Recently I saw a post on Instagram, and on Facebook, about how if God does exist he is a petty tyrant and doesn't care about people or what is going on in the world, and that if he was real, the writer would rather go to hell. What was really disturbing about this was that it was posted by my son. My son who was once training to be a youth pastor. I remember when my little boy grew into a young man, and I would sit a few rows behind him in church. I would see his hands, grown so large to fit his 6'3" frame, raised in worship, and it would literally move me to tears of joy. I watched his spiritual growth with delight for years.
Then came the time of leaving.
I left first. It had been one of the very worst seasons of my life. Jaycee Dugard had been found, and I had so earnestly believed that finding her would mean finding Michaela. When my husband woke me up early that morning to tell me about Jaycee, I leaped up and told him, "We have to get the kitchen painted before Michaela comes home!" That had been followed by over a month of the most intense search for Michaela, as our investigators moved in on the property where Jaycee had been found and literally tore it down looking for any evidence that Michaela had been there, as they brought in search dogs and dug possible gravesites. It had also been physically exhausting, as I spent many days traveling out to the property to watch the efforts of our investigators. The story of Jaycee's recovery was huge, and yet Jaycee was not talking to the media. The media therefore, turned to me, and I was called on to do the early morning New York news/talk shows, and the late evening west coast shows. I'd be picked up at 3:00 in the morning to go to a local studio, often arriving at a building that was closed, locked and dark, and I'd have to find a way in. In the middle I'd travel in the heat of the day to the Antioch property where the investigation was being carried on, and where media camped out. It was all worth it. It is a large part of why Michaela's case is so well known today, 27 years after her kidnapping. But it was completely exhausting. And in the end, it yielded nothing, or at least not what I'd hoped. Having been really convinced for the first time since she'd been kidnapped that I might actually see her alive again, it was a devastating, devastating let down. I fell into the deepest depression of my life. And in the midst of that depression, I woke up one day and said not that I was angry at God, not that he had let me down in some way, not that he had let Michaela down in some way, but rather that suddenly Christianity didn't make any sense. There were some things in the background of my life, like flies that were hard to see but easy to hear buzzing, that added to this fall from faith. But regardless, I fell.
I left church, but my son was still there. At first he was shocked, and asked me questions and gave me answers, which I kind of laughed off. Yet one thing I knew was that I didn't want him to lose his faith. There were times I actually wept over the possibility of my son losing his faith. I remember at the time asking myself why this was. If I honestly thought that Christianity didn't make any sense, if I honestly thought it was wrong, then why on earth would I want my own child to be involved in it? And yet I did, very deep down in my heart. Even as I fell, I recognized this as significant. I recognized this as an indication that perhaps I really did believe.
But my son left, too, about two months after I did. He will swear to you that my leaving church had nothing at all to do with him leaving, but I know that is not true. I know that there were other things at play in his decision, but if I had not put those cracks in the foundation, I think it would have held against those other things.
I have since returned to my faith, dragging along with me a lot of those questions that I accumulated along the way. If I am a wave tossed on the ocean, they are strands of seaweed tied to my ankles. I am kicking and swimming despite that. Will they drag me down again? It is my intention to get to solid enough ground to be able to cut them away. Believe me, I am in search of the truth. There is so much in our world today that gets wrapped up with Christianity that just doesn't belong there. It is a religion, a faith, a state of heart, it is love. It is not politics, and it is a grave mistake to allow what the world has made of Christianity to dilute its true meaning.
The pertinent question is, why did I return to my faith? The answer is, God called me. God calls me, and tugs on my heart, and I resist. Why? Well, that's a completely different subject, which doesn't really fit in this blog entry. But God is difficult to resist when he really wants you, and I melt into his heart. God doesn't just call me, however. He answers me. I have had so many prayers answered. It's funny the way he does it. Sometimes it's just a big, direct answer, but even then it will often take me a minute to recognize: "Oh! Look at that! That is exactly what I prayed for!" So often, though, something will happen in life, and because I am slow on the uptake it may take me a little while to realize its importance, and how it ends answering a prayer of mine in a way I had never imagined. Yes, I'd love to give you examples of all these things, but honestly they involve other people whose privacy I have to respect. It has been more than sufficient for me to believe that God does hear, and does answer my prayers.
