A Letter to my 20 (and a half) Year-Old Self, From My 27 (and a half) Year-Old Self

20 yrs

Earlier this month, I found a note I wrote when I was 20 1/2 (because those 6 extra months matter). It was a letter I wrote to my 17 year old self, how even though she felt stuck in a rut, she would grow closer to God, do amazing things, and become a stronger person. It’s a good note, and I’m glad I wrote it. At that point in my life, I needed to tell myself those things.

But that 20 1/2 year old girl, who was so optimistic about where God was taking her, would have the very same faith of which she was so proud shattered several months later, and picking up those broken pieces would be some of the hardest work she would ever do. All these years later, I’m still processing that time in my life and wondering how much I’ve really moved on from it.

So this letter is for that spunky, passionate, on-fire child of God from 8 years ago, blissfully unaware of what was to come. 

I doubt she’d listen to it if I actually read it to her.

But I write it to remind myself that 20 1/2 year old me is still worthy of love and respect, and maybe if I make some peace with her, I can make peace with myself here and now.

*****

Hey kiddo,

It’s me. Well, it’s you…who is also me…only several years older. It’s wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Not that you know what that phrase means yet.

Look at you: re-reading Captivating and remembering your younger self, preparing to study abroad in New Zealand, nervous in your new relationship with your best-friend-turned-boyfriend. But mostly, you’re proud of how far God has brought you in this life, from the dramatic, insecurity-riddled teenager you were to the more confident and bold Christian leader you are now.

It’s pretty great, isn’t it?

Part of me is envious of you: your steady faith, your simpler worldview, your significantly less hostile political environment (trust me on that, sweetheart), the fact that you’re in school studying and stressing about exams instead of bills.

Another part of me chuckles at your naivety: the super simplistic theology which you find so deep and nourishing, the mediocre taste in music, the narrow-mindedness behind which you hide your deep, beautiful mind.

After all of these years, I hate to say that part of me still finds you pathetic. And yet, I find you so lovable and charming. Our relationship is a lot more complicated now, dearie. I wish it could be different.

Then again, I wish for a lot of things when it comes to you.

I wish I could tell you the ground on which you walk will remain firm beneath your feet, even though I know it will sink so fast you are only able to grasp a small, hardly sturdy remnant in your fingertips to save you from drowning.

I wish I could tell you that you’ll look at the old journal entries and Facebook notes without feeling brainwashed and misguided. But for a long time, you will not be able to read a single verse of Scripture without skepticism or fear of becoming that person you were once so proud to be.

I wish I could tell you the fire you have for God will never extinguish, that you will never doubt your faith or regret being raised by the people who loved you into it.

But I know one day, you will rush out of the backdoor of the church without a second glance. You will become a runaway who didn’t even leave behind a note.

You will see your church family as strangers in a strange land. You will distance yourself from and completely fall out with them, because you do not understand how the people who taught you about the God of Love could turn such a cold and callous shoulder to the most vulnerable in society.

Your youth group buddies. Your mentors. All the pastors and people you once aspired to be.

You will run away from every single one of them.

Some days, you will wonder if this was the right choice to make. Other days, you will swear you should have left sooner than you did.

You will abandon the theology. You will read the old entries and favorite books and wince at the problematic and downright harmfulness of their content. Your heart will break when you read the passages used to silence you as a woman who wants so badly to be strong and bold, and the notions of “purity” which continue to be a root of so many of the struggles in your romantic relationship.

In short, you are going to lose a lot, girl. And it is going to be painful and downright awful.

(Did I mention you curse like a sailor now? Because that’s a thing. I blame the Bridgewater theater department for that one, though.)

It’s not all bad news, though, at least from this side of things.

You won’t love Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge, or even Donald Miller like you once did. But you will love Rachel Held Evans, Glennon Doyle, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. They will disciple you in ways you never imagined. They will unsettle and disrupt you and make you confront the evil systems into which you were born. They will bring tears to your eyes and make your belly hurt from laughter.

And they will make you think. Kid, they will make your brain hurt with the questions they bring up and soothe you with new understandings of wisdom and grace.

