Out of Hopelessness & Into the Light

(from trauma & desperation & drugs to the forgiveness of Christ)

 

Sandy B

March 2007

 

I used to believe that this world was hell. When I looked around, I saw injustice, hypocrisy, pointlessness, greed, futility, liars, cheaters, betrayers, cruelty...the gamut. My conclusion, spoken or not, was, “If there is a God, he is sadistic, and I want no part of him.” Another conclusion was, “This world is abandoned by God, if there is one, and is itself hell.”

I lived in this perception for a long time. It suited me. I got to remain angry and self-righteous, and I gave myself permission—though I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time—to be part of the problem. If this was a dead-end world, I could be a dead-end person. I didn’t have to rise to any occasion or do anything to make a change. I could just hate what I saw, including myself, and everything could be copacetic. Moreover, there was within me a blindness to my own part in the woes of this world. That is, I could plainly see that others were unjust, hypocritical, greedy, dishonest, deceitful, cruel, and so forth, but I was unwilling to inspect my own life to learn just where and how I was exactly like all others I condemned. I gave myself a special-exception clause—subconsciously believing that because I had been wronged, this made the wrongs I myself committed justifiable. That is, if you had only endured what I had endured, you’d be this way as a result, too. Rarely taking into consideration that you, probably, were wronged in one way or another as well. And never taking these thoughts to their logical conclusion, which is a simple one: There is something inherently wrong about every member of the human race. The basic and simple fact of Original Sin had not occurred to me as a viable—and utterly reasonable—prospect.

One thing I know now—and it was an I-could-have-had-a-V8 moment when I realized it—is that in hell there are no more choices. That is, in this world, people can still decide to do something different, to think something different, to be something different, and to believe something different. In hell, the choice has been made final; there are no longer options. But I could only see this once I began realizing that I did have choices, and that my choices—when I made different ones from what I normally always chose—changed my life. At first, the choices didn’t seem to bring about radical change, but they did change something.

I started making different choices when I got into psychotherapy in the mid-Nineties, when I was about 27. I was a messed-up, contorted individual at that point—a (newly sober) drunkard, a petty criminal, a violent person who got into fights...just a wreck. And my worldview was dark and dim. Moreover, I delighted in this. I very much enjoyed being the dark one, the hopeless one, the grim one, the arch, sarcastic, and sardonic little person I was. It was fun. Well, while I had an audience it was fun. When I found myself alone, I was miserable. I suffered severe clinical depression. Once, I barely got out of bed for four months. I used to cut myself, even. Always bruised and bleeding for one reason or another. But while I was getting some help and was beginning to change my life, I was still very loud and opinionated, still very angry, still in a rage at God, if he existed.

What happened in the mid-Nineties to bring this about was that I sobered up. I stayed sober for five years and ten months, during which time I did a lot of searching. Mostly I thought my past was my problem. That is, with the booze and drugs removed, all the stuff that had been previously buried started surfacing. I had a difficult childhood—I was beaten, molested, unjustly accused, obsessively scrutinized and judged but rarely paid real attention to, chronically lied to, and so forth. I began sorting through all of these things with the help of therapists and doctors and newfound friends. It was hard, but something kept me at it.

I learned to do what is known as setting boundaries. For example, I detested my father’s treating me like his property, and so one day I stopped talking to him, which silence lasted five years. I made a choice—and things improved. My dad didn’t change, but my life did, since I no longer permitted my dad to be in my life.

I am 38 now. I currently live in Iowa City, Iowa. I’m engaged to be married, but have never been married yet. I went to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in poetry writing at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which I attended from 1990 to 1992. I returned here in 2001 after the Writers’ Workshop awarded me a postgraduate fellowship. I came back to the Midwest from Northampton, Massachusetts, where I had a nice little job as a proofreader/copy editor for a small publishing company and where I lived with a boyfriend. Before that, I lived in Houston, Texas, where I was working on a Ph.D. at the University of Houston’s creative writing program. I didn’t finish there for numerous reasons, but the main one is that my life seemed to crash when I sobered up in 1995.

So, all of what I’m talking about now—the beginnings of therapy and sobriety—took place in Houston. I felt awful and thought it unjust that I was struck by severe depression and other mental-health problems after I removed alcohol and drugs from my life, but something kept me going despite this sense of injustice I held. I entered into a search, though I didn’t know what I was searching for. My therapist there suggested I get involved in a therapy-based women’s spirituality group, which I did, although the thought of it turned my stomach. Not only did I have little use for God, I had little use for other women. Learning to develop real friendships with other women was interesting and difficult. It has ultimately proved to be a great thing, but you couldn’t have convinced me of it at the time.

And still, whatever my hesitations, I was willing to take suggestions from my therapist, because she seemed to know what she was doing, and she had indeed been helping me a lot on an individual basis.

Also during this period, I read a lot on all types of spiritual paths. I even went to a shaman. I checked out all sorts of stuff, including Zen, astral projection, Taoism, trying to contact the spirit world, etc. I started becoming very interested in spiritual things.

Yet, at this point, you could take Christianity and shove it.

Seriously. That was the one thing I was unwilling to look at as an option. I was raised in a Catholic family, and yet the people who raised me were often liars, cheaters, child abusers, hypocrites. My dad was a lector at our church, and he would sometimes beat my brother and me (I have two brothers, but the other one seemed better at escaping notice) before church because we didn’t want to go. Then I’d be sitting in the front pew, watching my dad on the altar reading from the Scriptures, and somewhere in my little mind I made the connection: “People who claim to serve God are the lying-est, evilest, most awful people I have ever had the displeasure of knowing in this world.” I mean, how could I not make this connection? Plus, the priests at my church seemed to be ineffective and standoffish, and one was a drunkard; the nuns seemed to be unkind and vain; and some of the brothers appeared to be quite harsh and judgmental, seeming to take great pleasure in ridiculing some of my fellow Sunday-school students’ homework. You could just have all of it, because I wanted no part. None. Zero. Take your Christianity wherever your little heart desired—just get it off of me.

But in any event, in Houston in the mid-Nineties, I felt my spirit waking up. It had been dormant. I started to be able to feel the world, to feel my life. Whereas I used to walk through the world liquored up and numb, I started to be able to have real emotions, to feel the impact of things without so much armor surrounding my heart. Over time, the more I searched, and the more I healed, I began to feel alive and awake—a person who had agency instead of a person imprisoned by my own thoughts, my own dark mind, and the thoughts and actions of other people.

