A Wounded Academic Walks Into A Church…

Holy-Bible_20110524052238There are not many Bible stories that I am not familiar with.

I grew up going to Sunday school ever Sunday, memorizing verses, memorizing catechism, singing making a joyful noise in the choir, participating in dramatizations and skits, and listening to my parents read the BIG Storybook Bible every night after dinner.

I can recall the well-known stories of Creation all the way to the lesser-known stories like the one about Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. There was a time when I could recite by memory John 3:16-21 “For God so loved the world…”

I listened, memorized, and believed without question because it’s what I was supposed to do. Adults were telling me stories and telling me they were complete, literal truth.

As way leads on to way, I grew up. I moved out of my small, sheltered town, and I met people who were not one of the two religions that I knew: Reformed or Christian Reformed. I was even roommates with a couple Catholics.  I know. Crazy.

Even though I pulled away from going to church, I never lost interest in religion. It fascinates me. Not just Christianity, but all religion. Where it comes from and how it is tied up in tradition, oral and written history, and politics.

When it seemed like God had left us–when Cortney’s dad died, we lost babies, and all the other loss and sickness–I leaned heavily on anything that seemed to “disprove” the stories of the Bible.

In college, I took a History of Christianity class. It was incredibly interesting. I tried to talk to my parents about it. I thought they would find it super interesting since they were so devout. But when I started bringing up the idea that perhaps the authors of the Bible weren’t telling literal stories about global floods and people-swallowing whales, my dad flipped out on me.

My dad wouldn’t discuss; he would only tell me I was wrong and that I wasn’t allowed to talk that way in his house.

I was stunned into silence, and I became less willing to talk about Jesus or church with my family. I became convinced that they would judge anything that didn’t fall into the realm of their literal understanding of the Bible.

(Years later, my dad’s reaction to my brother’s news that his girlfriend was pregnant would reveal just how ingrained it was in my dad’s character to being like Jesus, and my heart would change. But that’s another story).

The more I wrestled with what I knew to be true because of research and study and science, the more it seemed that I didn’t fit into any church. I just couldn’t believe something that was disproved over and over. I could not simply say, “I know actual science says something different, but I believe the earth and everything on it was created in seven 24-hour days as we know it.”

I believe God created science to make this world the beautiful marvel it is, but I don’t think it was exactly the way it was written in the Bible.

Even typing that makes me feel a little sacrilegious. I mean, you’re not supposed to say “I don’t believe what the Bible says,” right?

I don’t think a guy named Jonas got swallowed by a whale.

I don’t think there was a Garden of Eden.

I don’t think there was a flood and a guy named Noah put two of every single animal in the wold on a boat.

I do think these are important stories, and I believe the stories…without believing the stories. Does that make sense?

I believe it’s important to do as we are called to do or else things won’t go right.

I believe the world isn’t perfect because there are shitty things like cancer and hunger and poverty.

I believe that God is saddened by the shitty things we do to each other that cause things like cancer, and hunger and poverty, and that he won’t punish the whole for the bad of a few.

We are currently in the season of Lent where we wait and prepare ourselves for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. I both believe and wonder. I have so many questions.

I know what I am supposed to believe blindly, but like Thomas, I need to see the nail marks on his hands and the sword wound in his side. I believe, but my academic, logical side shouts for something to hold on to–something that tells me this is all true.

And I think that like Thomas, that is Ok.  That questioning for the purpose of wanting to understand and believe is Ok.

*************

As of April 19, I will be an official published author!  You can pre-order the book, Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss, to which I am honored to be a contributing author.

Coming Down the Mountain

This week begins Lent.

I’ve never much recognized Lent before. I know what it is; I know the meanings and many of the traditions and ceremonies behind Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, the Lent season, and all the Easter-related days.

Yesterday we celebrated Shrove Sunday (the Sunday before Lent) in church with a pancake brunch (sort of a prequel to Fat Tuesday) after the service where I read scripture during the service.  The scriptures I read were from Exodus and 2 Peter about Moses’ mountain top experience with God. The sermon was about how Jesus didn’t stay on top of the mountain, but went down among the people–the hurting, sick, and sinful people to bring them love and forgiveness.

It reminded me yet again that the greatest love we can show in this world is to humble ourselves as servants to each other.

I am also reminded of our (as humans) habit of relying on things and substances to help us cope with our lives.

I do this with food. I eat my feelings so that I don’t have to feel them. I rely Diet Coke and junk food. I figure one more cookie won’t do anymore harm. What is one more handful of Cheetos anyway?

It’s a problem.

It’s an embarrassment.

I hate myself for every soda I drink and every “fat” food I eat.

When I was pregnant and each bite or sip was not just going into me, but into one of my sons, I was so much more careful. Because it wasn’t about me.

Now all the crap I put in me is about me.

