was born to religious, hard-working parents in 1990 in Cairo. At 40 days old, I was baptized by triple immersion like every good Coptic Orthodox Christian.

Growing up in this kind of religious atmosphere leaves its mark on your soul forever. I can still recall the routine—but much-dreaded—confession times with the priest. Those experiences were especially deflating. Even well into my teens, I remember finishing confession, being instructed to do some penance so that God would like me again—at least that’s how it felt—and then inevitably returning to my same old sins. My attitude toward God was that he was mean, like my teachers from the Jesuit school I attended who would physically punish me (and other students) for falling short of their academic or behavioral standards.

In 2002, my family moved to America. The middle-school years were rough for me: Imagine trying to make friends in the aftermath of 9/11 as a chubby Middle Eastern kid who spoke no English. To add to my school woes, I was bullied at the one place no one ever should be: the church. Our family continued to attend Coptic Orthodox services, but my heart quickly soured on the church of my youth, which never appealed to me much to begin with. By the time I reached high school, I was so disillusioned with the faith that I swung from being a “good religious kid” to the opposite extreme.

A Different Breed of Christian

High school afforded opportunities to hang out with new friends, experiment with dating and drugs, and—after I got my driver’s license—go wherever I wanted. Before long, I had given myself over to a lifestyle of partying, fornication, and drug addiction. Things got so bad that I eventually found …

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