The Road That Leads to Me

A journey of faith: How I found God (for real)

This is something I wrote a few years ago…it is a self-reflection of sorts that re-counts my personal faith journey. This story makes me fairly vulnerable, but I think that true vulnerability is necessary in order to develop true faith. I hope that someone out there in the blogosphere will read my story and be able to relate…

A young woman is raised in a staunch Christian home. Piety nearly drains from her every pore. Years of Sunday school lessons fill her mind with notions of should and should not. Parental pressures coupled with a false sense of need has led her into a life of ministry. Daily she lives out the manifestations of that which has been built up to her as the only source of an abundant life. She is living out her symbolic complex. In earnest she prays to a God she does not know. Instead, she has spent her life developing a relationship with someone else’s God.

The assumptions surrounding the young woman hinge on her outward indicators of faith. However, the discrepancy between what is and what is supposed is great (Percy). The girl has not adopted faith, but rather an educational package­­­­ – the life, beliefs, and Christian environment created for her. The young woman has unconsciously allowed herself to use the eyes of a system, forfeiting her own by never having opened them. Though her life revolves around a religion, she is nothing but a spectator – never taking personal ownership of the mentality she is immersed in.

For quite some time the girl is quite unaware of her self-handicapped condition. Daily she moves her body through the motions entangled within the Christian lifestyle. Dutifully the young woman attends and serves in the church. Each Sunday she is greeted by warm smiles from familiar faces – people delighted to see one of their own “on the right track.” Perceived by many as an upstanding youth, the young woman’s mind no longer can separate truth about her character from the praise of others. As she is believed to be, so she is.

The image the young girl carries has been a lifelong development. Though initially formed from the beliefs of others, the girl adopts the lifestyle and adjoining mentality assumed of her. Reflexive and pharisaical, her actions direct her thinking. Driven by a humanly engineered model of faith, the girl conforms to the expected outcomes for her life. She strives to be that which she has been told to be.

Spiritual awakening, or the experience through which the individual recognizes their direct need for a deeper more personal faith, is the only means towards the end of recovery. Until the mind is able to separate tradition from belief and duty from desire, true connection with God is unachievable. However, many never recover from their self-victimized state of living. Complacency grips the soul. Historical and familial traditions replace the zealous fire God intends for His followers. Reliant on pastors and high-ranking church officials, contemporary church-goers have traded an intimate relationship with God for a relationship much like that between product and consumer. Unlike the pioneers of modern religion, today’s churchgoers accept another’s vision, rather than seeing through the eyes of their own mind.

Longing for quick fixes to life’s hassles, wanting to please family, and desiring to fill social needs, those attending the modern church sit with inverted eyes and empty hearts. Self has replaced God. Men and women pay lip service to their God in a form of misplaced concreteness. Deceived by their own selfishness, they do not recognize the ever-growing chasm between themselves and the Lord.

The young woman observed those around her – the comfortable faces she’d grown up with. Apathy clouded the room. A young man stood up and began to speak. Though the words came from his mouth, they seemed to flow straight from his heart. Vibrantly his eyes danced across the room, establishing the attention of each individual. His smile extended beyond his face. Scarcely unable to control the very pitch of his voice, he shared his story. The young man had discovered Jesus. Raised in an un-churched home, the young man was left to discover truth by his own power. Seeking out multiple religions and schools of thought, the young man told of the way he came to find a connection with the Lord. The young girl’s heart grew warm within her. Hearing many testimonies like that of the young man, the girl knew that a deeper love relationship with God was possible.

Aware that true satisfaction and abundant joy can only be found through a personal connection with God, the young girl began her pursuit. Walls dropped and blinders fell to the floor. Casting tradition aside, she began to question the doctrines surrounding her faith – testing them to see if they were her own. Her eyes were opened to a sight more beautiful than words can describe. No longer was the girl living vicariously through the faith of someone else. Intimacy with God coupled with amazing joy were discovered on the girl’s voyage towards discovery. God is out there. One need only to look.


Lose the Linus
August 12, 2008, 4:27 am
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We have so much to learn from children. Kids will play with anyone. My two year old daughter is a true people person. She lights up whenever she sees another child, and is quick to say hello and invite them to play. SHe doesn’t care what clothes they are wearing, or what sandboxes they run in. She isn’t concerned with their social status at their preschool and doesn’t care if she has played with them numerous times before. She just sees a friend. A person. An opportunity. When do people stop using this mindset, and begin treating certain people and events as just not worth their time?