In the midst of intense questions, you will find yourself in a community of believers who hold the holy tension of belief and doubt, who wrestle with God while engaging in the holy work of serving those on the margins. You will preach and accept that maybe, just maybe, this really is your calling, and it will scare you, but not because you’re worried you’re a woman going against the will of God.

In the midst of living on your own and struggling to pay bills, you will find yourself in seminary. You will be compassionate to those wrestling with whether they want to follow this path called The Way anymore. You will think you have it all figured out, until your Missions professor starts talking about white privilege and supremacy and your place in it, until you take CPE and find yourself bringing a fraying family together over the comatose body they hold in common in the ICU on a late Friday night, until the person you were convinced had a backward theology comforted you in a way no one else knew how. You will love the community you find, in the academic halls and the black box theater, with pastors in training and wandering thespians, and it will be an oasis for your soul.

In short, it’s gonna be tough, but you’re gonna be fine.

I know there are moments in this letter where I sound cross with and disappointed in you, but it’s because I know the pain you felt, and I do wish I could have stopped it from happening. I wish I could protect you, or bring all of this to your awareness in a gentler way.

I know you will want me to say sorry, for the questions and the trials, when you will want me to take it all back and return to the way we were, when things were simpler and happier.

But I won’t. I will not apologize for where the journey has taken us, nor will I negate it. I couldn’t do that to you.

Remember this: You will wrestle with God. Each time you walk away from the struggle, you will come away limping like Jacob.

But you will grow, and you will keep opening yourself up to the Spirit’s calling.

And you’re still the loud, passionate, firey, anxious person you’ve always been (but now you have medication and counseling to help with the anxiety. You’re welcome for that.).

Love you,

Lindsay (Age 27 1/2)

PS: Be good to Bryce. He’s already been the best of friends to you, and he’s a great boyfriend, too. And a fantastic husband. He’s pretty much the greatest gift of grace you’ve received in this journey of faith and life, so hold onto that when things get real rough.

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I’m Reading the Bible Again, and I’m a Little Nervous About It

RadicalChristian.com

I’ve started reading the Bible again.

Only 6 years ago, I wouldn’t have taken out time to craft a blog post about this. I would have just done it, because reading the Bible regularly was what I did.

Sure, I’d go through spells in which I fell behind for a couple of days, or maybe even a week. But otherwise, I was a devout Bible-reader, a lover of devotions and daily quiet times, back when getting up before the sun was (slightly) easier than it is now.

By the light of my desk lamp or under flickering fluorescent in the dorm basement, I would read, journal, and pray for at least 30 minutes a morning, devoting the time with all the gusto I could muster in those pre-dawn hours. I looked forward to these quiet minutes with God’s Word. I used to see so much truth, hope, guidance, and love in those stories and verses, whether I proof-texted them or did amateur exegesis on them.

I felt God’s presence in a way I never have, before those times or since.

Then the faith crisis hit.

Before my eyes, the Bible transformed from a story of hope inspired by God himself into a text of manipulation, fear, and lies. My faulty foundation had been built on those words and how they’d been taught to me, and they had been found harmful and lacking.

The devotions grew more shallow. The regular quiet times ceased. Eventually, I stopped reading the Bible altogether.

After all, how could I trust something that had deceived me so much?

Instead of reading Scripture, I focused on service and worship. I connected with God through hearing peoples’ stories, in regular conversations and through blogs and books. I felt God’s presence when I mentored children, gave and partook of communion, gleaned food for local pantries, and helped people get free groceries for the month.

These became my devotions and daily readings, the living Word with me, and in many ways, these practices saved my faith from certain death.

Eventually, in fits and starts, I started to read the Bible again. I would halfheartedly begin my devotional practices but drop them once life became too busy. This changed a bit during seminary (for obvious reasons), but I read Scripture in an academic context.

However, contrary to popular belief, seminary didn’t further damage my relationship with the Bible. Instead, it helped me learn to love it again by allowing me to study and deconstruct it, to see how verses turned into ideologies and how context could upturn all of them.

In short, seminary taught me to love the Bible for what it is, not how I or any culture want it to be.

Now, after all that time of study and with a Master’s of Divinity, the idea of reading the Bible for my own spiritual health still freaks me out.