As I got better, and as I cleared up a lot of the wreckage of my past, and as I began to function more in the world, I became a productive member of society, as it’s so called. I had a good relationship with a man (the first good relationship I’d ever been in); I had women friends; I was still sober; I exercised a lot; I had hobbies; I wasn’t angry anymore. And I had a nice, cozy little job that offered on-site oil changes, massage, and other such conveniences; had gotten out of debt; and had saved some money. My bills were paid; I was responsible; people could rely on me to follow through. “Great,” I thought, in one way or another: “This is living.”

Except that something began to corrode. I felt, after a time, “Well, this is what everyone has been telling me I wanted, and this is what everyone has been saying will make my life complete, but yet here I am in it, and there’s something missing.” I was still interested in spiritual things, still seeking God, in a way, though unwilling to get in touch with him. I didn’t know what it meant to develop a relationship with God. I just assumed he was sort of out there somewhere, but I didn’t know much about him, and I didn’t think about him too much either. I still just sort of thought about myself and other people: about morals, about ethics, about the life of the mind, about personal fulfillment or “self-actualization.” At this point, I was into yoga and some meditation. I halfway believed in reincarnation, figuring that we don’t really get the answers to life until we go around again and again and again, reborn until we are perfected, or something. The Buddhist concept of reaching Nirvana. With some Hinduism and Taoism sprinkled in. I just figured that religion was a one-thing-is-as-good-as-the-other smorgasbord, and I got to pick and choose what I liked and leave the rest. While there appeared to be some common spiritual principles and common spiritual goals among these religions and practices, I didn’t worry too much about the finer points of theology and where these religions and practices were actually radically different from one another. Nor was I rigorous enough, at that point, to inspect the foundations of these religions and practices, to discern upon what they were built and whether there was any integrity to the foundations. It didn’t bother me too much, really. Things were working out for me, and I definitely believed now—since I had the evidence in my own life—that people could change from the inside out, and so I had some hope. The world didn’t look so awful anymore. I felt free to make choices, free to change my life if I so desired. I was no longer bound by other people’s thoughts about me or by what other people thought I should do. I had enjoyed a measure of liberation from such worldly stuff…and so, by necessity, I believed that one could, indeed, become liberated from worldly concerns.

I was living in moral relativism—though I didn’t know the term for it at the time—more concerned with discerning what is true for some people, given their culture, education, ancestry, and understanding, instead of seeking to know what is true for all people, everywhere, period. I just haphazardly assumed that there was no absolute truth in the world, and therefore—of course—no absolute truth in any one faith system. It was all good, if you asked me—provided, of course, one practiced the spiritual principles and didn’t, like, go to war over any of them.

I failed to fully take stock of the fact—no matter how vaguely I believed that one could “rise above the world”—that I was in, and of, the world. And it hadn’t yet occurred to me that I was cool with whatever spiritual theories I had so long as things were working out for me. That is, I thought I had found the solution to life’s problems—because my life was getting “solved.” I started feeling pretty secure in it all.

Except for a few things. One was that I really didn’t know how to help others who were struggling. Another is that when I attempted to pass on the knowledge and experience of what I did to help myself, I didn’t exactly know what to say. I figured, “Wow, it was so hard for me that I’d hate to suggest that YOU do it, because you’ll be in for a world of hurt that there’s no guarantee of getting out of.” In other words, however I got out of the world of hurt—well, I was fairly relentless in my desire to get out and rigorous in my pursuits to get out. I did so very much in an effort to get (what I thought was) free. Yoga, meditation, Reiki, shamans, biofeedback, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, body work, tons of reading, tons of asking around, listening to tapes of New Age “spiritualists,” doing what is known as “inner child” work…all this and more. I had no idea on earth how I could conscionably encourage another person to roll up their sleeves and go to it like I had, though, because I wasn’t sure how it all worked out for me anyway; plus, I could make no promises. I could make no promises that another person who perhaps wasn’t as dogged as I was would come out on the other side of things. I thought that I did it because I had grit, tenacity, and uncommon strength, but I wasn’t sure that others had these qualities. And I certainly didn’t want to encourage anyone to go through what I went through without a guide less capable than myself. I had been fortunate, I thought, to run into what I had run into…but what if others didn’t run into the same opportunities, the same types of helpful people, the same path? Wouldn’t I be responsible, then, for potentially ruining their lives? Wouldn’t I be opening up the possibility that they would just fall deeper into despair? What if their luck was different than mine, and they crashed into depression and other such difficulties, never again to rise from the abyss? I did not want this on my head. And so I sort of withdrew from people in this regard. I vaguely encouraged them to seek some things, but I wasn’t going to tell them the whole story, because I couldn’t promise that their results would be like mine, and I also wasn’t going to commit to being there for them for the five or six years it took to start seeing some positive changes in their lives.

Toward the end of my time in Houston, my best friend in the world decided to become a Catholic. I almost fell out of the window when I heard. This friend was (and is) hilarious, incredibly talented, intelligent, and delightful. He and I had been out of touch for a few years, he in New York City and I in Houston, and when we got back into touch, everything had changed. He was in love with a Catholic woman from the Dominican Republic, and he had decided to convert to the religion. My jaw dropped. I felt betrayed. I was like, “You crazy son of a b----. Didn’t you HEAR what I have been telling you all these years about Christians, especially Catholics?” I felt on some level that it was a personal attack—that my best friend on earth could join forces with the very people I felt had destroyed my life.

I just couldn’t believe it or accept it for the life of me. I thought my friend had lost his mind. I also thought that he was going to very extreme and ridiculous lengths to have sex with the woman he wanted to marry, who was a virgin until their wedding night. I thought my friend, Geoff, had entered the Land of the Insane, and that there would be no reaching him anymore.

I am not a Catholic today. I don’t know how to describe myself, as far as sects and denominations go, but there are doctrines the Roman Catholic Church espouses that I don’t agree with (just for example, Purgatory and Limbo are not Scriptural, and nowhere in the New Testament does it suggest intercessory prayer through dead human beings, no matter how holy), and so I don’t belong to it.

But anyway. Geoff and I remained friends, although I kept him at arm’s length. He had become sort of a space alien, I thought, but it worked out just fine between us as friends so long as we didn’t talk too much about his choice to be a Catholic. It helped that some of our mutual friends thought he had flipped his lid too. I still loved him, but I didn’t want any part of this Jesus stuff. So, I stayed in a secular friendship with a religious man.

A couple of years later I began going to some services and a weekly discussion group at a United Church of Christ, mostly because my therapist from Houston (I was now living in Northampton, Massachusetts) suggested when I called her, asking what kind of church I might look for, that I find a “unity church” to check out, and the closest I could find in the phone book was a “united church.” I had no idea what I was doing. But this was the period of time I described a little earlier when I felt that I had achieved a measure of success and was enjoying some freedom but still felt that something vital was missing.

