Saturday, October 10, 2009

My story of faith

In light of all of my recent musings about evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, I think it's a pertinent time to tell my story of faith so far. It helps to understand where I'm coming from.

Dad and I

To tell my story, I have to briefly tell my parent's story, because their faith so deeply formed my own. My parents were both born into families that attended mainline Protestant denominations. Neither family was very deeply involved in church and faith didn't seem play a large part in their childhoods . For my Dad, this changed in high school when he started attending the youth group of a vibrant Presbyterian church in his hometown of Wichita. Through the youth group, some great discipleship, and beginning to read the Bible daily, my Dad's life was transformed, and his life forever oriented in the pursuit of God.

My mom didn't encounter personal faith until after graduating for college. She was invited to visit a local Bible church that guided her to read the Bible and pursue God personally. She too was forever changed. Both my mom and my dad pinpoint their encounter with Christ to local churches and reading scripture. They believe strongly in the power and truth of scripture, and all of my childhood I would wake up and find them in the living room, spending their first hour of the morning reading and praying. I have total respect for the faith of my parents. Their faith has manifested itself in a committed and loving marriage, really gentle parenting of us six children, and moving overseas to be missionaries. They are truly amazing people, and I grew up with a living example of love and faith implemented in daily choices.

So - from my earliest childhood I was taught the Bible. I grew up with the classic evangelical Biblical education through the flannel-graph Sunday school stories, nighttime prayers with my parents, and Christian kids songs. Life was oriented around faith. My early memories often have to do with my interaction with God. I remember making up praise songs while sitting on the toilet, holding prayer times with my dolls, and bothering my mother to death in second grade with questions about salvation and how one knew they were saved.

In the summer after fourth grade, a sudden and huge fear of fires and dying in a fire led to sleepless nights and general panic for several months. When I told my parents, one of the things my mom suggested was to read Psalms at night before going to sleep. Thus began my daily practice of reading and praying - in my 5-8th grade years I had a daily "devotional" time more consistently than I ever have since! There was a slowly-growing intimacy in these times, and when we returned to the US for my 8th grade year and I was deeply lonely, I found God to be my refuge and comfort. I have journals filled with prayers from that year and the years following.

I was a spiritually emotional high schooler. My high school was an international school that was led by missionaries and mission teachers brought from the "home countries". We had Bible classes and Bible studies and chapel and spiritual emphasis retreats and essentially a constant influx of "spiritual stimulus". The community was very international and there was quite a variety of denominations and cultures represented, which I think was healthy. Amidst the school administration and teachers, though, we were definitely taught American evangelicalism, without really knowing that's what it was. I just thought we were "Christian", and anyone serious about faith would be like us.

My baptism

Personally those were beautiful years. Amidst the friendship and the fun of the years in Papua, I intensely wrestled with and sought God. I can look back and identify different significant points, points when I asked myself if I would follow the leading of God on my life, no matter where that took me or how my life ended. I had a string of unexpected and tough things hit my sophomore year and then asked the questions about trusting God in the midst of suffering and trials. I felt as thought I was constantly being asked, "Do you trust Me?"

These were times of deep, deep joy. Singing songs will a heart absolutely full of emotion, having long conversations about faith with people that are still my dearest friends, sitting and watching stunning sunsets over the ocean.... I felt the presence of God and the deepest joy in response to that presence. I experienced a beautiful sense of community with other believers. I read A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, Watchman Nee, and Cynthia Heald, all of which pushed me to think and engage with my faith. I loved my doctrine class and I found theology important AND interesting. I daily spent time reading scripture and journaling prayers. Faith informed and soaked into everything in my life.

Sentani, where I grew up

Looking back, I'm never quite sure how to analyze those years spiritually. They were absolutely wonderful - secure, content, joyful. They were also emotional, and youth tend to be easily influenced by emotion. I know now that you can take a kid and give them an emotional experience and they will, in that emotion, believe almost anything. I know that much of the "experience" of those years was fueled by adolescent passion and angst, but at the same time there was a core of faith that had grown in middle school and really was the center of it all. I think the emotional experiences were often part of the externals that tend to be influenced by whatever culture we are in in the moment. The knowledge of my God and a sense of communion with Him - that I believe was real, mostly because I have experienced it since I was old enough to be aware of such things.

So, I am thankful for those years, even though at the time it was impossible to discern what was evangelical culture and what was truth and faith. I was given the opportunity to seek God. That mattered more than anything.

Precious High School Friends

And then life as I knew it ended and I went back to America for college.... and that will be part II.

1 comment:

Janet said...

What a rich personal story! I look forward to hearing part 2.

Thanks for visiting my blog, and sharing your thoughts.