That leaves the big question, though, doesn't it? Why didn't God answer my prayers about Michaela? I can't tell you the definitive answer to that right now. One day, when the story has reached its conclusion, I think I probably will be able to, but at this moment, I just don't have the information. I don't even have Michaela's side of it. Did God answer her prayers? I don't know. Just because the prayers were not answered in the exact way I thought they should be does not mean they were ignored. And is there some great, high purpose in it? This morning in my Bible study I happened to be reading the story of Joseph, one of my favorites in the Bible, for obvious reasons. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who then told his father that he had been killed by wild animals. His father grieved for many years over the loss of Joseph, who had been his favorite son. Meanwhile, Joseph had been highly favored by God and had risen to become the overseer for the entire land of Egypt. Having interpreted Pharaoh's dreams to mean that there would be several years of plenty, followed by several years of famine, Joseph had been put in charge of the land in order to set aside enough food to weather the famine. Joseph's brothers traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt to buy food for their families, and eventually Joseph revealed to them who he was, and asked them to bring the whole family to live in the land of Goshen so that he could provide for them during the five years of famine yet to come. The evil thing that had befallen Joseph had turned out for good, as he was able to save the lives of many, including his family. Meanwhile, Joseph's father, Jacob, was told that his son was alive, and his heart stood still. I can never read this without it bringing tears of joy to my eyes. Jacob's son, who he thought was dead, was alive, and he went to him, and the Bible says they fell into each other's arms and wept. (Genesis 45-46 if you want to read it yourself.)
What great good could be accomplished by God allowing Michaela to be kidnapped and by not answering my prayers to bring her home? I don't know, any more than Jacob knew in all those years that his "dead" son was living in Egypt, building up stores of grain that would keep Jacob and his family alive during the famine. That I don't know doesn't mean it cannot be true. When I say that God "allowed" Michaela to be kidnapped, please don't confuse that with God "causing" her to be kidnapped. We live in this world, and we co-exist with evil, and all parties possess free will. The Bible tells us that "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28) We know that not all our prayers are going to be answered. There are some things that must be. We all must die, sometime, some way. Because of that we can't all be healed always. We can, however, have faith that death is not the end, that there is something better. I can have that faith for Michaela. I can believe that we will ultimately be reunited, and in the span of eternity our suffering here will become small, but perhaps the good it may have done will become great, even if that good amounts to the touching of just one small, hurting soul, and bringing about healing and reconciliation.
My son concluded that his faith had been based on nothing but "emotions." To that I say, yeah? So? On the basis of "emotions" you believe in another person sufficiently to commit your entire life to them in marriage. On the basis of "emotions" you invest your heart and soul into a child. Through "emotions" you create great art. And if God reaches out and touches you, it will generate "emotions" for sure! It will also generate change in your life. If your faith is weak, God will provide what you need to make it strong. In the end, a lot of our questions are probably dumb and not really questions at all. They are just things we hang onto that would be better left behind. Because of my nature I am still pursuing them, and if I get answers I will share them, either here, or on my other blog, at www.just-sharon.com. But in the meantime, just as I have never fully understood how the internet works yet I continue to post blogs on it, I will continue to seek God's will.
To those who doubt, just look at the night sky. Does it go on forever? And ever? And ever? How can that be? How can that not be? Think about time, this moment you are in, with moments stretching out before and after, endlessly. Our minds cannot begin to comprehend these things, which must be so. Look at all that exists and wonder, how could this all have come from abso-frickin-lutely nothing? All our questions about the existence of God pale in comparison to the questions that must be asked about existence itself, period. Just be willing to ask the questions, and then be willing to hear the answers. I would include my son in this challenge. Don't assume you know things you don't know, even if they are questions. Our brains are limited. Our hearts are infinite.
Michaela, when you were a child I told you that if ever you needed help and I was not there to help you, you should ask God, and he would help you. My greatest desire is to one day hear how he did that.
I love you forever, baby girl. I feel in this moment the first time I held you in my arms, and I feel the next time I will hold you in my arms. God bless you, my love. If you are still here on this earth, remember that God has never stopped loving you, and neither have I.