The Story of My Life

by Jen

This is going to be long. You have been forewarned.

Once upon a time, there was a baby. She was knit together in her mother's womb by the hand of God and was tainted by original sin. Her mother had her baptized by the chaplain at the military hospital, right there in Honolulu. The birth certificate says "United States Army" on it before it says, "in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit".

Let's speed things up a bit. My parents divorced when I was very young because essentially, my father abandoned my mother after sending us home to Michigan on a plane. My mom joined "Parents without Partners" and married my stepfather when I was nearly 2.5 years old. My stepfather hates God and Christians because the Catholic Church allowed his first wife to annul their marriage in spite of the birth of their twin son & daughter. All churches & Christians are hypocrites. He was raised in a Dutch Reformed environment and even attended Calvin College for a while.

While growing up, we seldom went to church. We only attended for weddings, funerals, baptisms in the immediate family, some Christmases and Easters. For Christmas & Easter, if we went, it was to my grandparent's church on my mother's side before a family gathering. They attended a United Church of Christ church. God was not spoken of in our household. Faith was a non-issue.

For 2 or 3 summers, my mom sent me to VBS at a Methodist church. I don't remember much about it other than singing "Rock of ages", winning an am/fm portable radio for bringing the most friends (2), and digging in a sandbox. It was supposed to be like an archaeological dig, but I don't recall what we dug up. Around fifth or sixth grade, a girl from school invited me to go to Awana. I had an AWFUL time memorizing scripture, but the games were fun. I think I only attended for about 2 seasons. I also went with my best friend to Roman Catholic Church a few times. I remember thinking that the genuflecting was weird. The last time I went, I was probably 12 or 13 and my friend and I spent most of the time in the bathroom putting on eyeliner and giggling.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped going to church on Easter because we went camping in Florida instead. When I was 15, we were on one of those trips. Every year we went to Fort Desoto State Park Campground [near Tampa, FL]. In order to obtain reservations at this park, you had to go to the park itself, or to the county courthouse in person. There was almost never anybody at the park that was from out of state. One of my stepfather’s college buddies obtained reservations for us.

On this particular trip, I met a girl from Michigan and it turned out that we had a couple of mutual acquaintances. She went to school with two of my ex-boyfriends. We met in the bathroom on the night we arrived at the grounds. The next day I was going to mail a postcard to one of these guys and I wanted to mention that I had met this girl, but I didn't know her name. Somehow, I walked straight to their campsite, walked up to the camper door and knocked and asked "Is the girl with the red hair here?"

She and I spoke for a while and then out of the blue she asked me if I had ever asked Jesus into my heart. I said "no". She asked "Do you want to?" to which I replied "sure”. I had nothing against God. She and her mother offered to lead me in prayer. The mom asked me if I wanted to pray aloud or in my heart. Immediately I was swept back in my mind to a time where I was asked to repeat a prayer aloud at Awana. I recalled how uncomfortable that made me feel so I said "in my heart". We joined hands and I repeated their prayer internally. At the end of the prayer, before we lifted our heads, a thought entered my mind "I wonder if this is what it means to be born again?". We then released hands and looked up and the girl's mother said to me "This means you're born again!". I was totally floored because it was like she was reading my mind and this was a phrase that was NOT in MY vocabulary. I instantly felt different and it lasted for weeks. The new feeling was accompanied by an inceptive interest in God and the Bible and a desire to do good deeds.

Upon returning to school a week or so later, I learned that the guy who sat next to me in my art class went to the same church as the girl I met on vacation. I began attending youth group with them; his father drove us. At Woodlawn Church of God, Anderson Indiana I was introduced to a myriad of doctrines from charismatic gifts to sin and grace through Jesus death. I was also exposed to contemporary worship including the raising of hands and clapping. It wasn't the "dead and boring" stuff I was exposed to as a kid and I responded to it instantly. During those first few months it seemed that I day didn't go by where I didn't learn something new, and a moment didn't pass where God wasn't at the front of my mind. Amidst the charismatic emphasis on speaking in tongues and whatnot, I did manage to come to an understanding that I needed to repent and that I needed a savior and I prayed for forgiveness without being led by someone else. In November of that year I was re-baptized (a “believer's baptism”).

The first few years I took things as they came. Everything was new to me. I was enchanted by this baptism of the Holy Spirit that was spoken of all the time and I sought this experience with a passion. I went anywhere that any "powerful minister" was going to be. Whole rooms full of believers would be "slain in the spirit", and I'd be the only person standing and I'd ask God why. I wanted whatever he had for me and I couldn't understand why I couldn't get this other baptism and the gift of tongues. I was told to receive it by faith and just start speaking (gibberish) and it would come. Testing God didn’t feel right so I was reluctant to “speak forth in faith”.

The church I attended was in a state of flux. They were moving towards the prosperity gospel and were going through a pastor change and a growth spurt. I didn't notice the change in youth group, but after getting my driver's license and starting to attend on Sundays, I was exposed to the "Name it and Claim it" mindset creeping in. About the same time, I also had a new boyfriend who was much deeper into the prosperity gospel and I began going to church with him. This period really put my "faith" to the test and I failed miserably. Nothing I spoke or claimed ever came to be. Within a few months, I determined that this was just turning faith into a work. With this belief, I didn't need God anymore because if I had enough faith in my faith, then I could get whatever I wanted. And, never would I have tried to speak justification, sanctification or salvation into existence. Speaking and claiming was always about selfish material gain or personal success. It was never about piety, clothing, and feeding the poor, caring for widows and orphans or about God forgiving us as we forgive others. This wasn't the Gospel of the bible, it wasn't even close. It took me years to really come to understand this.