What came so naturally all those years ago feels like lifting an Olympic-sized weight after I’ve regressed to 5-pound dumb bells. And instead of allowing myself to simply practice studying again, I’m asking myself a million questions.

How do I read this now?

How do I read these texts after I spent a lifetime learning they only had one interpretation?

How do I read the stories of divine healing after I have seen and experienced unhealed pain?

Will the Bible push me deeper into the beliefs I already have, or will it make me become the person I once was, who I have fought so hard not to be anymore?

Will the Bible teach me to become a quiet and submissive woman after working so hard to be bold and confident?

Will I find myself chanting “All Lives Matter” and “America is a Christian nation” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin” in spite of everything I’ve learned about racial inequality, the brutal politics of our nation, and harmful notions of sexuality?

Will I care about any of the things I care about now, or will I cast those all away like I did my past ones?

Will I find God’s voice, or my own, or my culture’s, or some messed up combination of all of them?

Who will I become as I let this text shape me again?

I’m afraid to find out, because I fear the past me, the one who got so much out of those quiet times and turned a blind eye to the people God loves most: the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.

I fear becoming the person who feared learning new things would make me “too worldly.”

I fear becoming the person so affected by the warped concept of purity thrust upon me that I spent nights crying myself to sleep because I had sex before marriage.

I fear becoming the young woman afraid to take on leadership roles because I was taught my desires to usurp the authority granted for men alone violated God’s will.

I fear becoming the person who would not embrace my LGBTQ friends as they are.

I fear that Bible-loving girl, and while I want to love the Bible, I don’t want to love her. And I sure as hell don’t want to be her.

But that girl and Bible-reading are so tied up in each other, I’m not sure how to do one without becoming the other.

In short, I don’t know how to read and love the Bible as I am.

I’m trying to figure that out, though. I can’t properly explain why. I don’t know if it’s the Spirit’s prompting, or because I re-read The Unlikely Disciple and felt nostalgia for my old evangelical devotion days, or because I feel like I “ought” to.

All I know is I’m doing it. And I’m praying, in fear and trembling, for it to change me, but I’m not sure how I want to be changed.

Theater is Church

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Eastern Mennonite University Black Box Theater

I met my Dad halfway through my sophomore year of college. I remember hearing his voice on the phone for the first time in 15 years and thinking to myself, “He sounds just like he did on those old home videos.”

During those early phone calls, he told me about my siblings, my stepmom, her pregnancy with my then unborn brother, his upbringing as a Palestinian born and raised in Jordan, and about his life as an Arab American.

That same semester, my Theater professor assigned My Name is Rachel Corrie for my class and I to read, a one-woman play about the late activist who lost her life defending a Palestinian home in the Gaza strip from being bulldozed by the Israeli army.

This play brought me closer to my father and our shared roots, and it pushed me into an inner confrontation with American and international policy. It is a story I return to when my Dad tells me about the pain of displacement and when I continue to see the plight of Palestinians, who are my family by blood, ignored by American and international media.

*****

During the first semester of my senior year at college, I took a Basics of Acting class. For our final project, my fellow actors and I acted out scenes from a themed series called “University.”

At this point in my life, I was in the deep throes of my faith crisis. Day by day, my firm foundation revealed its unsteady nature. I kept hoping to find solid ground but continued to be met with sinking sand.

It was in this state of mind that I found out my professor had assigned me the role of a young college student who had just had an abortion and found herself in a confrontation with her one night stand about it.

I hated him for that.

And yet, it was this acting exercise that met me where I was in my crisis, in all of my uncertainty over my previous ideologies and biases, and pushed me into the mind and body of someone I had once deemed “other.” It was in the black box theater, as I worked on memorizing my character’s lines and getting into her skin, that I realized how to play with a story, discover the crazy nuances of human lives, and remember that when we talk about “issues,” we are always talking about divinely made human beings.

*****

My second year of seminary, I joined the cast and crew of Corpus Christi, a play depicting Jesus as a young gay man living and proclaiming the Gospel in Texas. I served as the dramaturg (a nice, fancy, theater word for the one who does lots of research) to prepare the cast and help them understand their roles as disciples, and I joined rather last minute as an actor to play the part of John the Baptist, in which I baptized (read: washed the hands of) all of our cast members.

