My earliest years were spent heavily involved with the church.
I was taught Christian songs in preschool, played the Bible video game, and spent all of my summers at Vacation Bible School. I prayed every night and read children's books detailing various Bible stories and Christian lessons. As I got older, however, I started to think for myself, and I questioned the systems that were in place.
I started to learn about my family history, and how the small-town churches in Georgia turned away my relatives when they needed God the most, all because they were afflicted - like too many others - with the disease of addiction. I began to hear the whispers of the sins of homosexuality, and the demands of youth leaders who threatened my friends when they didn't show up to church some Sunday mornings, as if it's any of their business how and when they chose to worship.
It took a long time, but eventually, I came to realize that the church may be the house of God, but it's run by men.
There are just some things I cannot get behind, and I can't help but think about how so many of my church services were teaching us about what not to do rather than what we should be doing as Christians.
Don't be promiscuous. Don't drink. Don't be gay. And God forbid you question anything mentioned in the Bible.
I don't want my relationship with God to be like that. I think the main message of Christianity is to love one another, to put others' needs above yours, to give everything you can to make the world a better place and protect those who are less fortunate than yourself. Too many of the churches I've come into contact with fail to talk about this between the monologues of how sinful my generation is.
At the end of the day, a relationship with God is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Some people thrive in the church environments, and if they believe that is the best way to seek Him, that's great for them.
I just don't fit into that category. I don't feel a connection with my religion between the pages of a book written, translated, rewritten, and rearranged by men over thousands of years. I don't feel a connection with Jesus by being told what and how to think from a pew in our local Baptist church.
I feel a connection to God when I feel like I'm doing the work he sent me here to do - reaching out to people, being kind, doing acts of service, and having open-minded discussions about how different people see the world.
And if I'm wrong, at least I tried to do some good in the process.