Over the last year and a half I have struggled in my life with my thoughts of self and with spirituality. Only in recent months have I found what I was missing, but only by taking time to look for it. I don’t have a story full of visions, callings, or even feeling “moved” by the Spirit. Mine is more a tale of hard work, questions, tears and struggles. Only after seeking God did I find him. Only after seeking God did I realize he was there all along. Hindsight is 20/20 they say *wink*. Here’s how I got there.
I was raised in an ELCA Lutheran Church in the Midwest. I went to Sunday school nearly every Sunday, but rarely did we attend church. I went to Vacation Bible School & completed Confirmation classes. I don’t really remember what God was to me. Mostly a abstract sort of story. Felt people on a story board, great songs, but nothing really substantial or real.
Our pastors were a married couple, nice and welcoming and I suppose fairly progressive for the time/place. My parents were believers and I remember my mother talking about how attending church was not a requirement of faith- very true, but not sure it was something I grasped as I didn’t really “feel” God anywhere, church or home. It wasn’t until somewhere in my teen years, you know, that point where you become a bit emo and angsty, that I remember feeling abandoned by God. I had dealt with some shitty stuff and couldn’t comprehend how God let shitty stuff happen to people. I remember, like any naive unbeliever, giving him an ultimatum of sorts; demanding a proof in trade for obedience. I didn’t get it- at least not in any form I was open to or realized- so I let Him go. I continued through Confirmation classes jaded and looking for ammunition in my fight against God. I listened to our teachers share their opinions of hypocritical beliefs regarding people’s lifestyles; I suffered through dry, boring doctrine and memorized what was required.
I gave church a try, halfhearted anyway, from time to time, but I never “felt” God. I felt bored. I felt angry. It didn’t help that I carried around all of these stereotypical views of Christianity and Christians from the people I knew over the years. Generally, they seemed to fall into three camps: The freshly-scrubbed Christians, the fear-mongering Christians, and the just-because Christians.
The freshly-scrubbed Christians were those who seemed to emanate this disingenuous, hokey sort of “Christ’s Love”. You know, the people going around saying things like “Jesus is the reason for the season!”, “Don’t cross the Christ out of Christmas!”, and “God only gives us what we can handle” or “He’s got a greater plan”. Ugh. Those people just made me want to puke. They made it look like having Christ in your life was just so fucking peachy. God is love and Jesus just wants us all to be happy- drink the Kool-aid and make him your homeboy and your life will be awesome too. Nothing ever bothered you and your farts smell like rainbows because you are apparently just too brainwashed to realize what was really going on in the world.
The fear-mongering Christians seemed to be the sort of folks that forgot the story about looking for the log in your own eye before pointing out the speck in your brothers. They instead felt like it was their job to point out the sins of others and remind everyone that they were going to hell. Homosexual? Yep, you’re gonna burn. Free Choice-er? Your damned for eternity. Liberal woman? Bitch, you’re going to hell. Love your neighbor type folks they weren’t- more the Westboro Baptist types. God is fire and brimstone. God wants your obedience and worship, not your love. They never mentioned their sins. The outside of their cups were nicely polished…
Then there were the just-because Christians. They were Christians, well, just because. They had been raised that way and had a general knowledge of the Bible, but hadn’t read it. They pick and choose what it is they believe and how that influences their lives- but most days it doesn’t. They give no thought to Jesus or God outside of Sunday. Christianity isn’t something you “practice” but something you just were and you go to church on Sunday because that’s what people do.
I don't mean to belittle anyone here. I think we can all safely say we know a few "Christians" that fall into these camps. Also, I don't mean to imply that I'm perfect or have it all figured out. Not even close. But I'm trying which is the important part, I believe. Once you think you've got it all figured out and things are easy then I think it's safe to say you have drifted off the path. If you are highly offended by these descriptions I suggest you do some self examination and think about busting out the flashlight & throw some tape in your underpants (my nurse friends will get this reference but if you don't you should look here.)