Unfortunately, due to the “controversial” nature of the show, we had to shut it down.

That didn’t stop us from holding a final and open dress rehearsal to a packed house, though.

The powers that were also couldn’t stop us from sitting around during rehearsal time and trading laughter, tears, university cafe treats, and stories about how the Church had wounded the LGBTQ community.

The powers that were could never take from us the power this production had, in many ways, to save and heal the lives of the cast and crew, most of whom identify as LGBTQ+.

In this communal theater experiment, I found myself pushed into a story that was and wasn’t mine. I found myself in the supporting role, and as such, I learned to listen and be present instead of my more natural role of taking charge and stealing the spotlight. I confronted my own pain and the pain of others suffering in ways I cannot completely understand but with whom I can sit, stand, and live in love and camaraderie.

*****

Theater is not frivolous. It is not for the faint of heart or the narrow of mind, but it is for the experienced and inexperienced, the diva and the shy, the believer and the skeptic. Theater molds, shapes, and even break us in ways we spend a lifetime unpacking.

There are times when theater is the voice, body, and spirit of God when churches remain silent, paralyzed, and breathless. There are times when theater becomes the Church to the doubters, skeptics, LGBTQ+, people of color, and the oppressed when the churches all but slam the door in their faces.

 

Theater does this, because theater is story. It’s the stories with the immense power to make us confront our “others” and our own roots. It’s the stories which wake us up and wind us up. It’s the stories which comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the comfortable.

It was stories Jesus used to illustrate the finer points of his gospel message, through parables of seeds and soil, great banquets, feuding families, and pestering widows. It was theater Jesus employed when he caused a public and zealous disturbance in the temple. It was these stories that baffled the disciples and the religious elite but made sense to the ones who had lived them in some capacity.

And throughout all of those stories and theatrical displays was the call to remember we are God’s, and we belong to each other.

While many fear the “death of the Church,” I have no fear of this, because as long as theater and stories exist, and as long as we continue to tell the stories to each other without fear or shame, the Church will survive and thrive.

I’ve seen the theater be Church for me and for others, and it gives me hope that Church will outlive every congregation we ever make or attempt.

Church Runaways, Meet Marvel’s Runaways

Runaways

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This year, I didn’t go to church on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or even Easter Sunday.

Instead, I binge-read 3 volumes of Marvel’s Runaways, the comic series about “a group of young teens [who] find out their parents are actually supervillains and do the rebellious thing…they become superheroes.” (Read the whole article if you’re a new fan to graphic novels and comics, while you’re at it!)

The group consists of 6 individuals: Chase Stein, the oldest and a stereotypical jock (with a penchant for lasers and vehicles) despite having mad genius parents; Alex Wilder, a lonely MMORPG lover with firm but loving parents who is considered the brains of the group; Nico Minoru, the daughter of two sorcerers who wields the Staff of One, a magical device which can do any spell but only once; Karolina Dean, a Majesdanian alien whose parents hid and suppressed her powers for her whole life; Gertrude “Gert” Yorkes, whose time-traveling parents gifted her a dinosaur with whom she shares a telepathic link; and young Molly Hayes, a precocious pre-teen mutant with the power to lift all the big things.

The series sees the teens coming to terms with their parents true selves, the motives behind their actions, familial and fraternal betrayal, coming of age without the parental guidance they expected to receive, and living with and leading each other through these difficult and new days.

It’s the perfect read for people struggling with the Church, those who have left the Church, those who are thankful they left, and those who still feel remorse over leaving.

There’s Molly Hayes, the youngest Runaway, who is perhaps the most confused over her situation. She is still in that stage of life where adults can still be trusted. She doesn’t have her house, her bed, or her parents, and while she knows they did something wrong, she never witnessed it herself, because the older kids didn’t think she could handle seeing it. She is a runaway, but a reluctant one.

There’s Chase Stein, who rather willingly abandoned his abusive household and came into his own as a member of the Runaways, providing them with a hideout (albeit it literally unstable), fighting baddies with his parents’ technology, and piloting their Leapfrog ship. Being a runaway, in some ways, saves him, and he finds a true family with the rest of the gang.

