Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Now I Call Him Friend

I have had a personal relationship with God for eleven years now. Growing up, I had a steady Catholic background up until the third grade or so, and then intermittently went to a Catholic church in my teens, with a friend's family. While in college at the University of California at San Diego, I attended a Catholic Church on campus, with a couple of dorm mates.

Intermittently, I kept attending Catholic Churches through the end of my twenties, while single and working as a first grade teacher in a high desert area of California. Mentioning this denomination hopefully won't offend anyone who happens upon this blog. I only write about my experience, which is quite possibly much different than that of many devout Catholics. I was never devout or very involved.

I can say that I felt peaceful while sitting in Catholic Churches. But, sadly, I was never, in all the times I went, encouraged to make sure I had a personal relationship with God. Nor was I ever encouraged to read the Bible. Nor did I know that there are many doctrines and rules associated with the Catholic Church that are clearly not God's ideas, but rather, those of man.

For example, when I first started teaching I dated a fairly devout Catholic man who got pretty irritated with me for kneeling down on the WRONG KNEE before entering a pew. I was embarrassed and horrified that I had been doing it wrong all those years. No - the incident didn't end the relationship, but it was certainly a bad sign I should have heeded. Hindsight is always 20/20; it took me a year to break up with him after this telling day.

Suffice it to say, I now know what God thinks about religion - any religion. He hates it! It completely distracts from a personal relationship with him, and makes a whole lot of ungodly people rich. All the trappings of religion are so unfortunate; they end up leaving so many well-intentioned people empty, not understanding why they don't feel close to God. Christianity is not about religion; it's about a relationship. Certainly, there are some who find that relationship, despite their religion, but many others cannot and do not.

Spiritual Awakening

My personal relationship with God started on a beautiful, fateful day in my thirty-first year. A fellow first grade teacher, a widow in her fifties, and I were driving up to Big Bear Mountain to enjoy some spring beauty, none of which could be found in our 2500 foot-elevation desert town, which was about an hour away from Big Bear.

Being the open book that I am, while driving along some seriously curvy, steep mountain roads, I began telling her how I never thought I would be in my thirties and still single. Opening up about my fears of becoming a spinster, I was all ears to any advice or wisdom she had to offer. She was a person who had an inner joy, glow, name it. Whatever it was - I couldn't put my finger on it - I just knew I wanted it for my life. She had been through hell and back, during her lifetime. Her husband had committed suicide while she was in her forties and her adopted children (they had raised them from birth) were in their teens. Furthermore, her first grandchild, within a year of our trip, had died of meningitis. All told, she had been through incomprehensible pain. But still there was that peace. Was was it?

She began, to my surprise, by asking about my spiritual background, already having an idea that, although I was somewhat churched, I had no relationship with God. Her background was similar; she grew up in a different denominational church, with the same outcome. No personal relationship. How fortunate, how divinely orchestrated, was my trip up the mountain that day.

The most important information I got that day was that if I was concerned about something, anything at all, no matter how silly or how trivial, I could take it to God and ask for help. I didn't need to say any silly prayers, I just needed to have a conversation with God. Previously, I had only prayed pre-scripted, memorized prayers, along with "bless my mom, bless my dad...". How sad is that, at the age of thirty-one?

Our friendship blossomed; she had been very lonely and had prayed for a friend. We were inseparable for two years, and she was very patient and gentle as I asked thousands upon thousands of spiritual questions. My heart was so hungry for God! I was so elated to have found Him, and I wanted to know and understand more and more and more.

Five months before my thirty-third birthday, the first real prayer I ever prayed was answered. I met my future husband, Don. He was forty, had never before married, but had been praying for a wife since his early twenties. There were two things that were most important to him, besides being in love, of course. He wanted someone who had never been married, and he wanted someone who had a mature relationship with God. Guess who was both, thanks to the grace of God?

He asked me to marry him five months later, taking out a ring and putting it on my finger at roughly the same Big Bear location my friend and I had passed, just two years earlier, when she had explained to me that I needed to talk to God about my desire to be married.

We got married July, 1999. Phyllis, my widowed friend, was one of my bridesmaids. She will always be the dearest of friends. She is currently in China, teaching at an international school on a two-year assignment. Everyone who crosses her path there is so fortunate to get a glimpse of her inner peace and joy. For, just like me, they see it and want it for their own heart, for their own families. Many citizens have begun personal relationships with God, during her 18 months there, despite having a government that is very hostile to any Christian influence. She is able to do it, safely, just by spreading the contagious joy that God himself puts in our hearts, when we call him friend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too have come to your blog through Betsy, and have been truly blessed to do so.

I have three children, all boys, 10, 8 and 5. My five-year-old, much like your Daniel, is a handful, always wanting and needing my attention. He is constantly whining which usually escalates to a full on tantrums. I have him in public preschool for the second year running and he seems to be maturing, though slower than I'd like. (God has not exactly granted me the level of patience I've been hoping for.)

I wanted to commend you on your openness concerning your relationship with God. I was born and raised Catholic by two very devout parents. And though I have felt His presence, both physically and spiritually, I never truly felt close to Him. That is, until I had my children.

I had always firmly believed that my relationship with Him was more so about having him as friend opposed to kneeling on the correct knee and crossing myself in the proper order, but it wasn't until my boys came into my life that it truly became clear.

Recently, my mother has come to terms with my decisions concerning my religion. I had "lived in sin" with both of my husbands (the first left me and my oldest son when he was three mos. old) before getting officially married by the state (I'm still not married in the eyes of my church). But, it was a very long time coming. I no longer attend church on a regular basis, but I do still stay connected for my children’s sake. I don’t feel completely capable of helping them along on their own spiritual journey and I feel that the aid of a “home base” where they can go and find answers freely is a good thing. Though I fully plan on assisting in the cultivating of a personal relationship.

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing. You truly are an inspiration, even when you don't realize you're being one.