Saturday, January 31, 2009

A "first" for me!

Several weeks ago, Bob asked me to submit an article to our local newspaper. For mysterious reasons unknown to me, I have a hard time telling Bob "no." Perhaps because he is one of the coolest "thinkers" that I know. I have a deep respect and admiration of him. He is also great writer and therefore I'm ridiculously intimidated. Anyway, I said yes to the task of writing an article about my faith. The essay appears in today's issue. I've been a bit nervous about it, but I also feel very excited. And, though this is difficult to say, I'm quite proud. I had to share it with you!

"Redefining faith after religious upbringing"

I grew up in church. Grew up as in, every time the doors were open I was there. That kind of grew up. I knew all the stories and I knew what they meant. I memorized dozens and dozens of Bible verses, attended every morning and evening service, and I knew all the answers for every Sunday School question.

This was the church of my mother and her parents. I’m deeply grateful for my Southern Baptist heritage. It provided me a beautiful foundation that my life sits firmly upon today. There were precious men and women who loved, taught, nurtured and guided me for 18 years. My time in this faith tradition gave me a faith that was very strong, as well as neat and tidy.

Christianity was simple with clear cut answers. I believed that God didn’t necessarily live at the church, but I could certainly find God there. Within a few short of years of living outside this incubator, I began to learn that my God did exist in a box. By the time I graduated from college, God had begun a slow and steady dismantling of everything I thought I believed. I’ve come to call it the “authenticating of my faith.”

My belief in God, and what it meant to be a Christian was slowly distancing itself from the faith of my church and my grandparents. My faith was becoming my own. Tough experiences in life, such as a divorce 3 years after my fairy tale wedding, began to complicate the simple faith I had always known. Unsuspecting men and women found their way into my path offering me different perspectives of God and faith.

Their God seemed bigger than mine. They spoke of God with much less rigidity and certainty, and I found this deeply intriguing. As a result, for the last 10 or 12 years I have been asking questions about what I believe and why. That can be a scary place; for who knows what could be on the other side of questioning who God is? At times this questioning, even doubting, has brought an unsettling feeling to present circumstances that needed absolutes. And yet, this path has brought the greatest joy and fulfillment I have known in all my life of being a believer.

I don’t memorize Bible verses like I used to, but I love to read and study the stories of men and women from the Bible. I’ve begun to read those stories, in part, within historical and cultural contexts. This is not only fascinating, but makes those ancient stories so much richer. Even more, I love discovering the life of Jesus and all that He taught.

Today my life as a follower of Jesus is about striving to take His teachings and live them out in my own life. This is not easy task at times. It’s not about going to church, believing the right doctrine, praying the right prayers, or even asking Jesus to be my ‘personal Savior.” It’s about love.

I’ve come to believe that all of Jesus’ teachings are all about love…loving others and ourselves. For me, God is found in community with others, whether they believe in God or not. Perhaps that community is in my church, or it could be with the neighbors on my street. I experience God in still moments with a cup of coffee and a Hill Country sunrise. And I’ve even experienced God in dark and hard times.

The writer of a song in the Bible says that God has known me since I was in my mother’s womb, and that there is nowhere that I can escape the presence of God. My soul feels this and it is both frightening and joyful.

I’ve discovered I don’t really know all the stories after all, they tend to ebb and flow with meaning giving me what I need for the moment. I certainly don’t know all the answers. God is a mystery and my life as a follower of Jesus is journey with constant change. My hope is that my searchings are always transforming my heart and mind, and I show it by how I love and serve the world. This is my joy, my calling and my salvation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!

I’ve missed writing the last few weeks. December seems to always be so busy. And yet, this year was not as busy as in years past. I really felt no stress about shopping, planning, traveling, etc. We purchased very few gifts this year (a self-imposed spending freeze!). Instead, at least with my family, we tried to just focus on being together. It was wonderful.

As I often do at the end of the year, I’ve been reflecting on this past, and also looking ahead. I was delighted to end 2008 with a quiet and serene beginning to 2009. My husband and I had planned to go to a party, but then he decided that he would just rather stay home. This self-proclaimed night-owl went to bed at 11:30! TJ was gone, so at midnight I was all by myself watching the ball drop in New York City. And I was perfectly content! Shortly after midnight, I said goodnight to Dick Clark and turned off the TV. For the next hour I sat writing in my journal by the light of my Christmas tree, drinking hot chocolate and listening to my favorite Mannheim Steamroller song “Stille Nacht”. This is actually one of my favorite things to do at Christmas. So I thought it was an especially cool way to ring in the new year. I began to write of this lovely moment as well as my aspirations for the new year. Not so much resolutions or goals, but intentions. I wrote about things that bring me joy and my intention to live joyfully. I also wrote of my many, many blessings and how grateful I am. It was a beautiful time for me doing something I love while saying thank you to the past and hello to the future.

This last week has brought to me an interesting message. Three different times, from three different people I’ve had this idea of “birthing” brought to me. The idea of (or my interpretation) “what is it that God is birthing in me?” What is happening in my life right now that is actually the process of birthing something new? I’m not a mother yet; I hope to be one day. And perhaps this question relates to the physical, but I think it’s more spiritual. For birth to occur there is preparation, waiting, expectation, pain and joy. All of those things are present in my life today. I have some thoughts about this idea, but no answers. Perhaps asking the questions is a part of the process. Right now I’m intrigued by this idea and think it’s a wonderful way to start a new year.