Judge not

My cousin’s birthday is tomorrow. She won’t be around to celebrate it, because she died in a car accident in 2001 at the tender age of 25. Her father called my mother today and sobbed on the telephone as he remembered. Even 13 years later, the wounds haven’t healed.

I remember Tammy’s funeral. People wept and talked in hushed tones as expected, but this one felt much different from other memorials. Most were quite obvious in their belief that Tammy didn’t go to heaven. Some were so convinced of this they dared to say it out loud. You see, Tammy was reared in a strict Pentecostal home, and she wasn’t living according to those standards the morning she wrecked on an ice-covered road.

Years later another young person I knew passed away. Like Tammy, they had left the faith of their childhood and weren’t living what you might call a “righteous” life. This time, however, things were much different. The same people who judged Tammy clung to hope that this particular person had gotten right with God in the final moments of their life, and the funeral was filled with admonishments about letting God be the final judge. There’s nothing at all wrong with that line of thought, but I wonder why Tammy was treated so differently?

If God is truly love and if God truly loves us more than we can possibly love each other, why would he cast a young person into Hell before they even have a chance to figure things out? I can’t think of anyone who deserves an eternity of torment, nor can I reason what it would accomplish. Even the worst criminal is given a shot at redemption.

I saw Tammy in a dream a few years ago. She looked lovely, and we walked together for a while as I wept. It was probably just a meaningless creation in my sleeping mind, but I treasure it. I prefer to think of her happy and at peace. I just wish those who call themselves “Christian” would give her the same courtesy.

Happy Birthday, Tammy. I remember your lovely smile and your wonderful sense of humor. I remember the fun we had driving with the windows down and the music turned up loud. I hope I made you feel even half as loved as you always made me feel. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see you again one day. Until then I’ll see you in my dreams.

Dear God

I don’t talk to you much any more. I used to pray quite a bit, but now it just feels like there’s no one listening or I’m being incredibly selfish asking for anything when my life is so blessed. Typically, when I do come to you, it’s to offer a prayer of gratitude for something simple, since those are usually the things that make life so grand.

Still, there are times when I do ask for little favors. Like today when I requested protection for my partner – who had literally been up all night long writing a paper for school and had to drive 25 miles to class and back. I knew he was so tired and the roads were wet from rain, so I wanted to make sure that you realized how much his safety meant to both of us. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to him. The thought is almost more than I can bare.

I’ve lost a lot of my belief in prayer over the years. I remember begging you to make me like everyone else when I was a teenager. It felt like you just ignored my requests, even though it seemed like you would have surely wanted me to change. I remember crying out to you when I was drowning in despair and feeling like you were a million miles away and my pleas were just bouncing off the ceiling.

I’ve been feeling like that quite a bit lately. Not really desperate, but certainly disconnected. It’s hard for me to separate you from all of the ways that the world tries to package you – in little despicable and distorted forms that we call “religion.” I wonder if you ever have a good laugh over the absurdity of it all.

A few weeks ago, a new friend told me a story that has me rethinking this whole prayer thing. Her story was one that might have made me roll my eyes a few years ago, but she told it in such a beautiful way that it just had to be true.

She said she died on the operating table and was clinically dead for fifteen minutes. She described going to heaven and what she saw and how she felt. She said she couldn’t even look at you because you were so bright, but that she felt the most intense love – so intense that when she was told that she needed to return to her still-living husband and daughter, she didn’t want to leave.

As she drifted slowly back down to earth, she noticed little beams of light passing her on their way up to heaven. Some of them were moving fast and some were slow, but they were all rising. She said she suddenly realized that they were prayers… and the fastest moving ones were the prayers of mothers. Despite all my cynicism and doubt about most things spiritual, I believed this story with all my heart.

So, I’m going to start praying more. And I’m going to imagine those prayers as little beams of light slowly rising to where you are. It’s okay if they don’t get there the fastest, because some of those other prayers are much more important, but I’m going to keep the faith that they’re going to arrive eventually, and that you’re going to know how grateful I am for every opportunity to communicate with you.

Until next time,
Brian

Comes The Dawn

Comes The Dawn
By Veronica A. Shoffstall

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn
That kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child

And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every goodbye you learn.

Outspoken outcast

Have you ever voiced an opinion so unpopular that people didn’t even bother to respond?

This morning, a coworker shared a story of someone that he knew being on life-support after hanging himself. The conversation immediately turned to the fact that he had a wife and kids and “how could he do that to them?”

Anyone that has dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts knows that it is not something that you are “doing” to anyone. You are trying to end the pain that is constantly in your head and preventing you from living anyway. You are simply looking for an escape and death seems like it would be a relief.

So, I took the opportunity to tell the evangelicals in the room that he must have been in terrible pain, and that I don’t believe people who commit suicide go to hell, because God realizes the torment that they are in.

No one said a word. One got up and left the office and the other two just turned around and went back to work.

That caused me to wonder why it seems like I’m always coming down on the opposite side of an issue from most of the people that I live and work around. People look at me like I’m crazy because I support gay marriage, believe the Bible can’t always be taken literally, and find Rosie O’Donnell entertaining.

While most people are turned off by the controversial, I am attracted. I’m beginning to like it when someone challenges my beliefs and makes me think about something from a whole new perspective, which is why I can’t understand the reactions of others. Maybe I’m just strange; I don’t know.

I remember people reacting in a heated manner to my lack of support for the Iraq invasion, but time has proven me right. Perhaps time will be on my side on some of these other issues, too, but things might be a bit easier if I just kept my beliefs to myself.