Faith

Longing, Loss, and the Life to Come

I was six or seven the first time I remember the feeling. Playing by myself (a fairly common occurrence for an only child), talking to my dolls or to my cats, lost in a world of my own imagining. And then out of nowhere, the feeling—soon to be a familiar one—swept over me: a great desire, an aching yearning, a tremendous longing for something I couldn’t name.

This highly unusual feeling was a little overwhelming for such a young child, and when it came upon me from time to time, I would catch my breath and sit quietly, my mind trying to pin it down, to capture it so I could name it. It was unpredictable, visiting me a few times a year for most of my childhood. And while it was a bit disconcerting, I soon learned to relax and simply experience it as best I could. Not that I had a choice in the matter. Resistance was futile, so I learned to be okay with never understanding what it was or why it was.

During the few minutes when I sat quietly with this feeling, I knew it only as an unmistakable, unresolved longing that caused an ache in my very soul. In my child’s mind, I began to associate it with water because it seemed to me that I was remarkably thirsty, in need of liquid, and then my thoughts would shift and I would long not for a drink but to be floating in water, my whole self, surrounded and supported by gentle, comforting waves as I experienced a complete rest and peace that I never knew I craved.

Years later, I learned the German word that approximates this inexplicable longing or yearning: “sehnsucht.” I also learned that C. S. Lewis had written of this phenomenon several times:

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Reading

This Reading Life

My life with books goes so far back that I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to read.

My entire childhood was spent with my “nose in a book,” as my grandfather often said. Books were my comfort, my friends, my treasures, my security, my escape, and my joy. Children who have insecure and disrupted family lives often find solace in something they can control, and my solace was found in books.

I always was, and still am in some ways, a fairly nondiscriminatory reader. By which I mean, I read everything I could get my hands on, from high-quality literature to poorly-written brain candy, from encyclopedias to cereal boxes. Whatever was available at the time, I read it. For a long time I was limited to what I could find on the bookshelves at my grandparents’ house, which meant I had access from a young age to a 10-volume Bible story set (which introduced me to God and eventually changed my life) as well as to The Exorcist (which sadly, I read, and far too young at that). I had no supervision regarding my reading material, for better or for worse.

Between the ages of 7 and 14, I attended ten different schools. My transitory life didn’t foster close friendships with peers, so books remained my most reliable and best friends. I read constantly. I have vivid memories of walking home from school around age nine, engrossed in a Peanuts comic book and trying not to run into trees or get hit by a car.

A year or so later, my mother and I fled to Florida after a domestic violence situation in her marriage. And miracle of miracles—the tiny library in our rural town was a mere two blocks from our home. I walked there several times a week and, along with my mom, read every Agatha Christie they had before branching out to other fiction and nonfiction books. It was in Florida that I discovered The Bobbsey Twins, books that I knew were “too young” for me, as well as hopelessly outdated and overly idealistic, but they were exactly what my heart and mind needed at that time. I read every one that the library had, and wished, mostly subconsciously, for a loving, protective, intact family of my own.

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Other Topics

Mere Writing

Forty years ago, author Madeleine L’Engle was throwing shade. At fellow writers, no less.

In her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (an otherwise excellent book), her love of words leads her to warn about language that becomes exhausted, and how a diminished shared vocabulary can lead to injustice and dictatorship. So far, so good.

Then she takes off the gloves.

“I might even go to the extreme of declaring that the deliberate diminution of vocabulary by a dictator, or an advertising copywriter, is anti-Christian.” (page 39)

Ouch.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Right out of college, I got a job in department store newspaper advertising, writing about perfume and clothing and furniture. It was incredibly boring (to me) and lasted a blessedly short four months. But I’m glad I did it because it led to a much better job in medical publishing, writing about books, periodicals, and conferences for doctors, nurses, and others in healthcare. Which led to a long-term, part-time job doing much the same thing, only at home with our children, which was where my husband and I both wanted me to be.

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Faith

My Three Baptisms

“Tell me again why we baptize babies?”

