I come from an extraordinary family. My own family is worth a hundred books–I could write a series just on the jobs my father held or on the summers we spent as children with our beloved cousins and great-aunts and -uncles and parents’ friends’ kids at Ocean Isle Beach, NC. My mother and father’s first son died suddenly one night from a rare strain of meningitis only days before his first birthday, so by the time they were 24 years old, they’d already buried a child and yet they kept going, having Ben and Spence and me and doing the best they could to give us the kind of lives they thought we should have even though they were not right for each other. That, too, is worth an epic movie in their honor. Ben and Spence became self-made men, one a VP for a company in North Carolina, and the other a lawyer in Colorado representing people against insurance companies. I could not be prouder of them both if they were sitting in the White House. In fact, we’d probably all be better off if they were although there’s no way on earth one would be the vice president to the other.
And then there’s my extended family–my umpteen cousins and aunts and uncles, and, as I said, I had the privilege being raised with greataunts and greatuncles, and my family is Southern. I mean Southern. Names like Odell and Zenobia, Auburn and Annie Ruth Sasser. Milton and Deward and Aunt Grace (a woman has never been so aptly named; I swear the woman is the living light of God) and even down the path of history on my father’s side, an Aunt Australia. We put up vegetables in the summer–yes, I have been in the fields picking Dixie Lee peas and Purple Hulls and snap beans. I can shuck a corn–and my father made our weekly ration of sweet tea with the glee of a wizard over a cauldron of dragon’s blood and eye of newt. Our big Southern family is full of boot-strap businessmen and women, lay preachers, well-traveled entrepreneurs, and people who, in varying ways, want to help the world.
Being Southern like we are means being Christian and loving Jesus and there is no other way. I never took to Christianity as a lifestyle, even though I tried, because I saw too much hypocrisy in people’s behaviors and there was too much mythology for me to take the Bible stories literally. If I couldn’t take the Bible literally, I was told, I wasn’t a real Christian anyway. So, church looked a lot to me like a show people put on for each other, and walking with God was taught, so I interpreted it, to be much more about behavior-control than creating an intimate relationship. I left the Christian church as soon as I could after I left home and did not return to it until a few years ago when I entered the Unity Church in Wilmington because I was trying to heal my resentment with the evangelical Baptist influences of my childhood. But, I didn’t stay any longer than I needed to. One Sunday morning I looked around and thought you know, all this is alright with me. And I did not go back.
My life’s journey so far has been about the questions of faith, about its necessity for me. I’ve learned the hard ways about being faithful, and I’ve done my fair share of being unfaithful, too, so I know all about that. Right now my stories are eaten up with characters who struggle with being faithful–to themselves, to their lovers, to their families, to their feelings, you name it. So, I know I’m kneading this kink out for myself on the pages of my work. As it resolves with my characters, so it resolves with me.
I have two female cousins who are saturated with their love for Jesus, and I look at their lives and marvel at how confident they are, how neither has met, to my knowledge, with failure of any kind. Setbacks and challenges, sure, but they blaze on with their eyes full of Jesus fire and gardens begin to bloom where once a trash heap stood. At least that’s how I see it. One is in her 40s running a wildly popular frozen yogurt bar in North Carolina and the other, only 13 years old, is now in Kenya with her church on a mission. They are bookends to my place in the extended family–the older cousin I idolized when I was a kid, and the other is the youngest of a brood of several cousins who were like little brothers and sisters to me. I love them both dearly, and the simplicity of their faith moves me. I admit I am jealous of it, especially when I read the precocious and ardent words of the 13-year-old’s blogs, so reminiscent are they in tone of the early writings of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, who later became known as Mother Teresa.
It leads me to wonder why spiritual faith comes so easily to some while others wrestle with it, or, for those people who surprise and confound me most, seem to live perfectly wonderful lives without concerning themselves with it at all. I, too, have had my intimate moments of surrender with the Christ, with God, and, as Michael puts it, spiritual awareness seems to be an ever deepening surrender, which, given my rebellious and stubborn–and dare I say prideful–nature, makes my dance with faith ever more like a tango somedays, wherein I am skillfully, yet unsuccessfully, attempting to get away.
The deep roots our family has in faith has saved my butt a time or two when I have made rather selfish decisions that lead to less-than-ideal consequences. I am grateful for these roots and often wish I had been the type of cousin to have ecstatically married Jesus when I emerged from the baptismal font. Or, maybe I did, and I’ll be the last one to know. I have never been one to dovetail into a committed relationship, that is for sure.
As I live in Florida, away from my dear friends and my family, I question my faith, why, only six months ago, I was so certain God was calling me here, to so much change, to this life. I am in a moment of doubt. In the quiet place in my heart, I know I am here to write, that the task in front of me is that simple, that everything will work out in the end, that I have been given the gift of this time to cultivate the desire of my heart and create the life I dreamed about when I was a girl. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. And you can’t write if you’re not alone. In this solitude, I try to remain faithful to the promise I made when I said yes all those years ago to the God who has called me into intimacy.
But, it is hard.
night night beloveds.