When did people become security blankets? So many people I know use other people as their security blanket. Like Linus, they won’t go anywhere without that one friend, or that one couple, or someone from that social circle. Other “blankets” just aren’t worth getting to know. It doesn’t matter how great new blankets are…all people see is that its something new…something unknown, and something not worth the time or effort to get to know.

I am so driven crazy by people who ask, “Well, who else is coming?” when you invite them to something, or when they wait to respond to something until they know the guest list. At first, you can take this personally, and say to yourself, “Oh, I guess I’m not good enough of a reason to come,” or , “I don’t want to come over to your house unless someone “good” is coming.” Now, I have taken the stance that those people just need to get over themselves. They are scared, and are cheating themselves. You can’t allow yourself to cling to one or two close friends or couples..Its not healthy and doesn’t allow you to grow. You need a variety of people in your life to challenge you…to support you…to make you a better person. You don’t need your best friend around to have a good time.

Let the friend blanket go.

Where have all the twentysomethings gone?

I think there is an all-consuming black hole that opens up the minute traditional youth group kids graduate from high-school. Occasionally, the black hole delays its swallowing of said kid until midway through their freshman year of college, after college group loses its luster. It isn’t your traditional science book black hole….it is actually far more treacherous. It is the hole of apathy.

I swear that I hear Michael Stipe singing when twenty-something previous church kids walk by. “There’s me in the corner. There’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.” And they do. Once they’re done with the barrage of camps, retreats, and Wednesday night (meat-market/whiffle ball/dancing on your chair to worship songs) church services, they disappear from churches, and do not re-emerge until they reproduce. Apparently God has no place in the lives of single college kids and couples without children.

Why do twentysomethings stop caring about God? There are several excuses commonly given…1)My church doesn’t have a good college group/singles group/young couples group. For me, this excuse doesn’t cut it. My college group was NOT a place where I necessarily fit. It was full of lots of granola type girls, guys who ALWAYS had to have deep theological discussions, and floaters that had extremely small amounts of Bible knowledge. It was very hard to relate, but I went, and I was active. I taught at my college group, and knew that it was important…fellowship is vital to a Christian, especially fellowship with fellow Christians. They understand you in a way non-Christians never will. And, another of my churches didn’t have a young couple’s group, so instead of perpetuating the problem and sitting around whining about it, I started one. You have to make it happen. Don’t use this excuse.

2)I’m so busy. This INFURIATES me. EVERYONE is busy. EVERYONE. We all worked, went to school, and had a social life. And you know what, if you don’t have room for God in your busy life, you have cut out the one thing that actually matters. If you can’t pull your butt out of bed once a week to honor your Savior and meet with other believers, you have your priorities all out of whack. “I’m so tired.” “I really need a day off.” “My Sunday is sort of my day to relax.” Give it a rest….I hope your extra hour of sleep means more to you than a relationship with Jesus.

3) We’re just always out of town. Again, you planned your trips…And, I find it hard to believe that you are gone EVERY single weekend during the summer. There are couples at our church that I literally have not seen since May. I guarantee that they will re-surface the first rainy weekend in September.

I could go on. This is obviously something I feel strongly about. Mostly because it just makes me sad. Of my youth group of 50 or so, only a  dozen or so still attend church on a regular basis. Our new church seems to be plagued with young couples adhering strictly to one of the above excuses for not attending regularly. Even as a pastor’s wife, I will be one of the first to admit that it is not all about church. Its not…Your relationship with Jesus is really the only thing that matters…However, if you are not a part of your church family…if you are not fellowshipping with other believers, experiencing corporate worship, serving in some way…how are you getting fed? How are you developing your walk? I have read my Bible every day for the last eleven years, and if that was all I did, I would one hundred percent stagnate in my relationship with God. My husband and family are Christians..but if they were the only Christians I interacted with…I would never grow, or learn, or get to serve. My faith would not be challenged.

