Recently, a close friend and I were discussing our thoughts on multimedia blogging, how time-consuming but cathartic and exhilarating it has been, and where we hoped to go with it. Our conversation eventually turned to the topic of how open we can or rather, are willing to, be with our mostly faceless/unknown public audiences — about one potentially divisive topic, our Christian faith. This conversation was prompted by her earlier text suggesting, “It would be so interesting to read how you are raising Christian kids in this secular world.” My hesitant reply was, “I’m not sure how to work that in. I don’t want to limit or alienate my audience.”
As comfortable as it would’ve been to end the subject there, my response just didn’t sit well with my soul. The truth is — when I started this blog last fall, I had no plans to discuss God or evangelize in any way and will spell out why momentarily. First, however, let me explain, in the simplest and purest of terms, to whom I refer when I mention “God”: “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). Love is the very essence of who God is, Love is what makes God “tick”, Love spurs every move God makes or doesn’t make, with the underlying beliefs that Love can see and foresee “the big picture” in a way that no human ever could, and that if Love sincerely granted free will to all humankind, in doing so, Love conceded or agreed to limit Love’s own interventions, even at times when the consequences of ill human choices are unjust, dire or heinous. For me, everything else written in Scripture and my own life has corroborated the claim that indeed, “God is Love.” So if ever I use the term “God” and “Love” interchangeably, it’s because I believe they are one in the same.
Anyways, going back to where I left off — I had no plans to preach or evangelize in my blog primarily because I don’t always allow Love to shine through me as He intends or desires, and my own human love is so imperfect and failing at times that I fear I’ll misrepresent God and hurt others’ opinions or understanding of Love’s identity and character (as, tragically, too many “Christians” and church institutions have done or still do). I wish that I could live up to God’s name and integrity so that others are touched by Love’s work in me and Love’s character flowing out of me. But for now, I remain a flawed mess of a believer, content and secure in Love’s daily acceptance, grace, forgiveness and mercy offered to me just as I was yesterday, just as I am today and just as I will be tomorrow.
After my disquieting, yellow-bellied response to my friend, I realized I must be more open about my faith now, without further hesitation, because I don’t ever want to fear people, reputation, popular opinion, judgment by others, or anything else, more than I revere my ever-faithful God. As author Glennon Melton once wrote, “It has been said that the opposite of Love is Hate, or perhaps apathy. Yet, I’m fairly certain that the opposite of Love is Fear. I think the root of all evil is fear. Love and Fear are opposing voices, opposing ways to live, opposing platforms on which to make daily decisions, view the world, and build a life….”
I choose Love over Fear in sharing my conversion story with you now because Love has never failed me. The most life-changing, miraculous and unforgettable instance when God came through for me, even at my darkest hours, went something like this:
Despite attending church throughout my adolescence, I didn’t realize what believing in Jesus really meant until the end of my high school years. A caring college student in our church advised us seniors that while college is going to be fun and exciting, with a multitude of fabulous new opportunities and freedoms, it would also introduce many terrific temptations. “College can make or break you as a Christian. You should know where you stand with God before you go.” The wisdom of her cautionary words struck me, as I didn’t want to get lost and fall off the deep end once I got to college. I committed myself, for the first time really, to getting to know Jesus on a more intimate, personal level and spent some time praying and reading my bible on a daily basis. It was life-changing, but not in the way I expected. For some reason, everything started falling apart in my life. I got to my dorm and discovered that I was assigned an irritable, bossy and schizophrenic foreign student in her senior year for a roommate, all my freshmen friends’ dorms were too far away to meet up easily, university was significantly harder than high school, my family’s finances plunged with the ‘90s recession, my folks were quarreling so much I feared divorce was imminent… Not surprisingly, I thought, “What the what?! Why is everything so bad now that I’ve accepted Christ for real?” Suddenly, it occurred to me that this might be a test — to see whether I truly, deeply and unconditionally trusted Him with my life regardless of my circumstances.
So I persisted. I continued to read my bible and pray daily and found some comfort in that. But when life’s circumstances continued to spiral downward over the next few months, I started to doubt. More and more. Then one weekend, while driving alone to visit my folks in my hometown, a middle-class city with reputable public schools and nice houses, I had a complete meltdown. I broke down and started to sob. And I mean SOB. Then I proceeded to curse (yes, CURSE!) God and recount aloud how I had trusted him, persevered, waited patiently, day after day, for a silver lining, but no, He had let me down. He was a fraud. I had wasted so much time and energy and heart on him!
But guess what happened next. As I exited our usual freeway off-ramp, with a tear-streaked face and curses still on my lips, I noticed a homeless man asking for handouts on the side of the road. For some inexplicable reason, in spite of my hysterical and fragile emotional state, I rolled down the window and handed the man a dollar. At that very moment, he held onto my hand and asked my name. Then he said, “Anita, I’ll be praying for you. You keep the faith.” Utterly stunned and mute, I was forced to make the left turn and leave him behind as the signal light turned green. That was the first time I’d ever seen a homeless man in my hometown of fourteen years. What’s more, I didn’t have a single article of Christian paraphernalia or symbols in/on my car — not a dove, fish or peace sign, not a bible in my passenger seat, not a cross hanging on my rearview mirror. But somehow, he knew that I was a believer, that my faith was faltering, and I needed prayer and encouragement just at that moment. Imagine that – a HOMELESS man, with no family, no food, and no bed or roof over his head, praying for ME, and encouraging ME, a spoiled college brat, to “keep the faith!” I continued my drive, weeping yet again, but this time, not out of anger at God, but out of utter humility and gratitude to God for showing me that He IS real, He IS watching over me, that my troubles are nothing compared to His unending love, and that He needed me to trust Him even when things are seemingly at their worst. What a humbling and unforgettable encounter with Love.
I believe that “homeless man” was a living, genuine angel, or Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-40). In fact, I went back to look for him the next day, never to see him…or any other homeless person for that matter, by that off-ramp ever again. But God’s providence and presence in my life have been absolutely amazing…and humbling. So, for those readers who also believe, no matter what hits you and how bad life’s circumstances may sometimes seem, “Keep the faith.” An angel once advised me so. And for those readers who don’t believe, I appreciate that you graciously and patiently took the time to read my story to the end anyway.