Questioning Faith

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I was six years old one summer evening in 1987 when I stepped out of my pew and made my way to the front of my childhood church. I nervously stepped out to pray with the guest preacher that evening, he also happened to be nearly six feet tall. I don’t remember much about the message that finally spurred me out of my seat that evening, but I do remember the clicking sound my purple flip-flops made as I walked past the pews full of parishioners. I remember how my heart told me there was something I needed to do. I could no longer silence a stirring within my little heart and that urge could only be met with a simple prayer. So there I stood with a preacher who could barely bend down far enough for me to whisper my request in his ear. I wanted to open my heart up to God and follow him the rest of my life.

Despite my age, I changed that night. I finally answered the call God had been placing upon my heart, a unique calling that is hard to describe. I can only describe it in a single word that shouts from within. It says “Move!”. It was a move that only I could make, a move that declared I’d live my life for God. In obedience to scripture, I was baptized a few weeks later.

I was baptised in June. I wore a blue button down shirt with crayons on it. I was to dress down as I was to be submerged in the baptismal. Although I was quite young, I remember the feeling following my baptism. As I emerged from those waters, that old shirt no longer felt tattered, and neither did I. I felt clean, I felt peace and a renewed desire to change. As I rode back from my baptism, I thought about all the ways I could change for the better, or as much as a six year old could change.  It sounds a bit unreal for a little girl to feel such things, but I assure you they were real. Maybe that’s why I have such a clear memory of it almost 30 years later.

I made a commitment to God at a young age but it didn’t save me from making many mistakes in my lifetime. Mistakes are why I needed God, why I wanted to be saved. I understood that I was imperfect and there would be times when I would need forgiveness and I wanted to follow a God who understood my imperfections. I decided to follow a God who I was taught not only created us, but lived among us and personally understood the hardships of the human existence.  I have known for almost 30 years that I didn’t have to face the tribulations of life alone, I felt the God of the universe cared for someone as small and flawed as me.

With such a longstanding relationship with God, it has been hard for to me admit when my faith has faltered. Questioning my relationship with God and, His very existence, may seem like a big failure as a Christian but to me it has been a necessary part of my faith journey. In recent years I have asked the same questions I did before I took that walk before the church at the age of six. Health and financial issues of my own and those around me have made me realize I didn’t have the unwavering faith I thought I had. I started to think deeply about what it was I claimed to believe. I became scared when I did not understand things beyond my comprehension. I wondered how a God who was supposed to care for me so intimately could allow me to experience such suffering. I was becoming more angry and questioning what I believed down to the very existence of God.

Were my questions a symptom of a weak faith? What good could come from questioning a faith that has carried me through many difficult times since the day I walked to the front of the church on that summer evening? Some may say it’s because my faith is weak but I dare to believe that the deepest of convictions come when they are questioned, examined, and re-examined. What is a blind faith that is never re-examined, especially in difficult times? Questioning my beliefs would either solidify what I believed to be true or it would fall apart under the weight of the pressure.

Christianity believes that Jesus is God who came to earth to live as a human. He was one percent human and one hundred percent God. He felt the same human emotion as we do while having the diety of God. He had the full human experience and a frightening human death. He felt joy and happiness. He experienced great fear and loss. Knowing these things, I asked him to show me the meaning of my own suffering but before I could utter the words from my heart to my mouth, I saw Christ praying in the garden before he was arrested. I saw his agony over the death he knew was before him and there is no doubt he also knew of the torture he would endure. I saw him on his hands and knees, pleading for the cup to be passed from him as he sweat his own blood. He was physically manifesting symptoms of his internal struggle. He lived and understands by experience. When I accepted Christ, I accepted that he didn’t blindly ask me to suffer. He did it himself. He was born into this world and immersed himself in life. He was here and he understands. He suffered more than I could ever imagine. He was arrested, beaten, and crucified. I remember then the feeling I had when I decided to follow God at such a young age, I knew he loved me because he knew me. He was gracious enough to give me life but he never promised a life without strife, as he himself was not exempt. He promised to be with me always and he hadn’t broke that promise, I just forgot it.

In the last few weeks, my life has quite possibly become more difficult as my body is continuing  to experience widespread pain and my son’s seizures continue to increase, making neurosurgery look like the last, best hope but God has renewed so much in me. He answered my prayers. What was his answer? “Keep questioning.” What a wonderful response! So I am picking up my Bible, books, praying and asking questions. I am renewing my faith through questioning my own beliefs. Doubt made me search and through that search, I renewed my relationship with God. It is a relationship that gives my life purpose, even my suffering.

So I challenge you to do the same. Question why you follow your own personal convictions. Once you examine your beliefs, ask if those convictions make sense and bring you contentment. If your beliefs ask you to follow blindly, I’d question them even more. What good is an unexamined life? Take a chance and ask the hard questions. I guarantee if you are looking in the right place, those questions won’t be too hard to find.

*d*

September and the End of Life

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The red horizon was pressing up against the darkening blue sky. Wispy clouds floated along the cool air. Soon the grass would cool beneath bare feet. Now was the best time to experience the crisp air.

He would never experience another day like this. It was beautiful outside his hosptial window. It was September. My swollen eyes gazed drearily out his window and I imagined myself walking in the courtyard below, my bare feet making circles in the grass and my face toward the sky. The sun would warm my face and dry my tears. I would close my eyes and see the red of light and breathe in as I did many times on the hill outside his house.

