What do you do when you can't feel God in the struggle? What do you say when no words can heal what's broken? On Maybe God, we start by listening to each other's stories. For this first episode of season 4, host Eric Huffman cold-calls listeners from all over the world to find out how they're coping with the fallout from COVID-19. He expects to hear voices trembling with uncertainty and fear; what he encounters, however, are people full of faith, hope, and love. Each person has a story to tell about how the pain from their past prepared them to find peace in the present. Through their stories of resilience, we can hear the voice of God.
"That was the lesson that we learned through it, was that our life sort of takes place in the in-between, between the complete joy and the complete sorrow. It's like the edge of a knife."
-Maybe God listener
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Eric Huffman:Hi. Is Christina there?
Eric Huffman:Is Christina there?
Anna:No, you have the wrong number.
Eric Huffman:Oh. I was looking-
Eric Huffman:Christina (beep) from Alberta.
Anna:Well, I do not.
Eric Huffman:Are you related to a Christina?
Anna:No, not that I recall. But what part of Alberta is she supposed to be living in?
Eric Huffman:The cold part.
Anna:You mean Tofield?
Anna:You're calling Tofield, Alberta here. Where are you calling from?
Eric Huffman:Well, I'm in Houston, Texas. Here's the deal, so Christina is a listener of a podcast that I am the host of. Are you familiar with the Maybe God Podcast?
Eric Huffman:It's a podcast, like a radio show where we talk about God and stuff.
Anna:No, I do not know of anybody.
Eric Huffman:Oh, you should listen to it. I think you might enjoy it. You sound like a nice lady.
Anna:I am truly a believer of Jesus Christ.
Eric Huffman:That's great. Me too. I'm a pastor in Houston.
Eric Huffman:Yes, ma'am. So how's life in Alberta?
Anna:Right now, we're in with that disease that is coming all over the world.
Eric Huffman:Right. Have you stayed healthy through all this?
Anna:Yes, we have so far.
Eric Huffman:And you're shut in, I guess like all of us in America?
Anna:Yes, we are. Yes, we are.
Eric Huffman:How do you pass the time?
Anna:Well, I do a lot of volunteer work. I also am a great sewer.
Eric Huffman:So you've been sewing any of the masks that people need?
Anna:Yes, I do.
Eric Huffman:Wow. I mean, as a Christian and a believer, have you thought about where God is that in all of this crisis and this COVID-19 business?
Anna:I'll tell you what I believe.
Anna:He is the one who is looking down and saw what the world was doing, and it was time to do something else. People were getting too greedy.
Eric Huffman:You think he's teaching us a lesson? He's trying to correct our behavior somehow?
Anna:Well, he's showing us that he's still in control, and we have to believe in him.
Eric Huffman:That's great. Listen, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to a total stranger.
Anna:Well, thank you for calling accidentally.
Eric Huffman:Well, if you can think of who Christina is, give me a call back. Okay?
Anna:Oh, I wish I knew.
Eric Huffman:All right, my dear. You stay safe and stay healthy.
Anna:Well, this is home sick. God bless. Yes.
Eric Huffman:God bless you. Bye bye.
Anna:Today on Maybe God, I called listeners all over the world completely out of the blue to hear about the impact of the Coronavirus lockdown on their lives. What I got was so much more. It's an episode about pain and fear, joy and resilience. Welcome to season four of Maybe God.
(Maybe God Intro)
Eric Huffman:You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman.
Eric Huffman:Hey, Maybe God family. Welcome to season four. We've really missed you all so much. I can't believe it's been almost 10 months since we released a full episode. Last July, we knew that we were going to take some time off. Things were getting very busy at my church, The Story Houston, my mom was battling pancreatic cancer, successfully, I might add. But we were also starting to dream about this new project, a feature length documentary about some of the Central American refugees that we had followed in our last episodes. We knew that that was going to take some time.
