Monday, June 27, 2016

Let's Talk About Faith Part 4: Saved

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

Three years after my confirmation, I finally stepped foot in a church again.  It wasn’t something I had ever planned to do.  But after I graduated high school, I found myself struggling.  Less than two years previously, my sister had experienced a medical emergency.  This affected her, most of all, but our family was impacted as well.  By the time the second anniversary was approaching, I had found I was not coping.

While my sister went to work at her first job, I walked around the house numb with shock.  It seemed that every time my sister left for work, some part of my mind equated her absence with the many hours waiting to hear if she survived surgery.

[Image is: a photo of me taken that December.  I am dressed in a black striped tee shirt with a gray dress shirt over top.]


Finally, in early December, I had enough.  I lay down on the floor of my bedroom with the light off one afternoon and wrote out what I was feeling.  How I was struggling.  As an afterthought, I put Liam’s name at the top.

Liam had been a classmate in high school.  (I graduated as part of a class of over 600 people, so his was a face I recognized, but not much beyond that.)  We’d had a couple of classes together.  At the senior party the night we graduated, he was one of a few who was not uncomfortable around my wheelchair.  He danced with me on and off the entire night.  As he was one of the popular guys in school, his dancing with me made others more willing to approach me, too.

As fate would have it, Tara, Liam and I all ended up not only at the same community college, but in the same psychology class.  Liam sat beside me, and Tara at the table behind us.  He was quiet and respectful but funny, and we often worked as a trio on assignments that merited teamwork.

Liam was a nice guy, and the truth was, I needed to talk to someone about what I was feeling who was outside my family.  Our former pastor at Lakeview, Pastor Sarah, had shown up when things were very uncertain.  Even my beloved former pastor was associated with this time of difficulty.  She was at the hospital with us.  She was checking in and calling faithfully.  So, for a while, seeing her sparked anxiety, as I associated her with not knowing if my sister was going to survive.

At that point in my life, two years later, it seemed that everyone around me was impacted by what had happened just as deeply (or more) than I was.  Tara was the person I could talk to about anything, but our experiences in this instance could not have been more different, so we struggled to communicate.  I needed to share about it with someone for whom the experience was not a raw and open wound.  Someone who would not shut down, fall apart, or be re-traumatized because I needed to talk about it.

I gave Liam this note one day in psych class.  It was the following week before he addressed it, and not in the way I had ever thought he would.

“I read your letter,” he said, “and I was wondering if you both wanted to come to church with me?”

Tara and I exchanged looks.  I had told her about the letter, but this was not how we imagined he might respond.

“What church do you go to?” Tara asked.

“It’s called The Edge.”

We exchanged glances again, dubious.  What kind of name was The Edge, anyway?

He told us where it was and that his sisters would be happy to pick us up for Wednesday night youth group, if we wanted to go.

After some back and forth over the next couple days, Tara and I decided to accept.  We were both struggling.  We both needed something, and Liam heard that.  He did something about it.  Even though it wasn’t what we expected him to do, it couldn’t make things worse, could it?

We decided we’d give it a try.

UNEXPECTED FAITH:

The Edge church was big and welcoming.  In fact, I wrote at the time that “When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by the youth pastors, as well as tons of other people, and they were all super nice and friendly.”

This feeling of being embraced so warmly by peers was not something I was used to.  The sight of my crutches or my wheelchair usually made others standoffish.  But my chair didn’t bother these people.

The service itself was...well...it was weird.

At least, for someone whose only previous experience with faith was a Methodist church.  We could not have gone farther in the opposite direction if we tried.  There were no hymnals.  Song lyrics to modern praise and worship songs were projected on a screen at the front of the sanctuary.  (I was so far removed from religion that I called this “the main room” and knew only that Liam was “at the front of the main room, singing and playing guitar, not that he was part of the worship team.)  There wasn’t a choir.  We did not sit or stand respectfully.  Instead, everyone was invited to jump and dance while they sang.

And the praying…  I had grown up praying mostly silently, or in a call-and-response fashion during the services at Lakeview, with each word prescribed so I always knew just what to say.  At The Edge, kids prayed into a microphone out loud, the way they might talk to their friends.  They cried and yelled and hit the ground with their hands.

After everything finished, I spoke again with the youth pastors, who were so interested, warm and kind.  And still later, Liam asked if Tara and I wanted to go out to eat pizza with him.  It was after 10 PM, but we took him up on his offer.  We enjoyed each other’s company.  Liam asked if we understood the praying that happened and encouraged us to ask questions if we had them.

LOST FAITH:

A few days later, Liam invited me to the Sunday morning service and the children’s Christmas concert that evening.  It was after this event, parked in the driveway outside my parents’ house, that I brought up the letter again.

“I’m sorry if that took you off-guard,” I said, “I just needed to talk.  I hope it was okay.”

“Yeah.  It’s okay,” he assured me softly.

I’d made things sufficiently awkward, so I started getting out of the car.

He stopped me short: “We can talk about this more, if you want,” he offered.

“I don’t know what to say…” I began.  “I feel like I lost my faith in God...and I think that’s not something that should happen.  God blessed our family so much...Tara’s still alive…  I don’t feel anything when I’m praying or in church…”

Liam responded, “Well, I feel something.  I feel something right now.”  Then he asked, “Can I pray for you?”

Startled, I agreed, though in my current state, I couldn’t imagine what a prayer was going to do to change the trauma that was affecting me on a daily basis.

So, Liam prayed for a long time.  My emotional numbness persisted.  Finally, the prayer was finished, and Liam opened his eyes and looked at me:

“Do you feel different?” he asked.

“No,” I admitted.

But that didn’t deter Liam.  He encouraged me to read the Bible and keep praying - and that it was possible that I would feel different that night or the next morning.  “God wants you at your weakest point.”

“Well, that’s definitely me…” I confirmed sadly.

“See?” he said, with a gentle smile.  “You’re perfect.”

SAVED BY FAITH:

The amount of times someone had referred to me, a girl with CP, as perfect were zero until that moment.  Needless to say, the words of affirmation assured that I would be back.  For the next two months, I attended The Edge church at least twice a week.

In mid-February, there was an event at church.  At the end of this event, there was an altar call to which I responded - caught up in the energy of the moment and not wanting to be left out.  I made the choice to acknowledge that I was a sinner, accept Jesus as my savior, and live for God.

I walked into my parents house that evening feeling that for the first time in my life, I had a purpose.  Not only that, though.  I had acceptance.  I had a whole new group of friends and we did stuff together; they liked being around me.  They included me on trips and activities.  I never felt left out or like a burden.

I felt euphoric.

And that was the beginning of the next phase of my life.

I had no idea what I was in for.

***

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