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The First 52 Weeks

Oh Ye of Little Faith: April 25, 2010, Sunday Evening Connection, 5:00pm, Moody Bible Church, Chicago Illinois

By Pamay Bassey

So, with April came the first anniversary of my grandmother’s death. April 22nd, 2009, she passed away.

She was the only grandmother I ever knew. And I only saw her a few times as an adult. But her mere existence had an impact on my life. She was a strong woman, who my mother and my sisters resembled. Many told me I looked like her, and that my heart was like hers. I learned about her through my cousins who grew up with her.  She didn’t speak English but when I met her she danced and praised the Lord and told me, through my mother that she had been praying for me and my sisters all her life. When I went to her funeral, I saw, in the corner of her home, a picture of myself and one of my cousins that I had sent her years ago. I saw a photo album that I had made for her and sent by way of an uncle returning home for a visit.

She saved it.

She knew me and she loved me even though she rarely saw me.

Tears.

And with her death came the severing of my last connection to that which came before my parents. Before my aunts and uncles, there was my grandmother, and my great grandmother, of which I had heard so many stories. And with her death, and considering what it meant to me, I thought of the children that I hope to have someday, and how it would have been nice for them to know their wonderful grandfather.

Yes, it would have been nice.

After returning from Nigeria, I had a rough week. The week of the anniversary of her passing had me in an emotional soup, not knowing what I was mourning on what day. The weekend before, I had had an emotional meltdown that found me, at the end of the night, crying in my car outside my ex-boyfriend’s house.

It’s never a good idea to be outside an ex-boyfriend’s house, in the middle of an emotional meltdown.

Or for any reason.

I might have had a bit of church in my car as I wept for what I had lost.

We fall down, and we get up.

That weekend, I ended up missing my first weekend worship service, and felt terrible about it. I felt like I let God down and let myself down. But it was an instructive week – even the greatest plans sometimes run amok. And we have to be humble, and ask for forgiveness and move forward. So I gave myself the freedom to visit different services at different times during the week, which I ended up doing in the weeks following this week.

I was weary. I had been really down about my ex and his absence from my life. After a trip to the suburbs to see a sports performance starring Mr. Friend Zone(see Book Excerpt: January 31, 2010: From the Friend Zone to Mazatlan’s Golden Zone: Mi Iglesia Mexicana, La Viña), I found myself hurtling towards my boyfriend’s house unannounced.

Again.

Twice in two weeks.

Sigh.

I remember hearing something on Oprah once – it might not be an exact quote, but she basically said, “If you find yourself driving towards your ex-boyfriend’s house to ‘get some answers’ just keep driving to the nearest psychiatrist instead.”

Sound advice.

Which I ignored.

I decided to just lean into my crazy, walk up to the house and knock on the door, and take whatever consequence of shame may come. I ended up getting lied to by a senior citizen – his uncle, who told me where I could find him – and sent me on a wild goose chase to another suburb and back, again, sitting outside his house in my truck, asking God – why in the world am I here and why can’t I shake this man?

Literally as I was starting the car to vacate the premises, he drove up. And I, shaking on the inside and outside, exited my vehicle and went to talk to him. To talk to the man who I considered to be the love of my life – a man who I hadn’t seen in 6 months. It was excruciating and wonderful and soul crushing. As we talked, it felt like we still cared about each other, but upon reflection, it was clear to me that he loved himself far more than me, and yet I was still fighting a battle to learn how to love myself at all.

Excruciating.

So when this week came around, it felt very good to be “Back at it.” It felt good to be back in God’s presence. Due to my inability to convince myself to get up early, my choices all included evening services. I went to one church that I had been meaning to visit and there was no service. So I drove to the second – the church at Moody Bible Church in Chicago’s Old Town Neighborhood.  Because I don’t feel  that anything happens randomly, I made my way to the sanctuary, wondering what the Lord had in store for me. As I entered the sanctuary there was a familiar calm feeling that I felt as I got back on track with this project.

“This matters.” I thought.

It became very clear quickly why I was led to this service, at this time, on this day.

At the beginning of the service, the youth choir performed – called Revolutions Cry.

I could use a revolution, I thought.

The service was called the “Sunday Evening Connection”

Bring it, I thought.

The topic was “The Greatest Pain”.

Yeah, great pain, I get.

The unison scripture was Mark 15:34.

“And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).”

A whole sermon about excruciating pain, and feeling forsaken by God.

“Well, isn’t that something”, I thought.

The sermon actually started by explaining that the word “Excruciating” meant of/by the cross. The pastor talked about the pain of Jesus on the cross. I thought about the excruciating emotional pain I was in and tried to put everything in context.

During that service I got to be a student of the concept of pain. The pastor talked about the five aspects of pain – physical pain, emotional pain, the pain of abandonment, the pain of bearing sin, and the pain of bearing the wrath of God.

Tell me about it, I thought.

As I contemplated pain, I thought of a conversation that I had with a friend who runs marathons. She was one of my inspirations as I trained for my first marathon –the Chicago marathon in 1997.

When I was complaining one day about how sometimes on long runs I would want to stop and walk, because I couldn’t take the pain and exertion anymore, she, who was not especially religious, said to me that when she felt like that she liked to focus on how strong she could be, and on the fact that if she just kept taking the next step, she would eventually make it through. I was especially humbled by a comment she made during that conversation. She said, “You are the one who is supposed to be religious – isn’t that what faith is all about?”

Yes, it is, isn’t it. “I guess you told me.” I thought.

Why do I worry? If I say I am a Christian, where is my faith?

The sermon asked the same question.

And at that moment, I really had no idea where my faith was at all.

The pastor challenged us to think of the pain of Jesus on the cross – when he thought his Father had forsaken him. “What pain did Jesus go through to save us?” he asked, “Much attention has been given to the physical suffering endured by Jesus. While this physical suffering was great, it is only a small part of a larger picture.  Join us as we look at the pain of the cross- the greatest pain ever experienced.”

Do I ignore the lessons of the crucifixion? What kind of Christian am I really?

“Not a very good one”, I mused.

Verse after verse, he highlighted examples of Jesus’ pain, and how he died to take our sins away. As the service ended, and the altar call came, the Pastor said, “Maybe you are a doubter. Do you believe? Jesus calls us to believe.”

The pastor mentioned the story of Doubting Thomas, mentioned in John 20:27-28:

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

All I could think was, “Thomas, I feel your pain!” I know doubt, and my belief was weak.

Sometimes, pain, faith and belief don’t make the best bedfellows.

I hoped that the next week would be better.

© 2010-2011 All Rights Reserved

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