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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Are You there, God? It’s Me, Teachinfourth

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I’d always been taught that there was a God.

I’d been told that he was our Father. I’d been taught that he lived in heaven and was always looking down on us, giving us help and guidance along the journey we take along this road known as life.

Without question throughout my adolescence I believed this. I never doubted that God was there; I never mistrusted that He wasn’t. I knew that He was orchestrating the pathways of the stars and planets - The Creator, The Navigator of the universe itself, intertwining our lives together in a masterpiece we would someday look upon and understand the true beauty of...

That is, until recently.

Now, it wasn’t as if I woke up one day and simply decided that God did not exist; it wasn’t anything like that…it was that I just started to wonder when I looked up into that big space above me.

I think it may have started with the death of Arlene.

I remember it like yesterday, sitting alone with her in the silence as the minutes passed on. In one of her more lucid moments she looked over at me and began to cry. “I don’t want to die.” She whispered, the tears flowing down her cheeks.

I cried, too. Knowing that there was nothing I could do as the cancer slowly ate away at her body from the inside out.

I was powerless.

She was scared.

And so was I.

After an excruciating few weeks she was finally whisked away from this mortal frame, and I was left behind.

I think that it is in moments such as these that people seem to find themselves dithering one way or the other. They either seem to find solace in the belief in the afterlife, or they carry a bitterment and anger directed toward the heavens – possibly even to question the very existence of a higher being. Perhaps the need for a God.

I recall a scene from the movie Signs when Mel Gibson’s character, Graham, is consoling his brother, Merrill, when he is in a moment of distress. In his character’s words:

People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance...what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

As the years compress themselves together like the body of an accordion, I find myself slipping from one group to another. I discover that in my life, though having traveled a myriad of pathways and scores of years, I find myself wanting more, wanting the knowledge it to be deeper than it was.

I look at the heavens; I think of a world where there is no God.

It is a terrifying thought.

I have no voices that speak to me. I have no angels that descend from the heavens bearing tidings. I see neither grand miracles nor seas being parted—making way for me to pass through as the armies mount behind me.

Yet, I look upon the world around me, I see the looming splendor of the majestic mountains. I breathe in the heavy scent of lilacs and stand beneath the towering Redwoods. I feel the warmth of the setting sun on my face as it turns to gold and melts into a skyline of liquid indigo and buttery maroon. I stand at the edge of the ocean and feel the salty air as it coats my nostrils and the waves pound upon the shoreline and reverberate in my chest. I gaze at the billions of stars as they burst forth from the shadowy skies like handfuls of glitter blown about by the winds of spring. I stand in the midst of a thunderstorm as the rain drenches my skin, feeling the torrential downpour saturate me as the ominous clouds twist and moil overhead and jagged streaks of lightning shatter the skies.

I’ve been taught that God is our Father. I’ve been taught that he lives in heaven and is always looking down on us, giving us help and guidance along the journey we take along the road known as life.

Without question throughout my adolescence I believed this; I never doubted that God was there. I never mistrusted that He wasn’t; I knew that He was orchestrating the pathways of the stars and planets - The Creator, The Navigator of the universe itself, intertwining our lives together in a masterpiece we would someday look upon and understand the true beauty of…


Kaleigh said...

Hey, uhh, teachinforth? I don't know if I'm allowed to call you your real name on here.

I don't know if you'll listen to me, seeing as I'm a billion years younger than you, as well as a past student, but maybe you will. I don't even know if it's my place to say anything here. But I want to help you be happy - you are the best teacher I've ever had and you changed m life. You deserve happiness. Have you ever heard of the story of the footprints in the sand?

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.

This really bothered Him and He questioned the Lord about it. Lord you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.

The Lord replied, my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.

God hasn't abandoned you. I'm sure of it. I don't know what your beliefs are or what you might be struggling with in you life, but I know that God cares. I believe that Jesus died for us - not only for our sins, but he died for all the times we're hurt, that we're upset.

I had a seminary teacher tell me that some people think that Jesus payed for our sins in one lump sum. But in reality, time worked it self out somehow, and there was an infinite stream of individuals. He lived every single moment of my entire life - and yours. He knows all the times that we are happy, sad, hurt, upset, he understands everything we've ever gone through.

God knows your struggling and he wants to help you. But God just can't come unto you - you have to come unto him first, and ask him to be present in your life.

Now, I'm not trying to dump my religion on you or force you to believe anything. This is my personal belief. That's all.