Anyways… So it was these preconceived notions I carried around and was still lugging about when I met my husband, a proud Christian. I don’t know when I found out his beliefs but it seemed to be something I forgave of him. I saw it as loving him “inspite of” his Christianity. I didn’t worry much about it. However, meeting my husband did solidify for me that there must be something “greater” in the universe. Our meeting, the sale of his house, his grandfather’s prediction of our twin girls, all of it seemed too unlikely to be just coincidence. But a virgin birth? Resurrection? People swallowed by whales? No way. They were great fables, but nothing more than that as far as I was concerned. I preferred to think of God as energy, a mix of karma meets mother nature meets Taoism. I didn’t have answers for most of “life’s questions”, but I wasn’t really concerned about it. I was self focused and believed that as long as I strove to be a good person nothing else really mattered; once I was dead I was dead, right? What did I care.
Along the way, I attended church with Hubs a handful of times. There have been times I felt weirdly moved during a song or sermon, tears welling in my eyes for reasons I couldn’t explain but it was always easy enough to dismiss. His church seemed distinctly different than the church I grew up in- stripped of religion and focused on the words of the Bible. The people seemed genuine and kind and obviously lived what they believed. I realize some of this may be simply a change in age and thus perspective, but the difference was there nonetheless. There is a difference between religious behavior and spiritual behavior. Here, in this church, there was no rhythmic standing, sitting, standing sitting. There was no rattling off of creeds or other phrases that had been memorized & made flat, stolen of their power and importance.
As our marriage matured my lack of belief was never a silent subject among us. Meaning it was something we talked about. Whether over beers in the backyard while I quizzed and tested him or more in depth talks about raising our kids it was never something we hid or swept under the rug. There were heated times of disagreement on both sides, but never any wedge. That said, there was a wall sometimes. My wall. A separation from my husband never intentional yet still there. There were times I was unable to comfort him in a way meaningful to him. He was forced to find solace, spiritual solace, from friends, his pastor, and his church community but never his wife. It was something I begrudged at times, but what could I really say? I definitely couldn’t blame him.
This last year and a half was hard. I struggled with my anxiety, stress, and despair. I struggled in my heart with this vast aloneness & confusion, with thoughts of God, with the feeling of His presence & the fear that this was what insanity felt like, of disbelief in Christ yet a hope in more, with things I don’t really know how to vocalize. I felt a pull forward, yet each time I did I would find something or hear something that would send me running in the opposite direction. We talked openly and honestly about it. More like I sobbed and felt like a schizophrenic maniac worried I was losing my grip on reality and Brian listened. Bless him for that. Whenever it gets ugly, whenever I get ugly, he is always there and able to listen and give me wisdom. He answered all my questions as best he could. He encouraged me to try and read the bible. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but Genesis gets dry pretty quick and so I set it aside. He recommended John and I kind of rolled my eyes and let it sit there forgotten. Our last anniversary we sat beside Lake Sagatagan next to the Stella Maris Chapel in the woods and had one of the best conversations of our marriage. Hubs told me he was disengaging himself from my search- meaning that he would support my journey in every way, but would no longer allow himself to feel emotionally responsible for my conversion. He was stepping back realizing that this job belonged to me and God, not him. Gently, he reminded me that I stood to lose nothing by searching. That my worse case scenario meant I became a Christian and my best case was that I understood more greatly why I wasn’t. A no-lose situation, if you will.
So I searched my heart and felt like the things that held me back was the feeling of surrealness, of mystery surrounding Christianity. Could any of this be real or explained? What were the “facts”? I knew that many non-Christian scholars believe that Jesus really did live, but why? I borrowed the book “A Case for Christ” from friends of ours which had me really thinking about what I thought I knew, about the science and history behind the story. It was probably the thing that played the largest part in beginning the change in my mind. Did it answer all my questions? No, but I don’t think science has either. Think about the idea behind the big bang theory- exactly how does nothingness explode into everything? Still not an answer, really. I also read “The Jesus I Never Knew” which introduced me to so many things about Jesus, his ministry, and the fate of the disciples that I never knew. Neither book was a thrilling, easy read, but they made things so much more real; they began to humanize the people in the Bible. I read Mark, then Matthew, John, & Luke. I realized that it couldn’t NOT be true but I was still battling some unbelief. I didn’t “feel” any different. I hadn’t had any big ah-ha moments. I didn’t “feel” Christian- whatever that means.