Over the next few years, I continued to bounce around from one non-denominational church to another. I was convinced that lively worship was the only kind of worship where your heart couldn't be far from your lips and that all "hymnbook churches" were dead. I figured that people attended them because they were raised in them and thought they were pleasing God, but they really didn't know Jesus or worship him. It was just a perfunctory Sunday routine. Even my own grandmother was convinced that she was going to heaven because she was a good person. That wasn't the Gospel. While I loved contemporary worship, I had also come to the conclusion that charismatic gifts were grossly misunderstood and I stopped seeking them.

In 1996, I met the man who would become my husband. We worked together. One day I went to his desk for something and he was reading a bible. When I returned to my desk I sent him an email that said "So, you're my brother!?" and the rest is history. We began dating within weeks. He was raised a WELS Lutheran. I visited his church with him and experienced a "common service" and unpadded pews. I was bored to tears and told him I could never sit through that again. He visited my flavor-of-the-year charismatic church and told me that it was a circus. In my Christian concert goings and bible-study-hoppings, I had become familiar with a moderate LCMS church - Faith Lutheran in Troy. We visited together and decided to take their membership class. Part way through the class we got engaged and we were eventually married there. Within weeks of the wedding, the church opened up their new "Worship Center". It had stadium seating and the alter was up on a stage.

We hadn't quite noticed, but for months things had been slowly changing from semi-liturgical to more contemporary. With the opening of the worship center came new worship practices. We had a full worship band up on the stage with colored/gelled spotlights and big screens where the words were projected... just like any other non-denominational church. Over the next 8 years, they grew into a fully contemporary mega-church. We never followed the lectionary but the sermons were pretty good. I referred to myself as a Christian who attended a Lutheran Church. I never considered myself to be a Lutheran.

Somewhere around 2001, I encountered my first Calvinist. I was intrigued by his doctrine, but found that it was very different from mine. I became obsessed with understanding TULIP - to either prove or disprove it, but to settle it for myself. I read dozens of books, both Calvinist and Arminian and many in-between. I couldn't accept TULIP, but the whole experience blew all my synergistic ideas to bits. I wrestled with Calvinism so much and debated some very mean calvys that it nearly destroyed my faith.

In 2005, I gave birth to our daughter. She was born with a rare genetic kidney disorder called Bartter's Syndrome. As a result of the kidney disease, when she would get common illnesses, she always had to be hospitalized. Once she was big enough to walk, we found it darn near impossible to get anything out of church and putting her in the nursery was out of the question. Every time we put her in, she would end up being hospitalized. We became shut-ins.

Since my daughter and I were essentially living in a bubble while my husband went to work, I made friendships on the internet to keep myself from going stir-crazy. In the summer of 2007, one of my respected internet friends converted from Presbyterian to Eastern Orthodoxy. This threw me for a loop. I had always assumed Eastern Orthodoxy to be the same as Roman Catholic with a slightly different calendar. Also, I had always regarded my friend to be a thinker and a staunch Protestant and Calvinist. She too had had a bit of a charismatic phase in her past. I couldn't figure what on earth would be drawing her to such an ethnic, rote and antiquated expression of faith.

I began scouring the internet for information on the historic church because of her claims of EO being the original. They did seem to be the oldest, but they seemed so foreign to the Christianity I knew. I stated working my way forward from the early church and found myself interested in knowing more about Lutheranism. I looked for accounts of Eastern Orthodox people turning to Lutheranism, but I found only accounts of Lutherans heading east. In my internet searches, I found out about John Fenton's conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. Also, at the same time, I turned to my husband's Book of Concord to look for some protestant faith of antiquity because I knew Rome wasn't for me. I'm not sure which parts of the Book of Concord I read because I skipped around. The most significant change was that I became convinced that the Body and Blood of Christ were truly present at communion after reading the Epitome. I had never believed that before. Now, I couldn't wait to take communion again! It had been nearly 2 years since the last time we had been to church. I knew that John Fenton's previous church offered communion every week and made plans to visit it someday soon.

In September of 2007, our daughter was having some health complications with a persistent duodenal ulcer and was hospitalized for 28 days. In the midst of her stay, had to have g-tube surgery done. Zion Evangelical Lutheran church of Detroit was only about 4 miles from Children's Hospital. The Sunday before her surgery, I attended that LCMS church because I knew I could count on them having communion. That day I was introduced to the Divine Liturgy of the Tridentine Mass. But, this was different the Roman Catholic church. It wasn't solemn, but it was exceedingly reverent. People bowed at the name of Jesus and the mention of the Trinity. I was overcome by the stark difference between this and our church. I knelt in church for the first time in decades and it felt so right. Then, when we got to communion, the bulletin said that if you're not a member, you can't take communion until you've spoken with the pastor. At this news, I lost it. I was sobbing uncontrollably. I wanted the Body and Blood and I had come there for that reason alone and now I wasn't going to get it? A woman saw me crying and came over to me. When I told her why I was upset, she told me to go up, but to keep my head down and the pastor would bless me. I did as she said but the pastor bent down and said "Do you want communion or...", and I said "Yes but..." and he said "Are you Lutheran?" and I said "Yes" and he stuck a wafer in my mouth. O rapture! The body of Christ at last!

I honestly can’t explain what happened to me that day. For nearly 20 years, I had detested “hymnbook churches” for their perfunctory format and lifeless worship. I abhorred the lectionary, paraments and vestments and their seasonal colors, call & response, and the stand-up, sit-down, kneel, repeat. I don’t know why this time was different. There was just something about it—the fear of God and adoration perhaps. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it isn’t just one thing, but everything. Now I just can’t get enough of it. I love smells and bells.

Aside from the liturgy, I love Lutheran doctrine. That's why I'm here - to learn more and surround myself with people who are like-minded and kindred spirits.

-August 18, 2008