Religion (Part I)

John over at “Where’s My Plan” has a great post about parents and religion….I wanted to leave a comment but my thoughts on the subject are too vast to leave them in a little comment bar….

The wife and I were discussing religion the other night on our way back from Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws and I said that I’m pretty sure that I know when my faith began to falter, perhaps even came crashing down completely.

I was 14 years old and was a “Jesus freak”. I was proud to stand up for God in my community, I had a Bible that was graffiti’d with so many pro-Christian phrases and the times that I was away from church, I was wishing that I was there again. I was on fire. I was convinced that my love for Jesus was the best thing out there and noone could sway my opinion. I told people at my school about God and I was stoked about all things Holy. I mean, you get me in a room full of saints and I was like Howard Dean! Yeeeaaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh!!!!! I was pumped.

Then my sister was taken from me.

She was 8 years old.

She came down with pneumonia and her heart stopped one morning.

I struggled with how God could have done this to me. When someone you love is taken from you before you expect them to be, there is nothing to do except question. Functioning was not an option. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe. I had no idea what to do with myself. All the things I had been pumped up about seemed to hold no water for me. I cried and I cried and I cried some more. I had been a nerd and didn’t have too many friends, I think that’s why I clinged to my religion like Linus clings to his blanket. I had nothing else in my life that gave me fulfillment. My two sisters formed the first two legs of a tripod in my life, with Jesus filling out that third leg. Once one of those was broken in half, taken from me, my whole foundation toppled. I had no idea where to go and what to do.

When Leah died, I was preparing for my role as Uncle Max in “The Sound of Music”, put on by my school. I was in 9th grade and I was excited for this role. Leah died on a Tuesday, the 29th of October, and the first showing was on November 2nd, Friday evening. The director cried “UNDERSTUDY!!!” but I refused to back down. I was in this and I would not back out due to circumstances beyond my control.

I was practicing one of my songs in the gymnasium with the pianist when the school secretary came into the room. Up to this point in my life, when I was told my parents were waiting for me in the office, I had been in deep shit. The previous time my father had been to my school, I had hidden my other sister’s lunch pail and she couldn’t find it, missing the bus and inciting my father’s anger at a prank that noone found amusing other than me. Something about this time was different, I could tell. For starters, the secretary had tears streaming down her face. I stopped singing. She said, “Dave your father is in the office.” I said “What’s happened?” and she meekly replied, “I think you should speak to your father.”

My walk across the gymnasium was the longest walk in the history of mankind to me. I still remember where I was standing. I can remember that I, for some reason, walked to the further door. The door on the right instead of the closer door, the left side door. I walked into the office and my father was crying. It still seems that those were the longest moments of my life. Nothing up to that point had ever seemed so serious to me and even SINCE then, I can’t think of anything else having the gravity that it did. My father looked me dead in the face and said “She’s gone. Leah passed away this morning.” and then burst into tears. I stood there in shock for what seems like an eternity. In actuality, it was probably only 5 seconds. During those 5 seconds, I remember everyone in the office looking at me and my father, not knowing what they could say to ease this transition from a relatively happy, nuclear family to a bereaved group of individuals. I burst into tears as well and hugged my father for a full minute. Then, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t really happening! It was all a dream!!!! None of this was real!!! I’m having an incredibly realistic dream!!! Pinching myself was the furthest thing from my mind so I had to just take a step back and look at my father. He nodded to me and those few shakes of his head cemented what I didn’t want to admit. She was gone, my sister was gone.

I turned from my father and raced down the hall to my choir/music room screaming at the top of my lungs. It hurt soooooo bad. There is no physical pain I’ve experienced that compares to the pain I felt at that moment. I picked my books up, dropped them, picked them up again. I cried the entire time. My teacher said, “what’s going on? is everything ok?” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! It’s not ok!!!! My sister died!!!!” I screamed at her. This all took place in front of my entire class/the cast. I finally just let the books drop and cried in anguish. I left and I vaguely remember someone saying “I’ll bring your homework by your house later”.

My father and I had ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch that day after leaving the school. It’s funny, the things that you can remember when things happen. We went home and I bashed my knuckles into a mobile closet we had in the apartment (you know, those cheap-o metal closets?) and dented the closet. My dad just sat on the couch, looking like a broken man. We both were at a loss for words so he suggested we write down what we were feeling. This suggestion led us to release our inner poets. The poems we wrote are listed below and were published in a local newspaper as an outlet for our thoughts;

Eight years you were here,
Blessing everyone who came near.

You couldn’t run, skip, or dance,
I know you have, if given the chance.

You’re with Jesus now and Heaven will be a better place,
All because of your lovely little face.
I’ll miss you and an empty place will forever be in my heart.

For you this isn’t the end, but only a fresh new start.
In Heaven, you’ll have no more pain,
Only sunshine and never any rain.
You’ll laugh and sing and skip and dance,
You’ll never again wait for the one little chance
The ballerina you’ve always wanted to be,
Will be in the spotlight.
The way it should be,
I’ll see you again when Jesus says it’s time for me.
Until then, I’ll miss you.
-Your loving father, Jim Miller

Eight years you were on this earth,
First came conception then came birth.