Eric Huffman:So we thought to ourselves, maybe we'll take a few months off and be back in the studio by Thanksgiving. Well, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. By the time I was back and ready to jump into the studio and record a new season, COVID-19 shut everything down. Since then, I've been doing what everybody else has been doing, trying to stay safe, and sane, and somewhat employed. My life since Friday the 13th of March has felt like one long Zoom meeting. As a pastor, I've been taking calls from people, people who are hurting. Yesterday I spoke with a man whose father died after contracting the virus. The day before, I heard from a friend who lost his job. This morning I got an email from somebody who is running out of food and they're desperate.
Eric Huffman:Like most pastors, I now have a whole new job description. All our services have moved online. So in addition to teaching the Bible and taking care of people, I'm now a televangelist apparently, I have no idea what I'm doing in this new world.
Eric Huffman:Welcome The Story's special online worship service, the COVID-19 edition. I'm Eric, I'm the lead pastor here at The Story. It's good to see you in this way. Even though I can't see your faces, I know you're here. We'll begin with a confession, y'all. I do not know why God allows things like this COVID-19 crisis to happen. I know that's a question on many people's hearts. Where is God at a time like this? Why does God let something like this happen? I don't know that.
Eric Huffman:But I know I'm not alone. Nobody really knows what they're doing anymore. We're all carrying these burdens that we didn't even know existed three months ago. So with our first episode of 2020, instead of diving right back into another controversial topic Maybe God style, I felt like the best way to start this new season in the midst of a scary pandemic would be to reach out to some of our listeners who've reached out to us since we started this podcast two years ago.
Eric Huffman:We have listeners from all 50 states in the US and from 40 other countries across the world. Many have emailed us to tell us what Maybe God means to them. Your feedback is everything to us. But during a time like this, the human connection that we share, it means more more than ever. We're in this mess together. We're fighting the same fears together. And we're all searching for ways to cope.
Eric Huffman:Okay, here's the thing with every listener that I've called, I've asked the same rapid fire questions. So number one, what is your favorite COVID-19 guilty pleasure/coping mechanism?
Eric Huffman:Dr. Pepper. You're a Texan.
Eric Huffman:Through and through, boy.
Kristiina:Walking my dogs outside.
Eric Huffman:That's so sweet and innocent.
Paul:Oh, we got these sea salt caramel chips that are like chocolate chips.
Eric Huffman:Now you're talking.
Paul:That I just find myself going through regularly.
Carolyn:Binge watching on Netflix, particularly The Targeting.
Eric Huffman:Everybody's got one so don't be ashamed of yours.
Debbie:No use sports.
Eric Huffman:So wait. Your favorite guilty pleasure is abstaining from something.
Eric Huffman:One thing I learned about are Maybe God listeners is that you're way too PG when it comes to your guilty pleasures. Or maybe you're just not willing to admit to a pastor who calls you out of the blue that you're really struggling with the stress of this lockdown. It works both ways. I don't really want to talk to you about my guilty pleasures either. Recently, while hosting a video Bible study on Facebook Live, I spilled beer all over my favorite Bible.
Eric Huffman:But in the heat of the moment, I didn't want anybody to know what had really happened. So this is what I said instead ...
Eric Huffman:I just spilled a coke all over my Bible. Awesome. Does that mean you're going to hell? I hope not.
Eric Huffman:That was a cold-blooded lie. And I'm not proud of it. I'm simply saying that we're all doing the best. We can to cope with this new reality, I don't really believe that God sent this pandemic to punish us. But hearing our listeners describe all the pain they've overcome, pre COVID-19 and how it's made them who they are today, it really gave me hope that maybe God really is somewhere in this mess, teaching us something important about resilience.
Eric Huffman:So this episode is a tribute to you, every single one of our Maybe God listeners. On this podcast we often say that God speaks through our stories. Well, these are your stories. So settle in and listen close for the voice of God.
Eric Huffman:Hi. Is this Carolyn?
