As a kid, my heart would leap in terror every time I heard an airplane fly overhead. I assumed it was the sound of Jesus returning in the clouds from whence he left, to send me to my just reward. I was pretty sure my just reward was eternal damnation. Living near an air force base, this was unfortunate theology. My existential despair was temporarily alleviated at age twelve as I was immersed in the watery grave of baptism for the forgiveness of my sins. However, my fears were reignited when I realized I could still sin once I dried off. Fanning the flames of everlasting fire were gospel meetings, summer camps, youth rallies, ladies days, and late night talks that reinforced my belief in a grueling master of a God who expected nothing short of a sinless life. No matter how relentlessly I studied my Bible, or meticulously I attempted to follow the letter of the law, Hell followed me around. I fell asleep each night to the horrific realization that nothing I offered was enough to merit salvation.
It wasn’t until I was thirty years old that the concept of grace entered my life. A wise friend had picked up on my spiritual misery, and we engaged in a long conversation about Jesus. Little by little, the importance of the cross became clearer. Jesus went from a mystical, irrelevant background character in The Story of God’s Wrath, to the flesh-and-blood, here-and-now hero of The Story of God’s Love.
One Sunday morning, while teaching second graders about the resurrection (a story I had read and taught countless times before in my eighteen years of teaching), my heart finally caught up with my mind. Just as the veil tore in two in Matthew 27, the wall between myself and heaven came down. In that moment, I was convicted of my salvation and was freed from the bondage of sin. All the spiritual anxiety I had carried since I was a little girl vanished.
Without the weight of sin on my soul, the world around me seemed to expand. Everything was bright. I began seeing God in places I never thought he belonged. No longer did human beings look like vile sinners to avoid, but images of the Creator to love. The Bible changed from a rule book that perpetually condemned me, to a meaty redemption story of a people coming to know God. Bible study became fascinating and evangelism became intuitive when I realized that salvation looked exactly like love in action. My faith had never been stronger, and I had a spiritual peace that widened and deepened every day.
Inside my church family, however, I made myself very small. I had a difficult time figuring out how to be an active part of a congregation of people that I loved, without perpetuating a graceless theology in which I was finding little truth. After speaking privately to several elders on the issue, the conclusion was drawn that if I wanted to shine my light in areas outside the traditions of the congregation, I would need to find an outlet outside the church.
This was hard to accept at first. I had grown up assuming I’d be an active, integral part of my faith community. It was a loss that I had to spend some time grieving. Eventually, I learned to make my faith tangible in more ecumenical ways. Like Nicodemus, I snuck around to learn more about Jesus. I engaged in deeper friendships with people in and outside my faith tradition, and discovered like minds and stealthy allies among them. I hosted studies in my home so other women and I could boldly dig deeply into the meat of the word, creating a safe space to ask hard questions and respond to the gospel authentically, without fear.
A seed was planted during a conversation with a woman who had formerly been incarcerated. She explained the disadvantages of only having access to male spiritual leadership in institutional settings. As a woman, she said was much less likely to share, open up to, and be receptive to men. She believed that having a fellow woman enter her space would have provided a rich opportunity to study, learn, and talk that was not only more effective, but comforting, healing, and empowering. She encouraged me to consider a career in chaplaincy.
The more I learned about the field, the more I realized it was ideal work for someone with my personality, skillset, and faith. I presented the idea to friends and family members who knew me well, and they unanimously agreed that a chaplain was “a very Amy thing to be.” Professionally, I work as an artist and musician, which requires introspection and an ability to communicate with people in unconventional ways. My background in sociology has led me to serve my community as a crisis worker in various settings: sitting vigil with dying hospice patients, as a respite house parent in a children’s home, and currently, as a foster parent. Reflecting on this, I realized the intersectionality of my life’s work arrived at spiritual care, and I decided to pursue the path to become a board certified chaplain.
The vision for my ministry is simple: whether as an artist, sociologist, or chaplain, I want to advocate for the intrinsic human right to wield an imagination. Without imagination, we have no empathy, compassion, or ability to see beyond our own interests. I believe Theology is ultimately the study of the human ability to imagine something bigger than ourselves. I want to care for people spiritually, and help them on their journey to finding peace in that Something Bigger. I believe everyone needs a safe place to explore their beliefs, and I am passionate about actively working to carve out these places.
Amy Gaskin a friend from college when I went to Freed-Hardeman University. She has a house full of kids and is still managing to return to school for her Masters in Divinity. I love how even on Facebook she’s always encouraging those in her circle of friends to think critically about those topics that are important. You can find more of Amy’s thoughts and stories on her website amygaskin.com
God’s Story is a monthly guest post in it’s 3rd year on Over A Cup. If you have a God Story of your own you’d like to share, I would love to post it here so it can encourage others. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org