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How I Found Jesus by Losing Him, part 3

So I grew up in multiple religions, all Christian. I went to Catholic school. I became a nurse.

When my patient breathed her last, and became a body, I realized that’s all we are. I lost my faith.

But did I?

I no longer believe in a higher deity, controlling every result and every movement, but does that mean I don’t believe?

There is strong historical evidence to show that Jesus Christ existed, and he set a very good example of how to live a life. The saints, real or not, provide amazing examples of humanity.

I have a strong ethical and moral backbone. I believe in being a good person because it’s the right thing to do, not because I hope to get into heaven or avoid hell. I still enjoy the occasional mass in honor of my grandmother.

I believe that religion exists as a method to control the poor and uneducated. It is a system that has worked to control the masses for centuries. Religion tells you that if you work hard, you’ll get a reward in the afterlife. It’s the base for every trickle down scheme the world has seen. Just do this and you’ll get this. The belief in a deity that will step in and save you was created to control you, not to help you.

You know who can save people? People. Be a decent person. If you see racism happening, speak up. If you see sexism happening, speak up. If you see someone being bullied, say something. Volunteer. If you see a parent about to lose it on their child, lend them a hand. People can do so much for each other if we start believing in each other and stop believing someone’s going to come along and magically make it all better if we follow a set of rules.

Live each day. Make friends. Do what makes you happiest. If your religion makes you happy, be religious, but don’t ram it down someone else’s throat. Don’t assume atheists have no moral code. Doing good for the simple purpose of doing good is…. fucking awesome. So give your atheist some respect. We have the right to be here, too.

Edited to add: I still pray with my patients. If a person asks to pray with you, they are in their time of need, and it doesn’t take any effort to hold their hand and share your spirit with them. Their prayers are not about your choice or lack of religion, their prayers are because they are ill, and they need support. It’s not the time for religious debate.

How I Found Jesus by Losing Him, part 2

The start of anything begins with the end of something else.

One day, I was working dayshift, and I got this patient with a bowel obstruction. She was elderly and in really good shape. A real spit fire. She was fucking adorable. It was a busy day. She had an NG tube and we were trying to decompress her bowel with it and disrupt the obstruction.

The morning flew by. My patient didn’t want a shower, but she accepted a bed bath and foot soak from me. If I give you a bed bath, you’re going to feel like you just stepped out of the shower. Cleanliness is important to feel like a human being. It’s also an opportunity to talk to my patients and learn about them, and to do a really thorough skin assessment. Because the skin is the body’s first line of defense, this is incredibly important.

During her bath, my patient told me she would refuse surgery. She told me that at her age, she didn’t want a long surgical recovery. I told her I would support her decision. She thanked me. We talked about a lot of things, her children, her life. She was an amazing woman.

As the day went on, my adorable, spunky patient got worse. She started having increasing pain, clutching her left side. Her abdomen began to swell. Her vital signs deteriorated. I called the residents, and as shift change approached, I took her to ICU. After I gave report and headed to the elevator, I heard a code called in ICU. It was my patient. I was sure she would be gone.

I was off for a day, and then came back to work. It was a Saturday. I discharged a couple of patients and then the charge asked me to take a patient from ICU. The ICU desperately needed the bed, and in order to get that bed, they needed to send us a patient whose death was imminent. When I heard the her name, I said I would absolutely take the patient. The other nurses quickly offered to cover my patients and the charge promised me she would be there with me.

This was important, because I had never had a patient die. I’d saved some lives by making clever catches and having good rescue skills, but the truth is, I’m really good at getting my patients to ICU if they start to crump. I’m even better at keeping them out of ICU by catching slight changes in condition. I’m known for it. Because of this, and luck, I’d gone 5 years in nursing and nearly 10 years in healthcare and never had a patient die.  So I needed someone to stand by me and walk me through the process.

I got report from the ICU. My patient was in a coma, caused by kidney failure. Her bowel had died. They had attempted surgery, which she must have agreed to at the last minute, and found her bowel dead. When the bowel dies, the body begins to fill with toxins. The kidneys lose perfusion and become overloaded. The liver becomes overloaded. Eventually, the individual loses consciousness and dies.

When the patient transferred, I phoned her son to let him know where she was. He was in the middle of a flat out drive across the country to try to make it to his mom before she died. There was no way he would get there.

My patient arrived from ICU and she was barely breathing. Occasionally she would groan and I would give her a very small dose of morphine. Soon, her breathing became irregular, and her heart rate slowed. I knew it was time. I went and got the charge. My patient’s eyes were still opening, so we turned her so she could see the mountains. Then we held her hands, and waited. After a couple of minutes, she stopped breathing. The charge and I told her it was okay to go, I told her that her son loved her, and was thinking of her. I put my stethoscope on her chest and I heard her heart beat a strange rhythm and go quiet. She was gone.

The first thing I did was call her son. He wanted to know if she had died alone. I told him exactly what I wrote above, and he thanked me. His mother had made arrangements, and I let him know I was following those, so he didn’t have to worry.

Then a CNA and I went to work. We bathed the patient. I removed all her lines. We put in her dentures. We did the things people don’t think about needing to be done. I thought how just a couple of days before, I had washed the same woman, the same feet, the same face.I thought about how bright she had been, how full of life, and then I knew. I didn’t know it at the moment, because epiphanies don’t always come quickly, but a seed of change was growing in my heart.