(This is where I part ways, theologically speaking, with my former psychotherapist. That is, the Unity Church, I know now, is not Biblical. I am certain that my former therapist had good intentions; I am grateful for her assistance and guidance in my life; and I am also grateful that I have been given the gift of discernment. The woman was wonderful in so very many ways, and I love her, but I thank God I could find no Unity Church that night I combed through the yellow pages seeking one.)

At the UCC, I became friends with the ministers and some of the deacons and the more intellectual parishioners. One of the ministers was a lesbian, which I found very weird and interesting. This was a Christian church, after all. So, I figured that the church was progressive, or open-minded, or whatever…and I was all about political correctness in the mid-1990s anyway, so it was all good.

When it came time for me to become a true member of that church, I hesitated. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I’ve been interested in learning about Christian theology, and I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know the ministers and some other people here, discussing politics and whatnot, but I don’t believe that Christ is God. WHAT AM I DOING?”

Literally at the last minute I pulled out of the new-member ceremony.

Good for me. At least I still had my wits about me to know that the one crucial component of being a member of this church of Christ was belief in Christ’s divinity, which I emphatically did not have. I thought Christ was wise, way ahead of his time, complexly interesting…but definitely not God. Christ, whatever he was while he lived, was now dead.

Around this time, my friend Geoff was urging me to read certain books, and he even sent me a Bible. I thumbed through it here and there but had little interest in it. I was interested in the intellectually intriguing bits about the theology, but I was bored by the whole stupid story. I thought the thing had some spiritual truth in it but was essentially fiction—historical fiction, if you will. How could it not be? I mean, you want me to believe in Satan and resurrection? Please, that’s such four-year-old hocus-pocus. Give me a break. Intelligent people don’t believe in devils and eternal life. Sheesh.

Somewhere around this point, I had decided that it would be a good idea to start drinking again. I don’t know why—but I did it. In late 2000, I drank a few glasses of wine. Nothing bad happened, so a number of days later I did it again.

The man I was with at this time was horrified. He had seen me in active alcoholism years before, and knew where I was headed. I assured him, essentially: “No, that was in the past, when I was angry, couldn’t control myself, and didn’t know how to live. It’s different today. Today, I have self-control; today, I have some degree of enlightenment. Stop your worrying.”

But I began to crave alcohol more and more, more and more often. I started trying to figure out ways I could drink and not get caught. Then I figured out the simplest way, on the day I got a letter—completely out of the blue—from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop offering me a postgraduate fellowship. I decided to move back to Iowa City. I didn’t have to be in Iowa to get the checks (it was a no-strings-attached, money-to-write fellowship), but I looked at it as an open invitation to flee my life, though I could not have verbalized this at the time. I mean, I effectively convinced myself and others that I was just going to spend three months in Iowa City, and then return to my job.

So, I moved. Left a six-year relationship (which, to be fair, had ended a few months prior, though we were still living in the same residence). Left that job. Left my cozy, successful situation.

Found myself in Iowa City, FREE AT LAST. I had done a lot of good drinking in this town in the early Nineties, and I was looking forward to doing more. I immediately made a whole host of friends. Plus, I had a lot of cash, having saved up, and I was getting these money-for-free checks from the University of Iowa every month. I HAD ARRIVED. This is what life was supposed to be, right? All sorts of ease and blessings raining down upon me.

I also immediately hooked up with my old connections and started smoking massive amounts of marijuana. Eventually a partner and I went into growing it.

With nary a snap of the finger, I was back in. Surrounded by intelligent, talented people who thought the world of me—and especially since I had this special status of getting a fellowship that only a handful of graduates of the poetry-writing workshop had gotten before. So many friends, such a great social life, so much money, so much cachet. I loved it.

And I began turning into that prideful, arrogant, self-adoring jackass I thought I had gotten rid of. My heart and mind started darkening again, imperceptibly. I started playing with other people’s lives again, not caring if I was treating them fairly, ethically, and morally. I slipped so easily right back into, “I can do whatever I want whenever I want to whomever I want however I want. And I can get away with it, because most everybody wants to be my friend.”

There were a number of fringe-dwelling influences in my life at this point who were afraid for me. They knew where I would end up, even though I did not. “Please, Sandy, go back to A.A.,” for example. This was from my ex-boyfriend in Massachusetts, who, God love him, probably feared that I was going to die. Because when I’m out—meaning drinking and drugging and living in self-will—I am WAY out. I take insane risks. I gamble with my life. I think about ending my life…often.

And my friend Geoff, in New York, with whom I instant-messaged most every weekday, and who pleaded with me to read a couple of books. One was Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Another was Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton. I put these on my list of things to do.

Another was a new friend here, a young Korean-American man who was going to become a Christian preacher—Protestant, I believe. He was also a poet. And since technically I was still at least theoretically interested in God, spirituality, and theology, I talked to him sometimes about such things. He was the one who taught me what free will really meant. That is, he was the first person who made sense to me when describing how God indeed loves us but generally (although there have been exceptions, such as Saul of Tarsus) will not step in to “forcibly” save us without our first asking to be saved.

I did get around to reading Mere Christianity, and there was something in it that struck me. C. S. Lewis said, essentially, that either Jesus was the Son of God or else he was insane. One had to pick. That is, one couldn’t pick him as a “great teacher,” because great teachers—no matter how wise—do not go around saying that the only way to God the Father is through them. Nor do they go around forgiving people’s sins and promising eternal life.

This threw my whole comfortable concept of Christ out the window. I was angry. I liked to think of Christ as all progressive, forward-thinking, generous, and cool. But I had to admit that Lewis was right, once I pondered it. Because those times when I did read the Gospels, I had thoroughly ignored or effectively glossed over these apparently crazy claims of Christ’s. Just put ’em in a box and didn’t think about them. I simply didn’t let them count. But Lewis forced me to look at them. “Wow, he’s right. If this guy wasn’t the Son of God, then he was a madman, a maniac, a dangerous deceiver.”

Boo-hoo. I began losing something.

And I also, weirdly, started gaining something. Somewhere it was working within me that somehow a nearly 2,000-year-old faith system was founded upon either the delusions of a madman or else the Truth. One or the other. There was no longer any in-between ground here. Either billions of Christians now and throughout history have been profoundly misled, or else—and there was no other option—they have been profoundly led. One or the other.

I didn’t make a choice at that time. But I did, somewhere within myself, realize that these were the only two possible options. Because, for example, Buddha didn’t claim to be anything other than a man. Confucius didn’t claim to be anything other than a man. Lao-Tzu didn’t claim to be anything but a man. Mohammed didn’t claim to be anything other than a man. There was something disturbing and freakish about this man Jesus of Nazareth, in that he claimed to be “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Lao-Tzu claimed that there was a way, but he didn’t claim to be it. Siddhārtha Gautama, a.k.a. Buddha, claimed that there was a way, but he didn’t claim to be it. No, there was something unique and deeply bizarre about Jesus of Nazareth, all right.

