From Despair to Hope: Shivangi's Story
After nearly 20 years of waiting, my mom finally received the news. My family and I were going to immigrate to the United States from India! My parents sold most of our possessions and we eagerly arrived in the US while in their mid-40s with $1,000, 2 young kids and broken English.
My parents’ college degrees were not valid in America so they took on lower income jobs to make ends meet. They struggled with intense emotional and financial anxiety and their identity was deeply bound to their job title and salary. They worked long hours to feel financially secure, all while clinging to our Hindu faith. Money became an idol and every conversation somehow turned into one about money – how they felt we lacked it.
In high school, my brown skin and evidence of our income became targets for bullying at my school. Between the verbal criticism at home and the constant bullying at school, the discouragement became so deep that I became depressed…and slowly, I began placing my hope and confidence in my desires for financial stability and a changed identity.
The silver lining in high school was my friendship with two Christian girls. My mom was convinced that they were only friends with me to “convert” me into a Christian. I tried not to believe her, but deep inside, I wondered too. After years of these girls talking to me about Jesus, Kristen finally wrote me a long letter about why I should become a Christian. I told her that I felt uncomfortable with her continued attempts to make me a Christian. To put one’s confidence in a personal God other than the distant, Hindu God that I was taught at home seemed strange and untrue. I expected her to no longer want to be my friend but her friendship turned out to be genuine. In college, I discovered that Kristen had not stopped praying for me. I remember thinking that praying for me was inefficient – I had already rejected Christianity. Did Kristen really think praying would change my mind?
By the time I was in college, my anxiety and panic attacks were pretty severe. Mostly, I panicked that if I didn’t succeed at school and get a good job, that I would be poor and worthless. And yet underneath it all, I was slowly realizing that my confidence in money and the hope of a changed identity was crumbling.
Soon enough I became best friends with a girl named Libby, partly because our lives were extremely similar and looking at her life was like looking in a mirror. But the way we handled life circumstances could not have been more different. Libby had more financial instability than myself and yet she overflowed with a peace and calmness that intrigued me…leading me to believe her confidence was in something I could not identify. All life problems did not overwhelm her and drive her to panic attacks like they did for me.
Upon graduating from college, we continued to be roommates. Shortly thereafter yet another major panic attack came upon me, and I asked Libby something I had never asked her before – why did life’s problems feel so discouraging to me but not to her? She responded, telling me that she believed in the God of the Bible, what I understood as the “Christian God”. At first, I didn’t think her beliefs were significantly different, as all gods are the same in Hinduism. And yet Hinduism was not giving me the peace Libby had, and I craved it. We started reading the New Testament at night after work. And slowly, as I read the New Testament, I began tasting this peace that I had seen in Libby’s life. While I still was confused about Jesus, I continued to read on.
Despite her best attempts, the Gospel just didn’t make any sense to me. Out of desperation, Libby showed me John 3:16 and encouraged me to pray and invite Jesus into my life and to forgive me of my sins. Since Hindus are open to all Gods being true, there was really nothing for me to lose, she argued. Libby’s logic made sense and I believed in my heart for John 3:16 to be true. I remember going to bed that night feeling a kind of peace I had never felt before.
I joined a church shortly after because I wanted to get involved in a Christian community. I found a wonderful church and took the Alpha course. I have continuously seen God’s hand with people that were “coincidentally” placed in my life. The Alpha group leader was an incredibly bright McKinsey consultant and an apologist. He helped tease out concerns that Libby had not been able to answer and I realized that Jesus alone was the way, the truth, and the life. Slowly but surely the clouds of discouragement began chipping away in my life as I learned to put my confidence in God rather than the things of this world.
I wish I could say my journey has been smooth waters and that I don’t still occasionally face discouragement. My faith can be better described as waves in an ocean. I still struggle with putting my confidence in the Lord with all my life. Even just the other day I told the Lord that he can have all of me, all my decisions…um, except the financial ones. HA. I am still working through that…and I am thankful for grace. I am grateful for the upside down gospel that means that I am saved, despite my everyday failures in living up to God’s goodness. I am grateful that the Lord relentlessly pursued me even after years of saying no, and that He is continuing to work all things together for good in my life.