Conversations with David, mostly on faith 8

Aug 23 7:08 AM

Me to David:

It is weird how God communicates with us. When I look back on my life, I think he was there all along but I didn’t realize it. And it is different when you chose to surrender to him, chose to engage with him, try to listen and perceive. Before, it was like hearing about a distant relative. Now you have decided to engage in knowing that relative instead of just knowing about him.

Just yesterday Sam and I were driving out to Skye Meadows to meet a friend and hike, and I was complaining about a situation I am in, where I want someone to move faster on a issue. I was talking to Sam, trying to process, and also talking out loud to God, asking for wisdom. And then the car in front of me started to turn left, then hesitated and stopped. I had to brake suddenly to avoid hitting him, but he had stopped for a good reason because a car went speeding by in the opposite direction, and then the car in front of me completed his left turn. In that little action, a light went on in my head and I realized God was speaking to me.  I saw that just like the driver, my coworker had a reason to hesitate and that I was going too fast on this issue, that I needed to brake or I was going to cause a pile up–in life, not on the road.

So listening to God takes many forms and we get better and better at recognizing his words, just like you realized that maybe the firefly was a messenger and the voice that said you can put this book away and forget about God was definetely a message, but not from God!

So daily you chose and your choices have more power than you know.

Here is a bit from a book I am writing that may help you:

SMALL BEGINNINGS

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.

– Joel 2:25 (NIV)

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

– Joshua speaking to the Hebrew people in the wilderness, Joshua 24:14-15

I believe that life is a journey, our destinations determined by the paths we choose at the crossroads. At the tender age of ten I lurched down an unfamilair fork in the road when I agreed to go to Sunday school with my friend Vicki. Her Sunday school was having a contest, March to Sunday School in March and my throat tightened at the thought of saying no, so I went. She got points for bringing someone new—though I was not much of a “catch”–and I entered a strange new world, one I could not have previously imagined. Looking back I am amazed that I consented, since I was so painfully shy that I did not like leaving home. My mother had enticed me from my lair with tap dancing lessons when I was six, until I realized that she intended to drop me off and leave. And all of us Moll children took swimming lessons as a safety precaution—our neighborhood was speckled with private pools—but I was the only one of my siblings who remained in beginners until I towered head and shoulders above the other students.  I never did pass the class. I think I was too boney to float, or perhaps I did float–six inches below the surface, too low to breath without gills.

Vicki’s older sister had invited my big sister, Laurie, to church as well, and so, looking back, perhaps I did not decide after all. It is far more likely that Laurie, popular, bold and a bit bossy, simply announced we were going that first Sunday and I fell in line.

Sunday school met inside an old garage that had been converted into a classroom. I sat on a cold metal folding chair, watching the thin, gray-haired lady warbling up front. There was carpet at my feet, but behind the lady, thin slices of sunlight highlighted the garage door that filled the wall at her back. The lady looked perfectly ordinary, but she used familiar words like saved in odd ways. Saved? I wondered, as my stomach gave a twist. She made it sound so grand and all encompassing. My mother saved green stamps, which I begged to paste into little books, but this lady clearly meant something more dramatic. My little sister had once been saved from drowning by a neighborhood mom after her disabled son had pushed my sister into their pool. That moment had drama to spare, but that definition didn’t fit either. I squirmed. Now she was describing God as if he dropped by for coffee each morning. Could anyone be chums with the Almighty?

I had not thought much about God and if I had, I would have pictured him as kindly, and a bit absent-minded, clearly too distant to be concerned with the small stuff that made up my life. In my mind, he only paid attention to people who were either angelic or thoroughly rotten. Those in between, like me, were not worthy of his scrutiny. The thought that he saw me, knew my name, and could pick me out of a line-up of “the people of the world” was both comforting and scary. Was he watching out for me, or was he watching me? Was he on my side or was he probing me for weak spots?

“Will you come back next week?” the teacher asked at the end of the lesson, as two girls in my class turned to smile in my direction. Were they serious? Didn’t they know that I was such a crybaby that my own family didn’t want me around?

I searched their faces for a trace of irony, but they seemed sincere. The sense of belonging drew me. My sister assumed that we would be returning, so week after week I trailed behind her like a fuzzy duckling waddling after a stately swan she had mistaken for her mother. In a few short months, we had become more faithful attendees than the two sisters who had originally invited us.

