Authors note: If this is the first post of the series you have read, please go and do yourself a favor and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first. All the posts build off each other and reading them out of order would be really confusing. Thanks!
Right around this time my aunt and uncle, invited me and to go camping with them at Ocean Shores, Washington. After all the drama with my friends, I was more than willing to take off for a few days to get away from it all.
First, let me explain about my aunt. My aunt is my mom’s little sister, the youngest in her family and a self-proclaimed born-again believer in Jesus Christ. And in spite of all my New Age leanings, I believed she knew God because of how much her life had changed from struggling with heroin addiction and abusive relationships, to now being clean of drugs, going back to school, and getting married to a really decent guy. But more than those outward signs of her life changing, I could tell there had been a change on the inside. With no other way for me to explain it, it was as if a warm light had lit her up from the inside out, and I found myself very attracted to it.
Whenever I had a chance to talk to my aunt I always asked her questions about God and the Bible. And this trip to the ocean would be no different. I brought my notebook and in that notebook, I had a list of questions!
I don’t believe I was asking these questions simply for the sake of stumping the Christian, as fun as that can be! I was sincerely looking for answers. I can’t remember all the questions, but I’m sure they were the usual, “How can you believe the Bible?” or “What about evolution?” etc.
One particular question I asked was about angels – because, at the time, I believed in angelic spirit ‘guides’ and wanted to ask her what she thought.
Her response was a verse from the Bible:
2 Corinthians 11:14
“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”
I was familiar with most of her answers and privately I would inwardly object to most of them and brush them off. Usually, convincing myself that she had somehow been indoctrinated by the church or something along those lines. But when she quoted this verse, something different happened. Even though I objected to the answer, I couldn’t shake it off as easily as the others. I became very uncomfortable and it felt like the world was closing in, like I was in a constricting bubble that suddenly went *pop!* while at the same time getting stabbed in the chest with a white hot poker!
Suddenly, my heart started racing and I felt panicky. Not to mention a million thoughts flooded into my mind and I desperately needed to get away to quiet them down. It was around dusk and getting dark and we had been sitting around the fire. I think I must have mumbled that I needed to go and sit by the beach for a little bit. I don’t think anyone knew or suspected the weird things that I felt happening to me, so I just left.
I found a log and sat down. It started to rain and I remember feeling really empty, alone and . . . deceived. I had been desperately searching for the truth, and was so sure I had found it, but something about ‘Satan masquerading as an angel of light’ rocked me to my core. I couldn’t explain it. That verse cast everything I believed into doubt. Could I have been deceived by something or by myself? I felt uncertain of everything, yet part of me desperately wanted the truth – even if it meant giving up everything I believed.
I remember looking up at that dark sky, tears mixing with the rain, thinking back to my Sunday school days – something I hadn’t thought about in years and remembering when Jesus made me feel so safe. Something inside made me ask out loud to that dark, heavy sky, “How far did I walk away?”
I got an answer. A still, small voice in my mind said, “Come home.”
And then, not hearing anything else or having anything else to say back, I walked back to the tent and crawled into my sleeping bag.
A few days later, after I came back home I remember feeling really angry. I didn’t know what to believe. I didn’t feel like I could go back to the whole New Age thing, I definitely didn’t want to be a Christian, but I couldn’t stomach being an Atheist either. I specifically remember sitting in my bedroom just fuming, clenching my jaws and crying out to God, Jesus, the Universe, whoever was listening, “I just want the truth! I don’t care what it is; I just don’t want to be self-deceived.” Because, it turned out, for me anyway, not believing in anything was unbearable. I needed meaning in my life – a purpose. Because, what the hell is the point of being here in a place that just wanted to chew me up and spit me out, where people got sick of me and turned on me and tore me to pieces if I didn’t fit in? I was 20 years old and already more world-weary than people twice my age. I wasn’t going to move an inch unless there was some kind of purpose.
I had remembered my Aunt mentioning I should try reading the Bible to answer some of the questions I had. She suggested starting in the Gospel of St. John.
I found my old childhood Bible in my bookcase and tried to read it. After trying for a few minutes, I slammed it shut. It just seemed like complete nonsense to me.
