Stumbling Scripture Studies: How to have faith

img_1581

I am currently in a discipleship program which includes doing daily Bible reading, and then writing about it in a SOAP format: Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. You pick a specific verse out of that day’s readings, write it down, write a little about your observations of this scripture, how it applies to your life, and then a prayer based on this scripture. These are supposed to be short, like a line or two, less than a page total, but of course mine go on and on and on. In fact, I often have trouble sticking to just a single verse, and instead write about the whole chapter or several verses. I often feel that God is speaking to me here, telling me things of value to me. I thought that sometimes I would share them, in case they might be of value to anyone else.

Today’s New Testament reading was John 12. This chapter occurs right after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and takes place in the same location. In John 11, I was struck by the reaction of the Pharisees to this miracle. “What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” (vv 47-48) I marveled at this reaction. This man resurrects someone who had been dead for four days, and it doesn’t occur to you that he may be more powerful than the Romans? But then I thought, well, they were right in a way. Jesus didn’t overpower the Roman Empire. He died. Jerusalem fell.

Chapter 12 continues to deal with this issue. Jesus was speaking about his coming death, but “The people answered him, ‘We have heard that the Christ remains forever, and how can you say the Son of Man must be lifted up?'” (v 34)

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Hmmm. This was absolutely true for those first century Christians. These were the people who walked with Jesus, who sat at his feet when he taught, witnessed his miracles, watched him die, saw him after his resurrection. They suffered persecution, floggings, and imprisonment, and every single one of them suffered horrific deaths for his faith. This, of course, is one of the arguments for the truth of Christianity. These were the eyewitnesses. You might stretch the truth to have a good time, but would you endure persecution for it? Would you die for it?

Others, though, “the people,” they still had expectations in their minds of who and what the Christ was to be and do. They tried to put Jesus into that pre-made box and he didn’t fit all that well. They wanted a political savior who woud free them from Roman rule and restore the glory of the kingdom on earth as it had been under David and Solomon. So Jesus posed difficulties. They were the original believers in the prosperity gospel. They were not prepared to accept the suffering Messiah of Isaih 53. They were not prepared to suffer themselves for a kingdom they could not see.

Except that they had seen it. They were right there in the very place where Jesus had raised a man who had been dead for four days! How could they not believe, having seen that kind of evidence? Yet they didn’t. We might think that they are without excuse because of what they had seen, while we get a bit more slack because we didn’t witness this. But God still works. I know that I have felt God’s presence, have heard him speak to me, have seen him at work in the events in my life and the lives of those around me. I can say that those who witnesses Jesus’ miracles are without excuse, but am I not also, if I have once heard his voice? “Did I really hear that?” “Was Lazarus really dead?”

What got to me most, though, was another group of people mentioned in John 12: “Even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (vv 42-43) Now again, they had just witnessed Jesus raising a man who had been dead for four days! They are way without excuse, right? I mean, if I was there, I would have believed. I would have confessed! Right?

I have to admit, in my struggles with faith, this has actually been one of my problems. I love the praise of men. And women. As in, I want to be lovedand respected even. Now this is actually true for people inside the church as much as the people outside. The thing is that most of the people who love me are outside the church, as in far outside. Their attitudes toward Christianity generally range from complete disinterest to complete disdain. Yes, this is my family, and most of the people in my circle within the community. I will admit that when I hear sermons, I frequently imagine them sitting next to me rolling their eyes, or saying, “oh my God,” and not in prayer! I hear their derision ringing in my ears.

And the thing is, I get it. I have thought all of those thoughts. I can’t even say from an intellectual standpoint, “You are wrong.” Apologetics is never going to prove anything to anyone. I know because it has never proven anything to me. You have to have faith to get it. Faith is a gift from God, and when you say “no thank you,” you just are never going to get it. 1 Corinthians says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (v 18) The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom, and the cross is nothing to them, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (If you are reading this and you are wondering, you are called. Maybe this is your call. Just say yes and see what happens.)

This is the whole key, I think. In the last couple of weeks I have come to see it as the answer to everything, that last paragraph. It is not an easy answer to accept, and yet it is also the easiest answer of all. Well, one thing for sure is that I have been called. From the age of nine, raised in a completely non-religious family, I was seeking for this God who was calling to my heart. Since I found him, I have tried to get away, and I always get called back. It’s happened so many times now that I have decided to quit trying to escape and to try instead to hang on. It’s a bumpy road sometimes, but I am still here.

One other point, about Jesus’ kingdom not being of this world. That does leave us in a quandry if we require evidence. But are we really most pitiable? I don’t think so. I am a mystic at heart and I love to see the transformative power of God at work in my life, and in the lives of the people around me. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. It is beautiful.

Father, thank you for calling me and keeping me. Let me walk the streets of your unseen kingdom in this world. Take my hand and guide me, show me where to go, where to look, as you prepare my heart for what you would have me do. And give me the strength and courage to do it. Thank you, Lord.

Amen.

I believe God exists

One of my blogs is about to be deleted. In the interest of saving it, I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from November 5, 2015. 

I believe in God. Ultimately, this belief is a choice, but I have also had too much experience of God in my life, too many synchronicities, too many times I have had answers given dramatically and at just the right time and place to want to deny it. I believe in God because I feel him when I pray. It is not like talking to an “imaginary friend” as some have characterized prayer. It isn’t a feeling of talking to myself, or the ceiling or the sky. I have felt the presence of God. I know a lot of people who put their faith in humans (humanism), or “science,” who seem to think that if you can’t prove the existence of God, then God doesn’t exist. Well, better minds than mine have put forth ontological, cosmological, teleological, and other logical and moral arguments for God’s existence. There are those who assume an intellectual superiority for their atheism, but I don’t think you can accuse Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and the many others of being ninnies. Many intellectual giants have argued for the existence of God.

Now I can kind of understand why people don’t believe in God, but I think it’s a point of view that is very limited. God’s existence can’t be proven by science? There is so much that can’t be proven by science, so much that IS that can’t be explained by science. You tell me, when did time begin, and when will it end? When you get to the end of the universe, what is there? To me, these questions are just completely mind boggling. You want to believe in the Big Bang and evolution? Well, that’s fine, but it certainly doesn’t preclude the existence of God, because the question still remains where did all that stuff come from in the first place? All the matter and energy in the universe just popped into existence from NOWHERE? Personally, I don’t need any philosopher’s elaborate argument to see this. The existence of the universe, of life, of anything is something that no scientist can adequately explain. I understand that this does not in any way prove the existence of God. What it does do, though, is knock “science” off its pedestal. In fact, much what is explained by “science” has to be taken on faith. So many things in science are preceded by the term “theory of.” Whenever you see that term, it means that this is an explanation that somebody came up with for how or why things are the way they are based on their interpretation of events, but it cannot be proven. Science is great as science, but as a god it has clay feet.

I would not laugh at anyone who chooses to be an atheist. That is their choice. But it must be recognized as a choice, as a faith in itself, rather than a foregone conclusion, and there is nothing that makes it an intellectually superior choice.

