I was raised a southern-Missouri Christian. In fact, I didn’t realize that there was any other way of looking at the world until, in the fifth grade, we were asked to write a paper on a religion other than our own. Heck, I thought that First Baptist and Second Baptist were different religions. Turns out that wasn’t far from the truth, but that’s another topic.
Challenging my religious orientation didn’t occur to me until my late teens and I began to struggle with the concept of a loving God that could take friends and cause heartache. For more than ten years I fought with God, with Jesus, and with the whole idea that he, she, it… whatever, cared at all about me. The strange thing is, I never once doubted God’s presence, only the intention.
Through that time of trial, I found one reason after another to argue with Jesus. The thing that I’m blown away by now is that I had no trouble doing it. My upbringing instilled an awe and reverence for God that I still have, but Jesus was far more personal. With Jesus, I could call him out, challenge him with my trouble and actually feel (sometimes hear) his reply. His answers were not typically the gentle cooings you would feature from the man holding the sheep in all of the pictures. More often than not, my questions and arguments resulted in answers that brought me down to earth, yet farther from this world. They weren’t my answers because I usually didn’t like them, but still, they were the right way to go.
The bottom-line, for the purpose of this post, is that there was a personal presence. There was a brother, a friend, a confidant and mentor. Someone to challenge my angst and comfort me when I broke. For me, Jesus is as real as the noon day sun. Always present, often taken for granted, but understood. That understanding wanes from time to time until a day like today.
My mom, a nurse by training, has spent the better part of a year giving home-care to an elderly woman named Gloria. Our entire family has accepted her as a pseudo-grandma and we love her dearly. Occasionally mom gets a break from another caring woman named Norma, but for the most part, mom is Gloria’s constant companion.
For the past month, Gloria’s illness, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) has taken her from a frail woman, struggling to breath, to an unresponsive shell. Her vibrant and mischievous personality dimmed to a flicker. For the purpose of this post, you need to know that Gloria is both a good, loving person and a Christian. I point that out because I don’t believe that one makes you the other. A topic for yet another time.
This morning, while both mom and Norma sat beside her bed, Gloria died. No, that’s not accurate. Gloria didn’t die, she left.
For the last two days she had not responded to anything. Breathing labored and shallow. No interaction with anyone around her. By all accounts it was only a matter of time. During the moments before her final breath, however, she opened her eyes and smiled.
With her eyes firmly focused ahead of her, she began to softly talk and her expression lightened. After a few moments of this, her expression changed slightly and with a voice every parent can understand she said, “Momma?”
Awe struck, mom and Norma watched as the focus of her eyes drew nearer. At that moment, in what appeared to be total lucidity, Gloria turned her head to look straight at the two of them and said, “I love you,” and closed her eyes. Gloria had left and I have zero doubt what was going on during those last few moments. She recognized the presence of Jesus as he explained to her what was going on. As her beautiful reality set it and her spirit adjusted to its new frequency, she recognized her mother’s spirit and knew it was time to go. With a final confirmation to those that were not going with her, she left.
I’ve heard countless arguments/debates between theists and atheists about what each claims to believe and I’ve benefited and grown from the experiences. Honestly, I’m not sure why it is always a fight. The God I believe in doesn’t compel me to tell them they are wrong and I am right. The Jesus I hang my life on tells me, “Love them all. Be good to them all and respect those that deserve to be respected. This thing called Christianity though… that’s between you and me. This is our relationship and they deserve the chance to decide if they want it too.”
Gloria had her own personal relationship and the story of her death reinforces that for me. Not because of heaven and hell, I’m not sure that I even understand all of that myself. I don’t think about the doctrine of sin, fire and brimstone, or even redemption. My thoughts won’t leave the picture of a child, comforted by Christ, reunited with her mother. The strong arm and gentle grip of a life-long friend, that lifted her from that death bed and into the arms of love.
To the fellow believers reading this, rejoice! To those that are unsure, search your heart and feed your mind. Make an informed decision. To the atheist, intellectually firm in your convictions, I won’t be one to try and sway you. Please know that I will never spend time trying to convince you that God, and my Jesus, are real. Please also understand, you should never waste your time trying to convince me that they aren’t.
Be your best,