Los Angeles, 1984.

(Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Napoli)

Los Angeles, 1984.

By Jacqueline Napoli

Fresh after the Frank Zappa Valley Girl craze epicentered in my home town of Encino, I’d escaped fairly well. Madonna, however, I fell for. “Maddona Wanna-be!!”  It burned like acid when cute, older boys called me that outside the movie theater, as I sported neon-yellow scrunched down leg warmers, a bleach-blond, tangled bob, and a slashed tee shirt. I felt stupid and shameless, honestly. But I saw this pop star getting every male’s attention, and for better or worse, it worked pretty well for me too.  I was 14, and the only male attention I’d ever gotten had been mostly abusive. I didn’t know it, but I was on a quest to find an identity – any identity. I’d gladly receive one from anyone loud enough to shout it at me. So Madonna-wanna-be it was.

Right around then I found myself at a YMCA summer camp at Catalina Island.  I felt this foreign, undeniable, overpowering love whenever we’d sing these songs to Jesus at mealtime, and by my second year at that camp, I’d accepted Jesus as my Savior.  They handed me some strange book (a New Testament), I shelved it, and proceeded to wander the wilderness of middle school and indulge all of its hazards. Then the chaos at home got bad enough that I tracked down my dad and asked him to take custody of me. My journey of identity lurched off a cliff.

My dad bounced me around to live with my brother, at boarding school, and with his girlfriends, just not with him. I didn’t trust him in any way. But he studied me, and after a few years, he reeled me in. Not with money, not with travel, not with fun. He threw identity at me. He moved me in with him at Lake Tahoe. It was 1987 and there was this new sport, not yet legal at most of the ski resorts, called snowboarding. When I wasn’t learning to do it in the backcountry steeps with the boys at my high school, I was helping my dad with clerical stuff. And then he did it. He gave me identity. We were trying to figure out how to mail a FedEx envelope (brand new company) into a FedEx box. It stumped us. We fell right to the ground belly laughing in front of the mailbox. My DAD. LAUGHING. WITH ME. He told me I was just like him: a genius intellectually, superior to most, but in the mundane details of life, a clueless idiot. That second, my brilliant heart-surgeon dad bequeathed on me identity. I was his. No one had ever claimed me. There it was.

I made a checklist in about a tenth of a second and (at least to the best of my ability) assimilated it as my full-on identity within a year.

  • Atheist
  • Athlete
  • Brainiac
  • Superior to all

That worked for about two years until I was so lost and alone that I lost all hope in life. I began crying out to God, and He would answer. One day, sobbing over my aloneness in the world (no friends, no family), I asked God for this mystical “Divine Embrace” I had read about from a Catholic author in an upper-division philosophy class. Instantly, He granted me that feeling from the YMCA camp at Catalina, but a zillion times stronger. It was like His love was a tea bag dropped in boiling water, and it suffused through every bit of me.

Just as quickly as I made the checklist for my dad, I pictured my life like a contract, and I tore it up in front of God. I told Him I didn’t care WHAT He did with my life – His love was EXACTLY what I’d been searching for every single day of my life. As a Maddona-wanna-be, as a board-sports jock, as an intellectual, you name it. I wanted to be loved by my Heavenly Father, even though I had no idea that was what I was slaving for. He was there the whole time, waiting for me.

Now I know that my worldly identity is just like a bunch of dog tricks. Cool. Fun. Amusing. But just tricks. My real identity is that I’m loved by the Maker of All. A just God and Savior, loving, compassionate, and true. My identity is Christ, and He can do whatever He wants with me. He’s worth my everything, and He is my everything.