Carolyn:Yes, it is.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn, this is Eric with the Maybe God Podcast.
Carolyn:Well, good morning or good evening to you.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, it's 3:33 in the afternoon here. What time is it there?
Carolyn:It is 8:30 on a Friday morning.
Eric Huffman:8:30 on a Friday morning and what does this time of day have you doing?
Carolyn:Well, actually just taking a cup of tea in bed.
Eric Huffman:A cup of tea in bed. Is it earl grey?
Carolyn:It's New Zealand breakfast.
Eric Huffman:New Zealand. You have your own tea there. Screw the English.
Carolyn:Yeah, Twinings brand.
Eric Huffman:I love it.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She's the mother of two girls. After several weeks on lockdown, her daughter's school just reopened. She and her husband are finally back at work.
Eric Huffman:So tell me, how are things going there, Carolyn, and what is life like under this COVID-19 crisis?
Carolyn:It's very peaceful. I think it's given us all a chance to slow down and look at our blessings, and what we have, and appreciate them a bit more rather than running around and trying to be frantically busy and not appreciating what you have
Eric Huffman:Yeah, you are a silver linings gal in a sense that you would rather stay focused on the positive.
Carolyn:Absolutely. Absolutely. I've spent too many years not thinking much of myself and beating myself up, which still sometimes happens occasionally, but not with the frequency it used to.
Carolyn:I just needed to change my mindset.
Eric Huffman:Of course. How long ago did you become Maybe God listener?
Carolyn:It was probably around the time of my break down, about three years ago, three odd years ago.
Eric Huffman:When Carolyn was just five years old, her dad was coming home from a business trip, driving on a winding road when he lost control of his car and careened into a gorge. In the middle of the night, she and her family were startled awake by a phone call. It was the police pulling to say the Carolyn's father was dead.
Carolyn:I got so frightened, I threw up. It was just chaos, a bit dreary for me being five. I think Mom shut off emotionally. There were seven sitting in my family. So I was being the youngest, I just felt like I didn't belong there. Like I was invisible. My mom was crying all the time, and I understand. I used to had to watch her sell possessions of ours because we didn't have money to pay the bills and things, because Dad had a lot of debts. It was just like a cloud of sadness. Nana came down from Christchurch, mom's mom, and the uncle came down, and that's when that's all this started.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn says that from the age of six, she was sexually abused by her uncle. The abuse went on for over six years.
Carolyn:It started by sitting on his knees. I thought that was nice because I missed my dad. Things just got a little bit weird. He used to come and kiss me goodnight but he'd kind of do more than ... I just froze and pretended I was somewhere else. I disassociated quite a lot because he told us, me, it was our secret and can't tell anybody. I just felt dirty and wrong. I thought, "Did I do something wrong? Was it my fault? I must be bad."
Carolyn:One time, when he was doing something to me, Nana caught him. She slapped me across the face probably a couple of times and told me I was a dirty girl, and to leave him alone and get out . I just always felt invisible and unloved and unwanted from then, like I was bad. So I just retreated into myself, really suppressing those things which are obviously out now, quite dramatically that the more you suppress it, it's just going to come up one day, and it did.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn says her history of sexual abuse led to a series of unhealthy relationships, including her first marriage. Eventually, she reconnected with her high school sweetheart and settled into a much healthier relationship. But she never really dealt with her past until she turned 50 and the emotions came crashing down.
Carolyn:I thought I don't want to be around anymore because I'm tired of the pain.
Carolyn:I just found the pressure too much.
Eric Huffman:Did you try to take your own life?
Carolyn:Yeah, I hung myself. My husband found me hang yourself. My husband found me hanging on the stairway. I was unconscious. Then he was laying on the kitchen floor coming too, freaking out because I just thought I fell over and hit my head. But then the police turned up and the ambulance guys were there. Yeah, so I ended up going to hospital.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn, how are you now?
