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 a 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, A Grief Observed
I grew up in the church. I was there every Sunday and Wednesday for 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. It would be difficult 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 studies and work 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 the 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 pleases 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 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 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 at 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.”
At 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-
What a powerful testimony. Your honesty is overwhelming. As one of those Sunday School teachers you mention I can certainly validate your claim. You were a challenge in Sunday School when you were young and when you reached high school your insight and comments challenged not just the other teenagers in the room but they challenged me to dig deeper into my faith. I am so proud of you and love you. Thank you for sharing this very private, very personal journey with the world.
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Very powerful story I lost my wife to cancer at 61 and I’ve been going through the same feelings your blog helps immensely. Thank you
Beautifully said. Your God is the same God that helps me through every day!
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Praise God for your testimony. During all of Terry’s illness, our faith in God only grew stronger. I, too, am a new creation since her going home. Your testimony only serves to strengthen my faith in Him and thankfulness for all the time and memories we had together.
Congratulations! I’m so happy for you.
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Hallelujah and amen amen amen!!!
You have written your testimony so beautifully! In fact, your words express my experience. Thank you. I have read it over several times to absorb its truth in my heart. My challenge has been that I have stopped going to church for 3 years since my husband died. Reading scripture triggers memories of destructive situations happening at same time of his illness. I pray the Lord help me give him every area of my heart. It has been a very slow process, for me. I look forward to future posts of your journey.
My goodness, Erica, I couldn’t look away. You are so brave for sharing this – such a personal story which is so raw. Thank you so much for being so brave – it is inspiring and your love and trust for God is tangible. Thank you so much for sharing.
Amen and amen! Praying the words from your heart and soul reach others for Christ, and they also find the balm that our Lord provides to our sorrows, pains, doubts, and anger. I accepted Jesus and was baptized when I was 11., have never left the church, am a pastor’s wife. However, I have had anger and doubts in my faith and walk with Jesus in my 63 years of life. He always carried me through them, so patient and understanding with me, taking away my guilt for those times in my life when i questioned Him in anger and despair. Many blessings to you and your children.
Thank you Erica.your post hits home
I was left raising a child alone and asking why.God is using you in ways you may not even know .Your post is just what i needed.
While I’ve had horrid things happen to me, I’ve never had to experience this level of loss. Some people I’ve been close friends with have died, but I doubt it compares with having to go through being a widow. In such cases I’ve found myself shielded from grief through Bible passages, but your descriptions of your experience suggest this was not effective for you. I would say that is no fault of your own, but just a result of the close attachment Marriage likely comes with. It is powerful the way that the Lord reached out to you. I’ve personally held the belief that God is my best friend as I’ve gone through painful experiences myself. He hasn’t reached out to me like that, but instead I’ve reached out after him and haven’t dealt with a lot of anger.