When I was in the fourth grade, my sister, brother, and I responded to a hell-fire and brimstone altar call at the Bible Baptist Church in Rantoul, Illinois. My mother had been raised a Christian by devout Methodist parents, and her brother was a Methodist minister. But she also became “born again” and raised the bar. She got baptised in the church’s baptismal tank, which amounted to a declaration of war between her and my father. From then on, it was us against him.
Mom and Dad were now “unequally yoked,” and the pressure was on for him to see the light and accept Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. But Dad, who had been raised by an Army chaplain with a mean streak, would have none of it.
After Dad retired from the Air Force, we headed west, where he and Mom owned an unfinished house in Roy, Washington. There, we attended the Roy Missionary Church, where I eventually became a Sunday school teacher, youth group leader, and camp counselor.
It was while preparing one of my “sermons” for the youth group that I realized God was too small. I went out onto my grandfather’s land and prayed, “God, this is too easy. I could fit you into a shoebox and that can’t be right. Show me how big you are.”
At that time, I had my first serious boyfriend. His mother had died of cancer when his little sister was nine, and I had a special place in my heart for her. Jill was one of the brightest lights and most deeply spiritual people I’d ever met. She joined our youth group and caught the eye of Mike, who asked me to help him write poems with which to woo her. Soon, Mike and Jill fell in love.
I lived with my parents during my first two years of college and then packed my car and headed to Seattle Pacific University for the last two years. On my way out of town, I stopped by the cemetary where Jill’s mother was buried, knelt by her grave, and prayed, “God, I can’t take care of Jill anymore. Please take care of her for me.”
In the winter of my senior year at college, Mike and Jill were killed in a car accident. It took place right in front of Jill’s house and her father was the first one on the scene.
Jill’s father asked me to speak at the funeral, which I did. Seeing Jill’s broken body in a casket was difficult, but having both caskets in front of me while addressing the hundreds of people who attended the funeral was even harder. It was, without question, the most gut-wrenching thing I’ve ever done.
When Mike and Jill’s lives ended, my war with God began. I had asked–I had specifically asked–God to take care of Jill, and he killed her. If he didn’t outright kill her, then he failed to prevent her death, which was just as bad.
The prayer I’d said on my grandfather’s land had been answered–this God certainly didn’t fit in a shoebox. I felt completely betrayed and wanted nothing to do with him. My faith crumbled. The black-and-white world in which I had found comfort vanished. I was adrift on seas of gray under an angry sky and lost sight of everything that had once lent order to my universe.
Oddly, it never occurred to me not to believe in God–I guess I needed him to exist so I’d have someone to blame. I eventually rebuilt a spiritual world view that made sense to me, but it took almost 20 years to do it. It is nothing like my mother’s.
My mother believes that Mike and Jill, who had been together for a number of years, may have been finding it difficult to keep from getting physical with each other. She believes that God “took” them before they managed to fornicate. “You mean death is better than premarital sex?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said, nodding sadly.
* The illustration, by Kris Wiltse, is from the “Hopeless” card, which is part of the Mixed Emotions card deck.