first One I turn to. Under any circumstance, He is always there. He has filled my heart with joy.

JAIME, 15

I FEEL BLESSED . . .

I believe in God because He is always there whenever I have a problem. I know He will always be there guiding me toward the right path. I know that He hears me because when I am in doubt about something, I pray, and then I better understand what I should do. I feel blessed because God has been around me ever since I was born. My parents have always taught me to love God, and trust and respect Him by their example. I have learned, by trusting God, He will show me what to do and help me on my journey through life, every little step of the way.

JAKE, 15

ONCE I DISCOVERED GOD, I LEARNED . . .

I believe in God because He helped me to find myself. There was a point in my life when I had forgotten who I was. Everything around me was different. Kids at school were talking about me, and I started to believe everything that they were saying. It came to the point where I had to step out of my life, look at it, and change what was bad because when I looked at myself, I didn’t like what I saw. My personality had become gray and colorless. My heart and my feelings were black and scarred. I was hurt and acting like someone I was not. I knew that I had to find something to grasp, to keep me strong and help me to find the real me. Finally, I found that something. It was a beautiful thing full of colors and everything good. For me, it was God. Once I discovered God, I learned that every time I have a problem or feel like I can’t take it anymore, God will be there. He helped make me strong. I was able to look at my life again and see everything in a different light. My attitude toward life and my friends was full of joy and happiness. The scars on my heart were still there, but for every scar, I was ten times smarter. God taught me that I can take my life and learn from everything. Slowly, He healed my heart. God turned my life around, and that is why I believe. If you are like I was, I hope that you can find God, too.

KEISHA, 14

“T ” TALK

At the end of each chapter, you will find a “T” Talk from me, Mrs. T. I have chosen to use the “T” Talks to provide you with stories, spiritual insight, ideas, and guidance. If you find something of value, then I would ask you to embrace it. Take to heart that which is applicable to your life, and let it encourage and guide you as you grow in your faith.

Mrs. T

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