Next you grew to the age of one,
That was the year that you shone like the sun.

Then you hit two, and after that there was three.
Those were the times you laughed with me.

And there were the ages of four and five,
Those were the years you really came alive.

After five, there was six and seven,
We were sure you would die and go to heaven.

When you hit eight, we thought it was great,
That was when we believed that God decided to wait.

But now we know, as you liked to show,
That God needed another angel.

You can dance and you can sing,
You can do anything!

Leah, God is the only thing that I love more than you.
I’ll cut back on the headaches.

p.s. Tell me what it’s like up there!

After sitting around the house for a few hours in a daze, my father and I headed into town to see her body and prepare for visitation. Things seemed to be so numb that we both had calmed down a bit.

We got to the funeral home and they led us back to the room where Leah’s body lay. Even the warnings don’t help, ya know? They reminded us that it wasn’t actually Leah. Only the shell of her. It was so hard to look at her. Then I snapped, I ran to her body and hugged her. I couldn’t let go, it hurt so much. What they don’t really tell you, but you hear bits and pieces of on cop shows, is rigor mortis sets in. Rigor mortis is only a few hours by the way, see my post about the autopsies I sat thru recently for more info about that. She was so stiff and it didn’t feel right. Feeling her skin and stiffness really made it sink in, once again, that I was NOT dreaming. This was real. This was my new reality, I had one less sister on the planet.

The visitation came and people that I had never seen in my life came. Some my parents knew, some they didn’t. What we discovered was amazing though. In her short time on Earth, only eight years, she had touched more lives than we could ever have imagined. Her visitation was amazingly busy with people coming and going, complete strangers crying like children. It only made it worse for me though, because I only got angrier with God.

The funeral was on Thursday, the 31st of October. It was so bitterly cold outside and icy on the roads that although hundreds of people wanted to come, they feared for their own safety so they had to stay back. It was actually so bad that we had to skip the usual funeral procession and the Pastor decreed that only the immediate family and basically the “bare minimum” would get out on the road. It was bad, it was really, really bad weather.

Before they laid her in the ground, I leaned over her casket and cried one tear. It was so cold outside that the tear froze to my glasses lens before it even hit the casket.

The next day or so, during one of our final rehearsals for the musical, I went outside for a bit to yell at God. I was so angry and I wanted him to know. I screamed at the top of my lungs, I yelled obscenities, I threw bread (yes, you read that right. We had become overwhelmed with those little finger food sandwiches from the funeral and we had dozens of bags full of them.) It made no sense to me that he had taken her. Leah, so popular and beloved by all. Why did SHE get taken? Why couldn’t he take me!?!?!?!? I was ready to go, I was so on fire with my love for him that I was ready to go to Heaven RIGHT THEN AND THERE. I had no use for the things of this world. I had no use for the friends that I didn’t have. I was a loser in my own mind. The only thing I had going for me was my strong beliefs in religion and it’s importance to my life, to my functioning. I was so angry that he chose her to go instead of me. Looking back, it was really selfish. I can still see why I felt that way but Leah’s passing on molded all of my family members into different people. It was one of those experiences that you can’t “undo” and even if you could, it’s been so long that it would have completely changed the paths our lives have taken.

I honestly think that moment was when I really lost a good grip on my faith. Although I am by no means a heathen, I consider myself a backslidden Christian and unfortunately I have no desire to “get right”. It’s not a good feeling, these feelings that I have, but since my religious fervor has died down it’s just the way I’ve felt. I have described myself to friends as “agnostic”.

As mentioned in the post that triggered this outburst, my mother has been attempting to get me religion-ized as well since I left home for the Navy. During one of my trips home on leave several years ago, it came time for communion and my mother was horrified when I sat there during the procession up to the altar. She was absolutely furious that I had embarrassed her in front of her fellow parishioners. I couldn’t say anything to her except, “Mom, I’m not right with God. If the scriptures are correct, it is a bigger sin to partake in Communion if you are not right with God then it is to skip it.”

I guess it comes down to an inbred fear of God. Religion teaches you that to fear God is a good thing. We should all fear him, because after all, HE’S GOD. I guess that although I’m still scared of him, I don’t like the concept of religion that man has made for himself. Wars are fought over religion, people have been killed in droves because of religion. Granted, these are all extreme cases, but if you talk to some people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, you may realize that the knowledge of a benevolent presence up on high is the only thing that truly gives them hope. Unfortunately, the hope that I had was taken from me by force, the day that my sister was taken from me.

I suppose that should end off this rant. It’s not that I’m done cause I’ve got plenty more to say. I’m usually not quite this verbose when it comes down to my true feelings. My blog serves as a mouthpiece for me, mostly just to goof off and to spout off at the keyboard. This just may be one of the few times it has served as a serious outlet and given me a chance to flex my literary muscles.

What do YOU think about religion? All comments are welcome.

UPDATE- Read my “addendum” at

posted Tue, 11-30-04


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