One Woman’s Conversion Experience (While Driving!)

(This piece was originally published two-and-a-half years ago.)

Candace, a reader from Wisconsin, wrote to tell me of her conversion experience. It’s as moving as anything like it I’ve ever read. Here’s what she had to say:

Heading into 2007, I was in miserable shape. I had been a heavy drinker for 25 years. I had abandoned a 20-year career in a hospital laboratory in 2002, and had lost all of my savings in a failed business venture. It had become increasingly difficult for me to hold a job for more than a year at a time. I had a gambling problem, and was struggling under more than $25,000 in credit card debt and past-due bills. Unable to make my mortgage payments, the loss of my home and everything in it was imminent. I was depressed and hopeless, angry and cynical. I was irresponsible in every way, and I both pitied and hated myself.

 

I had some wonderful friends, but little appreciation for them. It had been years since anyone visited my home (and had they come, I would not have allowed them in). Family relationships were strained, pretty much across the board, to varying degrees.

 

I had, over the years, taken a ‘Whitman’s sampler’ approach to spirituality, but nothing ever seemed to stick. What little I knew of the Bible and of Christian living was grossly distorted or (I now know) flat-out wrong. The whole notion of God seemed unintelligible to me — stupid, fairytale-ish, anti-intellectual, nothing but a crutch for people who couldn’t figure out how to live life on their own.

Shortly after the New Year, I learned of the tragic death of a dear young friend. Olivia, nine years old, and her father had gone through the ice on a local lake, and Olivia had drowned. While struggling to cope with that devastating loss, I was also growing a new friendship, with one of those sort of people who has something about them that you know is different, but that you can’t quite name. On February 11th of last year, I e-mailed my new friend some questions I had about God. He answered in ways that spoke to me, and added two great bits of advice: “Just talk to God while you putter around the house, like he was your buddy,” and “Find out if there’s a Christian radio station in your area.” So, feeling foolish, awkward and decidedly unsteady, I began talking to God and listening to others talk about God.

 

On February 16th, I wrote an e-mail to my friend telling him I had polished off a bottle of vodka the night before, and I was going to try and drive home without buying another. In response he asked me to write and let him know when I got home, even if I did stop for more. I made it home without stopping, and my friend kept me company via e-mail throughout a very rough weekend, as I detoxed from decades of alcohol abuse. I also spent a lot of time that weekend talking to God as if He was my friend, and I kept my radio on and tuned to the local Christian radio station around the clock. (I do want to warn people not  to ever detox at home alone. It was rough. Really, really rough. Knowledgeable medical people since have told me it’s only by the grace of God that I survived it.)

 

The following Tuesday morning, while driving home from a pet-sitting visit, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. I started sobbing, and had to pull over to the side of the road because I was unable to continue driving. I wept and wept, babbling nonsensically to God between sobs. Once I was done crying, I felt entirely different. I didn’t understand exactly what had happened, but I knew my whole world had changed for the better.

 

When I got home, I went directly to the computer and wrote down the things I had said to God in the car, and called it the Cynic’s Prayer:

 

OK, God, I give up. I’m Yours if You want me.

I don’t care how awkward I might feel talking to You, or about You.

I don’t care how much trouble I have accepting some of the teachings.

I don’t care that my entire former self-image was wrapped up in the “party girl” persona.

I don’t care if some Christian music is treacle and the lyrics contrived.

I don’t care what havoc may have been wrought in Your name in the past, or what may be in the future.

I don’t care if some of Your flock seem hypocritical or self-righteous or sanctimonious.

I don’t care if there are times when I can’t feel Your presence.

I don’t care if loving You means I have to at least attempt to love myself.

I don’t care if friends roll their eyes and laugh at my conversion.

I don’t care if I feel like a faker sometimes, and I don’t care if it’s harder to do Your will than it would be to follow my own desires, and I don’t care if I’m less than perfect at it.

None of that matters. I give up. I want You. And I’m Yours, if You want me.

 

It was probably a week or so before it actually dawned on me that I had been born again.

As I write this, I have been sober for 15 months. I attend two or three recovery meetings a week, and will do so for the rest of my life. The people I have met in recovery are just amazing, and words that I used to choke on — “Hi, I’m Candy, and I’m an alcoholic” — now come easily at the beginning of each meeting because of the wonderful examples I see all around me. I have not struggled, for even one moment, with any desire at all to have a drink. It seems that God has lifted that burden and healed me.

 

Right away, both my new friend, Jon, and a long-time friend, Bill (who is a Baptist minister), began encouraging me to find a church family. In “weakness and fear and with much trembling,” I began visiting God at His house a couple of weeks before Easter, and it didn’t take long before I was looking forward to Sunday each week. That November, I became a member of my church, and I was baptized on the first anniversary of my sobriety, with Jon, Bill, and many other friends and church family members in attendance.

 

Every day I am in my Bible and spending time in prayer. I have an insatiable appetite for the Word, and am growing steadily in my relationship with the Lord. I take classes at church, and listen to and read all kinds of stuff about knowing and loving God and living a Christian life. Concepts and ideas I could never understand — indeed, that I thought were ridiculous! — are now as clear as a bell, and it’s hard to comprehend how I could have missed them before.

