I was raised in a Free Methodist church and had exposure to a wide variety of Protestant denominations. As a child, I experienced a loving Christian community and learned that God loved me. However, I stopped attending church regularly in college. I was still involved in parachurch ministries, but my faith was wavering. Exposure to neo-calvinist teaching had left me doubting the goodness of God.
In 2010, I went to Ireland with my husband. We spent 6 weeks there, mainly on the west coast. Ancient monastic sites were prominent features of the landscape. They bore witness to the faith of the monks and nuns who had sought God in the green wilderness. I realized that I knew little about post apostolic, pre-reformation Christianity. I had a vague sense that no real Christians lived between those two times. But in Ireland I learned of the devotion of Christians that I would have written off as "Catholic" and perhaps not even saved. But Their faith was undeniable, and it was clear to me that they had been much closer God than I was. I had heard here and there about the Celtic Church and how it was somehow different from the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. Now I wanted to know more about these early Celtic Christians.
Because Saint Brendan set sail from the coast of County Kerry in Ireland where Steve and I were hiking, we came across many sites that are sacred to Saint Brendan. As I now know, Saint Brendan is venerated by both Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians, but in his time the Celtic Church had much more in common theologically and liturgically with the Eastern Orthodox Church and were under the jurisdiction of the East. I now believe it was by the prayers of Saint Brendan that we spontaneously visited an Orthodox Monastery on Vashon Island. The abbot answered many theological questions that grown in my mind over my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood. I had never heard these kinds of answers before and I knew I had found the Church that still preserved ancient and true interpretations of the scriptures.
My husband and I sought out an old friend who I knew was Orthodox and she invited us to visit Three Hierarchs Orthodox Church. We have called it our church home ever since, even though we have to drive nearly an hour each way to attend services. After two years of worshiping at Three Hierarchs and studying Orthodox Christianity, we were baptized.
I was pregnant when I was baptized. A month or so later, I miscarried and lost my first baby. My wavering post-evangelical faith could not have withstood this blow. But I had come to believe once more, as I had as a small child, that God is love. And I had friends in heaven. Saints, who I had learned, truly cared for us on earth. Who pray for us. Who would greet my baby. And I was free to ask for the prayers of my baby and continue a relationship with a child who will forever be my little saint.
Since then God has given me two more children. I can hardly relate to the woman who went to Ireland. Loss, postpartum depression and anxiety, and parenting have changed me forever. But, where I might once have seen hopelessness, I now see the opportunity to be transformed into the image of Christ.
The Orthodox Church provides so much help for all of us as we bear our crosses. My evangelical faith had (somewhat unconsciously) absorbed elements of the prosperity gospel and the Protestant work ethic to the point that I saw troubles as being a result of a lack of faith or a failure to try hard enough. Pair this faulty theology with a comfortable middle-class upbringing, and I was unprepared for the troubles that life brings to all of us. I have learned in the Orthodox Church that all Christians can expect suffering. The lives of the Saints show us, not how to avoid suffering, but how to continue loving God and neighbor as we suffer. I understand now that the church is a hospital for weak, hurting, and sinful human beings. I can bear the shame of my weaknesses more easily in the humble yet triumphant company of others who have lived or are living lives of repentance. Confession helps us to see ourselves for who we really are, warts and all. God's love shines all the brighter when I experience it with no pretense that I deserve it or can live without it. I am blessed to know that there is a lifelong journey to wholeness ahead of me and I have companions on earth and in heaven to journey with me.