What is Your God Story?

 Each of us has a God Story —

What our journey in relation to God has been. Why we believe. Why we don’t believe. What we used to believe and don’t anymore. Where healing and growth have allowed light to shine brilliantly into places of darkness. Where we still hurt and still long for wholeness.

Where we started out in this life and how we got from there to where we are now, as well as what our destination is and what we think will determine our success or failure in reaching it.

Mine is a Christian God Story.

As missionary theologian Leslie Newbigin put it

“[T]he way we understand the past is a function of our whole way of meeting the present and the future. The community of faith celebrates the resurrection of Jesus as the ground of assurance that the present and the future are not under the control of blind forces but are open to unlimited possibilities of new life.”

So my God Story is necessarily about rebirth and blossoming. Like my brother’s beautiful hosta.
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I’m a cradle Anglican, one of two babies born the same night in my city’s small hospital, both unlikely to make it ’til morning. I was Christened with tap water in my oxygen tent by my nurse and with holy water minutes later by the priest she had called. Yet another  Christening six months later at our church is the one recorded for posterity.
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A chronically ill child, I failed to develop spoken language. My vocabulary was the word “Uh” grunted in varying degrees of frustration while pointing to what I wanted, with all around guessing what that might be. My other skill was holding my breath and turning blue until someone got it right. At age three, I was identified to go to a residential school for the deaf to learn signing but Mom insisted I could hear sometimes. Our family doctor studied the emerging field of “allergies” hoping to prove her right and avoid my being sent away. “Fur, feathers and dust,” was his verdict after testing, so away went the cat, the dog, sixteen rabbits, my angora sweaters, wool blankets, feather pillow and a host of other things. It was a close call about the dog. My brother and sister, then aged nine and six, evidently lobbied to keep the beautiful spaniel Blackie and send me away, but my parents disagreed. Our canary did stay on in the house but was banished to a room I must never enter. Soon I could definitely hear some days. Not enough, not consistently, but it was a start.

One day Dad, Mom and I – in Sunday best – drove to a beautiful Art Deco building on Saint George Street in Toronto. In the lobby, we watched the arrow on a shiny brass dial above the elevator inch towards the big, gleaming “1”. When the doors opened, we would ride up to an ear, nose and throat specialist, possibly the last doctor I would need to see for ages. This gave me strength not to shriek as he siphoned a splat of ear wax into a kidney-shaped vessel. More progress. I heard the plop.

One day soon after, Mom and I – tired from a morning of errands downtown – boarded the Barrie bus at the Five Points by Tamblyn’s Drug Store and sat side by side behind the driver. About a block up Clapperton Street, while gazing out the window across the aisle,    I heard cheering erupt around us. Mom had spoken to the driver and I had reacted. Mom was practically hysterical. “She was looking away! That wasn’t lip-reading! She heard me! Turn your head again,” she said, and spoke again. “Did you see that?” People clapped. “She heard me again! She had to have! Her head was turned completely away!” All the way to Peel Street, Mom demonstrated my new trick for each new arrival to great applause like I was a clever circus poodle. That settled it. I could hear. And I could understand language. 

Lucky me. I started kindergarten at the school my brother and sister went to. Enrollment was low that September, so I even began a year early. I drank life in like a milkshake and gobbled up learning as greedily and as giddily as if it were candy. I aced kindergarten, then did half of grade two while still in first grade and the rest while in grade three. By age seven, I was in grade four and the principal was talking about me skipping grade five. I just adored the world and its creator — in equal measure.

At age six or seven, hearing the Scripture in church to “repent and be baptized” both “in water and the Spirit” I decided to heed the call on my heart. The next Sunday, I ran to tell my favorite priest. He was elderly. It’s lucky the sweet old darling didn’t die. He sputtered that my Christening had saved my soul and I was to do nothing further – attend Sunday School, sing in choir but nothing else – until I was twelve. What about how we all come to church to learn what God wants so we can please him? I quoted Scripture but it didn’t help. No baptism for little me. I must have gotten this nonsense from the girl across the road, he said, whose folks went to a different church. It had to stop. He would speak to my parents. I was shocked. There were two churches? And which one your parents went to determined how you and God were to get along?

A few months later I had a vivid dream in which I was looking at the priests in their white vestments and heard God say he wanted me to be just like them, with their same access to the throne of heavenly grace. That Sunday I ran to tell my favorite priest – the same one as before. Boy, he must have had a strong constitution. “You? Ordained?” This lovely, lovely hero of mine had turned scarlet and shook like the little bobble thingie on an overheating pressure cooker. “I hope to be long dead before ever a female is ordained in this church. I don’t want to hear a word about this ever again.” I was shocked.