 

I never gamble anymore, haven’t for months, and I’m working with a volunteer financial counselor from my church to learn how God wants me to handle money. I did not lose my home after all, and my finances are getting better all the time. God has blessed me in big ways in that regard.

 

Through Christ, my life now holds things I hadn’t known for a very long time, if ever: hope, peace, humility, perseverance, contentment, self-control, joy, courage, strength. And a love that is totally beyond my capability to express.

 

The process of identifying, confessing, and repenting of my sins has been difficult. It’s still a work in progress, actually, and no doubt — being human — it will never end. That’s what we humans do, isn’t it? We sin. But the Holy Spirit really does help me go through that process, and crying helps a lot too. I used to do everything I could to avoid crying whenever possible. Now I just run a hot bath and let the tears flow. It hurts worse to hold all of that back than it does to just walk forward through it, especially when you walk with the right company.

 

The power and beauty of what Jesus did for me on the cross just overwhelms me. It’s almost too much to absorb, and my gratitude for it brings me to my knees. Because of Him, I know that God loves me, and has made me His child, and has forgiven me and will continue to have patience with me while I learn how to live His way. Looking back, I can see that He has always loved me, always wanted me, but it was up to me to let Him in.

 

One of the most amazing and delightful changes, now that I have let Him in, is how full of joy I am, even though life is still hard. My problems didn’t magically disappear. In fact, for a little while, they seemed even bigger and more overwhelming. But underneath it all, even in the most difficult times, there’s this river of joy carrying me forward, and I find rest in God’s grace and peace.

 

Well, there’s a whole lot more I could say. I could talk about this forever, I think! But I’ll wrap up now with two of my favorite passages from the Bible.

 

The first is Hebrews 12, verses 1-3:

 

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

 

The second passage is from 1 Peter. Actually, all of 1 Peter is awesome — I love the whole book — but this is Chapter 2, verses 1-3:

 

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

 

I have, most certainly, tasted the kindness of the Lord.

****

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Patricewassmann

    Our God is awesome.

  • Stan

    A extremely moving testimony. I’m very glad to hear that she joined a recovery group to carry on what God started. I had a similar conversion and was delivered from addictions and suicidal tendencies. I learned later that it is deadly to take up with things that God has delivered you from.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Kathyascot Kathy Curtis Anderson

    Stan, I know what you mean! God is able and willing to cleanse us from all unrighteousness! Hallelujah!

    • Stan

      He certainly is! God is great, but that’s really not hard for God! What amazes me is God wants our fellowship!

      • Anonymous

        Isn’t that awesome? God decided that I— a foul-mouthed agnostic twit who thought Jesus Christ’s middle name was ƒ- – -ing, was worth His time and love. While I was still being a douche to Him, He paid my ransom.

        • Stan

          Rin_Tin_Tim, what a self description, I laugh because it sounds so familiar! Yes it is awesome!

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Is this sort of self-abasement a prerequisite for being saved? I have heard it so often, especially from born again Christians, and I could never understand it. I would have thought that God would wish us to love ourselves, too. What was that about ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine’? Are you yourselves not amongst His brothers and sisters? (Especially since this “I was/am such a wicked sinner” part very rarely sounds remorseful, but usally rather gleefull…)
            Not taking the piss or anything, but serious bewilerment.

          • Diana A.

            Hi FreeFox!

            I don’t know if this will interest you but there’s a book called “The Misunderstood God” by Darin Hufford that discusses this very issue, among others. The chapter in which he does this is called “The Needy God?” Basically, he goes through and measures some Christian assumptions concerning God against the thirteenth chapter of One Corinthians (I’m spelling the numbers out because Discus[?] keeps treating my numbers like footnote numbers–grrrrr!), his premise being that God is Love, therefore therefore what Paul said about love is the truth about God. The man does not mince his words either. It’s pretty hardhitting.

  • ms.glove

    Beautiful testimony! Thank you for sharing it with us:)

  • http://rdmlorisgoretownhorrycoscusaearth.blogspot.com/ Robert Meek

    I’m going to sound like a cynic here, and that is not my intent.

    My problem with what I am reading here is that it sounds like, infers, that if you turn to God your problems essentially disappear. Ie., she didn’t lose her house, etc. My point is that many good truly loving and serving God people who fully believe in Jesus have and do and shall go through many a tragedy including and not limited to losing their homes.

    What is important is to know that if that happens despite your best efforts, that God can and will see you through it, and give you the strength that you need to survive the ordeal.

    • Shadsie

      I didn’t get that impression (more like – an “I can work through my problems now” attitude), but I understand what you mean. A lot of new Christians act like their problems have suddenly melted away. (Strangely enough, since I’ve been browsing on Huffpost, I’ve seen a lot of athiests with similiar testimonies, how “free” they felt and how they were able to take charge of their lives after realizing they “didn’t believe anymore”). It’s weird, seeing testimonies *so* similar to religious testimonies like that. I suppose any major change in thinking can make one feel that way when its’ fresh?

      My own conversion happened a long time ago and is something I know feel slightly ashamed of? It was… stupid? I mean, not the conversion itself, but the circumstances surrounding it weren’t nearly so dramatic and are something I kind of cringe over when I think about it. Then again, I tend to be ashamed of myself over a lot of things – suppose it’s part of my disorder. I’ve been told that I am an *expert* at beating myself up. And, currently, when confronted by angry atheists, I’m perfectly willing to admit that my continued belief serves me as a crutch (as well as being something I really can’t get rid of). That is to say: My problems didn’t go away at conversion, and in fact, I gained a whole lot more of them as life has gone on. Yet, I’ve been through them all somehow, and, on the whole, I feel… sustained.

