In my last blog, I posted a photo of my tattoo of the Tolkien quote, “Not all (those) who wander are lost.” This has been a theme in my life because of the fact that I have been a spiritual wanderer.
I am a Christian. I was first called to this faith when I was a child, being raised in a non-religious household. I was about nine years old when I insisted that my parents take me to church. My mother took me to visit a number of churches before deciding on one. I favored the little Foursquare Gospel church we visited, but my mother chose one that was as non-religious as possible. I didn’t end up getting much out of it, but I would pick up the pew Bibles and try to read them. I was a pretty smart kid. I’d read the Bronte sisters by that point in my life, and within a couple of years I would have polished off the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time. But that book, the Bible, was completely closed to me, beyond my comprehension. It was King James, of course, and let’s face it, it was not the kind of literary style I was accustomed to as a budding literary elitist and future English major. Nor did it help that my exposure consisted of a few minutes of stolen reading while sitting in a Sunday church service. My dad was in the Air Force and was soon after transferred from Southern California to Alaska, where no attempt was made to continue church attendance, since it hadn’t actually ended up fulfilling the need I’d felt.
Over the following years, I occasionally made a friend whose family attended church. I went to various activities, even a church summer camp, but didn’t learn much. The closest I came was when I worked in the nursery at a Vacation Bible School, and I sensed something going on which I again didn’t quite understand, and since I was there only to change diapers and hold babies I didn’t actually get to hear it.
When I was in high school, Jesus Christ Superstar was popular. I never saw the show, but I listened to the album, and through it something was added to my desire to know and understand Christianity, and that was Christ himself. As I listened to this music, I started to fall in love with Jesus.
A few years later I was married in a small Catholic church, where I requested that I be given instruction in the faith. It was a very small church with no formal instruction available, so I just had some meetings with the priest. He told me if I wanted to know about the church, I should start by reading the Book of Acts, since that was its birthplace. He referred me to the Jerusalem Bible, a modern language translation, and I was hooked!
The church I attended was part of the charismatic movement that was spreading through Catholicism at that time, with folk masses filled with guitars and singing and the movement of the Spirit. This was an environment never found again in a Catholic church, and I eventually moved away from the Catholicism, but this was where I first found my faith, in the pages of the Bible and the movement of the Spirit.
In all my life, not a single person had ever “witnessed” to me. Although I went on to hear and learn plenty, my salvation grew out of a personal love relationship with this Lord who had been calling to me for so long. Soon after, I found my way into the Assemblies of God, and I think it’s kind of funny that many years later, I ended up in the Foursquare churches, which had appealed to me so much when I was a child. Who knows how much sooner I might have come to know the One I was seeking had my mother allowed me to choose then?
It was 1974 when I first came to know the Lord, 42 long years ago. Over the course of those years, I have wandered many times, for many different reasons. I have wandered because I made wrong choices. Let’s go ahead and use the appropriate word, which is sin. I made some life choices that I knew were contrary to God’s will, so I quit talking to him, but these were brief separations. My faith stood up amazingly well in those early years, and I always returned, sorrowful over the break in our relationship. In recent years, my wanderings have been different. They have been just plain breakdowns in faith.
I have said many times that my daughter’s kidnapping has not been the cause of my problems with my faith. I can tell you all about how “all things work together for good,” as it says in Romans 8:28. I can’t tell you that it really balances the scale in my heart, but I can compile a list of gifts Michaela has given me, and God has given me, even in this tragedy, and there are even a few people out there whose lives seem to have been impacted positively because of what Michaela and I have gone through. These are things that I know in my head. But is it a coincidence that the big, huge blowouts in faith seem to have come on the heels of the big, huge blowouts in my life brought about because of Michaela’s kidnapping?
Although I’d been on short wanderings before, the first really big one came a year after Michaela was kidnapped. In that year, when what I’d really needed was to grow closer to God, I had not. I’d prayed mightily in the time immediately after Michaela was kidnapped, but, well, it hadn’t worked, had it? So I turned to relying on myself and those nice people who came to actively help Michaela. I prayed less and less, attended church not at all. I became caught up in the world and its efforts to help me find my daughter, and gradually I just left my faith behind.
I mightily, vehemently, viciously turned against God. I was never able to shed my belief in the fact of a spiritual aspect to existence, but I could never call it God. I could not even say the word “God.” If I had to, for some reason, I literally said, “the G word.” I was just so furiously angry. I recognized that anger in other parts of my life, like my desire to smash dishes on cement (I actually did this, but only once). With God, I didn’t recognize it. I think I felt betrayed, but somehow didn’t relate God’s failure to save my daughter to that betrayal. I had the nascent understanding of some greater purpose in what had happened to Michaela. It was completely unconnected with “God” in my mind, however. With God, I just felt duped, and angry.