Carolyn:I'm very good now compared. This therapy, Lord, this has helped a lot.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn has been in therapy ever since. She's learned the value of talking about her past. She also looked for ways to connect to God after her meltdown. That's when she came across the Maybe God Podcast through a Google search. She sent us a message on Facebook in 2018, after she listened to the episodes on near death experiences, the story of Crystal McVeigh, a sexual abuse victim who died and met God in heaven brought Carolyn to her knees.
Crystal McVee:Immediately I was a ghost in this golden, pure light. I just fell right to my knees. I remember just worshiping and crying because I recognized God. I didn't meet God, I recognized him. And immediately in that moment, he wrapped himself around me. What he was, what he is, is love. The most purest form of love, here this God that I have feared my entire life upon me being there, scooped me up and held me in his lap. God knew how dirty and broken I was. Yet he scooped me up. It changed me, it freed me.
Carolyn:Listening to that girl, I sat there bawling for an hour, with then going, "Oh my god. That was me, that was me." If she can get through that sort of thing, I can too.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. I can't overlook the fact that you live in Christchurch and Christchurch went through something relatively recently that was quite traumatic as well.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn's personal struggles aren't the only source of anxiety in her life. Her hometown, Christchurch, has been through so much in these last few years. In 2016, a major earthquake hit and caused significant damage to the town.
News clip:Dozens of people are reported dead now, hundreds of people still trapped in that rubble. The quake was centered just a few miles from Christchurch. It toppled buildings, cracked roads, knocked out phone lines, at least 65 people were killed at that point, thousands were already made homeless.
Eric Huffman:Carolyn says it felt like the city had just recovered from that when on March 15th, 2019, a madman opened fire on two mosques, killing 51 innocent people.
News clip:A gunman with an automatic weapon has opened fire on a mosque in central Christchurch. There were 500 people in the mosque at the time of the shooting. All schools in Christchurch are now in lockdown as the Christchurch City Council meeting.
Carolyn:I'm going, "Oh my god, how much more can we go through?"
Carolyn:It was scary. It was not far from the girls' school.
Eric Huffman:Oh wow.
Carolyn:It was really hard to get to them and couldn't get them for a while because they were on lockdown. So it was just my anxieties springing through the roof even though I'm learning how to manage it quit well. I still get my moments. But just learning how to open up to people and just talk. I feel so good talking to say God because he's not going to tell anybody what I'm going to say. He feels easy to talk to, and there's no judgment. He's just love.
Carolyn:I'm getting all tingly now.
Eric Huffman:I am too, I am too. I got chill bumps. Okay. When you think about these crises and your faith, where do you see God in the midst of times like these?
Carolyn:For me, I see him as the center of the storm. But he's a calmness after you know where he is, he's the calmness. But I find that people in Christchurch are quite resilient too. When things like this are happening and has happened, they'd reach out more to each other, strangers, and we're very kind. I think that helps us through tough times.
Eric Huffman:Hearing the resilience in Carolyn's voice gave me hope. When you overcome monsters like abuse and depression, even a global pandemic can't shake you. I started making these calls to help our listeners cope. Before I knew it, they were helping me. This isn't just a time for sheltering in place, watching the news with masks on our faces. This is the time to tell our stories and to remember, we felt pain before. We've been scared before. We've experienced loss before. And we're still here, alive and together.
Eric Huffman:Hey, Clay, how's it going, man?
Clayton:Really good. Nice to hear from you.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, you too. Thank you for letting me just call you out of the blue, man.
Clayton:Dude, it was so funny. I just I had bought or something from your show or something. So that's really cool.
Eric Huffman:After some pretty heavy phone calls, I decided to call a listener named Clay who lives outside of Dallas. Clay sent us an email a few months ago that was really over the top complimentary of the podcast. So maybe I just wanted to hear someone sing our praises for a little while. I checked him out on LinkedIn where I found his picture, and he's got the most awesome friendliest smile. So I expected our conversation would be light-hearted and fun. But instead it turned into one of the most profound conversations I've had throughout this entire crisis.