I spent many summer days playing outside my grandparent’s house.  I would scuffle up and down the hill littered with stones along the edge of their house and down to the small pool my grandfather purchased for my grandmother. I would frequently put my hot feet into the cold water and my body would involuntarily pull back. I would dance my feet lightly on the water’s surface as I took in my surroundings. This was one of my favorite places to be. A creek ran through the back of the property,  while numerous trees, bushes and flowering plants, mostly Mother’s Day gifts to my grandma, lined the edge of a field. Well manicured grass extended in both directions and behind me stood their little house on the very top of a hill. They sold the house the year of my high school graduation and it has since gone into disrepair. Nevertheless, some of the best memories of childhood still reside there.

I couldn’t return there or escape to the space below so I stared across the sprawling garden and over to the stained glass windows of the chapel. I closed my eyes and wondered if I should enter and fall to my knees before the alter. I would kneel until my knees hurt and my back ached if God would just take this day away. How could something so terrible happen on a day a vision to the contrary? Could I get him away from his bed and out to the garden below? I wanted the sun to warm his face. I wanted him to feel the grass and experience more than the space between the hospital walls before he would no longer have the opportunity.  Maybe I could ask to move his bed next to the window. With multiple lines feeding his veins I knew it was impossible. His fingers were turning blue and his blood pressure was slowly dropping.

I had never before experienced the anticipation of death. It was awful and cruel. I told myself to be brave. I would stand at the window or wander down the hall in a futile attempt to collect myself and accept what was happening. I tried to fool myself into thinking I had been through plenty of hardship and could be an example of strength. My eyes would flit around the shocked faces surrounding his bed and I accepted the weakness we all shared. Every face was distraught and terrified. Many could hardly speak. I did not want to accept it but I pleaded for the day to end. My mind looped, “I can’t do this.” Then I would try to rationalize my thoughts so I could quickly return to his bedside. We had spent several hours watching him try desperately to acknowledge our presence despite his own agony. We knew the inevitable finish to this normally beautiful day was creeping closer with every tick of the clock. He stopped trying to speak and stopped opening his eyes. The clock grew louder and it became difficult to ignore amidst the deafening silence.

The awareness of death was strange knowledge. My grandmother paced the halls and nervously fidgeted. She could hardly stand to stay in the room and watch over sixty years of her life slip away. We prayed,  shared stories, and told him we would be okay. My mom tenderly cared for her father and only briefly left his side. She undoubtedly suppressed her own fear to make sure his hands were held, he was comfortable, and aware of her love. I wondered how someone who always took up such a large part of my life could be reduced to a small space aloft a hospital bed. We sat in a circle surrounding his bed, holding his hands, touching his feet, and crying until my mom raised her head from his chest and sad, “He’s gone.” It felt like we all exhaled simultaneously in disbelief and our breath lingered stale in the room. It was over and so was more than eighty years of a meaningful life. A part of me also died with my grandfather as happens with all those who share our lives. It was sad to think that his memories, experiences, and wisdom just died with him.

We stayed for an hour. My grandma started calling loved ones shortly after his passing. Her busy hands didn’t make a happy heart but it helped her deal with her new reality. I kissed his forehead and held his hand while he was still warm. His head was moist from fever. I told him that I loved him and hoped he would somehow hear me. This was one of the most defining losses in my life.

I have lost others I have loved. My uncle (my mom’s brother) died unexpectedly three years prior as did my paternal grandfather, but I was very close to he and my grandmother. I spent a great deal of time at their home and it became a place of refuge for me. That comfort was now broken and so was my grandma.

The day he died was gorgeous. I often try to imagine him rising above his bed and lingering in that courtyard outside his window. Maybe he went into the chapel and prayed for all of us still lingering beside his broken body. Maybe in our sadness he was freed and as joyful as he had ever been. Death is an awful truth none of us can avoid or understand until we are looking out to the broken faces surrounding our own deathbed. Maybe I too will be released from life in a hospital bed like my grandpa or at home like my uncle but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is who will surround us when it is time. I would be so blessed to pass like my grandpa. It was awful for those who joined him on his last day but he did not face it alone. The love of family gathered with him on that beautiful September day and remained to his earthly end. My grandma recently told me that she is starting to forget things about my grandpa. I told her it is more important to remember how he made her feel. It is hard to forget the warmth of a loved one.

This was the first time I had been at another’s passing. On the drive to the hospital I had no doubt what I would witness and I knew it would change me. I returned home that night eager to embrace my family. I had an earnest desire to enjoy those I love because my time with my grandpa wasn’t long enough. I wanted to keep everyone within my reach but it didn’t last. I also began to forget and a part of me has yet to accept. It will eventually sink in and I will inescapably be in the throes of grief. For now, I am reminding myself of how fast a life ended on that September day. Today I try to enjoy what time I have been given. I am sure the morning he walked into the hospital for surgery, he didn’t realize he would never leave. He had come in the doors and felt the last breeze on his face, slept his last night in his own bed, and took the last steps to a completion of life. He was a faithful man and I know there was more for him beyond his death but he didn’t want to die. Most people don’t. There is always more to do and another life to touch. There are more gorgeous days to see and grass begging to be tread upon. It is time for me to stop looking out the window and take in life.

*d*