That was the message my husband and I received from our oldest son several years ago, when he was stationed in Japan.

It was an honest question. Simply put, he had witnessed several other Marines getting baptized in the Pacific Ocean and was thinking about whether he should, as well. He had previously been baptized at age four, soon after our family had joined a church that practiced what’s commonly known as infant baptism.

I got to thinking about this just recently and began to contemplate my own baptisms. I’ve actually been baptized three times, and that seems a little out of the ordinary to me. If multiple baptisms are a common occurrence, I’m not aware of it. But then again, baptism isn’t something that comes up in everyday conversation, even among Christians, so I really have no idea.

The question of “whether to baptize” has never been a question in the Christian church—the answer is yes—but “when and how to baptize” have been valid, and often contentious, issues for hundreds of years. Since thoughtful, entirely sincere Christians have disagreed on the answers to “when and how” for centuries, and since I’m neither a theologian nor a church historian, this article won’t go there. Suffice it to say that I’ve been on both sides of this issue, I have Christian friends who are on both sides of this issue, and I believe with all my heart that God does not look upon either group with more favor than the other.

In so many areas of life, I find myself in the middle, able to see both sides of something, and baptism is no different. Maybe it’s because I’ve personally partaken in every common version of Christian baptism: infant baptism, believer’s baptism in childhood, and adult baptism. Some weren’t exactly my decision, and some I can’t actually remember. Here’s how and why they came about:

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Faith

Uncomfortable in Church

Recently I sat in an unfamiliar church, surrounded mostly by people I didn’t know, listening to a sermon preached by my oldest son. This experience wasn’t entirely new to me; I’d listened to my husband (who is not a pastor) preach a few times years ago, as he completed the requirements for his seminary degree. Sitting in those pews twenty years apart, I was more relaxed as a mother than as a wife—perhaps due to my greater age and experience, and perhaps because I no longer had several small children to wrangle as I listened.

By the time my son’s sermon began, I felt entirely at ease with the whole situation. The songs were familiar … the liturgy was familiar … there were no surprises here. I wasn’t even the least bit anxious about how my son would do, what he would say or wouldn’t say, or how he would say it. I felt calm, at peace, and ready to hear about King Saul and how he tried to kill David multiple times (1 Samuel 18:6-16 and 1 Samuel 19:8-16). It was a story I knew well. As my son stood at the pulpit to begin his sermon, I settled in and got comfortable, ready to listen.

All was fine until about fifteen minutes in. We’d been given the background of King Saul and his relationship with David—that Saul knew his (already shaky) kingship was threatened by David, his jealousy and hatred because of that threat, how he gave in to his anger and pride, and how he attempted to murder David, over and over, in order to rid himself of his “problem” and continue being king. So far, so good.

Then we were asked to think of ways in which we resemble Saul, and things took a turn that I’d never experienced before in church. It was not “comfortable” at all.

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Faith

In Defense of the Proverbs 31 Woman

I have a friend—let’s call her P31—who is sometimes unfairly misunderstood. This makes me sad, because she used to be well-liked, even highly respected, by women who shared her faith and her faithfulness, who looked up to her as a role model and who were inspired by her. I was (and am) one of those women.

Years ago, as a new Christian and very busy new mom, I was fascinated by the book of Proverbs and was especially drawn to the end of chapter 31—twenty-two verses that offer a picture of a godly wife, or as my Bible describes this passage, “The Woman Who Fears the Lord.”

Baby Christian though I was, I knew I wanted to be a woman who fears the Lord. As I read and reread verses 10-31, I grew in admiration for this godly woman who used the abilities, gifts, and energy that God gave her to bless her family, her extended household, and her community. P31 and I were soul sisters in lots of ways and she was a great blessing to me as I spent years working out what it meant for me to be a Christian wife, mother, wage-earner, neighbor, church member, and citizen.

I just assumed that everyone felt about P31 the way I did, until twenty years later when I was with a few other Christian women and one made a casual, somewhat negative comment about P31. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was accompanied by a heavy sigh and an eye roll.