Clayton:I got married when I was 23. So we're celebrating 15 years this December, beautiful relationship. Beautiful kids, wonderful family. We've got a perfect life, man. Perfect. So to pepper in all of that really, really exciting-
Eric Huffman:It usually takes me a while to open up to a perfect stranger, but not Clay. Within the first few minutes of our conversation, he was going deep. When I asked him how he and his family were doing through this COVID crisis, Clay didn't hold back.
Clayton:This year has actually really started out on a pretty horrible note for us. In early February, my 17-year-old nephew took his life.
Eric Huffman:Oh man.
Clayton:In Lubbock, Texas. Man, I drove out there middle of night, to be as my brother. He is his first son. So that's kind of how the year started. Then I found out I was going to be effectively losing my job. I mean, I'm totally cool with it.
Clayton:I was praying for change and that was the change. I'm good with that. Then did the funeral in all the wake of that, and then me and my wife had the miscarriage.
Clayton:But death of a family member, losing my job, hey we're pregnant. So now, there's panic, then a miscarriage, now there's more grief, and then the pandemic hit.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, it's like a like a lifetime worth of grief and stress all packed into one quarter of one year.
Clayton:Oh yeah. I mean what we had to walk through with my nephew and my brother was absolutely the hardest thing that I have personally had to do. That includes burying a daughter six years ago. I don't want you to get the wrong picture. Through all of that like, we still are really grateful. Really happy, really satisfied people. Honestly man, the last eight weeks have been really awesome. I mean, because I've been home. We've had a really, really lovely time, just slowing down hitting the brakes, enjoying the kids working on little house projects. I mean, just slowing down.
Eric Huffman:It's a little silver lining there for you all.
Clayton:It is, man. I mean, it really is.
Eric Huffman:You mentioned burying a daughter. That is something I can't just gloss over. That's heavy grief that never goes away.
Clayton:Right, right. Our daughter, that was 2014. We got a sonogram from her, like 23 weeks. They said, "Hey, this is bad." They told us that she had a condition that wouldn't be viable for life past birth. It's called anencephaly, like the top of her brain didn't develop. So we decided to keep her to term, deliver her, and keep her as long as we could have her, which ended up being about about 90 minutes. Our firstborn, a daughter, we had her, right. So we couldn't like totally check out. So there was still lots of beauty and lots of joy, but all mixed in with the grief. That was the lesson that we learned through it was that our life sort of takes place in the in between, between the complete joy and the complete sorrow. It's like the edge of an ice.
Eric Huffman:Clay was raised by a Christian family in Lubbock, Texas. He decided to follow Jesus at the age of 18. Now at 37, his faith is as strong as it's ever been. When I asked him why he's a Christian instead of something else, he told me that he knows we're not here by some accident, that there's somebody in charge. He believes that that's the God of the Bible. I can't help but think after becoming a Christian in your late teens, did you ever feel like you expected more from God, more protection?
Clayton:No, not at all.
Eric Huffman:Why not?
Clayton:Man, because he just kind of kept showing up. He just kept showing up with people, and with provision, and with ... I mean, there were people that would come to our house and bring dinner and do house projects around the place. He just kept showing up. So no, I have absolutely no reason. In fact, two years to the day after we lost our daughter, we were in a hospital room with a couple that had a daughter with the same condition. So we were going with that through them, and they're now some of our closest friends.
Clayton:Of course, there are moments when you're mad, especially with my nephew. There were moments when it was just like, how are we going to go on? How is this even going to be possible to wake up and breathe? No, I don't stop believing. But that doesn't mean that there aren't some times when I can despair and just get swallowed by the grief, completely swallowed. I'm still learning how to go through that.
