I finally made it to church today. It’s been awhile, for a multitude of reasons, including hiding away due to chemo, being too tired, and blah blah blah. Most of the reason has had to do with spiritual confusion however. I can’t deny it, I am a wanderer. I have been one for so long now I just don’t have confidence that I will ever stop. However deeply entrenched I am in my beliefs, there comes a moment in time when they shift, and sometimes I just wake up a different person than I was when I went to bed. It has happened so often now that I have just stopped talking about it. I have identified myself as a Christian, and I just leave it at that, because I know that wherever I wander, I will eventually wander back home. I’m the lost sheep spoken of in the verse above, and it seems God never wants to give up on me. He always pursues me, woos me, calls me back.
There are several churches that I have attended in the past few years, as well as a couple of others I have thought about attending. Sometimes, you know, it feels better to be in a place where people don’t know your history. Sometimes you want to be in a place that better accommodates wandering. So the other issue with attending church is choosing which church. Today, however, there was just no doubt. I went to New Hope in Hayward, because for probably the last month or so it has been continuously in my mind. I mean, at any given moment of any given day, a part of my brain is looking at the sanctuary there. All week it is there, and I feel this longing to be there — at least until Sunday morning, when I find some good reason not to go, only to end up regretting it later.
So it seemed pretty obvious that God was calling me to New Hope. This morning I checked in with myself: Has enough hair grown on the top of my head to make an appearance? More to the point, can I manage to put on a bra? I have been suffering from some pretty horrendous radiation burns. It is almost two weeks since my last treatment, and they are just now beginning to recede, but there is one area that is still pretty bad and quite painful, and it is right where the band of my bra sits. But what the heck, I thought. I will survive. I got dressed, and I went to church.
The worship team sang a song called “Reckless Love.” The worship leader noted that it was a new song, and that they had sung it last week and were singing it again this week because it was important. And yes, it was, for me. It spoke, really, right to me. It starts out referring to the call God places on us from before we are born, and that is something that I have always felt. As a young child in a non-religious family, I had an intense desire for God: I longed to be able to read and understand the Bible. I begged my parents to take me to church. It was only as a young adult that these desires began to be fulfilled, but they had been a part of me for as long as I could remember. Nor do I remember anybody ever actually talking to me about God. Even as an adult, it was through my own efforts that I ever learned anything. I began in a small Catholic Church in the 1970s, where the Charismatic Movement was sweeping through. I asked the priest some questions, and he helped me to start reading the Bible. From there I went on to evangelical churches, which seemed to fit more closely with what I was reading.
That all started when I was twenty, and here I am now, more than four decades later, still being a problem child in the kingdom. This is where the song moved on to, referring to all the various ways God just keeps after us to bring us back. I just finished reading the Gospel of John (for about the hundredth time), and I was impressed this read through with Jesus talking over and over again about how he has lost none of the ones that the Father has given him. Yep, that’s me. He refuses to lose me apparently.
While singing, I noticed that I no longer felt any pain whatsoever in my radiation burn. Instead I felt a warmth, and when I checked in with that warmth, I felt so strongly the presence of God, right down through the center of me. As I stood there, all my questions and objections and problems started rising up, and it’s as though they were caught in this vortex revolving through me and swirled away as I heard God say, “Don’t worry about those things. I will take care of them.”
One thing I really love about New Hope is the prayer. The after service prayer was wonderful. Pastor Tim (who is a really excellent pastor, and also really funny!) called people up to the front for prayer. I went, hugged an old friend along the way, and knelt at the altar. A couple of people came by and prayed for me, laying their hands on me and speaking. I kept wanting to turn around to see who these people were. I haven’t had much association with this church or these people for years, and yet they seemed to know just what I needed (and it wasn’t a cure for cancer, by the way). Or, of course, God did.
All in all, it was a beautiful experience — just the kind of thing you would expect when God has been putting a vision of this place in your mind for weeks and weeks, making you wish you were there all day every day.
I left the church, and wondered, what now? Will that presence hold up and stay with me through the days to come? Well, I’ll let you know. Interestingly, my radiation burn started hurting again after I left the church — definitely improved over the last few days, but not the warm sense of complete comfort I’d experienced while praying.
I have many promises to walk in now. Things to do. And that includes going back to church, which still lingers in my mind’s eye, calling to me.