Lent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Many fast or give up something to prepare for Easter.

Christ gave his life so to relate lots of people give up chocolate. That always seemed dumb to me. Growing up we never practiced giving up something for Lent, and I think the idea was that in no way could we give up anything that could come close to symbolizing or relating to Jesus giving his life.

This year, though, I have been thinking about my addiction to putting junk in my body in order to try to stuff my feelings down and satiate an emptiness that I feel when I start to feel anxious or discouraged.

I have been thinking about how this body of mine was given to me to put love in the world and how I have grown two people in it. Why am I not taking better care of it?

So this year for Lent, I am giving up Diet Coke.

It sounds just as lame as giving up chocolate, but it’s a really big step for me. I hope to not just give it up until Easter, but forever. I hope that it will help me to remember to put nourishing nutritious food in my body rather than garbage that hikes up my BMI, my cholesterol, and my shame.

Because it’s hard go down the mountain to spread love and healing in a broken world when your own insides are hurt and broken.

Church on Sunday

Last Sunday I did not want to get out of bed.  We had stayed up WAY too late with friends the night before (getting home well after 1am), I was pretty overwhelmed with my To Do list, and really I just wanted some rest.

But I had a commitment.

Back in December I enthusiastically agreed to teach the second/third grade Sunday School class at our church.

This sounds run of the mill, but it’s actually a pretty big deal for me. It means I am committing myself to this church thing that I have avoided for so long.

My history with church and religion and faith are probably not so different than many people. I’ve brought it up here before how I was raised in a fairly strict household. Not negatively strict, but my parents definitely made their rules based on the Christian upbringings they had as well as how they felt guided by their faith. It was a loving home, and Church and God were a big part.

I started sort of questioning it all in high school, and definitely went through some heavy doubts through college. My doubts and distress over they religion I was raised in was most pronounced in the months and years after getting married. My faith was tested–and ultimately failed me–through a series of losses and personal tragedy.

Outside our Church almost nine years ago.

Outside our Church almost nine years ago.

After Charlie was born I felt a pull that I tried to ignore.

Going to church was a hassle I really didn’t want a part of. I felt like maybe I wanted some sort of guidance, so I started doing a daily devotion with hundreds of other women online.

Eddie's baptism in our church

Eddie’s baptism in our church

But it wasn’t enough. It was beautiful and I’m glad I did it, but something was still missing.

When school started up again, we made it a point to try to get to church each Sunday so Eddie could go to Sunday School, which he loved. Even when Cort and I didn’t go to church, we would still bring Eddie to Sunday School and then pick him up an hour later.

Even though in that moment of cuddly warmth in my bed when Cort would put his mouth near my ear and whisper, “church?” and I would say, “no,” I immediately felt remorse.

Charlie's baptism in our church

Charlie’s baptism in our church

It wasn’t really guilt so much as it was regret for my choice.

Something about church filled me each Sunday morning.

After a particularly long stretch of not going because of illness and a crazy fall, we learned that our church had found a new pastor. He was young (not much older than Cortney and myself) and I recognized his last name. After heading to church to check out the new pastor, I realized why his name was familiar; I had taught with his wife years ago in my current district, and she and I had attended a couple of the same grad classes while I was pursuing my Masters and she her PhD.

We immediately reconnected.

A week later our director of family ministries asked if I would like to be part of the Children In Worship program for the younger students. I agreed without thinking about it.  Then I worried about it for weeks.

Did I make the right choice? This would mean coming to church every Sunday. All of them. No more slacking; I had a commitment and an obligation. I had a job to do.

Did I even know what I was doing? Sure I know even the most obscure Bible stories from my years and years of Sunday School, Catechism, and Youth Group. I knew all the books of the Bible and I knew much of the historical aspects thanks to some Christianity classes I took in college and the way I devour each and every documentary on cable and PBS that has to do with religion.

But Children in Worship is based on the Church calendar, which I was not very familiar with. What if I made myself look dumb asking about Transfiguration Sunday and Epiphany?

Oh and I would have to show up every week.

Eddie singing in church for Christmas just over a year ago.

Eddie singing in church for Christmas just over a year ago.

I began thinking of ways to back out. Maybe I rushed into this. Maybe our family should just show up on our own terms for a while.

Then I found out that the Pastor’s Wife (not sure she wants to be named here, so this is how I’ll refer to her) and I were going to be co-teaching the 2nd and 3rd grade level–about four kids each week. I couldn’t let her down.

Something has happened to me over these past six or seven weeks.

I find myself looking forward to church and to the sermon. I can’t wait to chat with The Pastor’s Wife and to get the warm handshakes and hugs from the other members of the congregation. I feel awake on Sunday mornings before church, but even more so after. I get excited to see my “students” and hear their thoughts about that week’s story; second and third graders have a wonderfully free way of making connections without worry if they are “wrong”. I wish my twelfth graders did that.

