I’d like to start this blog with a preface. I know that a decent portion of my followers and readers do not share my faith. I hope by now you will have realized that my purpose in writing this blog is not to convert or convince anyone of anything. My intent is simply to share my story as honestly as I can. This blog post will be a bit heavy on the faith side. If that’s not your thing then by all means feel free to stop reading here. I won’t be offended. I would love you to continue, because this is huge part of my story and what makes me who I am. If you choose to keep reading I would like to thank you for trusting me to be able to share this part of my story without becoming preachy.
Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.
― C.S. Lewis,
I grew up in the church. I was there every Sunday and Wednesday as long as I can remember. The Baptist churches I grew up in had me memorizing scripture before I could even read. By the time I had graduated high school I had read the entire Bible multiple times. I was typically the first to be able to find a scripture reference and my Sunday school teacher was hard pressed to ask a question that I didn’t know the answer to. (She’ll probably read this and can validate this claim.) I started a Christian Club at my high school during my junior year and then that summer I went on my first international mission trip. By the time I finished college I went on 6 more. You would be hard pressed to find someone more “Christian” than me.
Then, after getting married and starting to go to a radically different sort of church, my faith became less about head knowledge and to do lists and more about experiencing a dynamic relationship with a loving Father God. I had many amazing personal encounters with the gentle and overwhelming love of God. I wasn’t just a slaving drone anymore. I had experienced the “more” that I had been searching for in all of the study and working I had done in the past.
And then Jon died.
Suddenly nothing made sense. None of my experiences with God. None of my knowledge of scripture and theology. None of it brought me comfort. None of it brought me understanding. I felt betrayed by the God I had dedicated my life to. I had done everything that I knew to do. I had done everything right. I had given God every area of my life. Where was His protection? Where was His goodness?
It took me a long time to recognize it because I buried it deep, but I was so angry. “Angry” doesn’t feel like a strong enough word. “Livid” is probably closer. I got to point where I was done. If this was how God treated His followers then what was the point? Why work so hard? Why not just do whatever pleased me?
It was a decision I was not going to take lightly. It took an act of will to force myself to go through the motions of church and ministry school while I took the time to consider whether or not I was going to continue in my faith. I was standing on the edge of a knife knowing whichever side I fell on would be a permanent. During one worship service I had a dramatic encounter (that I talk about here) that helped to shift the anger. But I still wasn’t settled on the decision. I needed deeper healing.
A few weeks later the school brought in counselors to teach us on a specific method of inner healing. There was a sign up for those willing to have an in-school session that would be viewed by groups of our classmates. I signed up. My whole life is on the internet anyway and I could use all the help I could get. During that session the root of my anger manifested pretty quickly and without going into all of the details, I was able to work through it with the help of the counselor.
The following week at school was on the topic of The Atonement and the Power of the Cross. During that week Jesus spoke to that angry part of my heart. He told me to take my all anger out on Him, that He could take it. It was in that moment I realized that I would have been in the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” I was the religious leader demanding His death. I was the official that commanded it. I was the soldier brutalizing Him. I killed Jesus.
I had always fancied that I would have been one of the good guys at the cross with John and Mary, but no, my anger put Him there. I wanted Him to suffer because of what happened to me. I did that to Him. My pastor played a clip of The Passion and I didn’t let myself look away. I made myself look at the product of my anger and then I silently wept. “This isn’t what I wanted! This isn’t what I wanted!” Then I heard Jesus respond, “I love you. I did it for you.”
In that moment I fully repented of my anger, I didn’t want to carry it anymore. I let go of the indignation and feeling like God owed me. I laid it down at the cross and left it there.
In the weeks following, God answered the last of my hard questions: How can you be a good God and allow what happened to happen? I wish I could unpack that answer here but it would require an entire blog post of its own. (I’ll get to it at some point) But, He gave me an answer that satisfied my soul. Not because He had to, but because of His kindness.
I found myself feeling a bit whiplashed. I went from indignant and angry to sheepish and overwhelmed by God’s kindness. All of the fiery heat I had felt inside evaporated and in its place… peace.
Some weeks later my church announced that they were going to be doing Baptisms and I knew I needed to do it. I had been Baptized as a kid. I knew what it meant and what I was doing, it was a “valid” baptism. But everything about my life and my faith had changed since I was 10 years old.
When Jon died the Erica that was Jon’s wife died with him. This new Erica had to decide whether or not I was going to keep my faith and I almost decided not to. I felt like I needed to be re-baptized as an outward sign that, even after everything, I still choose to dedicate my life to God.
That morning as I lined up with the 50 others that were being Baptized, I felt this nervous energy and a weightiness in my soul for what I was about to do. The closest thing I can compare it to is my wedding day. Approaching the baptismal felt like walking down the aisle.
The baptisms I had attended in the past were always somber, but the worship band was playing songs that made it feel like a party. The entire congregation was celebrating the significance of that moment. The closer I got the heavier I felt God’s presence. By the time I reached the front of the line I felt like I could barely walk.
I climbed inside the little pool and took my pastor’s hand. She had seen me through more than one hard season in my life in the last 8 years which is why I had asked her to be the pastor to baptize me.
“Erica,” she said, “it is an honor to baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And then I went under and something powerful happened.
I’m still processing it and I’m struggling to find words. But it felt like the second I was submerged a massive energy pulse burst from within shooting out in all directions. Something was exchanged in the spirit and I was lifted out of the water reborn.
The power of that moment pressed down on me and I knew if I did not get out of the water immediately, if I stayed in the weightiness of what happened a second longer, I would begin to weep uncontrollably and would have to be carried out because I wouldn’t be able to move.
I am His. Now, more than ever in my life I am His. There’s no going back. Everything I have to offer belongs to Him. I’ve given Him everything. There are no pieces I’m holding in reserve. No areas of my heart where He is not welcome.
All I have.. all I am.. is His to do with what He wishes. I have been tested in the most extreme way. I have walked through the fires and passed through the waters and He has proven faithful through it all. My heart has been sealed with His name.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
-even if He does not-