      The “author” verse used here really speaks to me, and has for some time. I enjoy writing – I’m addicted to it, in fact. I’m special or a bonafide published writer yet or anything cool like that, but I enjoy it highly. A large part of what makes me push ahead and move on in life – is the idea that “there’s a plot to existance.”

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      Or not… in which case you won’t read about it because people tend to internalize their failures (if they have survived the calamity) so they keep god out of it because it reminds them of their apparent unworthiness for his lack of intervention. It always reminds me of the survivor of some disaster claiming praise for god for the survival without laying blame for the disaster itself at his feet. It’s a good gig… if you’re god: you get all of the good press and none of the bad.

      • Anonymous

        Tildeb,

        After 9/11 and the onslaught of footage of survivors thanking God, saying that they prayed the whole time, their prayers were answered, etc… it really, really got to me. I mean, we know others prayed just as fervently, but, they ended up amid the smoldering rubble. I’ve always wondered how family members, friends (especially those who believe in God, prayer, etc.) felt when they saw these survivors on TV. Did they wonder why God chose to save someone else? It’s just seemed so cruel… Not that I wasn’t joyful for those who made it through, but the incessant replays – I just imagined it making wounds even more gaping and salt-encrusted for the loved ones of those who didn’t make it.

        You make a good point to which I cannot counter.

        • Shadsie

          I get annoyed at newscasts like that, too. I think they make some unfortuante implications about belief and believers. It’s kind of like the Prosperity Gospel people – the whole idea that if you “pray enough” or “pray right” or “are good enough” you’ll have all your problems solved and be gifted with wealth, blah, blah, shutupbeforeIhurtyou…

          That said, this winter, I survived an accident involving stairs, gravity and a concrete floor. I didn’t escape unhurt, but I did survive when, honestly, my brains *should have been splattered all over the floor.* There were all kinds of little things of “luck” that happened to me that lessened the damage. No visions of angels, didn’t even get me back in church, but I consider my survival a miracle, and, in hindsight, I learned some things from the experience – even the hurt (and not just “be careful on stairs”). Of course, however, I also thought about how there are lots of people who fall down stairs every year and do hurt themselves worse or get killed.

          My thought wasn’t that “I’m special” or “The Lord did for me where he doesn’t for others,” but more like, “I must still have something in life to do,” and “it must be a part of the plot of existance that I’m still here.”

          I don’t know… maybe it’s that I write fiction and I put my characters through an awful lot – I even have a *habit* of ending the lives of my main characters at the end of a story/novel. It does not mean that I do not love my characters – just that they have a particular purpose to fill. It’s not always happy for them, but hopefully, meaning is brought out of it.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          Maybe I can counter it. Not sure you’ll like my argument, though.
          I think, Epicurus put it simplest when he asked: “Either God wants to abolish suffering, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish suffering, and God really wants to do it, why is there suffering in the world?”
          Tildeb and I certainly have our differences here in the blog, but I think he is right in one regard: If there is massive empirical evidence, one cannot simply shrug it off with some reference to the Bible. What’s real is real, and religion has to deal with what’s real not ignore it.
          God obviously does not protect is from physical or emotional harm. Faith can maybe help deal with it, but it very obviouly doesn’t prevent from it. I don’t know if you have ever felt that prayer of the asking-for-something variety has actually been answered, if anything, comparative studies seem to indicated that prayer can actually have a negative effect on healing. But it is clear that God refuses to help in some cases: For exmaple, as far as I know, no amputee has ever regrown a missing limb, no matter how hard he prayed. (I kinda took an interest in that: I lost a few bits of my hand…) And as a lot of rents of small children with various degenerative diseases can tell you, innocence is no protection either. And free will factors into things only that much.
          We can talk about God’s mysterious ways all we want, Epicurus only left us with 3 possible answers: Either there is no God (something tells me that would be Tildeb’s answer), or God cannot stop suffering (a strong dualistic worldview, with the powers of darkness equally powerful as those of light, like Zoroastrianism, might hold that view, or polytheists, or a so-called nature religion, but more or less by efinition it excludes any monotheistic view), or God simply doesn’t want to.
          If you have good reason to believe in God, I think you must accept that God does not mollycoddle, pamper, or baby us. Any of us, no matter how decent, or faithful, or just, or innocent we are, are physically safe in his hand. I lost my sister to cancer when she was 14. It might have been some bizarre, cruel moral test for my rents, my siblings and me, and if so, we all thoroughly failed it, but I fail to see how it could be any meaningful test for her. Nope, if there is a God he is on occasion cruel, and he is not fair by any human standard, there does not seem to be a way around it.
          I never understood why Christians are so loath to accept this possibility. There point blank refusal of this option in the face of all the suffering in the world does lend great creence to the atheist’s accusation that their faith is nothing more than a crutch, an artifact to make it through life, and not the firm ground we like to claim it is.
          I always liked a quote by Heraclitus: For God all things are good and right and just, but for man some things are right and others are not.
          What if God is a lot less concerned with what is right and wrong, with help or praise or punishment, than most of Christianity would have us believe. I know, a lot of the bible is chiefly concerned with such matters, but there is also the Book of Job and many other places that recognize God’s lack of justice. What if God created this magnificent, colourful, rich world and what if too him a chancer is as beautiful as a rose? What if to him the fireball that consumed the WTC is as marvellous as a vulcano, or a sunset? What if he thinks my maimed hand as perfect as my whole hand was and as my dead and decaying hand will be some day?
          What if His will for conscious beings such as us humans is less to be righteous, and more to simply get along and make the best of it?
          Is that really an impossible view of God… given the state the real world is in?

