When I was a child, my father, a secular Jew, paid me a dollar for each volume of the encyclopedia I read. He bought me electronics kits that we played with for hours on the weekends. My mother was a lapsed Lutheran who taught me how to find bargains at the mall. She once told me to put away my books during finals because I was hosting a dinner party that night. "You'll never remember your finals grades, but you'll never forget it if you serve a bad ham."
Our house was loving, loud, and fun, but an undercurrent of anxiety coursed through it all. We were always broke, my parents were usually disappointed with one another, and the world felt scarier than circumstances seemed to demand.
The message of my childhood was clear and insistent: Work, play, and love hard, and at all times stay in control, because something scary is waiting to take you down. I heeded that message into adulthood. I went to a great college, found the perfect job, and chose a wonderful husband. Weaker souls might need a god, but I needed no such crutch. My anxiety would keep me on my toes so that I could orchestrate the perfect life.
That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.
Come to the Table
During the next year, I became a Christian, a member of a tradition whose weak character and intellect I had long disdained. Nothing miraculous happened—no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into the life of faith.
It wasn't clear from the beginning which faith that would be. I visited psychics, read New Age thinkers, and attended meditation classes. I even tried praying to a god I didn't believe existed. My forays into faith were attempts to make sense of what had happened to me and, in some ways, to control a world in which I had far less control than I thought I had.
Then I started reading the Book of John with a friend. Tony was the only Christian I knew who didn't try to explain away the loss of my husband and baby. After many debates in which he tried to convince me of the divinity of Jesus, he said that if I would just read the Bible, God would do the convincing. So we read the Bible together over the phone on Saturday mornings. I was drawn to the text, even as nothing about it provided firm evidence of its truth.
I especially loved the story of Lazarus. Unlike the Eastern philosophies that maintain that suffering is the result of our attachments, this story was about a man who was unashamedly attached. A man who behaved as though death was not natural. As though everything was broken, and that the sane response was to snort and weep. I loved that man.
I had been reading the Bible with Tony for months when he began pestering me to find a church. I searched "liberal churches in New Jersey" online and went to the closest one. They practiced "open table fellowship." I had no idea what that meant, but when everyone got up to stand around the fancy table, I didn't want to be left sitting alone in my seat.
By the time I figured out that everyone was up to take Communion, I had a choice: Did I still want to go it alone, trying desperately to keep all the balls in the air? Or did I want to admit that Jesus had offered himself up so that I didn't have to be alone? To admit that I had little control but was infinitely loved?