So, I say its time for the twentysomethings to climb out of the black hole of apathy, and face the real reason they aren’t a part of a church body. They don’t care. One of my all time most-convicting verses in the Bible is found in Revelation 2:4-5, “You have forsaken your First Love. Remember the height from which you have fallen.” I want to go up to some people and say, “Don’t you remember the fire you felt?” “Don’t you remember what it is like to be right with Jesus?” “Wasn’t it awesome to have such a solid group of Christian friends to uplift you, support you, and keep you accountable?”

I can’t make my friends and others around me crawl out of their hole. I can’t make them care about God, and I can’t make them fall in love with Jesus again…But I can throw them a rope…I will be there…desperately praying for the black hole to go away.

Throwing away my rock

Shirley MacLaine once said, “Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.” Who are the strangers in your life? Maybe you’ve been like me…Do you duck back inside your house the second your neighbor comes into view? Do you keep an over-watchful eye on your child at the playground to avoid the cliqueish Mommy banter that you secretly really want to be a part of? I do…My favorite move is the “busy shuffle.” Its the one where I need to seriously concentrate on my cup of coffee in the church lobby, or where I am suddenly extremely interested in the weekly bulletin. I’ve grown weary of my quick exits and all too fleeting glances.

I wrote a few weeks ago about “sitting on a rock.” This refers to the waiting we sometimes do when it comes to developing relationships. We become so self-conscious that we cheat ourselves out of friendships by waiting for people to come to us. The thing is, usually, everyone else is sitting on their rocks too. Someone has to get up first…Is it going to be you?

I recently found out that I’m not the only one that has been sitting around waiting for the masses to discover my “wonderfulness.” I think most people struggle with confidence from time to time. They allow their self-doubt to infiltrate any social setting, preventing them from allowing people into their lives.

I decided to get off of my rock of isolation, and make the first move. I am praying daily for God’s guidance, and for the right people to respond to my gestures and invitations. As I said in my previous post, I won’t have a friendship where I’m the only “giver,” but I am willing to be the set things in give people a chance to get to know me. And, I know that with courage in my heart, I can accomplish anything. Okay, that last line was a quote from my daughter’s Madeline movie, but its true. A few people have responded, and I am praying that something will develop. All I know is, fear doesn’t control me anymore. I realize that if someone chooses not to get to know me, or chooses to avoid social settings, it is THEIR issue, and not mine. I can’t take it personally if they like their rock. You can’t make people like you or get over themselves enough to talk…or to come over..But, the invitation stands…I’m open…Oh, and I have a rock for sale…I don’t need it anymore.

A Different Kind of Teacher

This past week I felt my first small twinges of sadness in not getting to set up a classroom this year. As my friends begin to talk about their plans for the year, arranging and decorating their rooms, and getting their new class lists, I can’t help but feel something I can best describe as a full body sigh. I’m a teacher…it’s in my blood, and always will be. I’ve always said that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life…until now.

Yes, I’m a teacher, but more importantly, I’m a mother. We’ve made the choice as a family for me to stay at home with our children until the last one (TBD) is in kindergarten. This gives me a 5-10 year hiatus from my own classroom, and yes, a part of me will be unfulfilled for those years, and a piece of my life will be missing. All that said, as I sit here with my son next to me, and my daughter playing happily a few feet away, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am making the right decision.

Does everyone agree with me? Nope. Its actually amazing how some people’s opinion of you changes almost instantaneously when they hear that you are a stay at home mom. You can see their eyes glaze over and the thought process of, “Oh Lord, please don’t start talking about your children,” going through their head. I could do without those people. Almost always, these people are women without children, or women who have chosen to work (which I’m not saying is wrong.) Recently, I had someone say to me (about another person) “She’s probably so crazy because she’s stuck at home with her kids all day.” I just kept my mouth shut, and wanted to say, “Um, did you forget who you were talking to?!” Not everyone will understand. Not everyone will give you the, “good for you,” or the “that’s really the best thing.” (Although those people are awesome!) The bottom line is…it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. You have to do what is right for YOU and YOUR KIDS.