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            The fact that you recognize that suffering is a theological problem is important. Many believers won’t even think much about it.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Had too much a shit of a life not to take it into consideration. But thanks for allowing that I’m not entirely daft. ;)

            (In all fairness, the question has been on the minds of philosopers and theologians for millennia…)

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            (Yes, and for very good reasons.)

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            (Yes, and for very good reasons.)

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Do you ever listen to yourself, man? Christians don’t wonder about suffering enough – clear sign of their delusions. Christians do wonder about itm, quite a lot – with good reason, since it disproved their faith. Is that an unbiased, scientific approach? Nothing will satisfy you – because you want to see only the faults.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            I say that not many believers won’t even think much about it because… if they did, like you have pointed out, their faith would be undermined. It is easier NOT to think about something that raises such an essential problem to faith in a loving and powerful and personal god than it is to follow the problem of suffering to its conclusion. Many stalwart atheists have become so due to exactly this problem of suffering. And it is not due to me that such a fault lies at the center of this kind of religious faith. Nor is the fault overcome or mitigated because some believers do terrific charity work or are very loving and caring and compassionate people. The fault in the theology revealed by the problem of suffering stubbornly remains as potent as ever.

          • Shadsie

            The Problem with Pain would be the formal term, correct?

            As I’m sure you’ve seen, my thoughts are similar to yours. Some ask “How can you believe in a benevolent God when the world is so unfair?” My answer is that I’m not so sure that God is *completely* benevolent, at least in the human understanding of benevolence, in the here and now.

            I think a lot of people have a black and white way of thinking (sadly, many Christians suffer from this) – the idea that “If I’m good enough/smart enough/strong enough, good will come my way” and that people who suffer great misfortunes “must have done something to deserve it.” I’m pretty sure many atheists suffer this attitude as well, in that they think “I’m smart enough/strong enough to rise above the rabble” which is probably what leads a lot of them to blaming religion for “keeping people down”, ie “keeping the poor content to be poor because they imagine a heaven” (instead of rising up against impossible odds to forcibly seize what’s theirs from the rich and other earthly powers that be, I guess)?

            The true fact of things are, however, that no matter how “good” you are, “strong/smart” you are, how much you try to “carpe diem” or how much “better than other people” you are, sometimes life just takes a big healthy dump on you.

            There are verses in the Bible regarding this. Maybe too many Sunday Schools teach the “God is good and if you do good and have enough faith, you will be blessed” model, but those of us who do the research can tell you of things like the Book of Job, or how Jesus told his diciples that the man born blind didn’t deserve it but was so “for the glory of God” so he could do a miracle (a pretty nasty thing in my opinion, actually, sorry, Jesus — really makes God sound selfish). I seem to recall Jesus actually *promising* us trouble in this life. Oh, joy. So, I don’t look to God to be free of trouble – more… to get through it and to find meaning in it/in spite of it. I seem to recall there being some promises that, with a relationship with God, we will get through. I don’t know about others, but a sense of underlying cosmic meaning helps me a lot. If I didn’t have it, I’d very likely just say “Screw it all and make myself dead.

            To relate to another thing I mentioned again… I recall on Huffpost, being in a conversation and one of the people was an atheist-poster there who is actually friendly to me and I get along with. (A rare thing for that site). Something was brought up where I joked “Hey, I don’t know, I’m not God” and the other poster said “Of course, you’re not, you haven’t ordered any executions lately,” to which I replied “Uh… I just wrote some passages for the novel I’m working on that involved a man being executed on a gallows (a villain). In another novel of mine, I wrote about a good guy being excuted by beheading with a sword. (And the first stroke *didn’t* kill him).” …. I’m kind of a “goddess” in my own right when I write, and sometimes, I am a cruel goddess. I create a world… create characters and situations for them to be in. Sometimes, their life histories are rough (one character of mine used to be sickly – “grew up dying” in her terms). Sometimes, my plot calls upon them to die, and very often, I write death scenes with something that can’t be called anything other than “sick, capricious glee.” Yet, I really do love my characters – all of them, the heroes and the villains – and any given story of mine has meaning – or at least I try to make my stories have meaning.

            (Not that making my stories have meaning does me any good in the long run… can’t get a literary agent to give me the time of day, yet, a book with lines in it such as “Her traitor tears betrayed her” __ Twilight__ has no problems because of people with connections). Yep, life is unfair.

            Another thought of mine on suffering: I sometimes wonder if it’s the only or best way we have of connecting to one another. Face it, the human animal is a thick beast. Rich, poor, male, female, gay, straight, bi, religious, atheist – each and every one of us knows what pain is. We may not know the extent of the pain of any given person, but we know pain. One of my novels features my group of protagonists stumbling upon a town in which a strange psychic event happens once or twice a year at random in which everyone within a certain proximity/the town exeperiences, simultaneously, the pain of each and every person there – physical and emotional. As a result, the few people who are strong enough to live in this town go to great lengths to be very kind to one another, as to minimize pain. Ever since I wrote about that, I’ve been wondering about it.