Just a few days later, I had a dream of being a missionary to Africa, like the one my mother supported and we girls wrote back and forth with, who frequently sent photos of her work. I heard a heavenly voice say God wanted me to be just like her. This time I had learned my lesson. I wasn’t going to upset that dear, sweet man again. I ran to Mom. “You? A missionary to Africa? Not while I live and breathe,” Mother gasped. I was shocked. What about how we’re to go to all the world, baptizing? “People who go over there can die. Do not so much as think of it ever again.”

That summer, en route to the corner store at the outskirts of town that sold some of the best ice cream to be had, I stared wide-eyed at a freshly-built, rather plain structure just up the road from it which – to my astonishment – boasted a sign identifying it as a church too. I begged to visit. “Over my dead body!” Mom gasped. “The people there are just a wee bit religious.” To me that sounded terrific but apparently in MomSpeak the phrase was not a compliment. I was shocked. A person could love God too much? How was such a thing even possible? What about what it says in the Ten Commandments? God wrote those on a rock. Twice.


I look back  on that period of my childhood as
“the season of the four shocks”.
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I believe that I was born again and received God’s Holy Spirit in the moment when, at age six or seven, I accepted Christ as my Savior and vowed to serve God all the days of my life. Wouldn’t you think that I’d scamper off merrily into an early adulthood of marvelous achievements in the service of God? Flash forward two decades, though, and you would see a woman who – with failure after failure – felt unforgivable and devoid of hope. Certainly, everything I had done was undertaken either for the love of God, for the love of a person or persons, for the love of humanity or for the love of the earth. But what a mess I had made of it all.
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One evening when discouragement and despair had reached crisis proportions, I called a maturer colleague whose life was just what I had anticipated mine would be – one endless series of blessings and achievements. Elizabeth, like me, had met the love of her life very young except that hers was a fellow Presbyterian preparing for ministry. When widowed with two young sons, she had triumphed over adversity becoming the most loved, most respected member of her church and the one its clergy looked to for guidance as well as leadership. Too, she had excelled in her chosen career, becoming far and away the most admired and respected, the most consulted person in the entire organization. Of course, the instant she realized I was distraught, Elizabeth came running to my aid.
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I began to pour out my griefs but Elizabeth stopped me. “I’m beyond shock,” she said. “In the months you’ve been with us, you’ve been marked as a star. Everyone who meets you says you’re one of the brightest we’ve seen in both senses of the word: one of the most gifted and one of the most radiantly joyous – a treat to work with and a joy to know. How can you be that all day and this when you get home?” I answered in vivid detail for nearly two hours, focusing on why the one last failure pushed me beyond what God could forgive. Meanwhile, facing me, Elizabeth sat primly – knees together, ankles crossed, posture perfect, hands folded in her lap, eyes wide and clear, facial expression frozen, lips sealed. Then it was her turn.
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“Sin is sin and God forgives it when we ask, repentant, in Jesus’ name.”
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“Usually. Not in this case.”
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“That’s the Old Testament. There is another one. Maybe you’ve heard of it.”
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We talked for quite a while, Elizabeth saying my situation was not hopeless and that God wanted to do great things both in me and through me while I argued the opposite. Finally Elizabeth threw up her hands and said, “Why don’t you just ask him?” Despite my deer-in-the-headlights reaction, she pursued the issue, “Well, have you ever just asked God what his opinion is? After all, it’s the only one that counts.” Although my jaw had come loose from whatever normally holds it in place, she carried on undeterred. “It’s not up to up to you or me to decide what God can and cannot, will or will not do. God is God. Ask him.”
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“I’ve done nothing but ask for weeks on end,” I said. “I’ve visited clergy of three mainline denominations and called the counseling lines of a number of television ministries, and they are split right down the middle on the issue.” There was something unique about my situation that did involve a doctrinal dispute, which is how I had been brought to such a standstill and couldn’t reason my way out.
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“It’s not up to them either. Nobody decides for God what God will or won’t do. What God will do if you throw yourself on God’s mercy is up to God. It’s God’s universe and God does, God can do, God will do what God chooses to do. Stop all this stewing. Just ask God. Then you’ll know for sure.
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“How? How can I be sure when even the experts are not?”
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Ask God to let you know for sure.”
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I was too tired, I said, to continue so Elizabeth and I agreed to talk again the next day. But, after Elizabeth left, I said simply, “God, if you can still love me, if you can forgive what I feel is unforgivable, and if you have the slightest use for me in your kingdom, I’m too tired tonight but let me know in the morning and I will serve and adore you with every ounce of my being until the end of my days. I ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.” I was asleep the instant my head hit the pillow.
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All I’m going to say about the rest is: I prayed that prayer the 13th of December in 1973, I was born again again about three minutes after waking up on the 14th, and God made me so sure of his love that morning that in the over four decades since I have not ever for one second doubted it.
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I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8: 38-39 
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I didn’t become a world-famous evangelist, or the nicest, wisest and most spiritual person in my church like Elizabeth, or a missionary to Africa, or even an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. In various ways, the issues arising from a dysfunctional family and those of “the season of the four shocks” and other traumas and challenges, however, have been revealed and healed. When you give up trying to fix everything yourself and invite God to move in your life instead, he will meet you in your places of deepest hurt and direst lack; he will heal you from the inside out until you are restored to wholeness and fitted for the eternal praise of his glory and it will be – like the heartsong of a sparrow or the petals of a flower or the intricate symmetries of a snowflake – a miracle.
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In my forties, out of nowhere and with no role models whatever, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. No two people experience this in precisely the same way; no two sound exactly alike when they pray. I can be praying about terrorism or famine or the worst situation one can imagine and, when I open myself up to let the Spirit pray in and through me, out comes a sweet little song whose lyrics are in a language I do not speak. I am continually amazed by the peace and the trust I hear in that wee singing voice. Clearly God’s Spirit understands something abut human suffering that I do not.
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In my fifties, I finally understood what my two vivid childhood dreams were about.
In theological college, one professor took an hour one night — against college policy — to explain why he did not agree with ordination of priests though the denomination certainly did. He took my class through the Scripture about the curtain separating mere humankind from the presence of God in the Temple at Jerusalem and how it was torn in two – top to bottom – upon the death of Christ, never to be knit back together. By that first childhood dream, I – as a newly saved Christian – was being taught the priesthood of all believers: that God has granted to all believers direct access to his throne of heavenly grace in Jesus’ name and through faith in his promises. That a little six year old believer had access just like those priests in white robes up front in her church.
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Thus, all Christians are of that holy priesthood and can offer spiritual sacrifices to God. All have the right to go directly to God through Jesus Christ, our High Priest.
Heb. 4:14-16
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Heb. 10:19-22
You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Pet. 2:5
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…
1 Pet. 2:9
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The second vivid childhood dream, I now realized, taught a six year old new believer the Great Commission for every Christian: going to all the world to save sinners, just like the missionary she knew who had gone to Africa.
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Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

