Why I’m glad that I’m no longer a Calvinist…

…and some other rambling thoughts about suffering and stumbling.

I wrote this as a comment on a blog a few months ago:

I wish I had the rest of the day to respond to individual posts. As many of you so eloquently and heartbreakingly described, grief and suffering HURTS. Jesus showed us what true compassion and grief looks like when he wept with his friends over the loss of their brother — even though Jesus knew full well he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Later, Paul would remind Christians to weep with those who weep, to bear each others’ burdens.

And, you know what? Doing that HURTS — not as much as the actual pain of the one grieving, but it hurts to sit with someone in their pain and totally open your heart, allowing their pain to invade your safe little bubble. It’s scary to admit that we don’t have neat, tidy answers to difficult tragedies. It’s scary to admit similarly devastating blows could strike us as well. So we blame people for their own pain in a self-righteous and desperate attempt to promise ourselves that this same sickness, this same tragedy, will never come near us. And, if it does, we will handle it better. We are made of stronger stuff and better theology, so we will never hurt as much as those other people. That’s what we tell ourselves.

I know. I was that person…until my world exploded about 6 years ago, and years of running from pain and being all “praise God, the past is in the past!” came crashing down on me. Thank God that I had left Calvinists and Calvinism behind before then.

There were no easy answers. I did not heal nicely, or neatly, or tidily. It was messy. I stumbled and fell a lot. I sinned — not by grieving or hurting or being a mess, but by actual sins. I met a ragtag group of beautiful fellow sufferers who showed me what true, loving acceptance looks like. The best thing that eventually came out of the evil that Satan intended for me — and he intends evil for all of us because he is all about killing, stealing, and destroying — is that God showed me that he is a redemptive God. Sin and evil and sickness has no silver lining, but God can redeem the worst thing. And the best way he redeemed all that ugliness in my life, all the pain that came to a head in recent years, is that he revealed himself to me as the perfect, loving Father that I’d never dreamed he could be. It was in relationship with him — and some of his representatives who shared his love — that I have been able to walk out my healing journey. (It has felt like stumbling and even being dragged more than walking at times.)

This longwinded comment is to say that I think when we begin to comprehend the enormity and tenderness of God’s love — especially in the midst of life’s ickyness —when we begin to experience how deeply personal and intimate his love is for us, it makes all the difference. The Calvinist view of God is much safer. It keeps God at a comfortable distance. God up close and personal is beautiful and healing beyond all comprehension, but it’s also overwhelming. After all, this is the God of the universe we’re talking about.

My world has been rocked. My heart has been broken. I’ve lost my taste for nominal Christianity. I have no easy answers. Sometimes all I can do is hug someone, pray for them, and weep. And that hurts, even though compassion is a good hurt, a good heartbreak.

That’s what I was running from when I was a Calvinist. I needed a small, safe, understandable, predictable God who provided security and a safe haven from pain and messiness. What I’ve found now is this huge, wild, mysterious, incomprehensible God who has captured my heart, melted and broken it, healed and tenderized it — and turned my world upside down.

I wish everybody could know that wonderful, amazing, magnificent God.

Christian testimonies and life stories

My husband has one of the coolest testimonies in the world. He can’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t love Jesus. He never wavered, never backslid, never rebelled, never let up or drifted to the point that he ever felt the need to “re-dedicate” his life to Christ. He has remained steadfast from early childhood until now.

My mother’s testimony is much the same. Well, the details are different — she had a dramatic conversion at the age of 5 and lived through the war in Nazi Germany — but the steadfast, unwavering part is the same.

I simply cannot relate to people like that. Of course, it goes both ways. They look at me, baffled and dismayed by my history of flaky sinfulness, and say things like, “I just prayed that God would make me hate sin”, or “No, I never wanted to rebel,” or “I love Jesus too much to be even tempted by such things.” For example, when I was in my teens, my mother often told me that just the thought of kissing any other man but my father was so unappealing that it made her feel sick to her stomach. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her only daughter was, in contrast to her, a lust-filled perv: icky guys were nauseating but I found the thought of kissing cute guys quite appealing. (Thank God I was weird, awkward, shy, and uninteresting to most teenage boys.)

People like my mother and my husband seem to have an easy strength, a serene confidence, that is beyond my experience and comprehension. They are like Daniel in the Bible — if he did anything wrong, it was so trivial that it isn’t even part of his story. Compared to them, my story is sin-laden and ugly. I’m a walking disaster — a chaotic bundle of ups and downs, highs and lows, starts and stops. Sometimes I think they might need even more prayer than I do. After all, how on earth can they keep from getting disillusioned and disappointed as they watch me run, fall, stumble, wander, and lurch my way through life? Oh, wait…they are made of sterner stuff. I’m the one who gets disillusioned and discouraged. They do what they always do — stand firm and steadfast in the Lord.

