See Part 1 here.
See Part 2 here.
See Part 3 here.
See Part 4 here.
See Part 5 here.
See Part 6 here.
See Part 7 here.
See Part 8 here.
See Part 9 here.
See Part 10 here.
See Part 11 here.
See Part 12 here.
See Part 13 here.
See Part 14 here.
See Part 15 here.
See Part 16 here.
See Part 17 here.
See Part 18 here.
See Part 19 here.
See Part 20 here.
See Part 21 here.
See Part 22 here.
See Part 23 here.
See Part 24 here.
I think it took a few days to get a hold of my mom. She was exhausted from the trip, and the medicine she was taking always took something out of her. I had a chance to talk to one of my aunts, who I haven’t had the chance to see or talk to in quite some time.
Then I got to talk to Mom. I told her I understood she was tired. I talked to her about getting stronger so that we could try again. Mostly, we just shared our love for each other.
Even though she sounded so very tired, she wanted to make sure she told me she loved me. This is one of those things that wouldn’t change no matter what. I think I’ve learned from that call. We sometimes use, “I love you” perfunctorily. We say it like a sneeze or a casual bump during a ride on public transportation. My mom had lesions all the way down her throat. Eating was next to impossible, and talking couldn’t have been fun. But in our five-to-ten-minute conversation, she must have said, “I love you” four times.
It’s easy to say, “I love you” in times of joy or casual meetings. How meaningful it was to hear those words when I knew they literally hurt to say.
I spoke to one of my sisters next. At some point, the concept of salvation came up. She mentioned she was condemned because of a sin. I’m leaving this vague for a great many reasons. The most relevant reason is that there are people in the world who genuinely believe they’ve committed an “unforgivable” sin. I don’t think my sister thought this particular sin was “unforgivable” except when viewed from the filter of our upbringing, and the false teachers we were bombarded with.
I digress. When people hear constantly that they will go to Hell for their sins, it’s possible they’ll be convinced.
My reply to my sister still holds true for any who feel they’ve done something or too much to be forgiven.
“If you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart as your savior and repented of your sins, yes, you’re going to Hell.”
Not the nicest thing to say to a sister, but I wasn’t done yet.
“Nothing else can keep you from Heaven. If you know that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and strive to live a life without sin, then you are going to Heaven.”
I went on to explain one can increase their treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). One should strive to be more sanctified each day. However, in this case, my desire was to put the key to the Kingdom in the right place. No man can condemn you for your sins. No man can deny you entrance into Heaven. No sin is so great as to be unforgivable. The moment we accept Christ as our savior and repent of our sins, we are saved, one and all.
We talked a bit more about our childhood. I explained how much I wish I’d read the Bible more as a child, for I would have been much more prepared to recognize false teachers for who they were.
There’s a balance that those who evangelize must walk, and it’s done in respect to the aspects of God. He is grace and sovereignty. Some focus too much on his grace and forgiveness, but others are to easily led astray simply by focusing too much on his sovereignty and judgement.
The conversation didn’t revolve around this topic. It fell there naturally, and we transitioned to other things after, but it was during this process I kept hoping I’d, I don’t know, do it right. No, I can’t actually save anyone. But I’d read about Peter and the sermon in Acts and felt a little convicted that he could speak a paragraph and convert thousands.
This is where people remind me that Peter was the lead apostle. He was filled with the spirt. I understand my own human limitations, and I’m grateful that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The point is being raised in a life filled with false teachers, it’s hard not to wonder if my words are seen as more of the same.
I have a ways to go in this regard. I should have more trust that when I’m called, I’ll be filled with the spirt to say exactly what I need to say. Hearts can be hardened or changed only through God.
My talk with my sister ended well, and that would be the last positive phone call I’d have.
The next day, this same sister called in tears. She’s said something to one sibling, who then took that information to the rest of the family. For whatever reason, there were a lot of misunderstandings, and my sister felt a powerful degree of judgment and anger.
“There is no God!” she said. “Because if there was, he’d never do something like this to me.”
I’ll be honest. A lot of retorts came to my mind. But this was a person acting out of extreme grief, sadness, and betrayal.
Sure, Job remembered to glorify God (Job), and Christians should rejoice in their sufferings (Romans 5:3-5), but sometimes people make mistakes.
Peter, the leader of all the apostles, denied Christ three times. “I do not know him!” (Matthew 26:74).
Rather that act defensively or argue, I focused on the fact that she was hurting.
I think a great many people, especially well meaning Christians, too often forget that our command is to love one another. Maybe they want to defend God, who, by the way, doesn’t need our protection. Maybe they want to bring people to God. Maybe they want to defend the Bible. Regardless of motivation, not once in the Bible (I know, I read the whole thing) did Jesus or any apostle ever respond to threats, persecution or even violence with anger or more violence (Ok, you may through Peter at me on the night Jesus was arrested, but please also remember that Jesus rebuked Peter for that act, therefore showing it as the wrong response). At most, you might be able to argue they used harsh words. But even those harsh words were said in love to help those see the wrong done (Acts 2:22), and those words were always balanced with mercy and the chance for forgiveness (Acts 2:38).
So I did something I’m not exactly that good at. I listened some more. I offered my condolences that things had gotten taken so out of context. I offered whatever help I could.
Then I gave what insight I felt was appropriate:
When people act out of emotion, there’s no foundation for what they do. I have my rule book (the Bible). Others might have other standards, but my point is, if one acts in accordance to what he believes is right, he should take heart in knowing he’s doing right, even if he suffers for it.