I would love for there to be a God, but I cannot, having witnessed death, believe in a higher power, punishment and reward eternity. I cannot believe in an unforgiving, angry God, or a God that grants wishes. Good and bad things happen, but they happen because of things people do, or because of the existence of gravity, or fire, or electricity, They happen because of human error, and animals. Frayed rugs on wooden floors. Sometimes things happen for a reason, but the reason is that someone has made it happen for their own reasons.

That was the day I started to stop believing in God.

How I Found Jesus By Losing Him, Part 1

This is a series of blog posts about my journey from devout, rabid Christian to Atheism. I am writing this at the request of my friend @Quiara.

I was born into the Episcopalian church. I was baptized as a baby, named for my grandparents on my father’s side. I spent the first few years of my life in Missouri, and I remember learning about the 10 Commandments from the priest, who would dress like Moses and recreate the introduction to the Jewish people.

If you read my blog enough, you’ll realize that Missouri sounds like heaven and Tennessee sounds like Hell. It’s because Missouri was the land of my grandparents. It’s where we went to movies and had ice cream and biscuits and gravy and everything was always clean. Tennessee was where my mother never cleaned the house, we rarely had clean underwear, and no one seemed to care if we were clean or dirty. Tennessee was where my mother changed religion with her boyfriends, and allowed her boyfriends to abuse us.

My mother married a Baptist, Merritt. I won’t make a habit of naming people, but it’s hard to keep track of all my mother’s boyfriends. Also, mine. So Merritt. Step-Father #1. We went to the Baptist church. I think it was called Eastland Baptist, and it was next to a Krispy Kreme, which was one of the first Krispy Kremes. We used to sit through church services that I cannot remember and smelllllll those donuts. I didn’t believe in Jesus nearly as much as I believed in the donuts we got during the after service reception.

I don’t remember much about being a Baptist, but I do remember being baptized for a second time. Every so often, they’d invite people to come to the alter to request baptism and be saved. I remember my mom really wanted me to be baptized and I really wanted to impress my step-father. So I stepped forward, at about the age of 8, to declare Jesus Christ to be my lord and savior. As Meryn Cadell said “letting Christ into my heart, I didn’t even know the man.”

My second baptism really deserves it’s own entry, but be assured it was humiliating and terrifying. Full immersion baptism and 8 year olds do not mix well. I promise to do that entry very soon.

We were Baptists until my mother got tired of being a Baptist. About the same time, Merritt’s habit of frequenting prostitutes became known. Between Merritt’s porn and the prostitutes, it’s really no wonder I had some fucked up views about sexuality going into adolescence. So we went back to being Episcopalians.

Until my mother met a Catholic.

My mother sent us to Missouri for the summer, and we LITERALLY had a different step-father when we came home. My mother introduced us to Steve and told us to call him “Daddy.” Merritt, who was previously “daddy” was gone. I don’t have daddy issues, I have a subscription of daddies.

My mother married a Catholic, so we became Catholics.

There was some debate over whether or not my sister and I were baptized enough, but eventually our Episcopalian baptisms were deemed worthy.

I don’t do anything halfway. My mother gave me books about saints and nuns. Soon, I decided I wanted to be a nun. Not just any nun, I wanted to be a SAINT. I really wanted to impress God. I still felt deep, deep fear that my burned scapular meant that I was destined for Hell. I was convinced I was going to hell. I had nightmares about being on fire, being pushed into fiery pits by the saints I read about, particularly Saint Rita, who was incorruptible and I felt could come get me.

Probably should have held back on that book on the Incorruptibles, mom.

I went to Catholic school for part of middle school and 3 years of high school. I cleaned the chapel at the school several times a week. I went to confession frequently. It was years before I told a priest about the burned scapular and received furtive reassurance that would not send me to hell, but I still didn’t really believe it. I taught Sunday School at my church. I worked at Habitat for Humanity. Every time my burn scar hurt, which was several times a day, burning, stabbing, pain, I’d offer it up to Jesus. DEAR GOD, I WANTED TO BE A SAINT. I just knew my time would come. Someone would martyr me, or attempt to assault me, and I’d die, and in dying for God, he’d forgive me everything, and I would be a saint.

That shit is fucked up.

I’m not a saint. I mean, I’m a terrible saint, Sure, I didn’t have sex in high school, but that was fear of pregnancy, not fear of God.

When I returned from Germany (another story for another time), my parents kicked me out. When my parents kicked me out, I moved in with DB, my boyfriend, and they took my Sunday school class away. No one offered me a place to stay or any kind of assistance so that I could live somewhere besides with my boyfriend. Being disowned by my parents meant I was disowned from my church.

I haven’t entered another church in Nashville, Tennessee since.

When I moved to Denver, I tried to find a Catholic church. I still wanted to at least get to heaven. I called the Catholic diocese, hoping to find a church with a lot of young people. I was told that I should just go to the church in my area, and hung up on. Thanks.

I did find a welcoming spirit from the Episcopalian church, and am technically still a member in good standing. I went to a church for several months here in Denver, but moved away from them. The Episcopalian church has always welcomed me, and I go to Mass every time I go home in memory of my Grandmother. There is comfort in the Mass. There is familiarity there. Not believing in God doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the comfort that religion can bring.

For a long time, I prayed to God, even while I wasn’t going to church. I read the Bible. I studied religion. I wanted to find answers.

Instead, I found science. Beginning my studies and nursing career was the start of my journey to not believe in God.

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