I think that one problem atheists have is mixing up the existence of God with religion. The two are really quite separate, as is proven by the existence of so many religions in the history of man’s existence. You want to argue with religion, I can understand that. That is a subject that is full of mud pits and thorns. I have honestly encountered God in many ways in the course of my life. I feel called to Christianity, but not without a million questions. For some reason, even though I have allowed the questions to drive me away from it, I keep getting called back to it. I am not going to say I have it all figured out. I am not going to say that my doubts and questions have all been stilled. Far from it. But since I was a very young child, living in a completely non-religious household, Christianity has called to me, and it has never stopped, so I have to honor that call. When I find all the answers to all the questions, I will write a book on it, but in the meantime, decades into the journey, I am still seeking to learn everything I can about this faith that calls me. I have said before that perhaps it is impossible for we mere humans to know The Truth, and I will not argue against anyone who takes this position. Honestly, I cannot tell you exactly where I will end up on the spectrum of belief. But I will end up on the spectrum itself. It is, to me, completely logical. It potentially holds answers to the unanswerable questions, and even if it doesn’t, it is certainly no more fantastic than the Questions Which Must Exist. It is no more difficult to believe in a source from which everything came into existence, than it is to believe that everything just appeared from nowhere.

And in the meantime, although I know harm has been done in the name of religion, I personally am not doing harm. Well, perhaps I am. If the harshest tenets of the Christian faith are true, I may be doing harm by not shaking you by the shoulders and warning you about them. But I have a great, huge faith in God. I think God is entirely capable of communicating to you what he wants you to know. I am here to tell you that there was not ever in my entire life anyone who “shared the gospel” with me. Never. God called me all on his own. And although I will admit to having gone through a judgmental phase on my Christian journey, in the end I find in the teachings of Jesus a call to love, and to do so without fear, without counting the cost of that love. Lord knows I have learned the emotional cost of love, in the loss of my daughter, in all the sorrows of my children that pierce my own heart, as well as the material cost in the lifestyle I chose from the beginning, which was to do with less in order to be able to give more to those I love. God always has more to give than we do, whether money or love.

If you want to be intellectually honest about your faith, or lack of it, I think you have to be willing to give up your assumptions. I will agree that I cannot prove the existence of God, and hey, you might be right. One day I might die and drift into nothingness, but if so, I am not going to care. Maybe you should be willing to give up the notion that you can possibly “know” that God does not exist. Just logically, it is impossible to prove a negative. Personally, I think the highest intelligence exists in the humility of knowing the limitations of our knowledge. So open it up. Just be willing to say, “God if you are real, show me.” Who knows? You might be surprised.

Books: Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey

One of my blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from February 19, 2016.

I have been a Christian for many decades now, but all of you probably know that it has not been an easy path for me. I have struggled with my own questions, as well as the questions of people I love. Actually, using the term “I have” is probably incorrect. It’s more like “I do” struggle. I’m not a social Christian, one who goes to church for social reasons, to meet friends or get involved in service programs (although I think both of those are wonderful things!). I go to church to worship God. I go to church because there I hear at least some of what God has to say to me. But church attendance itself has never been what it’s about either, and for that reason I actually read the Bible, pretty much on a daily basis. And I pray. I talk to God and do my best to let God talk to me.

It would be easy to get dressed up and go to church on Sunday, and listen to a charming, charismatic preacher give sermons about love and self esteem, but that is not what my spirit seeks. I want to follow the narrow path, even though it sometimes leads through the brambles, sometimes across oceans, or through storms, and sometimes even just drops off a cliff to unknown places! There are a lot of Christian books out there that can help in negotiating this path. But I have another problem. I wander sometimes. And because of that, I really, really enjoy a good, thoughtful book written by another wanderer who found her way back.

 Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey is such a book, and it has the benefit of being one of the most beautifully written books of its kind, one that makes you stop occasionally just to savor the words, which has phrases that stick with even someone with a really terrible memory, like me. But don’t take my word for it. Let me treat you to a quote that kind of sums up the whole book:

But most of us, at some point, will encounter the second state, which he called “critical distance.” This is the time in our formation when we begin to … well, doubt. We begin to question. We hold our faith up to the light and see only the holes and inconsistencies….

Yet he writes, “Beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again.” I remember crying out to God once while in the midst of what I called my wilderness, what Ricoeur calls the critical distance, because I was longing to “go back.” …. I found it was not enough to live without the magic and the beauty, without the wonder. I couldn’t return to my first naivete and I missed the simplicity of it. I wanted to be called again, to hear the voice of God again, perhaps never more wildly than when it felt like the God I once knew was disappearing like steam on a mirror.

But those who continue to press forward can find what Ricoeur called a second naivete. I didn’t know it, but I was pressing through my wilderness to deliverance, toward that place on the other side of rationality, when we reengage with our faith with new eyes. We take responsibility for what we believe and do. We understand our texts or ideas or practices differently, yes, but also with a sweetness because we are there by choice. As Richard Rohr writes, “the same passion which leads us away from God can also lead us back to God and to our true selves.”

Bessey’s journey is not my journey, but she captures the essence, the heart that I feel beating in my own chest. This is what I have said, why I am a Christian in spite of my questions, because of the spirit, because of the call, because of the heavenly magic of belonging to God.

Jesus. His name felt like every question and every answer. There was a strain of something like unearthly music to His name, and part of me still believes that my desire to be like Jesus was the Spirit’s call — deep calling unto deep, as the psalmist wrote.

My broken heart — cynical, jaded, frustrated, angry, wounded — somehow exhaled at every mention of His name. 

In my wanderings and wonderings I have changed. I judge people’s lives and faith less. Instead I trust God. I trust him to know the hearts of people, which I can’t know. I trust him to be able to call to those hearts. I trust him to speak to people and tell them what he wants them to do. There have been times when people didn’t seem to trust that I had heard from God, because what God was telling me was different from what they judged to be right, but time and life proved that what I’d heard was true, for me, in that time and place. Exactly what Sarah does, exactly what she believes … I have to tell you, I can’t even remember those things. There is plenty of the mind present in this book, but what captured me was its heart.

And then I open my Bible, just like my father did every morning of his life. I know that this very morning, he was also in what he still calls “the Word.” And I am my father’s daughter. I am in the Word, just not quite in the same way anymore. I spend these moments reading Isaiah and I pray. I write and refill my cup, I bow my head over these sacred words that I love all the better for the wrestling to release them from the prison I built for them. 

I begin to read, jotting down verses as the Spirit illuminates them to me…. Sometimes I write the names of my four tinies and then I write down a few words from Scripture that correspond with what I am praying over them….

So here I am, my father’s daughter, as the light breaks through the forest, writing down the names of my children and my husband, my friends and even the world at large — like our brothers and sisters in Iraq or Haiti or Burundi — and beside these scrawled names, I am writing the words of Scripture. Not like promises or talismans, not like magic spells, no. But to give language to what I yearn for, what I believe, and even what I hope. 

If your faith is strong and firm and neatly defined, then perhaps Bessey’s book isn’t for you. But one of my pastors once swept his hand around the church in which we were standing. He said, “Do you see all these people? All those people whose faith you admire most have asked these same questions that you ask.” That was a revelation to me, but it makes sense. If he is right, then this book would be right for every person whose heart longs for faith. You probably won’t walk Bessey’s paths. You may well not reach the same conclusions she did. But I think you will feel the love of the Lord and the moving of the Spirit.

How many stars are there in the rating system here? I don’t know, but I award them all.

Sarah Bessey has a blog, by the way. You can find it at http://sarahbessey.com/. Her description of herself kind of says it all: “Happy, clappy Jesus follower. Recovering know-it-all.” Sounds like someone I know!