          • Anonymous

            Another thought of mine on suffering: I sometimes wonder if it’s the only or best way we have of connecting to one another.

            Absolutely!

            Once someone knows pain intimately, I believe there is an instinctive response to embrace another who is suffering. It’s like an immediate bond that cuts through the bullshit and accepts someone without judgement. Whether the bond is lasting or not, it is, from the onset, authentic, if that makes sense.

            At least that has been my experience.

            ~Thank you ~

          • Anonymous

            Thanks, FF.

            I get what you’re saying, I really do.…If one believes in the omnipotence of God, one must also believe that his/her/its ways are beyond comprehension. Human perception is based on finite wisdom, thus it is irrelevant in the realm of infinite wisdom.

            It is what it is whatever that is.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Uh… not sure you mean the same thing as I, Susan. Cuz when you mention a “realm of infinite wisdom” all manner of red flags go up in my mind. I know that Christian (and Muslim and Jewish) peeps keep mentioning that God is infinitely wise, and I know enough instances in the bible where, too, peeps claim that. But if you look at God’s actions you gotta get your doubts.
            God creates man and woman, the fall from grace and he chucks them out. Fine. Then he tells them to be fruitful and multiply and take possesson of the earth, then he gets all flustered about their wicked ways, then he decides to off them all, then he lets Noah get away, and afterwards he is all contrite and makes this big promise never to kill off all humanity again (which the Apocalypse of St John kinda puts into question again…).
            (In fact, have you seen this reasoning?)
            I’m sorry, but that doesn’t exactly smack of wisdom. Passionate, yes, wise… I dunno. Actually the relationship between God and his chosen people all through the Old Testament seems a lot like a jealous, abusive relationship: Israel strays, God’s batters her with invaders and leaves in a huff, Israel cries, God berates her thorugh the prophets, makes promises and eventually comes back and they make up. God frees Israel, they are all schmoozy again, until something sets him off once more and the whole cycle repeats, Egypt, Babylon, Rome…
            Look, in Exodus 3:13-14 Moses asks God, what shall I tell the people when they ask me what is your name? And God answers: “I am who I am.”
            He doesn’t say “I’m the wise one”, or “I am pure goodness”, or any of that. He says, I am who I am. Well, so I look at the world and try to see who he is.
            I know the standard answer is to have faith and trust in his infinite wisdom. But I have to ask, why? On what grounds must we trust in something so not manifest?
            So, what I really am saying is – don’t trust in His wisdom…. it may or may not be there, being unkowable and all, but being unknowable, it doesn’t bloody matter to me. FOr all intents and purposes, he’s not wise. He’s just passionate.
            What seems to me apparent in this world is that He is glorious. Cruel, unjust, fickle… but glorious. Radiant. Loving. We do not know what will happen, how long we’ll have, what will become of us. But we know that right now we are alive, and we can revel in it, in the corporeal as much as the spiritual, alone and with others, every second of every day that God has chosen to gift us with.

        • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

          I’m very glad I’m not the only one. And yes, I think one cannot help but think to one’s self Why NOT save my loved one? I just think it’s a shame this is always the unspoken question.

          • Anonymous

            You simply touched on an issue my sister, also a Christian, often discuss – If God gets the credit for a seemingly “good” outcome, commom sense dictates that he is integrally tied to an outcome that is deemed “bad.’

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Yep. So…? ^_^

          • Anonymous

            FF,

            Even though I’m a Christian, I still question various aspects of religion and my faith. This example is simply another item on my list of “things that are hard to reconcile.”

            So…I wonder if other Christians felt the same way after seeing the footage of ‘thankful’ survivors and how they reconcile it?

            Actually, I think on a deeper level I’m wondering how to discern faith from rationalization, and if others deal with it. I’m struggling a bit and not sure where to turn…

            I’m rambling. Sorry.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            “Bottom line: shit happens. ”

            Oh, aye, it does indeed! ^-^

        • pearloftheprairie

          After years of being on the ‘front lines’ for Jesus, doing all those things that are supposed to get you blessed, I was a victim of fraud and spent a decade of my life cleaning up the physical and financial effects. I couldn’t find any help, going through many doctors and lawyers and still ended up with nothing. Several nice church folks insisted I just didn’t have enough faith; one pastor got very angry that I had brought depression into his happy church. During that time, a Christian co-worker told me there were building a new home on the 3rd hole of a fancy golf course. She added that they were ‘very blessed’.

          My first thought was if that makes her blessed, then obviously I’m cursed. I wondered what I did to make Jesus angry.

          Ten years later, my answer would be “Nothing”.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Exactly. And it’s even worse when the problem is more disastrous like disease and death. The ‘answer’ that some divine agency directs our ‘blessings’ seems to me to be intolerably smug when it so badly fails to justify such suffering. I find it very hard to square this notion with what is on both sides of the faith coin.

          • Candace

            PotP, I am sorry for your experience. That sounds awful :-( And I sincerely hope things will look up for you, if they have not already.

            May I ask about something I have found perplexing, not just now reading your story, but other times with Christians in similar situations as well?

