[All photos from Unsplash]
This is a serial telling of my falling-in-love story. Read the story from the very beginning here.
My aunt, grandmother, uncle, and I decide to start reading aloud together: a family activity. So on the nights when I’m home with nothing to do, we pick up the novel, The Shack by Wm Paul Young, pile onto the beige couch in the living room upstairs, and turn pages slowly together.
The plot disturbs me: the fictional narrative hinges on an event that occurred four years in the past during a camping trip with the protagonist's family, when his four-year-old daughter was kidnapped, possibly raped, and brutally murdered in a cabin in the Oregon woods. God supposedly writes a note to the father, inviting him back to the same shack where his daughter’s body was found. While there, he seems to hallucinate encounters with God the Black Mother, Jesus the burly carpenter, and an Asian woman as the Holy Spirit.
The prose is awkward and unrefined – the author wrote, edited, and published it himself, written for his children, before it became a surprise New York Times bestseller among Christians across the country. But this question of God speaking captures me – because I have wondered about this myself. How does God speak? I wonder it all through our dating and past then. Is it so outlandish that a man would be called by God back to a literal place of suffering to physically, materially meet with God?
Many Christians called the Trinity envisioned by the book to be heresy – including, I discover, your mother. She and I meet when you invite our bible study group to a weekend conference at your church - your church which you happen to attend with your whole family - and I’m the only one from our group to RSVP. I spend hours with you and your family that weekend. Since it only takes a short walk through your neighborhood to get to your church, I park at your house and walk with you to and from the conference. You even invite me over for dinner with you, your brother, your sister, and your parents one night, where The Shack comes up in conversation.
We sit in your living room, the one with the fireplace, and your mother tells me that the way God looks throughout the book – well, that’s just not the God of the Bible, which makes the book dangerous. After all, we can’t just make up what God is like whenever and however we want. I just nod and smile, trying to melt into the pillows of the corduroy blue couch, not wanting to fight on a first meeting. This is, after all, starkly different from my family, who never talk theology over dessert, and I decide that I like it.
You later call your family "theological lions," and seeing as I'd already told you I liked The Shack, heresy and all, a fact which you avoid mentioning to your family, and I thank you over email for not throwing me into the enclosure. (I ask you later whether she had read the book; you tell me no, but she read a review in a Christian publication which made up her mind for her.)
But though I don't speak up then, the truth is, the theological musings cause me to see God in a new way: female, multi-racial, unified and yet distinct persons. I am aware that it is not orthodox Christianity per se, since God in the Bible normally describes Himself as a Father (male), a Spirit (undefined gender, though perhaps female based on the Hebrew language used), and Jesus (male), and there is certainly more emphasis on the separate-ness of God rather than the unity in the book, according to our Western reading of these texts.
Even so, this female depiction of God sets my imagination on fire, and I begin picturing God accompanying me everywhere I go. Something about sharing gender with God makes me feel closer to her, like maybe she understands me better than I thought. When I go for hikes in the red dirt trails in a nearby park, as I do several times a week, I talk to God about you, about my internships soon to expire, about my college graduation coming up, about whether I should stay in Colorado or pack up my car and never come back. As I mumble my prayers, I start to imagine Him (or Her? or Them?) walking beside me, at the farthest edge of my vision, perhaps holding my hand as it swings with my steps, a warmth in my palm as we amble amidst the towering pines.
I imagine Her lying on a mat beside me in yoga class when the instructor shuts the lights turn off, in the moments when I am supposed to be opening myself to the universe and envisioning waterfalls and meadows full of butterflies. Instead, I imagine Mother God, Jesus, and the Spirit stretched out on mats all around me on the oak floor boards, and as I shut my eyes, I breathe deeply of their presence, feeling warmth enter my nostrils, bend toward my mouth, fill my throat, and flood the center of my being with wholeness, acceptance, peace.
And then, I imagine Them with me buckled into the passenger seat, as I drive in the far left lane on the highway at 75 miles an hour. They are beside me at just the moment when a plastic dog kennel breaks free of its constraints from the truck bed ahead of me, picked up by the wind out of the truck, into the air, and then onto the road, where it bounces toward my speeding car, once, twice, three times. I look around; a semi-truck and a car flank my rear and side: nowhere to swerve. So I hold my breath as the kennel bounces and rolls one more time, and somehow my car passes it with only inches to spare, as it rolls onto the shoulder of the highway, leaving me untouched. And then I exhale and inhale and exhale and inhale and exhale - "Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" - to slow my frantic heart, and I imagine squeezing Their hand to say thanks.
I am writing and serially publishing scenes from my falling-in-love memoir, about the anguished, beautiful, and spiritual way that my husband and I met, fell in love, and married.
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