Faith Surrounded Me

Today I am spending time at my mom’s house while my husband does some honeydo items she’s tasked him with. My mom has been twice widowed and my hubs is always generous with helping out family, a quality I greatly admire in him. 

While watching the babe I did a FB live broadcast of my teenage bedroom, which although much has changed in it, still houses many memories and relics from my past, the most telling of which being the art on the walls. 

Sometimes I get down on my mom for how much freedom she gave me as a child and teenager. I could’ve used a lot more direction, moral instruction and discipline. But it’s times like these where my heart overflows with gratitude. She was (and still is) a very generous and loving mother, always encouraging me to seek out new avenues of learning and self-expression. When I told her my vision for how I wanted my room painted she didn’t flinch or protest, but hired the painters, even though it resulted in this hideous blemish right above the stairwell:

In my defense, the original sketch didn’t look like this. Thirteen-year-old Karen sketched shapeless figues with x’s for eyes, the outer two with anatomical hearts, the middle a symbolic heart. Keep in mind this was 2003 when I worshipped Maynard James Keenan and shopped at Hot Topic. Anyway, the painter decided to give my shapeless figures his masculine silhouette so now this wretched painting looks like something out of a vampiric gay bar.

She celebrated my innate talents. She always looked for opportunities of growth, to expand my horizons. She wasn’t a helicopter mom, which, with my personality would have created a lot of resentment. She was my perfect mom, given that vocation from God. No one could’ve done it better. 

That said, as I painted on my walls, I surrounded myself with phrases and images that I knew were profound but that I didn’t yet grasp. I wanted so desperately to be a child prodigy, to be an underage mensch who wowed people with prowess, wisdom and maturity. I learned how to fake grasping dense concepts at an early age. This served me well when studying at NYU, writing essays about Felix Guattari and Loren Eiseley, or even before then at age 17 when pursuing my International Baccalaureate, pontificating about absurdity, existentialism, Sartre, Camus and Emerson. It impressed everyone around me, got me good marks and left me feeling wholly dissatisfied and empty. Could no one see that I was bullshitting my entire life away? 

Today, as I was nursing Jackson on the big red amazing chair, I stared over at my wall where I had painted the world religions symbols. Underneath it, in large capital letters, I painted the word “FAITH”. 

The concept of faith intriguing me has peppered my life, now that I think about it. When my nuclear family wasn’t yet divorced we “church shopped” as families do, as for my mom a church home meant social inclusion less than theology or worship. She never really found the right ‘tribe’ that fit. I remember trying a unitarian church, where we celebrated my sister’s first marriage. She, my sister who is 9 years older than me, recalls trying Baptist and Methodist and everything-in-between churches. I remember a Lutheran church. The latter really appealed to me. 

While we attended the Lutheran church I asked my dad to be baptized. My reasons now escape me at age 26, but I’m sure I had some good ones in my child mind. I loved singing in their choir, watching Veggie Tales while helping out in the nursery (ohhh wheeerrree is my hairbrush?!, amirite) and the community dinners of Wednesday nights. It seemed like a good bed of soil to plant a seed. But as my family broke apart we discontinued attending any church services. My religious and moral instruction ended around age eight. 

At age 16 I was able to study for a summer at Cambridge University in England and my two subjects of choice were Biomedical Ethics and World Religions. Unlike some of the other more philosophical pandering at that age, this pursuit was not bullshit but genuine interest. I thought I would someday be a neonatologist (I have always loved science and medicine, although I scored horribly on tests in chemistry during the IB and abandoned my dreams of medicine) and religiosity very much intrigued me. I thought the World Religions teacher very curious in her efforts to be reverent. For example, she wouldn’t write God but instead G-d out of respect for people’s traditions. Once again no one religion spoke to me as we learned about them that summer, but she as a person stuck in my mind. Her gentle, mature, well-reasoned nature; her respect for anthropology and the deeply ingrained world views of others. I didn’t know that her religion — most likely Anglicanism — would later come to be the foundation of my Christianity. 

But I’m skipping ahead. I stared at the word “FAITH” scrawled with paint in my 16-year-old script. Did I really know what it meant? Why that word out of all the other words? I looked around at the rest of the painted walls, made to look like a cloudy blue starry sky. God surrounded me when I had a very little concept of Him. He met me where I was. He kept me safe and on the right track. He didn’t hurry me but respected my free will. Throughout the drugs and debauchery that would follow shortly after those paintings appeared… shaved heads and self-debasement… irreverent and ignorant atheism to suicidal destitution… through yoga and Shabbat, head coverings and public nudity, I searched and searched and always ended up empty handed. But His grace, and I dare say my guardian angels, perpetually surrounded me. 