Not knowing what else to do with myself, I took extra hours at work and just kept busy, trying to keep a lid on my hopelessness. I also took up growing pot, which was a nice distraction. (haha) And 2 months after the trip to the ocean, my aunt gave me a call and invited me to go on a hike near Mt. Rainier with a group from her church.
Again, I was in a state of mind where I would jump at any chance to get out of town and quickly agreed to go. And, besides, I still had some questions for my Christian aunt.
It was late August, the weather was perfect and the elevation kept things comfortably cool. I hadn’t slept the night before – actually, I hadn’t been sleeping much at all those days. But, for whatever reason, I had a sudden burst of energy and the hike up almost felt effortless. I remember meeting some of the people from her church, in particular, a Russian couple who kept asking me really uncomfortable questions like, “Do you know Jesus? Have you prayed to accept him as your Lord and Savior?” After a few of those questions I double-stepped it further up the trail to get away! Soon, I ran into another church member, a geologist. She was more my speed and I was a little fascinated that she didn’t have any conflict between her faith and her profession. She pointed out all the different kinds of rocks in the area, the granite face of the mountains around us, and how this and that was carved by glaciers, and this was thrust up from continental drift and yes, Mt. Rainier is an active volcano. Most of it went over my head, but the conversation was safe. She wasn’t requiring me to make any life-changing decisions in exchange for small-talk. It was mid-afternoon when we finally reached the look-out point. Looming before us, seemingly taking up most of the sky was beautiful Mt. Rainier – so close, you could almost touch her. The sky was a deep crystal blue, below us a dark green swath of pine and cedar, and you could see for miles, even all the way back to the Seattle skyline where you could barely make out some of the taller buildings. The air was cool and crisp, the sun was warm on my face, and for the first time in a long time I was content and at peace.
You can’t help but think about spiritual things when you’re surrounded on all sides by such beauty and the majesty of Mt. Rainier glittering over your shoulder. I sat there, staring at the mountain and whispering to the God that created it, “I’d follow you.”
Out of nowhere, I was filled with a burst of joy. So much so, it was hard not to scream out something silly like, “Go, God!” I felt so much lighter and so full of energy that I literally flew down the trail on the way back, as if my feet never touched the ground. I couldn’t explain it. I know I hadn’t slept more than three hours in two days, yet my mind felt the clearest it had ever been, and all the pain, anger, and dejection I had been feeling for the past few months just fled from me like it had never been there.
Talking with my aunt on the drive home, she asked what I had thought of the day. I told her I had fun, and thanked her for inviting me because I had needed a break.
She asked why, and I told her I was frustrated with my life, and the direction it was heading (spiritually speaking).
She told me to read St. John again and I said I had, but I hadn’t gotten anything from it. That’s when she looked me in the eye and told me to pray before I read it and to specifically pray to Jesus. Interesting, I thought. Just the opposite of what all those books on meditation had taught me.
Later, after getting home I once again gave the Bible another shot. This time I prayed to Jesus, which felt strangely awkward. As I said, ever since I was a kid I had only prayed ‘Father in heaven’.
But, I tried it and once again opened the bible to The Gospel of John. It was a slow start, but as I continued to read, I soon found myself transported to another time with dusty desert roads, Roman soldiers, and robed religious radicals, beggars, blind, deaf and lame all clamoring after a man who spoke the truth and healed their infirmities.
Quite simply, I fell in love with Jesus. I longed to be just another beggar in the crowd, following him just to catch some of the words he was saying. I daydreamed about going back in time to see him. If I waved to him, would he see me? Would he stop? What would he say? Would he like me?
Somehow, I knew I wasn’t quite ready to meet him. And in a way, I was glad for the 2,000 year distance between us.
That is until I read about his resurrection.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew intellectually that Christians believed he resurrected from the dead, but whatever was causing me to imagine the vividness of the scenes I was reading about, really came alive for me during the resurrection account.
Then it hit me. Wait a minute, if he resurrected from the dead, then that means he’s alive. He’s alive right now.
Suddenly, my room felt different – it felt too small, stuffed, as if some invisible presence had filled it.
All I could think was, “Oh, shit. He’s here!”
To be continued . . .