My mother’s death….
This was a long, long break. It lasted from late 1989 until early 2004, and I would never have believed I could ever return to my faith from where I’d wandered. On October 10, 2003, however, my mother had a near-fatal accident. It was just a fall in her home, but she fractured her ribs and punctured her lung, and because she had advanced emphysema, it was hit or miss whether she would survive. (By the way, she had a Life Alert pendant. If she hadn’t had that she would have died alone on her living room floor. If you have an elderly or infirm relative who insists on living alone, you really should consider this.)
I’d known for a long time my mother’s death was not far off. I just might have been able to accept it, if it weren’t for the fact that my mother was not herself. It turned out to be due to a mineral imbalance, but once the breathing tube was removed, my normally gentile British mother had to be restrained because she was combative with the nurses. She was delusional, calling out to people who weren’t there. She was completely unavailable to me. If my mother was to die, I could not bear for it to be like that. If she was going to leave this world, I wanted to be able to say goodbye to my mother.
It was a perfect storm of circumstances that actually brought me to prayer. I was sitting in the visitor’s lounge on the CCU unit at the time. Somehow, despite the 15 years in which I had entertained almost every spiritual possibility except “God,” it was not to any of those other beliefs I turned. It was to God, without any doubt in my mind as to who that was. “God,” I said through my tears, “I know it has been a long time since we talked, but I am asking you to please, please heal my mother.” I didn’t make any promises, like if you heal my mother I will believe in you. I suppose the belief was implied in the prayer, but in my mind it was still kind of a stab in the dark rather than a commitment. But I did add on at the end, “And, well, since I am asking you to listen to me, if you have anything you want to say to me in return, I will hear you out.” It was about as honest as I could get there.
My mother was healed, amazingly. She went from the hospital, to some wonderful after care, to an independent living situation. We had a good year together. We visited, and I helped her with housekeeping and personal care. She was on oxygen, and used a wheelchair, but at least once a week we went out shopping and to lunch together, often taking my younger daughter along.
I, of course, completely forgot about my prayers for my mother. I was wrapped up in her recovery, caring for her, and just going on with life. It did not even occur to me that God had answered my prayers. The medical profession and my mother’s own body had been responsible for the healing, and I didn’t really need much other explanation.
A few months later, however, I started to notice something that I can only characterize as a tap on the shoulder from God. I had, after all, promised that if he had anything to say to me I’d listen, and he was speaking. I kept pushing it away, shrugging it off. I literally said, “No, no, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be a Christian. I believe in gay marriage.” Well, God didn’t address that issue, but he did keep tapping on my shoulder. He did keep filling my heart with this desire for himself. There are not many days or places I can remember in my spiritual life, but I do remember the date and the place where I turned my life back over to God. It was on John Drive in Castro Valley. I was on my way home and was driving past one of the larger churches in town. I had been arguing with God about whether or not I wanted to believe in him. The date was January 24, 2004, Michaela’s 25th birthday. It suddenly flashed through my mind that Michaela had been a Christian. If she had died, and I wanted to see her again, she would be with this God whose love I was fighting. I pulled up to a stop sign, and that is where I gave my life back to the Lord.
It was revolutionary! It was like a light went on in my heart! It had been many years, but I was still a pretty angry person, and suddenly my anger was replaced by this great joy! I remember, silly as it sounds, that I started wearing lipstick, because somehow I wanted the light and joy I felt on the inside to show on the outside. I felt like wearing a silly grin all the time! Dumb, for sure, but that’s how I felt.
My mother died a few months later. It has stood as one of the signs God has given me that his hand was in what happened, that mother died on October 10, 2004, one year to the day from the accident that had drawn me back to God. It was as though it was a confirmation that God had said, “Okay. I will give you one more year with your mother.” It had been a good year.
At the end, I had spent three days sitting at my mother’s bedside as her body slowly shut down and she prepared to leave this world. I held her hand and wept so many tears over it that I knew she would have been afraid to leave me. She’d spoken of it before, had even tried to steer me towards substitute mothers (as if there could ever be such a thing!), because she was concerned about me being left alone after she was gone. She was primarily unconscious, but it was painfully obvious that her mouth was drying out, and the nurses would not let me apply moisturizer, because for some reason they had thought it wise to put the oxygen tube in her mouth because she was breathing through her mouth, and the moisturizer is apparently flammable when combined with oxygen. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to tell them then that was stupid, that if she was dying she didn’t need the oxygen. She needed comfort. But up until the end, I didn’t really believe in her death, so I kept quiet.
