Doubt, Faith, Grace

The Last Thing I Wanted to Do

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It rattles softly at the window like the fingers of a child as I sit on the edge of the tub to tie my shoes. It comes down the glass in crooked paths to stir my heart absurdly as it always has, and dear God in Heaven, the sound of it on the roof, on the taut black silk of the umbrella, on the catalpa leaves, dimpling the glassy surface of the peepering pond. It is the rain, and it tastes of silver; it is the rain, and it smells of christening. The rain is falling on the morning of my first day, and everything is wet with it: wet earth, wet fur, the smell of the grass when it is wet, the smell of the wet pavements of the city and the sound of tires on the wet streets, the wet hair and face of a woman doing errands in the rain. Wherever my feet take me now, it will be to something wet, something new, that I have never seen before.

-Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace

It was a cold, rainy morning and going to church was the last thing I wanted to do.

It’s going to be so crowded . . . the message will be watered down . . . you’re just going to have to watch a bunch of baptisms of people you don’t even know. I mean . . . baptisms on Easter? How cliché can you get?

It was Easter Sunday, 2009, in Seattle. I had only been attending the church for a month, and I had already decided the Easter baptism service was going to be over-produced and emotionally manipulative. All I wanted to do was drink my coffee in my robe and watch a Friends marathon.

Yet I felt a prompting, and my feet led me up the hill to church.

My dragging feet (and curled hair and carefully applied make-up because, Easter) made me late, so I sat high up in the balcony. I floated through the service, halfway listening to the message, halfway worshiping in my heart.

But then a soft-spoken guy in a black t-shirt walked up to the microphone. He shared he had grown up Catholic and was baptized as an infant. That he had begun to think very differently about faith when he was in high school. And how, as an adult, his faith had become just that—his faith. It was a personal thing that he didn’t talk about with anyone. He thought it was enough to have this conversation with God on his own. But without the support of a community, he found himself making decisions that were leading him away from God and that ultimately caused him great sadness.

My heart began to pound. I could hardly breathe. He was giving voice to a piece of my own story.

His face radiated with beauty and ease as he spoke about the promise God had given him through Jesus—that it was through Jesus’ strength and sacrifice, through his goodness and love—that he was redeemed and made new each and every day. With a huge smile, he walked to the baptismal pool and made a public commitment of faith.

After the baptisms, our pastor announced we’d be entering into a time of prayer and worship. I bowed my head, feeling heavy and sad as a stream of dark memories came flooding through my mind. I brushed a few tears from my cheek.

Yet cutting through the barrage of my iniquities and my litany of confessions was a surreal sense of peace.

I began to feel like maybe it was time to actually let go.

The pastor was still talking. “We’re going to do something different today. We’re going to keep the baptisms going. If any of you feel the Spirit moving in your heart, you are welcome to come up here.” My head jerked up.

What?

“As you are praying, remember that you are dealing with an audience of One. It’s not about where you are.”

You are wearing your Easter dress, Erin, don’t be silly.

“It’s not about what you’re wearing — in fact, we have towels and sweatpants for you here backstage.”

Of course they have sweatpants for you. They’re hawking mass-produced Christianity, here, Erin. What a production.

“It’s not about the production, or the people, or the day. It’s about you and Jesus.”

I looked down at my dress, spotted with tears.

The feet I stood on felt like lead. My body trembled as I made my way down the stairs, through the hallway, down the aisle, and to the front of the stage. The man in front of me turned and offered a smile. “Nervous?”

Incredibly.

Somehow I made my way up the steps and into the pool. And when the pastor turned to me and asked if I was ready to fully put my trust in Jesus, my answer came immediately and with power: YES.

When I resurfaced from the water, I couldn’t stop smiling. Joy radiated through my body.

I was wet, bedraggled, with mascara running down my face.

I had never felt more beautiful.

Originally appeared on All In

 

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Faith, Grace

I Can’t Live on Bread Alone

open-book-981405_960_720This week I reworked an old post from October 2013, which was shared on All In this morning. May it bring you hope, as it did for me, as I recalled the events of that fall.