My prayer for Understanding

One of my previous blogs is about to disappear, and in the interest of saving it I am copying some of my previous posts into this blog. This post was from March 1, 2016

img_2646This is what I have been praying for lately. Understanding. As I wend my way once again through the verses of the Old Testament, I ask God, how am I to read this? What is this to mean for me? And also, what answers can I give to those who question you, your existence, your goodness, your love?

Two of the most valuable teaching series I have heard in my life were at Faith Fellowship, many years ago. The best one was on Deuteronomy. Pastor Gary Mortara lifted that book right out of history and plopped it down in the middle of our lives. It was no longer just the story of the ancient tribes of Israel preparing to enter the geographical areas God had promised to them as a home. It was the story of each of us, of me, of God preparing me to enter my own Promised Land, the land that God has prepared for me in this world, where the paths lay that will lead me to the highest place he has for me. God’s admonitions to the nation of Israel became his admonitions to me. His commands to the Israelites to kill off all who might lead them astray were commands to me to kill off everything in my own life/heart that might prevent me from sticking to the path and claiming my own Promised Land. This sometimes difficult Old Testament book took on a new life that lit my soul.

Well, I didn’t make it into the Promised Land at that point. I used to read the Old Testament and see all the unfaithfulness of the nation of Israel and say, tsk tsk, how awful they were. I have to laugh at that arrogance now! Now I tend to read it and say, yeah, that’s me. I probably would have done that same thing, or something equally unfaithful. Once I came to that understanding, reading the Old Testament became personal. I am a microcosm of the nation of Israel, and all of God’s dealings with them, all of his words to them, are to me.  Is that the whole purpose of the Old Testament, the fullness of its understanding for me? I don’t know, but I do think it is probably the most important.

Today, a part of my Bible study was in Psalm 119. I highlighted verses as I read it, and when I looked at what I had highlighted, I saw that it was my own prayer:

(124) Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes. (125) I am your servant, give me understanding, that I may known your testimonies. (132) Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. (133) Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (147) I rise before dawn and cry for your help; I hope in your words. (169) Let me come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word! (171) My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. (174) I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. (176) I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”

And then after it, on the same page, I saw a verse I had previously highlighted, which stood out to me as the answer to this prayer, in Psalm 121:7-8 …

“The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forward and forevermore.”

Here is one lesson to carry away from the Old Testament. God’s love is pretty sturdy. You read about the grumbling, whiny, complaining, faithless nation he loved, and yet he still loved them. Individuals who were completely beloved of God were terrible sinners. David committed adultery, and covered that sin with murder. Yet God loved him. I have been a terrible sinner in my life. It took me quite awhile to recognize that, although most people would be able to see it in a second. Yet God apparently loves me quite a bit, based on his relentless pursuit of me! Our hearts are crazy things. I am just beginning to understand that a lot of the problem with these hearts of ours is that they crave something that cannot be found in this world.

I’m on a journey, seeking the high places. I’ll send you postcards on the way. You can pick them up right here.

What if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers?

unnamed-11

The title of this blog was taken from a Facebook status posted by the associate pastor of our church. He and his wife are currently experiencing a heartbreaking situation, as she is pregnant with a baby who is not expected to survive more than a few hours after birth. What is in their minds and hearts? I can only guess. Thousands of prayers are being offered for them, for their baby. What are they expecting to happen? I don’t know.I can only imagine.

But I understand the sentiment of this statement, what if God’s purposes are bigger than your answered prayers? I understand it because when I was diagnosed with breast cancer there were people who wanted to (and did) pray for a miraculous healing. But I knew in my heart that was not to be. I knew that this was a journey I had to take, for whatever reasons, for whatever purposes. Maybe it is for myself, to learn, to grow, to become the person I am supposed to become. Will cancer weaken me, or will it strengthen me? Who knows, I might end up competing in the Tour de France after it’s over! Or I might just be in my own individual spiritual Tour de France. Maybe it will touch other people’s lives. My children’s, for certain. I have seen this already in a few ways, for better, or for worse which will end up better, if you know what I mean. Maybe there is one stranger out there whose life I can end up touching through this. Who knows?

But this I know, we were not promised a rose garden. Bad things happen, even to good people. Life is hard sometimes. God has works to perform in our lives and in our hearts, and like the works of a surgeon or an oncologist, those works are not always pleasant in the moment. But they are for good, for a purpose beyond what others may see.

We can see it, though, if we are honest. We may not understand it, but we can sense it. We know when God is moving in our lives, because even though we may not like what is happening, even when we might sometimes have sleepless nights, tears, even a panic attack, behind even those things there is a sense of peace.

I am afraid of what I am about to do, it is true. I’m not sure where I am going or where I will end up. But behind it all, there really is that sense of peace. I have had a whole lot of practice in resting in that peace while toiling through the deepest, darkest places in this world, as most of you know. This is just another thing.

 

Surgery Tomorrow!

15823276_1149299361835724_1780175567423913694_nThis time tomorrow (8:00 a.m.) I will be in surgery. Today is going to be a busy busy day. I have so much just plain cleaning to do, which I left till the last minute so I wouldn’t have to do it over again. I will start with folding the towels, putting the blankies in the dryer, and another load of bedding in the washer. I have instructions to sleep in clean sheets tonight. I am still trying to figure out how to keep my bedding clean, since I sleep with four small dogs, and since they live in my bed during the day as well. I’m a bit of a germphobe, so this is a particular challenge for me. But, anyway.

Next I am going to get my toes done. I have given up the manicures, as much as I loved them, because the time and money are just not going to be available for them. But my toes are difficult, and feet so naturally unattractive, they need help. Plus I have to look at them all the time, spread out on the bed in front of me, as they are now.

This afternoon I have to go get an injection of radioactivity into my lymph glands. I assume this is to make me glow in the dark, you know, just in case the lights go out during surgery.

And at the end of the day, I have to actually try to get to sleep early, because I have to check into the hospital at 6 a.m.!!! Well, at least we should get good parking.

I will admit I am a little nervous, but mostly I am excited to just get this over with finally and move into the next phases. I am not going to lie, that final phase a few months down the road, where I get brand new perky boobs, is a great motivator. I saw a dress today with a low back, and I thought, hey, I might actually be able to wear something like that in the future. Never, ever in my life, even when I was young and before children, could I ever have thought of something like that.

I am finally beginning to see ahead of this thing. I am beginning to look forward to summer, when hopefully all the treatments and surgeries will be over, when I will be cancer free, and healthier than ever. It is beginning to feel a bit like an awakening, that at this point in my life, instead of winding down I will be winding up for a whole new chapter.

Meanwhile, I have a few mountains to climb, and my first steps are in this surgery tomorrow. My husband and my daughter will be going with me to the hospital with me. And when I let go of their hands to go into surgery, you can bet I will be reaching out to grab another hand, one that bids me come, walk on the water, and tells the waves around me, “Peace. Be still.”

I will post again in a few days, to let you know how things are going.

Thanks for your support. Love you all!

Faith to do good

I had a discussion on Facebook today about the current presidential race, and one woman said Hillary was endangering our country by wanting to bring in Syrian refugees. The woman in question claims to be a Christian. This is something that I just don’t understand. I remember when the Syrian crisis began, the church I attended showed videos about how terrible the situation was, with Christians being beheaded by ISIS, among other terrible atrocities. At that time it seemed we were being encouraged to care and to help.

Within a few months, however, I noticed that Christians were up in arms about the possibility that Syrian refugees might be allowed into our country. “They could be terrorists,” they said. “We have to make sure we have enough for our own people before we go helping people from other countries,” they said.