Eric Huffman:Sometimes I don't understand how people like Clay who've experienced so much pain and so much loss continue to believe in God with such conviction. I'm not sure my faith would be strong enough to hold on. I'm still mad at God for letting my mom get cancer, and she survived. Here's Clay still believing, even though he's lost so much. I can't quite wrap my head around it. But I also know that suffering can be a gift because people who've suffered, they know something that the rest of us don't. Some secret wisdom, a window to a different dimension. I've seen it too often to ignore, the deeper a person's pain has been, the greater their capacity for mercy and love becomes.
Eric Huffman:Clay doesn't remember how he found this podcast. But as soon as he did, he says he plowed through every episode. But the first one that he listened to was, "Do queer people belong in church?
Clayton:I am not going to lie to you, it discombobulated me for like weeks.
Eric Huffman:What do you mean?
Clayton:It just turned a lot of things on its head.,I've got lots of friends who are in that zone, same-sex wise. What it did for me was it gave me some new language to use, which helps in understanding that we really are truly just on a level playing field if you look at the way that God sees us. I'm pretty sure I wept during those episodes. All of that stuff just wrecked my life. I mean, in a really beautiful way, I got coffee with an old friend of mine. I've known her since fourth grade. She's married to a girl. They're beautiful. They're lovely, just amazing people.
Clayton:Not that it needed to be said because she knows what I believe. She's a Christian, but I still felt compelled to just reiterate that they're lovely. They love each other. It's beautiful, and that's good. God loves them. He looks on them with compassion and love. I don't know why I needed to say that to her, but she was just like, "Dude, shut up. You don't have to say." But it's true that I love you. But what I liked about it was I think there's too few people, especially in the Christian space wade into those hard waters. I think we can easily spend too much time preaching and teaching, and not enough time listening and asking questions. So I think that listening to you and Julie, it's like there were just two people that asked a lot of questions, listened. Then just tried to understand what those answers told them. I mean, I haven't heard anybody else like you guys do that.
Eric Huffman:Well, man, thank you for the encouragement. You're so right about what's going on in the world and how people that are turned away from Christianity is almost always because of Christians who don't listen and only talk. I got to tell you, you're not going to accept this praise because I can only tell the kind of guy that you are, but you are exactly the kind of believer we need more of on the front lines because of how you value the inherent worth of each individual.
Eric Huffman:I know you thought your lesbian friend over coffee dismissed your comments, but I guarantee you she did not. I guarantee you she took it home with her and is nourished by those words, more often than you could possibly know. That's what we're here to do is to shine the light of Christ. I applaud you for that. I know you're going to say it's all the grace of God. You're right. But I'm glad you're letting him use you in that way.
Clayton:Well, I'll take that.
Clayton:I will. I'll receive it.
Eric Huffman:If you were to speak directly to people who during this crisis have gone through the crucible like you have, and they feel like they're at the end of their rope, they've got a loved one who's sick, or they've lost their job, what do you say to them about where God is to be found in a crisis like this? Where do you find God in the darkness?
Clayton:We may not see it, but he's still very, very much in control. I mean, there were there were darker times in human history, where he was still in control. I mean, look at the majority of the beginning of the 20th century. Look at World War II, look at fill in the blank. So I would say that he's still there. Whether we may not feel or believe it, it's still true. Our feeling about it doesn't change who he is. We just have to choose to find a way forward. That is an everyday thing that has to take place over and over again. We find the people that we love that will help us get there. We look for the great, beautiful things around us that are always taking place, and then so soaked within, with the belief that it will be put right. Not tomorrow, not in a week, it might, but forever, it will be set right.
Eric Huffman:Amazing. I want to thank Clay for being so real with me. He didn't have to share any of that with us, but he did it anyway. I for one needed to hear it. I imagine this is one of those interviews that I'm going to be coming back to again and again in the future whenever I'm in a dark place, just so Clay and remind me how whether I feel it or not, God's love is still the same. My feelings don't change who he is. One day, he's going to take everything that's wrong with this world, and he's going to make it right.