I don’t think I absorbed much theology that first day or in the days and weeks to come. Stepping into the old garage was like stepping into an alien world. The buildings and people looked ordinary, but everyone spoke Christianese and acted so strangely that fitting in was a daunting task that kept my stomach wound tight. I wanted so much to find a place where I could belong; could this be it?

My mother had taken me to Sunday school a few times before, but it was nothing like this! The only thing I remembered learning in my old Sunday school was that the people in Bible times lived in houses with flat roofs. I have always found heights exhilarating, perhaps because each night I dreamt about flying in my nightmares. I would be running from monsters then remember I would fly and lift off! While I should have been listening to the lesson in my old Sunday school, I would gaze instead at the model of a Holy Land home and picture standing on the roof of a house like that, sun on my back, cool breeze on my face, and smile. But such daydreams did not change my life. The things I learned in my new Sunday school changed my life and the life of my family for eternity.

I was too shy to ask questions in the new Sunday school, and continued to feel strangely disoriented for weeks or maybe even months. Was I the only one who didn’t get it? I would peer around the room, hoping to spy another soul who looked doubtful, but the rest of the class looked bored, as if this kind of stuff happened every day. Wave your staff, and God parts the Red Sea. Sends frogs to plague your enemies. Tumbles walls—if you are willing to march around the city seven times tooting on horns while people mocked you. This was normal? Asking someone to explain would have revealed my ignorance, so I sat quietly and pretended that I, too, had heard it all before.

One thing got my attention. According to my Sunday school teacher you could make deals with God: Give him your life and he will take up residence, inside you. Permanent companionship. I hated being alone, so this had great appeal if only my potential “companion” were not so intimidating.

One Sunday, about a year after our first visit, my sister was not in the parking lot at the end of Sunday school. It was not like her to keep us waiting. She was the dutiful daughter, the good girl. By then my mom and my younger brother and sister were coming with us to church. We waited, squeezed into our white Renault with the round fenders, wondering what had happened to Laurie when finally she climbed into the front seat, crying.

I sat bolt upright in the back seat and craned my neck. I was the family crier, and I had never seen my brave, bold sister cry. I peppered her with questions. She said she had “accepted Jesus as her savior.”

“What do you mean ‘accepted Jesus’?” I demanded. “And what’s a ‘savior’? And if this is something you wanted to do, why are you crying?” She tried to explain, and I tried to listen, but to my ten-year-old brain, she might as well have lapsed into Swahili.

I was completely dependant on Laurie for emotional sustenance, so her leap of faith rocked my world. She was my substitute mother, my comfort when my own mother was too overwhelmed to nurture me. I am convinced that I would not have made it through second grade without her. At least once a week, I stepped outside the classroom for recess and froze as a sense of abandonment washed over me. I would stand, tears trickling down my cheeks, just inches from the door, until some compassionate soul found my sister and brought her to me. As long as I was with Laurie, I was okay.

Now, no matter how many questions I asked, I could not grasp what she had done. My heart constricted at the thought of something unknown between us, but to my delight I found her to be even more loving and attentive than before. Soon I grew accustomed to the strange use of familiar words and some of it started to make sense.

I was a sinner. That was a no-brainer for a chronically guilt-ridden soul like me. Once while trying to walk my bike out of the garage, I had scratched my father’s car and spent the entire afternoon paralyzed, searching for ways to undo what was done. Visions of what I should have done—wheel the bike past the car more carefully—were accompanied by killer self-talk: You idiot! How can you be so stupid? You never do anything right! Then a calmer voice chimed in, urging me to go inside and confess. Immediately my mind pictured the whole incident again, except this time I did not scratch the car, as if my imagination could rewind life. I stood transfixed for several hours before I found the courage to go inside and fess up. Thankfully, Dad was in a good mood that day and I remember skipping with delight when he unexpectedly forgave me.

I was no stranger to guilt. I agonized over every childish blunder, and wondered why people like my older sister sailed through life without effort, while I remained stuck, a sailboat in irons, waiting for the winds of approval to fill my sagging sails.

I was terrified of my father, a tall thin man with alarming mood swings. He could be the kindest person, gently holding me on his lap, and then, quite suddenly his anger would raise the roof. By the time I was ten, I avoided him as much as possible. My siblings and I would hear his heavy wingtips coming up the walk at 6 PM, and would dive over each other in our rush to empty the front room—a family of mice fleeing the ravenous cat.