I was truly astounded by this attitude coming from Christians. This is so far from what Christ taught! He taught faith, not fear. Matthew 25 says that whenever we do not help someone in need, it is as though we have failed to help Jesus. He taught that when the storms arise that we should not be afraid, but have faith, that he is always with us. He taught us not to be afraid to share what we have. Remember those loaves and fishes? What a lack of faith is displayed by those who call themselves Christians but dig in their heels against helping our Syrian brothers and sisters.

There are children who will suffer and die because of that triumph of fear over faith.

I guess I kind of take this personally, because the triumph of fear over faith, or compassion, or human kindness, or just plain goodness could well have cost my own child her life. My daughter, Michaela Joy Garecht (www.dearmichaela.com) was kidnapped in 1988, the victim of a witnessed stranger abduction. Michaela’s friend saw her being kidnapped, watched the kidnapper’s until he drove his car out of the parking lot and onto the highway. Then she ran to get help. At that time, however, there was an older woman pulling onto the same highway from across the street. She took note of the kidnapper’s car. He was driving so erratically she thought he might cause an accident, and because of that she made an attempt to memorize his license plate number.

Later that day she watched the news, and realized what it was she had seen. Did she call the police? No, she didn’t. She didn’t because she was more afraid of the remote possibility of danger to herself than she was concerned about the certainty of the horror my daughter was facing. It was three months later that she called me, but even then she was motivated by fear. She had been in the grocery store and had seen a man who looked like my daughter’s kidnapper. She was afraid that he might have recognized her and might want to hurt her, and that is why she reached out to me.

I was nice to her. I talked to her, I “understood.” I talked her into undergoing hypnosis in order to try to recall the license plate number, but it had been a long time by then, and she told me the day before the session that she would not remember the license plate number. And she didn’t.

My sweet, beautiful, kind, innocent little girl endured what unknown fate that might have been prevented if this woman had come forward with whatever information she had, if she had come forward soon enough to be able to retrieve the license plate number. I really could not understand how she could have allowed the unlikely danger to herself to outweigh my daughter’s suffering, my daughter’s life.

And I don’t understand those who would lock the gates and turn their backs on the Syrian refugees because of their own imagined perception of possible danger, or worse, because they aren’t sure we have enough to share. One day, one way or another, I believe they will have to answer for this.

The sad thing is that these people don’t even acknowledge what they are doing. They don’t own up to their fear. They don’t confess their lack of faith. They seem to think they are fine, righteous even.

It’s just part of the political climate this season I guess. A heartwrenching season. I pray it will be over soon and we can go to better days under compassionate leadership.

First do no harm

pour water on the fires of our fearsI posted an entry recently on my blog for my missing daughter, http://www.DearMichaela.com, in which I talked about my feelings of my faith in God having been betrayed. When I posted it on facebook I received a reply from someone I care very deeply for, who said she had been having some of the same kind of feelings. I immediately felt a deep sadness, because I was afraid that I might have influenced her in this way.

It is a well known fact that I like to post my thoughts on the internet for everyone to read. I’m not always sure exactly why I need to do this. I think sometimes I am looking for validation, and at other times I am actually looking for answers. I am looking for people to tell me I am right or I am wrong, and why, because anybody who has known me for any length of time can tell you that I go back and forth a lot. I may be very adamantly strong in my faith one day and a rabid unbeliever on another day, with a number of very painful steps in between. When I am strong in my faith, however, I still always have questions that bother me, that have never been adequately answered. And when I am a rabid unbeliever, I still sometimes feel that mysterious tugging at my heart, tapping on my shoulder, that calls me to belief. I can’t tell you how much I hate this back and forth back and forth. Wherever I am, I feel like a fraud. Wherever I stand, the ground always seems ready to open up for a fall. And because I talk about this on the internet, everybody know this, and everybody, I’m sure, thinks I am dumb, unstable (double minded in New Testament parlance), and they don’t want to talk to me anymore.

Oh well.

But what has really bothered me over the years has been the fear of being a negative influence on other people. The first person I felt this with was my son, Robbie, who was a warrior in God’s kingdom, who was on track to become a pastor. We attended the same church, and I was very proud of him. Then I left my faith. And then he left his. And I was broken hearted about it. Over the years I haven’t impacted many people that I know of, for better or worse. I hope that I have not impacted my dear friend in this case.

Why this is, I can’t tell you. It’s one of the eternal mysteries to me, why I want to toss my own faith out the window but feel so devastated when someone else tosses theirs. But I especially don’t want to be the cause. At this point, on this particular day, I genuinely do not believe. But there are people I know who do believe, whose faith is a thing of beauty, something that makes me feel warm and safe and just plain happy.

I will undoubtedly continue to blabber on about whatever is going on in my head, and be forewarned that I may be prepared to argue for it like I know it to be true. I really appreciate it if you take the time to read my words. I appreciate it even more if you write back to me, whether to agree or disagree. I am always looking for thoughtful answers to all these things that bother me. But if you are considering being influenced by what I may have written today, read what I wrote on several yesterdays, and know that I don’t know, and also that I know I don’t know. In fact, not knowing has kind of become my go-to position on God, faith, belief.

So hear me, but don’t feel you should listen to me. Listen to your heart. And then, if you don’t mind, tell me what you heard it say!

Tired of wandering (my Testimony)

imageIn my last blog, I posted a photo of my tattoo of the Tolkien quote, “Not all (those) who wander are lost.” This has been a theme in my life because of the fact that I have been a spiritual wanderer.

I am a Christian. I was first called to this faith when I was a child, being raised in a non-religious household. I was about nine years old when I insisted that my parents take me to church. My mother took me to visit a number of churches before deciding on one. I favored the little Foursquare Gospel church we visited, but my mother chose one that was as non-religious as possible. I didn’t end up getting much out of it, but I would pick up the pew Bibles and try to read them. I was a pretty smart kid. I’d read the Bronte sisters by that point in my life, and within a couple of years I would have polished off the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time. But that book, the Bible, was completely closed to me, beyond my comprehension. It was King James, of course, and let’s face it, it was not the kind of literary style I was accustomed to as a budding literary elitist and future English major. Nor did it help that my exposure consisted of a few minutes of stolen reading while sitting in a Sunday church service. My dad was in the Air Force and was soon after transferred from Southern California to Alaska, where no attempt was made to continue church attendance, since it hadn’t actually ended up fulfilling the need I’d felt.

Over the following years, I occasionally made a friend whose family attended church. I went to various activities, even a church summer camp, but didn’t learn much. The closest I came was when I worked in the nursery at a Vacation Bible School, and I sensed something going on which I again didn’t quite understand, and since I was there only to change diapers and hold babies I didn’t actually get to hear it.

When I was in high school, Jesus Christ Superstar was popular. I never saw the show, but I listened to the album, and through it something was added to my desire to know and understand Christianity, and that was Christ himself. As I listened to this music, I started to fall in love with Jesus.

A few years later I was married in a small Catholic church, where I requested that I be given instruction in the faith. It was a very small church with no formal instruction available, so I just had some meetings with the priest. He told me if I wanted to know about the church, I should start by reading the Book of Acts, since that was its birthplace. He referred me to the Jerusalem Bible, a modern language translation, and I was hooked!