Will I miss teaching? You bet. Do I love planning lesson, designing thematic units, and developing relationships with my students? Absolutely. But…do I love my time with my kids MORE? No doubt about it. Whenever I start to feel slightly jealous of my teacher friends, I look at my children. Hannah, now 28 months, has grown so fast…and has changed so much in just a matter of months. I can’t believe she was ever as little as my young son Henry (3 1/2 months). I can’t imagine missing their childhood, and wouldn’t want to. I need to be here. The classroom is a wonderful place to be. You make a difference. You teach children to read. You introduce children to literature. I yearn for the day I will yet again have my own classroom, and am compiling lesson plan ideas almost daily. However…today I chased butterflies. I made countless pots of imaginary coffee (and even fed it to a red penguin), made a baby laugh, read stories to a two year old, and you know what? I think I made a difference in the lives of my kids…and all in all, thats not a bad day.

I’m really starting to like my new “job.” (And yes, people who have never done it..It is most definitely a full-time job, and probably one of the hardest jobs imaginable.) I will ignore the nay-sayers, and embrace the choice that works for me…I will trade in my students for my children. And give up teaching? There are teachable moments every single day. I am still a teacher….maybe the most important kind.

Self-Deception: Social identity vs. personal identity and its relation to politics and religion

A wholly truthful and authentic life necessitates thoughtful self-examination, that is, the willingness to recognize even the most difficult of truths present within our lives. When the avoidance of truths about certain aspects of our lives extends beyond a single choice, and develops into a pattern of avoidance, self-deception is born. This conscious choice to avoid reality, prevents us from facing difficult facts and certainties, and allows us to remain consistent. In this purposeful distancing of oneself from reality, one adopts a policy of avoidance, which he or she uses as a shield, defense mechanism, or self-created blinder to the sometimes harsh and bitter truths of reality.

The natural tendency to maintain consistency compounds man’s inclination to self-deceive. A lifetime of commitments and experiences can lead men to ascribe to ideas and realities which indeed have changed or ceased to be present. In efforts to uphold a certain sense of stability and self-awareness, the tendency to self-deceive, ignoring obvious changes and truths grows strong. Towards this end, it is those who are good and sincere by nature, that are most prone to self-deceive. The serious tone of these people’s lives holds them in fear, lacking the courage to face reality, and therefore the possibility of their own shortcomings and inabilities.

In an image-based society, where appearance and status make or break one’s individual quality of and outlook on life, it becomes necessary to some to retain a certain self-image. Fear of losing a particular sense of identity disallows a full embrace of the whole of reality. Towards this end, the language, labels, and ideas that surround a person’s sense of self become highly important, as there has become a desperate search and push to “know oneself,” and to gain a firm grasp of who you are as a person. Consequently, identities adopted are not quickly changed, despite changes in the person.

The link between personal identity and social identity has grown increasingly, concurrently pushing the need to maintain certain types of social roles. Often, our actions are sharply influenced by the social group to which we ascribe ourselves, or find our identity in. Actions that are perhaps against our own sense of morality are performed, and subsequently rationalized, simply due to our assumed or presumed social role. Additionally, values and ideas may be professed which are against our own, yet personally heralded, in efforts to remain consistent with a social role. Essentially, it is the fear of change, and the subsequent fear of losing a grip on one’s sense of self-identity, that provides the primary cause of self-deception.

Marked as a defense mechanism and coping device, self-deception can be perceived as either positive or negative. At times, self-deception proves to be necessary in order for existence. Often, one must self-deceive by means of blocking out painful images and memories, in order for healing to become a reality. Overburdened by pain, grief, or negative self-imagery, self-deception becomes nearly compulsory, as the burdened individual seeks to temporarily avoid reality in order to establish a positive outlook. However, when this temporary self-deception used as a coping device develops into a permanent life pattern, it moves beyond a coping device to a destructive pattern of thought and avoidance. Illusion cannot be the dominating force within the mind. The extent to which self-deception can be considered healthy, is the extent to which the mind concurrently holds a grip on reality in some sense.

In consideration of and reflection upon self-deception, I am forced to evaluate my own life, and the extent to which I avoid reality. With a personality dependent upon stability, order, and routine, and a concurrent strict and traditional upbringing, the factors which perpetuate the need or drive to self-deceive are highly present in my life. Additionally, the labels I have come to associate with my identity suggest that I ascribe to certain social groups, requiring an additional reflection of the genuineness and originality of my actions.

