The God of my childhood had many changing faces but the one I remember liking the most was when He didn’t have a face at all.
That was long before family, church and the entire world so rudely and thoughtlessly trampled all over my spiritual purity.
Back then, God didn’t even have a name, and maybe He wasn’t even a *He*, but a *She* or something else entirely and magically different.
My very young childhood tells me God was light and nature.
Maybe that was when God was truly real to me, before I was *smart* enough to believe everything everyone told me to believe in.
I didn’t need to try so hard to find out who and where He was, He just *was*, in every flower, firefly, sunbeam and all the stars in the sky. He was me and my mom walking in a field of fiery poppies eating ice cream cones.
I don’t recall the moment when His face appeared in place of the stars, but eventually I was carrying around a snapshot in my mind of the pale, blue-eyed, distant gaze of a man with long brown hair wearing a white robe. In my mind I only saw Him from the chest up because that’s how my brain decided to take the picture. For many years I said desperate prayers to a yearbook picture of God. Even today I vaguely associate this image with the word, *God*. But I am working on that.
He had no personality, this God. I hardly knew him at all but even so, I was taught to love and fear him, this stranger, with all my heart. I tried my hardest because I didn’t want to live with fire and demons after I died.
That’s no place for a child.
When I finally gave God a face (that one we see in churches), most of my youth was spent trying to avoid that gaze. What was he thinking, that God? Did he even like me? How long was that list of my sinful deeds in His book of Good and Bad? Did He see me steal that girl’s rootbeer flavored lip gloss or when I wasn’t paying attention in class and sneaked a cheating glance at my classmates test answers? But of course He did! God sees everything! Which is why I was taught not to try and hide my indiscretions because God already knew everything bad I ever did or thought about and trying to hide only maximized my sin points!
Here’s the trickery with that concept: If God already knew every terrible thing I did and thought, why did I need to tell him about it anyway? My child mind understood this to be a test. I dreaded bed time because that’s when the spotlight was on me. It was the hour of truth. Will I remember everything? Desperate not to go to hell in my sleep, I went over my day with a fine tooth comb. Everything I said, everything I did, everything I might have done or thought about doing. I covered all the bases and I went to bed with a headache, dreading what I might do the next day.
In my mind’s eye, God towered above the universe with a pen poised over that giant book just waiting to write me up for something.
Yes, I feared God.
Mission accomplished, Church.
And who was I, a mere child, to question the existence and reigning power of the Lord of Life? This obscure man who could split into three (or more?) different entities, who could take away everything I loved the most if I made him mad? Who could read my mind?
But wait, what was this something else lingering in my consciousness? This softer, intangible, compassionate airy presence that sometimes floated through the thin cracks of my fear built walls, enveloping me in warmth and safety?
I choose to believe it was God.
But I didn’t know that airy God well enough to let him stay. He was chased away by the God of Fear, who was more reliable and real. A part of the family!
I tired of that God.
It was too hard to please him and I couldn’t confess fast enough to make a dent in my rapidly expanding list of sins.
Where was I? Did I confess this or that? Am I forgiven now? Did you get my last message, God? The one where I said I was sorry for thinking that bad thought? Please don’t kill my hamster or my parents, I promise I’ll be better.
Oh, forget about it.
Just do what you gotta do, God.
I will never forget the day freedom arrived and those haunting, oppressing thoughts ceased to exist. They stopped dead in their tracks when I had my first *real* drink at 13 years old.
Everything became beautifully numb.
No more God breathing down my back, micromanaging my life.
No more desperate, guilty, hopeless prayers of mercy on my blackened soul.
Let the sunlight in! Pour me another glass of salvation!
It was a truly a miracle!
Whew! What a relief to be free of the shackles of right and wrong and black and white and tattered yearbook images of God!
I never wanted to see another God again!
But I don’t think He ever left.
Maybe, he was just patiently waiting for the day I would see Him for who He really is, where He really lives.
Oh, I had glimpses of a God. Whose God I wasn’t sure. I don’t think he was my church’s God, or my parents God because he didn’t make me want to pick up a drink. He must have been someone’s God, though. He had a sense of humor and a gentle way about him. I imagine that he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot time to spend waiting in the shadows for me to screw up.
And I did see Him.
My sister saw Him too.
My sister saw God in a dream. She told me, “God is a black man and he’s flying a helicopter”.
Thank God! THANK GOD he’s not the pale God in a yearbook picture sitting around in his robe!
She said God appeared to her in a rescue helicopter with the number 911 in red on one side. He had beautiful, long flowing dreadlocks but his face was hidden. He appeared on a tragic night that might have been fatal. He came to rescue her, to give her another chance at life. God talked to her, asked her did she want to come live with him? In her dream, she said yes and recalls that he spun that rescue helicopter right back around and disappeared into the sky.
This was a night she might have died, but God had other plans for her.
