I hate it when people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Of course everything happens for a reason. Things don’t just happen. A thing preceded the thing that is happening. There is a cause for everything.
I know, I know. That’s not what people mean.
They mean, “Everything happens for a reason that will ultimately end up in good things.”
I don’t know why this is supposed to be comforting.
See, maybe the reason this is happening is because I’m supposed to die, leaving Morrigan motherless at a young age. This will disturb her enough to relentlessly pursue cancer research, thrusting aside all meaningful human relationships, leading to a cure that will save the entire planet from the horror of this disease.
That scenario doesn’t comfort me.
Maybe the reason this is happening is because it’s supposed to leave Calliope with a fear of abandonment. She’ll get a boyfriend at an early age, one of those real creepers who’s thirty-five and dating a fourteen-year-old. She’ll conceive a child, give birth at fifteen, and that child will go into cancer research, leading to a cure.
That scenario also doesn’t comfort me.
Poor Phoenix. I don’t have a scenario for her, but invent a bad one that ends in good, and you get my point, along with satisfying the rule of threes.
I need to figure out what I believe about the afterlife. That’s what someone does when she finds out she’s going to die, right? I am terrified that there’s nothing. But I have to think about this. I have to pray about this. I can’t just be terrified. I have to come to terms with it.
I was raised Christian. In high school, I got sucked into the born-again Christian world. My close friends were born-again. We went to Teen Mania Ministries’ Acquire the Fire conferences. We listened to the Newsboys and dcTalk. When I got to college, I went on mission trips on three separate summers to Trinidad, Thailand, and Botswana.
But I never felt like I belonged.
No one but me had any doubts. No one but me questioned the things they told us. No one but me felt like all the restrictions, the judgments, the unhappiness was wrong.
The Botswana trip was what really did it for me. The behavior of the leadership was appalling, and the blind devotion to the teachings of TMM made me upend my entire faith.
At one point, about a hundred of us were crammed into a large vehicle—this gigantic, open-air, truck-like thing that had wooden bench seats and tarps fastened over the sides to keep the wind down—barreling down the road toward a tiny village deep in the heart of Africa. It was nighttime and dark out, and I was huddled under a blanket with a couple of my friends. We were talking in hushed voices, and I was expressing some doubts.
“Sometimes I question, you know?” I said quietly. “Some of the things the church tells us don’t make sense.”
Out of the darkness, unrequested, came a voice. “You need to have faith!”
Another kid, one the other side piped up, “You can’t question Jesus. You just need to believe.”
Someone else chimed in. Someone started singing. My friend squeezed my hand. I wanted to shout, “I wasn’t fucking talking to you.”
Instead, I shut my mouth. I closed my ears. I closed my eyes.
That was the moment. The moment I stopped trying to believe.
The thing is, if God exists, He made us as we are. He made me to question. And if He’s God, why is He so fucking frightened of my questions? He should be like, “Bring it on, bitch. I’m the omnipotent, omnipresent, all-powerful God. I made the sea and the wind and the fire and the air. Your questions don’t scare me. Ask ’em. Ask ’em all.”
The rest of the Botswana trip was weird. I prayed a lot. Every morning, we were required to spend an hour in devotions—reading our Bibles and praying. I did that. I prayed to Jesus, asking him what actually exists after we die. Not what they want us to believe. Not whatever the church has been teaching for two thousand years to control the masses.
Half an hour into my devotions one morning, as I was paging through the New Testament and praying for answers, wrapped in a sleeping bag and sitting under a cloudy morning sky, I got my answer.
There is no hell.
The certainty of this statement settled over me like a warm blanket. It nestled into my heart and my mind like the answer I had always known. The implications to my faith hovered just outside of reach, but instead of thinking them through, I clung to this beautiful, shining Truth, examining it and feeling the rightness of it. I had been begging for something real for years, something that wasn’t someone else’s truth, but something that was A Universal Truth. The perfectness of this overwhelmed me, and I wept.
Later, when I pulled at that thread, the entire Christian faith unraveled.
I’ve never had anyone challenge what happened to me that morning, mostly because I’ve never told anyone who would want to challenge it. The good Christian response is, “Well, it must be Satan,” to which I respond, “Then you’d better be fucking frightened.”
You see, I was earnestly seeking Truth. I was praying to Jesus. I was begging God, the Creator of the Universe, to give me a True Answer. “Never mind what they all say,” I asked the Holy Spirit. “Tell me, from Your mouth, what The Truth is.”
If, in the midst of my soul’s cry to the one true God, Satan came sauntering in and spoke to me in what sounded like God’s voice…
… then we’re all fucked.
After that, I drifted. I tried to stay in the Christian church, pulling out the good bits and discarding the rest. I read the parts about Jesus, trying to figure out what he really said, what he really meant. I read a lot of different opinions on religion and spirituality, and I formed my own worldview that aligns with the Truth-y feeling I got from that conversation in Botswana.
Reincarnation feels right. I think I’m an old soul, one who’s been back to Earth many times. I believe we all have challenges we’ve orchestrated for ourselves in a general plan that shapes our lives. We’re here to grow spiritually and connect with others. It’s what I wrote into my Fallen Redemption series, which I wrote as a catharsis of sorts a few years ago.
