I quickly married after high school as I didn’t want the world to end before I had a husband and children. (The end times and the rapture were a constant teaching staple during my Pentecostal Christian high school days.)
As a matter of fact, I was pregnant at my wedding and had just turned 19 years old. We were both converts from mainline denominational church settings and knew that sex before marriage was wrong. It was even more wrong to “plan” to have sex, therefore, no contraception was used.
After my daughter was born, I went to college to receive an associate’s degree in nursing and became an R.N., but not before baby number two was born. I was fortunate that my husband was nine years my senior and had already been to college and had his own business. After baby number three, at age twenty-seven, I worked part-time at a nursing home for nuns which showed me how communal living can affect end-of-life happiness in a positive way. After baby number four, I chose not to go back to work. Instead, I did some homeschooling for one or the other of my boys if they were struggling in school and helped my husband with his business, discovering along the way that I was very systems orientated and enjoyed small business, and teaching for that matter.
Baby number four was a turning point in my life. She was my first baby to be born at home, with a midwife. I had wanted to do this with the others but did not have the resolve until this baby. It was a spiritual experience, to go through natural labor in the comfort and security of my home without wires and probes and interruption. There was prayer and strength gained from scripture. There was a beauty and rhythm to the crashing waves of labor and the peaceful undertow between contractions that took me to another world. After the birth of number four, we began to pass spiritually into a new place. We left the Evangelical, Pentecostal church we attended and found a small start-up church in which we became part of the leadership.
At House of Prayer, we felt we were seeing things from a better perspective, one that was free of the authoritative rules and constraints inherent in a hierarchical church setting. Little did we know that our church days were numbered. What would happen next would shake us to our core and coincide with a leave of absence from church, to a quiet, loner style family life for the next fourteen years.
After about a year at House of Prayer, my husband and I began to teach occasionally on Sunday. We began to notice that the divine presence and anointing of the pastor had taken leave and his ego had taken over. It wasn’t long before House of Prayer began to crumble. The church was small and disbanded easily enough. I was pregnant with our fifth baby. It was during those final days of meeting as a church that the baby stopped moving. It was my eighth month of pregnancy.
I asked God to send his light to the baby in my womb. Clearly, He showed me in a prayer vision that He would not be doing that but He showed me a vision of light pouring down upon me at a future time when I would understand all things.
We buried his ashes in our backyard on March 24, 1996, and held a memorial service at our home. We named him Nolan Justus, and it was Nolan that showed me God is love and everyone has a piece of that love inside them. Everyone who knew us and didn’t know us poured out their love upon us during that time. I was carried on a cushion of love and grace for many months following.
My worldview changed. No longer could I believe that I was one of a select privileged persons going to heaven by right of my faith. The love Nolan had generated in so many people of all faiths (and lack of faith) changed me forever. I lost my religious self-righteousness.
Nolan was a spiritual gift to us. His umbilical cord was found to be in a true knot at birth. Later, a friend associated this to be a sign that meant “not in the flesh.” I did not take offense at this. Many people came forward during that time following Nolan’s birth with profound spiritual insights. It felt that though he was gone, there was only a thin veil that separated our world from his.
We tried to find a church after the House of Prayer collapse and visited many. But eventually we stopped trying and just enjoyed the extra time a lazy Sunday morning offered. The years passed quickly. In January 1999, I was visiting two Christian women friends at one of their homes in New Mexico. It was a fully overcast day and it was going to snow later in the day, a rare occurrence in that town near the Texas border.
I was praying one morning because I realized I was pregnant. “Why God? Why has this happened to me?” My youngest was nearly five years old. I was finally free to move on to the next phase of my life and, perhaps, career. I remember looking out the window at the dull, gray sky when a small place in the clouds parted and the sun shone directly on me. I recalled the prayer vision I had after Nolan died and a very clear connection between light and life was established in me. Joelle Eleanor, whose name was carefully chosen to have the meaning of “light” in it, was born on September 22. In numerology, the number 22 is the number of light. I did not plan that, nor did I look it up until afterwards.
After Joelle was born, my husband and I began to focus more on our house painting business and less on spiritual matters. We built a small empire that we watched collapse piece by piece as the housing market continued its death spiral from 2006 to the present.
This past year, my husband and I began attending church again. My married daughter and grandchildren live near us, and they chose a Lutheran church that has a non-denominational feel. It is a very large, hierarchical church. We decided to attend with them out of a desire to engage in community and to connect as a family. Part of me enjoys the music and the teachings and gains much from them. Another part of me is in my own world of spirituality that is not exactly mirrored in this church, but it’s not too far off either.
In conclusion, I’m at a place where I’m not threatened by the fact that I’m not sure what kind of Christian I am — liberal, conservative or something in the middle. I cannot bring someone a gospel of “blessings” based on “faith.” I can’t tell them that God will bless them with health or wealth. I can tell them that God is available in the present tense to hold and love us. He is there to wipe away our tears, and if we sit with Him, there is joy unspeakable that comes from completely and utterly not being judged for who we are in the flesh. There is forgiveness of sins and reconciliation, grace and healing.
The hard part is that I cannot be in both realms, both sides of the veil at the same time. I may have attributes of love and light and God in me, but I also have the opposites: evil, darkness and death. Therefore, I’m going to make mistakes and hurt myself and others along the way. All I can do is get refreshed by spending time with God and making amends for what I’ve done wrong to the people in my life. And that fits with my faith, my worldview, and my gospel. That is: Christ in me, the hope of glory (Colossians1:27).
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