I didn't come to Christ (what a churchy term ya'll!) exactly willingly. I didn't come to Him with a smile on my face. I wasn't like C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel who looked at it both intelligently and emotionally and-after a search-came to accept Him as real and Savior.
I was sort of dragged a certain distance and then crawled the rest of the way in desperation.
Glennon Doyle Melton said in her book Carry On Warrior, that people who need help often look a lot like people who don't need help. My 16 year old self was very much like that. People knew as much or as little about me as I wanted them to...at some points I had been prone to lie but the problem with lying is I suck at it. For example, when I moved back to live with my mother and made new friends who didn't know anything about me, I told them my father had died rather than tell them he was in prison for vehicular homicide and that we didn't have a relationship. One day two of them came over to my house, where-as soon as we walked in the door-my mother told me I had a letter from my Dad. It was one of two that he would write me while he was in prison (I didn't answer either). I wasn't even aware that he had my address and I was pretty much more focused on the fact he had ratted me out to my friends than wondering at how he had managed it. So I learned, rather than making things up, just to hide them. There were friends who knew...one because I trusted her and others who were smart enough to know that a girl who had mood swings like I did wasn't quite as together as she pretended. But I had friends, got really good grades, my teachers loved me, I was involved in after school activities that would have looked great on my college resume had I actually gotten to go. (I did go...just not when you normally do...after high school. I was a Mom before I was a college student. Which might be a good thing...no time for keg parties.)
But the truth was, at 16, I was a mess. I had been through physical, emotional and sexual abuse. I was the child of addicts. My Grandma, who provided love and stability (though I didn't exactly appreciate it at the time) had died of cancer. I was angry and depressed and hurt and...sometimes I was all the emotions at once and sometimes I just had crazy mood swings (to be fair, I was also a teenager...mood swings come with the territory). I was angry at a lot of people, but I was mostly angry at God. Not only had He seriously shafted me on the childhood thing, He'd also broken our "deal".
Several years before that, when my Grandma was sick, I had started attending church at Elam Baptist Church...I can't remember exactly why I went the first time. I was living with my aunt and uncle by then because my Grandma's cancer had progressed to the point where taking care of me was difficult (Let's be real, taking care of me had been difficult before then. When she got sick, it was intolerable) I remember a van picked us up, that my cousin had started going with some of his friends...and I might have decided to go just to annoy them. But somewhere in the message I heard, I came to understand that God made everything better. That if you were a good Christian, life was good. I am not sure if that was the message that was preached or that is the message I heard. I am smarter these days and listen better and sometimes that is still the message so either is possible. Anyway, it sounded good. I made a deal with God. I became a "good Christian" and He cured my Grandma. After everything else I'd heard He had done, curing cancer in one woman sounded pretty easy.
He didn't do it. He didn't cure her. She died. I remember one of my family members saying God had to bring her to Heaven because He needed someone who could cook biscuits. (Note: never try to explain death to a young person by telling them God needed a cook.) That further sealed the deal that God was both selfish and uninterested and-because He'd broken our deal, not to be trusted.
So, at 16, broken and hurt...I didn't lean on God or anyone else for that matter except my best friend from time to time...and then we moved. We moved closer to my maternal grandparents. My Mom had not been doing well and needed a change and a better support system. We'd been living in Sandersville for a couple of months when my uncle convinced my Mom to go to church. Next thing I know, she was going a lot...to a "revival". I wasn't sure what was being revived but I was pretty ticked. My Mom had taken the 96 Rock tag off the car and was living this whole new life. My Mom had her issues but she was cool. And now...but she was happier. I'd have probably been happier for her but somehow, someone decided that if I didn't want to go to this "revival" then I could babysit my cousins and sister. Three days of that and I decided I'd rather go to church.
It was a Pentecostal church. And the only seats available for all of us were in the front row. I was beyond surly. I'm pretty sure the black cloud hanging over me was obvious to everyone. We took our seats. I rolled my eyes (backwards to the stone age...I was full of attitude). The musicians started singing. I felt... I felt... I fe...
Okay, time to get churchy again because what I felt was the presence of the Holy Spirit even though I wasn't exactly aware of it. I knew God was close. Which wasn't cool because I'd basically come to believe (or profess to believe which is not always the same thing) that God was not real and if He was, I didn't want anything to do with Him. And yet, here we were. The service wasn't even to the preaching part...in fact, it was probably like the third song...and I was having a confrontation with God. It wasn't until later that I would read the stories of Job, Jacob and David wrestling with God, but I understood the concept. I didn't cry out "Lord" like Paul...I issued a challenge.
"God, if you are real, show me."
I don't know what I was expecting...angels or natural disasters or what. I got, tears. I started crying. My evidence of God was a rush of emotion...mourning, anger, joy. And He was in all of it. I cried the entire time. I didn't hear the altar call but my uncle asked me if I wanted to go and I nodded my head and I stayed down there so long they had to pick me up and help my legs unbend. It wasn't just a feeling of emotion but also of a letting go. It was the most unexpected thing but also exactly what I needed.
I was thinking about that today. As I wrote in my prayer journal. As I told God that the hole I currently found myself in still feels incredibly deep but not insurmountable. I spent time thinking through all the times that God had shown me His realness, not always in the way I expect...not always in the way I want (seriously God, can I somehow just win the lottery...or someone win the lottery and share with me since I don't actually play???) but always in the way I need.
Last Tuesday I thought the answer to what I view as a threat to our nation was Hillary Clinton becoming President but that didn't happen. A few weeks before that I thought divine intervention would somehow stop me from becoming homeless, but that didn't happen either. But God is still real and He is still showing me. I don't challenge Him to prove it anymore. I don't have to. I don't tend to make deals with Him either (though the temptation is there). He took a 16 year old hurting girl's prayer to "show me" as it honestly was...not a challenge but a cry for help.
So these days, I'm smarter and I just ask Him for help. It might benefit me to be a little smarter and ask others for help but that's a whole different issue for another post.
The thing is, I think we think there are certain ways to come to God. Certain words to say whether we are saying "You are Savior" or "My world is on fire and I need rescuing". But there aren't. The Bible says when we don't know how to pray, the Holy Spirit translates our groans. If you need God to show you, then ask...be like Hannah, so desperate you look drunk. Be like Job and demand justice. Be like David and cry out "DO YOU SEE ME?"
Or be like me and demand "Show me."
He is not the God of deals but He is God. He is here. He is present. I don't pretend to understand why things suck. As I write this, I am homeless. But as I write this someone has paid for me and my son's dog to stay in a motel for three more nights. I don't know why. I just know I'm not alone. He's been showing me that for almost thirty years now.