Jen's Jesus Journey

Unfamiliar Terrain

Growing up going to elementary school during the Cold War, I was intrigued by stories of life in the Soviet Union. I longed for children in the USSR to be free from the tyranny and lies that held them bondage as I understood things in my child’s mind. I now feel as though I spent so much of my life in bondage while a Christian because I was deceived in believing I had a superior understanding of Christ and the scripture. I held myself completely apart from all things mainstream Christian. When I look back at how the Lord began to work in my situation to get some Christian teachings to me that were outside of our group, it is as astounding a feat to me as when people used to smuggle bibles and cassette teachings into the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

I still mostly feel like a kid in a candy store. I wonder to myself sometimes – How long has all this been going on that I haven’t been aware of? The first several years, I felt so completely foreign in churches, struggling to understand their language and I felt like everyone knew things I didn’t. I was excited to explore new church communities, yet I also felt strange and awkward in all these church cultures.

I grew up in small home churches. Not because we couldn’t afford a

Celebrating a holiday meal with my home fellowship.

building, but because we believed that was the direction God took the first century church, more for intimacy and closeness than economical straits of the early church. When I left the group I grew up in, I was 39 years old and I went to a church that came out of the same group and had a similar structure. The couple who coordinated the home church I began attending in the autumn of 2012 also visited a large, local mega-church. As we grew closer, I began to visit there with them sometimes. Our usual meeting night was Thursday, so Sunday was open for church services.

My first visit there I encountered the mass produced communion cups or “wafer and juice set.” In our living room churches, there was a good loaf of maybe sourdough and I hoped they didn’t tear off too large a chunk for me to dry chew and swallow before the wine/juice.  Sometimes there were mini plastic shots with grape juice, and other times a beautiful, heavy goblet, that coordinators carried with a linen napkin and an incredible skill to wipe the lip where we sipped, turn, offer the wine, wipe, turn. It was a thing a beauty I tell you the way some of them worked the wine, the napkin and the turn. Drinking from the same glass maybe also tested our faith in the healing powers of communion!!

I remember sweet Denny showing me how to work the tabs on the communion cups to get both the wafer and juice seal off. Man, the first time I tasted one of those crazy little wafers was bizarre! I still am not entirely convinced they aren’t actually some Styrofoam derivative!! That family loved me so well, with such a pure love of God that had been missing from my life for many years. Their love healed me in so many ways that I still can’t understand, and I was so against mainstream churches that I needed their example to give me “permission” to explore this other world.

At the end of the service that church would offer prayer based on the topic of the teaching. For example if they were teaching about trust, they might say something like, “Those of you who feel you are being called to step out in greater trust, please come down so we can pray for you.” That’s a really huge generalization of something they might say, but I can’t remember a better example right now. I just remember that the invitation for prayer that first service I attended seemed to be a call that went into the innermost parts of my soul and I wanted so desperately to go for that prayer, but we were in the balcony and I felt so awkward for my friends to see me go for this prayer. I knew it was crazy to feel so self-conscious, but I still did.

I was super happy that the next time we attended we sat on the ground floor so that I could actually access the prayer without too much awkwardness. Later the husband commented on me going for prayer. I don’t know that he actually called me brave for going down for prayer,  but if it wasn’t that word, it was an idea similar to that. I was thinking, gosh, he doesn’t know how desperately I wanted it the time before. I even wondered if there was something a little wrong with me that every invitation for prayer, whatever the perimeters for the invitation, that it felt like such a burning need in my life. But looking back, I did have a huge amount of need.

Still, this journey has also felt lonely and difficult many times. Several years into my new life, I wept bitterly when I came to a point of feeling like not only had I left the church I grew up in, but then I kept going.  I kept going further out into more and more terrain and I felt ruined to ever go back to anything resembling the teachings or culture of my upbringing. At that point a couple years ago, I thought of the Spanish conquistador Cortes who famously burned his boats so that his men did not have the option to turn back. I felt like I had twice burned my boats and there was no way back if I should ever want it. And I felt angry at God. I told him he had ruined me for going back to familiar terrain.

I realize now that’s not entirely or necessarily true. It’s too soon to know where my future will lead, and at least now I can relax enough to know not everyone else is in on a secret that I don’t know. I also realize now that eventually even Cortes returned home, so maybe there is a way back somewhere down the road should I want to take it.

When I speak to people in my job with thick accents obviously from other lands, I wonder, why did they leave? Why have they come so far from their point of origin to here? I feel particularly fascinated by it in the past months. I want to know their stories, I want to know why they have traded the familiar for the unfamiliar. I know there are many reasons for people to transplant. And I know when the wanderlust struck me I was so bored and so tired of where I was and so hungry to be anywhere but there.

But then there are seasons, and while I don’t want to go back, I’m not entirely ready to make any huge leaps forward. Granted, there’s still so much to explore in the new terrain of my life. I’ve accepted that I am a seeker and that God has a purpose and a place in his plan for seekers even when we’ve found Jesus.  Being a seeker has led me to visit and explore many different Christian cultures and find the beauty of God in all of them. I don’t believe everyone is called to do that, and sometimes I do tire of the varying cultures, but I embrace the Jesus I see in all these places from the extremely charismatic to the cathedral atmosphere of “High Church.” I find the beauty of our Lord in all these places and I feel his smile in the wonder of it all.

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