This is not an easy topic to write about. Perhaps it should be, but I find myself in an odd place now that I’ve been dealing with a terminal diagnosis for two (2) years after all of the experiences I’ve had in my life, spiritual and otherwise. I will give some background for context.
I was raised in a Christian home. A devout Christian home. My father was a pastor for most of my life and we were immersed in the church. When I say immersed, I mean we lived in a Christian bubble that encompassed every aspect of our lives. Since we were homeschooled, the only people we truly were around were other members of the church who were also homeschooled. It was all we knew and all that we thought was available because we simply didn’t know anything else.
I eventually went to a public high school, but still remained in the bubble. The people I gravitated towards were people similar to me, similar to my upbringing and I stayed close with those people who I’d grown up with in the church. We still attended the same church and even though I was exposed to people outside the bubble, I stayed firmly in that place.
That bubble burst when I was in college.
The bubble burst because my family was excommunicated from the organization we’d been a part of my whole life. No, we weren’t and aren’t Catholic, but the method was pretty much the same. We were cast out, we were ostracized and suddenly the groups of people/friends we’d known our whole lives were quite literally enemies and/or were gathering information for the very people wanted to see my family hurting.
Sometimes I wonder which one of us was affected the most by my family being suddenly thrust out of the bubble that had encased the eight (8) of us all my life; all I really for sure know is that I felt like I was in the middle of that storm. That’s not the story here; at the same time, when the “Christian” movement that we’d been part of my whole life suddenly turned their back and shunned us, it was devastating. It rocked my world and it cast everything into doubt. I sped up my graduation from college, in part, to get away from all of the negativity and perceived attacks.
Then, I went to law school at Regent University, which is affiliated with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). For the first time, away from “home” for the first time, I explored other views of God. I had a Catholic professor, a Presbyterian professor and a very flamboyant Pentecostal professor. In my contracts class, the ethnically Jewish professor taught us for the first several classes about the 10 Commandments from the Bible and how that affected/interacted with and informed contract principles. I went to student meetings that included speaking in tongues and other very stretching practices for me even in light of my upbringing. I often went to a Southern Baptist church with a Pentecostal leaning pastor. It was overwhelming and yet freeing at the same time. No one was looking over my shoulder and judging when I tried something new, explored practices that were outside my norm.
What I found was that God was present in each of those practices. It was like the metaphor of the elephant, with each blind person “seeing” something different and yet the elephant was all of those things. I realized in a very real and personal way that none of the established churches had all the answers, that my parents didn’t have all the answers, that I was free to figure things out for myself. I also found that not one of the traditions I explored had all the answers.
Yet, because I didn’t wholeheartedly accept any one of these practices or views, I was still on the outside, looking in. I was still figuring things out for myself, still in flux.
After I graduated and moved into my professional life, I found a new way that I was not of the mainstream, being a single professional woman. There were so few of women like me in every church I tried. I could not attend a Bible study in the middle of the day, I wasn’t a mother nor a wife, and at that point, I really didn’t want to be either. The singles groups were really just a place for people to go who were looking to get married and there were some truly scary people there. Yet again, there was really no place for me.
Then I met my husband, who is originally from Jamaica and was raised in the Catholic and attended Catholic school in Belize. We actually met online through a popular dating site and we often joke that we should’ve been included in one of the commercials that air all the time. We began attending a Methodist church (that openly presents itself as a good middle ground for couples who come from Catholic and other traditions) and we went through the pre-marital classes to have our marriage blessed by the Catholic Church. I almost felt like I was part of the “mainstream” again, that we’d found our bubble.
And it was burst again because now as a married professional woman without children and married to someone who is not white like me, I was still not a part of the “norm.” We dealt with fertility for many years and it was really hard to be around all of the extremely fertile women, who fell pregnant without trying and were supremely happy being at home. I was and am irritated that whenever we met someone new in the church context, they asked my husband what he did for a living and assumed that I was primarily at home. When I told them that I was (and still am) a lawyer, the looks changed. Whether or not anyone voiced their opinions, no one really knew what to do with me or what to say to me.
It seemed that anywhere I went, at all times in my life, I was always different, always on the outside, always a misfit. Underneath my irritation and sometimes anger at being singled out, was the cry of a lonely little girl who just wanted to belong somewhere. Growing up in such a compact bubble gave me a skewed view of what it meant to belong and that has affected my larger outlook.
It hurt that I didn’t feel comfortable with the other women, it hurt that I didn’t feel accepted, it hurt that I felt judged. The versions of the prosperity gospel that I was fed at various times made me feel as though I had done something wrong. I searched my heart and cried out to God because that just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right that God would be punishing me by making me feel different, seek different things, not fall pregnant easily, get divorced, marry a man who didn’t and doesn’t look like me.
When we had children, there were new opportunities. I could attend the MOPS groups, the Bible Studies for mothers. I did find a group of women I connected with, who were professionals and mothers and balanced a great deal of responsibilities. While those women met a need, there was still a hole, I still craved something different.
So, I kept looking. One thing that is always true about me is that I don’t stop asking when I want something, when I know that I need something. I found a group of women who were like me, lawyers, wives, mothers. Our group started as a Bible study and morphed into a support group and then a play date group as we had children. The trappings of our meetings changed, but those connections were forged in something much stronger. Yet, life changed and extra curriculars intruded and we all found different priorities. I had to stop pushing for this group to remain the same and accept that we’d all changed and that group gently ended.
Looking back, with the lens of hindsight, I think the most astonishing thing overall about my experiences is that despite the fact that I didn’t fit, that I felt judged, that I felt like a misfit, that people changed while I stayed the same, that never shook my own view of God. I doubted, sure. I tested, absolutely. I questioned, incessantly. Yet, God was always a constant, a foundation.
I have discovered over time that my view of God matches who I am, who He made me. I am a concrete, literal person. I think first. I’m often lost in my head. My internal world is where I feel safest, where I feel at home, where I get energy. I am drawn to the metaphors of God that talk about rocks and trust and safety and a masculine presence. This is just my part of the elephant. I am well aware that others experience God differently, that their part of the elephant looks different.
Sometimes I think I want the mountain top experience, the audible voice, the visible miracles. Then, I’m reminded that I’m skeptical of those things. Those things don’t feel real to me. I’d probably doubt my own senses if something like that would happen to me.
God meets me in the quiet moments, the times that I despair, the nights when I cannot sleep, at the beach, in the ocean, in nature. Steady, constant, practical, safe. These are also adjectives that I would use when I described love, when I think of my Husband and how he shows love to me.
And then the bottom fell out again when I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, a terminal illness. I learned that I would leave my husband a widower and my children motherless far sooner than I’d anticipated.
Everything changed in an instant and that included my view of God.
Stayed tuned for the next installment of my view of my Higher Power and how that has changed since I have learned I will leave this earth much sooner than I’d like. I don’t have all the answers, truly; at the same time, I’ve slowly but surely found what is working for me.