There’s Nico, Gert, and Karolina, who are aware of their families villainous ways and know they have no choice but to flee them, yet they continue to be haunted by the lives and legacies from which they left behind.

And there’s Alex, the group’s leader, who seems to easily leave his family and lead the Runaways but refuses to cast off his familial identity indefinitely, hoping instead to redeem them.

We’ve seen Big Church, the Christian Machine, act in ways they believe will save us but harm us more. And we’ve become runaways as a result.

But it’s not an easy decision to make, even if it’s a necessary one.

It’s not easy to leave our church homes, our comfy beds of unquestioning faith, the warm hugs from the Christians we love and who love us but suddenly become cold and false, the routine traditions. Sometimes, even after we’ve been gone a while, we still dream of those “good ol’ days” and want them back. Even when we understand that staying would have meant falsehood or even death, returning to business as usual is appealing. At least it meant a home was involved.

Runaway status isn’t always fun. Not having one place to call “home” can wear on you after a while. Rootlessness isn’t the safest way to live. We are creatures of habit and security, and while having nowhere to settle gives greater freedom to make nests in other places, there really is nothing or no place like home.

But Runaways reminds me that realizing the home you once loved is no longer there, and perhaps never was, can be the Good Friday which eventually moves into the Easter of finding family in the ones who have also fled.

Running away is sacred and scary. It can involve putting down roots for a time only to yank them up again. It is being honest with the beauty and the brokenness of our upbringing and figuring out what’s left to salvage. It is dropping our nets and leaving our tax collector booths like Jesus’ disciples and following the One who calls us into a new way of life, one more risky and more fantastic than we care to imagine.

Most of all, running away can remind us we are the Church, and we make home wherever we go, on the run or otherwise.

To the runaways, take comfort and know you are in good company, and even though some may say you’ve fled God, God is with you through the wilderness and in the homestead.

Also, may you find out you have an 87th-century dinosaur with whom you share a telekinetic bond. Because that would be freakin’ awesome.

1%

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Human beings have occupied 1% of the earth’s existence.

And we continue to demand a reason for being here, a greater purpose, something beyond ourselves.

We find God, and instead of making religion a story about the Divine, we make it about us.

We find art, and we use it to tell stories and explain the inexplicable, to give reasons for our pain, suffering, joys, and triumphs as if they were anything less than ordinary or expected.

All evidence points to humans being a blip on the radar, a fleeting breath, a candle extinguished in a gust, but we refuse to accept this as true.

We push ourselves towards greater milestones and achievements.

We make and consume art and culture as if it can define us.

We donate to charities and get involved with our communities, thinking our small actions will result in some extraordinary greatness in the end.

We fall in love and start families and make friends, claiming these humans, who are as finite and temporary as we are, are worthy of the bonds which we forge with them.

We devote time to satisfying our egos and desires, stuffing ourselves with more and more, realizing we will never be satisfied.

Why aren’t we satisfied with the fact that we are alive?

Why am I not satisfied enough with that?

Life is silly, and it’s sincere.

It’s stupid, and it’s rational.

It’s so human and so holy.

It drives me nuts. It gives me peace.

Saved

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On Easter Sunday 2008, I joined my youth group drama team to do a dance to This Blood by Carman. With our bodies, we acted out the story of the torture and violence Jesus endured at the hands of his Roman captors, from the the binding of his arms and flogging of his body, to the painful carrying of the cross up the hill and his body’s convulsions when his captors dropped the cross in the grave.

It was a graphic song, filled with gory language that to this day I’m surprised my overly sensitive self could stomach enough to put on this performance.

It held a clear Easter message: This blood, spilled willingly and violently, is for you. All of you.

It was a powerful message, and I invited my mom, who didn’t often come to Sunday services, to see our performance on Easter Sunday. I wanted my mom to hear it, because I wasn’t convinced she was saved.

With the youth group team, I fervently prayed for her soul, that it would find Jesus, not only so she could go to heaven with me at the end of her life, but so she could find some peace and happiness in this life, too.

I knew she was in an unhappy marriage. I knew she was frustrated at work and life hadn’t worked out the way she had planned. She knew turmoil and loss I’d never had to know.

And I knew Jesus’ blood could save her. I knew a relationship with Him could make her better, even if it didn’t make her actual situation better. I knew this, because the people at church told me this was true, and I convinced myself it was true to my life and it could be for hers.

I wanted to save Mom, and that Easter Sunday, as I listened to the brutal lyrics and imitated Jesus’ pain to my congregation, I focused mostly on Mom. I did my best to meet her eyes as we pointed across the audience for the final “This blood is for you,” and I prayed she would feel the stirring in her heart and be moved to accept that blood sacrifice and find a new joy in life.

Nine years later, I don’t know what it means to be saved.

I thought it meant accepting the love and blood of Jesus, but what does it mean to accept a violent sacrifice? What does it mean to be made clean by the blood of the Lamb? Why would blood save us anyways? Why did God need to kill God’s own Son to save our sorry, sinful selves? What did this do?

So much violence and suffering, and for what? What does this sacrifice even mean anymore? What did it ever mean? How could it save me from myself, or my mom from herself, or us from ourselves?

What does it mean to be saved? Does it result in praying a rosary, or praying in tongues? Does it condemn people based on their race, sexuality, gender identity, and income, or does it welcome those at the bottom of the ladder? Does it save us from ourselves, or does it give us abstract words that comfort us enough to get us through each day?

These concepts I once accepted with joy are foreign, confusing, and even hostile to me now. They are disconnected from the world I live in, a reality in which Christians can claim to be washed in the blood of the lamb but do nothing on this earth to relieve their brothers and sisters in physical pain. They tell me to cast off my doubt and rebuke the enemy, but the enemy seems to have infiltrated their ranks and filled them with hatred, hostility, and division.

They tell me “Jesus Saves,” and I ask them, “From what?”

Guiding Stars

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My 2017 started with preaching! I delivered this sermon on 1/1/17 to the Shenandoah United Methodist Charge (Fields UMC and Christ UMC) at the 9:30 AM and 11 AM services respectively, where I also serve as secretary.

*****

Epiphanies are manifestations, striking appearances which appear to us quietly or crash into us in the midst of ordinary life. They are minor and necessary disturbances.

That’s why today is known as “Epiphany Sunday,” because we remember the striking appearance of the star which led the wise men to Jesus. This is the day we remember how the foreigners, not the Jews of Jesus’ time, discovered the epiphany of the word of God made flesh.

Today is also the first day of this new year, 2017. The last year has been, for many, tumultuous and exhausting, filled with loss and pain. This day, we hope to begin a new year with clean slates and hearts full of hope. No matter what the previous year was like, we hope each new year will be better than the last.

So on the same day, we celebrate both the joy of a group of outsiders finding Jesus and the beginning of a new year after one of much division and fear. We are both celebrating and searching for Epiphany.

This is very much like my own faith journey. I have encountered beautiful manifestations of Christ and sought his presence simultaneously.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church and had the love and support of my small group, youth pastor, and best friend. Together, they helped me find God in ways I didn’t expect. In many ways, they were the stars that guided me at this point in my faith journey. One of the ways they significantly directed me was in my decision to attend an event called Winterfest when I was 15.

Winterfest was the ultimate Pentecostal revival and unofficial initiation for the high school members of my youth group. I remember seeing videos from the previous Winterfests, showcasing fun days spent at Pigeon Forge adventure park and passionate nights being “slain in the Spirit.” Despite my initial discomfort with such public displays of spiritual affection, my curiosity got the better of me, and I signed up my freshman year.

The weekend culminated in an intense sermon given by a fiery pastor, his powerful message amplified by four JumboTron screens. I knew the man had set the stage for a true Pentecostal conversion and felt the passionate emotions rising within me. 

But the Pentecostal switch didn’t flip in me. Despite the passion and conviction I felt, the “real” experience wasn’t happening. I was on the outside looking in at this ecstatic group as the Spirit rained down on them, thinking God had abandoned me.

I was lonely in this crowded arena, so I sulked away to an emptier part of the stadium and made my own solo efforts of prayer, petition, and grumbling to God. I begged for the love and presence of God that supposedly never failed, left, or gave up on me.

