I’m so excited! Ladies and gentleman, I bring you… multimedia.
Friday I shared a “personal essay” about my faith at an open mic my church held. Kathryn was really sweet to “iphone it” for me. (So please bear with the quality.) Oh yeah, her iphone memory also ran out halfway through so she had to switch to mine… enjoy. I had to wrestle with iMovie (Final Cut was a lost cause) in order to glue them all together. BUT I MADE IT WORK!! The text is posted below if you want to read along, Disney storybook style. Thanks again, Kat. ♥
Yup, that’s me! :D
When I was four years old I was saved under the computer table in my basement while my older sister played a game of “Snake” on the MS Dos operating system above me. Why? I don’t know. I mean I don’t know why I was under the table and why that’s where I was saved, not that I don’t know why I was saved. I do remember, though, that she kicked me every time I touched her foot. And that somewhere in between these kickings I looked up at her and I said, “Laura, I think I wanna be saved.”
“Fine then, pray,” she said, and went back to her game.
So I did.
Obviously you can see why it’s always been difficult for me to wrap my mind around the concept of a testimony, a term originally defined to me as “when you got saved.” If we stick with this definition, it makes it seem like faith is just a moment. Like, “Yeah, one day I just saw the light, and then everything was sunshine and roses and happiness…
But it’s not like that. Faith is difficult. Even the Apostle Paul, who actually saw the light on the road to Damascus, later pleaded about a thorn in his flesh. Now, I don’t know if that “thorn” was his faith… Probably not. But it was for me.
That’s my thorn.
Although I had been kicked under the table and even dunked into a baptistry before I reached the age of ten, I woke up one day during my first year of undergrad and didn’t know if I believed in God.
I was a liberal arts major at the University of Michigan, dual majoring across colleges in both English Literature and Art & Design. Both colleges prided themselves in what they called “free-thinking,” which is really just one kind of thinking that seems really, really free. Sharing one’s opinion could sometimes be a fight to the death. If you wanted to have one you either had to back it up with hard, concrete evidence, or be so intimidating that nobody would dare defy you. That’s pretty tough when both of my majors revolved around having an opinion and sharing it.
I sat through my share of art critiques that involved every single person in the room saying, “Oh yeah, man. Ugh. Those Christians…”
There was even a piece of graffiti on campus, scrawled in black letters across the side of a blue safety light, of all things, that said, “Don’t trust in God. Trust in yourself.” It was there for years. I guess no one felt the need to remove it.
It’s not that I grew up in a bubble. Though admittedly, my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is very “bubbly.” I knew these things existed. I had faced skepticism and sometimes outright hostility toward Christians at my public high school. But at the time, I was able to remove myself from it. Because at the end of the day I went home to my loving, Christian household. My parents had been saved when they were very young. And my grandparents too. Thus, faith was just a fact of life for me. I didn’t wake up wondering if God actually existed anymore than I woke up wondering if I was going to breathe air that day. The answer was yes.
But at the University of Michigan, I didn’t come home to my parents. I came home to a white, cinder block dorm room and an atheist roommate who openly resented me for my Christianity. She scowled when I went to church on Sunday instead of going to brunch. And when her friends came into the room, they took turns sneaking glances at my book shelf, the bible propped amongst the spines, then gave each other knowing looks.
I felt ashamed. And then I felt ashamed that I felt ashamed. And then I began to wonder if it was worth it to feel so ashamed all the time.
I took an astronomy course my first semester that I was pretty excited about. The universe has always fascinated me. In Sunday School growing up, when we sang “Somewhere in outer space God has prepared a place…” I was all like, “Awesome. I want to go to there.” I imagined myself looking through the astronomy department’s powerful technology and making equally powerful conjectures about mass and black matter and stuff.
I thought college would make me feel big.
Little did I know that I would feel so small, like no place was safe. There was no place I could go and just say, “Ah yes. There it is again. That comfort.” I even came home from bible study… and cried. Because none of it made sense anymore.
