Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Many of you know that I was raised in a Christian home. People who grew up with me in Rochelle know that my parents were deacons and devoted attendees of our small, Protestant congregation, and that I was pretty much a goody-two-shoes.

There was no question of my ever having smoked, drank or "done it", and yet, I would never have defined myself as a Christian. Sure, if someone asked me, I'd say "Yes, I'm a Christian"- because I believed in God, and chose to believe SOME of the Bible (the parts I believed in were those I was already obeying... everything else I found convenient to chuck as "antiquated" or "unrealistic", because to believe that they were commands from God put me squarely in the wrong and that wasn't where I wanted to put myself).

For many years I was confused. I read my Bible every night before bed, truly pondering its words and wondering what they meant, how I was supposed to live. Living like a Christian according to the Bible seemed so unbelievably difficult and I wondered; who could possibly forgive seventy times seven? Who can go through their life without gossiping? Am I supposed to give all my money to the poor, like Jesus tells the rich young ruler? What do all these stories mean for my life?

And then there was the fact that most of the Christians I met seemed to irritate me. Number one on their list of faults (in my non-Christian mind) was that none of them seemed remotely to have sense of humor, except at the blandest and stupidest jokes. Number two was that none of them ever seemed to struggle with anything. Their husbands seemed so perfect and helpful, them so kind and patient. I never saw the slightest hint of humanity from any of them- no one ever had a bad day with their kids, no one ever struggled with their temper or with an unloving spouse. They were constantly saying things like "God is good", and "Amen" and "God worked", "I'm so blessed"- and I kept wondering what they meant. It sounded like they were using God as a band-aid to delude themselves into the idea that their lives were perfect.

And I really didn't feel I fit anywhere into these perfect lives. I was struggling with a little boy who was two and a half and barely spoke, who would have incredibly difficult, hours-long screaming fits and I was nursing another little one. My husband was disengaged, struggling with his own problems and had little time or sympathy for mine. My own nerves were frazzled and my temper shot. I'd yell at my kids, expect WAY more of them than was possible for toddlers, and shoot bitter and sarcastic barbs at my husband any time I got the chance, hoping to break him down, that his reserve would crumble and I would get through to him in some way- trying desperately to get my message across: I AM SLOWLY DYING.

What could I possibly have in common with Christians? And yet- I couldn't reject Christianity any more than I could embrace it. Life without God seemed a life without hope.

And so I went on.

It wasn't until I moved to Santa Clarita three years ago, and was invited out to the Church of Christ by Ron and Cheryl Hammer that I really "got it."

There I met Christians who were totally committed to following Jesus's example and living according to the words of the Bible. They were kind, loving, forgiving, accepting, merciful, compassionate- to their husbands, their children, their neighbors and even to me, a total stranger. I was cowed by their graciousness, especially as I compared it with my own bitter, cynical attitude.

But this was par for the course as far as my experience with Christianity; it would have been easy to let myself off the hook by branding them as saints and telling myself that "I'm just not that good of a person. It's easy for people like them to be kind."

And I'm sure that's what I would have done had it not been for their total and complete honesty. Not one of them pretended they were perfect or had it all together; actually quite the opposite! They were instead confessing their sins to each other, revealing the imperfect attitudes of their hearts and encouraging each other to change. This was the salt that gave flavor to their conversation, zest to their personalities and attracted me like a moth to a flame.


All of the women I met were trying to be good wives and mothers and none of them pretended it was easy. They never diminished the pain of the struggle; yet they never denied the worth of following Jesus. I listened with relish as they described their efforts to be women of God, and their very human failures and successes.

And as I listened to them; I laughed! I actually laughed! They were FUNNY. Funny Christians... I had thought they didn't exist, like ligers and unicorns- but I now realize it's because they were truthful. They had no desire to cover up who they were, to mask their faults and failings. Rather, they were willingly exposing them to each other, not to poke fun at them or just for a laugh but to change, to grow closer to God, to follow Jesus more closely.

I was convicted. I wanted to be different. I studied the Bible with these women and I learned about God in a way I hadn't in years of plodding through chapters and verses on my own, because I understood that I needed to change from the inside out. This wasn't about "being good"- this was a total heart transplant, in which all of my previous attitudes and assumptions about my place in the universe needed to be thrown out and God placed at the center of my life.

It wasn't always easy- I was used to putting myself at the center of my life. My needs. My wants. My notions of justice, fairness, equality. What I think. What I feel. What I deserve. It wasn't natural for me to think about God first. God's mercy. God's justice. God's compassion.

But once my thinking was turned toward God, I found that I didn't have to struggle so hard to "be good" - mercy, love, self-control, patience - all sprang to life in my heart as a natural fruit of turning to God, not as a result of any effort of my own. This was it! This was the secret! This is how these saintly women did it! Stayed patient, stayed loving even in the worst circumstances!

Does this mean I became perfect? Of course not! I struggled daily to turn to God for help, but I became more gentle, patient and kind with my kids, more helpful and forbearing with my husband, more honest about my own shortcomings (before that, my own faults were always the result of something someone else had done to me and no fault of my own, OF COURSE).

I was baptized nearly two years ago, on October 21, 2007 and I am happy to say I am a different person than the one I was. Not perfect. But different.

Why am I sharing all this? Because now that I am a Christian, I want to share some of my struggles to stay faithful and be a Christian woman. It's not going to be the total focus of my blog, but it will necessarily be a part of it, because Christianity is now the lens through which I view the world. I felt like I needed some kind of "statement of faith" on here though, because this blog goes way back to my pre-Christian days and I would never want to confuse anyone who is searching for the truth by writing as a Christian, but having old posts up that reveal all my old sinful attitudes. At the same time, I think it's hypocritical and wrong to remove the old posts; I want to stay in touch with who I was before I was a Christian- to be able to hear the biting, bitter sarcasm in my voice - to remember the lack of mercy with which I treated people, to remember my contemptuousness, my pride, my feelings of desperation- some of which came through in my writing, some of which are just personal recollections connected to the events I've written about.

I know very few people will read this, and some that do will probably say, "Well, I thought you were funnier when you were sarcastic and bitter" or something similar, and you may be right. Maybe I've crossed the line into the world of the UNFUNNY CHRISTIAN and am in it so deep now I can't even see how UNFUNNY I am.

I have one thing to say to you: Poop.

That one goes over pretty well in my house. Not your taste? Butt. Buttcheeks.

Any takers?

No? Come on, this is my best material, people! "That's gold Jerry, gold!"

I don't have a final thought... I've said what's on my heart.

No comments: