When I started this journal, I wanted to talk about how my disabilities and faith interrelate... I haven't done much of that, in large part because I've focused so much on describing life with disabilities and not much on talking about my faith background. So I want to take a break from disability discussion and talk about where I am in terms of faith and why I believe the things I do. This is difficult to write because my faith journey has been long and not always on the straight and narrow as I wish it had been.
I grew up attending church regularly with my family at a church affiliated with the Anderson, Indiana-based Church of God. This meant very little to me for most of my life except that it was the non-Pentecostal Church of God. I have since learned that the Church of God is not a trademarked name and there are many church movements using this name with headquarters in various cities. As an adult, this is interesting for me to study, and I may comment on this in future entries as I learn how Anderson Church of God beliefs and doctrine did and did not influence me.
In my early years, my church experience probably was not much different from the experiences of most children attending mainline Protestant churches. I learned Bible stories that taught basic facts, and eventually I think the idea was for me to begin transforming those facts into abstract thought about important concepts. For some reason, I had difficulty with this even though I was very hungry for "depth" in material studied at church. (Interestingly, my dad still complains about lack of depth in "Sunday school." So maybe the problem isn't just me.)
I was a voracious reader, and my parents encouraged me to read widely, even from the adult section in the library for the blind because I had exhausted the selections in my areas of interest in the children's section. I read the Bible on my own as well as I could, although access was limited due to the cost of Bibles in braille at the time. I had a complete New Testament, but most of the Old Testament remained a mystery to me until I got my first computer when I went to college.
I decided to "become a Christian" when I was 12. I still have very mixed feelings about the importance of the "conversion experience" itself for everyone--I know that some people feel that they have been raised as Christians and cannot point to a particular conversion experience; but for me it had great importance. The experience represented the point in my life when I first realized that I could not just somehow learn to treat people nicely enough and thus please God, that I would always fail Him somehow and that I needed the forgiveness paid for by Jesus. I couldn't explain this at the time, but I knew it. I was not in a church when I realized these things. I was sitting in my mother's car. I had been fighting with my sister over who would sit in the front seat. She had gone inside "to tell," and at that moment I realized that my actions were displeasing to God. I sat in the back seat and weapt uncontrollably. I'm sure that my mother thought I was crying because I would be in trouble. But I discovered one other thing that morning: when the Spirit of God (aka Holy Spirit) touches me, whether in conviction or in any other way, I often cry. Even if the feeling I have is not sorrow, I still cry, sometimes for up to two hours.
A couple of months after this experience, my parents took me to see Sandi Patti in concert. At the end, she sang "We Shall Behold Him" and "We Will See Him As He Is." Both songs talk about how God will be revealed in all of His glory one day, and I knew then that in that day I would be among those who would see Him. I cried for about two hours. This is somewhat of a family joke, but for me it isn't really a joke. It is something I will never forget because it reminds me that God had become real to me and His truth was already becoming life to me.
My faith became a very personal thing for me during junior high and high school. The depth I lacked in church I found through music. I listened to artists like Twila Paris, Amy Grant until she became primarily a secular artist, Jamie Owens Collins, and Kim Boyce, just to name a few. My social life at school was very unsatisfying, and most of the songs I grew to like were songs that assured me of God's acceptance and love or served as prayers I could pray to bring me closer to Him.
Eventually, I started writing my own songs, and this was probably the one activity that helped to deepen my relationship with God the most. Besides providing an outlet for my prayers, songwriting gave me a reflective outlet for my thoughts about anything I read in the Bible. This is something that has continued to serve me well over the years, even as I have developed the ability to use other types of writing for that same purpose.
I enjoyed music very much and felt very strongly that God wanted me to use my gifts in a professional setting. So off I went to Anderson University to study church ministries and music business. This all would have been fine except for one hitch. Going into my third year, there were some questions about my financial aid; and instead of trusting God, I took matters into my own hands and transferred to Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas.
God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose... That includes my transfer and all the mistakes I made since then. This taking matters into my own hands got to be a big problem--and in many ways it still is. It has been 12 years since that transfer, and I am still picking up pieces and trying to get back on track. I did a lot of things in those 12 years that I never thought I would do. I was a good girl, a strong believer--or so I thought. And I committed not one little sin but quite a few. If I named them all here, I would be a big disappointment to anyone reading who thought I was a model spiritual leader. That's part of the problem I have lately... How do I get back up and live a life worthy of the calling when I feel like I have all these various scarlet letters on me? I know that everyone has them... I know that I could hide mine if I wanted to, pretend they don't exist. But hiding never did anyone any good. It only hurts more when the truth comes out. I have no desire to lie. I want to live as a forgiven person. I understand a lot of things about forgiveness now that I wasn't quite mature enough to understand as a 12-year-old--or maybe they're just the same things on a different level. I wish I could accept them as I did when I was a 12-year-old! I remember that day very clearly... I told my mom that I wanted to be baptized--that was the only way I knew to explain what happened to me because I only knew that when a person repented and believed in Jesus he/she was baptized. I had waited until my sister was dropped off at her destination because I thought she would make fun of me. But Mom was glad for me, and I never thought that she would think my repentance insincere. So why do I think that people will think so now? I guess it's because I'm old enough to have heard how people talk about one another in society behind each other's backs, and I know that people are likely to question the sincerity of anyone who repents. It makes me sad, and on a more personal level, it hurts.
Why did I share all of this? Because it's part of the general mire that I'm trying to overcome lately, and it colors the experiences I have with my faith as a person who is disabled. One of the things I've always believed--although I'm not sure where it comes from--is that God rewards righteousness and that faith is counted as righteousness and repentance is an act of faith. So wouldn't it follow that repentance would result in some kind of reward, at least a bit of provision for this life? Then why do I have this uphill climb? Why am I still unemployed? Why is it so difficult to maintain minimal health? Why can I not form friendships in my church? Or do I just have a severe perspective problem despite all my attempts to be positive? This is how I feel sometimes--not all the time, but sometimes, especially when it seems that I take a step in the right direction and get pushed further down instead of lifted up.
But still, I cling to my faith, and I treasure it. When I am finished with all my whining and crying and pleading, when I close my eyes and find that my heart is turned, I do love God and I wouldn't want to travel any other road. I do know that He is there and He is not silent and He does love me, even when I don't feel it and even when it seems that the world wants to push me away from Him. I don't always understand His ways, but sometimes He teaches me even through my suffering.