I’ve never told my faith story on this blog. I wasn’t ready to yet. You’ll understand why by the time I’m done with this post and it will be a long one so I apologize for that. Before I go into it all I will tell you that I’m not proselytizing, I’m simply sharing my own spiritual journey. While I am of the Christian religion, let me assure you that I am not one of those Christians who thinks it’s my way or the highway. I follow the example of Christ by being open-minded, loving and accepting of everyone. I don’t know if my way is right or another way is right. I don’t think it matters. My beliefs lead me to strive to be a caring, compassionate, accepting person.
I grew up going to church. For as long as I can remember I’ve believed in God, a higher power than myself. Did I ever question if God was real? Of course. Can I prove it? No more than I can prove that I love my children or that my parents love me. I’ve got enough evidence for myself and that is what I need.
I haven’t always been so open minded in my thinking. When I was younger I had the literal idea of God. I thought more like a fundamentalist. I was young, I was new in my faith and not ready to open my mind and think that things might not be as literal as they seem. Children are literal creatures, especially when it comes to faith and God and I was no different.
My journey really begins after I graduated from college when I was a graduate student seeking my PhD in microbiology. I was not ready until that time to really start to question all the black and white ideas I’d been taught growing up. I’d also never been in a spiritual community that encouraged such questioning. I’m sure some of you know the routine: “If you question God or your faith, your faith is not strong enough.”
I remember when I was about eight years old I had gone away for a week to a Christian camp with my best friend. Every evening we had these big gatherings in a hall that always had some kind of lesson in them. I remember one of the evenings they talked about being “saved.” The leader asked everyone for testimonials about when they had “accepted Jesus Christ as their own personal lord and savior.” I panicked. I had never done that. The implication being if I did not have this definite moment in my life I was going to hell. End of story. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never had that moment. I couldn’t tell you the day I started to be a Christian like clearly so many of these other kids had. I’d always been one. Apparently that was wrong, I needed this moment they were all talking about. I was crushed. I remember calling my parents begging them to bring me home early. I didn’t belong there. It wasn’t until that point in my life when I started to regularly attend another church that I realized how wrong that was. The pastor told me, “Of course you didn’t have that ‘moment.’ You’d been living it all your life. You don’t have to have that moment to be loved by God.” I think that was when everything started to change.
I didn’t realize things had changed until I had a nervous breakdown. I was 23 and had struggled to find a lab in graduate school. Funding had started to be cut from the NIH to fund the new war against Afghanistan and labs that always had funding were finding they didn’t. Every lab I wanted to join gave me the same refrain, “We don’t have the funding.” Finally, I ended up in the lab of a brand-new faculty member. It was time for pre-lims and I had done all of it. All my research was done, my proposal was written, all I had to do was defend it. And I froze. The nervous breakdown happened. I ended up taking a leave from the program and ultimately ended up leaving the program all together. It was during that time that I started to intently study the Christian Bible. Suddenly, I had nine different translations on my shelf and would read the same passage in all nine comparing the language and the meanings that could be derived from each.
My pastor noticed this and pointed out to me what had become obvious to so many others. God was calling me. Calling me in away that would change everything. Over the course of the next four years I would leave graduate school, become a mother and start walking the path into ministry. I was teaching adult Bible studies, preaching, teaching Sunday School for the kids, heading up Christian Education in the church, attending conferences, listening to amazing theologians like Borg and Crossan give seminars, shaking their hands and telling them how amazing I thought they were and how for the first time in my life I realized the way I viewed God wasn’t unfaithful at all. Despite a miserable, failing marriage it was the happiest, most fulfilling time of my life.
Then my marriage ended.
While I still had the support of my pastor and few faithful friends the majority of the church I attended didn’t think I belonged anymore. People did not think that someone who could get divorced could possibly be called by God to serve in ministry. I tried to hold on for quite some time but in the end they won. I left the church and found myself feeling abandoned. I had worked so hard for this group of people. Built up so many things with this church and just like that I was cast aside. It was hard to not be bitter and it took me a long time to feel ready to regularly attend church again.
The worst part was I let their words get into my brain and stay there. I believed them. I thought my hopes of getting to seminary and either pastoring myself or teaching at an academic level were gone. I thought there was no way any of this could happen now. I was divorced, I had a taint. It couldn’t happen. So I pushed it all down and treated myself like the failure I thought I was.
The Geek entered my life and we moved back to my old hometown and got married. I tried going back to the church I grew up in with my mom and grandparents but I found I had changed too much to be there. My views were too different. I couldn’t listen to people who didn’t have the same view of I did that we must love and accept and help everyone. That was what Jesus did. I visited a few other churches in the area but nothing stuck. Until one July day this past summer.
God had been poking at me to get back to church. Some of you may know that feeling. For those of you who don’t for me it’s this constant nagging feeling in the back of your brain, your heart, your gut. This inexplicable pull in a specific direction. I had gone to the website for the United Methodist Church (this was the church I’d gone through everything with, not the one I’d grown up in) and looked for churches in the area. I found one about 15 minutes from my house and decided to go that morning. Let me point out that there was a Methodist church literally three blocks from my house. I resisted that church because of an affiliation with my former in-laws. I drove to the 9:30 service and walked in and sat down. It was a small church but that was okay. I am not a fan of megachurches and I don’t want to be just another face in the crowd. I was a little bit early so I sat down, looked over the bulletin, looked around. Everyone was old. There were no kids. No one came over and greeted me.
I should have left then but I decided to give it a chance so I sat alone through the whole service growing more and more uncomfortable. Then God once again started poking in the back of my head. There is always the church in town. You should go to the church in town. You’ll be accepted at the church in town. You could make a difference at the church in town. I started watching the clock. Making deals with God. If the service is done by 10:30 I’ll have time to make it to the church in town since their service starts at 11. That morning’s service ended early at 10:25. Okay, God, I said. So I drove to the church in town.
The moment I walked inside I felt at home. Of course I knew pretty much everyone there from my childhood. Everyone greeted me. Welcomed me. I knew I was home.
I learned a new pastor had started but she wasn’t there that week because she had family visiting from Germany. I knew I wanted to come back and bring the family. So I went home and told the Geek. He was okay with the idea of going back together as a family.
Later that week when I was out for a run I ran into my old high school guidance counselor A man I had not seen in 14 years. He talked to me and said he had heard at one time I was looking to go into ministry. Then he started asking me all these questions about God and how could I still have faith in a God who had let me go through so much in my life. I answered him to the best of my ability and he seemed satisfied. I pushed that God feeling down again. I was still divorced. I could not over come that taint.
The next Sunday was a welcome potluck at the church for the new pastor. We went as a family and one of the elders of the church asked the pastor’s husband to tell us a little something about them and the first words out of his mouth were, “Well, we come from a blended family and our children are from a previous marriages.” I froze. Okay, God, I hear you now. I get it. Within a month I had sat down in the pastor’s office and told her my story. She knew it. It was very much like her own.
I’m involved again. I’m getting ready to start down that path that I thought was closed to me for so long. I’m scared but for the first time in a long time I have peace. God isn’t done with me and now I have to wait and see where God wants me to go.