Finally, however, I knew how uncomfortable she must be, so I took her her hand again, and I told her that I didn’t want her to suffer anymore, that she didn’t need to worry about me, because she would always be with me in my heart, so she could go if she wanted to. I sat down by her bedside and started working on one of her crossword puzzle books. It was a matter of just a few minutes when I sensed a change in the room. It had become quiet. My mother’s raspy breathing had stopped. I had thought losing my mother would be easy compared to losing my daughter, but it wasn’t. I was bowled over by the force of my grief.
Nevertheless, I went on from there to enjoy years of a robust and buoyant faith. Those years were some of the best in my walk with God. I just believed. I did not doubt. I attended a great church, and so many times I remember being moved to tears by the worship. My son also began attending the church when he was in early high school, and by the time he graduated from high school he was working with the youth pastors and was on a path to becoming a youth pastor himself. I would sit in church, a few rows behind my son and his friends. He had grown to be 6’3″ by this time, and I would marvel at those little baby hands I had held, how they had become such huge man hands, and how they were held up in praise to God. And that too made me weep.
Jaycee Dugard and Michaela….
I would have thought my faith was too strong for me to be able to fall again. But five years later, I did fall. Is it a coincidence that this fall occurred immediately after Michaela’s case had so deeply impacted my life and my heart again?
In August 2009, Jaycee Dugard, who had been missing for eighteen years, had been found, alive. She had been kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, some 200 miles from where Michaela had been kidnapped. There had been enough similarities in the two cases, including some similarities in descriptions of the kidnappers, some shared suspects, and in the similarity in appearance between the two girls, that the cases had always been linked. The latter, the similarity in appearance, had always kept Jaycee at the forefront in my own heart.
On the day she was found, my husband woke me up at 5:30 in the morning. “Do you know who Jaycee Dugard is?” he asked. “She was found alive.” I immediately leaped up. It was too much to be a coincidence! Jaycee had been kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, but she had been found right here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Michaela had been kidnapped. And there had been enough cases of missing children being found together (often as a result of the kidnapper taking a second child) that it was a scenario that lived in my heart. “We have to paint the kitchen before Michaela comes home,” I said!
It was not just in my head that this possibility lived, that Philip Garrido, who had kidnapped Jaycee, had also kidnapped Michaela. Stories swirled. Jaycee had been found with her two daughters, living in a second, hidden yard behind the Garridos house. Neighbors, however, claimed to have seen five girls back there, not three. Naturally, I jumped to the conclusion that Michaela must have been one of the other two. Our police department was on board with this as well. Once the local authorities had gone in and completed their investigation into Jaycee’s immediate case, our police department moved in, bringing their RV’s, setting up camp, spending a week on location, actually tearing down all the buildings in the back of the property, sifting through everything there looking for a sign of Michaela’s presence.
I spent much of my time out there as well. And when I wasn’t out there, I was being besieged by media. Jaycee had been well sheltered and was not talking to anybody, but this was such a huge story it demanded coverage, so once Hayward PD started their investigation on the Garrido property, the worldwide media turned its attention to Michaela. The media coverage Michaela had received after her kidnapping had been huge, but I think this was even bigger. Given how the world had shrunk in the intervening years, it spread far and wide.
I became physically exhausted. I spent many days in Antioch at the Garrido property, enduring a long drive through hellish commute traffic to get there, and brutal, dusty heat once there. The media had its own campground on location, with lots of calls for interviews on site. In addition, I was constantly being asked to appear on morning news shows in New York, which involved being picked up at my home at some atrocious hour between 2 and 3 a.m., and driven to a studio in San Francisco, generally arriving at a building that was locked and closed and having to find a way in. Then I’d be asked to return in the evening for one of the later news shows. It was not an option to say no. In the event that Michaela had not been taken by the Garridos, she was still missing, and the best hope in the world to find a missing child is the media.
What was even more difficult than the hours and the lack of sleep was the fact that I was being asked essentially the same questions, over and over and over again, morning, noon and night, day in and day out, and I was having to answer them each time as though it was the first time. Glassy eyed from exhaustion, having given everything I had in me, I had to give it again. I could not give in to rote repetition. I could not say, as I really wanted to, “I just answered that question and I can’t answer it again.” I had to force myself to feel it again, and again, and again.
