My Journey With God: The Abridged Version

I didn’t have a lot of exposure to organized religion as a child, and not much has changed in that regard since.

I was baptized Catholic and attended mass with my Grandmother on occasion. Nobody talked to me at mass although many attendees knew my Grandmother. I was a small child with not much to say anyway. I liked to close my eyes and listen to the choir and sing along when it was encouraged.

I didn’t know much about the bible. I knew the Christmas and the Easter story from the beautifully illustrated books that my mother read to me during the season of these celebrations.

Mostly I found God in nature. I was a student of John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson before I knew who they were. When it came to religion, in many ways I was a young transcendentalist at heart.

I would talk to God while I played in the river. Swallowing the icy, glacier water, I felt alive and awake in every aspect of my life. I felt clean. I opened my mouth and drank thirstily the holy water.  I thanked Him, I laughed with Him, I sang to Him the songs I remembered from church and a few I made up just for Him. I climbed onto the largest rock that over looked the riverbed below and sang Happy Birthday to Him every Christmas. It was our thing.

I ran along the riverbank. The hot, uneven stones beneath my feet were smooth and slick, but I never fell. I put all my faith in Him and He carried me over those stones, the wind beneath my outstretched arms. We laughed with pure joy and I felt Him living inside me and all around me. When I think back on our relationship then, I am awed by the power and sheer innocence.

Then Christian camp happened and that’s when I learned my worship style was “wrong”.

It all started when my parents announced they were getting divorced. Being the thoughtful parents that they are, they wanted to do something fun for me after the blow of the divorce announcement. So, they sat me down and explained that I would be going to “horse camp”. (With a little sprinkle of Protestant influence and activities.)

Cool… horse camp, new friends, learn more about God. Yay!  I thought it would be great, but I didn’t know that I would be a tadpole in a sea of well-versed Christian fish.

My parents dropped me off with my shiny new bible, a shirt that was an inch too short, and a bikini instead of a one-piece, condeming me as the next Delilah. A note on the shirt: I have a very long torso and this was the early 2000’s before longer shirts were made fashionable. (Finally.) My parents DID NOT drop me off in a tube-top and Daisy Dukes. Although with the looks the counselors gave me you would think I was about to do a strip tease on the hood of the General Lee.

The counselors snickered at my shirt and some of the other campers joined in. That was how my first day beganme pulling my shirt down every 30 seconds. Avoiding eye contact with everyone.

The next day at bible study I learned that I brought the wrong type of bible. First, my bible should have been in a more “used” condition. The shiny crispness screamed “Never been read!”. Second, I should have had a bible that was more learning friendly, not one that was so traditional. Then we were told to reflect on all the ways we could make our relationship stronger with God. That last part seemed fair, although a bit negative to kick things off.

Anyway, while I was reflecting and our counselor walked away to give us some space, I started to eat some pink huckleberries that are indigenous to Washington State. One by one, my cabin-mates began eating the berries too. Suddenly I was Eve in the Garden of Eden, leading my fellow campers to the biblical fruit of sin. Our counselor came back and scolded us for eating wild berries. I explained to her that they grew in my yard back home and I’d been eating them my entire life. (The poor woman thought her girls were all about to be poisoned.) We were not poisoned. She was still furious. I was officially “the bad kid” at camp.

My transgressions continued. I made one bosom friend who I adore to this day. We left everyone out. Our friendship was easy and we didn’t have time for jealousy or judgment. We would rather talk about the camp horses rather than who wore too much makeup. We clicked, and just got each other. The same kids who judged me also complained that my friend and I ostracized them. It hurt their feelings that my friend and I didn’t include the other eight girls we were forced to share a cabin with. They also loved nothing more than to point out our flaws. One night, I held hands with a boy that I liked. One of my cabin-mates spit at me that it was disgraceful and may as well have called me a whore with the level of disgust in her eyes. I laughed in her face.

For the first time in my life I was an outsider. I wasn’t liked. The counselors didn’t know what to do with me.

In my hometown, I had many friends and my teachers adored me. At camp, I was the bad girl. My twelve-year-old-self didn’t know what to do with the new camp version of me. Then, for the remainder of my stay, I embraced it.

I went back to that same camp a few more times and with every visit my “screw you attitude” became stronger. I didn’t want to feel the sting of their rejection so I ignored it and acted like their judgement amused me.

I wasn’t completely upset about returning to camp the following year. There were many aspects of the camp that I loved. The ocean was a short walk away. I adored horseback riding and taking care of the horses. I liked sleeping outside in a tent. I liked Christian camp for all the wrong reasons.

Every time I returned home, I was a slightly different version of myself. I felt God move away from me as I walked by the river year after year.

I know now that it was I who distanced myself from Him. I began to feel unworthy of His love and attention. I went to a camp that praised Him, but I failed there. Our relationship became more complicated over the years. The pettiness I learned at camp was just the beginning of our challenges.

My late teens and early 20’s were the loud years in my life. I didn’t allow any quiet to sink in, I couldn’t hear Him. I was in string of challenging relationship. I partied hard.

Then I met my husband and we built a peaceful life together. I reached out to God again, but it was difficult to find Him, even after my life had calmed down. The years between us weighed heavy on my heart.

I became pregnant with our son. I learned that bringing a child into the world strips you of all vanity and arrogance. Birthing my son revealed a depth to my spirit that I previously thought was shallow. When I pushed my son into the world and held him to my chest for the first time, I was brought to my knees and humbled beyond measure. Childbirth was the greatest force of nature I’d ever experienced. I cried out to God in gratitude, I felt His presence in every corner of the delivery room.