Matthew 28:16-20

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This one hour at Theological College led to my discovery of my ministries – my calling. How can a disabled senior citizen in her unique circumstances yet fulfill God’s calling for all Christians? She can pray. So I pray. And she can write books that will go where she cannot, books that may outlive her, reaching souls with the gospel long after she has gone home. So I write to win souls for Christ as he called us all to do; I write to disciple those who claim Christ as savior; and I write to show Christians of one denomination or stage of growth what it might look like to be at a different point in one’s life journey – to be coming to life experiences from another faith background or to be coming to faith with different life experiences.
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About two and a half years ago, I finally felt strongly enough about baptism in water and the spirit to join the Pentecostal Church. As it happens, I joined the exact church where folks were ‘a wee bit religious’ and it turned out to be quite to my liking. A year later, over a dozen of us, some as young as six or seven, attended preparation classes. The morning of our baptism the pastors floated rubber duckies in the water to make the wee ones comfy. The practice in the Pentecostal Church is that the person speak and / or answer questions for one or two minutes standing in the water before being very simply baptized in it… No long ritual of formal written prayers and actions for all to follow. When it was my turn, the pastor said, “Why don’t you tell us how you you feel doing this today. Why you’re standing in this water with all these rubber duckies at your age.” Or something like that. All that I remember is answering something like, “I’ve waited over sixty years to be right here in this very water with these rubber duckies. I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.”
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And I wake up each morning just itching to see what delights he’ll bestow on me next, how he will use my very weaknesses to let me work in, and minister from, his strength alone. My life purpose is to be a pen in the hand of God through which the Spirit flows to write Christ’s message of love into our hurting world. My prayer is simply to be empty enough to be filled.

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What is your God story? I invite you to share it in the response section below.

Photo Credit [Top Photo]:    Wayne Peterson, Belleville, Canada      25 Sep 2015

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4 thoughts on “What is Your God Story?

  1. Hi Linnie!
    I’ve finally had time to read your article. It is wonderful! You are a great writer, and I see how God is using you to reach others. Thank you for sharing how your mother was determined to care for you, believe in you and take every measure to see to your best. Even though you had the “four shocks” God certainly had and continues to have His hand upon your life. May He continue to bless you and bless others as you point them to Jesus.
    Your Sister in Christ, Patty

    Like

    1. Thanks so much, Patty. It is very humbling to realize that God gave a born again child of six or seven the four insights that would define her life journey: that after repentance comes water baptism / that every believing Christian has equal access to the throne of heavenly grace needing no intermediary other than Christ / that every believing Christian is a missionary / and that a Christian may not need to look very far to find the church wherein members support, encourage, uplift and assist one another in their life’s work.
      I’m glad I was raised in a family that took church seriously and that I came to a church that takes family seriously.
      You really are a lovely sister in Christ and I so appreciate you. May his Spirit continue to convict, inspire, embolden and energize you.

      Like

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