This really struck me today because years later, after months of pure faith — really not understanding the readings or rituals in church but just believing in their ability to transform — lots of study and a lot of repentance, I just now stumbled upon the definition of that word that I had painted ten years before. And I didn’t so much stumble– God use His people (their time, talents and resources) and divine appointments to lead me exactly where I needed to go. I myself did very little aside from submit to His will. He did the rest, using the members of His church as His body to carry out his message and mission. It is startling and supernatural how it has all unraveled. 

It would take far too long to explain every intricate, seemingly unrelated yet highly “coincidental” occurrence that fell in line. All I can say is that through this journey my belief in the Lord and His abilities have become unshakeable. I have determined first-hand that He is the almighty and powerful Creator that He claims to be. It is a beautiful, comforting truth to rest within. Truly, peace abides there. 

And y’all. When I say that I repented, I mean that my heart broke. During the first sacrament of reconciliation, right before I became confirmed, I was super pregnant. I remember sitting in the church, feeling like no one could come with me this time when I arrived in front of God. My husband couldn’t come to advocate for me. Neither could my mom. I felt like a little kid, so nervous to admit to God that I broke His trust. This was solely  between me and Him. When I realized how unworthy I was, how deserving I was of every punishment He could inflict for the lifetime or poor decisions I had made, my heart absolutely broke open. That poor priest. I spent the entire time sobbing and blowing my nose (there was seriously snot everywhere), giving him 20+ years of my deepest, darkest secrets and repulsive decisions. He was so kind to me and reminded me of the amazing mercy God bestows on us. I was forgiven that day and walked taller and lighter. I would recommend it to ANYONE. Plus frequent check-ins (as often as you’d like) with your conscience helps to make sure that you are indeed on the right path. Confessing it with your mouth to someone else not only holds you accountable but allows for a person (acting with authority ‘In persona Christi’) to heal your heart and remind you that you’re human!  It’s not patriarchal or condescending or oppressive or whatever words people like to say confession is. It is simply a miraculous and sweet gift for our wellbeing. I LOVE the sacrament of reconciliation. 

Anyway, that was a tangent. Let’s continue. 

So here’s just one example of divine appointment and how these things unravel as they are revealed to us. I mentioned last blog post that my spiritual guru and best friend asked me to host a new Bible study which I humbly accepted. Our first meet up only one friend — out of six invited — showed up. But it was exactly the group it needed to be. We are doing a 4 week Blessed Is She study, each week focusing on one particular aspect about our relationship with Christ. This first week the focus was Faith. 

I had never heard of Hebrews in the Bible. I assumed it was an Old Testament book and was surprised to find it nearly at the end of the New Testament. In this book the author defines faith. All three of us in the study had different translations according the Bibles that we were reading from. The first translation seemed cryptic, and my two friends literally spent an hour trying to explain it to me. Trying to explain ONE SENTENCE. Bless their hearts for their unwavering patience and understanding. Their hard work paid off, however, because it urged me to continue on with Hebrews in my own studies. I was hooked and wanted more. 

 Y’all, part of this walk is acknowledging that you do not have all the answers. It’s humbling but also really fun to be open minded and willing to learn from others. 

Anyway. In my personal time with the Word I use my late father’s hand-me-down Lindsell Study Bible “The Living Bible” for sentimental reasons, and here is how faith is defined in it (much less cryptic):

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.”-Hebrews 11:1

I am new to spending time in the Word and was challenged by my aforementioned friend to set aside 20 minutes a day to acquaint myself with God. Hebrews — just that one little passage — spoke to me, so I continued reading it during my own private time with Jackson. We begin by opening in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what we need to know. We ask to spend time with the Lord, to recenter ourselves around His peace. I anoint both of our foreheads with Frankincense in the shape of a cross, we take a couple of deep breaths and then I read. Often, Jackson nurses quietly and plays with the tabs on the spine. 

The quick-reference tabs Jackson enjoys fingering while I read aloud.
As a side note, did you know that your forehead has a high chemical absorption rate versus other areas of your body? For example, in a 24 hour period your hand can absorb 11.8% of chemicals into your body/blood stream. Your abdomen, 18.4%. But your forehead comes in at 36.3%. Anointing yourself with something like Frankincense which has powerful chemical constituents that react with your limbic system is not silly superstition. #Science, y’all. #Science. 

Anyway. Hebrews was absolutely beautiful. It instructed me in exactly what I needed as a baby Christian. It takes your hand and leads you through the fundamentals about salvation, faith, who Christ was and how He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It talks about the danger of unbelief, the fruits of which we’re seeing in our evermore secular society. 

“So we must listen very carefully to the truths we have heard, or we may drift away from them.” -Hebrews 2:1

Drifted we have! 

As I’ve asked God to guide me to knowing Him and what He expects from me, He has not asked me to subscribe to anything radical or unattainable, or to become a saint overnight. In fact, He shows me more grace than I give myself!