The church I attended was part of the charismatic movement that was spreading through Catholicism at that time, with folk masses filled with guitars and singing and the movement of the Spirit. This was an environment never found again in a Catholic church, and I eventually moved away from the Catholicism, but this was where I first found my faith, in the pages of the Bible and the movement of the Spirit.

In all my life, not a single person had ever “witnessed” to me. Although I went on to hear and learn plenty, my salvation grew out of a personal love relationship with this Lord who had been calling to me for so long. Soon after, I found my way into the Assemblies of God, and I think it’s kind of funny that many years later, I ended up in the Foursquare churches, which had appealed to me so much when I was a child. Who knows how much sooner I might have come to know the One I was seeking had my mother allowed me to choose then?

It was 1974 when I first came to know the Lord, 42 long years ago. Over the course of those years, I have wandered many times, for many different reasons. I have wandered because I made wrong choices. Let’s go ahead and use the appropriate word, which is sin. I made some life choices that I knew were contrary to God’s will, so I quit talking to him, but these were brief separations. My faith stood up amazingly well in those early years, and I always returned, sorrowful over the break in our relationship. In recent years, my wanderings have been different. They have been just plain breakdowns in faith.

Michaela’s kidnapping….

I have said many times that my daughter’s kidnapping has not been the cause of my problems with my faith. I can tell you all about how “all things work together for good,” as it says in Romans 8:28. I can’t tell you that it really balances the scale in my heart, but I can compile a list of gifts Michaela has given me, and God has given me, even in this tragedy, and there are even a few people out there whose lives seem to have been impacted positively because of what Michaela and I have gone through. These are things that I know in my head. But is it a coincidence that the big, huge blowouts in faith seem to have come on the heels of the big, huge blowouts in my life brought about because of Michaela’s kidnapping?

Although I’d been on short wanderings before, the first really big one came a year after Michaela was kidnapped. In that year, when what I’d really needed was to grow closer to God, I had not. I’d prayed mightily in the time immediately after Michaela was kidnapped, but, well, it hadn’t worked, had it? So I turned to relying on myself and those nice people who came to actively help Michaela. I prayed less and less, attended church not at all. I became caught up in the world and its efforts to help me find my daughter, and gradually I just left my faith behind.

I mightily, vehemently, viciously turned against God. I was never able to shed my belief in the fact of a spiritual aspect to existence, but I could never call it God. I could not even say the word “God.” If I had to, for some reason, I literally said, “the G word.” I was just so furiously angry. I recognized that anger in other parts of my life, like my desire to smash dishes on cement (I actually did this, but only once). With God, I didn’t recognize it. I think I felt betrayed, but somehow didn’t relate God’s failure to save my daughter to that betrayal. I had the nascent understanding of some greater purpose in what had happened to Michaela. It was completely unconnected with “God” in my mind, however. With God, I just felt duped, and angry.

My mother’s death….

This was a long, long break. It lasted from late 1989 until early 2004, and I would never have believed I could ever return to my faith from where I’d wandered. On October 10, 2003, however, my mother had a near-fatal accident. It was just a fall in her home, but she fractured her ribs and punctured her lung, and because she had advanced emphysema, it was hit or miss whether she would survive. (By the way, she had a Life Alert pendant. If she hadn’t had that she would have died alone on her living room floor. If you have an elderly or infirm relative who insists on living alone, you really should consider this.)

I’d known for a long time my mother’s death was not far off. I just might have been able to accept it, if it weren’t for the fact that my mother was not herself. It turned out to be due to a mineral imbalance, but once the breathing tube was removed, my normally gentile British mother had to be restrained because she was combative with the nurses. She was delusional, calling out to people who weren’t there. She was completely unavailable to me. If my mother was to die, I could not bear for it to be like that. If she was going to leave this world, I wanted to be able to say goodbye to my mother.

It was a perfect storm of circumstances that actually brought me to prayer. I was sitting in the visitor’s lounge on the CCU unit at the time. Somehow, despite the 15 years in which I had entertained almost every spiritual possibility except “God,” it was not to any of those other beliefs I turned. It was to God, without any doubt in my mind as to who that was. “God,” I said through my tears, “I know it has been a long time since we talked, but I am asking you to please, please heal my mother.” I didn’t make any promises, like if you heal my mother I will believe in you. I suppose the belief was implied in the prayer, but in my mind it was still kind of a stab in the dark rather than a commitment. But I did add on at the end, “And, well, since I am asking you to listen to me, if you have anything you want to say to me in return, I will hear you out.” It was about as honest as I could get there.

My mother was healed, amazingly. She went from the hospital, to some wonderful after care, to an independent living situation. We had a good year together. We visited, and I helped her with housekeeping and personal care. She was on oxygen, and used a wheelchair, but at least once a week we went out shopping and to lunch together, often taking my younger daughter along.

I, of course, completely forgot about my prayers for my mother. I was wrapped up in her recovery, caring for her, and just going on with life. It did not even occur to me that God had answered my prayers. The medical profession and my mother’s own body had been responsible for the healing, and I didn’t really need much other explanation.

A few months later, however, I started to notice something that I can only characterize as a tap on the shoulder from God. I had, after all, promised that if he had anything to say to me I’d listen, and he was speaking. I kept pushing it away, shrugging it off. I literally said, “No, no, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be a Christian. I believe in gay marriage.” Well, God didn’t address that issue, but he did keep tapping on my shoulder. He did keep filling my heart with this desire for himself. There are not many days or places I can remember in my spiritual life, but I do remember the date and the place where I turned my life back over to God. It was on John Drive in Castro Valley. I was on my way home and was driving past one of the larger churches in town. I had been arguing with God about whether or not I wanted to believe in him. The date was January 24, 2004, Michaela’s 25th birthday. It suddenly flashed through my mind that Michaela had been a Christian. If she had died, and I wanted to see her again, she would be with this God whose love I was fighting. I pulled up to a stop sign, and that is where I gave my life back to the Lord.

It was revolutionary! It was like a light went on in my heart! It had been many years, but I was still a pretty angry person, and suddenly my anger was replaced by this great joy! I remember, silly as it sounds, that I started wearing lipstick, because somehow I wanted the light and joy I felt on the inside to show on the outside. I felt like wearing a silly grin all the time! Dumb, for sure, but that’s how I felt.

My mother died a few months later. It has stood as one of the signs God has given me that his hand was in what happened, that mother died on October 10, 2004, one year to the day from the accident that had drawn me back to God. It was as though it was a confirmation that God had said, “Okay. I will give you one more year with your mother.” It had been a good year.

At the end, I had spent three days sitting at my mother’s bedside as her body slowly shut down and she prepared to leave this world. I held her hand and wept so many tears over it that I knew she would have been afraid to leave me. She’d spoken of it before, had even tried to steer me towards substitute mothers (as if there could ever be such a thing!), because she was concerned about me being left alone after she was gone. She was primarily unconscious, but it was painfully obvious that her mouth was drying out, and the nurses would not let me apply moisturizer, because for some reason they had thought it wise to put the oxygen tube in her mouth because she was breathing through her mouth, and the moisturizer is apparently flammable when combined with oxygen. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to tell them then that was stupid, that if she was dying she didn’t need the oxygen. She needed comfort. But up until the end, I didn’t really believe in her death, so I kept quiet.

