Wednesday, June 4, 2014

O.M.G.



I didn't grow up going to church. No sheets were ripped off of me on early Sunday mornings nor was I admonished to memorize biblical scriptures as a child. Essentially, our most frequent sermons came from Pastor Pops and Minister Mommy and mostly the message was: Do well in school. Follow our rules. Oh yeah, and try not to get pregnant or arrested before you have enough of your own money to manage it.

That said, there wasn't any active discussion against the idea of there being a God either. Like a lot of people, we pretty much had that inertia-Jesus that many people welcome into their homes. And as a result, we loosely acknowledged that mysterious heavenly father on major holidays. Oh yeah and during really big meals.

In all fairness, I do feel pretty certain that my parents believed that there was indeed some sort of higher power during those years. But as far as this being woven into the fabric of our day to day operations or as some guiding force in the things we did? From my recollection, that part was a no.

Even still, I think always felt connected to religious ideology. From as early as I could remember, I would pray and think and have conversations with God. Not just those prayers where you promise to do better or be better or even the ones where you beg for some very specific outcome in exchange for your first-born child.  No, not those kinds. I guess. . .I don't know. . .I guess I just always had this thing inside of me that made me believe. Regardless of what was happening around me. Even without trying too hard or even when my education reached such levels that many of those in my peer groups became too pragmatic to believe--I always did.

Yep.

My friend Sister Moon wrote this very provocative piece recently about her disbelief in God. And let me be clear: She was thoughtful and smart and real about her feelings. It didn't toss all followers of organized religion into some hokey pile of crazy but instead teased out her immediate thoughts about her not believing in God. She explained her perspective and, since I like to think and hear peoples' viewpoints, I listened. Or rather, read it. Which reminds me: I think it's a good thing to be able to share what you believe or feel without making other people feel like lepers. I'm just saying.

In that piece she said this:

"And to me, it all simply boils down to this- you either have the gene for it or you do not. For religion. And I do not."

That line struck me. I think it did because, even in the absence of parental force, I always felt this innate sense of there being a God. Not in this obligatory sense either. I just always genuinely believed. And it never has felt dubious to me. Even as a child. Which made me wonder whether or not this sort of hunger to know God and seek Him is indeed wired into our DNA.

Hmmm.

I was baptized as a medical student. Dunked under a pool while dressed in a white gown as members of our congregation applauded and shouted hallelujah. I remember it so vividly because it was when I was smack, dab in the midst of studying for boards the summer after my second year. I'd been attending this church that nourished my soul and unlocked some of the things I'd always wondered about. Maybe "unlock" is a strong word but at least it broke things down and provided ways for me to better understand what I was feeling inside. That church also didn't feel polarizing. Which was good for someone like me who was a spiritual toddler.

And so. I guess you can say that I (as the church folks say) accepted Christ in a formal sense in 1994. Twenty years ago this month, actually. But informally, I think my deep down feelings and beliefs were always there. They were.

Over the years, I learned things for myself. I made up my mind about my own beliefs and spoke to God personally about the things that confused me. And I mean it--I spoke to Him and speak to Him on a regular basis. All of it, for me, tied into what I yearned for--a personal relationship with God. And to some this might sound ridiculous. But to me, it has always made perfect sense.

For me, that God reference specifically meant Jesus. Just to be transparent.

Then time passed. I continued to learn and serve and follow but I began to wonder things. Like wonder things about God's will or about whether or not this alleged relationship that I speak of even existed. See, I started to look back over my life and take an inventory. And when I did, I recognized that for the majority of my life, I've had what the church folks call "favor." Good outcomes. Nice parents. Opportunities. Resources. And happy endings. Favor. 

So that, not so much the perils of the world, began to make me question what I believed. I'd sit in a quiet place and start to cry. I'd wonder if this was all in my head or whether or not me and my God even had a relationship at all. "Of course you say you love God," I'd tell myself. "All you know is favor." And that? That would make me sad. And a little bit lonely, too.

But then there would be other times where it would be the opposite. Like, the time that I was driving down the street and heard this song "Golden" by Jill Scott for the first time. In that song she belts out these words:

"I'm strumming my own freedom. . .playing the God in me. . . representing His glory. . .hope He's proud of me. . . .hope He's proud of me!"

And that? That convicted me so deeply and made me cry so hard that I literally had to pull over. Because that? That is how I feel. And how I have always felt from my earliest days. Like each night when my day is done or after I've interacted with someone I'm hoping  that it's something that would make God proud of me. And that's just something that's in me. I've always felt that way. And most days, I'm asking myself and asking God how can I let my light shine? And how can I reflect the very best things about knowing and loving Him without alienating others or making them feel all weird?

Seriously. That's what I wonder.

So yeah. That had been my pendulum. For essentially the majority of my adult life. One minute feeling deeply connected to God and the idea of Him and other times extremely fearful that I was no more than a fair weather friend. And honestly? I can't say for sure that I always knew which was true.

