Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Faith Journey

Faith journey.  What is that? an expedition; excursion; tour; trip; odyssey... so many synonyms for that word. For every synonym, there are thousands of stories to tell.  Most everyone has one, and the tales, and their outcomes vary greatly, but each is unique and personal to the individual on the road.  This is a portion of  mine:

I was raised in the church, baptized at age 7 (as an aside, it was of my own free will, no one pushed me. As a matter of fact the pastor and my parents thought I was too young, so they questioned me about it for a long time before they agreed). As I got older, my faith never wavered, until I was a teen.  I had a small blip of time where I questioned.  I happened to read a series of books around that time, testimonies really, written by former drug addicts, who told stories of the hold drugs had on their lives.  Their various encounters with God had brought them to a new life.  Reading their stories, among others, stopped my doubts.

Then, came my early 20s.  As a lot of people do at that age, I sort of put my faith on hold. Put it in a box on a shelf, more or less. I had to put God out of my mind, because I wanted to drink, and smoke and have random sex, just like everyone else was doing at the time.  We are talking mid-80s here, people.  Crazy times.

It's not that I felt - Oh, all that stuff is "against the rules" that led me to block God out of my mind.  It was primarily because my lifestyle went against my own personal value system; my own convictions. Which, yes, had a basis in my Christian faith.  However, my convictions were not out of a sense of- the Bible is The Big Book of Rules. They were principles I had chosen personally, for various reasons.

I continued to have what I thought was fun throughout the next few ensuing years, all the while having the worst years of depression of my life; not to mention my anorexia; severe self esteem issues; being used by various people; stolen from, mugged... the list goes on. I WAS HAVING FUN, DANG-IT.

Once in a while, a pang of conscience would hit me-- that I was not on the right path, but I would firmly tell those thoughts to go the heck away. A couple of things happened medically that should have been wake-up calls as well, but I ignored those. Denial. I was in deep.

For whatever reason, I was able to drink an extraordinary amount of alcohol, despite my 100 lb frame, and the fact that I never ate anything before going out, because, you know, I had to save my calories for the drinking [fun]. One particular night, however, I drank a large amount of tequila and got extremely drunk. So much so that, even *I* knew I couldn't drive; I gave the keys to friend and he drove.

The group I was with that night, all wanted to stop at Big Boy to eat, so we did. We got inside, and I recall excusing myself to go to the bathroom. I went inside the stall, and don't remember much after that, besides bits and pieces of my friends (male and female) coming into the bathroom to bodily haul me out.

I found out later that another customer had seen me passed out on the bathroom-stall floor, had told the manager, and the manager called the police. My friends got me out of there just in time, or I would surely have been arrested for public intoxication.

After that incident, I never felt the same about partying again. I didn't have a  down on my knees encounter, pleading - God, if you're real, then show yourself and help me to clean up. I already knew he was real. I'd never stopped believe that.  I had more of a gradual reawakening.

The Big Boy incident was the catalyst, for me taking a long, hard look at what I was doing to myself. Through that reflection process, I saw all the times that I could have either been arrested, or dead. Many people were arrested or dead for the same sorts of things I had done, just watch Looking for Mr Goodbar, for one frightening example. I drove many times when I no business doing so. I'm sure I was well and truly, legally drunk, but I always handled it (deluded myself into thinking at the time). Thankfully, without, killing myself, or worse yet, someone else; or getting caught.

I never did drugs; I was too scared. I was gainfully employed.  I went to work every day, and supported myself financially, so I never saw an issue. After that fateful On-the-Bathroom-Floor-at-Big-Boy experience, though, my mind began to change.  I began to see that it wasn't just dumb luck that had saved my life, but rather, the grace of the God who never stayed in that box I put him in on that shelf.  He kept getting out, and he walked along-side me. I didn't, and still don't, know why he chose to save me, and not others in similar situations; but save me he did. The guilt and feelings of unworthiness just about ate me alive for a long while.

Fear and apprehension set it, and cast a pall upon my life. I feared I had possibly contracted AIDS, or any number of other diseases. And oh, my, the guilt-- all the personal convictions I had broken over the years. It was hard for me to face up to.

I'd always wanted to get married and have kids.  It had been my strongest desire and dream as far back as I could remember. I was  terrified that precious dream would be withheld from me for my disobedience (some of my leftover childhood upbringing of guilt and shame popped up). Surely I wasn't worthy of mercy.  Had I caused an irreparable separation between myself and God?

