Several weeks ago now, I sat in church and almost threw up when I notice the day’s scripture reading: Genesis 28. This Old Testament chapter is a loaded one for me. One that carries my college nickname, India-girl, on its back. You see, I first discovered this chapter in India.
I was sitting in a bright hallway, the summer sun streaming in somehow in this windowless area. Awake before my teammates, as we’re taking today off, I’m writing in a red journal I was given a few days before I got on a plane for a 10-week mission trip here. I’m debriefing about a wedding we attended the night before, that stretched into the early-morning hours, before the groom even arrived at the party.
At the bottom of the page, I notice it. A red, pretty-script Bible verse, that seems to draw my eyes from my own cursive to its. It’s a verse, like every other verse in this journal, plucked from context for its all-applicable message–even if that was never the intention. I, however, not yet deep enough into my Biblical Studies program to recognize this, read it as if it is just that, just for me.
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. - Genesis 28.15
As if I can speak back to the words on the page, I jot a note down beneath it. I do believe that I can dialogue with God at this point, so my words are playfully prayerful: Are you trying to say something, God?
And just like that, without hearing any verbal response to my words, I instantly believe God is, indeed, trying to say something. He will bring me back to this land, I write on the next page. Back to India.
From this springs the nickname that I’ll live out for the next several years: India-girl. I return to my campus after 10-weeks in India and tell everyone I meet how much I loved India, how much I wanted to go back. Though I keep the verse to myself, it follows me. It drives me. The nickname identifies me, without me picking it; the verse compels me to live out the identity it provides.
Until I reach the pinnacle of the dream these twin ideas lead me to. I land back in India 4 years later, for a 2-year missionary term, but within a few months–roughly the same amount of time it took me to fall in love with India–the dream is failing.
I turn to the passage from which the fabled verse springs, unsure of what I’ll find. I sit on a balcony during winter in India, the sun hiding behind thin but effective clouds. I sob before I even begin, afraid I already know that the answer I’m looking for has changed. The verse that led me here can never mean the same thing again, I think. The promise may have come true, but I don’t know what to do next, now that the dream I once held so dearly now feels like a nightmare.
The fears come true. The verses don’t fit anymore. This time, I read past verse 15 alone, reading the rest of the story. The character that heard this promise does return, but briefly. Most of his life is spent stopping over in the place where these words were spoke. Stopping over, and moving on.
He keeps going, I sigh aloud. He moves on.
What does that mean for me?
I listen to the passage read aloud, staring at my phone to see the passage, even though I only see it through blurred eyes. It so quickly stirs up these memories, the highs and lows it covers. And then our pastor begins to speak, her voice lilting with care in not just the words, but the delivery. She speaks of someone else’s memories of faith driving our own faith-experience.
I’m just barely familiar with the counseling modality of Internal Family Systems, aka “parts work,” but it’s what springs into my head as my own someone else. The older, the other parts of me, formed in different seasons, inform the faith I embody today. India-girl is one of those parts.
India-girl is the memory I tend to remember most when I think about my faith.
She was so certain of the promise she felt Genesis 28.15 gave her. She was so in love with India. She believed in the Evangelism she was raised in. She gave her life to a calling to missions. She gave up years of her life, opportunities, and money to pursue missions. She fought through chronic illnesses and doctor’s disagreements to move to India for two years. She was so sure of herself.
Until she wasn’t. Until the promise shook. Until the entire system that made her and her faith what they were shattered while she lived in India.
Non-India-girl, otherwise known as me, has almost no certainty. I have more questions than answers, more doubt than assurance, more life than purpose. And I’m mostly okay with that. But sometimes, I wonder about her God.
Sometimes, I still wait for India-girl’s God to show up. In the goosebumps and the out-loud whispers. In the songs and streaming tears. In the daily discipline, the rigid rules, the boundaries she kept.
Sometimes, that God still does show up. I still get goosebumps. I still sing and write down whispers and cry even when I fight the tears. I still love morning coffee, stillness, and, yes, even reading the Bible.
But a different God shows up too, in places I’m only just beginning to learn to see Them. In my husband’s laugh. In my non-worship spotify playlist. In sleeping in. In bingeing shows. In writing that centers me instead of God.
I never looked for God in me before, but I do now.
And isn’t that exactly where Jacob was found by God in that chapter too? The context is clear: this is Jacob’s mind. Jacob’s dream. That’s where God shows up.
I was taught to be afraid of myself. So I took an intimate meeting place, a holy self-identifying moment that Jacob had here–and I made it about what I should do instead. I commandeered it for my story instead of for myself. I made it about my purpose instead of my heart.
What amazes me most here, writing these words in the white-light sanctuary of our church, listening to new words on such a familiar passage, is that there isn’t shame coming up anymore. Shame was currency for India-girl, of course.
But for me, the currency of my faith is curiosity.
Curiosity, and gratitude.
These memories of faith from my past, from the older parts and pieces of not-yet-fully-formed-me, can still be heirlooms, still be a part of my heritage, without being haunted anymore.
And like Jacob’s whole story, enlarged for me first on that balcony where I felt more broken than ever, it grows larger again today, in this space. It’s reopened to show me that God was always there. Wherever in these words was never meant to be locked down–not for Jacob, not for India-girl, not for any of us.
God was always there.
Even where I used to look.
And everywhere I look now.
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