Clinging to Hope

jesus knocking on the doorA guest post by ObstacleChick

Humans can have great capacity for hope. The noun definition of hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust.” The verb definition is to “want something to happen or be the case.” It is normal for people to desire better outcomes if things are not going well in their lives. Often people will go to extreme measures “hoping” for something good to happen. They may donate money to a religion or charity hoping that their deity will look kindly upon them and act in their favor (a modern-day version of offering a sacrifice). Some people with diseases may resort to alternative medicine, some of which may help and some of which may not help and perhaps may cause harm. People living in poverty can fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes, or they may squander money on lottery tickets hoping to hit the jackpot.

My mother was an extremely intelligent woman, born right before women started fighting for equal rights. My mom thought she had to become a homemaker, even though she was not really suited for that. As she was a National Merit Semi-Finalist in high school and 3rd in her high school graduating class, her guidance counselor suggested she should go to college. Being the passive, obedient girl that she was, she applied to a local university and attended for 5 semesters before dropping out to get married. Her marriage lasted a year, and she found herself with no degree and no real marketable skills. She could type well, was intelligent, and had good grammar, so she became a secretary. My mom then married an abusive man who did not want children, had a child (me), and was divorced not long after. With a dependent and no child support (as my father disappeared), my mom and I moved into her parents’ house. My mom was severely depressed but knew she needed to work to support us, so she went back to being a secretary. When I was 11 years old, she married my stepfather, who was also divorced. A year later, they had a child, and the rest of their lives they struggled financially.

After my mother’s second divorce, she started attending church at her parents’ Southern Baptist church. I suppose she was searching for several things – for friends, for comfort after a difficult divorce, for direction in where her life should go next, for meaning, for hope. My mom was at the time the only unattached divorced person attending our church regularly, and it was only when she married again several years later and brought her new husband to church that she was embraced more fully in the church community. Divorced women are often looked at as a threat by married religious women, as if the “depraved” divorced woman is so desperate for male attention that she is going to prey on all the good and decent Christian husbands.

My grandparents were firmly entrenched in the church – my grandfather as a deacon (at one point, chairman of the deacons) and my grandmother as a Sunday school teacher and Women’s Missionary Union teacher. My mom tried teaching children’s Sunday School one year, but she wasn’t really suited for that task. After she remarried, she brought my nominally Lutheran-raised stepfather to church.  After he was baptized (because apparently Lutheran baptism isn’t good enough), it didn’t take long for the church leadership to recruit him as an usher (because as a divorced man he could not serve as a deacon). My stepdad was a mild, quiet, and sweet man who was well-liked.

My mom and stepdad moved to a different community in the early 1990s and away from the Southern Baptist church they had attended. My grandfather had passed away, and my grandmother was no longer attending that church after she got “fired” from teaching Sunday school (that’s a story for another day). So they shopped around for another church. After trying out a couple of different churches, they finally settled on a small Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. When I visited them for the holidays and attended their church, I asked my mom, “What are you doing attending an Independent Baptist church with all its legalism?” She said they liked the people, and I couldn’t really argue with her. Most of the people in the church were uneducated farmers, nice folks who loved Jesus and took to heart what the preacher said. It made me sad to see my mom and stepdad fall further down the hole into bigoted teachings, but there was nothing I could do. They had found the hope and community they craved. After a few arguments about homosexuals, in which my mom and I were on opposite sides of the fence, we decided not to discuss much in the way of religion anymore. I also tried to avoid political conversations as she believed that God only approved of Republican pro-life candidates and that while Democrats may be “saved,” they were for sure misguided. My husband and I attended a progressive Christian church for a while before giving up religion altogether and becoming agnostic atheists. Living over 1,000 miles from me, my mom wasn’t sure if we were participating in religion or not, but I think she suspected that we weren’t.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and went through radiation and surgery. She was cancer-free until 2009 when she was diagnosed with a recurrence just weeks before her own mother passed away from Alzheimer’s. After Grandma passed, my mom had a mastectomy, lymphadenectomy and chemotherapy treatment. My mom suffered from lymphadema in her left arm as a result of the lymphadenectomy, and she wasn’t consistent with her physical therapy — it was a nuisance and she didn’t want to be bothered. A couple of years later the cancer came back at her scar site, so doctors ramped up her chemotherapy. She got sicker and sicker with more and more side effects from the chemotherapy. But to her credit, she did continue to participate in the hobbies of jewelry-making and crocheting until just a few months before she died. She also sank deeper and deeper into religion, focusing on eschatology and study of what I can only describe as “Holy Land” Christianity. She became obsessed with what was going on in the Middle East, particularly surrounding Israel, and she watched a lot of Bible prophecy preachers. Like many other Christians, she was convinced that we were living in the “last days” before the coming of Christ. I guess that gave her some hope that she might be raptured away before succumbing to cancer.