            None of what I say is meant to be hurtful or challenging. I am seriously seeking understanding and I ask you since you are one who may have insight to offer.

            I cannot claim to have been on the front lines for Jesus, nor have I been a Christian long (about 4 years now). Most of that time things have been on the upswing for me, after decades of utter misery as a non-believer. So maybe it has been too easy for me.

            Nonetheless, I grasped quite early on that Christians can expect to suffer in this world. Jesus explicitly teaches us that, and it is the lesson of the stories of Job and Joseph and Paul and many others who suffered terribly and/or unjustly (including Jesus, who arguably suffered the greatest injustice of all, for the least reason ever), and who were betrayed or let down by friends or family or fellow believers, or (so they perceived) God.

            Yet they seemed to understand there was a purpose and a plan on God’s part, and that He was not angry at them but rather was right there with them, so at the same time they wailed and bemoaned their troubles, they were also praising and trusting and persevering. There are many contemporary examples, too; beseiged and suffering people who are believers and who truly shine in their trial while also being human in it, and greiving over it as a normal human would, and even asking God “Why?” But never being shaken out of their faith. (Matt Chandler of the Village Church is one great example, a pastor from Texas, with a young family and a thriving church, who was diagnosed almost a year ago with anaplastic oligodendroglioma, stage 3. It’s a very malicious brain tumor that few people survive; he will be receiving chemo for another year, I believe.)

            So I guess my questions are: During your years on the front lines for Jesus, did you question the view you seem to have learned, that doing the right things should equal being trouble-free? Did you study the Bible to gain greater insight into how God works, or the answers to the problem of pain and evil? I wonder, based on what you say about the reaction of those in your church, were they not Bible-based in their preaching and teaching? Did you think you had learned about suffering well, but it just did not hold up in practice, under the stress of what you experienced? Did your prayer life offer no peace and strength?

            Again, my questions are genuinely benevolent and humble. It is truly awful, the damage a church can do to people by tying salvation to behavior, or “program”, or good works. It is an egregious and soul-damaging error. None of us can BE good enough to keep trouble from touching us in this world.

            Part of the support and protection you should have been guided into, from God’s Word itself, was the assurance that no matter how much we suffer in this life, it doesn’t mean that God loves us any less than completely, and no matter how “blessed” we are in life, it does not assure our salvation. Seems to me that is the essence of what is meant by “the first shall be last” and “the meek shall inherit the earth” and “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven”.

            I feel very sad that years spent in (what should have been) the body of Christ gave you no answers, no assurance upon which you could depend. Your experience underscores why it is soooooooo important to test everything we hear against what we read in scripture — *even* if we heard it in church. It’s why Jesus says, “Come, let us reason together.” Because we were warned that some in the church would be wolves, even some who appear to be part of the body, and that we needed to be discerning :

            “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31)

            I mourn that some of your own pastors were savage wolves. I pray the Lord will draw near to you, heal your hurts, and lead you to the answers you need.

          • Candace

            PotP, I am sorry for your experience. That sounds awful :-( And I sincerely hope things will look up for you, if they have not already.

            May I ask about something I have found perplexing, not just now reading your story, but other times with Christians in similar situations as well?

            None of what I say is meant to be hurtful or challenging. I am seriously seeking understanding and I ask you since you are one who may have insight to offer.

            I cannot claim to have been on the front lines for Jesus, nor have I been a Christian long (about 4 years now). Most of that time things have been on the upswing for me, after decades of utter misery as a non-believer. So maybe it has been too easy for me.

            Nonetheless, I grasped quite early on that Christians can expect to suffer in this world. Jesus explicitly teaches us that, and it is the lesson of the stories of Job and Joseph and Paul and many others who suffered terribly and/or unjustly (including Jesus, who arguably suffered the greatest injustice of all, for the least reason ever), and who were betrayed or let down by friends or family or fellow believers, or (so they perceived) God.

            Yet they seemed to understand there was a purpose and a plan on God’s part, and that He was not angry at them but rather was right there with them, so at the same time they wailed and bemoaned their troubles, they were also praising and trusting and persevering. There are many contemporary examples, too; beseiged and suffering people who are believers and who truly shine in their trial while also being human in it, and greiving over it as a normal human would, and even asking God “Why?” But never being shaken out of their faith. (Matt Chandler of the Village Church is one great example, a pastor from Texas, with a young family and a thriving church, who was diagnosed almost a year ago with anaplastic oligodendroglioma, stage 3. It’s a very malicious brain tumor that few people survive; he will be receiving chemo for another year, I believe.)

            So I guess my questions are: During your years on the front lines for Jesus, did you question the view you seem to have learned, that doing the right things should equal being trouble-free? Did you study the Bible to gain greater insight into how God works, or the answers to the problem of pain and evil? I wonder, based on what you say about the reaction of those in your church, were they not Bible-based in their preaching and teaching? Did you think you had learned about suffering well, but it just did not hold up in practice, under the stress of what you experienced? Did your prayer life offer no peace and strength?

            Again, my questions are genuinely benevolent and humble. It is truly awful, the damage a church can do to people by tying salvation to behavior, or “program”, or good works. It is an egregious and soul-damaging error. None of us can BE good enough to keep trouble from touching us in this world.

