Monday, June 20, 2016

Let's Talk About Faith Part 3: Confirmation

Previously on Let’s Talk About Faith: Introduction / Pre-Church.

My family moved when I was nine years old, and with that move, my parents also found a church to attend.  We went briefly, at the beginning of fourth grade.  The people were nice, but there were not many kids our age.  I didn’t like getting up early, and I didn’t like wearing dresses.  The only thing I liked were the doughnuts that were served afterward - and even those did not compare to the ones Dad sometimes brought home as a special treat.  My sister, 6-year-old brother, and I sang in the choir.  I loved music, but did not know how to read it.  I was more concerned about missing Doogie Howser, M.D. (which aired the same night as choir rehearsed.)

Five years later, my sister and I returned to Lakeview United Methodist Church.  My sister shared in a private journal entry that it had been so long since we had attended, we did not remember the name of the church, but that, upon walking in again, “it felt homey.”

While I didn’t keep such a detailed recollection of my teenage years, I do remember coming to confirmation class.  The church had had a shift in leadership since we had last been there and now, was headed by a lovely woman I’ll call Pastor Sarah.

FAITH IN ACTION:

Confirmation class was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  I had no sense of how to find scripture in the Bible, so Pastor Sarah showed everyone.  No judgment.  We were asked to memorize all the books of the Bible, in order.  (Thanks to Wee Sing Bible Songs, Tara and I had that down the same night it was assigned.)  We studied the female attributes of God.  We made masks covered in symbols that we felt represented us.  We even went to a service at a synagogue one evening.

We did a lot of serving others, from teaching Sunday school to the younger kids, to working in soup kitchens.  Pastor Sarah even asked Tara and me to sing for one of the Sunday services, perhaps having heard us sing many a confirmation night.  We performed God Without and Within.  I did not spontaneously combust.  I was never left out of anything during the more service-oriented tasks.  I was always expected to help, even though I was often tentative about taking initiative, unsure of how to make unfamiliar situations work for me.  I was expected to take a turn reading scripture in front of the congregation certain Sundays, just as everyone else in class did.

Prior to a camping trip with our small confirmation class (only four others, in addition to Tara and me) Pastor Sarah informed me that she was required to bring on a seemingly random woman.  “Why?” I asked.

“So you can come with us.”

Whatever the policy was that indicated leadership must bring another person, specifically because I was there, made me bristle.  I knew it was because of my CP and I didn’t like it.  A couple of dads were already coming, and Pastor Sarah.  To my 15-year-old mind, that was more than enough adults.

But Pastor Sarah never wavered.  I was going with them.  Of course, I was.  If that meant a random lady had to come along, then so be it.

On the trip, one of two boys along volunteered to piggyback me across long portages, while everyone else carried canoes, tents and packs.  We had gone to second grade together, and his help was always matter-of-fact. He never made me feel like a burden.  At the end of the week, when we were told to find something in nature for the person whose name we drew early on to do nice things for, I was shocked to find out that he did not have mine.  I had been sure the whole trip that he had drawn my name, and that was why he was being so nice about helping me and not making a big deal out of it.  But no.  It was never like that.

All of us confirmation kids were expected to lead for a day.  That meant me, too.  Of course, me, too.  The only difference was that Tara and I were each paired with one of the two able-bodied girls, to co-lead.  This was Pastor Sarah’s doing, I’m positive, and I appreciated her for thinking of even these details, so that our co-leaders might take on the more physical aspects of leading, while Tara and I took on the other equally daunting aspects of leading for a day.

[Image is: Me at 15, sitting on a picnic bench, on the camping trip I took with my confirmation class.]


LACK OF FAITH IN A PERFECT GOD:

I remember, in the early days of confirmation class, all I felt was insecurity.  Though no one spoke about me being different, I knew I was.  By now, my childish dream of being able to someday walk without crutches was long gone, as I had begun using my wheelchair at school the previous year, to save my stamina.

Perhaps, it was this shift or my ever-present low self esteem, but I was convinced that everything I did was wrong.  If anyone at church knew I wrote prayers to God in a journal sometimes, I felt sure I would be ridiculed, so I stayed very quiet, rarely speaking.

In one of these early meetings, Pastor Sarah mentioned something about God being a “perfect God.”  I mulled over this during the rest of the lesson and when class was dismissed for the night, I remained behind, voicing my confusion to Pastor Sarah:

“How can God be perfect?” I asked.  “Nobody’s perfect.”

“God is perfect.”

Somewhere deep inside me, I felt my real question burning to be asked:

How could a perfect God have made somebody like me?

Quiet and perceptive, Pastor Sarah spoke again.  “You know,” she said thoughtfully.  “There are some people who don’t feel at home in their bodies.”

I looked at her.

“There are girls who feel in their hearts they were supposed to be born boys and vice versa.  Boys who feel in their hearts that they are girls.”

I thought I had Pastor Sarah caught.

“See?”  I said.  “Those kids aren’t happy.  How could a perfect God make those kids if they’re not happy how they’re born?  How could a perfect God do that to them?”

Pastor Sarah looked at me thoughtfully and then spoke again.  “I don’t know,” she admitted.  “But I know God made them.”

FINDING FAITH IN GOD’S WORD:

Months later, and completely by chance, I was flipping through the Bible the previous pastor had given to me when I was nine.  Words that looked like poetry and were, therefore, a bit easier to read than the dense blocks of text caught my eye, from Psalms 139:

You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother’s womb...when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there--you saw me before I was born.  The days allotted to me had all been recorded in your book before any of them ever began…

With these words as a kind of confirmation of the ones Pastor Sarah spoke, I began, slowly, to accept myself.

***

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