I want you to be happy.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

I, personally thing my husband was in Group 1... Mainly because his death was so unexpected and the fact he was 50.. Most of our friends considered it young and in reference to other well known folk he was.. I think what happened to him was a lesson for others.. Many told me they weren't prepared for the future- meaning life insurance, etc... His death taught them to get off their rear and do something.. My husband had the forethought to plan ahead, we had the life insurance covering the balance of the mortgage + he added on an amount to sustain me and the kids for about a year.. I guess he assumed it would take a year for me to decide to get a job full time..
I do not think some are just 'lucky'... I think God chooses who he wants to be the 'teacher' so to speak to others... I learned a lot about myself, what I can endure, my kids learned as well... I also saw how vulnerable they are.. and how his death affects what we do to this day... Initially, I was upset being left to take care of everything, but then I saw that I learned a lot ... I CAN buy a home on my own, make major investment decisions, not rely on others- to DO for myself...At the time when one loses a loved one they are crushed, but I learned that its all part of the life cycle, even death is part of that cycle...

Kelly said...

I really liked this essay Jason. I have been in your position as well. Losing someone you love to cancer makes you feel helpless. I remember praying for a miracle and thinking I had enough faith to make it happen. When it didn't I wanted to die and be with my mother just to stop the pain of living without her. I never doubted my belief in God. In fact it was later that year that I had some of the most spiritual confirmations that He was there and loved me. I don't know if sharing this helps you, but I hope that you find the peace you seek. You do have to ask yourself what kind of category you fall into don't you? Good luck...

Cherie said...

I find myself in both groups often. I don't think this is a bad thing as I wend my way through this world and question, constantly question, those things that are around me.
It is when I find my answers about each question, individually, that I know the truth.
This was really really good and thought provoking!
Thanks Teachin' !!

Joan said...

Because I only know you from blogging, I am not completely sure what you mean in this essay. It is moving...

My path winds and is more often confusing than anything else. God? For me, yes. Religion, absolutely not. The latter viewpoint has not come easily...

I love that you can express your highs and your lows. Thank you...

Laura Anne said...

I have no sage wisdom to offer, just a humble rambling thought or two. The existence of God, of good, and of faith does not negate the existence of devastation, and sorrow, and disappointment. I've found that faith definitely does not come without trial, and I feel those times are especially so my opportunity to push forward and seek Him. I ask for His will, though I may not understand it. And I believe that it will come, on His watch, at the right time.
It's funny, looking back on how I've come to be where I am. If certain things hadn't happened as they did, or were off by days or weeks things would be unbelievably thrown off course. I might not have my beautiful son, I might not be the person I am today. And it certainly hasn't been a rosy path, and I sure as heck don't have a whole lot of it figured out, but most of the time I believe that I'm right where I am supposed to be. Although I may at times lack understanding, I fight to never lack faith.
I hope you find what you're searching for, and some comfort in knowing you're not alone.

Anonymous said...

I read an interesting thought the other day.. in times of crisis, people of faith lose theirs, and people without faith find it.

I hear you, I'm there with you at the moment, although my wonderings are more to do with organised religion and how to bring up my children when my husband doesn't believe...

Thank you for always being thought provoking and often inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Teachinforth,
My youngest daughter is excited to have you for a teacher next fall. I read an article in the Ensign yesterday that reminded me of you. Since I've known you for a while I must confess when you were teaching at Sunset Veiw I wanted to line you up with all the cute single teacher's that worked there. Now that I'm older and feel a little wiser I'm just grateful for knowing you as a person. When my second daughter was struggling in math about five years ago and had you for a math teacher something changed and now she continues to do pretty well in that subject. I can't help but think that you have some sort of magic that motivates our youth today. That is a pretty special gift. We all have struggles in this life but I love being around nature like you mentioned. It's very calming and peaceful.
Marci C.

shari1172 said...

I'm in group #1. I believe in God. I'm so blessed to have that answer for myself. It's something that I've always felt in my heart. I hope I never face any trials of a loved one passing on. I thought of James 1:5 after reading your blog. Also we learned this past Sunday about planting a seed. If it's a good seed it will swell in your heart. But it needs to be nurtured in order for it to grow. I heard a great talk on "Desire" by Elder Dallin H. Oaks. I love his quote that he shared. "Desires dictate our priorities, priorties shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, and our achieving, and our becoming." And at the end of the talk he repeated the same quote and then added....It is our actions and desires that cause us to become something, whether a true friend, a gifted teacher, or one who has qualified for eternal life. I think you are "doer" and I know you will get the answer that you need. I think you have the desire to know. That's a start. I learned a lot from that talk. I need to be a "doer".