I got out my Bible and read. I found comfort in many of the Psalms, especially Psalm 16, which says, in part (paraphrasing) - God, my body will rest secure, because you haven't abandoned me to the grave...you have shown me the path of life... Along about the same time, I read Norman Vincent Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking  Reading helped me find a new way of looking at life. Though I never became the total optimist that Dr Peale was, the message he wrote was pivotal.

I didn't begin going to church regularly until after I married (yes, I was blessed with a steady, loyal husband and four uniquely wonderful kids, as I had longed for), but personal Bible study became important; a life-affirming experience. I met Jesus as I never had before, in a very personal way during that time.  His grace, mercy and love poured over me and filled my heart with a desire to emulate him. These discoveries about Jesus fit so firmly with my convictions, about people, and the world at large.  When I read about the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, I saw Jesus-- the way in which he lived and died, never wavering from those attributes.  I had to know more about THIS Jesus.

Even as a kid, I rooted for the underdog, identified with the downtrodden and disenfranchised people in the world. I knew in my heart that if God made humankind in his image, which I believe he did, that indeed, he made [all] mankind equal in his eyes. It seems, we may forever be held to a world-made hierarchy among peoples, but God doesn't see us in that way.  I believe God created beauty and a purpose in all people and nothing demonstrates that more perfectly than the differences among people.  It makes so much sense.  Different doesn't equal bad, it just means we are all unique and well thought out, part of the ultimate plan.

I don't deny, or ignore all the bloodshed, violence, and turmoil of the Old Testament. I know all the stories and I likewise know I will never fully reconcile them in my mind. Though I know the [reasons] for each act, the fact that such things happened at all escapes me.  I accept that God's ways are higher than my ways, and whatever it is that I don't understand is filed under [you can't handle the truth]. Call it naive, or short-sighted if you will, but that's the way I accept it.

To accept the notion, takes faith that can't be explained by logic, and is a sticking point with many skeptics. Pure faith has to come first, then I can reconcile in my being that I don't know all the answers-- because I'M NOT GOD. It is my belief that, if I did know all the answers, then God would be irrelevant.  My faith denies his irrelevance.

If we desire knowledge of every[thing], and stubbornly sit in that spot, demanding answers, then there is nothing anyone can say that will compel us toward a personal encounter faith moment. It doesn't work that way.  As I said, the faith comes first, then the acceptance.  Some skeptics will never understand anyone with a brain believing in something they don't understand fully, and can't see, or prove.  Faith defies logic, that's all I can say.  I'm not charged with convincing anyone with proof or clear-cut answers or formulas--  I just know that for myself, God is real.

Over the past 10-15 years, I've studied, read scripture, and identified with Jesus' love, grace and mercy. I feel the whole of (Christ)ianity revolves around those things.  His life is the moral compass which we cannot go wrong following. Although the whole of the Bible is truth, as I see it.  I believe, the life and words of Jesus are more weighty than other parts of the Bible.

I endeavor, daily, to be Jesus in the world. I don't always succeed, but I believe I am compelled, by my faith, to shine a light on the positives of Christianity; to demonstrate the benefits I receive from my faith.  That is my witness.

There will forever be things I don't understand as I live a life of faith in Christ. For instance, I've had several health issues in my life, and many prayers have gone up to God for complete healing.  Yet complete healing hasn't happened [yet].

Sure, I could rail against God, demanding healing, or at least answers as to why healing is withheld from me, while others experience miraculous healing. If I did that, however, I would conversely have to question every blessing I've ever received.  It just is what it is.  Christianity doesn't guarantee us a life free of pain, or questions.  However, it gives believers hope and comfort to make it through the tough times, and to rejoice in the good.  Not because we are simply biding our time here on earth waiting for heaven for the [good stuff].  We live full lives, in the moment, and also anticipate heaven.

Yes, everyone has a story to tell, and a journey to relay.  Some journeys are more circuitous than others, but like I said in the beginning, each one is unique, personal and individual.  I try not to concern myself with what anyone chair next to me on Sunday mornings is doing with their life.  I have enough to deal with, keeping myself on the right track.  I don't need those distractions.

It is my honest belief, that what God wants from me now is to be the person he created me to be, because there is no doubt in my mind that he has a plan and a purpose for placing me here, at just this time in history, for a reason.  It's my job to be in a relationship with him to find that purpose and play it out-- bringing as much honor to his name as I can while I'm here.

And the journey continues...

What is your faith journey?  Share it here.  I'd love to hear it.