Have you ever had a gourmet chocolate that you couldn’t wait to bite into? You just knew it was going to be amazing. The outside was beautiful, a dark deep color with just the right drizzle, and you could tell the inside was going to be delicious. Only, once you bit into it, you find it’s all wrong and the one you really hate? I think that was my life for a long time. My outside was all pretty and seemed right, but my heart and soul were empty.
Let me back up and explain. I was raised in a small town in a family that believed in God, but didn’t practice any type of religion. I was taught not to offend, not to question other beliefs and just sort of ride through life. My grandmother encouraged me to attend church and would bring me with her when she was in town. I rarely went to church, but I felt strongly God was real and loved me.
Erik and I married shortly after high school and one of our first priorities was to find a church. We found a wonderful. HUGE church that welcomed us and gave us a lot of rules and expectations. I started working with around thirty two year olds, and Erik worked with the college aged adults. It was fun, and we learned a ton about the Bible, by reading it and learning its history. Living it was encouraged, but not really a focus.
Erik quickly moved up the military ranks, and with the promotions came a lot of moves. We moved about every two years, and with each move, we’d need to find a new church. Even within one denomination, we would find multiple views and ideas. Finding the right church was difficult. With each move, we had to visit many churches, sit in on their Bible studies and read their mission and faith statements. Once we found a church we felt we could attend, we then sat through their class that explains how they interpret the Bible possibly be asked questions by the elders or pastor, and then we’d officially become a member of their church. It was a slightly complicated process that would take about a month. I believe we have been members of 14 different churches, visited about a 100 on our spiritual quest for Truth. All along the way, we thought we were on THE path of Christianity. God was always faithful, showed us His love and kept us safe through hurricanes, earthquakes, a tornado and even an ice storm, but I still felt like I was biting into the wrong chocolate.
Somewhere around church seven I started searching for a place for me to serve in the church. I had taught kids, set up women’s ministries, outreach programs, and ran VBS, but I was really searching for my purpose. It seemed the more I searched the more road blocks I found. I cannot say if the road blocks were from God, or just imposed by man, but I was getting frustrated and in need of direction. My frustration only grew as I became more disillusioned with the church services. Every Sunday it was all I could do to stay focused, to listen all the way through the 45 minute sermon, and to try to sing the songs that were slower than a funeral march. I was growing weary and had no idea how to fix it.
Erik retired from the military in 2005. We settled in Hillsboro, and for the next few years, Erik attended college to become a minister. We attended a church, but the pastor decided to leave and the members chose to close the church. We attended a few other churches, some for a year, some for a few months, and then settled at a small church. The people were amazing, the service ok at first, but after a year or two, it was excruciating. We spent the morning Bible study arguing over our interpretations, and then make excuses why we couldn’t go and help out a charity. I started finding reasons not to attend. I would doodle to stay awake. There had to be more! Occasionally, I would try another church, but it was the same, just with different issues. I was lost and drowning, and I saw nowhere to swim to safety. I was without answers, empty hearted and yearning for more.
I’m not exactly sure why or what prompted Erik, but he asked me to listen to some podcasts from Ancient Faith Radio. They were very thought provoking, and I thought this sounded like what I was looking for, but years of being let down made me hesitant. I didn’t exactly agree with it all, but the speaker made some good points. It had been a long time since I had really listened to something attentively, and it felt good.
At Christmas, Erik asked if I would like to attend the Nativity Service at St. John’s. I figured it would be interesting. In reality, I had nothing to lose. I knew what the Protestant world offered, and it was lacking. We showed up about thirty minutes before everyone else. Father Theodore lit Wade’s candle and asked him to light the others. We didn’t understand what was going on. We couldn’t keep track of where we were in the book, but it was beautiful and intriguing. The services I was used to lasted only about an hour, so I was a little surprised I couldn’t stand through the entire service. I was fidgety and a little disappointed with myself. It wasn’t until we returned home that I realized I had just experienced a three hour service!
I was willing to try it on a Sunday, and I found it to be heartwarming and meaningful. I was hesitate of the reverence given to the Theotokos, but everyone was so kind and helpful. The parishioners answered my questions patiently and with such kindness and love, and I had a lot of questions. In the beginning, I was frustrated, because no one really gave me a set standard. I was looking for rules, for definite rights and wrongs, and I wasn’t finding it… at least not in the way I was looking for it. Now, I realize there are guidelines, but these are applied in pastoral ways that emphasize relationship over rules.
I sat through Bible study and began to learn that many interpretations I had been taught that didn’t make sense now made sense as taught by the Orthodox Church, and many other teachings I had received were given deeper meaning. Things were becoming clearer, and I was becoming more alive. Orthodoxy made sense; it answered questions that I had had for years. Where I belonged was becoming clearer. For the first time, in a long time, I was looking forward to church. I had found my home. It only took about another month for Erik to also be ready to leave our old church and begin a new path together.
That was over a year ago. The journey here at St. John’s has been amazing. It’s hard to describe the changes, the love and the reverence I feel now. I know the journey is just beginning, but I’m excited at the prospect of a closer relationship with God. I feel as if I finally found the real thing- a way to worship and grow closer to God. I’m excited to attend church and learn more. A few friends have chosen to forget us, and some family members are less than excited, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love the Orthodox Faith. I love my life, my outlook and the blessings I feel every day. Life is good.