If I ever write a devotional, I will have to call it something like Ebbs & Flows: Meditations on Finding and Losing Faith. I think it would sell well – I don’t know anyone with a perfectly linear faith story.
I have heard many a testimony and shared parts of my own, though it’s only in the last few years that I’ve even recognized the disparate chapters of my life as part of the same story. Every start and stop, every dead end I now see equipped me to respond to God’s call when I finally stopped running long enough to hear it.
This is my truth.
Devotional Part 1: Pentecostal
I don’t remember going to church regularly (barring the occasional wedding or funeral) until I was in either the 4th or 5th grade. My cousin began attending a small Pentecostal church run by her neighbor’s grandparents and I went with her. I tried to fit in, but from the start I had trouble. This home church embraced the strictest interpretations of biblical womanhood – long, natural hair was required; makeup and jewelry were forbidden; long skirts and sleeves were a must. In contrast, here I was with my chin-sweeping bob, painted nails, and adoration for my large collection of pants and shorts. I wanted to be a good and modest girl and struggled with feelings of guilt over not meeting their exacting standards even as I questioned such unyielding authority.
A few things stick out to me from that time: first, the day we went fishing and I showed up in my Mickey Mouse overall shorts which I maintain to this day are far more practical (if totally unattractive) for a day on the water than a maxi skirt. I was excluded from a special church service that my best friend was invited to attend the very next day because of my “immodest” apparel.
Then there was the day I wore a cross to church. It’s a lovely silver cross with a small artificial blue topaz in the center. My dad had just bought it for me (and I still wear it), and I was happy to have this outward symbol of my own devotion to Christ. “Nana” said:
“If your daddy died in a car accident would you wear a piece of the car around your neck?”
Despite these and other small but stinging moments, I went for awhile longer and even chose to have “Papa” baptize me – a full-immersion baptism that symbolized my physical death and rebirth in Christ. Eventually I was fed up with the favoritism and narrow view of God I was receiving and decided that if this is what it meant to be a Christian, it really wasn’t for me.
Devotional Part 2: Dabbler
In sixth grade I attended a Christian school, yet after leaving the Pentecostal church I didn’t bother attending services until I went back to my original public school.
Between seventh and eighth grades I split time between the non-denominational congregation attached to my private school and the United Methodist Church my cousin had moved to after leaving the Pentecostal church herself. I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of both and the love I found there, but I still lacked true guidance – I had to take the initiative to go to church, and I had to find a way to get there and home, and so much of the time it was easy to say no. I had also started reading about Pagan beliefs and imagined that I could find the power and peace I so desperately needed in the pages of those books.
I’ve always had a thing about being in control, and those two years were about the time I had less control in my own life than ever.
Devotional Part 3: FCA
Toward the end of my eighth-grade year, my social studies teacher asked me if I would be interested in checking out FCA – Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a new group at the high school. Considering myself a Christian, being a soccer player and adoring that particular teacher, I accepted. My involvement didn’t last long, but I still consider this one of the pivotal moments in my faith.
My teacher did not have to ask me. Doing so was a testimony of his own faith, and looking back I have thought a great deal about what a risk he took. I don’t remember being very open about my belief in God, and yet even if I was he could still have faced considerable backlash simply for inviting me.
That teacher, Jim Muth, passed away last year after months of rehabilitation following a car accident. In a particular poignant twist, God took him home the same day that he sent Arthur into our lives. So my little man’s birthday – another pivotal moment in my faith journey – will always be tied to this great man and his impact on my life. I consider my life now a testimony to the power of reaching out.
Devotional Part 4: Liminality
I met Brian in 2004, and that was the beginning of a strong faith period for me. Brian introduced me to the youth group at Mentor UMC, and in 2005 I went on my first mission and was confirmed! For maybe the second time in my life I really felt God’s presence and heard His voice guiding me.
Then things fell apart.
During my two years at OWU I spent a LOT of time exploring my beliefs. I was turned on by Judaism, and the idea that I was not only allowed but encouraged to ask questions! I decided to convert to Judaism, and then didn’t do much about it.
For years after that I maintained that I believed, but I wasn’t sure what. And I challenged the idea that anybody else had control over my life, and asserted the right to question and doubt. Brian asked me to marry him even knowing that our fundamental ideas about God and Christ and spirituality as a whole were at the time incompatible. And thank God he did.
Brian and I decided before we had Arthur that we would not baptize him. We didn’t attend church regularly, and we decided that he – like us – could make the covenant when he is old enough to do so. After that we just let the issue drop. It came up again in early 2014; we attended a few services and our beloved former youth pastor asked us if we had baptized him yet.
When she spoke, I heard the Spirit. “This is my child, who I have placed in your care. Won’t you commit him to me as you committed yourself to me?” So I nodded enthusiastically.
“Not yet, but we’d love to get it scheduled! Can you participate?” I emailed our lead pastor and set the date for one that Kathy would be in service, and it was done. On April 13 we brought our closest family to service with us, and when they called for us we brought Arthur to the altar with his godparents (his aunt and uncle).
In the United Methodist baptismal covenant, the parents and congregation must answer the following:
Will you nurture these children (persons)
in Christ’s holy Church,
that by your teaching and example they may be guided
to accept God’s grace for themselves,
to profess their faith openly,
and to lead a Christian life?
When I said “I will,” I felt the full weight of the covenant resting on my heart. Arthur’s baptism was about more than presenting him as a child of God, more than bringing God’s blessing down on him. I was also recommitting myself to follow the Way of Christ as revealed in Spirit.
Now: Unchurched in the Church
I still struggle to live a life transformed. As I follow the path of ministry, I am unlearning harmful patterns of relationship and theology and relearning how to bring the kin-dom to earth. I want to live a cruciform life, connecting upward with the sacred and outward to creation–and all the while, I would also like a full night of sleep and good grades in seminary.
I don’t know what the church will look like in 20 years, or what role I will play in shifting it. but I will follow this call through whatever twists and turns lie ahead.
Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said,
“Look, I have put my words in your mouth!
Today I appoint you to stand up
against nations and kingdoms.
Some you must uproot and tear down,
destroy and overthrow.
Others you must build up
and plant.” (Jeremiah 1:9-10, NLT)
May this living devotional uproot old ways of thinking, tear down the walls we build between ourselves and Christ, and build up the Kin-dom here on earth.