And I let it go at that.

During this time, I was enjoying conversing with God. For whatever his reasons, God allowed me—drunk and high, no less—to talk with him. I started to get to know him a little bit, although it was more a peer-to-peer relationship. I fancied myself to be good enough to be at God’s right hand, you know. I mean, why not? I was fabulous. God knew it. Of course God was going to let me talk to him when and how I wanted, and on my own terms.

Also, I read that book Orthodoxy eventually…three times. Each time I read it and reported back to my best pal, I said, “Nothing. Didn’t get anything out of it.” He said, “Read it again.” I said, “Okay, Geoffrey. WHATEVER.”

So, yeah, I was apparently talking to God. He was revealing some interesting things to me. He was teaching me a bit about himself. I got to enjoy some contact with him.

And then one day it stopped. Just. Stopped. I couldn’t hear him anymore. I couldn’t establish that connection. I had no idea what was going on, but, true to form, I got angry. How could God deny me what I wanted? How could he just not be there anymore? What had gone wrong? (The unexamined implication here being, What had God done wrong?—not, What had I done wrong?)

I at some point thereafter read Orthodoxy yet again. Something clicked. I don’t know exactly how to express it, because there is so much in that book, but something indeed clicked. Chesterton raised points regarding reason and imagination; Western art and Eastern art; the origin and nature of the cosmos; the strange history of Christendom; the plausibility of miracles; inaccuracies regarding the history of warfare among believers in Jesus Christ’s divinity; the nature of the Dark Ages; certain paradoxes of Christianity; and the state of being of humankind in relation to God Almighty.

I should mention that during this period of time, whenever I tried to access God like I used to, he kept literally averting my vision to the right of him. I sensed he was there denying me, and also redirecting my attention, but I didn’t know what this meant. I just kept trying to get in, and I kept getting diverted to his side, where I found nothing.

One day I was driving in the car, on the way back from Maryland (where my mom lives, and whom I was visiting) to Iowa, drunk and stoned as usual, and I went to try to find God so I could enjoy a conversation with him. Again, the push to the side. I said out loud, “What the f--- is toward the right side of God?”

And this is when the grave clarity came to me.

What the f--- is at the right hand of God is Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son.

If I remembered nothing from my Catholic upbringing, I did remember that Jesus Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father. And it was toward his right that God had kept pushing me.

I started laughing out loud. And I said something to the effect of, “You have got to be kidding. You have sincerely got to be s---- me.” And I started going through all the reasons I had in my head for not buying into the whole Christianity scam.

And yet, as I proceed through my days after this one day, I don’t forget. I don’t actively pursue God anymore, because I don’t want Christ…but I don’t forget that God directed my attention to his Son. It just sits in me for a while. And I do nothing with it.

Around now, I am also reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, and I’m learning more about Christian theology and the lives of certain Christians who converted later in life. I find their stories fascinating, and I find what they say to be intriguing, but I’m not taking any leaps myself.

I’m also still slightly irritated by some experiences I have with some Christians out and about. For example, I was in Alaska, on a two-week organized trip with my mom, and one day we were randomly seated with a family to share a breakfast table with. I knew immediately—before a word had passed between any of us—that these people were Christians. I mentioned this to them, and the wife said, “Praise God.” I asked, “Why?” And she replied, “It’s knowledge you’ve been given from the Holy Spirit.” Upstairs, I had been reading Merton’s No Man Is an Island, though these folks didn’t know that. The husband was talking about where the family was from, and a certain nearby area in Kentucky where I know Merton spent a great deal of time. He mentioned, “Thomas Merton was at a monastery called Gethsemane Abbey there,” and I said something to the effect of, “I know. I was just reading Merton before coming down to breakfast.” We had a pleasant meal with these folks, and yet when I ran into them later on in the vacation, the wife, who at some point had noticed a tattoo I had on my neck, kept staring at it nervously whenever I said hi to her and stopped to talk, and her former invitation that we get together again and speak more about God had evidently been withdrawn, since she never mentioned it and sought instead to “escape” from me, apparently horrified by the fact that I had a tattoo. This bugged me, and I thought, “Ach. Whatever. Christians are so easily offended, so bloody sensitive and closed-minded, and just not my type of people at all if they can’t get past a little bit of ink on a person’s body. Forget ’em. What a bunch of judgmental, depressing, small-minded scaredy-cats. I mean, is this the work of the Holy Spirit too? That we are all open and joyous and in praise of God until we realize that people have ink in their skin—and then we turn tail, shut down, and refuse to be friends anymore? Is that how it goes?” While I’m interested in Christ theoretically, I am chronically disappointed by many of those folks who claim to follow him.

Not too long after Alaska, eventually it happens…what has to happen. I start running out of money. How can I not run out of money when I’m not working, when my yearlong fellowship is coming to an end, and when I’m buying loads of booze and drugs, and sharing with my friends? How can it not end when I am throwing ridiculously lavish martini parties? I cash out on the stock I held in the company I had worked for. That money begins to run out too. I end up spending about $28,000 in 10 months…on absolutely nothing. I find myself one night, drunk as usual, high as usual, nearing the end of my free paychecks, having depleted the bank account I came to Iowa with, no prospects of a job, and starting to see the impossibility of my situation.

So I say the first honest prayer I have ever said to God in my entire life. This is, roughly, what I say: “God, I am still uncertain if you exist. Really, I have no idea. But, look. I see my life heading into the toilet again, and I don’t know how to fix it, and I don’t want to have to fix it. So I’ll make a deal with you. You show me what to do in order to keep my life from being flushed into the sewer, and I promise you—you have my word—that I will do it.”

This was four years and four-odd months ago.

I had previously made a routine doctor’s appointment for the next day. My psychiatrist from Massachusetts said he wasn’t going to prescribe antidepressants for me anymore, that I needed to find a doctor in Iowa City. So I had made an appointment with a new psychiatrist, at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, to get my psych meds from. I had a dream that night, the night I prayed to God, where I broke two fingernails, and I also felt something that I was certain was the devil (in whom I didn’t believe, keep in mind) “forensically” feeling my skull while I slept.

I awoke sensing this weird supernatural imprint on my head. While moderately creeped out, I was used to sensory freakiness, being a person who was chemically altered in one way, shape, or form every minute of every day. And the fingernails—very vivid and seemingly pointless yet disconcerting dream, but whatever.