Initially, I was confused. Had I misunderstood her intent? Was she actually stating a dislike for P31? Later, I did a little searching online and was shocked to find that I had entirely missed an anti-P31 movement within the church as a whole. The Proverbs 31 woman, much to my surprise, was no longer inspiring virtuous, noble qualities and habits in many of my Christian sisters, but instead was inspiring envy, anger, eye-rolling, frustration, feelings of inferiority, negative comparisons, and more.

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Other Topics

Abortion, Pregnancy Scares, and Perfect Love

For the first 30 years of my life, I was, like everyone else I knew in my family, my schools, and my workplaces, fiercely pro-choice. Today, and for the past 20+ years, my views are unapologetically pro-life. So I’ve totally changed my position on this issue, but equally importantly, I’ve also changed my attitude.

Where I was once loudly adamant, even angry, in my pro-choice views, I’m considerably more thoughtful and measured with my words as someone who is pro-life. Yes, I’ve probably mellowed with age, but as someone who has been on “the other side,” I also have an empathy that I wouldn’t have otherwise had for women who face unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.

Back when I believed strongly in abortion rights, the very thought that a woman’s legal right to an abortion could be taken away was absolutely terrifying to me. And I believe that’s still the case with most pro-choice women today, especially those of child-bearing years. You may see anger in their faces and hear it in their voices, but it’s likely that underlying that anger is fear. Fear of loss of control, fear of personal harm, and fear of being shackled to an uncertain and frightening future.

Now, I’ve never actually had an abortion, although I did come close—in my own head, at least. When I was in my late teens, years before I became a Christian, I had a pregnancy scare. I immediately panicked, but consoled myself with the reminder that if I was pregnant, I knew right where to go for an abortion because a close relative had gone there just a few months before. (This was in the 1980s, when nearly 20,000 abortions were performed in my state alone during every year of that decade.) I knew without a second thought that I would choose this path—the alternative never once entered my mind. The thought of an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy terrified me, and the only possible outcome I could envision was a visit to a doctor and the elimination of the problem. The cost to me, whether financial, physical, and/or emotional, was worth whatever it took.

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Faith

Did God Really Say … ?

When my kids were little, one of our homeschool lessons was on “red flags.” We talked about  what things others might say to get you to do something your parents have told you not to do.

We wrote two examples on small flags made of red construction paper: “No one will know” and “Everybody’s doing it.” We also discussed a few others, including this classic red flag question: “Did your mom or dad really say that? Are you sure? Maybe they actually meant something else.” I stressed that a red flag meant they should stop and think about what they were about to do, and that their parents have given them rules for a reason, even if they don’t understand the reason at the time.

Red flag comments or questions often come from someone who appears to be a friend, or seems wiser or cooler than you are, and/or seems to be having more fun than you are. Through questions or comments like the ones above, they plant some sort of doubt in your mind and encourage you to disobey. This method of sowing seeds of doubt has been ensnaring people, both children and adults, since the beginning of time. Literally.

The very first red flag question in history

The first, and most notorious, act of disobedience in the history of humanity is related in Genesis 3, also known as “the Fall.” Adam and Eve aren’t children, but they are children of God. They are naïve and as yet untested in life. You know the story: God (the Father) had previously forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they were tempted by Satan to eat from it. They ate, and sin entered the world.

It’s no coincidence that Satan used the same method that people have been falling for throughout history, the method that we still caution our children about today. The serpent came to Eve with a carefully crafted plan to deceive her, and the first step of the plan was to plant a seed of doubt about God in Eve’s mind. In various Bible translations, here is the common red flag question that Satan asked her:

“Did God really say…”

“Can it really be that God has said…”

“Did God actually say…”

“Is it really true that God said…”

[and even just a pointed and skeptical:] “Really?”