When I look at my son I see such bliss, love, and curiosity in his eyes. I see a sacred innocence that shinesthe same light that once danced in my eyes as I raced along the river shore. There is a spiritual light that illuminates children, perhaps because their tender years make them closer to that side of heaven. 

I watch my son race across the grass in our yard, his toddler legs moving as fast as they can go and my own feet are light again. My spirit soars as I chase after my baby. A familiar, but long-lost smile breaks across my face when my son looks back at me. My arms rise like a bird in flight, a voice whispers in my heart, welcome home.

-Rachel McKee

Author’s Note: I don’t normally talk about religion, politics, or sex on this blog. (You know all the things you wouldn’t bring up at Thanksgiving dinner.) But this essay kept coming back to me and it wouldn’t let me go. I had to write it down. I hope none of you take offense from my journey with God. I also don’t want to give the impression that I am against organized religion because I know many people who attend church and have deepened their relationship with God this way. This is simply part of my story.

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Author: Rachel McKee

Currently writing a YA novel. I love reading about everything, truly I'm not a book snob. Lately I have been "reading" a lot of picture books to my baby boy. In my past life before motherhood, I was a professional technical editor and writer.

19 thoughts on “My Journey With God: The Abridged Version”

  1. On the contrary, your story carries some vital lessons. If more of us were gracious and attempted to invite, rather than regulate, folks into Christianity, the kingdom might grow quicker. Get to know people instead of making assumptions. In any case, I’m grateful that God came for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. God is not the same as religion. Religion is what people have made of God. I’ve studied many different sorts of religions and spiritual beliefs/lifestyles/cultures, and it’s been my experience that God truly is Love, Mercy, Forgiveness, and all these other things that humans really should aspire to be more of. I don’t like organized religion on the whole. I think there are some very good people out there who are shining examples of practicing what they preach, and I know there are lots of churches, temples, synagogues, etc. that are doing no harm, and I don’t hold anything against them at all – quite the opposite. But I really draw the line at “neurotic” religion – denominations or organizations that do shut out most people, instead of welcoming them, or saying that a style or view of worship or spiritual culture is sinful (when their own religious text claims no such thing about that particular aspect). People tend to determine who and what God is on their own terms, rather than letting God be Himself.

    Thank you for sharing. There’s a big difference between “getting all religious,” and discussing your spiritual experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve seen lots of different perspectives on divinity, and worship, and the only thing they all have in common is the belief in a Higher Power. Which, at least I feel, really should be the most important common thread. I do happen to believe that the Bible isn’t just history or legends (though I also believe it’s a lot of those things, too), but I also don’t think it’s right for people who feel Christianity is the one true faith to treat others who don’t believe/agree with that as somehow inferior or wrong. It’s been the argument for committing some truly horrendous sins throughout the ages, and I for one think there’s a lot more to God than what people chose to include in a holy book. History and archeology has shown us that there have always been many ways to worship and have spiritual experiences, and so the idea that this or that is wrong simply because we’ve forgotten it in this era is just wrong itself.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Your words have touched my heart, to this day, being in nature is where I find my true spiritual home – there are man-made structures with soaring vaulted rooms that evoke this same feeling, a feeling that I have entered sacred space, always catching my breath.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Spirituality/religion is very personal. I nominally consider myself an atheist but I am a spiritual atheist. As such, I know the struggle you probably have with some highly devout subscribers to organized religion because I’m seen as somewhat of a mystic by my atheist friends. I’m just a spiritual misfit really but I have found comfort and acceptance within the local Unitarian Universalist fellowship. If you miss that part of organized religion you might wish to check out your local UU fellowship. They welcome people of all beliefs and lack thereof.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, such a personal topic. I was pretty nervous about posting this because I didn’t want to offend anyone. But everyone so far has been wonderful and I’ve learned even more about my blog buddies. Thank you for the recommendation.

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      1. You’re welcome. When I lost faith in mainstream Christianity I found it filled that void of missing church and the social and artistic part of it. My congregation here is very small but when I lived in Idaho we were big enough that we had a choir that I sang in and I enjoyed it very much. You can find your local UU fellowship at uua.org.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Rachel, I always enjoy reading your blog, your writing style and the topics are so engaging. When reading this entry I was completely drawn in. Your writing style really allowed me to be a part of your spiritual journey, through all the positive and negative encounters you have had along the way. Thank you for opening up and sharing your experience. Having come from a background of strict organized religion I can completely relate to your experience at the church camp. I, as well, have found organized religion difficult for me to accept. My ‘faith’ has always felt more real to me when conceptualized as a spiritual journey and not a religious faith journey. While I also see beauty of a higher power in nature (Washington being a perfect example of this), I have found that connection to the spiritual in interactions with others, within the energy that binds us all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading Bethany! You and I have had some wonderful conversations about religion, I love hearing your opinion, you are such a thoughtful intelligent person. I’m glad I was able to clearly convey my journey, that’s the hardest part about writing, drawing the reader in AND making sense. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for this very thoughtful piece Rachel. I agree that there is nothing like religion or politics that can unite or divide not only a dinner table but mankind (and as for the other topic, well, we’ll defer it indefinitely for obvious reasons 😜). If I was any learned in either God or religion I would love to join in a feisty debate, but as a staunch atheist I would only like to say thank you for spreading your wings of spirituality in such a gentle (nonetheless gripping) fashion. You’ve made a point about religion which transcended religion; it’s a beautiful story about belief and faith that should serve well to unite us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Religion and faith are far from the same thing. Religion is manmade; faith is spiritual belief and experiences, the chance for a connection to the divine. We probably wouldn’t be so divided if more people realized that.

      Liked by 1 person

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