So I go to the new psychiatrist, and I get the routine questions. My depression is not terrible at this point in my life, but I take the meds as a preventative/maintenance measure. The doc asks about my drinking and drug use, and of course I lie. “Oh, a couple of drinks a day, a few hits off the pipe a week, no biggie.” Never mind that I drank and smoked pot from 11 a.m. to 6 a.m. on a daily basis—along with whatever other substances here and there that I felt like ingesting. I minimize to ridiculous proportions.

But for some reason I found myself face-to-face with someone from Chemical Dependency Services, from another wing of the hospital. He walked in and introduced himself after the psychiatrist had left but had told me to wait on the prescriptions. I said to this guy, “Dude, what are you doing here?” He explained that the doctor wanted him to talk to me. I said, “What for?” And he started explaining the chemical dependency treatment program at the hospital. I said, “No, you’ve got it all wrong. I don’t have a problem.” But he ignored me, or seemed to, and just kept talking about the program. I got nervous and angry. I couldn’t understand how this was happening. I couldn’t understand WHY this was happening. And I also really had trouble ignoring the fact that while this man was talking to me, the two fingernails that broke in my dream broke in real life in the precise ways that they had broken in the dream. Same exact jagged edges, same patterns, same nails, on the same hands.

WEIRD.

I told the guy, when he asked me if I wanted to sign up for the program, “NO! No, no, no.” He gave me the telephone number and told me to call the next day to give him my answer. I said, “My answer is no, dude.” He said, “Call tomorrow and let me know.”

This was freaking me out. It was as if what I was saying wasn’t getting through. I was extremely agitated when I finally got to leave, after the doc gave me my scripts. I got in my car thinking, “What the f---? Seriously. What the f--- WAS that?”

And I’m driving home just feeling off-kilter. Very strange, trying to process why these people couldn’t hear me. Thinking about the fingernails. Trying to find a way to understand this baffling, upsetting experience.

And then dead calm, and dead silence. It literally felt like time had stopped, and I came to understand with this cold gravity that this was the answer from God. I had asked God the night before, “If you show me what to do, I promise you I will do it.” God was telling me to clean up.

I started backpedaling immediately. “Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. What I meant, God, was I would do anything…anything BUT this. No, no, no. I am not getting off the chemicals. No way, no how. No. Nope, a million times no. No fair. No way. Nuh-uh. No.”

Somehow it hadn’t occurred to me, when I said that prayer the night before, that I needed to get off the substances. I didn’t put it together at all—that my toilet-bound life was a direct result of drugs and alcohol. How I failed to put this together, I have no idea…because it is what put my life in the drain a number of years prior. But there you have it. Never crossed my mind that booze and drugs were a big part of the problem.

Anyway, I began seeking a way out of my promise to God. I had never made a promise to God before, but when I made this one that night, I meant it. God knew I meant it, too. I just didn’t realize what it might entail. I thought maybe I’d have to fly to Nepal and go on a pilgrimage or something. I had no idea it could mean that I would have to give up something I loved. I just thought I’d have to do something extra—not stop doing something I was currently enjoying.

So here I was. Trying to find any way to justify getting out of the promise. Calling my friends to get them to certify that, no, there is no God, and, no, you are not going to be held accountable to an imaginary being. The more they said these things, the more I couldn’t believe them. However much I wanted to believe my friends, I had to ask myself, Did they know God? Did they know the Truth? Or were they a bunch of self-seekers too? In other words, the more I tried to talk myself out of it, the more it talked itself into me.

And what I was utterly unwilling to gamble with was breaking a promise to the creator of all things good. If he existed, I thought, it would be a terrible idea to make him a promise, mean it, and then break it. If he existed, he would not like that very much. I began worrying about the peril I would place my soul in if I broke my word to God—which was the first time in my adult life I knew with dead certainty that I HAD a soul, and that I cared about what happened to it.

I would like to mention here, before I continue with my story, that I would not advise anyone to make any offhanded or halfway-intended promise to God Almighty. I was ill-informed at the point in my life when I made mine, and I was not aware that it is a potentially disastrous choice to make if one’s heart is not true. It is my personal belief that God permitted me to make this promise to him because he knew me better than I knew myself, and as such knew that the making of this promise, and the receiving of his answer, would lead me to ask dead-serious questions about whether or not I had a soul and whether or not a solemn vow before God the Almighty was indeed a binding thing with potentially dire consequences if not followed through on. I am grateful that God extended his grace to me seemingly before I asked for it, and I am grateful for the little knowledge and experience I did have of and with him that led me to choose to follow through on my promise. I have yet to make another vow to God my creator, feeling that such things are best reserved—if necessary at all—for people who, in short, know exactly what they are dealing with before entering into such a contract.

I also feel it necessary to say some words about the broken fingernails, specifically that I do not encourage people to look for “signs” from God in such paltry, everyday, and ordinarily meaningless stuff. Doing so can possibly open up the door to sentimentalism or, worse, occultism. Please note well that I was not seeking a sign when my fingernails broke during my impromptu chemical-dependency interview. Moreover, note that I don’t feel the need anymore to examine whether the exactly-as-in-my-dream broken fingernails were a sign from God or were a statistically highly improbable coincidence. Whatever the case may be, it ultimately does not matter. What matters, as I see it, is that something did indeed feel “off,” strange, and otherworldly to me that day; that I perceived it as being so; and that, as a result of such feelings, sensations, thoughts, and intuitions, I believed without a doubt that God was indeed providing me with an answer to my prayer. In other words, I do not seek God solely in broken fingernails and unusual doctor’s visits, nor do I advise another to do so. It is my belief that because I had made the first earnest contact I had ever made with God during my (at the time) 33 years on earth, he did respond to me, and he reached me in a way that he knew I would ultimately be unable to deny, try as I might to deny it. I don’t know how he will reach me tomorrow, but I do know that he will reach me in ways specifically designed for me, in terms and by using methods that he knows I will be able to understand as coming from him. God as I understand him is omniscient and personal, and communicates with different people in different ways, tailored to the individual and contingent upon that individual’s consistent seeking of God and his will. While God’s message is the same, and while his Truth is True in all circumstances, no matter what, always, he does—I believe—have a myriad of ways that he communicates himself and his will to those who are seeking him. The Star of Bethlehem, for example, meant little to King Herod, but meant everything to the astronomers who came from afar seeking the Christ Child. God communicated to Joseph through his dreams on a number of occasions, and yet Joseph was a faithful servant of God, a man who consistently sought the will of his creator. The thing in common, please note well, is that these people were seeking God and God alone—and thereby were (and, for those of us still living, are) able to see and comprehend signs from God as a result of this search. It is not the other way around. Luke 11:29-30 says, “When the multitudes were gathering together to him [Jesus], he began to say, ‘This is an evil generation. It seeks after a sign. No sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah, the prophet. For even as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will also the Son of Man be to this generation.’” The sign of God’s love for humankind is that he sent his Son, Christ Jesus, to die so that we may be saved. This is not sign enough to many, and some among these many seek after another sign that might prove to them that God is alive and loves the world. The sign—the proof—has already been provided. Therefore, to go in search of God in such paltry ways as interpreting dreams or reading fingernail clippings or “contacting the dead,” or what have you, will produce no fruit. I will stress, and then move on, that on that one day, I was not seeking a sign. I wasn’t seeking anything other than a prescription for medication. And yet because I had willingly—however misguidedly—sought out a relationship with God, he, in his abundant grace, goodness, and mercy, responded to me.

So—back to my story—I had a choice: clean up and follow through with my promise to God Almighty, or remain a drunkard and potentially endure some really terrible consequences.

The next day, I called that Chemical Dependency Services person and told him to sign me up for the program. The night before my first day, I got extremely drunk and stoned. I realized that I didn’t want to stop drinking and using. So I decided to kill myself.

At about 4 a.m., I got in my car, cruised up to the highway, and started driving at a speed over 100 mph. If I didn’t wreck and die first, I would find a body of water to drive my car into, I thought.

But I got tired. Very rapidly, I got exceedingly tired. I exited the highway. I stopped the car. In my haze, I thought, “Really, Sandy, go home, get some sleep, do what you think is best, and don’t be so dramatic.” I went home, got some rest, woke up early, called CDS and told them I was sick—I wasn’t going to be able to come in until the next day.

That day and night, I didn’t drink or use. The morning after, I went into the hospital straight. I sat there in individual and group sessions for a whole month with my head on the table, angry, defiant, bored, and sad. My consistent refrain was, “I just don’t want to be clean and sober. I have no idea why I’m here.”

And yet I remained clean and sober, for the sole reason that I made a promise to God. I was miserable, sad, enraged, and bored out of my mind…but I stayed clean and sober. I made a few friends in treatment, which made it a little more bearable. I got reprimanded sometimes for ridiculing the dietitians, occupational therapists, and other patients. I enjoyed the free lunch passes. I missed my old life. I hated my new life. It was all empty and pointless, and I wished it would just end. When I thought about the future, I thought about it with dread and loathing.

A treatment-mate kept trying to get me to go to A.A. meetings with her, and I wouldn’t go. After weeks of her harassing me, I decided to go to one in order to shut her up.

After this, a lot of my story becomes an A.A. story. But suffice it to say that I found something there that I had somehow missed—being blind to it—my first time around. I found people living happy, free lives…who were clean and sober and also enjoying themselves. And these people kept talking about prayer, God, meditation, spiritual principles—stuff that I could talk about intellectually but stuff I hadn’t really known or done in earnest, or internalized.

When the change really happened in my life was when I decided to get down on my knees, in the privacy of my own home, and say, “Hi, God. Look, I feel like an idiot. I still don’t know if you exist. But let’s say you do. I need some help. Like, I really need some help, because I want to live, but I don’t want to live in misery. I don’t want to drink and use, but I don’t really see the point of living without doing those things. Will you help me, please…if you’re there?”

I kept going to God on a daily basis. I just told him what was on my mind, even if what was on my mind was that I didn’t think he existed. Or that I thought he was unfair. The consistent thing was that I came to God as I was, without pretense, without fancying myself to be in some sort of stage of “spiritual development,” without any deliberately unstated biases or skepticisms…I just sought God, in earnestness and with regularity. That was—and continues to be—the foundation upon which I have been able to build a relationship with the loving creator of all things good: honesty with him, and willingness to know him through what he says to me, not what I first think about him. In other words, I eventually tossed my previous (mis)conceptions of God out the door, was emptied of defiance and pride, and asked God to please, if it was his will, teach me who he is.

Over time, I began to know God a little better. And at some point I understood what people had been saying all these years, but which I hadn’t been able to grasp before: that a personal relationship with God is required if one is to know God. … Oh, so a personal relationship is this, I now see: going to God and talking to him, and then listening to what he says back…and doing it from a place of humility and earnestness.

This personal relationship with God is, in my opinion, the most widely advertised secret in the entire world.

I asked God to teach me humility. I asked him to increase my faith. I asked him to teach me how to pray. I asked him for all sorts of things, and then I learned how to seek his will for my life. That is, he gave me what I asked for, when what I asked for were things that would help me know him. Humility, gratitude, faith, strength…God provided. And as a reward, he also gave me himself. That is, I came to know him not in theory, and not intellectually—but he entered my life. I felt him in my soul. I came to be aware of this connection to something much more powerful, amazing, and awesome than I was, obviously, but also more than ANYTHING ELSE was. I started seeing life in utterly different ways. The whole world was transformed because I had willingly entered into the transformation of my life through God.

Everything shook—and continues to shake—out from there. I became convinced, through personal experience and after having been given the gift of faith from God (John 6:44), that Jesus Christ is who he said he is. There is no way that I know of to convince anyone else of this, and it’s not my job to do so. It is part of my job to tell the story of how I came to know it. Which I have, for the most part, done. In a nutshell, I would say, Get to know God. Ask him who he is. If you truly want to know him, be willing to get to know him…and he will reveal himself to you as he sees fit, in his own time, in a way specifically designed for you and you alone.

I have no doubt now, that on my long and arduous journey, God had been guiding me. I believe that he permitted me to look where I wanted to look, and to come up empty-handed where there was no Truth in what I had thought I had found. I was seeking something—liberation, truth, call it what you will—and God helped me even before I acknowledged him. Some seekers tend to say something along the lines of, “All paths to God are valid,” and I think that is only sort of true. All paths are valid IF what you are seeking—even if you can’t articulate it—is the living God, not a substitute, not something that fits with your preferences and biases, but something real, alive, and true. If your heart is as true as it can be, your search will be true. It can’t help but be true if your heart is true. So, yes, I believe that God will guide you, so long as you don’t settle for any substitute guides. You may not know God, nor be able to conceive of him, and even rebel against what others tell you he is…but if you are relentless in your pursuit of truth, you can’t help but pursuing Truth.

And concerning Truth: God knows it; God has it; God is it. We don’t and aren’t. In order to get it, we must seek him.

Another thing I’d like to say is that I had, for many years, allowed the actions of some Christians to keep me cut off from God. I evidently needed to do that, for whatever reasons—perhaps so I could say from experience, not theory, something along the lines of, “Don’t let what some Christians do define, or keep you from seeking, the living God, please.”

My experience so far has been that nothing I did in avoidance of Christ has been wasted. God makes good use of all of my former objections, rebellions, wrong turns, rages, prejudices, and so forth. I can speak to people who have these types of objections and who make these wrong turns, since I had and made them myself. I mean, the last thing I was seeking—the LAST thing I wanted—was Christ. And yet I found him. You could have knocked me over with a feather, for real. And I find myself today answering to the very charges I leveled against Christians, Christ, and God for oh-so-many years. But God uses everything I went through, everything I felt, and everything I thought, for his own purposes today. He’s good that way.

And here is one of the most amazing things about it all: I know a bit about how to guide people now. I know where to point them. Remember what I was saying before about being reluctant to encourage anyone to seek, fearing that they would not find, and I, then, being responsible for their failure? The great news today is that I can encourage people to seek, and I know, within the depths of my soul, that if their search is earnest, they will find. God will guide them, protect them, care for them, and watch over them in their search, if their search is true. It is not dependent on me. I don’t have to be the one who is there all the time. It isn’t ABOUT me. I am but one messenger, not the message. I am part of a living body of people of faith united in Christ—in whatever stages of faith we people are—who can help guide fellow travelers, knowing ultimately that God IS in charge, and that he will deliver. I have no doubt about this, and so I have no qualms, worries, anxieties, or fears about saying to someone else, absolutely, “The solution is God. Go to him, persist in looking for him in earnestness, and you will find him.”

I also know that not only am I not the judge of this world, I am glad I’m not the judge of this world. Before God gave me the gift of knowing him through the mercy of his Son Jesus Christ, I fancied myself to be competent at judging human beings. Today I know that the only competent judge of human souls is God himself, and in knowing this, it has removed a great deal that was blocking me from God’s light—most particularly, God has relieved me of my great pride and self-righteousness, for which removal I am grateful. The only accounting I have to concern myself with before God is my own. What I have come to understand completely is that if I go to God with my own sins, this will be the work of my life, and I will have no time left over to worry about bringing anyone else to justice.

I also know that nothing that belongs to God will be lost, and there is nothing that he cannot attend to. What is too big for me is nothing but a thing to the creator of all things good. In other words, while I have learned individual responsibility, I no longer feel that I am somehow responsible for or able to “save” anyone’s life at all. I am responsible to carry the message of salvation, and to work out my own salvation—and God will take care of everything else.

Also, points of Christian theology that seemed crazy before—like Satan and hell, just for example—are now the only reasonable explanations. I accept and believe all of it—not bits and pieces. I add nothing to it, nor do I subtract from it. It was all revealed to me as true by God himself—over time. And now, the stuff that made absolutely no sense is the only thing that CAN make sense.

I would like to say a few more things, before closing.

I had a love affair with worldly success and personal glory, as I described a bit. I am engaged now, as I said earlier, to a man who is a Christian. Before he and I met, we had each become disillusioned with the promises this world seems to offer, and so once we met, we each got rid of everything we owned but didn’t need, and we currently exist and thrive on very little. In this divestment has come great liberation. We need very little money, and we seek to rely on God alone to provide for us and show us where to be. We pay our own way, yes, but we don’t store up treasures here on earth. Because we have both realized—he when in prison, and I while at-large in the world burning up resources in pursuit of empty dreams—that the alleged promises of the world are false promises. It has manifested as true in our lives what Christ himself said: Give up, follow me, and you will—while yoked—be free.

And as for my mental health: I am free of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The doctors and medications helped, for sure, but now I am off of all the meds and don’t need the doctors. I am grateful that they were available, and they helped keep me alive during very dark and suicidal periods of my life…and yet now I am free. I believe it is a combination of medical help when I did not know God and—nowadays—a total gift from God that all of that stuff is healed. The doctors gave me a hand up, which helped me keep seeking (instead of offing myself), and now that I have found, God keeps my heart, mind, and soul well in his mercy and grace.

Regarding church: I was baptized by a priest of the Roman Catholic Church when I was an infant. Much later in my life—when I was 34 years old—I repented my sins to God, asked for salvation through Jesus Christ, his Son, and believe that I have been sent the Holy Spirit, who guides me in God’s Word; who convicts me and urges me to seek God’s help to rid my life of erroneous and destructive thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviors; and who provides me with a vision of and connection to the eternal that I did not have before and could never have imagined. There are some in my life who insist that I must be baptized now, as an adult.

Co-extant with this is the fact that I have not yet become a member of a specific church. I have sought out a church “home” and have not yet found one. I have not been tireless in this search process. While for purposes of definition I could currently best describe myself as “nondenominational,” I am, quite frankly, uncertain. I believe that fellowship and worship with a body of believers is Scripturally supported and encouraged, if not mandated. I am not the best example to follow at present, in other words. I have some lingering, vague feelings of duty and responsibility to the church (the Roman Catholic Church, not the particular parish) I was baptized a member of, although I do see that these reasons are not necessarily legitimate and rational but are more of a nature best described as emotional and ersatz loyal. That is, while the Catholics who raised me certainly had their own sets of problems, they were, and those of them still living are, “hardcore” loyalists to the Roman Catholic Church, for whatever reasons.

The good news is that I have no doubt that God is guiding my life and will lead me where he wants me to be. I am open in my earnest search, and in this, have thereby said no to a not-insignificant number of false churches. It has been my observation that a number of individual, specific churches claiming themselves to be Christian are, quite the contrary, people-centered, with Scripture watered down so as to be made more palatable to parishioners. Perhaps this is a function of United States society, which appears to me in many ways to be much more about faith in what is temporal than faith in what is divine and eternal. …

I am not surprised by the state of affairs in a number of U.S. churches, as I am told in the New Testament to expect such things.

While my search for a church “home” has been frustrating, at times, it has not been in vain, and it has not been fruitless. While I have as of today failed to find this “home” church, I have succeeded in finding precisely what a church of Christ ought not to be, and for this knowledge and experience, I am grateful.

Concerning baptism, I am willing to consider being baptized by water again, now as an adult, if it becomes apparent to me, as revealed by God, that I must do it. I am not opposed to it; I simply don’t know, at this point in my life, if it is what he would have me do. I.e., it is unclear to me at the present time whether or not my baptism by water while I was an infant was legitimate and sufficient.