Towards the end of the search of the Garrido property, after all the building had been torn down and the detritus had been hauled away, cadaver dogs were brought in to search, and they hit on several possible burial sites. By this time my hope of finding Michaela alive had faded. Apparently Jaycee knew nothing of her. Nothing had been found on the property to indicate that Michaela had been there. But there might be burial sites. I remember the day they were excavating, being overcome with this feeling that if Michaela was buried there, I wanted to be there if they found her. If she had been hidden beneath the earth for all those many years, I wanted to be there when the sun first touched her once again. In my mind I could see a little skeleton lying in a grave, and I was overcome with this vision, and a desire to throw myself into that grave and hold that little skeleton in my arms, and weep and weep and weep.
Human remains were found at the site, but I didn’t get to see them. They weren’t thought to be Michaela’s, and they turned out to be from an old Indian burial ground. Michaela was not there. She was not there alive. She was not there dead.
And life returned to normal. I returned to work on a regular basis, fortunately only three days a week. But I had fallen into the deepest, darkest depression I have ever known. There were times when I felt I just could not breathe. I’d have to leave the office and just walk around the block, walking so slowly, with each step not certain I’d be able to take the next one, my limbs feeling as though they were filled with wet cement.
The next great fall
One day during this period, I woke up in the morning and suddenly, for no particular reason, my faith just did not make sense anymore. It did not make sense that everything that existed was created by a supernatural being. It did not make sense that we should have to accept the story of the life and death of one man in order to be accepted by God. It just didn’t make sense, and I tossed it off quickly.
My son, Robbie, was still strong in his faith at that time. He was initially pretty dismayed at my decisions, and questioned me about it. I remember kind of laughing off his questions. But I also remember feeling really disturbed by the idea that he might be impacted by my lack of faith. Even then I wondered at this. If I really believed that God was not real, that Christianity was not true, then why on earth would I want my son to follow that faith? But I remember actually crying over the possibility of him losing his faith as a result of me losing mine.
And that is what happened, quite soon after. My son will tell you that his fall from faith had nothing at all to do with mine, but I know that is not true. I know there were other things that were involved in his fall, but I also believe that if I had not opened the door, he would have stood firm instead of falling through it. And it has broken my heart just as much as I feared it would, a long, deep, aching hurt. Honestly, I believe he will return to his faith, because it is my experience that once you belong to God, he may let you wander, but he will call you back. My son scoffs at this, and says some pretty brutal things about Christianity. And they disturb me, but they shouldn’t. They are the same things I myself have said.
Called back again!
My wandering after the Jaycee investigation lasted about four years. Nothing special really happened this time, no near death experiences. If you were ever to visit my home, you would probably be struck by my love for Bibles. Apart from The Bible, I love Bibles, different translations, different versions, different bindings. I have piles of them. There was one that I found particularly attractive, nice soft faux leather binding, engraved cross on the cover, and engraved scripture verse on the back cover. I left it out on the table because it was pretty. Then one day I picked it up, and said, “You are such a nice Bible.” I opened it at random and found myself reading Hosea chapter 11.
(1) When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (2) The more they were called, the more they went away… (3) Yet it was I who taught Eprhaim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. (4) I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, andI became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them…. (7) My people are bent on turning away from me….
(8) How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?… My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
(10) They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; (11) they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes.
As generally happens when God speaks to me, it took a beat, and then it lit up in my heart. I was Ephraim. I was called, and I went away. I was bent on turning away. But God did not want to give me up. He loved me still! He was calling me back! This word slowly made its way in my heart, and if I returned trembling, it was trembling with that joy that made its home in my innermost being, the same joy I had felt when I had returned on Michaela’s birthday so long before.
Stumbling, falling faith
Since then I have been stumbling through my life of faith. It should come as no surprise that after having spent years angry, vilifying God and everything to do with Christianity, arguing with passion against it, that those things have made a home in me. In addition, my children are now grown, all of them. None of them are Christians. A couple of them don’t really have strong opinions one way or the other at this point, but a couple others are pretty rabid atheists. When I first returned to the Lord this time, I was hit with a lot of criticism, and some personal attacks on my intelligence. That has kind of faded over time, and as I have struggled with my own faith, have fallen and got up, brushed myself off, it has been accepted with love and kindness, but never without disagreement. My own voices, and the voices of my children and other critics, play in the back of my mind. When I read the Bible, or Christian literature, I hear the questions and accusations that I myself would have brought a few years ago. It has been very hard to find peace from these voices.