Finally, however, I knew how uncomfortable she must be, so I took her her hand again, and I told her that I didn’t want her to suffer anymore, that she didn’t need to worry about me, because she would always be with me in my heart, so she could go if she wanted to. I sat down by her bedside and started working on one of her crossword puzzle books. It was a matter of just a few minutes when I sensed a change in the room. It had become quiet. My mother’s raspy breathing had stopped. I had thought losing my mother would be easy compared to losing my daughter, but it wasn’t. I was bowled over by the force of my grief.

Nevertheless, I went on from there to enjoy years of a robust and buoyant faith. Those years were some of the best in my walk with God. I just believed. I did not doubt. I attended a great church, and so many times I remember being moved to tears by the worship. My son also began attending the church when he was in early high school, and by the time he graduated from high school he was working with the youth pastors and was on a path to becoming a youth pastor himself. I would sit in church, a few rows behind my son and his friends. He had grown to be 6’3″ by this time, and I would marvel at those little baby hands I had held, how they had become such huge man hands, and how they were held up in praise to God. And that too made me weep.

Jaycee Dugard and Michaela….

I would have thought my faith was too strong for me to be able to fall again. But five years later, I did fall. Is it a coincidence that this fall occurred immediately after Michaela’s case had so deeply impacted my life and my heart again?

In August 2009, Jaycee Dugard, who had been missing for eighteen years, had been found, alive. She had been kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, some 200 miles from where Michaela had been kidnapped. There had been enough similarities in the two cases, including some similarities in descriptions of the kidnappers, some shared suspects, and in the similarity in appearance between the two girls, that the cases had always been linked. The latter, the similarity in appearance, had always kept Jaycee at the forefront in my own heart.

On the day she was found, my husband woke me up at 5:30 in the morning. “Do you know who Jaycee Dugard is?” he asked. “She was found alive.” I immediately leaped up. It was too much to be a coincidence! Jaycee had been kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, but she had been found right here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Michaela had been kidnapped. And there had been enough cases of missing children being found together (often as a result of the kidnapper taking a second child) that it was a scenario that lived in my heart. “We have to paint the kitchen before Michaela comes home,” I said!

It was not just in my head that this possibility lived, that Philip Garrido, who had kidnapped Jaycee, had also kidnapped Michaela. Stories swirled. Jaycee had been found with her two daughters, living in a second, hidden yard behind the Garridos house. Neighbors, however, claimed to have seen five girls back there, not three. Naturally, I jumped to the conclusion that Michaela must have been one of the other two. Our police department was on board with this as well. Once the local authorities had gone in and completed their investigation into Jaycee’s immediate case, our police department moved in, bringing their RV’s, setting up camp, spending a week on location, actually tearing down all the buildings in the back of the property, sifting through everything there looking for a sign of Michaela’s presence.

I spent much of my time out there as well. And when I wasn’t out there, I was being besieged by media. Jaycee had been well sheltered and was not talking to anybody, but this was such a huge story it demanded coverage, so once Hayward PD started their investigation on the Garrido property, the worldwide media turned its attention to Michaela. The media coverage Michaela had received after her kidnapping had been huge, but I think this was even bigger. Given how the world had shrunk in the intervening years, it spread far and wide.

I became physically exhausted. I spent many days in Antioch at the Garrido property, enduring a long drive through hellish commute traffic to get there, and brutal, dusty heat once there. The media had its own campground on location, with lots of calls for interviews on site. In addition, I was constantly being asked to appear on morning news shows in New York, which involved being picked up at my home at some atrocious hour between 2 and 3 a.m., and driven to a studio in San Francisco, generally arriving at a building that was locked and closed and having to find a way in. Then I’d be asked to return in the evening for one of the later news shows. It was not an option to say no. In the event that Michaela had not been taken by the Garridos, she was still missing, and the best hope in the world to find a missing child is the media.

What was even more difficult than the hours and the lack of sleep was the fact that I was being asked essentially the same questions, over and over and over again, morning, noon and night, day in and day out, and I was having to answer them each time as though it was the first time. Glassy eyed from exhaustion, having given everything I had in me, I had to give it again. I could not give in to rote repetition. I could not say, as I really wanted to, “I just answered that question and I can’t answer it again.” I had to force myself to feel it again, and again, and again.

Towards the end of the search of the Garrido property, after all the building had been torn down and the detritus had been hauled away, cadaver dogs were brought in to search, and they hit on several possible burial sites. By this time my hope of finding Michaela alive had faded. Apparently Jaycee knew nothing of her. Nothing had been found on the property to indicate that Michaela had been there. But there might be burial sites. I remember the day they were excavating, being overcome with this feeling that if Michaela was buried there, I wanted to be there if they found her. If she had been hidden beneath the earth for all those many years, I wanted to be there when the sun first touched her once again. In my mind I could see a little skeleton lying in a grave, and I was overcome with this vision, and a desire to throw myself into that grave and hold that little skeleton in my arms, and weep and weep and weep.

Human remains were found at the site, but I didn’t get to see them. They weren’t thought to be Michaela’s, and they turned out to be from an old Indian burial ground. Michaela was not there. She was not there alive. She was not there dead.

And life returned to normal. I returned to work on a regular basis, fortunately only three days a week. But I had fallen into the deepest, darkest depression I have ever known. There were times when I felt I just could not breathe. I’d have to leave the office and just walk around the block, walking so slowly, with each step not certain I’d be able to take the next one, my limbs feeling as though they were filled with wet cement.

The next great fall

One day during this period, I woke up in the morning and suddenly, for no particular reason, my faith just did not make sense anymore. It did not make sense that everything that existed was created by a supernatural being. It did not make sense that we should have to accept the story of the life and death of one man in order to be accepted by God. It just didn’t make sense, and I tossed it off quickly.

My son, Robbie, was still strong in his faith at that time. He was initially pretty dismayed at my decisions, and questioned me about it. I remember kind of laughing off his questions. But I also remember feeling really disturbed by the idea that he might be impacted by my lack of faith. Even then I wondered at this. If I really believed that God was not real, that Christianity was not true, then why on earth would I want my son to follow that faith? But I remember actually crying over the possibility of him losing his faith as a result of me losing mine.

And that is what happened, quite soon after. My son will tell you that his fall from faith had nothing at all to do with mine, but I know that is not true. I know there were other things that were involved in his fall, but I also believe that if I had not opened the door, he would have stood firm instead of falling through it. And it has broken my heart just as much as I feared it would, a long, deep, aching hurt. Honestly, I believe he will return to his faith, because it is my experience that once you belong to God, he may let you wander, but he will call you back. My son scoffs at this, and says some pretty brutal things about Christianity.  And they disturb me, but they shouldn’t. They are the same things I myself have said.

Called back again!

My wandering after the Jaycee investigation lasted about four years. Nothing special really happened this time, no near death experiences. If you were ever to visit my home, you would probably be struck by my love for Bibles. Apart from The Bible, I love Bibles, different translations, different versions, different bindings. I have piles of them. There was one that I found particularly attractive, nice soft faux leather binding, engraved cross on the cover, and engraved scripture verse on the back cover. I left it out on the table because it was pretty. Then one day I picked it up, and said, “You are such a nice Bible.” I opened it at random and found myself reading Hosea chapter 11.

(1) When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (2) The more they were called, the more they went away… (3) Yet it was I who taught Eprhaim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. (4) I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, andI became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them…. (7) My people are bent on turning away from me….

(8) How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?… My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

(10) They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; (11) they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes.

