I didn't grow up going to church. I went on a few occasions - accompanying my many Catholic friends to mass, attending with my grandparents only to be shuttled off to an awkward Sunday School class where I'd cling to my sister like saran wrap, and even attending a Catholic summer camp where Mass was given 3 times a week out on a hot tennis court. I was not drawn in, but not either turned off.
My first vivid encounter with religion was mid-high school, when a friend(?) of mine got rather judgmental on some of my choices. As it turns out, God does not love beer drinkers. Of all the many rejections and turmoil of high school, this one stands out to me the most. I had never had my character discounted right to my face and the experience stung.
It took me a little while before I became curious, much less open, to having a little more God in my life. I give a lot of credit to my first roommate in college, Steph. She is one of those people who just shines light from the inside out. Being a college freshmen comes with a handful of drama along the way, but Steph always remained calm, content and steadfast. I felt like she knew some secret to life that I was missing out on. She talked to me a lot about her relationship with God, but she never once made me feel inferior for where I was in my relationship with Him. I knew innately that Steph had something I didn't, but it took a few more years before I really began searching.
What a classic cliche it is to find God in the midst of a crisis. My senior year of college everything seemed to fall apart at my feet. I lost a lot of confidence and happiness in the midst of a really toxic relationship that I refused to leave, citing "not giving up" as my reason for consciously choosing unhappiness. Then, one morning I woke up and my health was gone - just like that. I thought I had food poisoning, and when those lovely symptoms persisted for a month, then two months, and ultimately continued on for another year, I thought I might never live a normal, healthy life again. Somewhere in the middle of this madness, I started praying. I wonder if God ever just rolls his eyes when we wait until the sky falls down on us to look up.
It was a year later that I stepped foot in a church for the first time in probably ten years. To this day I have no conscious memory of how I chose the church I went to in Baltimore. It was 30 minutes north of the city. My parents are Catholic and Methodist, and it was Presbyterian. I knew no one there. But one day I googled a church, drove there and walked in. And I discovered what it was to worship. I can still remember the feeling of tears pin pricking behind my eyes and my nose as I heard, for the first time, the type of music that made me feel connected to this amazing feeling of love.
Throughout the next three years, my relationship with God grew bolder and more beautifully. I talked to Him, all the time. It was no longer just when I needed Him, I made it a point to tell him all the time how thankful I was. When my colitis flared up again, I constantly fought against the pervasive "why me" feeling to try and find reasons to be grateful - even if it was sometimes just being grateful for a well-timed public restroom, a hefty dose of steroids or a boyfriend in the medical field who didn't seem to mind all the talk about my colon.
In the spring of 2005, Matt asked me if I would join him on a mission trip to Belize with his church. I was so excited to go, and I just kept expecting that I would have this MOMENT where my relationship with God would be forever and indelibly changed. The trip was lovely, and I was so moved by the love that the church community in Belize shared with us, by the exuberant joy and peace that the kids we played with in the school had, and the longing, vast need for love that we saw in the kids in the orphanage. But I never had that MOMENT, and I left the trip wondering if my relationship with God was different than other peoples, and if I was still missing something.
Sometime after moving to Winston-Salem, I found myself praying in my car on my way to work. I never like to put music on when I drive early in the morning and it felt natural to just begin talking to fill the silence. Sometimes out loud, but mostly in my head. Soon it became a routine, and an amazingly calm feeling would descend over me as I parked my car and headed into my day.
On September 7th, 2007, I was driving along Silas Creek Parkway, chatting away to God per usual. Only all of a sudden, I realized He was answering. I don't know how I know this, but I heard Him as clear as if he was sitting right next to me. I asked him so many questions, I could barely contain my thoughts. I was afraid that at any moment, I would begin to question if this was really happening and lose the experience. As soon as I got to work, I ran to plug in my computer and write down as much as I could. I knew I wasn't remembering everything we talked about, and I was afraid if I didn't capture it I would lose the feeling forever.
In that moment, I realized what I had been missing in my life was a dialogue with God. My relationship with God was completely one-sided. "Hello, it's me, again... you listening?" Even in my prayers of thanksgiving, I never once stopped talking long enough to see if He had anything to say. I have been able to recreate that moment on Silas Creek parkway many times throughout the last two years, and it's remarkable to me every single time I stop to listen, God is actually talking back to me.
Am I crazy? Maybe. But I wouldn't trade the peace of mind and overwhelming feeling of happiness that these conversations have given me in the 2 years to have the sanity of my last 25 years back.
I haven't been to church regularly since I left my church in Baltimore, and I've had this nagging feeling that as a believer in God, I have failed Him by not showing up on Sunday. The last time I did go, one of the songs chosen for the service was called "Prone to Wander." Ironic, yes?
How can I be so prone to wander
So prone to leave You
So prone to die
And how can You be so full of mercy
You race to meet me and bring my back to life
I have been feeling distant in my relationship with God lately and I blamed this on my lack of attendance to church or regular devotionals. I realized this morning that my wandering has nothing to do with my location at 11:00 am one day a week. My wandering has much more to do with allowing the chaos of every day life to prevent me from conversing with Him and to using being tired and busy as an excuse to why I'm failing to let His light shine through me.
How can I be so prone to wander from the one thing that makes everything else shine brighter? How can it be so easy to slip from the routine of being with Him? The simple fact is that He is right here, waiting for me to talk to Him, expecting nothing from me but my return to Him. How can You be so fully of mercy?