I appreciate your blogs. Your words are so eloquent. I feel happiness when I read about you making a difference in a child's life that you teach. I think it's great that you go above and beyond your teaching duties. I think it's great that you get feed back. Some people make a difference in people's lives and they never know it. Sometimes I wish I knew if I made a difference people's lives.

Leah Z said...

Could it be that heaven
Is man's imagining,
Reaching out for hope in childish dreams?
Stories so old then,
We've outgrown them?
Has God gone away
Or hidden His face?
Have miracles ceased to be?

But the power of God is plain to see,
There are wonders on every hand
To those who will see through eyes of faith,
Beyond the mind of man.

For how could we hope
To see His face,
Who never could see
His hand?

Anaise said...

For me the key is remembering. I remember that at times I am certain of His existence and love and guidance . . . and then I am able to hold on when I am uncertain.

Teachinfourth said...

There are times in all of our lives when - I believe - we look at the skies above us and we ask the big questions...we ponder.

We doubt.

We wonder.

I hope that my readers understand that this was a post that I almost didn't run. It was a conglomeration of moments which banded together and came full circle to become what it is today.

When I write it's to share moments in my own life - I'm allowing you a peek into what I've experienced - good or bad. This is one of those storms I weathered and came through on the other side.

Perspective is such a powerful thing, isn't it?

We all come through moments (or read about others' lives) and we relate to them all in different ways, and see them though the lens of our own living and experiences. We make sense of them though what we know, and infer as best we can what we don't.

Just know that life is good.

The world is a beautiful place.

There are no coincidences.

Thanks for your beautiful comments.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you for always coming back...

Carolyn said...

I think that if there weren't times of doubt, the times of certainty wouldn't be so amazing.

Rachel said...

This is beautiful Jason. I've a million things going through my mind that I want to write but I think just saying it is beautiful is probably good enough. And, thank you for sharing a glimpse into the life that makes you who you are! Take any of these moments away and you'd no longer be the Jason that we know and that would be pretty sad.

Ally said...

Having attended Catholic school for the majority of my youth, I personally have issues with organized religions, confession and other issues. I want to believe there's a greater power. I want to believe in something. I don't know what happens when we pass - I don't know about afterlife, I feel like we just disappear. The end, just a fading memory to our loved ones left behind. I fear death so very much because I don't know what to believe in. Selfish, I know.

I read some of the comments, and agree so very much with what your one reader said about people who have faith lose it when in crisis and those who have lost faith find it in crisis. So true! I have never really thought of that before.

Kim Stevens said...

Yes, life is good.

The world definately is a beautiful place.

And no, there are no coincidences.

I am so glad that you did run this post - I was touched, moved by your words, you have a beautiful soul!

Karen Peterson said...

I imagine the world must be a cold and lonely place for those with nothing (and no one) to believe in.

I, too, am glad you chose to publish this post. It's great to be taught certain things as kids, but at some point we have to know them or not for ourselves.

Lori said...

Aww, Jason. Such honesty--I never expect anything less of you. None of us have the answers, but I think you circled back around to it yourself...you have faith once, and you still do, even if you're discovering it a bit shaken and dimmed by circumstance. We're not promised hunky-doryness--in fact, just the opposite, that we might be tested and refined, perfected in time. I won't use this space to give you the scriptures, but if you're interested, let me know. This is one of The Big Questions...I'm so proud of you for putting it out there and shining light on doubts that we all have. To doubt, after all, isn't a weakness, or even a lack of faith...it's a sign of a questioning, seeking heart and mind.

McDowell Family said...

I wouldn't consider myself a religious person - we don't attend church, we don't pray, we don't bring up our children to believe in religion as a whole. However, we do believe in God...I can't look upon the faces on my kids and not believe.

I embrace the fact that there is something bigger than ourselves at work - it takes the pressure off of us to believe that we aren't the only things that are at work everyday - that every decision we make is the only thing at play.

By the way - love the title..."Are you there God, It's me Margaret" was one of my favorite books as a young girl.

Adrienne in Ohio said...

This moved me I think perhaps because you were so transparent with your feelings. The fact that you almost didn't publish it, as referenced in your comments, increases its authenticity for me.

I lost my husband 8 months ago now to cancer. And though it didn't ever cause me to wonder if there was a God, I did wonder how this could possibly be what was best. I still struggle with that. He was a devoted husband, wonderful father, active in our church, and yet it somehow fit into God's plan to allow leukemia to take him.

But when I look back over our lives, I see that God has proven trustworthy in our past. I think it might be one of those things you see only looking backward. And maybe it takes many, many years to even realize it. For the present and the future, you simply have to trust.

I hope you keep trusting.

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