Dad would come in the door and berate us for not having initiative. No doubt he felt overwhelmed by demands of a family of seven and felt that we should have noticed the shaggy grass, the bike-strewn walk, or the sprouting weeds. We were blind to household responsibilities beyond our assigned chores–and clueless, about the meaning of the word initiative—but we knew better than to ask him to explain.

When it came to Dad, it was best to be invisible. One of our family rules was that you had to be easy-going to be accepted. Nothing was ever said out loud, but we knew. Knowing, however, did not make doing possible, so even though I knew, I was helpless to rein in my emotions. I was a whirling dervish of feelings, most of them bad, which often spilled out in the form of tears. My father would bellow at me to “Dry up!”—then sarcastically mock me for crying, but this only made the tears flow faster.

The only safety was in hiding, either in the top of the tall tree out back or in my bedroom, within the amazing structure my dad had created so three girls could squeeze into one modest-sized room. All three beds were pushed sideways against a single wall. On the left, two of the beds were stacked like a standard set of bunk beds; to the right, a third bed extended out, its foot tucked between the other two, so that the foot of all three beds overlapped, zigzag fashion, by several feet. I had the middle bed, and quickly learned, even in my sleep, to roll over slowly lest I whack my ankles on the footboard of the bed above mine. My father could not see the lowest bunk from the doorway, so even though this bunk belonged to my little sister, I often hid there, devouring books, losing myself in other people’s lives so I wouldn’t have to think about mine.

According to my new church, Jesus forgave sinners like me. He had taken the punishment I deserved because he loved me. He wanted to be my new best friend and listen to secrets I couldn’t even tell my sister. One Sunday, a few months after Laurie, I gave my life to Jesus too. I had no idea what I had done.

It still amazes me that God takes our weak, faithless prayers so seriously. After all, they are just words. We say, Jesus, I am sorry for the wrongs I have done and I want to give you my life, and he springs into action, transforming our lives in mysterious ways. We fail to understand the implication of entering into a pact with the creator of the universe. We do not grasp that nothing will ever be the same. We want a better life: a bit more peace, a bit more faith, a bit more freedom from fear; but once we open he door, he takes over. I thought he was going to come into my heart’s home and tidy up–and the next thing I knew, he was knocking down walls. I wanted a makeover; he wanted to make me new.

What happens when a kid like me, one who stands alone, one who has spent most of her life hiding and clinging, gives her life to Christ? He began to make me whole. It was a mammoth job, but God was committed, far more committed than I.

I was blind to the depths of my need, and I had no idea just how excruciating it was going to be to let him change me. Painful and freeing. Throbbing and exquisite. When I gave my life to Jesus at age 11, my goal was simple: survival. For me, that meant making it through the day without triggering my father’s rage or dissolving into tears, the ultimate humiliation for a fifth grader.

I had mouthed the sinner’s prayer at the urging of people I admired because I wanted to please them, to be accepted. Included. Part of the group. My little prayer caused so much jubilation among my friends that I vowed to do my best to be a good Christian.

At that Baptist church in the suburbs of L.A. I heard the stories of the Jews and Jesus and a God who loved even me. I learned rousing choruses and memorized hundreds of Bible verses, reciting them in front of my Sunday school class with such paralyzing fear that I can still recall most of them today.

It was the first place I experienced a tantalizing whiff of belonging, the first place I learned that prayer was just talking to God–and saw many of those prayers answered. But there were parts that didn’t fit, like the not-quite-right pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that only fit if you force them—only to throw the whole puzzle off. Everyone else seemed to be swimming in the expected direction, and though I tried, I always found myself swimming cross-stream. Why couldn’t I get with the program? Something was missing, or twisted. Was it me? We were told that God loved us in spite of our sins. But I didn’t feel loved. I felt judged. And the harder I strained to reach the mark, the more I muffed it up.

*****

Are you hiding from God?

Oh Lord, have mercy on me and help me understand how all of this is supposed to come together. Your holiness! My failure! I keep striving to perfect myself so I will be worthy of your love, but I fail miserably. Why do I keep trying to earn something you lavished on me before I even knew your name? I don’t think this is how it is supposed to be. Show me how to be real with you and with myself so I can feel your love and acceptance down to the marrow.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: