God on the Sidelines - Ryan's Story
My father’s career caused us to move every few years during my childhood. In every new community we settled in my parents were adamant about finding a church home. We grew up attending weekly Sunday school classes, were baptized and confirmed. Yet, as a high school student I chose to attend a different church as I found a personal connection with another worship community and my parents were fully supportive of my decision to follow Christ outside of their church. While I was active in my faith but it was often a secondary priority even during those years.
Fast-forward through my undergraduate, my twenty and thirty-something years, a hectic career and more cross-country, career-induced moves and I lost a connection to a church community altogether. My spirituality played second fiddle to my lifestyle. I attended church on occasion, but I didn’t fully embrace the spirit of worship. I shoved God to the sidelines and called him in to my game only when I deemed fit. During trying times my faith would swell somewhat and then slowly dissipate when life returned back to regular programming.
When my father fell critically ill I dropped to my knees begging God keep him alive – he was too young to die. I bargained with God to keep him healthy long enough to survive a heart transplant. Days dragged to weeks. Weeks turned in to months. I couldn’t fathom why with all the medical advancements and brilliant medical minds why his illness was so labored and not improving. Eventually the tone in my prayers changed from pleading for God to heal him to quietly asking God to shed mercy on his ailing body and surround him with comfort and peace . It was those shifts in my prayers that I realized God had been present all along – He’d been waiting for me to realize my faith should be a priority again and that only way I was going to make it out of darkness was with Him in the Captains’ chair in my life. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been selfish for so long not making faith a daily priority and in my darkest hours I realized God never left me even when I walked away from Him.
It took the journey of my father’s belabored illness and eventual passing to remind me God is merciful, never leaves us and sheds comfort on us. On Father’s Day of 2014 just 4 weeks after we held my dad’s hands as he transitioned on, I decided to formally join this church community. I had been attending as a passive visitor, again moving through my hectic life but not embracing my faith. I chose Father’s Day Sunday in honor of my dad and because I knew in his last moments with us he was at peace, filled with the Holy Spirit and accepting of it all. In some way I like to think that the end of my father’s life provided me the most wonderful gift – connecting back with a church home and re-launching my faith.
The Access services, music, interactive sermons and accessibility of it all has provided me a safe place to come worship. I don’t feel vulnerable and I don’t feel like one of thousands in a congregation. I feel connected and focused and free to be me – scarred with life’s mistakes and disappointments but full of blessings and hope. Dark events often lead us to dig deep inside and realize we’re never been alone and don’t ever have to be. Access reminds me that my journey in faith doesn’t have to be alone. And, it reminds me that my faith is more than just on Sundays.
Ryan Schultz, FUMCR member and ACCESS attendee
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