When I was fifteen I had an encounter with God. I was alone in my parent’s bedroom not doing anything. I don’t know why I was in there, maybe because there was a TV in there, but I wasn’t watching it. Anyway, I just remember suddenly sensing a presence just outside my peripheral vision, a kind of sparkle. (I suppose it could have been a migraine aura, but I didn’t know about those at the time. I thought it was God.) I felt instantly alert. I became aware…as in, being present in the moment. My senses were more acute. I was in a state of wonder. What mystery is this? Is this God? It feels like it might be God. Yes, I think it is God! Whoa! I feel God! Then a smile from deep within my soul rises. He’s real and I can feel him! Love. Peace. Joy! I want to live in this state of being always and forever.
I did not then remember ever having had that kind of experience before, but now I think maybe those years between conception and the age when memory starts are probably full of the felt presence of God. At least I hope so.
Anyway, after that encounter at age fifteen, I made a vow. Although a short lived vow, none-the-less an honest and genuine vow. I had wasted fifteen whole years of my life! I was going to live the rest of my life for God! I was so serious about this that I decided to go to summer Bible Camp to prove it. The reason this was proof was because I wasn’t going to High School Bible Camp. No. I was going to Jr. High School Bible Camp!
Fifteen, almost sixteen, year olds don’t enjoy hanging out with eleven, twelve and thirteen year olds, for obvious reasons. Before my encounter with God, the main reason to go to Bible Camp at all was just in case there were cute boys there and maybe one or two of them might “like” me. The choosing of which one was the cutest and then, the chase…figuring out where they would be and planting myself there or walking a certain path in the hopes of sighting them, nonchalantly lingering at a ball game being played in the hopes of being noticed, orchestrating where to stand in line for meals and choosing the “right” table to sit at, figuring out how late or early to arrive at chapel, surveying the seating arrangements, choosing the pew with the best view…well, that was the fun of Bible Camp. You can’t do any of that as a fifteen year old in a camp full of eleven, twelve and thirteen year olds. So, as you can tell, I was serious about my commitment to God.
It was not that fun, but I endured it like a good (bored) Christian girl and tried to have a good attitude. I really, really missed my boyfriend back home. He was the one who had just become a Christian. I missed him, but I was also setting an example for him and I was proud of myself for that. I was doing something for God, not for myself. And I did make it count, or so I thought. I testified at the gathering around the last camp fire on the last night of Jr. High School Bible Camp. You know the one where everyone is encouraged to share their personal experience out loud, in front of everybody. Doing this proves it’s real and makes other people happy for you and it encourages them toward God and it makes you accountable, as in, now everyone knows that I’ve made a commitment and I can’t mess up or they will be so disappointed in me and that will be super embarrassing. But I was serious and willing to risk it because I knew this was real and it would stick. I stood up and said, “I have wasted fifteen years of my life! NO MORE! From now on, I’m living for God! And you should too! Don’t waste your lives!” I was passionate and I meant it. And I hoped those little Jr. High Schoolers heard me. They had only wasted eleven, twelve, or thirteen years of their lives. If they listened to me, the older and wiser one, they would learn from my mistake and have less regret for their sorry selves.
The bus ride home from that camp was the longest and slowest trip of my life. I swear, the bus driver had to speed up to go around the curves that had the signs that said, “SLOW—25 mph”. I missed my boyfriend so bad! He was waiting for me when I returned and we pretty much picked up where we left off. Whew, I did it! I made a start in my new found devotion for God.
Unfortunately that passion was not sustainable for me. I found no like-minded friend or mentor to spur me on, and slowly I fell into regular teenaged life again. I couldn’t hang on to that encounter with God, and I couldn’t make it happen again. But now I knew it was possible and I did hang on to the hope that I would experience God again, someday…maybe.
The rest of my life has been sort of a quest to reunite myself to God in a way that I could feel. I have experienced countless wonder-filled encounters with God since my fifteenth year of life, but it’s only just lately that I’ve come to believe that I was never un-united, and I made it much more difficult than it had to be. The foundation upon which I had built my faith was fear and guilt…now I think “shame” is a better word than guilt. I spent half the morning “quiet time’s” of my life fighting against the internal sin that I believed was preventing me from encountering God. Repenting and repenting of sins, not actually committed, but conjured up in order to repent of so I would feel better about myself and be sure there was nothing impure in my heart. Later I found out, even this was a sin! The sin of perfectionism. I couldn’t win. Still I trudged on. And God, because he does indeed love me, showed up routinely and blessedly, almost every day in fact. I’ve had moments, hours, days, even weeks and maybe three or four times a whole month at a time of consistent peace for my soul in knowing God is in there and he has nothing against me.
The last several years have been years of questioning and searching and finding that there are, indeed, other Biblically sound, Christ centered traditions and ancient beliefs that differ from the modern Western and American Christian Faith. I have found a more Christlike God and a More Beautiful Gospel. (Which happens also to be the title of one of Brad Jersak’s books.) The transition has been, liberating, lonely, peaceful and painful. The nice thing is, now for me the gospel really is good news!
As this blog continues I hope through the telling of my story, to better address the specific issues I have wrestled with; the doctrine of Original Sin, the Wrath of God, Biblicalism, different Atonement Theories, and different versions of Hell, Judgement Day and the After Life. It is in revisiting my earlier life that I realize how my beliefs in those basics affected how I relate to God. There is a direct connection between what I believe and how I live. Faith foundation erosions don’t happen quickly or painlessly. It is a long story told in short chapters weekly. If you, dear reader, follow me to the end, all our questions may not be answered, but maybe we’ll both have a better awareness of our “oneness” with each other and the One that binds us.
I am grateful for the unchanging, never ending, never failing, Love that sustains us moment by moment.