Seeking what she thought would be greater freedom, Katie Mack challenged her religious beliefs when she was in her teens. She dropped out of high school, moved away from home, and tried to make a life of her own, putting the relationship with her family to a hard test. We asked her and her mother to share their views of this experience.
Katie: I am definitely the kind of person who challenges authority. A lot of those kind of people have changed the world, but some have also made things a little scary.
When I was about 16, I started to really feel the need for more independence. And I was sort of unheeding of what the right ways to get it were.
By the time I was 17, I had pushed my family so hard that I felt I needed to move out. I would stay out until all hours and sometimes not come home. I'd hooked up with one of the dirtiest, worst crowds that I could. By the end of my junior year, I had skipped school for probably almost half of the last semester. I drank. Smoked cigarettes. Smoked pot. Did cocaine and hallucinogenic drugs.
In the State of Missouri, you are an emancipated person at 17. Honestly, my motive was to step out of my family's life and figure out what I wanted to do. I did not want to try this and that stuff, and be in their home while doing it. But when you have parents who love you, and a family you're close to, you can't just say, “I'm gonna go try a bunch of stuff, and I'll get back to you if it works.”
Susan: I never felt anything but love for Katie. I knew who she truly was—a very precious and loving child.
But I was also very afraid for her, afraid that the choices she was making were the kinds that could permanently damage her life and maybe even kill her. We were aware she used drugs. And her sexual activity at that point was heedless of caution. I was afraid about the threat of sexually communicable disease and concerned she might get pregnant.
I was also feeling I had failed as a parent. That somehow if I'd done things differently—if I'd maintained better discipline or less discipline—this could have been avoided. I remember sometimes just involuntarily kind of uttering, “My heart is broken, my heart is broken.” My hopes and deepest desires for this child were kind of going down the drain, and I was afraid there'd be no resolution.
By the time I was 17, I had pushed my family so hard that I felt I needed to move out. I would stay out until all hours and sometimes not come home.
Katie: I did get pregnant when I was barely 18. I had dropped out of high school, and I was at the bottom of my life. I was able get free from addiction to cocaine and hallucinogens without any rehab or anything. But I was emotionally a mess and financially just gone. I was about to move to Vermont because my parents had basically said to me: “You have disrupted our life, and we can no longer talk to you on a regular basis. We will always love you and we will be there for you. But you are ruining the chances for your sisters' progress.” I just thought, “Wow, Katie, you've really done it now.”
The same evening I found out I was pregnant, I went to my mom's house. She could tell I had turned the corner. I knew I had nothing but God at that point.
Susan: Maybe you would expect me to say I threw my arms around my daughter and just said, “It will be all right.” But I was a little more quiet than that. I wasn't crying or dramatic, but I was thinking about the impact on our family. Katie was asking to come home, and we were willing to have her do that. We were glad to have her think and pray about what she was going to do.
Katie's two sisters love her dearly, and they were glad she was coming home. They'd felt hurt by her leaving. But they had to struggle because of the effort it had taken for all of us to continue to support her. One of her sisters was like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son in the Bible. She had done everything right. And now here we were, welcoming Katie back with love and support.
Katie: I think part of what I rebelled against, and so many of my peers did, was the religion we were brought up in. Not that I hadn't had some powerful examples of how it could work, but to me it just felt like I could go without it and use my own freedom and do what I wanted. I really rebelled against going to church. I didn't want to have any part of this religion. I just felt like it was getting shoved down my throat. Like it was this little fairyland where everybody just prays all the time. I didn't appreciate at that point in my life that Jesus was radical or that Mary Baker Eddy was a radical rebel.
Susan: Sometimes Katie rebelled against the way she saw some people practice their religion—as though it were just to make you a comfortable human being. I remember one time I said to her, “If you had learned to swim at a country club, and then you decided you didn't like country club life, that wouldn't make swimming invalid. You would still know how to swim. In that same way, you don't have to reject what you've learned about God just because you don't like churchgoing.”
Katie: I think I said to people for a period of two years or so that I didn't believe in God. But my aunt in Seattle told me in my junior year, “You know, you don't need to accept the whole conventional concept about God.” The word God is quite overused. My aunt told me, “Think of God as universal Truth and Love.” And I loved that. I felt really unsure of what that word God meant to me personally. But I could see very clearly when I thought of God as universal Truth and Love. Those were the moments when I felt like people were communicating in their honest and best way, and when people were being loving to each other. You can see that Love is too big to be a personal kind of thing. Any time someone is kind or compassionate, that's the greater love that tells us there is something that relates to God.