(I need to pause right now and say something very important: THIS BLOG IS NOT A FUCKING GIMMICK TO SELL BOOKS. First of all, I don’t even know that it would work, since my book is paranormal and this is super intense real shit, right here. Second of all, if I made this up to sell books, I would be a horrible human being who should die in a fire. Third of all, I sure wish it was made up, but it’s not. It’s all too horribly, horribly real.)
In my early twenties, I walked away from Christianity. At first, I tried to call myself a “Christ follower,” to differentiate what I believed (you know, the Jesus who hung out with prostitutes and drank wine and shit), but I couldn’t do it after a while. The cruelty I saw in the people who called themselves Christians was too much for me. I couldn’t stand the judgmentalness, and especially since I no longer believed, I didn’t want to associate with that group of people.
I was angry for years, but at some point, I let it go. I still prayed to God, but things stagnated. Without something to propel me toward religion, I didn’t need to worry about my spirituality.
Then Kevin’s dad died in March 2016 after losing a six year fight with prostate cancer. Ever since then, I haven’t felt all that great about anything spiritual. Any encounters with angels or conversations with my dead grandmother I was previously convinced I had seemed a figment of my imagination.
I don’t know what it was my father-in-law’s death, but the fear that we’re all just big bags of meat that accidentally become conscious due to a burst of solar radiation has plagued me.
I sit in the shower, water streaming over me, tears flowing from my eyes, thinking about all of this. I’m so cold. I can’t get warm. I turn up the heat, trying to get warm. My thoughts are swirling, the meaty butterflies are banging against my insides.
I don’t want to die. I don’t fucking want to die.
I need a pastor or a priest or a rabbi or someone, but my faith has no church. The only person I’ve met who holds a similar belief to mine is Kevin. I’m sure others exist, but we don’t gather on a weekly basis. We don’t speak to one another. We don’t have leaders.
This started because my brother texted me a link to the website of a church he used to go to. They record their services and post them online. “Have you heard of Joel Osteen?” he asked.
I was pretty sure I had, but it’s only later that I realize Joel is the asshole who wouldn’t open his stadium-like church for the displaced Houston flood victims. When I realize it’s him, I decide I don’t care. If God is everything I believe He is, He can use a rich, selfish douchenozzle to bring peace into the hearts of people who need it.
You see, if we’re all here to learn and grow spiritually, that means every religion has its place. Pieces of the Truth are scattered throughout every one. If God’s got something to say to me, He can use a Christian service or a Buddhist monk or a freakin’ treefrog in the backyard. But right now, I need something familiar and direct. The monk’s not gonna work because I don’t have access to one, and the treefrog doesn’t have vocal cords. I’m familiar with the lingo of Christianity, so Christianity it is.
I force myself from the shower. I’m still freezing. Why am I so cold? Why can’t I stop shivering? I huddle under my comforter in my bed. I start watching one of the videos.
And I start crying.
It is exactly what I need.
The sermon is called, “Steps That Lead to Victory.”
Choose faith over feelings.
Feelings are transient. One moment, I might feel like I’m going to die. The next minute, I feel fine. Neither of those things are a harbinger for what’s coming. I need to choose faith.
Yes. I can do that. Once I find the faith that I’m not going to die—
But that’s another story.
Well. I suppose. Do I have a choice? I beat back the mean butterflies. I take deep breaths. I have to be patient while I wait for Princess Margaret to call.
Maintain a thankful attitude.
Now this is where some people might think the bullshit’s rolling in, but honestly… This helps. I get up. I add a sticky note to my wall of encouragements. “I am thankful for: Kevin, Morrigan, Calliope, Phoenix.” And I let myself be thankful. Yes. There is the faintest glimmer of peace in my heart.
I don’t have to go through this alone.
I have a family who loves me. And friends. And I am still well. If you told me on Thursday that I was going to find out I had metastatic cancer on Friday, I’d tell you that you were nuts. I feel fine.
I can be thankful for what I have. No one ever promised me the next moment, or the next. I only have this one, and many good things are in my life.
Focus on others and not yourself only.
Ah, this one is harder. But I will. If I have the opportunity to help someone, I will do it.
Never give up.
Never give up.
NEVER. GIVE. UP.
Even though I am convinced the cancer has eaten me through, I won’t. I won’t give up because God can enact miracles. I do believe in God. I never stopped believing in God, I only gave into the whispering fear of, “What if?” What if He doesn’t exist? What if there’s nothing more after this? And, briefly, what if Christianity is right and I’m going to hell because I believe telling a gay person they’re going to burn forever in a lake of fire is an immoral thing to do?
Everything is suddenly so goddamned real. These thought experiments from fifteen years ago are imminently relevant. If I’m going to die, I need to be right with the universe. It’s not a game anymore. It’s not a fun argument with someone on the internet, a debate about something that will happen when I’m seventy or eighteen or one hundred fifteen.
I reach out tentatively, trying to feel if God is still there. It’s been so long. Is it fair for me to come running back to Him after ignoring Him for so many years?
But that’s why I left Christianity. Because guilt, shame, and the concept of sin don’t come from God.
He’s still there. He’s not angry that I don’t pray every day or go to church. He’s not disappointed in me. He doesn’t expect me to self-flagellate or throw my life away for Him. I’m here on this planet to live my life.
And He’s there, waiting to receive me in my hour of need.
“God will get me through this,” I whisper, with the smallest measure of peace finally permeating the fog of the past two days. And then, when I feel like I’m going to vomit and the shivers come again, “God will get me through this. God will get me through this. God will get me through this.”
God will get me through this.