Eddie and I have also started a new little Eddie/Mommy thing. Since we stay for Sunday School and Cortney and Charlie do not, Eddie and I have started driving separately so they don’t have to come back to get us. Last week we decided since we stayed longer, we got to go to Starbucks for a coffee (me) and a cake pop (him). We do a lot of chatting on that drive. It’s good. Really good.

I have never believed in coincidences no matter what my doubts. Coincidences just…they just aren’t a thing.

Being pulled back to church, finding an old friend, being able to “teach”, and spending time with Eddie has all just fallen into place. It’s like pieces of a puzzle…and puzzles don’t work because of coincidence. They work because they are created to work.

I still have so SO many questions and I am still so very young in this new faith, but I am glad I went with my heart on this. I feel like there is healing and comfort in this new journey. I don’t know if there will be hard answers, but I sort of don’t care. I’m learning that sometimes a feeling is an answer…even when there are no words to go with that answer.

I am glad that each week Cortney and Charlie and Eddie go on this new journey with me. I answer a lot of questions with “I don’t know” and I think that is Ok.

We are all in this together.

I don’t want to

A couple weeks ago I came to this space to write out my anger toward God.

Even though I closed comments on that post, many of you (many) reached out to me to tell me that either you could relate, to tell me your story, or to give me encouragement and prayers.

I want to thank you.

I have been wrestling with God since that post.

Today (Sunday) I sat in church for the first time since spring {we may take the summer off…I know, I KNOW} and guess what the sermon was about?  Yup. Bad stuff happening in the world.

I wish I could tell you that after two weeks of having my prayers sound like arguments, I could tell you that today’s sermon gave me the Ah Ha moment I so badly wanted and lifted my spirit.  But instead, I sat there feeling the old anger burn inside of me.  The tears were hot in my eyes and my heart beat hard against my chest.  For a second, I actually got tunnel vision staring at the visiting pastor that ended in a fight or flight response.

I so badly wanted to run out of that sanctuary, away from the pew I shared with Cortney, and out into the chilly fall air. I wanted to sit in the parking lot and cry.

This wouldn’t have been the first time I ran from this message.

Around Christmas of 2007, Cort and I were at a holiday family retreat with the entire side of his family. I was not yet pregnant with Eddie, but I had had one miscarriage and would have a second that spring.

Over 80 of us all in one building for a cozy weekend. It was glorious.

Cortney has two cousins who are preachers.  They take turns each year preaching the Saturday night “service” to all of us in the Great Room of the Lodge that we rent.  It is cozy and lovely.

That year, the more conservative of the two preacher-cousins gave us our message. Since we were gathering closer to New Year’s than Christmas that year, he chose to center his message on the idea of starting over.  A large part of his message was about how the pain in our lives is caused by sin.

I couldn’t take it.  The miscarriage was too fresh and I lost my mind. I ran from the room, crumpled on the bathroom floor of our room, and sobbed. I refused to believe that I miscarried because I somehow wasn’t good enough.  That Cort or I sinned and God was punishing us with a miscarriage. I seemed so…wrong. And not the loving God I had known my whole life.

When Cortney came to comfort me, he said everyone assumed I was crying because of the absence of his dad.  And then I started crying harder. Did we lose Steve because we sinned?  Did Steve have to get cancer because of something he didn’t do “correctly”?  That went against everything I believe in my heart.

I was so angry, and instead of going and talking to anyone about it, I just ran away.

But today in church I didn’t run. Instead, I fumbled clumsily through my purse hoping I had a pen. I did.  And I began to scribble furiously over my bulletin, wishing I had my Bible with me since I figure writing all over the pew Bible and then stealing it is frowned upon.

Over and over the pastor said, “Pain comes from sin,” but he never said whose sin.

I have always known that the shitty things in this world are because there is sin in the world.  This world we have? Is not what God originally intended. He gave us free will and with that came the invention of Bad Choices. Sin is a CHOICE, says the pastor man.

The problem is someone else’s Bad Choices end up affecting other people…generations of millions of people.

Because of Bad Choices there are things like cancer and infertility and diabetes and AIDS.  We have birth defects and brain defects and social defects.  We have hunger and rape and genocide and chemical weapons.

The whole message today was based on Jeremiah. A quick recap for those who are not familiar with my man Jeremiah. He got a crap job.  Even our preacher said no one wants a “Jeremiah Assignment”. It means you have a really, REALLY difficult time ahead of you.  You have to “destroy” and “tear down” in order to make new…in order to bring people to God.

So Jeremiah didn’t want this assignment because who would, honestly?  Being sent into a people who are going to hate your guts and you will have to bring down destruction on them in order to save the rest?  Total short straw, yo.