I believe God appears to us in ways we can really see Him.
I saw God in a hitchhiker on the side of the road, but he went by the name of “William”. Maybe he wasn’t God himself but I’m pretty sure God sent him. Why? Because I asked. I said, “God help me”, and when I looked up there he was. If it wasn’t for William at that very moment some terrible things would have happened.
I see God everywhere now, but I’ve still never seen His God face. Sometimes He is all invisible power, love, and miracles. I see Him in my children’s eyes. I don’t need to see His face anymore because I see God’s love and light everywhere I am willing to look.
God doesn’t play tricks on me. And if I ask, He will send me a sign. Usually a very literal sign, like a SIGN, with words that say something on the rear windows of trucks. One such sign read, TRUST IN GOD. Crazy. But it almost always happens after I ask for a sign.
I know He hears me.
Sometimes God sends someone to give me messages, even if I don’t ask. It’s like He’s touching base with me, letting me know He hasn’t gone anywhere and everything will be alright. I’m not going to Hell, because I’ve already been there and it wouldn’t be fair if I had to go twice.
One rainy day I swear He let George Burns out long enough to rush a personal message to me.
I sat crying in the rain with an overstuffed cart of groceries I could never afford to buy. They were for other people. I was struggling and it never seemed like there was enough. I was newly *sober* and just trying to all the right things, live a respectable life, with a respectable job, even though I was always just *broke enough* to be uncomfortable. I was worried about how I was going to provide for my daughter. I knew I would, I always have, but this particular day was especially hard and I was tired.
During a work- related grocery shopping trip, someone commented on the amount of food in my GIANT cart and I said, “oh, this isn’t for me”. I was embarrassed to have all this food, especially considering the amount of trash food in the cart. But, it wasn’t my choice, I bought what was on the list.
I tried to avoid eye contact with anyone else lest they see right through me, how I was terrified to be in that warehouse of a grocery store around all those people, pushing a $500 dollar cart of someone else’s food around.
I watch people. I am always watching others, wondering about their lives, their pain, their joy, where they’re going, what do they do when they get home. I’m weird like that. I also feel very strongly for their suffering, even if I don’t know them but I can see it in their eyes and feel it when I walk past them.
In the check-out line, my colossal cart took up a lot of space. Behind me was this tiny old man and on his arm was his even tinier, frail, beautiful wife.
She was like a small brittle flower but I could see how she was once vibrant. I saw a life time of love between them, but her eyes were so far away as she held onto her husband as tightly as her delicate little bird arms could hold onto him.
And he was fierce. I saw it in his eyes, that he would never let her go.
(Yes, I look at people long enough to see these things.)
During one of my stolen glances I happened to notice the two or three items in their cart. Two or three food items and a couple of prescription bags like tiny pebbles in the huge cat.
The elderly man caught me and said something along the lines of, “the cost of the medicine to keep my wife alive, doesn’t allow for much extra, but she’s more important.” And that’s when I saw the fearless hero of that lucky lady’s life! Her Knight in Shining Armor, her Protector and Best Friend.
I turned away, flooded with shame, anger, sadness and defeat all at once standing in that line with enough food to feed a small army while behind me, right behind me, stood someone’s parents, grandparents holding on to each other for dear life and they were so frail. And they had to choose medicine or food but it wasn’t really a choice because there is only one choice, and no one should have to make the choice between medicine and food, but I saw that yes, indeed they do.
Tears started sneaking out of my eyes and I didn’t care because I passed the point of caring about tears years ago.
I pushed my expensive cart of bullshit food out into the rain and collapsed on a pile of giant landscaping rocks where I sat smoking a damp cigarette as the rain smeared tears, snot and mascara all over my face.
Who did I think I was? Ungrateful for what I did have.
My spirits began to rise, not in that glorious, ecstatic way, but more in the kind of way that occurs when the darkness lifts just enough to let some light in.
Then, OUT OF NOWHERE (although it seemed as if he magically appeared in the parking lot), a short, older gentleman wearing round-ish glasses and a red sweater sprinted directly over to me (never saw him before, but when I saw him, I felt like I should have seen him before). He leaned into my rainy space and cigarette smoke and said: “Hey listen, you don’t need to worry about anything. If you got a roof over your head and food on the table, God will take of the rest”. Our eyes locked for a split second and then he was gone, lost in the rain and crowd.
I thought it was funny that he started off with, “hey listen…” and he knew nothing about me. Nothing about who I was. Did he even see that giant cart of groceries? WHERE DID HE EVEN COME FROM?
I had no time to respond. In fact, it was almost as if he didn’t really stop at all. It was one continuous, swift, purposeful movement.
His words made me laugh. I don’t know why, but I smiled and sat laughing in the rain at the stories I told myself about how bad things were when they really weren’t.
That old guy didn’t lie. I took his words to heart. Every day is a reminder of that truth.