Hebrews is relatively short, and as I was so drawn into it I think I finished it within two or three sit downs. Next I felt called to Romans, where once again a major topic is Faith. It also mentions that we all fall short of the glory of God. You know, when you put it that way it’s like “duh”. Something about that phrase is so much more easily digestible than being told “YOU ARE A SINNER!”  Of course we fall short of the glory of God. We are not God! It gave me so much more understanding and empathy toward His human creations and myself. How could we ever expect ourselves to be perfect or sinless? Why would we place such a heavy, impossible burden — the unachievable — on ourselves or our children? 

But! Romans gets pretty heavy about when the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. We are called to be as close to what God intends for us, and to follow His ways.  He asks us to pursue perfection, refining us in the crucible of time and experience, and does NOT expect us to give up because it is hard. It is not impossible — all things are possible in Christ. He asks us to not be distracted by the “glamour of sin” (Hebrews). And He makes it very clear that if you reject this pursuit, He will not be happy with you. 

“But God shows His anger from heaven against all sinful, evil men who push away the truth from them. For the truth about God is known to them instinctively; God has put this knowledge in their hearts.” -Romans 1:18-19. 

He is saying man tends to know innately wrong from right. He gives us biology to help bolster certain truths. He gives us common sense. He gives us His followers who enjoy peace, prosperity, happiness and/or health to light the way. If you make the choice to reject what is “good and lovely”, your “foolish mind will become dark and confused” (Romans 1:21). 

We all know what it means, or have ourselves been, dark and confused. These aren’t obscure ideas. These are realities. And God is saying, by following His truths, that dark confusion is avoidable. Not only is it avoidable, but if you do not pursue it that you are liable to His wrath… Which I can wholly vouch for because when I was making poor decisions and living openly in sin, things didn’t go my way. When I have submitted to God, His truths and a childlike faith in Him, beauty has abounded. The route of sin just cannot lead us to the things that make us happy and fulfilled. And our culture consistently peddles that lie and then offers us bandaids to mask the symptoms of our decisions. It’s sickening. Our culture is broken. 

All of this to say: faith. It begins with faith. Believing that there is something better… that you are made for something better… that you can offer the world something better with your time here. You cannot do it in your own power. But if you ask God to show you the way, He will. Be prepared, because it might not unfold how you expect it to! But unfold it will. And if you hang in there faithfully, it will be unspeakably beautiful and rewarding. 

I have heard others talk about being drawn to a person, word or item relating to God for reasons unexplainable to them. They can’t articulate the attraction, but it is nearly palpable. Throughout their life, as the puzzle pieces fall in place, the significance of said interests becomes clearer… but still, not one of them can explain that first initial, seemingly coincidental, attraction. For me, as I stare at the word “faith” painted on the wall, I am bewildered and awestruck. Out of all of the BS, pseudo-intellectualism, noise and chaos of my then-life, like Romans promises, God put that knowledge in my heart. It wasn’t my brain or my ego working that day, but the core of my soul speaking and directing the ultimate path. The fullness of what it entailed was lost on 16-year-old me, but ten years later I find that that is an intrinsically integral part of the beauty of this big mystery. God reaches out to us in our weakness and helplessness. He leads the blind to sight. And I am a walking testimony of this visionary, healing walk with the Lord. All I long for is for others to embrace this supernatural, truly unique experience. Put your skepticism aside and believe. Have faith. It is so worth it. 

And, if like my mom, you feel like you haven’t yet found your tribe KEEP SEARCHING. He will not leave you empty handed. I have admitted to you all that I lacked deep, authentic friendship for a majority of my life, and now my heart overflows with it! My husband introduced me to the Catholic Church (slowly, very slowly), and I in turn introduced my mom. She is now in RCIA and headed toward confirmation in Easter. Much like most people who convert, she feels like she has found her home after years of searching. Because here’s the thing… it not really about a social tribe. It’s not about the individual people within the organization, their personal tastes or hobbies or what they look like… it’s the collective body of Christ and that Truth being lived out. It’s the genuine home of everything you’ve been promised and searched for. You can intuitively tell that you’ve finally found home!  That’s why Catholicism is universal. The relationships span age, gender, cultures, experiences, languages…  It is so beautiful! The clique culture is DEAD! 

My mom on the big, red, amazing chair, a staple in my teenage pad. My mom has, and will, always dislike this ridiculous chair.

We never know how this domino game will twist and turn. But through faith we can believe that it will always work for our Good. As we do the next right thing, we can profoundly affect those around us and then our community and then our society and then our world. And isn’t that what everyone’s been protesting about?! One small seemingly innocuous domino at a time. I have found that the most profound first domino is faith.


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