“What do you believe?” is a way to explore and connect through our various different faiths and tell the stories of the journeys we’ve traveled to explore our connection with the divine.
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord…” is the Apostles’ Creed which is part of the Statements of Belief found in the Evangelical Lutheran church of America. I was raised in the ELCA Lutheran church; baptized as an infant, Communion class in Fifth grade, two years of Confirmation through Junior High, Sunday school through high school, and after graduation from high school as part of the Sanctuary choir. The heritage of my faith lay with my grandmother and her family that came to Missouri and were active Lutherans. The faith was the candle of faithfulness passed from generation to generation, down to me. The Lutheran-Christian experience molded and breathes in the marrow of my identity.
Our life is marked with mile markers that stand as our Bethels, altars to the Lord in testimony of what He has done and what we’ve been through. I continue to walk on that unseen highway through the deserts, wildernesses, mountains, and valleys; gripping my mustard seed faith against the doubts that shout in my mind and the darkness of the unknown pages that lay ahead.
As a child within the church, I admired Mary for her purity, faith, and obedience. Unbeknownst to my family during that time; I was involved in unhealthy sexual play with a female classmate. The acts occurred for a period of time before my 9th birthday and left me in a haunted and shameful silence. Even at that age; I knew the church’s teaching on such behavior and my perception of myself was that I was dirty, stained, and damned to hell for those acts. I felt like the woman caught in adultery and have carried this secret with me for twenty-eight years. These acts have left a lasting impact on my life, leaving an epoch on the road that has just recently become a Bethel.
I witnessed answered prayers in the small minute when in 5th Grade up for the weekend at a local camp in the mountains; we prayed for snow and after our time in the room, when we went outside and it was snowing. It was magical moment standing under the stars surrounded by the trees reaching for the heavens and to taste the snowflakes on your tongue. I was amazed by this little answer and I became more ardent to converse with Jesus in my mind on daily/hourly basis.
“This is the feast of victory for our God” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary 1996 #359) are the words that accompany the sacrament of Communion within the Lutheran church. I find it a beautifully intimate sacrament as we kneel at the altar, our open cupped hands out in front rouses the heart to press on through the pains, sorrows, worries, and doubts that struggle with. It’s in this sacrament that I feel the divine; in the wine it’s his strength flowing through my veins and a renewal for the days ahead.
After I transferred to university, I began attending a bible study on-campus and a non-denominational local church. After being raised in the Lutheran church, it was a new experience to see and hold my hands up in worship and to pray out loud. The fires that forged the life-long friends during this time still bring such joy to my heart. Their friendships and walk with the Lord guided me in how to work through the grief of my cousin’s death which had occurred six years earlier. As with the acts that occurred when I was young; I felt guilty for his death. I was socially paralyzed by the shame and guilt of both incidents. Later during one of the darkest days in my struggle with depression when I felt the Lord’s presence hold me as the tears streamed down my face. I relearned the Gospel of the Lord with new eyes. The words that I had known for years lived and breathed in new ways. On Oct. 31st, 1999 I decided to recommit my life to the Lord by going through another baptism. This church did a full immersion baptism where the Pastor went into the water with you and spoke to you about your decision. I felt a little strange about it because I had been baptized as an infant, and gone through confirmation in the Lutheran church during junior high to affirm my baptism. But also, felt that this was outward show of my renewal after all the struggles and shameful secrets.
I participated in some local and international outreaches after college to Mexico, Scotland, and Africa. I was given a taste of the Charismatic movement during my time in Scotland and Africa. I felt at times an outsider at times with the emphasis that is put on “speaking in tongues” and the emotional manipulation that felt for money. Somehow, my faith seemed to be in question because I did not speak in tongues. Though, for these drawbacks that left a bitter taste in my mouth; in Africa I experienced the divine in a new way when in a fit of tears—with people praying over me, I was unable to open my eyes. I cannot explain it but I could not physically open my eyes and when it came back; it was like I was given new eyes to see. When I returned from Africa; I faced burn out after serving in some capacity for almost twenty eight years of my life. I did not leave my bedrock believe in Jesus but started to pull away from organized church in a way that I had not done before. This departure was multi-faceted in that I was a Christian single woman in a church that emphasized family; I was relocating out of state shortly, longed for the traditional liturgy of the Lutheran church, and politically moving to the left on social issues that confront the church in general.
After relocating to the Lone Star State within the South and the Bible belt; where the mantra is God, country (Texas), and football and there are multiple mega-churches on each corner right next to the longhorns. I found a Singles Group which was part of one of the mega-churches. I experienced the divine within this community in the friendships that were forged over learning how to Two-step, playing games on a Friday night, and the in-between times. Within the largesse of the main church though, I felt like an outsider and longed for the Lutheran liturgy. Within this last year; I have returned to my roots and found a medium size Lutheran church and my wanderings to the other churches under the Christian umbrella have come to an end. I’ll soon be heading out for my first missions after the long break to Haiti with the new church. I’m excited for the road that I’m on and what Bethels await in the future.