I wondered, for everything I had lost by moving across the state and beginning my new life as a college student—my friends, my bed, my cats—had I lost my God too?
Thankfully, I was blessed with an extremely patient and articulate father.
He must have spent hours with me on the phone that first semester. Usually after astronomy class because there the existence of God was not just ignored, but refuted and scoffed at. And although I would never describe my relationship with my father as being cold or distant—he was a good dad—our relationship certainly wasn’t what it was before my spell of doubt that it became after. Basically, he listened to me.
I remember it was a Monday. Monday nights I had astronomy lab. And Michigan had a very cloudy Autumn that year, so my class hadn’t been getting the telescope time I’d been hoping for. But on this particular Monday night the skies were clear, so we abandoned the planetarium and hiked up the narrow spiral staircase toward the telescope in Angell Hall Observatory.
We were looking at Venus. And I was so excited when it came for my turn! I stepped up to the eyepiece and I looked up into the night sky. Nothing. There was a dot and some darkness. Big whoop. I stepped away and as I did so I felt sick, so I moved myself the edge of the observatory and pressed myself against the shadows until the end of class. In that moment I became so weak physically and emotionally that I couldn’t shake the feeling—the certainty I felt—that God did not exist. I was alone. My life was over.
Oh, how thankful I am that faith is not a moment. Because that would have been a bad one.
I called my dad on the way home and unloaded the huge weight on my shoulders as I walked back to the cluster of dorms where I lived called “The Hill,” past the safety light with the graffiti, past the row of research buildings with the glass walls and the murals depicting all the stages of creation from the big bang to mankind, past student after student who looked so happy and carefree—what was wrong with them?? How could they seem so fine when everything meant nothing??
I grilled my father angrily, as if he himself had come and taken God away. I wanted answers. I wanted hard, concrete evidence. “But how do you know God exists? How do you know??” I shouted into the receiver.
The phone was silent. And for a second I thought he’d hung up. I stopped walking and stared ahead toward the bridge that led to my dormitory. It stretched across Washtenaw Avenue, one of the busy main roads that runs through Ann Arbor. I felt so despairing I thought I might burst right out of my skin.
But then, on the other end of the line, I heard the familiar hum of my father’s voice, calm and steady. “Katie,” he said, “Look around you.”
So I did.
And I saw through my own eyes more brilliant than any telescope… There was a smattering of stars in the sky splashed defiantly against the city lights. Ribbons of white and red traffic streamed below me, under the bridge. A student passed by. Then another. They chattered excitedly as they walked gripping backpacks and laptops. The wind picked up, and it moved through what remained of the reds and the yellows of the trees in that way that makes it sound like every leaf is applauding.
And then I felt this peace. Such a simple thing. But it came out of nowhere. And I wondered where it had been for so long.
I said that I spent hours with my dad on the phone, but honestly, if you asked me anything else he might have said during that time, I couldn’t tell you. For the life of me, I can’t remember. All that remains is “look around you.”
So that’s what I do.
In the middle of the night when, out of nowhere, you wake up and this fear just grips your heart and you whisper, “Dear God, is this all a joke?” Look around you. When you wonder if He’s there. Look around you. When you wonder, yes He’s there, but is He good? Look around you.
I was afraid to share this because I thought it might not be good enough. Look around you? What is that? But then I remembered, it was good enough for me.
God promises us that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed we can say to this mountain move from here to there and it will move. I don’t think that verse—Matthew 17:20—is actually about what we can do with faith. I think it’s about what God can do.
Because since that day at four years old sometimes my faith has been so small. Yet planted, it has grown and become the largest of all garden plants with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. (Mark 4:32)
I’m throwing the traditional definition of testimony out the window. My testimony cannot be contained within one day at four years old. That day was only beginning. And for all the ways that God has revealed Himself to me since, for all the times my Heavenly Father has said to me, “Katie, Look around you. Here I am!” I will forever testify.