I was baptised recently. In the morning, I had a bit of a ‘freak-out’ moment when I realised there were 250 sausages on order for the post-ceremony BBQ. How many? It was both terrifying and humbling that there were so many in my new Christian family who were invested, happy and delighted in the choice I was making – even people I had never met – and wanted to celebrate it.
It struck me that ‘terrifying’ and ‘humbling’ pretty much summed up my Christian journey over the past six months. So how did I get here?
About 35 years ago, my family had a bit of a bad day. In the morning my Dad announced he was leaving the family home. And in the afternoon my Mum overdosed on sleeping tablets.
I don’t share this for the ‘poor, damaged, child’ angle. Mum pulled through and my Dad remains happily married to the woman who went onto become my step-mum and I therapied my wounds a long time ago.
I share it because what happened next impacted incredibly on how I viewed God, Jesus and Christianity.
You see, so-called Christian friends turned up with judgement about adultery and the sin of suicide. The dogma obliterated the grace. And that skewed my viewpoint. Not helped by the bloke in the black dress at the front of the school chapel who failed to make Christianity relevant to me. Then, as a cadet journalist in Ireland, I saw too much fear and terror enacted out in the name of God to make it an appealing proposition.
New age spiritualism and yogic non-attachment called me far more than Jesus did, and pretty much formed my agnostic life for the past 15 years.
In New Age, God is there but in a distant, malleable way. An energy you can somehow harness through the power of correct thought. If your life isn’t going the way you hoped, then you’re not thinking the correct thoughts. So you pay for another course! New age exhausted me. I was tired of having to fix myself!
Yoga and meditation gave peace but felt empty – I was dessicating my soul in my striving to non-attach. I kept forgetting we are relationship driven. We are not built for non-attachment!
Deep down I wanted a relationship with God. I wanted that still, small voice of calm. But with all my childhood baggage from Church and religion, I couldn’t figure out the right path. I was also petrified of vulnerability. After a parent attempts suicide, there’s a lot you lock-off in self-preservation.
So I am blessed that God hunted me down, put Jesus squarely in front of me, and made me listen.
It started with a failed job interview. One of the job criteria was a practising Christian, active in church. No surprises, then, that I didn’t get the gig. And the interviewer was kind and graceful but pleasantly steadfast in telling me that my faith wasn’t there. And he said something about structure…
Someone recently reminded me how God presses on us, this insistence that shoves at you. Jesus and that phrase about structure kept pushing into my brain. I kept telling myself it was because my ego had been pricked.
But the Easter weekend that followed was packed with too many ‘insistencies’, too many signs to ignore:
· The Bible falling off the shelf at my feet at a holiday house communal library – with no one nearby to cause it to fall, and with at least a hundred of other books that could have fallen.
· The yacht at Palm Beach, the sail unfurling, emblazoned with the words ‘Mister Christian’.
· Awaking with specific lyrics from Jennifer Warnes’s ‘Song of Bernadette’ playing over and over in my head around 3am each morning for four days in a row, when I had not heard her music in probably a decade.
In the end, on Easter Monday morning at 3am, I sat bolt upright and asked, “What? What are you trying to tell me?”
And a voice that was of me, but not of me, said clearly: Sort out your baggage around Christianity. You have all this unconditional love and non-judgement for other religions. You need to get rid of your stereotypes about how ‘Christians’ should be. Sort out your faith.
The next morning I asked my husband’s opinion, a small bit of me hoping he’d give me a ‘get out a jail free card’. Instead he responded: “Well, Phil, Jesus did have to ask Peter 3 times….”
I thought I’d just do some research. C of E stuck me as similar to Anglican. The kids attend school in the area so I found Menai Anglican online, spotted that a Christianity Course was running and picked up the phone. I’d missed a couple of weeks, but figured I could do some catch up - some solo, distant education.
Again, God was having none of it. Instead of a quick video download in my own time, I ended up having theological emails with an associate pastor who was refreshingly honest. There was no watering down, which was a change compared to what I had known. It was my first adult conversation with a Christian who was happy to unpack his faith and really let me rummage around in it – whilst kindly challenging me both intellectually and spiritually.
It was obvious he wasn’t going to let this seeking soul just do distant education! I found myself at a 10am service. Then another. Then an 8am. Then a 6pm.
As my heart whispered to me how astounding this love, the cross, the resurrection was, my head was on the sidelines, arms folded. Could a man really have come back to life? Well, then, I got to do the CE course. Which helped my head catch up with my heart.
I liken my new-age relationship with God before like some faulty light bulb. That flickered on and off. Jesus reached past me and screwed in the bulb.
As soon as I accepted Jesus, it literally clicked into place. How liberating it was to go: I am more sinful and flawed than I could ever imagine, yet at the very same time I am more loved and accepted in Jesus than I could ever dare dream.
And after all my new-age work? The ease of this astounds me every day. Just keep accepting the grace. And I pray that God just keeps me, all my flawed ego self, out the way.
Being loved, no matter what, gives you an incredible blank canvas of trust and grace from which to create. Jesus died for me. How can I do anything but humbly accept?
My acceptance gave me a new freedom to embrace the joy. After trying to be all yogic, trying to non-attach, to not feel, all this… it is like going from black and white to technicolour.
All my numbed nerve endings fizzed back online. And even if there are hurts – all that sensitivity I tried to hide, the vulnerability I was so fearful of – what are they compared to the pain Jesus’ took on for me? My biggest wounds are like a broken nail compared to crucifixion and taking on the sins of the world. Vulnerability delivered me joy, faith and more.
Six months ago I would have laughed at anyone who said I’d have a Bible app on my phone and be writing a blog about my Christian journey.
Preparing this testimony, I was asked to share examples of how my life has changed since I accepted God and Jesus. But I can’t give examples of incidents, because this isn’t incidental to my life.
It is like breathing. The edges have been smoothed. I’m sure my husband would agree that the ‘point scoring’ of life has dropped away.
I find myself in a range of places – the café, getting my back adjusted, a business networking event - and God insistently tells me to share the blog and my experience of returning to church.
God: ‘Tell them!” Me: “Really?” God: “Yes, now” – and so I do and every time, every time, I end up in a conversation with someone who has been wondering about going back to church after having a poor experience.
So now, whilst I do still question, I trust. And so, even when He’s telling me to step forward and I feel like it’s off a cliff, I trust and honour that He knows what He’s doing. So I step forward and the bridge – or path – appears.
And getting baptised? I now recognise that God and Jesus were always on the look out for me over these past 43 years; they had my back. But I hadn't got their's. I needed to reciprocate. Choosing baptism was my testimony to them, saying: "I'm sorry it took me so long. Thanks for chasing me down. Here I am."
Yet despite that, for the 42 intervening years, I know God and Jesus were always on the look out; they had my back. But I hadn’t got theirs. I needed to reciprocate. Choosing baptism was my testimony to them, saying: “I’m sorry it took me so long. Thanks for chasing me down. Here I am.”
Finally, although I say God chased me down, and Jesus worked his grace – there is one more important factor.
The past six months have clearly demonstrated that, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a supportive husband, an amazing ministry team and an engaged congregation to raise a new Christian.
So on the days that you wonder what exactly God and Jesus are up to in your life – and I’m pretty sure we all have them – please remember each time over the past six months I saw you here at church – even if we have never spoken – I saw you here.
In worship. Treading the path. And it gave me joy and encouragement to keep stepping forward on mine. Thank you.
By Phil(ippa) Lowe, a member of our 10am Service, and a PR/Communications Manager who takes God and Jesus seriously, but herself not so much.