2018 Lent Testimony Series

Introduction

Lent provides time and space for us believers to reflect on what it is that we truly profess as our hope. In abstaining from the everyday pleasures of life, we are reminding ourselves of the only true good in this life and the age to come. We profess that only the resurrected LORD Jesus can satisfy our longings, only He can answer the question deep within us, only He can sustain us in the midst of grief, loss and unanswered prayers.

The story we’ll hear is very much an unfinished one. But I think that's the beauty of this thing, not a polished one with a moral & a feast at the end, kind of like our lives. It shares the raw and painful question about the often unknown/unknowable ways of God in the space between Good Friday and the Easter Sunday. There’s so much more here than what can be covered in five or so minutes at church service, and I personally invite you to honor the courage of the member to share and her process by listening with an understanding that does justice to how much more unfolding her story has to do in the much much larger, sometimes unseen, mysterious and ongoing narrative of God’s redemption.

Teressa’s Story

My name is Teressa, and I have been a member of the Ark for over nine years.

When I was in college, I had a great relationship with my dad. He traveled for his job, and had done so ever since I was two years old. While it was hard not to see him most weeknights growing up, as an adult living in the Bay I got to see him relatively often. Every few months we would meet up and have dinner. At Cal I studied history, a passion of his, and we talked about what I was learning in my classes. I would ask him about his life before he had kids, and I felt that I got to know my dad not only as “my dad,” but as the person he was.

When I graduated from Cal in 2012, I did what lots of unemployed college grads do: I moved back home. At that time, my dad was finishing up an intense, 6-month-long cancer treatment. He was at home all the time, I was at home all the time, and instead of improving our relationship deteriorated. My dad and I had similar temperaments and wildly different beliefs. We would disagree, it would blow up into a fight, and I would apologize, and he… would not. I felt misunderstood and frustrated that my adult father showed no signs (in my opinion) of humility or repentance. As the tension between us grew, I became retroactively angry for the unchangeable fact that my dad had traveled for work throughout my life, feeling robbed of a thing I didn’t even realize I had missed: his physical presence in a not insubstantial portion of my childhood. Worst of all, through this, I lost affection for my dad. I still loved him, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel or express affection for him.

Eventually he went back to work, and I moved back to Berkeley, and over distance we slowly rebuilt our relationship. Our dinners continued whenever he was in town, but a couple years later he retired, and I no longer saw him apart from when I visited home. We would still fight, but we also had some important and meaningful conversations. Even so, I continued to struggle in my expressions of affection. With this struggle came guilt over the ways I could see he was indirectly trying to reach out, or smooth things over, and I resolutely withheld. What I wanted more than anything from him was “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong,” and it just never came.

Less than a year ago, last June, he died. I was left with regret over how distant I had made myself from him, and a question arose in my mind: Did my dad believe I loved him?

This is something I wrote from the night he died:

“What became easier to see, and is very clear now, is that you loved in the way you knew how. Your love was the love of stoicism and capability; your love was the love of pride and provision; your love was the love of bad jokes; your love was the love of commitment and duty; your love was the love of symbolic acts. Dad, if I could tell you – I really hope you know – I never stopped loving you. We had many disagreements, and there was a dip in affection. But I didn’t stop loving you. I hope you believed it. I won’t get another chance to tell you.”

As far as I know, my dad died an atheist. Early on I would share my faith with him, and he was never afraid to talk about it. He alone in my family attended my high school baptism. In later years I shared this part of my life with him less. I prayed for his healing, and let him know others prayed too, but there was no prayer with him, no laying of hands.

In the months after as I processed my grief I would sometimes read my old journals. Again and again I encountered forgotten prayers of mine that had held a specific request: God, please make it so that my dad can meet my future husband, written in sick years and healthy years alike. I had practiced what was preached about telling God the desire of my heart in belief that God cared and wanted to know; I stood on the shoulders of those in our house who have testified that our good God longs to give us the desires of our hearts. And this did not come to pass. It cannot, now, come to pass. There is no yet. Though I may one day get married, my dad is gone. He will not return.

If you can imagine, 2017 held even more than all of this. Toward the beginning of the year, prior to my dad’s death, I confessed to a friend my deep romantic feelings, and they were not reciprocated; in December as the year closed, my mom’s house, my childhood home, was utterly destroyed in the Thomas Fires that swept across Southern California.

The more time passed, the more the pain and disappointment in my life felt rampant and meaningless. The more I considered telling God the things I desired, the more I seemed to believe in that the opposite (of whatever I wanted) would probably happen instead. I’ve stopped attending intercession, as the team can attest, and even worship, my freest and most-deeply-rooted connection to God, has been hard. While I am still on worship team, and glad to be so, most of the worship times that I’m not up there on that stage, I spend sitting, and not singing. It’s been months of this. I often find myself reflecting on the words we sing, and sometimes, I write my reflections down. Not infrequently, I offer a rebuff: “God, I don’t think you bring all of your promises to fruition in the lifetime of all who hear them. We are so small, one link in a chain. We are an important part of the promise fulfillment, but we are neither its end nor measure.” Other times, I meditate, allowing through repetition mere phrases to tether me to God. “Oh Lord, you are my God.” There are even times where I reflect on my own inability to engage. “Should I sing even when I don’t want to, because you’re worthy? Or is singing when I don’t want to disingenuous? You are worthy of all of my worship, but singing in and of itself isn’t worship.” 

At our church retreat in January, Holy Spirit spoke to me that God isn’t in a rush. God isn’t demanding me to sing, so I don’t need to demand that of myself. I can sit, I can be silent, I can be still, I can be. And that is enough. So that’s where I am right now. Prayer is still hard. Worship is still hard. Hope is still hard. And God is with me. Loss, permanent loss, it happens. Grief is a part of life. God, Emmanuel, is with us.

In the psalmist I recognize my pain and conflict, and my rootedness and desire for God. They are co-existent, co-equal, and God holds them both. I will leave you with words, uttered long before me, yet very much my own:

Oh God, you are my God--
it is you I seek.
For you my body yearns;
for you my soul thirsts,
In a land parched, lifeless,
and without water.
I look to you in the sanctuary,
For your love is better than life;
my lips shall ever praise you.

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