            Part of the support and protection you should have been guided into, from God’s Word itself, was the assurance that no matter how much we suffer in this life, it doesn’t mean that God loves us any less than completely, and no matter how “blessed” we are in life, it does not assure our salvation. Seems to me that is the essence of what is meant by “the first shall be last” and “the meek shall inherit the earth” and “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven”.

            I feel very sad that years spent in (what should have been) the body of Christ gave you no answers, no assurance upon which you could depend. Your experience underscores why it is soooooooo important to test everything we hear against what we read in scripture — *even* if we heard it in church. It’s why Jesus says, “Come, let us reason together.” Because we were warned that some in the church would be wolves, even some who appear to be part of the body, and that we needed to be discerning :

            “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31)

            I mourn that some of your own pastors were savage wolves. I pray the Lord will draw near to you, heal your hurts, and lead you to the answers you need.

  • Don Rappe

    I like this story. It shows beautifully how God can restructure our personality for the better. It well expresses the element of surrender.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      “It well expresses the element of surrender.”

      Aye. That does seem essential.

  • margaret

    This is simply beautiful. Thank you.

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    Beautiful story of reconciliation and love.

    I got a little uneasy, though, at the financial classes — “learning how God wants me to manage my money.” That seems more like a church thing than a God thing? I’ll admit to being biased about church classes because of my past history…I’m hesitant to even join a bible study. Confirmation classes were tough for me until I realized we were simply learning the history of the Episcopal Church and that the church today regards the catechsim more as a statement of what the clergy and hierarchy believe and not a requirement for membership.

  • Candace

    FreeFox wrote: “Is this sort of self-abasement a prerequisite for being saved? I have heard it so often, especially from born again Christians, and I could never understand it. I would have thought that God would wish us to love ourselves, too. What was that about ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine’? Are you yourselves not amongst His brothers and sisters? (Especially since this “I was/am such a wicked sinner” part very rarely sounds remorseful, but usally rather gleefull…)

    Not taking the piss or anything, but serious bewilerment. ”

    FreeFox, I can only speak for myself (well, and a few others I know who say the same), but the “glee” rather than remorse you hear in the perceived self-abasement of the Born Again is actually *relief* — the sweet, blessed, total relief we experience in not having to maintain the illusion/delusion any more; the illusion we presented to others of who were were, and the delusion we ourselves suffered of who we were. It is a huge relief to have an *accurate* perception of ourselves, as sinners saved by His grace.

    Most of my life I put on a mask every day, not just before others, but in an effort to dupe myself as well. I did this because the cost of looking at who I *really* was, was simply too much, too devastating, too difficult without the love of the Lord.

    Once God showed me that Jesus had already paid the cost for who and what I am, and I absorbed the absolutely miraculous news that He loved me anyway and always would, I could finally take off that mask.

    The really costly thing is thinking that I myself am good and sufficient. It never worked for me because it was not true. And since it is not true, living life as though it were was a total lie. Any liar knows how difficult and emotionally expensive it is to live a lie, and how very much focus and energy and struggle is required to try and keep all the lies straight and the image seamless. It can’t be done, but I tried for a loooooong long time.

    So yes, I do feel gleeful at every admission of what a broken, unworthy loser I am :-) Because I know the truth, and my world finally makes sense, and I can happily decrease so that He may increase, I delight in the fact that in my weakness HE is strong. There is nothing more exhilarating and life-giving than that. I knew all along that the Bible (God’s Living Word) said these things. But I had no idea that they were meant *literally*. What a gift it is to finally see. A totally free and utterly liberating gift.

    • Anonymous

      Wonderfully said.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paulardoin Paul Ardoin

      I’ve really never heard it expressed like this before: the relief you felt, the mask you say you were wearing every day, the illusion/delusion, the cost of thinking you were good and sufficient. I see now that many people who consider themselves Born Again feel the way you do.

      Like you, I can only speak for myself, but I had the exact opposite experience. I grew up in the church (an evangelical “non-denominational” Protestant church), and I felt like I was putting a mask on every day I went to church, pretending to feel the power of God and lifting my hands up when everyone sang even though it felt 100% fake.

      I left the church in my early 20′s and am really only in the last few years (I’m almost 40) able to come back to the teachings of Jesus. But my spiritual experience is 180° from yours: in the church, I felt like a complete loser and a complete liar. Only away from the church do I feel the relief you talk about of not living a lie. (And I feel like I *am* good and I *am* sufficient, but I’m better when I interact with God and learn from Jesus—which I never felt in the church.)

      I took a “spirituality test” in church once, and it basically said that I had an incredibly skeptical personality type and that I was “definitely not saved” (although at the time I thought I was). Maybe it’s my personality that leads me down this path; I certainly value your experience, however different from mine.

      I marvel that you can have the experience you had, and that I had a polar-opposite experience, yet here we are, commenting on the same blogpost, and we probably both call ourselves Christians.

      • Candace

        Hi, Paul :-)

        Thanks for that! How cool, I am sharing the marvel.

        I cannot claim any personal insight into how it would be to grow up as you did, or how many churches are that way in their contact with the youth they (are supposed to) serve. As one who came to Christ late-ish in life and has only regularly attended/been a member of one church, my perspective is very limited. But from what I read, your experience is shared by many.

