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Lately, I’ve been doubting my faith.  It’s always troubled me that, if asked point blank to defend my faith, I wouldn’t know how to.  Yea, I could say stuff about how God changed my life, lifted me from darkness, endowed me with a spirit of rebirth, etc etc.  And I bet you that 90% of the Christians you ask out there will give you some variation of this.  It would sound like snippets of Christian song lyrics that make you seem enamored with God without really justifying anything.  But it seems silly to reduce God to a feeling, doesn’t it?

When I hear words like that from my mouth, I question myself if I really “feel” God is there.  I’m not saying that these feelings can be false or that they can’t be legitimate indicators of your experience with God.  But how can you base the beliefs, which fundamentally define who you are, solely on emotions?  Because if you do, then faith is a temperamental thing; inconsistent and unreliable.  And I realize, more and more, that I need to be able to say something more concrete, something close to rational.  I need that reason to cling onto when the feelings pass away.  Otherwise, I would live my life always hiding a fear that my faith can be shattered by the next mood swing.  And the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I’ve convinced myself to love a God just like how I can convince myself to love Football if I really wanted to…by thinking about it real hard or surrounding myself with football fans or forcing myself to watch a hundred games, whatever.

The main thing is, I need something more to support my faith.  Because where I am right now is not enough.  I can do my morning and night prayers, praise God for his blessings or cry out for his grace in my affliction, and still wonder in the times between despair and joy whether there is a God who hears.  Whether the things that I claim to see him do in my life are actually his works or just the desires of a mind too afraid to admit the alternative.

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I am not denying God.  I don’t believe in him any less; if anything, these doubts mean I care about my faith so much that I will fight for it.  And because I am responsible for my faith, I cannot ignore these doubts and just hope I’ll be in a better mood tomorrow.  This is the season where I question my faith, question God so that I can understand why I believe in him.  But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am scared of what I will find, or not find.  That is another fear, the thought that I could seek and lose heart; or seek and find myself right where I started.  And there is nothing I can do about that except to trust that God would bring me back.  He will pursue my heart even when I am too tired to pursue his.

This past Sunday, I spoke with a 70-something-year old retired youth pastor.  It was refreshing to speak with someone who was so seasoned in his faith.  In our conversation, he told me a story about his spiritual encounter with God.

I smiled and said, “A burning bush kind of encounter?”
He said yes.  And it was a story that I didn’t know whether to believe or dismiss.  But the point isn’t whether I did or did not want to believe; the question is whether I wanted it for myself.
So when he finished, I said, ruefully, “I wish I could have that too.”
“Ask him for it.”
“What if he doesn’t answer?”
“Keep asking him.  Don’t give up.”
He looked at me and I wondered if he knew that I was close to tears.

People always talk about having a relationship with God; but what does that mean, what does it look like?  What is that intimacy they talk about?  If I could have anything, it would be to know God.  I’m not talking about being able to recite all the verses in the bible.  But to know him, personally.

To know that my prayers are not one-way conversations.  To know the ways in which he speaks with me.  To know the ways in which he is undeniably, incontrovertibly true.  So that when I speak to him and when I speak of him, my words will carry the force of my conviction.  I don’t know how or when I will find that encounter, but I suspect it would start when I begin to know him.

Conquer me, overwhelm me in mind and heart.

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Sara Lee Pound Cake

I usually don’t like to eat pound cakes.  But I do, however, love the Sara Lee ones.  My brother and I used to devour those dense little cakes, fighting over who gets to scrap the remaining soft brown crust from the aluminum tin.  I tried to find a recipe that would re-create this and ended up with this one.  It’s not quite exactly a Sara Lee cake, but it’s delicious (actually, it’s quite unlike the store bought brand).  It’s the lightest, fluffiest, softest pound cake I ever made.

On Father’s day, I sat down to write a quick email to my dad.  Expecting this to be a three minute ordeal, I instead found myself having a hard time finishing this sentence: “Thank you for….”  For always being there for me?  For providing for me?  Somehow it didn’t feel right to see it typed out on the screen.  And I’m not sure my dad would have been comfortable reading those words either, since I suspect neither of us are quite sure about the truth of that statement.

If someone were to ask me about my childhood memories, I would be hard-pressed to find one about my father.  What I can remember are bits and pieces, and frankly, few of them are truly happy.  But I do recall the excitement of seeing the airport shuttle pull up the driveway, running out to help unload the luggage and to greet him with a big hug.  The way the house seemed to light up with extra warmth as the sound of our chatter broke the solitude.  How inviting and complete the dining table looked with an extra set of bowls and chopsticks.  And in the morning, I would run into his room and wake him up by plucking his leg hairs.

But more than anything, I remember being disappointed.  Pressing our faces against the window, we peered into the locked classroom where we should have been hours earlier.  On my desk laid a large cut-out picture of a clown that I had drawn.  I didn’t want to cry but I did.  Not because I couldn’t show him my stupid clown; but because I felt like all the other kids had a dad to bring in on back-to-school night, while I was waiting for mine to come home.

I do not remember at what point that I stopped waiting.  I just know that his visits began to lose their novelty—his homecomings received with little fanfare.  My father became someone I associated with overseas phone calls and short, obligatory conversations.  I understand his paternal duty to provide for me, financially.  What I wonder sometimes, is whether he was choosing to pursue his career over being a father.  I wonder if he really did it for me.

This is not supposed to be a post about blame.  But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t care that my father wasn’t there for half of my childhood.  What I have learned is that when people have exhausted themselves to the point where all accusations and insults begin to sound the same, when they’ve said and heard everything there is to say and hear, there is nothing left to do but to let go.  Because there can be no redemption without letting go.

So, Happy Father’s Day, dad.  While we cannot make up for lost time, at the very least, we should enjoy what there is to come.

Thanks for being a dad who always tries to provide for me.  And I mean it.

Pound cake with raspberry cream