That is, until November 15, 2012. Yes. The worst day of my entire life is also bookmarked as the day I learned for sure that my trust and dependence on the God I believe in is as real as the tree on my front lawn or the sun that is now setting in the sky. It is.

Let me explain: I've said it before but I will say it once more. So many provisions were made for me that evening. So many very, very clear messages sent to me that felt like nothing I'd ever felt in my entire life. But the real, true pivotal time came when Harry called me to tell me that Deanna had never made it to pick up the boys from school. And yes, we've all had those fears that someone hasn't made it home because of some catastrophe. But I tell you--this sense was different. It was intense. And it was as if God himself spoke straight into my ear that evening: "Your sister is gone."

Gone.

And this was before anything at all was confirmed. But right at that moment, I knew. And what happened next is the part that I hold in my heart like the most cherished treasure I've ever had. See what happened next was on instinct. Not me coaching myself or thinking it through or any such thing. It was like a heart beating or a newborn baby turning to suckle on his mother's breast. I stopped my car (yes, I do that from time to time) and sat on the side of the road. And in my most calm voice, I surrendered everything to God. I was fully and completely dependent in that moment. More than I have ever been on any person or thing at any time in my life.

And I said, "Listen God. I feel like You are trying to tell me something. And what I think is that You are letting me know that You have called my sister home to be with You. And let me just say that this is NOT my will. But if for some reason I'm right, then I am telling You that my daddy is usually the person who takes over in these times for our family. But if You have decided to take his child from him? I'm telling You--He won't be able to do that." I took a breath and thought for a moment. Then I went on. "If this is what is about to happen, then I'm telling You right now that I am going to need You to give me marching orders. And to make that happen I'll need peace of mind, an overwhelming sense of calm, and really, God--You'll have to keep my wits so unbelievably about me that I can handle what needs to be handled. My father's AND my mother's business. I mean it.  I need You to show me EXACTLY what to do each step of the way. And I promise that I will listen and pay attention and be obedient."

I felt the tears coming on. I did. But I wasn't done.

"God? Please. Show Yourself. To me. Through me. Show me what you want me to do. Order my steps and make it so clear that it is You that there is no question how it happened. To me especially."

And that was that.

You'd think that I would have felt lonely in that moment. But I didn't. I felt. . .I don't know. . . safe. Protected even. I did. And turning to God in that moment was so primal, so instinctive. Not a literal or a figurative Hail Mary but what felt right and natural and necessary.

Yes. That.

So, of course, there are those questions, right? Like how could a loving God allow some of the things that happen in the world? How? How could He ask for a child or for someone as amazing and beautiful and needed as Deanna? How?

My answer is that I just don't know. I don't. But I also know that His ways are not my ways. So seeking to perfectly understand all that He does sort of puts Him into my playing field. And, again, perhaps this is how I'm genetically wired. But I just don't believe we are the same. I don't know the end of things before the beginning. I don't. And you know? Even when I feel sad and upset with God, in the deepest corners of my soul, I still know. I know that I believe. And that, to me, God is God. Not man and not me. He's God. Which, to me, means that there are TONS of things that we still DO NOT know about His ways and His ultimate vision for so many things but that will hopefully be revealed to us in due time.

Now.

There are certainly some things that I speak to God about all the time. Like equity with people and how being accepting and loving is, I believe, more like Him than leaving people out and making them feel like outcasts. I recognize that it could possibly be necessary for me to reconcile some things that I believe are just human rights and that, to me, aren't because of some faulty wiring. And sure, some of my peers of Christian faith might not agree with me on that. But see, to me, my faith--or even religion--comes down to my relationship with God. I'm okay with the fact that we'll have to hash some things out. I am. In every single important relationship that I am in, that is something that happens. So it feels natural to me that God and I will have some ongoing and sometimes difficult dialogue.

But maybe--just maybe--it won't be difficult at all. Like, just maybe, maybe he'll be cool with these things--more cool than anyone realizes, even me. Perhaps He could care less if I take the kids trick or treating or if I attend my dear friends' commitment ceremony or even wedding when those friends share the same gender. Maybe. And hey--maybe He'll be furious with me. But I recognize that that is between me and Him. Period.

And no, I don't need anyone to tell me what the bible says on all of that. I don't. So there.

I guess, for me, God is love. And love is inclusion and understanding and respect. Period, end of story. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. And I don't think that snatches me from the loving arms of God because I do.

Yeah. So honestly? It feels so out of my own control really. My belief in God is as much a part of me as being black or being goofy or loving my family. It's non-negotiable and not even something I have to  force. It never has been. Perhaps it's just that I have the gene.

Maybe. Maybe not. And maybe none of this ramble even makes sense. But that's fine, too, since a lot of people don't think that any of this belief in God stuff does.

Either way, no matter what--I will continue to strum my own freedom and play the God in me. . .representing His glory and hoping--and praying--that when all is said and done that He's proud of me. That's what I believe.

Yeah.

