The American public school I attended catered to a large Christian population of different sects. The differences between the varied groups didn't interest me and their exact theologies remained unknown to me, except to notice that Mormons represented a large minority among them.
They all seemed basically nice, although kind of wacky due to their insistence on referring to the all-too-human founder of Christianity as "my god" or "my lord" and I was wary of their ambivalent and subtle attitude toward Jews, in that they seemed fascinated by and appreciative of Jews, yet perplexed and frustrated by us at the same time.
It was in tenth or eleventh grade that my friend Denise was talking to me. Denise was a Pentecostal. I didn't know what that meant exactly, except that at her church, they "spoke in tongues" and rolled on the floor during prayer. And Denise once expressed her outrage regarding a curious classmate who had asked her if she would give a demonstration on the spot of speaking in tongues.
"How dare he ask me to speak in a language I reserve only for talking to my lord!" she huffed.
I just nodded. Yeah. Whatever, Denise.
Anyway, this time she was gushing about how much her religion helped her deal with life and with me only half-listening politely to what seemed certified weirdness. She wasn't trying to convert me, just expressing herself in much the same way teenage girls talk about their favorite TV show.
Suddenly, she said, "Psalms help me the most. I mean, it's like King David understood everything I'm going through as a teenage girl."
I perked up. King David? I knew he was one of ours.
"What did you say?" I said. "What are in the Psalms?"
She happily explained.
I'd had no idea there was literal text in Torah that could directly relate to a teenage girl in America's Eighties.
[In case you're wondering....yes, I saw Psalms in the prayer books of the Conservative synagogue my family attended, but I didn't relate so much to what they were (although like everyone else, I liked #23 "Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not lack...."). But when Christians talked about Psalms, I thought it was like when they said the word "Bible" or "Scriptures" - using these words, they didn't really mean the Torah, but the Gospels. So whenever they mentioned "Psalms," I always assumed it was some Gospely without really thinking about it.]
Anyway, the minute I arrived home, I went to my parents' bookshelf where the Jewish stuff was and sure enough, there was an English-language book of Psalms.
Taking it to my room, I started paging through it and was surprised and deeply moved to discover that Denise was absolutely right. Here was all my angst and hope beautifully expressed.
And even more gratifyingly, it was part of MY tradition, not that wacky Christian stuff.
As I went through it, I underlined the verses that resonated with me the most and marked those pages so I could find them later. When I asked if I could keep the book in my room, my mom said yes, because they didn't need it.
Like a lot of other girls in my generation, I experienced periodic bouts of depression and if I could get myself to open the book of Psalms and read the parts I'd underlined, it always made me feel significantly better. I knew nothing about reading Tehillim by the chapter or as a whole section, but just the verses plucked out here and there had a profound effect on me.
One night, my older friends who were already in college decided to go to a New Year's Eve party and didn't invite me because I was still in high school. I felt like everyone was celebrating throughout America - except me. I sat in my room, feeling sorry for myself and crying. Then I remembered the book of Psalms, opened it, and started reading my favorite passages. I soon felt better and started looking for something else to do.
Suddenly, the phone rang and it was my college friend telling me that she would come in twenty minutes to take me to the party.
"You don't look like you're still in high school," she said. "So just don't mention it."
I vaguely realized that Hashem had not only soothed my hurt feelings, but also responded positively to my initial desire.
The party ended up being boring and stupid and I regretted coming.
But the incident also showed me to what extent Hashem is willing to go to show you that He cares and that He is intimately involved in even the most meaningless details of your life: that He'll take you to a party based on forbidden pagan celebrations AND make it so unappealing that you never want to do it again.
Since then, like so many fellow Jews around the world and throughout our history, I've turned to Tehillim countless times (with varying results, of course). There is truly nothing like it.