There's a quote I like from Science and Health: “The sharp experiences of belief in the supposititious life of matter, as well as our disappointments and ceaseless woes, turn us like tired children to the arms of divine Love. Then we begin to learn life in divine Science” (p. 322). That's the way I was feeling the night I found out I was pregnant. And even though everyday life looks like it has a lot of solutions to offer, I know from my own experience of being a single mom for two years that there is no comfort there.
I think it's important to note that my mother is the one I had the most contact with in this. She would go straight to God and say, “OK, this really doesn't make any sense, and I'm scared.” I don't think she was at peace.
Susan: When Katie came back home, there were many hurdles to figure out. Whether to keep the baby, how to finish high school, whether to get married to the father, how to make a living, where to live. Overwhelming kinds of life issues to figure out.
Katie: As soon as I realized I was pregnant, I felt I could not have an abortion or give the baby up for adoption. Every time I thought of giving it up, I would say, “The issue here is a choice between accepting my responsibility or letting the child realize that I was not ready to accept it.”
But to decide to keep the baby was really hard, because the father was not much in the picture. When I was pregnant, he was still having major incidents with cocaine and selling drugs. It was a healing for me to learn to be alone and trust that God could sustain me. God has done that in many ways. I now have so many friends who love Collin and me. My parents have a place in our life, too.
Susan: I always felt like Collin was God's gift to us. He was, in a sense, sort of God's intervention. He was a blessing that kind of pulled Katie upward. And she chose to listen to that angel intervention, which took the form of a small child coming into her life. Collin helped her in a way that we couldn't even have imagined. What he brought to her and all of us was a blessing.
Katie: He became the sunshine in our lives. In his innocence, he has really shown us how innocent we all are.
He was a blessing that kind of pulled Katie upward. And she chose to listen to that angel intervention, which took the form of a small child ...
There's a saying that “divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (Science and Health, p. 494). That was something written on the wall in church that I used to count the letters of. I never really thought anything except, “Yeah, that's nice.” I thought of Love as this thing that would swoop down right before you ran out of food or someone was about to kill you—that would stop everything right before it got really bad. One of the epiphanies I got was that the love of God was not a thing that came down to save you but an act that saved you. I was healed in every way, at every point, by the act of loving and being loved.
Last August we went to a family camp. I hadn't been there for about 10 years. I had stayed away because I didn't really feel it was my place. The amazing thing about it was that I was still smoking pot on weekends when I didn't have Collin near me. I still drank occasionally with the boyfriend I had—you know, a glass of wine. And I still smoked cigarettes. But I was down to such a low number of cigarettes that it didn't really seem like a big habit.
When we went to that camp, I still thought, “I'm gonna go out every night and sort of be my little rebel and have my own little say about how this is all gonna work.” Well you know, nobody said to me, “Why are you here, and why did you have this child?” They just loved me, and all I could feel was love. That was too big to be just their love. It was God's love. It was so fulfilling, and it finally satisfied me. And I just quit smoking and drinking. I didn't even want to. It was just such an amazing feeling. That's when I realized that, for every person using drugs or experimenting with this kind of lifestyle in which they think rebellion is some kind of answer, those things never really satisfy you the way love does. It's just loving every person you see. It's realizing that we all could be so much kinder to each other, and that we can feel love because that's God's presence. It's not even something that's hard to do.
Since then I have changed myself in new ways that I had never thought I could. I didn't even struggle with quitting any of those substances. I just did. I have many friends who are still involved in crazy lifestyles, or who just feel imbalanced and lack assurance.
I would say that the moment when you are filled with love, all that will cease. It's not even a process that you have to go through. The moment that you turn to Love...done!
It's not bad to challenge what you believe. It was really important for me to challenge my belief in God. Love is solid and it won't fail you. Don't just accept God because somebody else told you to. It doesn't work that way. You have to have your own relationship with God. When people say, “I'm not sure if I believe in God right now,” I say: “Good, go with it. Why not? What are you thinking? What are your questions? Let's work them out.” I think a lot of people are too scared to ask those questions. I think it's really natural for us to want to see proof.
The truth is there. Christian Science is there. It's not going to fall apart when it's challenged. The fact that I'm alive is proof of God's care.
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