But God tells him this right before he sends him off to the Worst Assignment Ever: “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:19)

Jeremiah is sent to a bunch of sinners. To a bunch of Bad Choice Makers.

But here is the thing I want to know…did I lose two pregnancies because of my sins or because of those sins that happened way back in Jeremiah’s day?

God had a Purpose. Send Jeremiah to spread his word, destroy the bad, make new again.  So lots and lots of people suffered for the Good of the Whole.

But what about those of us who are already “with God”?  If pain comes from sin, and God has a purpose in pain…

I’m just going to say it here because I’ve said it straight to God: “WHAT THE HELL?”

I’m going to go all selfish here (and maybe that’s my sin?) there are plenty of people who are sinners who don’t care that they are sinners and they have no intention of following love or anything and they have kids that they beat and kill and rape.  Are my friends and family and I suffering for their sins too? Is that it? Do we lose people or get sick or suffer because of the sins of others?

Am I supposed to be an example of what Godly Suffering looks like? Because like Jeremiah and Job and  Moses and anyone else God has ever asked, “I DON’T  WANT TO.”

Also? It’s not fair.

I am not comparing myself to those prophets and disciples. I’m not. In fact, I am way WAY less than they are. Because right now? If you gave me the choice between saving myself from hell and giving a friend her baby back? Or bring my husband his dad back? I would give them those people and go right to hell for it.

So yea, God and I, we have been talking.  I’ve repeatedly begged him to show me something that made sense.

I still thank him for all the many MANY blessings in my life because…well, my life is a charmed one.  But he and I, we sit at the table over coffee and we have deep, hard discussions. I ask him big questions. I grill him on things my soul hurts over.

And I am still too chicken to let you comment here. So there’s that.

”Blogging

i can’t…

I am mad at God.

There. I said it.

I’ve felt it before in my life, but I have never said it out loud.

I am mad and confused and angry and tired.

This feeling has been hanging on since August 14, the “anniversary” of Cortney’s dad’s death.

I can’t shake the anger.

And now…more screwed up stuff.

More senseless loss.

I can’t shake this huge weight of anger from my heart and mind.

Why? What is the point?

What is the point of carrying a pregnancy full term for the first time only to lose a baby over some rare heart condition?

What is the point of being an amazing man who touched so many lives just to get sick and die before you ever meet a grandchild?

Why? WHAT IS THE DAMN POINT?

Why meet the perfect person for you just to have that person tragically killed?

I don’t want the scripture or the “there is a plan” or whatever “good comes out of all things”.

I just don’t know if I believe that anymore.  The part about good coming out of all situations.  I just don’t know that that is true anymore.

Actually I do know. It’s not. It’s not true.

This is where you will want to tell me that it is not for me to question God’s plans. Or to know all that is going to happen. Or maybe you want to tell me that this Big Good will happen away from my life or beyond my life or out of my knowledge. You want to tell me to quit questioning God.

I call bullshit on that.

I can’t help but question all things. It’s who I am.

My husband’s family watched their dad, husband, SON, brother, cousin disappear into a pile of tumors and then death. There is no Big Good big enough to make that “worth it” or Ok.

Three babies dying to a faithful, loving, family has zero good in it. You can’t tell that mother that losing THREE SONS meant that some Big Good could take place. I cannot think of a single thing that would be worth that.

You try to tell that widow that her life (or anyone’s life) is now BETTER because her husband is dead.  Try saying that out loud.

Something is better because someone you loved DIED.

That something better be the cure for cancer or evil or world hunger because I can’t think of any other way anything could be better.

God is in control of ALL things.

ALL things.

Even bad things?  He controls that?  Then why are people saying “that wasn’t God, that was the Devil”.

GOD CONTROLS ALL THINGS, THOUGH.  EVEN THE DEVIL.

So it comes back to it was “in the plan” or it means something “better can happen.”

I don’t believe that.  I don’t believe good comes out of all bad.

I don’t think any good at all comes from babies born into poverty with AIDS to then suffer and die.  No good comes from that.

I don’t think any good comes from being born into a war-torn country as a completely innocent citizen just to die from a drone raid. No good.

I haven’t given up on God and my faith.

I know it sounds like that.

I still unwaveringly believe there is a God. I believe that Jesus was love and taught love and that love is the answer.

What I don’t agree with is that Love and Good conquer all the bad all the time.

That is like telling everyone who ever lost someone they were praying for that they didn’t LOVE hard enough.

I don’t have any answers today. I don’t have any absolutes that I believe right now.

I am angry.

I am angry at God.

I hope he and I can work this out because I don’t want to hold a grudge, but man I don’t get it. I don’t.

And right now I just can’t make peace with “Katie, you’re not supposed to get it.”

That isn’t enough for me.

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