My sister was doing what she felt was right. So, I believe, was everyone in the family. I’m not equipped with the knowledge and understanding one would need to truly judge the hearts of anyone. My point here was that if one believes he’s doing what is right in accordance to his faith, then even when he’s persecuted for it, he should take comfort that he is doing what is right. People shouldn’t judge. The shouldn’t lash out, but they do. We can’t stop people from doing these things, but we can control what we do, and how we respond.
It doesn’t in any way make suffering less painful. It doesn’t make suffering fun or easy. It just gives comfort.
This conversation molded into an opportunity to show support.
“I will never turn from you. I will always love you. I will always try, in accordance to what I believe is right, to support you. No matter who else might abandon you or hate you, I will love you.”
Isn’t that what Jesus did? Don’t misunderstand; there are those who denied (and continue to deny0 Christ. However, notice the same above, that even some of those who literally crucified Christ were saved. The repented and were baptized. Do some refuse to repent? Yes. Do some continue to deny? Yes. However, Jesus is always there for those who choose to come to him. Therefore, I will love and be there for any who seek me for love or comfort.
I’m not sure when I spoke to my father again. I’d resolved to call home more often. Rather than my usual once a week call, I just called as much as I could. At some point in that conversation, Dad made it a point to explain that my sister hadn’t been cut off or denied access to information. One of my other sisters explained that the rest of the family understood they didn’t have all the accurate information. This reconciliation would be critical for the next set of phone calls I’d receive.
Questions and Revelations
What did she do?
It doesn’t matter. She didn’t do the thing for which everyone got mad. The thing she did was done out of love and concern.
This is a failing of mine I struggle with, but I’m blessed with the revelation of that struggle that I might help others see it.
Too often, when we’re wronged, we feel defensive or angry. I’m of the opinion that one of the most common commands the Lord has given us that we ignore is to forgive because we were forgiven (Colossians 3:13).
I understand how it feels to be hurt, wronged, judged, persecuted, injured, insulted, and even abused. I can’t even say honestly I’ve forgiven all those who’ve done those things to me. My point isn’t, and has never been, to show how “right” I am. My point is to help you see I understand how it feels.
What I want people to know is to forgive someone is in itself the best way to feel better. Those whom I can’t forgive only build in me more resentment, which brings more anger, which causes me to resent those who commit smaller versions of the original transgression. This only makes me more angry and breeds only more resentment in me. Suddenly my heart is filled with that anger and resentment rather than the very love and mercy I want from God.
Pray for me. Pray that God help me find the forgiveness in my own heart that he and his son offered to the worthless sinner that I am. Let me not focus on what others have done to me, but only on that which I can do to be better. Let me not count off the wrongs I deemed were done to me, but let them go as nothing, as the price Christ payed for my sins caused God to passover me.
While there were many hurt feelings and angry resentments, I’m grateful to God that he softened the hearts of my loved ones to strive always to seek reconciliation. I hope they see that. I smile when I think about how much they’re doing to look not at the transgressions, but to at least seek compassion if not the ultimate goal of forgiveness.
Did it feel weird talking about God that way?
Yes. It’s very easy for me to see just how hypocritical and annoying I could be. Three years ago I only would talk about what a terrible Christian I was and how I should want or try to be better. Those were the extents and short durations of my testimony.
Now I’m pretty much talking about God every day, and quite often throughout each day.
What I want to focus on, however, is why. My heart is filled! Each time I see someone hurting I think, wow, God can help with that. How do I know, because I’m hurting, and God’s helping me. Wow, God can help ease this frustration. How do I know, because I’m frustrated, and God’s helping me.
For those who don’t see me as much as others, this probably seems like a dramatic shift. It’s actually been just about three years in total since this journey began. I got tired of being a “bad” Christian. I wanted to understand more, so I started reading the Bible. I wanted to be encouraged, so I started watching sermons online. I wanted to show God I was committed to being better, so I started attending the church that streamed those sermons.
But I’ll confess I feel the most awkward speaking to my family about my faith because I’m quite aware of how we see what some call “organized religion.” Others might call it, “what those church people do.” I’m not honestly sure how others describe it, but I remember the pastor who’d block my path to tell me how I was bound for Hell. I remember the story of how this other church sat my mom down and directed her to “get over” my bio-dad’s molestation of her daughter.
So every time I even talk about things, I feel this “ping” of, “Here it comes.” To be clear, my family hasn’t shown me an ounce of resentment or anger when I talk about it. Some have asked respectfully that I don’t try to preach to them, but that’s it. I’m still of the opinion that the source of all that weirdness is that group of false teachers.
How do you react when you feel weird?
This is a spot of growth for me because I’m not quite sure what to do. When I don’t know what to do, I don’t do anything.
I’ve seen a person (not in my family) talk about how they don’t believe. If they’re aggressive in their comments (acting from anger or defensiveness), I don’t say anything. If they don’t want to hear about God, no amount of me talking will make them suddenly want to hear about God. I don’t want to make God a point of argument or debate.
If I see that someone is curious or seeking opinions, then I speak, offering what I know and being honest when I don’t know.
This is how I’ve evolved from those aggressive false teachers in my life. If one doesn’t want to hear or can’t, no amount of screaming will make them hear. This doesn’t mean I’m not honest about my thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t mean I deny or try not to talk about God. I simply try to just be me.
If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog. I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.
Thanks for reading