They have been spared so much, so very much. I wish people like my mother and my husband could somehow bottle whatever it is that they have, could somehow impart their secrets to the rest of us, so that less lives would be littered with the debris and wreckage of mistakes and regrets. I want my children to follow in their footsteps and not mine.

Sometimes I wonder if my problem is not so much that I possess some terrible character flaw — a greater propensity to sin, rebellion, and weakness — but that I really do not love Jesus enough. After all, what greater motivation is there for faithful obedience than love?

Then I remember something Jesus Himself said: “Who is forgiven much, loves much.” My therapist has mentioned that I tend to extremes, and I have to admit that there is a passion in my life that seems missing in those who do not struggle. There is something that has been borne of desperation, of pain and deep grief — an intensity and zeal — that I don’t see in the lives of those who are calm and steady. They have been spared the lows, but also the highs.

In the end, I have to admit that I wouldn’t change my prodigal story for theirs. Yes, I have regrets. But I have seen and experienced beautiful, powerful, amazing redemption miracles  — and that’s something those who are constant as the northern star can only guess at.

Her name was Tina

She was 7 years old, skinny, often unkempt, a wild little thing who screamed like a banshee, knew cuss words no little girl should know, and was quite the disruptive influence at the church school her grandparents paid for her to attend.

Somehow she stole my heart. I was 19 or 20, still young and idealistic, and I had not yet outgrown my childhood notion that love was enough to heal and fix anything. She was as drawn to me, a childcare worker at the school, as I was to her. At first she called me “Teacher”. Then she broke my heart by calling me “Mommy”.

Her mother, a single mom and an alcoholic, bought her a Raggedy Andy doll so that Tina could, as she claimed her mother told her, “also have a man in her bed at night”. She told me of what sounded like a steady stream of men in her mother’s bed, about fixing her own suppers, and about getting herself ready for school in the morning.

No matter how early I arrived to open up the church before morning day care started at 7:00am, it seemed that Tina would be waiting for me alone on the playground, underdressed for the weather, blonde hair all a mess, her thin little arms wrapped around herself, shivering. I would bundle her in my sweatshirt and hold her in my lap until she warmed up. It was one of those times that she started calling me “Mommy”.

She was impossible. She defied rules, tested boundaries, threw temper fits, fought with other children, and cussed like a little sailor. But she also sang the cutest rendition of both parts of Donnie and Marie’s signature duet that I’ve ever heard. And she craved affection and attention so desperately that it was painful to watch.

One day she flipped out when one of the school dads got playful with her. She shrieked, “Don’t molest me!!” and it scared him so much that he avoided her like the plague after that. I tried not to think about possible reasons for her reaction.

She was a bad influence on my little brother, and on a number of the other children. If she wasn’t clinging to me, I had to watch her like a hawk. She was a troubled little soul, desperately screaming for help.

One day she asked me if she could live with me, if I could be her mommy for real. I presented my case to my parents. In my naïveté, I actually thought I could ask her mother — who obviously didn’t want her — to give Tina to me, and I could raise her and love her to wholeness. Surely, despite my flaws and my youth, I would be a far better mother. We would live together in the “little house” behind the parsonage, and I would make sure she would not impose a burden on anyone else.

To me, she was worth turning my life upside down and backwards, worth giving up any hope of a “normal” future. How could I not do everything in my power to help her, to give her a better life, to rescue her, to save her?

I hated it when my mother would respond to my idealistic ideas with, “It’s not that simple.” This time I really hated it, because she was right.

And then Tina was kicked out of school. I marched into the principal’s office and demanded, pleaded, advocated, begged, guilted, quoted Scripture…you name it, I did it. How could we abandon Tina? Wasn’t she the sort of child who needed this school the most? The grandparents had sacrificed, skimping together money they didn’t have, in a desperate attempt to provide help for their little, troubled granddaughter — and we were tossing her out on her ear? I was eloquent and convincing…well, to my ears anyway. Everyone else seemed relieved to be free of the numerous ongoing and escalating behavior problems that were disrupting the other students. “We can’t sacrifice all the other students for one child,” the principal told me. “Why not?” I had the audacity to reply. “She needs us much more than they do.”

Just like that, Tina was out of my life. I never got to say goodbye, never saw or heard from her again. We had failed her. I was both angry and grieved.