Instead of answering, “Yes, really,” and turning away, Eve allows the serpent to plant a seed of doubt. She then unwisely continues talking, unequipped though she is to tangle with the enemy. She tells him what God said, but she gets part of it wrong (God had said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” 2:16-17, but Eve has added, “neither shall you touch it,” 3:3). Her willingness to engage in conversation and misstatement of God’s word (for whatever reason) does not go unnoticed by the serpent.

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Faith · Parenting

Parents, Gen Z Must Own Their Faith

You’ve done all the right things. You took your child to church from birth, sending them to Sunday school, VBS, and children’s worship. You gave them kids’ devotionals for Christmas and answered all of their childlike theological questions. You made sure that Jesus was the focus of Christmas and Easter. You talked about Jesus openly and frequently in your home, prayed with your child, and involved them in service projects and other outward extensions of your faith.

And yet.

And yet now they’re drifting … drifting away from the faith, heads turned by secular and worldly beliefs and temptations, questioning at least some aspects of what they’ve been taught about God, about Jesus, about Christianity in general.

This probably causes you great concern, especially if you never went through a questioning period in your own life. Maybe your own adolescence and young adulthood were solid as a rock, resting on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the things you had been taught in your church and by your parents. Maybe you never strayed, and you can honestly say that you’ve never known a day when you didn’t know Jesus.

Or maybe you weren’t a Christian until you were an adult, and you were determined to raise your kids in the faith so they would never experience that kind of confusion and wandering. Maybe you were told that if you just followed Proverbs 22:6 and “trained up a child in the way he should go,” your child would not depart from the faith. Maybe you see your own wanderings echoed in your child and you wonder why your sincere, prayerful efforts seemingly didn’t work.

I have many friends who are raising Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) kids. As the mother of three Gen Zs and one late-model Millennial, I’ve heard a lot of stories, sat with a lot of moms, and prayed a lot of prayers over kids who are drifting from God, questioning what they’ve been taught, and seemingly turning from the faith in which they were raised. Often these changes, for both boys and girls, come about between the impressionable ages of 16 and 21.

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Faith

Testimony of the Mind and Heart

I love hearing Christian testimonies because I’m fascinated by the many ways that God works in the lives of very different people.

I was a Christian for many years before ever fully describing to anyone how I came to Jesus. I was never asked to, and I never volunteered. But when we joined a new congregation a few years ago, as a part of my membership interview I found myself sitting in a room with two elders before church one Sunday morning. My testimony was part of the membership process.

Now, being a person who spent her first 30 years living apart from Christ, and having a somewhat unusual upbringing which led to some poor life choices, my testimony (I now know) takes a good 25 minutes, give or take, to tell properly. But that’s quite a speech, and church was starting soon, so I whittled it down considerably while still conveying the most important parts of God’s saving grace in my life. I made sure to mention how I stumbled across the books that first introduced me to Jesus as a young child, how and why I fell away from the faith for 20 years, and the book that brought me back—first to God, and then to Christ.

I was able to condense 30 years of my spiritual life down to about a ten-minute monologue (the gist of it is here). But as my lips were calmly saying all the things I needed to say, my brain, not at my bidding, was playing a movie in the background just for me: my entire testimony, my entire life, flashed before my eyes. And suddenly I was overcome with emotion—an overwhelming feeling of God’s goodness to me, his faithfulness, his patience … and I found myself finishing my testimony with a spontaneous and heartfelt statement: “I don’t understand why God chose me, why he saved me, of all people. Because I did nothing to deserve this. I had ignored him and avoided him for all those years and he still pursued me and brought me back.” And by then I was crying.

This statement and these tears weren’t at all my intention when I sat down with these two men I didn’t even know all that well. One of them handed me the tissue box and said gently, “It sounds like you came to Christ in a very emotional way, with your heart.” I found this an odd statement at the time, because I thought I’d made it clear to them that God brought me to himself, twice, through books, through reading, through my mind. But here I was, getting choked up over the goodness of God and how he saved a wretch like me. Why did he do it? I still couldn’t fathom it, and it had me in tears. It was an emotional moment, for sure—a moment belonging to the heart.

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