        I think I really struck gold with my church. There is a little bit of the “worship leaders should not wear jeans in church” sort of old-school legalism that goes on, and like any family, it’s messy sometimes. Well, often. But people also show a lot of grace and mercy to each other, and although the Biblical “ideal” is presented, few seem to harbor the notion that we-the-sheep are capable of achieving it in this life! ;-0

        The youth are shepherded regarding God’s character and His plan as described in the Bible, and it is made clear that “we” as a body believe He is benevolent in this, even when it doesn’t seem like it, and that He wants His best for us all.

        The focus (churchwide) is on knowing and loving the Lord so we may grow in faith and character, while also realizing that only one perfect person ever lived, and — since we are not Him — we will make mistakes and life will be difficult and messy and wonderful and strange.

        I see good things happening in the lives of the young folks in our church, and for the most part they seem to be healthy. Or at least not any more unhealthy than any of us are at that age.

        I guess one way to demonstrate our “ethic” is to share this example: We teach the biblical view of sex and marriage, and believe that there is great blessing for couples in obedience to it. But when a teen in our youth group became pregnant out of wedlock, she was warmly embraced in her decision to keep the baby. Members of every age group have come alongside her and, rather than shaming her and rejecting her for her mistake (as too many would), she is a fully accepted and loved member of our family. Others are keeping her in mind when they have extra household items they don’t need; one couple in their 70s is covering diaper costs for as long as she continues her education (she’s now in her first year of nursing school); people have been taking turns helping with child care; the list goes on.

        We are a flawed, all-to-human, and sometimes less-than-Christlike bunch. But we “do life” together and love each other and the Lord. And that feels wonderful to me. I only wish more peple had that kind of experience with His church. I grieve that it is not the case.

        The “sirituality test” instance chills me. That feels evil. I am so sorry. Did you read John’s “Listen to God; Screw the Rest!” post?? Wisdom there!

  • Candace

    (Feeling like a dummy — I can’t seem to get the “reply” function to work, so have to reply to previous comments in a new, unpinned post.)

    Barnmaven, I understand where you are coming from, the money thing is/can be abused by churches, for sure. On the other hand — the use and abuse of money gets a lot of coverage in the Bible. God has a lot to say about stewardship.

    The money-management programs offered at many churches are solidly grounded in God’s word. I’ve been following one such program for a few years now (Crown Financial Management’s “money map” program) and the proof is in the pudding. With the lone exception of my car payment, I am entirely debt free (even my home is fully paid off). I have less than a year to pay on the car and then I will have zero consumer debt.

    Pretty rare and happy place to be these days, with the average adult carrying $7,000 in (just) credit card debt. Couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have done it without trusting the Lord’s wisdom in that area and following the map.

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      I don’t know about trusting the lord part, but prudent financial planning and access to steady work seem to help most people’s financial situations. I’m an atheist and have no debt which leads me to think that maybe you’re misreading the pudding.

      • Candace

        Not a chance :-) But I learned long ago not to try and “convince” anyone of anything. I was unconvincible until the Lord laid His hand upon me and wiped the scales from my eyes, and I just assume that others will be as well.

        Everything I say, in any forum whatsoever, I say because it is how I feel and think and believe. I have taken a page from John’s book — I simply don’t care when others disagree or denigrate.

  • Candace

    Ooops. Should have added the “YMMV” caveat to my comment on money management.

    Because someone above had a very good point about making things sound like “God=no more problems.”

    God has granted my prayers in terms of resolution to some problems. As for other problems — well, He’s answered those prayers too, and the answer was “Not yet. I am the potter and you are the clay”!!

    • Shadsie

      “I simply don’t care when others disagree or denigrate.” _ Great for you! That’s an attitude I’ve learned to have and am learning to have… about everything. Be yourself, and if others don’t like it, it’s their problem.

      I am one who… doesn’t go to church and haven’t for a while, and really dislike it when people try to denigrate me over that. I’m in a place with my own problems right now and figuring things out. I’m also a loner-personality at heart (except on the Internet, but that’s because there’s a “distance” thing, I guess). Still, as some here know, I defend faith and those who have it online.

      I just think everyone needs to be careful about making God sound like a self-help program. Non-believers don’t buy it and those who’ve are believers but have been so for a while tend not to buy it, either. I know by bitter experience that God lets some of us keep our problems, or even makes us more keenly aware of them. Sometimes, I think he uses them.

      I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be what the world (or the church) wants me to be. Humans expect too much of other humans. I’ve also learned that problems can stick around (or even be an indellible part of you) but be “fuel” for good things. It doesn’t meant they *aren’t* problems, just that they’re workable.

      • Diana A.

        “I just think everyone needs to be careful about making God sound like a self-help program. Non-believers don’t buy it and those who’ve are believers but have been so for a while tend not to buy it, either. I know by bitter experience that God lets some of us keep our problems, or even makes us more keenly aware of them. Sometimes, I think he uses them. ” I am in total agreement with this.

  • Candace

    Shadsie, thanks for your encouragement, and also for the spot-on insights of your last two paragraphs. Looks like a pretty Jesus-shaped spirituality to me.

    It also brought to mind the sufferings of Paul. He prayed and prayed for God to remove his “thorn”, yet, when that was not to be, he trusted the Lord would render the problem, as you say, “workable”. Sometimes that involved working around, and other times working through, but he persevered.

    Not all those in church have as much faith as you do.


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