Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Firm Foundation?

On bright summer mornings when I wake up before the kids, I make my coffee, grab my bible and go out on the deck to read. I'm working my way through the book of Luke. I'm reading as a skeptic, as someone who strongly questions the notion of inerrancy. I'm picking it apart. Did Jesus really say that? Why was this story considered important enough to include here?

This morning I read the passage where Jesus says anyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is like a man who builds his house on a firm foundation, so that when the storms come it doesn't wash away (Luke 6:47-49). It struck me that Christians can fall into the mistake of judging someone's "foundation" by how they respond to crisis. If someone falls apart, if their life is a mess, they must not have the foundation Jesus talks about. How unfair to the Christian with mental health issues. Sometimes bible stories like these give Christians performance anxiety. Other Christians are watching, so they feel they have to appear as though their foundation is solid when inside they're hurting and they're internal house has completely washed away.

I finished a first draft of my novel. It's a shitty first draft as Anne Lamott would say, a Port-a-Potty worthy shitty first draft. I've gotten some good feedback, and I think I know what I need to do to make the story better, but I get tripped up. The story I'm telling isn't nice and happy and Christiany. Because those aren't the stories I like to tell. Sometimes I feel guilty about that.

People talk about Catholic guilt, but I was raised Catholic, spent 12 years in Catholic schools, got married in the Catholic church, and I've never felt guilt like I have since joining the ranks of evangelical Christians. I've been second guessing my every move for almost 30 years, worried that my salvation would be ripped away, that I wouldn't properly discern the will of God, that everyone around me would know I hadn't properly discerned the will of God.

I know plenty of people who have walked away from the religion of their youth, both Catholics and evangelical Christians. I'm not ready to do that. I still go to church every week. I still pray. I'm still hanging on hoping God can hear me. But I need to tear down everything I once thought was true. And I need to do it guilt-free, not worrying about what other Christians think about me or my performance, whether or not my foundation is firm. Or whether or not the book I'm writing is Christiany.

I didn't intend for this blog to be an examination of my faith. I didn't intend for it to be about grief either. But here I am.

Monday, February 18, 2019


I am not a good Christian. In fact, I'm not sure I can even call myself a Christian anymore. I'm a God believer, and that's as far as I'm willing to go. Because to say I'm a Christian says I believe in Christ, that he was the son of God, sent to earth to save us from our sins. And that's where I stop and say, "What? Who sets up a system like this? Who creates a beautiful place, fills it with amazing creatures, adds humans, and then sits back and waits knowing they'll fail, and then according to this plan, need to be redeemed? What?"

My relationship with the bible is tenuous at best. The God of the bible isn't a God I want to know. That's blasphemous to say. I should be afraid. But I don't want a relationship with a God I need to be afraid of. If I can't question a document created by people to describe him without incurring his wrath, then he's not for me.

In the last few years I've come to feel like a relationship with the God of the bible is like an abusive relationship. We're supposed defer to him in all things, praise him, and then take whatever he hands out without question. Or maybe that's not the God of the bible and just what Christians say.

I've always thought God's existence is made obvious by everything around me. I don't believe the world was a happy accident, that everything lined up just perfectly and--bam!--the world came into being. I'm not saying there wasn't a big bang, just that someone or something lit the match. Even if you don't believe in God and do think this was all a happy accident, what came before? What are the origins of the universe? Where did all the matter come from?

I said in a previous post that I've been dismantling my religious beliefs piece by piece since Mark died. It's as though I'm sitting surrounded by bricks, each one representing something I used to believe, bricks with words written on them: God, The Bible, Christianity, The Trinity, Jesus, Heaven. The only bricks I've put back are the bricks labeled God and Heaven, but I've crossed out the word Heaven and written Afterlife. All the other bricks sit off to the side.

So I believe in a God of creation. And I believe we're trapped in space and time and there's something else out there, some kind of afterlife of energy where I'll see Mark again. If the God of creation is exactly the God of the bible, then so be it. If the afterlife is exactly the heaven as described in the bible, then so be that, too. If God set up the system as described in the bible, if Jesus is his son who came to redeem our sins, then I'm guessing God will reveal that truth to me. Truth is truth and can't be hidden.

Edited to add:
I wrote this post and then let it sit for a few days. The next Sunday in church my pastor called Jesus truth. "Truth walked the earth," he said. I picked up the Jesus brick.

Here's the thing: church has become a place of miracles for me. A couple months ago as I stood in the sanctuary singing the opening song, I prayed that God would show me a miracle, a really good, physical miracle. And then that day at the end of the service I had a conversation with a little girl who was brain damaged and put on hospice. A CONVERSATION! She complimented my jewelry. We high fived. She was supposed to be dead, and if not dead, certainly not able to communicate verbally.

On the way home from church that day I asked God for a second miracle. Yes, that first one was amazing, but I asked for more, oh me of little faith. I asked for it to involve a large animal and assumed a majestic buck would cross the road in front of me, stop and stare, and I'd know that was my miracle. But this is what happened. The next week at church there was a very large stuffed lion reclining on some fake rocks in a winter scene at the back of the stage. I came in late, so I have no idea why that lion was there. There was a lamp post next to the lion, so I assume it was a reference to C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, but I really don't know. I didn't ask anyone because I was a little freaked out. There was a large animal in front of me!

I haven't asked for any more miracles, but it hasn't escaped me that the two I asked for were both delivered at church. And my pastor's words about Jesus, "Truth walked the earth," have been sitting on my heart. I have the Jesus brick in my hand, but I'm not ready to put it back yet. I've divided the Bible brick into pieces, each book getting its own chunk. If the Jesus brick goes back, then the four gospels do, too. And that's where I get stuck.