Eventually I did find myself on my knees and crying, but instead of tears of spiritual ecstasy, mine were tears of abandonment and loneliness.

In my desperation, my high school small group gathered around me. I felt their hands upon me, heard their whispered prayers of encouragement and love, just as I had during our weekly meetings. I found myself surrounded by the ones who knew my own insecurities and crushing anxieties. When I opened my eyes and saw them around me, I heard the words that began to heal my wounds: You are not alone. I am here. I will always be here.

These were the words of God, who I so desperately wanted to meet but feared. And he quietly met me where I was in my stadium section, surrounded by a group of people who loved me.

This experience of epiphany first brought me to God. This epiphany manifested in a quiet moment made so powerful by God’s love, and my small group friends helped make it happen.

I experienced another, but more drawn out and, on the surface, less joyful epiphany during my senior year at Bridgewater College.

I was taking a Senior Seminar class during Fall Semester, and our topic was Clashes of Culture. To me, it seemed as if this class was tailor made to rip the rug of my faith from under my feet, turning everything which I held dear as the bedrock of my life into out-dated rags fit for no one.

I had so many questions that I was afraid to ask, not because I thought they would be brushed aside, but because I feared cookie-cutter answers and Band-Aids over wounds that needed further medical treatment, maybe even some surgery. I feared asking questions because I feared being treated like a project, and I didn’t want people to pray that I would have more faith to overcome my doubt so I could conform once again to their proper mold.

The mold that had given me life and purpose left me feeling claustrophobic and fake. I knew if I stayed within this mold, if my questions remained in the dark of my fear and never saw the light of my confession, my faith would die.

Then I found a counselor at school named Randy. He wasn’t threatened by my questions, and he prayed with me at the end of each session. I remember talking to him about my doubts, and we started talking about Thomas, the disciple. I had always thought Thomas was a bad example for “good Christian people,” and I worried because I found myself relating a lot to him, but Randy challenged that notion. To Randy, Thomas didn’t doubt because he cared too little about Jesus and the Gospel; he doubted because he cared so much. He doubted because he took Jesus’ life, message, and death seriously, and if people were going around saying that Jesus was back, Thomas wanted to make sure Jesus’ message remained true and didn’t become another myth or tall tale. Thomas cared SO much, not so little, about the implications of Jesus’ return that he knew better than to take them lightly, and he expressed the importance of his faith in Jesus in doubting.

In acknowledging my doubts, I fond life. I refused to let my faith die. It became alive and less stagnant, a living, breathing organism instead of a frigid set of rules and beliefs.

So as I started wrestling with my questions, I realized I was finding God in service to others. I found God in the children who came to the mentoring program I coordinated, the ones deemed “at-risk,” who came from families where English wasn’t the first language or from single-parent or low income families. I met refugees and homeless people and shared stories with them. I went to seminary and befriended professors and students alike who had steadfast faith and still asked a lot of honest questions. I found out God loved all of these people, and God gave me a calling to be their pastor.

At Winterfest, God told me, “You are not alone. I am here. I will always be here.” During my crisis and the troubled times within it, God told me “They are not alone. I am with them. I will always be with them.”

Both of my Epiphany moments taught me about Emmanuel, God with us, and both have been significant to my faith journey. In one, God reminded me of God’s presence with and love for me, and in the other, God reminded me of God’s presence with and love for others, especially the ones I feared and disliked. In one, God began my salvation journey, and in another, God began calling me to ministry, both of which continue to unfold. The two are not exclusive. 

So as we begin a new year, and as we remember the Epiphany, of the wise men finally finding Jesus and giving him their gifts to commemorate his status as once and future king of Creation, how will we take on new chances to serve and worship God?

This year, let us ask ourselves, as we should each year: What gifts will I bring to God? How will I do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God each day? In what areas is God calling me to grow in awareness of God’s presence? How will I become more aware of epiphanies every day and keep my heart open to God’s daily revelations?\

As is the case with my story, all epiphanies are powerful, but not all of them are pleasant. They can be gentle, and they can be tough. They can lift us up, and they can humble us. They can comfort us, and they can challenge the things we hold most dear and certain.

But they are always there, and God is always revealing them to us. How will we become more aware of them this year, by God’s grace?