Eric Huffman:Hi. Is this Debbie?
Eric Huffman:Debbie, this is Eric with the Maybe God Podcast.
Debbie:Oh my goodness. Wow. The Eric.
Eric Huffman:In the flesh you got me.
Debbie:Oh my gosh. You sound just like you do on your podcast.
Eric Huffman:Debbie lives in Huntsville, Alabama, which she is quick to point out is not the real Alabama. It sits on the Tennessee border and it's home to an active army base. That's what brought Debbie and a lot of other families to the area. She and her husband of 20 years are both military officers. She's retired, but he's still active. Their oldest son was recently accepted into the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Eric Huffman:How's this COVID crisis treating you? How's the the shut in and quarantine season been for you?
Debbie:I still wake up in the morning. You think at this point I would be adjusted. I still wake up and cannot believe that this is going on. In my lifetime, I don't know that we'll ever see anything like this again. My oldest son is I will say is the hardest on him is he is a senior in high school. He had just started his final year of his soccer season and they were first in the state, and this was going to be the year for the run, the state championship. So it's been harder on him because he just lost out a lot of milestones that he assumed he would get.
Eric Huffman:Of course.
Debbie:But the silver lining of this even for me and my family is I can't tell you the last time we had a sit down dinner before this happened. We eat at 3:00 PM, and then at 10:30 at night, and we're all running. Three kids, seven sports, and it's all self-induced insanity. But I hate to say it, because it sounds like I'm being tone deaf. I'm not trying to be, but it's been a nice wake up call. We've all had time to kind of take a breath and reflect on how I'm spending my time when I have freedom to the house.
Eric Huffman:Right. Now the question is going to be, Deb, whenever this season ends or transitions to something else, how do you keep from going back to that old life or do you plan to go back to the way things were?
Debbie:Yeah, I tell you, I'm nervous about that. Because I don't know if I have the strength to push away the stuff that I know down deep I really should walk away from in order to focus my energy on things that are really important.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, that's funny how easy that is to do, right? How easy it is to say yes to everything.
Debbie:Absolutely. Honestly, I can see it. I can see what's going to happen. It's like watching a train crash in slow motion.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, exactly.
Debbie:I'm really hoping that I can figure something out before that happens.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. I think we're all hoping that, including churches, and all of us are hoping that this isn't going to be going back to normal as it was before, that we can walk faithfully into a new normal. That's what the whole point is.
Eric Huffman:Debbie works as the IT Director for a church. Unlike many of her co-workers, who've been all in with Christianity for years, Debbie calls herself a reluctant believer. She says she has to wake up some mornings and remind herself why she's still a Christian.
Debbie:I grew up with a mom who was a hippie, and a father who was a Southern Baptist. I mean, Southern Baptist. I remember going to visit my dad's side of the family, and it was all about Jesus all the time. Then there was the N word, and almost the same sentence. I just remember even as a little kid, that struck me as odd and I just remember not liking it. So that was kind of my perception of religious people. So when I hear the word "Jesus", and people conforming to that way of thinking, it just made the hair stand up on the back of my head.
Eric Huffman:It wasn't until Debbie was allowed to ask the hard questions and explore her doubts in her 30s that she started to understand Jesus. And she made the choice to call herself a believer.
Debbie:I just refer to Jesus as Steve and that way, I didn't have the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and I could get over that stuff. So when he baptized me, he actually baptized me in the name of Steve.
Eric Huffman:I don't know why I love this story so much.
Debbie:No. It is a great story.
Eric Huffman:It is a great story.
Debbie:It's an awesome story. That's why your podcast resonates so much with me, is because the stuff I was saying or thinking, I couldn't say out loud. But then when your podcast came out, I'm like, you're the only guy that I've known that have said that stuff out loud before. It really struck a nerve with me.
Eric Huffman:Wow. That's cool. I'm honored. Thank you.