I am a bibliophile. I could spend all day in a bookstore, leafing through pages, inhaling that sweet aroma, running my fingers over their spines. My bedside table gathers more words than I can read in a month (or even a year), and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I have a confession: as much as I love books, and as much as I love Jesus, I don’t always love picking up my Bible.

There was a time this hesitation made sense because I felt intimidated by both its prose and poetry; I worried I wouldn’t understand what Jesus said should be so clear. But that’s no longer the case. Last week, as I was studying and reflecting on the power of scripture, I was reminded of when God surprised me by opening my eyes just two and a half years ago.

*

Our books are still in boxes.

It is October. We moved into our house in July.

Usually, when I set up a new living space, my books are the first to be unpacked. I like to touch each one, pause; if there’s time, I open a few of the pages and read a few lines. Meditate on words once read, underlined, starred, recalling back to a younger self who read with passion and curiosity.

I married a man with as many, if not more, books as I have in my possession. The fact that some are duplicates is a private confirmation to me of our perfect synchronization. Thus we are the Curletts of Many Books and at the moment these treasures are still in boxes, sitting in the corner of our basement.

One book in one of those boxes is my Ryrie Study Bible, which I’ve had since sophomore year of college, when I decided my faith needed to be my own. Lately I’ve been craving the word, and Googling each verse in question hasn’t been cutting it. My husband’s Bible is worn; crammed with pencils, notes, and memorabilia; it is held together tightly by a rubber band. I love his Bible, but at a distance.

Rather than open every one of the twenty boxes in our basement to find my collegiate companion, I instead went to Amazon and purchased a thin line ESV Bible. I imagined myself tucking it into a purse or a suitcase, something toteable. Perfect. When I read the description I realized that there would be no notes, no cross-references, no footnote exegesis. I worried a bit that I wouldn’t be able to follow these words without the guidance of scholars. (I know, I know. Martin Luther and all that. But you know, sometimes I need a little help.)

But . . .ever since that Bible made it to my doorstep? My hungry soul has been eating it up. Chapter by chapter. Number by number. Epistle by epistle. It feels comfortable, friendly. It makes sense to me. I am understanding its words in a way I never have before. There is clarity and an understanding that has never been present with me as I’ve read the Word of God.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but I have to be honest: I am surprised. This prayer thing? It works. Sure, in certain denominations and certain pulpits, pastors and ministers pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the Word of God. But how many times do we do that and experience . . . nothing? I would venture a guess that most of you reading this know what I’m talking about (or perhaps just as likely, you really have *no idea* what I’m talking about and the idea of asking the Spirit of God to help us do anything sounds a little weird and woo-woo. I don’t blame you. It’s bizarre, right? Nonsensical).

But here’s the thing: I asked him to help me, and he has been helping me. Honest truth.

How did this come to be? Well, a couple of weeks ago I had an ugly cry episode (definitely not the first!) where I professed from the very depths of my being that I believe in who he is and what he is capable of doing – namely, changing me. But this time I also specifically asked him to open up my eyes and ears and heart to the truth of his Word.

And guess what? He’s been doing it. He is true to his Word. It feels like a fog has been lifted. And it’s rocking my world.

I don’t know what to make of all of this, other than to laugh through my tears. Cathartic is the word that comes to mind. I feel compelled to laugh, to share, to write. I have a new confidence I’ve never, ever experienced before.

Could it be possible that the Lord has known, since before the creation of this world, that it would take me until October of my 32nd year to fully experience the truth of his promises? That it would take me this long to study the clues along the way?

I go down to the basement and open a box. It is strewn with gifts. Brennan Manning. Frederick Buechner. Madeline L’Engle. The words in their books affirm what God has been teaching me:

You’re forgiven. You’re called. You’re a creator.

And now: the questions remain, “What do I create?” and, “Am I worthy of the task to which I am called?”

Something is brewing. Something is being knit together. And my Father, who purchased my life with the sacrifice of his Son, clothes me in righteousness and undeserved reward.

He is with me.

*

In three short months, movers will arrive to once again pack our belongings—including our precious books—and send them to our new home, miles away. This time, as I gather clothes and toiletries and the supplies we’ll need in the in-between, I’ll make sure my Bible stays right where I want it: within arm’s reach. Because I know as I continue to pour my heart out onto the page, I will need his words of hope and truth and grace to fill me up time and time again.

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