My first introduction to God was in the basement of a local church. There, I met a bearded man with a flowing white robe, who was flat and lived on a felt board. There were other important characters on the felt board, too, like Jesus, Moses, Mary, King David, and something called the Holy Spirit, really a silver bird that looked like it was dive-bombing the earth.
“These three are actually one,” my Sunday school teacher told us.
She had moved the grey-bearded God figure next to a sandal-clad Jesus and the shimmery bird. I remember trying to wrap my head around what she just said. All I could think was, “A kamikaze bird is an animal, you dummy. I don’t think you got the story right.” But as young children often do, I took her words as gospel and began my relationship with this mysterious bearded man.
In those school years, God became a one-dimensional man with whom I could hold a one-way conversation. He was also an idea—a perfect set of convictions that I put in a box and tied with a bow. I had no doubts in my beliefs, and knew God would forgive me at my best and at my worst. I also learned about acceptable behavior: Swearing was bad, lying was worse. You must love everyone, even if you knew they were wrong and going to hell. Never sit on a boy’s lap, mini-skirts were begging for trouble, kissing was okay but wandering hands were not. God was watching. Surely I would be eligible to walk through the gates of heaven if I could just follow those rules?
In college, my world exploded as I bumped up against people who had a different God-shaped box. I became lost. I wasn’t sure what I believed, and God became a little more confusing. So I kept Him in my own box where he fit best, a place where I could easily define the Trinity, wrap my arms around it, and understand it.
And that’s where God stayed until my son was born and my carefully crafted box was blown to shreds.
It’s not uncommon for people to question their faith when going through a major life crisis. I did. Recently, I spoke at Sammamish Presbyterian Church with Pastor Austin Ashenbrenner about my faith journey and how that led me to write The Chicken Who Saved Us.
Q: You write in your book, “I saw for the first time that the people in my life were the presence of God I longed for, carrying me when I was too weary to go on, holding my hand as I walked through hell.” What did you learn about who God was and was not in the midst of this experience?
A: God was NOT the man who lived on a felt board or was painted in the pictures of my children’s bible. God entered my life through the presence of others and by revealing himself in my watery dreams. In my most desperate moments, He became the part of me who broke down in tears on a hospital room floor.
Q: Throughout your experience you wrote about being angry at God, trusting God, being overjoyed at God’s provision, and being horrified by what felt like God’s silence. How were you able to keep coming to God with all of these emotions?
A: I felt the presence of God when I was a child and knew he was real. But the life I was leading, the one I thought was perfect because I followed all the rules, was not adding up to my expectations. It had been crumbling around my feet for two decades and I was bone tired. To be honest, I felt I had no other option. If God wasn’t available to help, then I wondered if all of mankind was lost. And frankly, I couldn’t bear that thought so I kept coming back and knocking loudly on the door.
Q: What advice would you give to people who want to “show up” for a friend or loved one in a difficult time?
A: Don’t ask someone in crisis, “What can I do?” and expect an intelligent answer. They’re overwhelmed and they don’t know what they need. When people took over my housework, brought hot meals to the hospital, left love notes, lip balm, slippers and crazy things like peanut butter, toilet paper, and a basket of mismatched teacups stuffed with my favorite teas, I nearly cried. One woman took me to a salon to have my hair washed, dried and curled by a stylist—something I had not done in weeks. My best advice is to show up for others EXACTLY like you would want them to show up for you.
Q: What did you learn about yourself and your family through the process of writing?
A: Writing about somebody you love without making assumptions or passing judgement is very difficult. I had to envision myself in their shoes in order to understand what makes them tick. It gave me an incredible opportunity to think of those I love with compassion and grace. Every nurse, doctor, family member, friend and stranger, was trying to help in their own way. When I was able to put it in words, I was astounded and humbled.
Q: Why did you write The Chicken Who Saved Us?
A: I wanted others to know that they are not alone. It’s easy to feel isolated while going through a crisis and many times we’re reluctant to burden others with our problems. I discovered that when I was willing to be vulnerable and ask for help, people showed up. They became our village.
These were some of Austin’s questions. Maybe you have some too? Send them my way!
With love, Kristin