***
Happy Hump Day.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . this. . .a neo-soul song that is as intensely gospel as it gets for me.



. . .and this. . . I can listen to her voice all day. Sigh.



And lastly, this. . . an old gospel hit that has always given me solace, quieted my soul and reminded me that His ways are not my ways. Particularly the part that says, "Because He's sovereign. God is God." And I get it that this doesn't resonate with a lot of people. But it resonates with me.






23 comments:

  1. Thank you. I like the way you put that. I have been trying to understand reconcile my faith, with human rights equity you made it simple.

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    1. I appreciate you reading and responding to my ramble, Spring.

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  2. Like you, I have always known the presence of God. I can't remember a single day that He was not in, even before I understood Him. When I held my mother's hand He wrapped His arms around me and told me that she was home now and the next time I will see her we will have the relationship He always intended. And the morning 10 years ago when Dr. Stiles came into the consultation room to tell me that I had cancer, He was standing behind that Herman Miller pink recliner with His hand on my shoulder letting me know that He had this one too. I went to church as a child and had a grandmother who assigned us passages of scripture to memorize. I appreciate that. But I believe in Him because He has always been a real presence for me.

    I am glad that He was there with you in that moment. I know how powerful that is. Thank you for such a beautiful testimony.

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    1. That's an awesome testimony, Lisa. Thank you. Hearing of your grandmother encourages me to share more with my children who I do believe also have the gene.

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  3. I love your equanimity about all of it. You are just an inherently //good// person, and I think (and I'm happy you agree) that it is His intervention, and love just for who you are, for this good person He created, that led you to favor all these years. He put you right where you need to be, and you let His light shine every day on the wards, at home, even through your writing...and #uoeno it. And even that moment of astounding clarity and peace after Deanna died was yet another gift. People who've been in church all their lives haven't even reached that level of understanding. That's why I love the modern church euphemism of relationship, not religion.

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    1. Awwww. Hey there, Roy. Thanks so much for chiming in with such kind words and thoughts. I do remember that clarity and feel so grateful for it.

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  4. You know, it's like less than a hair's breadth, what you and I believe. You just have the gene, I do not not. Otherwise, there is so much same-same that it's barely worth mentioning.
    And like I said- there are times (many times!) when I wish I believed that there was a Deity who is wrapping me in His arms but you know? I just don't. And it's okay because I feel the love you speak of and dare I say Love?
    And I love you.

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    1. Oh, Sister Moon. You know how much I love you, too. I love that we have this place to share our religious experiences. And yes, we do have us some religious experiences don't we?

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  5. Wow, just, wow. You put into words my feelings about God. Thank you! Sassy

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  6. Ms Moon really got us thinking in a holy way, didn't she? I love this, and am especially moved by the way you felt strengthened and supported and HELD when Deanna died. You, like Mary, live the highest precepts of Love, and if that's not the indwelling Spirit I don't know what is.

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    1. Hey there, my friend. It's good to hear you speaking on this. Yes, Ms. Moon really got us thinking. I love that about this community.

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  7. I so appreciate reading both your post and Ms. Moon's on religion. The central precept of Love just shines through and gracefully allows for differences that are so beautifully and thoughtfully expressed.

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  8. Amen!!! Well said!! Great Post!!

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  9. I really enjoyed this. Thanks for posting and sharing your feelings on God. I feel the same way and I grew up going to church. Love is the basis of it all because what Christ did on the cross was out of...what...LOVE. :)

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  10. I have the gene, and boy am I ever thankful. God has seen fit to enroll me in the "disease of the month" club as of late. I'm up to 16 diagnoses! People always ask me how I deal with having all of these illnesses, and I tell them that they are all a gift from God, and that for every crappy diagnosis I have received, God has also sent me a fantastic physician to help me with each diagnosis (the exception being my quack internist). My motto has always been "God takes care of fools and little children so I have double coverage" because not one time in my life have I ever not felt God's love. It's always there, you just have to look for it.

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  11. Thanks for another beautiful post! I hope turning to God is as primal and instinctive for me as it was for you.

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  12. I've been reading your blog for a while now, but never commented. I found you through Elizabeth (A Moon…) and I just love your writing very much. Being a professional woman too, I enjoy reading how others juggle all the balls in the air. It helps me. It inspires me. I am Catholic and I have a complicated relationship with God. I have recently been really down about Him and wondering if it's all an illusion to make us somehow get through life. Feeling very cynical and kind of angry about things I have deemed "unfair." I was recently in a large city in a huge cathedral that was packed to overflowing and wondered "Could so many people be wrong?" And now this -- I have not read your blog for weeks now, I'm too busy. But tonight I checked in and this is what I read. This post just hit me over the head like a baseball bat. I have noticed that when I am "on the outs" with my dear God, he sends me these very obvious messages and I know he is maybe laughing at me and my foolishness. So thank you for being His conduit today. And thank you for all the lovely things you write. Today you reached through the internet and you (and God) punched me right in the gut, and it was just what I needed!

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