But here is the difference. They are not driving me away. I question, I suffer, my faith falters, and I may step away for a minute, I may not move forward on the path God has set before me, but I don’t actually leave it. I ask questions, sometimes I ask them too loudly, or too stridently, but I long for answers, and I pray for faith when my faith is weak. All the while I am doing this, of course, the voices tell me that this is just an indication that deep inside I know none of this is true, and sometimes that is hard to fight off. But I do. Somewhere deep inside the voice of God keeps calling to me, and I have made the choice to follow that voice even when it is an uphill trudge.
The church, for better or worse
The thing is, I am a blabbermouth. I have a Facebook that I have somehow come to consider a friend and confidant! Yikes! I have a couple of blogs that I keep. And I have had a habit of posting every time I have a question or a doubt or an opinion. Honestly, part of what I’m doing when I do that is looking for someone to give me answers. The net effect, however, seems to have been to stick labels on myself. Weak, lukewarm, double-minded, all those things the Bible warns us not to be, and I have managed to alienate a few people. I have also been questioned about the impact my blogging and posting has on others, meaning that I may cause others to lose their faith, or not to embrace it. I hope that is not the case. Once a pastor told me that all the people whose faith I admired most had asked the same questions I had at some point. Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, because if they do, they haven’t asked me, and they are wise enough not to put it on the internet.
But if it is true, perhaps my blabbing might be able to help someone? It helped me to think that others had the same questions and had managed to remain faithful anyway, so maybe if I say this out loud it might help someone else? In this world where faith is attacked more often than it is supported, how can we not be susceptible to questions? And there are no really satisfying answers. I’ve read the apologetics, and there is some interesting stuff there. Honestly, it is helpful to confirm an already existing faith, but it is not likely to convince someone who does not want to believe. This should not come as a surprise. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians:
(18) For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
(22) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
There is that word again: called. That’s what I have felt, from my childhood, called to this faith. It is as real as anything else. I have seen signs, but I can dismiss them. I have learned wisdom, but it can be argued against. In the end, it’s the tap on the shoulder, the call. I know it, too, can be ignored, resisted, or go unrecognized at first. But it is something I really can’t deny.
Well, I see we are approaching deep theological waters again here, and this blog has already gone over 5,000 words. It’s not my purpose here to school the unbeliever, or explain God.
Tired of wandering…
My purpose is only this, to express that I have grown tired of this wandering. There will always be endless questions, and an endless number of people to pose them. I spent years as a paralegal, in which it was my job to craft legal arguments and support them in a way that they could not be refuted. I have taught on child safety, and in the process I have wracked my brain trying to think of every possible dangerous scenario a child might face and the proper response to them. This is the way my mind works. Find all the holes, fill all the gaps. To not be able to do that gives me the heebie jeebies. But in this case, I have to acknowledge that I can’t. Nobody can.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
If we could see it, wrap it and tie it up with a nice bow, it would not be faith.
Now I’m going to be honest with you. While I am battling with these voices in my head, one of the things they tell me is, “If you believe this stuff, this person or that person is going to think you are stupid and they won’t like you or respect you.” And I hate to admit it, but that actually has influence over me. I want to be liked. I want to be loved. I want to be respected. When I first returned to the Lord, someone I dearly love told me that she didn’t even feel like she could talk to me anymore, that I wasn’t the same person, that she felt like I’d lost several IQ points. You know, that hurt. We have moved past that now, but I think it became one of those things that sticks in the heart.
I think people might find it hard to believe, but I am insecure in this area. I can express my opinions on politics with great gusto and I don’t care whatsoever if people disagree with me. Well, no I do care, but only because I think they should agree with me. But regarding my faith, I tend to be reticent. I want to please people. And this is wrong.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
Then there is John chapter 12, which is one of those parts of the Bible I would read and say, “Oh those people are so stupid,” when actually if I look in my heart I see that I am prone to making the very same stupid mistake:
(42) Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; (43) for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
I believe. Should I walk away, cast off or even question my belief because I fear what people will say, particularly when most of those people are really not even important in my life?
Am I worried about appearing stupid, or am I worried about being stupid?
It has all made me weary. I’m tired of being pushed and pulled, and I’m just not going to allow it anymore. Instead I am going to affirm my faith in Jesus as my Lord, and commit to a life of service so deep that there is no room to turn around, no room to fall. It’s not that I will never have questions, but I choose to live peacefully with those questions until such time as God provides an answer, if he chooses to do so. There is one thing that is certain, and that is that I will never in this lifetime know or understand everything, and I don’t need to. I just need to have faith.
All scripture quotes are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation of the Bible.
Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I have described God as relentless myself, as does Francis Chan in this no nonsense, no apologies book.