I am aware that in my saying these things, a reader of this testimony might perceive me to be bogged down in legalism. All I will say is that these things do not seem like legalism to me (nor do I feel myself to be in a bog), but instead appear to be valid and crucial considerations and deliberations. I seek that God may conform my life to his Son through his Word, not that I attempt to contort his Word to fit my life. I submit my endeavors to God, seek clarity by searching his Word, taking my concerns to others of his faithful, and remaining persistent and hopeful as I walk through my days seeking the will of God. God’s Word—as G. K. Chesterton has pointed out—is a living teacher. This has come to be my experience—instead of merely my understanding—as well. What I do not know today, tomorrow may be made abundantly clear. God continues to astonish me—and it is less that he is astonishing and more that I am astonishable. That is, God has revealed himself to the earth through his Son Christ Jesus and left no mysteries regarding how to find him. And yet, still, it is a mystery to me. These are some of the great paradoxes of freely entering into a thriving relationship with the living God: that he made himself known in the flesh but is unknowable in the flesh; he entered time that we may come to glimpse eternity; he died so that we may find life; he gave up what he loved so that we may love him (Romans 8:32).

In any event, God is the searcher of human hearts. If my search for his will be true, I cannot help but be led by God to his Truth.

And perhaps this is a place to close, by saying this: God reveals himself to those who seek him in persistence, earnestness, and humility, and yet all of life’s questions—at least as I understand it—are not automatically answered. The big questions are, indeed, answered when one repents and asks for mercy through Christ Jesus, the only begotten Son of God—and yet life on earth consists of a host of little questions as well, questions that an individual needs to seek the answers to by seeking God’s will. It is a willingness to enter into the search, guided by God, via a life of daily, earnest prayer and seeking of God’s will, that is required. It is not a requirement that one know before one seeks. It is required that one seek. The dangers are many, in that God’s enemy lies in wait and in hopes of ensnaring an individual’s soul for his own purpose—which purpose is singular: to keep that soul outside of the grace of God and lead it to eternal damnation. Satan’s raison d’être is to hate and oppose God. He, Satan, has no love for anyone, including himself, and what he offers to any one person is not a gift, although it may appear on the surface of things to be so. Satan is not a friend, and after he has secured a person’s soul, he will discard the person. He hates that which he so easily claims. Do not be deceived to think that he wants you because you are fabulous; he wants you because he hates your creator. Satan—while he knows us very well—is impersonal. He will dangle whatever appeals to you most in front of your nose in order to entrap you. But it’s not about you. It is about God.

With God, it is about you. I am saying this because what God’s enemy dangled before my face was the illusion that I was too intelligent to seek out the creator of all that is seen and unseen. God’s enemy knew me well enough to know that validation on many fronts that I was indeed intellectually superior would puff me up with pride and keep me enamored with myself—which is quite enough to keep me away from the love of God. Where self resides, God does not dwell…simply because he has not been asked to enter. God has been asked to step aside, for there is no room in the prideful heart for the personal love of the Almighty Father. The sad irony is that many who are serving Satan—by whatever gifts they have been offered, the illusion of intellectual superiority being but one of a host (others including material gain, personal glory, sex appeal, the illusion that one is a chronic victim and thereby a martyr, the illusion that one is an unacknowledged savior, and so forth)—do not know whom it is that they serve. We, each of us, have a master, stated or un-, acknowledged or not. This is the fact of things. I would encourage anyone reading this little story of one of God’s faithful—who found him along a torturous little path—to inspect their own life and discern the one thing that they love above any god there may or may not be, and to ask God to reveal to them the truth of who and what it is they are serving. Behind the self is the enemy, I have come to understand…and the enemy, quite like God but with a more limited set of resources, albeit much greater than the set we ourselves have been given, works in mysterious ways. What God does—and God does much else—is to lift the veil and expose the illusion for the simple, paltry, embarrassing thing that it is. When it became abundantly and undeniably clear to me that the thing I was looking to be fed by was a dead thing—my self, tempted by the devil, believing his lies—I was humiliated. Crumpled. Saddened, dismayed, and seemingly—for the first real time—without hope. Such a microscopic price for which I had sold off my soul—such embarrassingly tiny rewards. And, but, what was the real price? The real price was separation from God, the maker and giver of light, the provider of all things good, the divine mind, the eternal being, the one who has already won the war, although we, sitting here in time and space, perceive an ongoing battle. The battle takes place within the heart and soul of each human being born onto this planet. And it is one of the paradoxes—if not the great paradox—that the war is over and yet this battle is waged. God has already won. How could he not have?

All of this leads back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden…and Original Sin. “Why,” some people ask, “must I pay the price for their disobedience?” “If God knows everything, then he knew what would happen when he told them not to eat of the Tree. Why, then, did he put the Tree in the Garden?” “Being that God knew what would happen when he allowed Lucifer to turn against him, why didn’t he stop him, since he could?” “What is the purpose of living?” “How can we have free will when God already knows what we will choose?” “How can an all-loving God condemn to eternal damnation those whom he allegedly loves?” “Why doesn’t God forgive Satan?” “How could a perfect being create imperfection?” “How can God, who is allegedly perfect, create something imperfect such as sin?” “If everything comes from God, how can sin not be part of God?” “If God is good, and everything he made is good, why and how is there evil?”

Are these not the very questions that keep you apart from God? Are these not questions that you are trying to answer on your own steam? Is this not the stuff that keeps you in apathy, ambivalence, rage, hopelessness, and/or despair? Could this be the substance of your thoughts, dreams, and nightmares…the content that you have heard about and have been unable to reconcile, the talk about the Book whose front cover you have not lifted because you have deemed it to be hogwash, a ridiculous fairy tale, the most unbelievable and absurd story you have ever heard in your lifetime?

And yet why, O why, does this Book continue to assert itself in your life, continue to make its presence known, relentlessly come up again and again as a perceived weapon or crutch or guilt-inducing tool or delusion-inspiring panacea or…what? What is it about this single text that permeates—in one way or the other—the lives of most everyone you know, in whatever ways and manifestations? Why are we still talking about the Holy Bible, I ask you? Why do people go to war, personal or large-scale, in its defense? Why are there no wars over the Tao-Te-Ching, over The Bhagavad-Gita, over The Way of Tea?

This is what I can promise you: If you seek the living God, you will enter into the mystery.

You will no longer stand upon its periphery, perceiving it to be madness. You will get to learn, instead, the madness of your own edge-dwelling, the insanity of your refusal to step into the Land of the Sane…because it looks—it does, if you’re on the outside of it—much, much like the Land of the Insane. And yet, no matter what you may think of it, it seems to me that you must conclude, some way, somehow, that it is, indeed, a Land. That it does, indeed, exist. What you may not know is that there are, in fact, ways to chart it, but you cannot chart it alone. You must step into it by Way of the One who created it…for who but the One who created it can teach you the nature of all of creation?

Fellow seeker, my sole intention in writing this testimony was to tell you what path my search has taken, and let you know that I hope God blesses you in your own search, and that he fills your life with clarity, purpose, direction, and light.