Back in 2008, my life fell apart.
I won’t go into the real details, but I was homeless, unemployed, recently divorced after a long separation, and had come to the realization that the friendships of my early 20s were not supporting me in my 30s.
I moved away from those friends and my now ex-wife and my children–not so very far, but 40 miles is a long way to go when you don’t have a car. I moved in with my ailing mother to take over for my younger sister, who was not managing Mom’s finances and affairs well–I showed up at the apartment with a moving box that held more food than they had in the house at the time.
I knew I needed a lot of change. I needed a new social life. I needed some direction. I needed change.
I had been somewhat involved with a Unitarian Universalist church back in college, and while I had stopped attending, I still remembered the “Ah ha!” moment I had felt in learning about their Principles and mission. That fellowship didn’t feed my spirit and never connected me to the larger Unitarian Universalism, but they had good ideas and nice people. I reached out to the UU church in my hometown.
That choice changed the course of my life.
I was contacted quickly by a member who was part of the web team for the congregation. She helped me meet a few other members and her friendship was vital to getting my life back and getting involved with the rest of the church. (Greeters matter, even online)
Having lots of free time, I volunteered for everything that I could get a ride to. I let my participation in church make up for the lack of direction in the rest of my life. I knew I was helping make good things happen in my community, both the congregation, and the greater community that we served. People were being fed, houses built, and we marched for equality. I wasn’t feeding, and I wasn’t building, but I was supporting the organization that made sure those things got done. It started me on my way out of a funk I had fallen into.
After a little more than a year of being an active member, I had that moment of asking “Why didn’t I know about this earlier? Why didn’t someone tell me?” And then, I remembered that I am someone and I could be telling people.
I decided that I was going to take my skills in technology and communications that I couldn’t find a market for, and I used them to reach out to other Unitarian Universalists. I started a Twitter account devoted to sharing positive stories of Unitarian Universalists and the work they were doing to promote our Principles in the world.
That was the genesis of the I Am UU project: the want for more people to spend less time looking for Unitarian Universalism and more time being involved, because I felt like I had been looking for a while when I finally got here. I just didn’t know what I was looking for, yet.
I connected to other UUs on social media, and they helped me expand my understanding of what the Principles really mean in practice. My understanding of my own privilege became more clear, and I was able to be a better ally for those who had different needs because of their culture, language, their physical limitations, and even their gender (or lack there of).
I also came to terms with many of the negative associations I had for the religion of my childhood. I now feel that I have an even better understanding of the wisdom of the Bible, and the teachings of Jesus and his followers. Understanding that the Bible wasn’t a single book, and that it was ok that there were parts written by different people who didn’t have the same message or story to tell. Each story could share something important on its own; they didn’t have to agree.
I learned to give simply because I had something to give. I didn’t have money, so I gave time. People appreciated that, and it made it easier to give. I realized that even when most people didn’t notice that I had done a thing, they appreciated that it had been done, and I could be proud of making things seem so smooth for everyone else.
My faith has transformed me to be a better person. I firmly believe that. It has made me more accepting. It has made me more patient. It has helped me learn to let go of (some of) my frustrations, and to see that all of us humans are just trying to get by, trying to cope with our own desire to be vital in a universe where we are so small. My vitality comes in trying to live up to my faith.
And today, I live Unitarian Universalism; it is my passion and my calling. Faith Development is my career and the institutions of our faith are my hobbies. I absolutely could not have predicted that at the turn of the century. Unitarian Universalism has made me into a better human than I had ever wanted to be as a young man. It gave me both motivation and aspiration that I didn’t have before.
Trying to be a better person is really hard some days; it often feels like no one else is trying and it is vital for me to know that I’m not alone, even when it feels like it. Trying to be my authentic self isn’t always comfortable and sometimes I want to slip back into pretending to be what people expect–not being happy with myself of them because of it. Being part of a movement with shared principles and aspirations of a better world has absolutely saved me from misanthropy. I have been transformed by Unitarian Universalism.
Have you? What’s your story?