In consideration of my self-image, several dominant features surface as irremovable and essential to my being. I cannot imagine living a life void of my “Christian” label. However, the stigma of religion often yields a wealth of attached assumptions and social roles. Attacked and marked as a fundamentalist, I recognize that in my youth I overemphasized my conservative beliefs, in attempts to both uphold my controversial label and to stir up dissension amongst my peers. However, as time has passed and the attacks grown more intense, I found myself proclaiming a “more liberal” mindset to old friends, in efforts to gain their respect while detaching myself from the assumptions surrounding Christian fundamentalists. This active proclamation of a “newfound liberality” was due primarily to a subscription to a new social group. Several years ago, the large majority of my friends were those which maintained similar sets of values and ideas as I did. However, upon my attendance at a liberal and Catholic institution, I had been brought from a position of esteem, where my ideas and values were respected and shared, to a place of scorn. Nearly weekly, my fundamental Protestant and Bible-based beliefs were openly mocked and looked upon as intellectually inferior to those not only of the Catholic church, but of the so-called philosophical agnostics, too intelligent to buy into the idea of “God” and a necessary dependence upon Him. Towards this end, I had systematically quieted my beliefs, moving those things which are intrinsic to my being from the forefront to the shadows. Classroom participation in heated religious debates has ceased, arguments with friends surrounding political and moral issues have dramatically decreased, and my promotion of “my new liberal beliefs” has risen.

Some may survey the situation and decide that the changes made in my life were positive, removing enmity with friends while concurrently opening my mind to differing viewpoints and ideas. I myself have heralded this false adoption of liberal ideas as mentally expanding, self-promoting as one willing to move outside of a “narrow” mental perspective. However, reality remains. Despite the repercussions which may follow, I am not and most likely never will be a liberally minded person. Towards this end, I do not hold that liberal ideas bring about mental expansion any more than other schools of thought do. Additionally, I feel that those who prescribe to liberal ideas as strongly as conservatives, are as “narrow” as fundamentalists. My false ascription to a set of ideas, through both silent acceptance and active denouncement of conservative ideas, had served to perpetuate a form of self-deception, in that I had been avoiding the reality of the ever-present existence of my conservative ideals.

This self-deception suggested that I placed my identity in things other than self. This altogether negative habit speaks of an over-emphasis on the opinions and thoughts of other people, as well as a fear of losing this social identity. Reparation of these wrongful avoidances of the truths concerning my true self and ideals can be found in the willing embrace of my belief system, regardless of the reaction of those around me. With or without social esteem or the acceptance of my peers and professors, I am without question, a conservatively minded, Christian fundamentalist. I must forget about survival within a particular social group, and value self-survival as of higher value. Self-deception will breathe no more, as I now willingly face the reality of my true self. Yes, I voted for Bush. Twice. I’ll vote for McCain, and I don’t care what you think about it. I am who I am.

Under a heavy load
July 14, 2008, 4:32 am
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God often gives us a “truck-load” of burdens, and things we must carry  as we travel through life. These burdens and weights we must carry are often necessary to our existence and survival…things we are unable to drop. Often we don’t receive help, and the load can be heavy. However, as we move on, though often slowly and with pain, we slowly make progress…our “truck” keeps moving. We do what we have to do…going on even when it seems to hard, and that our weary bodies can’t move another inch. We must keep moving, knowing that the pain we are bearing now will lead to something else…something for our good. It is in these times that we must remember that ALL things work together for the good of those who love God. What seems unbearable in the moment is often a blessing in disguise…something we might not be able to see or understand, unless we are willing to assume God’s perspective and dare to look at our lives in an unconventional way. We CAN make it. Nothing we are given is beyond what we are capable of bearing. He may bend us, but He will not break us. We have to remember that if God is behind it, it is worth it. He heaps on us things that may be difficult, but which can also build our strength, determination, and faith in Him and His perfect plan. We must press on, forgetting what is behind, laying hold of the goal which is ahead…God is God, and we are not. We won’t always understand, and sometimes it might take us years to be able to look back and say, “Ohhh, that’s why that happened.” But we can’t allow our fears, doubts, and sinful perspective to prevent us from carrying on. We have to remember that our troubles are light and momentary, and that Christ carried the ultimate load..all of our sin…He allowed us the chance to trust Him…the ultimate privilege..the ultimate reward…We MUST be faithful. He will protect us, and lead us to the place He has for us. Keep going….