When God surged into my life on a winter evening in 1997, I began to understand the intrinsic nature of the soul that exists inside of me—inside each of us.

My three main relationships began to be defined — mine to me, mine with God, and mine with everyone else.

I’d always felt that I had a fairly good relationship with my internal self—allowing myself to be important and certainly having fun.

But things only started to evolve and broaden when God entered my life full force and made me truly believe that a higher love exists beyond anything else I had allowed myself to know.

The night of my revelation, I had been on the phone with my dad, telling him about my latest heartbreak. I was living in Montana, in a house with trees and a babbling brook outside my bedroom window. I had a hot tub on the back deck and a view of the broad, star-scattered night sky that filled my heart with joy. There was an abundance of happiness in my life, but something was missing.

Looking back, I realize that it was something in my heart that went beyond a romantic relationship. Something wasn’t whole inside my heart.

Like so many times when talking with my father, he hit me hardest when I wasn’t expecting words with an emotional impact. As I wept with him, cruelly dragging him into my pain, I asked him to tell me he loved me (which he did frequently of his own accord) and his voice broke as he said, “Oh, honey, I love you.”

In that moment, I felt the depth of what it must mean to be a father and to have one out of four children strike you a bit differently from the others. Dad never played favorites and we each teased him about being his most special kid. For us, perhaps something about me and dad was simply more in sync than what he shared with my siblings. Maybe the three of them think the same thing.

That night, I sat in my bed, surrounded by soft green sheets, warm moonlight coming in my window, and I wept with joy in my father’s love.

In the following instant, I felt words storm through my heart, demanding that I listen. The words, “I LOVE YOU” resonated, pouring inside me. In that moment, I knew that it was God reaching out, reaching in. Looking back on my life now, I realize that he had tried many other times, but I hadn’t been paying attention. This night I was listening. And everything in my life changed.

I think because of this revelation, I started to elevate myself and elevate my friendships—getting choosier about the people I spent time with. It took me too long to purge the man who was holding back my progression. That happened in one fell swoop and I wound up in Pittsburgh a world away from the grandeur of Montana, which I still love and miss.

But here I am and this essay is supposed to be about existing outside of oneself. Here I am, focusing on the inside. They are deeply intertwined, don’t you think?

What goes on in my heart, in this relationship I have developed with God, directly affects everything I do in the world.

There was a man I used to be friends with, but we became divided when we talked about faith. It separated us. He believed faith is always there and that if it hasn’t always been there for you, then you can never have it. I believe faith can be learned and expanded from the moment you embrace it, but once known and trusted, it comes to be the very definition of the word, faith. But he scoffed at the progression in me that it took to reach this level and I withdrew from his friendship until we fully went our separate ways.

Conversations like that used to wound me. I would draw inside, thinking I was wrong and that someone else knew better than me how I should believe in God. But I can no longer pull my Cancerian Crab act and withdraw from the world. I know that in order to continue to exist outside myself, I have to keep my internal heart open to everyone around me. It’s the only way I win.

In this time, I have learned how tough the disciples had it. Their patience and internal peace is to be marveled over in the face of so many adversities. How did they ever overcome their many trials to spread the gospel?

I have faced evil people, have truly known people who let the devil guide them, and although I have tried to handle them myself, have found that the only way of dealing with them is to pray.

A former friend accused me of deliberately behaving with cruel intent toward him. The mere notion that he could even momentarily think such a thing … it crumbled any residual friendship, fading the relationship to dusk. Not that I do not behave badly or make mistakes, but never intentionally, only with human flaws firmly operating.

A previous work atmosphere was full of overwhelming negativity stemming from a few people, despite there being some wonderful employees there. One coworker described the main source of my angst as, “a woman who practices being mean.” Beyond what she did to me, I often pondered if she had any comprehension of what she was doing to herself by so fully hating me for nothing I had done, but for what she created in her mind.

Maybe this is where living outside my self would come in most handy.

If I could have detached from my inner spirit every time I walked through those doors, maybe the place wouldn’t have been as painful. It was more often that I caught myself being so much me that I would shrug and think: I am who I am. Pop-Eye said that, and he always managed to come out on top, didn’t he?

And still, I am who I am, continuing to be a work in progress, continuing to strive to meet my goals—inside and outside my heart.

If God had not entered my life exactly when he did, I don’t know if I would have been smart enough to let him in, being on the verge of hardening my heart at that time. Years later, when there was too much angst in our family in too short a space, the joy of my new love of God kept pouring strength into me from a bottomless source. If God had not appeared, I would have tucked myself inside my shell and never reached outside it again. But I turned to him and there he was, saving me with deeper faith, getting me to read and understand words that held previously unfathomable meaning behind them.

I’ve learned to set my path and stay the course, all the while knowing that I can’t again start predicting my path. Each time I try to steer unheeding of spiritual advice, I’ve confused things immensely. When I set my outside desires aside and allow spirituality to dictate my direction, I get farther and move beyond behaving selfishly and in a self-protective manner.

Relationships help take what I am striving toward work on the inside and move it to the outside where I can share it with others. The close, true interaction with people I admire and love and learn from has broadened my world beyond the physical confines of where I live, be it Pittsburgh or anywhere else.

These days, I exist very much on the inside—concentrating on being me first in any given situation. It’s how I try to honor God and it’s how I’m learning to exist outside of my self.