Jun 16, 2023Liked by Theresa "Sam" Houghton

Theresa, this is such a searingly honest story of how you came to faith through the deep trials and perils of being human, and through emotional suffering and anguish, finally saw that God had another path in life for you.

All through the book my grandmother gave me, “Streams in the Desert,” the author returns again and again to the theme of salvation and new life, a new start and a new life when we are purified through the anguish and suffer ending we all experience, some intensely and frequently than others. Without the darkness, in other words, how could there be light?

As you know, becoming a Christian does not make life easier. It enables us to have hope through faith in Jesus’s promises from God and in our anchoring our lives in those promises.

I have always been one to I intellectualize faith and the Bible, preferring deeper understanding through theological concepts and explications. That works mightily for me when I focus and try to start each day as a new opportunity to come closer to God. We are given minds, and we are to use them. The penalty for closing our minds and accepting only what we are told is to stall further spiritual progress.

My relationship to God is constantly evolving, and I am not the same Christian I was years ago. I am grateful I have been able to question what human beings have proclaimed as the only way to be a Christian, and I was only able to do that when I rightly left the Catholic Church in my late 30s, having converted ten years earlier. I say this only to convey in part how very long and winding my spiritual/religious road has been.

In other words, I use my mind, I think, I argue with myself and sometimes with God, and gradually I find the pieces of the puzzle coming together. For some of us, myself included, it will take a lifetime, but thankfully, each new day “is the first day of the rest of my life.”

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This resonates with me so much, John. I, too, enjoy the intellectual aspect of faith. I like to read Christian thinkers who have studied the Bible and delved deep into its pages. I treasure the opportunity to grow in knowledge and understanding of Christianity and of God as I read their works and listen to their sermons or podcasts.

I, too, I am not the same Christian I was 12 years ago. I go into this more in my third letter, letter five, which I posted today. You are right that there is a lot of wrestling involved, a lot of questioning, and sometimes arguing ! But God has brought me and continues to bring me through it all, and I’m growing stronger for it.

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I hear you! As you may have surmised from my previous comment, I have been through stages, or “passages” in life, the ones most directly related to my spiritual progress coming only after dire and profound battles with clinical depression.

After each almost completely debilitating and very lengthy episode (the second lasted a full year from 1993-94),I emerged into a new and changed life, returning again to my Christian roots.

After the first depression I converted to Catholicism (1980) and began a short-lived, by immensely rewarding teaching career. After the second depression, I returned to my Presbyterian heritage and attended church regularly.

Now in old age, retired from work and no longer a full time caregiver, I have for the most part returned to my totally single and solitary life. I have had many friends over the course of my life (almost all having been made at work), but at heart I am a solitary and always have been.

Churches are almost universally family -oriented, so I find little kinship as a member of a congregation. Despite what many Christian writers say, I don’t think it’s necessary to be part of an actual community of believers to be a Christian. I have my main daily devotions, and at this stage of life I pretty much know myself and what I need to do to come closer toGod in my daily seeking of Him.

The more detailed descriptions of my struggles with depression are conteonrd in the diary entry links I sent you earlier. These might be too painful for some to read, but the ultimate message contained in them is hope and renewal of life after major adversity and trials.

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I understand a desire to be solitary, as I'm quite the introvert myself and have a small "social battery," if you will. Errands on Saturday and church on Sunday pretty much put me at my limits for socializing for the week.

But I come back to Hebrews 10:23-25: "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

The day is, indeed, approaching, and it seems to be coming faster than ever before. Paul was right when he wrote that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11). Many voices in the world seek to steer Christians away from Christ, and being under consistent teaching, especially the expository Bible teaching that's common in Reformed circles, is critical to ensuring that we remain discerning. God designed the local church to function as a body, to lift each other up, to care for each other, and to teach and admonish one another.

In case you can't tell, I'm one of those Christian writers who believes this is important. :) I'm struck more and more by the community aspect of faith as I re-read the Old Testament now and every time I revisit Acts. Corporate worship holds something special that individual devotion doesn't—both together make for strong believers who grow together to the glory of God.

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I diverge from your thoughts here, but in ways quite respectful of the different approaches we take in understanding annd following our faith in God and how to live it.

My path is definitely the solitary one, almost as if In some ways I am like, or would seem to want emulate the desert hermits of the early church. Of course their way is much too austere and ascetic for me, but I can understand why Jesus said to go alone into a room and pray.

My spiritual path has always been Christianity, but I practice the faith as it speaks to my heart and conscience, and I don’t feel the need to find what I am looking for through a community of believers. That was accomplished in my past years of church attendance, and now I am more comfortable writing about my spiritual journey and sharing aspects of it whenever I can, by living out, however inadequately, my faith and beliefs, but also in writing essays such as that which I have just posted at Substack on my own spiritual journey.

I think most people seek God and His goodness and mercy so that we can show that to others through our actions and kindnesses. Some people reject the light of their higher nature and choose the darkness of what they think is only a void or nothingness after death.

Seekers of God however, believe they have a soul and that their soul never perishes but lives on eternally, however that is to be one day revealed to us.

Religions and the spiritual quests of humans throughout history show us that we are much more than matter, that in fact we are spiritual beings connected to the divinity of God.

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Jun 9, 2023·edited Jun 9, 2023Liked by Theresa "Sam" Houghton

I loved this stage in your journey Sam, especially the moment of finding the Corinthians quote and recognizing the sanctity of your god-given body, and then the deliverance of your baptism.

Also seeing your pastor in his T-shirt was like me seeing Father Dave outside of church, period 😂 I liked that little parallel.

I'm greatly looking forward to reading the next one, and replying tomorrow :)

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I think it's strange in general to see people outside the contexts we associate them with. Like the Calvin & Hobbes strip where Calvin's mom sees his teacher at the store, and Calvin reacts with surprise, "She shops at the store??" 😂

Looking forward to your reply. This has been an interesting and enlightening exchange thus far, and a challenge for me! I hope you're finding it the same--in good ways.

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Jun 9, 2023Liked by Theresa "Sam" Houghton

Haha I love that, Calvin & Hobbes truly know how to capture life's imponderable moments sometimes.

And likewise! I very much am finding it the same—interesting, enlightening, challenging, in the best of ways. Just posted reply number 2 :)

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Jun 3, 2023Liked by Theresa "Sam" Houghton

Beautiful letter, Sam. I felt so drawn to you choosing to be baptized in a natural body of water.

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Thanks for reading, as always, Russell!

Not going to lie: that lake was pretty gross at the bottom. But it was totally worth it!

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