Once on my lunch, I saw a squirrel funeral outside the local cemetery. One of their brothers/sisters was struck by a vehicle and lay dead in the road. Five various squirrels created a circle around the ‘body’ and wouldn’t move for any car. I ended up driving on the wrong side of the road to pass. It was quite heartbreaking. As my eyes glistened, two extreme thoughts naturally surfaced: 1. Was that squirrel saved? 2. Were they mourning or do squirrels eat their dead and they were playing best out of five – rock, paper, scissors – to see who got the carcass?
A little background: I grew up in a fairly religious home. We went to church generally twice a week. Our circle of friends consisted of 93% church peeps and 7% school and family. We didn’t own a TV and we could not watch movies over a PG rating unless pre-screened by our parents. The radio was generally set to talk radio or church music. I was a puppeteer at VBS [that stands for Vacation Bible School you heathen], I participated in all children’s plays/choirs, I played the piano during the offering and unless grounded (which was more often than not) I attended every youth group function. This was all I knew and I didn’t mind – I loved the people and the family atmosphere. One of my dearest friends dates back to a small non-denominational church we attended in a windowless building. Also, it’s important to note: I was not forced to wear long skirts, I was allowed to cut my hair, and I could walk ahead of any boy/man if I damn well pleased.
Growing up alternating between non-denominational church [themes being spiritual warfare, angels/demons…etc.] and Southern Baptist [summers spent in TN fearing eternal damnation to the fiery pit] I may, or may not, have lived in fear. I had panic attacks on a monthly basis – waking up at night shaking and crying because 1. I was afraid to go to hell or 2. The Nazi’s were going to find me and take me away. I spent many nights sipping warm milk, singing myself to sleep and battled a year-long stint of fainting on the regular. These fears also translated into wanting to save everyone and everything from the devil. I was overly concerned that my pets, and everyone else’s, needed to be saved. There is a chance, if I was ever at your house between the ages of 7 and 12, I prayed the salvation prayer with your pet. I am not kidding. My cats got saved every other weekend just to be sure I would see them in heaven. I even made sure my stuffed animals were saved just in case they had souls. If I’m being totally honest, Buddy and Maeby are lucky they haven’t been baptized.
I spent a lot of my life concerned about the eternity of others. I was afraid of death, of war, specifically in the Middle East, the book of Revelation ruined me (it speaks of an apocalypse of sorts; the rapture). One time in middle school we were going to buy lunch, a classmate took a little too long in the bathroom. When she came back to class everyone was gone – she honestly thought the rapture occurred and she was devastated. She was still on earth which either meant she wasn’t saved, or, she was one of the few left to be persecuted for years and years. (See the Left Behind series for Hollywood’s perspective on this – Kirk Cameron, the Christian Scorsese). Good content for kids too – the world is going to end and you will likely be tortured, and it could literally happen ANY DAY! I spent so much time worrying about who was saved and who wasn’t and judging those who believed differently than me. It was a way of life.
Through adolescence and my early twenties, I made my own decisions when it came to church and belief. I followed many of the same practices but also developed my own worldview. It all began to feel robotic and methodical, lacking in emotion, lacking in a relationship – simply put, focused on ritual and social status. I soured to the entire idea of Sundays – standing up, sitting down, only to stand up a couple more times. People going through motions, rarely questioning their significance or whether they actually wanted to do those things. It felt vacant and rehearsed…and if you know me, I don’t typically fall in line with trends or ‘shoulds.’
I don’t talk about my faith very much, or at all. I have a heart for specific things, and sometimes, specific people. I don’t believe our words have to be rehearsed or even sound acceptable to the confines of spirituality – which basically means I curse a lot. I believe in sound theology – The Gospel; death, resurrection, and forgiveness of sin. However, I equally believe in Love. I believe that Jesus ALWAYS, always, lead with Love. It was His love for us that made him approachable, that allowed him to rebuke but also show endless amounts of grace. He lived His life without filters and it endeared him to the lost, the poor, the sick, and the dying. I also believe our humanness, those hurts that shape our individuality, are more profound than any cliche, anything scripted ever could be. It’s in our messy and raw realities where redemption is found and lives are changed.
I now know, I cannot redirect anyone’s eternal trajectory, as difficult as that is for a control freak to grasp. But (there’s always a ‘But’ isn’t there?), I can share my (many) broken pieces, practice empathy, and love people, love the CRAP out of them. As the brilliant Bob Goff says, “I used to want to fix people, now I just want to be with them.” Doesn’t that idea instantly relax you? Every time I read it, my shoulders drop a few inches and my jaw unclenches. As much of an introvert as I am – and the idea of sharing my highs and lows here gives me anxiety some of the time, it is in our vulnerability that Love and Grace thrive.
** title is a quote (I think) from Steel Magnolias **