So I kept reading. I found stuff that blew my mind- like Jesus was a feminist. He regarded women as equals worthy of recognition, compassion, and respect. He saw they were just as worthy and capable of learning and teaching alongside of him, unlike the beliefs held by the men & the culture of the day. This was not the Jesus I had been taught about.Also, Jesus was an activist doing what was right, loudly, boldly & without apology- he didn’t go about calmly telling people “Hey there. Nice to meet you. I’m the messiah. Things are only looking up from here.” No. He spoke out, he ruffled feathers, he broke norms and called out the liars. I found the ability to humanize the people of the Bible in a way I was never taught. In fact, once I started to think about it, all of it, I realized that so much of what I had been taught had been white washed from the beginning- and I had never bothered to question or to learn more. For example- I’m pretty sure Mary’s labor sucked; full of pain and all alone, and little baby Jesus came out covered in blood and vernix screaming at the top of his lungs. I’m pretty sure she cried and pulled him to her face and kissed him and all ten of his fingers and toes before she put him to her breast to stop his wailing. You won’t see that on your Christmas cards. From what I read despite being God, Jesus was a lot like me, too. He was weary at times & irritated at others. He felt anger. He knew fear. He wasn’t the superhero hippie I imagined with the silky brown locks and doe-ish brown eyes. He was dirty and tired but loved everyone he met, even his enemies. His name was Yeshua and his father has dozens of names, but I called him Abba or Father. I call them by their Hebrew names so I might learn to know them for who they are and not who I thought they were.
There was stuff I read that got my dander up. Don’t get me started on the various ideas of submission and trekking through Paul’s letters! But I learned to question and to study, something I was never given permission to do and that many Christians still don’t do, but rather take things on face value and just except what they are told. I got a bit obsessive about it and struggled MUCH over some of these (and still do some days). I tried my best to reconcile what I knew of Jesus and what I read from Paul. I cried, I prayed, I talked with Hubs and read and studied more. I found answered prayers for understanding. I learned that there are somethings we may never agree on or understand in this lifetime. I learned that the important part was in loving God above all else and then my neighbors as myself; if I did this none of the “little things” mattered. I’m still struggling with it at times. I haven’t lost my sense of humor, though; often I make light of it all and use it to my advantage. When there is a decision I don’t want to make you can believe I pull the “a wife should submit to her husband” card *wink*. Oh, and I made you this:
And I’m still reading and studying. I’m still questioning and sharing. I’m trying to be there daily- such a small step yet such a hard one. I’m talking and sometimes I feel Him here. I’m talking and sometimes I still feel all alone. I hear whispers in my ear trying to fill me with doubt. I find that when I feel most confident in my new faith, my life (or the lives of those I love) seem to fall apart. I’m learning to accept that if God is here then so is Satan. I haven’t found a name yet that takes that picture of the red horns and pitchfork out of my mind, but I don’t care to know him that well. As strange as it feels I know he is there trying to lead us away. I struggle with calling myself Christian and at the same time want to walk around and tell everyone about Him and write 6 more paragraphs on how awesome the things that Jesus did were. I struggle with embarrassment and fear for what people will think. I struggle with being labeled and dismissed (hello pot, I’m kettle). Often, I strive to explain things and find myself using a phrase that makes me want to kick my own ass: “I have a thirst for the Word” or “Have you tried praying?” *Belch* But I suppose it comes with the territory.
So you might be asking yourself, “Is this going to become one of those God blogs now?”. The answer unfortunately is complicated. No– it will remain crafts and embroidery, business and motherhood all sprinkled with the usual craziness. Yes– He is with me in my struggles and in my celebrations and even when I’m sitting around bored scratching my butt (because I do that sometimes). Some of you will leave. I will miss you, but I get it. If you’re just not into auto mechanics your not going to read a blog where they talk about it every other week or so. Some of you will stay and just skim. That’s okay too. Some of you might have questions, want to share your story, or just chat about it- awesome! You should. Leave a comment or email me. Others might come to check it out now that it’s a bit different around here, great. But if they don’t and nothing changes it really won’t matter because He is here.