As generally happens when God speaks to me, it took a beat, and then it lit up in my heart. I was Ephraim. I was called, and I went away. I was bent on turning away. But God did not want to give me up. He loved me still! He was calling me back! This word slowly made its way in my heart, and if I returned trembling, it was trembling with that joy that made its home in my innermost being, the same joy I had felt when I had returned on Michaela’s birthday so long before.

Stumbling, falling faith

Since then I have been stumbling through my life of faith. It should come as no surprise that after having spent years angry, vilifying God and everything to do with Christianity, arguing with passion against it, that those things have made a home in me. In addition, my children are now grown, all of them. None of them are Christians. A couple of them don’t really have strong opinions one way or the other at this point, but a couple others are pretty rabid atheists. When I first returned to the Lord this time, I was hit with a lot of criticism, and some personal attacks on my intelligence. That has kind of faded over time, and as I have struggled with my own faith, have fallen and got up, brushed myself off, it has been accepted with love and kindness, but never without disagreement. My own voices, and the voices of my children and other critics, play in the back of my mind. When I read the Bible, or Christian literature, I hear the questions and accusations that I myself would have brought a few years ago. It has been very hard to find peace from these voices.

But here is the difference. They are not driving me away. I question, I suffer, my faith falters, and I may step away for a minute, I may not move forward on the path God has set before me, but I don’t actually leave it. I ask questions, sometimes I ask them too loudly, or too stridently, but I long for answers, and I pray for faith when my faith is weak. All the while I am doing this, of course, the voices tell me that this is just an indication that deep inside I know none of this is true, and sometimes that is hard to fight off. But I do. Somewhere deep inside the voice of God keeps calling to me, and I have made the choice to follow that voice even when it is an uphill trudge.

The church, for better or worse

The thing is, I am a blabbermouth. I have a Facebook that I have somehow come to consider a friend and confidant! Yikes! I have a couple of blogs that I keep. And I have had a habit of posting every time I have a question or a doubt or an opinion. Honestly, part of what I’m doing when I do that is looking for someone to give me answers. The net effect, however, seems to have been to stick labels on myself. Weak, lukewarm, double-minded, all those things the Bible warns us not to be, and I have managed to alienate a few people. I have also been questioned about the impact my blogging and posting has on others, meaning that I may cause others to lose their faith, or not to embrace it. I hope that is not the case. Once a pastor told me that all the people whose faith I admired most had asked the same questions I had at some point. Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, because if they do, they haven’t asked me, and they are wise enough not to put it on the internet.

But if it is true, perhaps my blabbing might be able to help someone? It helped me to think that others had the same questions and had managed to remain faithful anyway, so maybe if I say this out loud it might help someone else? In this world where faith is attacked more often than it is supported, how can we not be susceptible to questions? And there are no really satisfying answers. I’ve read the apologetics, and there is some interesting stuff there. Honestly, it is helpful to confirm an already existing faith, but it is not likely to convince someone who does not want to believe. This should not come as a surprise. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians:

(18) For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul continues:

(22) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

There is that word again: called. That’s what I have felt, from my childhood, called to this faith. It is as real as anything else. I have seen signs, but I can dismiss them. I have learned wisdom, but it can be argued against. In the end, it’s the tap on the shoulder, the call. I know it, too, can be ignored, resisted, or go unrecognized at first. But it is something I really can’t deny.

Well, I see we are approaching deep theological waters again here, and this blog has already gone over 5,000 words. It’s not my purpose here to school the unbeliever, or explain God.

Tired of wandering…

My purpose is only this, to express that I have grown tired of this wandering. There will always be endless questions, and an endless number of people to pose them. I spent years as a paralegal, in which it was my job to craft legal arguments and support them in a way that they could not be refuted. I have taught on child safety, and in the process I have wracked my brain trying to think of every possible dangerous scenario a child might face and the proper response to them. This is the way my mind works. Find all the holes, fill all the gaps. To not be able to do that gives me the heebie jeebies. But in this case, I have to acknowledge that I can’t. Nobody can.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

If we could see it, wrap it and tie it up with a nice bow, it would not be faith.

Now I’m going to be honest with you. While I am battling with these voices in my head, one of the things they tell me is, “If you believe this stuff, this person or that person is going to think you are stupid and they won’t like you or respect you.” And I hate to admit it, but that actually has influence over me. I want to be liked. I want to be loved. I want to be respected. When I first returned to the Lord, someone I dearly love told me that she didn’t even feel like she could talk to me anymore, that I wasn’t the same person, that she felt like I’d lost several IQ points. You know, that hurt. We have moved past that now, but I think it became one of those things that sticks in the heart.

I think people might find it hard to believe, but I am insecure in this area. I can express my opinions on politics with great gusto and I don’t care whatsoever if people disagree with me. Well, no I do care, but only because I think they should agree with me. :/ But regarding my faith, I tend to be reticent. I want to please people. And this is wrong.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

Then there is John chapter 12, which is one of those parts of the Bible I would read and say, “Oh those people are so stupid,” when actually if I look in my heart I see that I am prone to making the very same stupid mistake:

(42) Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; (43) for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

I believe. Should I walk away, cast off or even question my belief because I fear what people will say, particularly when most of those people are really not even important in my life?

Am I worried about appearing stupid, or am I worried about being stupid?

It has all made me weary. I’m tired of being pushed and pulled, and I’m just not going to allow it anymore. Instead I am going to affirm my faith in Jesus as my Lord, and commit to a life of service so deep that there is no room to turn around, no room to fall. It’s not that I will never have questions, but I choose to live peacefully with those questions until such time as God provides an answer, if he chooses to do so. There is one thing that is certain, and that is that I will never in this lifetime know or understand everything, and I don’t need to. I just need to have faith.

All scripture quotes are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation of the Bible.

Recommended resources:

Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I have described God as relentless myself, as does Francis Chan in this no nonsense, no apologies book.

Books: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey (and so much more!)

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women is not a book that would ever call to me from the bookstore shelf. It just feels completely irrelevant. I grew up in the late sixties and early seventies, when the feminist movement was at full throttle. It has always been a part of me. But it is not something that I have ever felt to be in conflict with my faith, and never anything that has been an issue in my life or relationships. I know there are a few scriptures that people question and arguments that might revolve around it, but it just is not something that concerned me. Honestly, this book sounded like something that would be kind of dry and, well, boring.

I picked up Jesus Feminist, however, and I read it because I completely love the author, Sarah Bessey. She did not disappoint me. It was captivating.

There is not a writer on earth who stirs my faith, and my desire for faith, more than Sarah Bessey. At first glance this might seem odd, since Bessey is possessed of a wandering, questioning heart. But it’s not so odd, because I possess the same heart, and so I identify with her words … words which also happen to be beautifully, exquisitely written, with ink blended from her tears, her sweat, her blood from the battle for her faith. This book is not a dry treatise on the place of a woman. I will tell you, I cried several times when reading this book, and I am not a cry-er. I cried over for-real things, like the girl who hanged herself because of rejection, like the orphans in Haiti that Bessey visited. I cried over Bessey’s miscarriages. But I cried much more when she wrote of the pain of having questions.

Bessey is the author also of Out of Sorts, a book I reviewed recently. As with that review, I think that there is nothing like Bessey’s own words. I can tell you what she said, but I can never tell you in the way she can. So just a few excerpts, if you don’t mind.

She described briefly the falling from faith that she had described more fully in Out of Sorts. I heard it in a different way this time, though.