If I put the Jesus brick back, can I call myself a Christian again even if the only books of the bible I'm willing to give any attention to are the four gospels?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Things I've had to ignore this week:

  • The fact that my jeans are too tight after a monthlong potato chip binge, each chip an attempt at distraction from the fact that Mark's been dead for four years.
  • My friend pretending to shoot herself in the head to make a point about being frustrated.
  • My heart squeezing upon hearing the laughter of my older kids home from college, their presence making it harder to ignore Mark's absence.

But I'm thankful. Thankful my potato chip fixation has diminished. Thankful for my friend despite her thoughtless attempt at humor. And so thankful for these kids of mine.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Hitch

There's a phenomenon I've come to refer to as "the hitch." It happens when I'm talking to a friend, often it's a Christian friend, and I start talking from the heart, maybe about something I'm struggling with, or maybe it's about how my views on homosexuality have changed. Suddenly they're not listening anymore. Their head tilts ever so slightly, and I can see the wheels turning, the formulation of a counter argument as to why I shouldn't feel the way I feel or think the way I think, a bible verse at the ready. I get it. I used to be that person, head tilted, ready to take advantage of a God-ordained moment to share "truth." I might even have felt obliged to do so, fearing the person's very soul depended on that moment, their salvation in my hands.

I don't think God works that way. (Did your head just tilt?) I believe I'm called to listen and to love. And I'm so beaten down, I can't take anyone's salvation as my responsibility. But I can be a safe place to share what's truly troubling someone, to love unconditionally even when I disagree with what they're saying. I can nod in agreement with the struggle. I can support the person without interjecting my thoughts or sharing a bible verse. God will have to work out the salvation part.

Because here's the truth: people stop talking when they feel judged, and the hitch is judgment in a nutshell. When I keep my head upright and listen with my mouth shut, I keep the door open to future conversations.

What we all need is people around us who will listen. Just listen. Without judgment. Without the need to share a differing opinion. There's always time for that. Later. And only after a specific request for said opinion, to be shared with care and love.

In the meantime, ditch the hitch.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What's Your Numb?

For some it's alcohol. For some it's work. For me, Netflix.

What do you go to when you want to shut out the world, when your mind races and your thoughts jumble until you're incapacitated?

I'm not one of those people who deal with difficult situations by running, or gardening, or one of a number of healthy and productive ways to numb my mind. When I need to calm my brain, I watch TV. I gobble up the HGTV offerings on Netflix, one show after the other, as I daydream about marble backsplashes and an updated fireplace.

I'm glad my numb doesn't include alcohol or running away. I'm here. I'm sober. But I have a new understanding for anyone who chooses unhealthy, or even destructive, means of numbing.

So, what's your numb? Or are you one of the lucky people who don't need a numb? Do those people exist?

Thursday, September 14, 2017


A very difficult year is finally over, what should have been Mark's senior year. His friends have all left for colleges around the country. I won't have my breath taken away when I see them in person and realize how much they've grown. I won't have to listen to their happy parents discussing college acceptance letters. And I can go to the high school and not be slapped in the face by what they're doing that Mark isn't. It was a year to be endured, culminating in me sending very late graduation cards with heartfelt wishes for his friends to go out and be the best they can be. It hurts to think about all the things Mark isn't doing, but I sincerely want his friends to live wonderful lives, especially knowing how his death might have shaped their high school days.

Saturday is Mark's 19th birthday. How can that be? The anticipation of the day is the hardest part. I feel unsettled, erratic, like I want to yell at strangers for no good reason, smoke cigarettes, blast AC/DC and Aerosmith until the neighbors complain. If past years are any indication, I should be back to myself by Sunday--quiet, non-smoking and polite.

This doesn't get easier, you just figure out how to live with your heart split wide open. How to protect it. How to avoid those who can't see it. How to surround yourself with those who can. How to fall into the grief hole, climb out, brush yourself off, and breathe again.

Monday, May 22, 2017

I'm in Vienna. Why, you ask, are you in Vienna? I'm meeting my oldest and her university choir here later today, and then on Friday she and I will go on to Germany to stay with the family of the German exchange student who lived with us five years ago. We have a tradition of taking the kids on a trip somewhere in the US one-on-one with either mom or dad when they turn 7 and 15, and now, apparently, we're setting the precedent that at age 21 you get an international trip. That's fine by me!

Until the choir arrives, I'm touring Vienna alone. It isn't the first time I've been alone in a European city. In college I visited a friend doing a semester in Rome. She had class during the day, so I saw Rome by myself. And when I went to school in Japan, I spent plenty of time wandering around both Kyoto and Osaka alone. But I was younger then, and invincible. Now I'm old and a little bit scared. I've had to reawaken my self-reliance and tap into my forgotten invincibility. When I arrived safely at my hotel yesterday, I patted myself on the back for successfully getting myself on three different flights, and then finding my way to the hotel by train and subway, pulling a too-big blue suitcase behind me.

Back home Mark's classmates are preparing for graduation in a couple of weeks. I don't know where I'll be the evening of graduation, but I do know I won't be anywhere near the high school. My heart can't take seeing happy families celebrating what we can't. Envy is an ugly emotion and the one that has surprised me the most since Mark died. I should probably talk myself out of it, but like other emotions I've experienced the last 2 1/2 years, I just let it be. These days I'm most comfortable around people who live with their emotions openly and honestly, and who give me the grace to do the same.

For the next week, though, I get to enjoy Austria and Germany. I'm not sure I could ask for a better distraction from what can't be. Prost!