My mom and I used to email a lot, which worked well for us because I could skip over the religious topics and respond to the actual events that were happening in her life. This particular entry below annoyed me though — it was written in January and she passed away in mid-November:

January 27, 2014: An odd thing happened today.  I was watching a Perry Stone program this afternoon.  He is a Bible scholar, writes books, has a TV program, and a large ministry in Cleveland, TN.  One or both of his parents were part Cherokee.  His father was a minister.  I have been watching Perry on and off and reading his books and watching videos by him for many years.  I just happened to cut his program on TV while he was teaching.  He broke into his program and said he had a message for someone.  He said this is something he rarely ever does (I’ve never seen him do that before).  He said there was a grandparent with cancer who wanted to live long enough to have some time to spend with their grandchildren and their daughter was pregnant.  He said that the health of that grandparent would get better and they would live longer.  I think he said the cancer would be healed, but I’m not sure about that.  Well, for several years I have prayed that I would keep living for awhile because I wanted to have time to be a good grandparent to my grandchildren.  I’ve been too sick to do much for them lately.  I wonder if, and hope that, he was talking about me.  One never knows.  God works in unusual ways sometimes.  I’ve been thinking lately about all 4 of my grandchildren.  I hope that each of them will be saved before I pass away. _______ [my brother]  was about 7, _______ [me] was 9, I think, and I [my mother]  was around 11 when each of us made some decision about Jesus.  We may not have much time left to make this decision.  Many people, both Christians and Jews, believe our time is short and the Messiah will come soon.  If one has done any studying about this and has been paying attention to world events, it is easy to come to that conclusion.

(For the record, I was 12 when I “made a profession of faith” and was baptized. My family had been pestering me and pestering me to “get right with God,” and I’m a personality who does not respond well to being told what to do, so I dug in my heels and wouldn’t do it. I also didn’t see why it had to be a public matter – shouldn’t it be between you and God/Jesus/Holy Spirit? But finally I couldn’t take the pestering anymore so I chose a date and went down front during the altar call to get it over and done. It was a relief to be left alone about the subject.)

First, I see that she was still clinging to hope that maybe, just maybe, God would cure her of cancer or at least let her live longer. Second, she was clinging to hope that all of her grandchildren would be “saved,” ostensibly so she could see them again in heaven. And third, she was hopeful that the Messiah would come soon (perhaps sparing her from suffering from cancer any longer but still with the positive outcome that she and all her “saved” family would meet in heaven).

As for whether we were all saved, it depends on which brand of Christian you ask. I was raised Southern Baptist and my husband was raised nominally Catholic, meaning that he was baptized as a baby and went through first communion, but nothing else. So per Catholic standards, both he and I would be “saved” because he was baptized in Catholic Church and I was baptized in a Baptist church which is on the approved list of Catholic-approved Protestant baptisms. By most Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist standards, I was “saved” because of the “once saved always saved” rule but my husband was not. By no one’s standards are my children “saved” because they have never been baptized and do not believe in deities of any sort. My children are thankful not to have spent hours in religious education as many of their friends have, and they see religion as a waste of time. As my 15-year-old son says, when his friends ask about his religious proclivities, “we aren’t doing religion right now.”

My brother, his wife, and his 9- and 10-year-old sons fit into the “saved” category, having all made their “profession of faith” and being baptized (though my brother baptized his boys in the bathtub because he hasn’t found a church that he agrees with yet). I’m not sure if bathtub baptism by a layperson counts . . . but he’s comfortable with it, and as he is very into the angry Old Testament god, the grace of Jesus, first century Christianity (whatever he thinks that is), and eschatology, I guess he has done his research. He doesn’t know that we are atheists, and I’m afraid that knowledge would irreparably damage our relationship.

So how did I answer my mother’s query about our salvation? I merely answered that we were fine and that she shouldn’t worry about it. Really, all she wanted was the hope that she would see her grandchildren again in heaven one day.

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