It is such an honor to be sharing the personal stories of friends that feel like sisters. Last week, you read the first sister story – Linda’s miraculous journey to motherhood. Today, let me introduce you to my friend Cheryl.
She is a mother of two living in Los Angeles and she attended law school with me over 15 years ago.
Her prodigal story had me taking a hard look at the American church.
As a child, Cheryl dutifully went to church. Her family attended Sundays and she sang in the choir.
Cheryl always loved the music. That connected her to God.
When Cheryl went off to college, she met a boy at a new church she visited, and they began dating. It was far different from the church where she had grown up and had a very different belief system. As she started looking into it, a lot of what the leaders were saying didn’t make sense. She tried to understand and question it – she even studied with her boyfriend’s father to try to make sense of what didn’t fit with the God of her youth. After some time, she describes herself as “losing” her strength and finally succumbing to the questionable values and philosophies of this new place. Cheryl thought she had to adopt her boyfriend’s beliefs in order for them to have a future.
The relationship faltered and eventually fell apart.
So did her faith in anything that smacked of “religion.”
Cheryl became angry at herself for changing who she was for a guy.
Then she got angry at organized religion.
The meanness. The judgment. The lack of compassion.
She never lost faith that there was a higher power but rejected everything else.
After her experience with her boyfriend’s religion, she wanted to find something more open minded and accepting of different paths.
She tried other things. She visited universal-type churches. Then she looked into Buddhism. She refused to accept that her experience with organized religion was the story.
As the years passed, she kept hearing God is love.
But even as she heard it, she wasn’t finding the concept of God is love in action.
The messages she heard from members of the religious community were filled with hate and fear. They said we are bad and sinful and can never measure up.
I wasn’t finding evidence of what I knew must be true – God loves everyone, Cheryl explained.
In Austin after law school, a college friend took Cheryl to her church. She loved the music. It was always about the music. She started going so she would have a place to sing. She was honest with the pastor about her struggles with religion and, though the pastor was supportive and encouraging, Cheryl still couldn’t find what her heart so desperately craved.
She met a man and fell in love. He was raised in the church too. His faith was personal, he had not rejected Christianity like her, but he wasn’t attending a church. They married and planned to have kids.
Despite her anger over modern day Christianity, Cheryl believed she should find her way back to a church when she had kids to provide them with a grounding force. Then, as they got older, they could explore what they believed.
Cheryl and her husband decided to visit churches. One church stood out to her because it had a huge AIDS ribbon on the side of it. She had never seen that before. The first line of the church’s mission statement reads: We believe that God is LOVE, that all people are welcome and equal in the family of God, and that God is for us, not against us. Hmmmm, maybe this church is different, Cheryl thought. Maybe they would embody that principle that God IS love. And so, Cheryl and her husband visited for Christmas. And Easter. The beautiful sermons, the words of the music, and everything about this place said it was different. And then her first child, a precious little girl, arrived.
Was it time to change how she felt about Christianity?