pastor, author, and God knows what else
When I looked up into the windows at night, in the darkness I saw his face staring back at me. I sensed the body lurking in the shadows of the basement and the attic and kept my distance. All closets were off limits because I was sure that if I opened a door, the corpse would fall out on top of me. In my own bedroom, I imagined the dead body stretched out on the top bunk.
My home should have been the safest place I knew. Instead, it became a house of horror.
My family didn’t talk about God, nor had I ever been inside a church building. With no faith background, I was deeply troubled about death and thought about it a lot more than any child should. I didn’t know what to do with this fear that filled my life.
From the culture around me, I was aware of the concept of God and heaven and wanted desperately to believe in both of those things. When I heard that if I was good, someday I’d get to go to heaven and see my father again, it reminded me too much of Santa Claus. I had already figured out that Santa was a make-believe person grown-ups had created to keep children in line. Was God just another adult scam like Santa Claus?
This was the first faith crisis that I can recall in my life, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Within this crisis, I had an awareness of the connection between faith and fear. I remember thinking that if I could really believe in God and heaven, then I wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.
What I didn’t quite understand was the nature of faith. I thought it meant knowing something for sure so that I could prove it beyond a doubt. So I decided to run a little experiment in order to find out once and for all if God was real or not.
It was a solid plan. I had an upstairs bedroom that was left undisturbed all through the day while I was at school; it would be the perfect place for God to leave me a sign. This was shortly after Valentine’s Day, and I had a stack of valentine cards from my classmates that I laid on top of my bedspread, face down, in neat rows. Then I gave my instructions to God: “OK, God. If you’re really there, I want you to show me.”
I don’t know exactly what I expected. Maybe God would spell out Hi! with the cards, or he would turn some of them over. I didn’t have a specific sign in mind, but I was hoping for something that would tell me God was more than a variation on Santa Claus. I needed a sign that God was real.
That afternoon, as I was walking home from school, I was anxious to see what was waiting for me on my bed. I was also a little afraid because I was finally going to know for sure if there really was a God. I sensed that what I found on my bed could change my whole life.
As I opened the front door to the house, my black cocker spaniel Inky greeted me. He was so glad to see me that he jumped up to lick my face. Any other day, that’s when I would get down on the floor with him and scratch his belly in tiny circles until I found the magic switch that connected the electric current to his leg and made it twitch uncontrollably. But I didn’t have time for Inky today; I needed to get to my bedroom.
When Inky saw me walking in that direction, he bounded up the stairs ahead of me. He jumped up on my bed before I had the chance to get there, and the valentines flew all over the room.
“Inky, look what you’ve done!”