I was drawn toward a life of redemptive peacemaking and justice seeking, yet the churches of my context and tradition were in a strange collusion with politics and just-war philosophy as the Iraq war began. I struggled with the cultural rhetoric against immigrants, homosexuals, artists, welfare recipients, the poor, non-Americans, and anyone who looked different or lived differently than the expectation. Cultural mores were passing as biblical mandates…

The more I learned about the life and world and tragedies thumping along beyond our seemingly missing the point building programs and Christian schools and drive-by missionary work, the more I ached and grieved and repented of my own sin and blindness….

The cracks were ricocheting and multiplying across my heart now, and when I turned to the Church for answers, I did not feel my questions were welcome. This may have been my own pride and willful blindness, but there didn’t seem to be room for me as a questioning woman within the system, as a seeker….

Bessey tried to keep her questions stuffed into her mental closet where they wouldn’t cause problems, but she reminded us of the over-stuffed closet in the cartoons, whose contents build up until the closet simply explodes. And this is what happened when Bessey’s closet of questions exploded.

Crash.

I know nothing for sure. Is God even real? What about my Bible? Church? People? Life? Meaning? Loss? Grief? Disillusionment? Soul weariness? Goodness? Evil? Tragedy? Suffering? Justice? Women? Equality? Politics? I know nothing, nothing, nothing.
And it’s not because I didn’t have “answers” — oh no, I had all the photocopied apologetics cheat sheets lined up in a neatly labeled three-ring binder, paragraphs highlighted to respond to the questions of the ages, all in three lines or less….
I have sincere regrets about the way I processed much of the shifting and changing; I’ve had to ask forgiveness from several friends and leaders. But the questions were legitimate, and now, I embarked on a journey through the wilderness of my wonderings with a seen-it-all-before smirk on my face and a profound ache in my soul.
But God set up a banquet in the wild places, streams of water flowed in the desert, and I walked and walked and walked right through the pain of disillusionment and despair, leaning into the wind….

The wilderness transformed me in a way that no ‘spiritual high’ or certainty or mountaintop moment had ever done…. I sought God, and he was faithful to answer me. I came to know him as ‘Abba’ — a Daddy. He set me free from crippling approval addiction…. He bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul, restored the joy of church and community to our lives. I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical. And I found out that he is more than enough, always will be more than enough — yesterday, today, forever….

I know you have questions, and they’re much bigger than the whole curch-women-feminism-equality issues. I know. Me, too. Still. So I’ll carry you in my heart. Stay as long as you’d like; I’m in no rush. Hurry wounds a questioning soul.

My water in the desert arrived in cups fashioned by the hands of those who love the gospel. I found, right under my nose, people who love God and love others; their lives were a smelling-salts wake-up experience of grace. Sometimes they were the same people I lived alongside during those years of wondering and isolation in Texas. My loss is that, in my pride, I didn’t see them there at the time.

I identify so closely with this, as a bleeding heart liberal who belongs to a conservative Christian church. I want to be sure that the government has programs in place to help those who are not able to help themselves. I’ve heard church leaders say, no that is not the job of the government; it is the job of the church to take care of the poor. But I know full well that all those people are not going to get the assistance they need from the churches. I mean, come now, many of these churches are made up of the same people who are talking about welfare recipients as being lazy bums. There is no room for judgment in the offer of assistance to people. I’ve been around and around with good Christian people about whether they should spare a dime for the beggar on the corner, because he might spend it on drugs or alcohol. And I say, if he does, that is on him, but if he needs help and I don’t offer it, then that is on me. And sometimes the help he needs can’t be met by a sandwich. I want also for my country to offer refuge to those who are fleeing the oppressive violence in Syria, but the conservative Christian response seems to be, “Uh, no. They might be terrorists. And we need to take care of our own people before taking care of people from other countries.”

Really? I mean, really? This is not what Jesus preached.

Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you? And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

Then he will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe me, Sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

Then they will also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then He will answer them saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.

Matthew 25:34-45

Clear, no? Is there any way to argue against it? I don’t think so! And how about this one?

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. 

Luke 6:37-38

Is it Biblical to believe that we have a responsibility to care for our own first, and that because of that it would be wrong to care for the Syrian refugees? That’s what the disciples thought, when they wanted to send away the 5,000 who had come to hear Jesus teach. They had just a few loaves and fishes, just enough for themselves, not enough to share with that massive crowd. But we believe, don’t we, that Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes and they turned out to be enough to feed the crowds with baskets full left over. Do we believe this, really? Really?

Perhaps I have crossed Bessey’s line, from critical thinking to critical, but I have been absolutely floored to hear these arguments coming from the mouths of some of the nicest, kindest, most God-loving people I know. I believe this happened because of the weird marriage that has occurred between conservative Christianity and political conservatism. But they are not the same, and political conservativism is not consistent with what was practiced in the Bible. In fact, according to acts 4:32, the early church was a socialist community.

Now, I can have fellowship with Christians who have different political viewpoints, and it does not affect my love for them at all. The thing is, I don’t do a very good job of keeping my mouth shut. I post on Facebook. I write this blog, with things like this very blog entry! I And when I blabber away, it doesn’t always feel like it’s okay. And, as Bessey said, this could simply be “my own pride and willful blindness.” Could be my imagination, or my feeling of guilt, or it might simply stem from my need for love and approval and fear that I won’t get it. I will admit that. But it hurts anyway because I kind of feel as though there is a part of my essential self, my essential faith for that matter, that is not quite acceptable, and maybe never will be. I don’t know if there will ever come a time in my life when I will stop asking questions. Just the Bible itself is a complex and difficult book, and I will have questions about it as long as I keep reading it. I have come to the point where I can hold onto my faith over, under and through the questions. I can take the questions to God in prayer. Sometimes I get an answer that is different from the answer someone else interpolated from their reading of the Scripture, but I believe that God can speak to me, and I can hear him. Another Bessey word: “We must obey God, and our obedience to God may be perceived as rebellion and pride by some; others will see it as giving in or not giving enough.” 

But back to Bessey and Jesus Feminist, the happy ending is Bessey’s heartfelt faith. Speaking of women’s ministries, she says:

I kept coming back because the truth is, I wanted what the world could not give me. I wanted Jesus, and I wanted women in my life who loved Jesus, too. Isn’t that is? We are seeking Jesus — we want to smell him on the skin of others, and we want to hear tell of his activity. We are seeking fellow travelers for this journey. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell our stories and listen, to love well, to learn how to have eyes and to see and ears to hear.

She describes herself as a “happy clappy follower of Jesus,” and she is in a fellowship of happy clappy followers of Jesus as well. She still has questions. She tells us that. But she has faith, and that is why I find her so inspiring.

Me? I can see the lights of that city on a hill growing bright, and it makes me want to fling open the doors. The Bridegroom is coming. Can’t you feel that? In the ache and struggle and evil of our imperfect world, no wonder we long for the Kingdom of God’s shalom right down to our marrow. The tears are pricking; my heart is beating; something is happening here: Aslan is on the move. God’s dream is coming true, day by painful push-back-the-darkness day.

Bessey has come full circle and found her place in the the body. It sounds like a good place, a happy place. I so long for that. I want to dig in so deep into God that there is no crawling out again.  I want to worship, and I want to serve. I want to love, and if I have a fault it is that I want to love, love, love, exceedingly and above all. Thanks to Sarah Bessey for pioneering through the wilderness and assuring me that there is a destination, and it can be reached.