The girl in this heartbreaking video reminded me of Tina…something about parts of her story, the way she looks and her outbursts of anger.

Tina impacted me more than she will ever know. I have no idea what became of her…if she’s still alive…if she even remembers me…I hope that she remembers that someone once loved her and believed in her, and thought she was worth rescuing. More than that, I hope that someone did in fact rescue her.

I hope her story had a happy, hopeful ending, her own version of this one:

The One Guy

This is kind of a goofy post. But it’s me being real, for whatever that’s worth. Quick ADHD moment: I recently watched a video of a Christian speaker whose name I can’t remember and now, as I write these words, I keep hearing her voice saying, “Just keeping it real!” after each hilarious, self-deprecating confession or anecdote. Back to now: this post, however, is not intentional comedy, at least not in that same way. It’s a slightly edited version of something I journaled about recently, and I have no idea why I’m putting it up on the Internet…other than this vague notion that maybe someone somewhere will find something they need in my words. At the same time, it may not make a whole lot of sense to anyone else.

To me, it’s neither silly nor childish. It describes  a profound and deep realization that I can’t express in words. It’s like coming home…only to discover home is even more wonderful than you remember.

Enough preamble and disclaimer…

There’s been my lifelong — well, since around age 13 anyway — quest for who I thought of as The One Guy. It didn’t take much time for that concept to become less and less about a boyfriend and more about a friend, until the very idea of romance no longer entered the picture. It became all about The One Guy who would “see me for me”, who would “love me for me”, with no strings attached, no hint of sexual overtones to mess it all up. He would be the perfect BFF, the one person who truly understood me. He would believe in me, bring out the best in me, and together we would conquer the world. I imagined that, since Mums always said to marry your best friend, that this remarkable fellow would have to take at least a year or so to gain my trust and prove himself. Then, once he’d earned the highly coveted (by no one, especially since I alone knew of its existence) One Guy status, it would take an additional two or more years (after he’d fallen in love with me) to persuade me that marrying each other wouldn’t ruin everything. That assumed all went well and things sailed smoothly along. Otherwise it would really be a long courtship.

Of course, nothing remotely like that ever happened.

When I attempted to explain this futile quest to my therapist, he shocked me by — very unlike him — trying to go all Freudian on me and make The One Guy about Daddy, but I knew that wasn’t it. So then I tried to make it about wanting a big brother who was a much better big brother, or something like that. But that wasn’t it either.

Apparently it was just a goofy childhood fantasy I never got over. Silly me.

And then, during a time of worship at a recent conference, it suddenly hit me: Jesus is The One Guy! He’s the one I have been searching and longing for all this time, the Intimate Friend my heart has been seeking…

Really — duh! — it’s quite obvious that my idea of The One Guy was something no human male could fulfill, let alone would actually want. I mean, what would be in it for him? No human is capable of that sort of unconditional, unselfish love, let alone the uncanny mind-reading skills required for him to see “the real me”.

This is a far cry from “Jesus is my boyfriend”. It’s more like, Jesus is the fulfillment of my deepest desires. He is Love Personified. He’s the hero and rescuer I’ve wanted to write stories about. He’s the Best Friend I’ve yearned for. He’s true intimacy and unconditional love and deep acceptance and everything else my heart has ever longed for.

He’s The One Guy.

Kicking and screaming prodigals


Although I’ve never been an atheist, C.S. Lewis’ words resonate with me. More than once, I have been a prodigal. More than once, God has brought me back.

In Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, the father is out on the road, waiting for his return. In the most dramatic case in my own life, my Heavenly Father went to a far off land, found me in the pigsty, and brought me home. Initially, I was not grateful. I was “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting [my] eyes in every direction for a chance to escape”.

Wait! But what about free will? You’re making God out to be some sort of kidnapper!

All I know is, if I’m ever drowning in the sea, please don’t stand on the shore and debate free will. If I’m ever taken hostage, please don’t make me get over every twinge of Stockholm syndrome before you rescue me. If you see that my situation is dire, please do not withhold your help until I fully recognize the danger that I’m in.

I figure God knew what He was doing. On this side of things, I am so beyond thankful that He did not leave me to my own devices in the muck and mire.

Why doesn’t He mount search and rescue missions for all His prodigals, and drag them all back in a more or less timely fashion? Why doesn’t He prevent their wandering and rebellion in the first place? Why does it seem He was more concerned about me? I don’t know the answers. What I do know is that I was that one little lost sheep. I was lost, and now I’m found. And I’m forever grateful that He didn’t make me find the way on my own but that He dragged me back home to Him.

My only wish is that I had never left…not even for a moment.