Eric Huffman:Debbie admits she still struggles every time a new question comes up that challenges her faith. She feels like she's losing and finding your faith over and over again. She's worried that that makes her a bad Christian. But I think it makes her a great one. I know the Bible says Jesus is the shepherd and we're the sheep. But sheep don't ask questions. Sheep are kind of dumb. God doesn't want us to be like sheep. He wants us to be his kids. And if you've ever been around kids for any length of time, you know that their questions never stop. So Debbie, if you're listening, don't ever stop being curious. Don't ever stop taking all your questions straight to God. He can take all your doubts and transform them into deeper faith.
Eric Huffman:After our episode on, "Can loving illegals save our souls?" Someone I hadn't seen in five years wrote to us about the episodes and how they wrecked her. She wanted to help. That's just the kind of person Jess has always been. Today she leads a campus ministry in Louisiana.
Eric Huffman:So are you all, I'm total lockdown in Lafayette?
Jess:No, we are the land of the free here. It seems like the precautions that even stores were trying to keep as far as phase out visitors and things like that, that just went away. I don't even know if we lasted a week.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. Have you known anybody that's had COVID?
Jess:Yeah, we had a guy in our church die.
Jess:One of our pastors here lost his brother. My sister and her husband both work in the hospital. And so they've obviously seen cases. It's not near as widespread here as it was in New Orleans.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, of course. So not to get too terribly personal too quick, but are you living with someone?
Jess:Court and I closed on our house the Monday that the stay at home went into effect at 5:00 PM. So we literally skated in under the wire to be able to get into our new home.
Jess:And to be in the same place with someone that you love and care about is just such a gift right now because I know people that are alone are feeling like extra alone in these times.
Eric Huffman:I met Jess when she showed up to the church I was leading in Kansas City before I really knew Jesus for myself. That church was called Revolution. It was a collection of characters and vagabonds from all walks of life. Jess walked in with her then girlfriend, and she immediately fit right in. Her smile has always been infectious. She's just the kind of person that everybody loves. After my radical experience with Jesus in 2013, a lot of my views changed, including my understanding of God's will for human sexuality. Looking back, I'm sure it's been a shock for someone like Jess to witness my theological 180 since that time.
Eric Huffman:Give me some idea, Jess, as you listened to those two episodes on LGBTQ issues and the church. Give me some idea of what you were saying back to your iPhone as you listened.
Jess:Well, I thought ... I'm just going to say real candidly on this.
Jess:My relationship isn't based on sec, which is where I really wrestle with gay people being allowed to make the covenant marriage. Then it boils down to the sex thing, which I think people are satiated with. I think people are hung up on I have to be partnered,. That's not a gay or straight thing. That's just like if I'm single, I'm less than. I think that's crap. But also, I do not have this wild extravagant lifestyle. I like puzzles. I like Candy Crush. We watch Grey's Anatomy, and we cook. To me, that is the essence of 90 something percent of marriages and long-term relationships. It's about so much more than the sex. So to make judgments based on that and quantify or qualify it because of that specifically seems like something we would never do to a straight couple.
Eric Huffman:Right. I'll just tell you, I love that you are telling me this. I cherish your trust in telling me this because I do think there was a gap in those episodes that we didn't cover, and voices that weren't heard. I think yours is is one of them. I'm just so grateful to hear that from you today.
Jess:Yeah, for sure. These are conversations that people need to have. You don't have to agree 100% all the way through to be in community with people and to love people. If that's our measuring stick for starting relationships with people, like you're never going to meet anybody new. You're never going to love anybody new.
Eric Huffman:I love that. I think that's why I like you so much, because we agree on that point. That is so essential to I just think all human interactions and relationships.
Jess:One of the most powerful God moments I had in church was at a Good Friday service, your mom and dad had actually come up when we were in Kansas City. I just remember being completely shaken during your message. Eric, I'll be honest, I don't know if it's something that you would still say today. But in that moment, you said that Good Friday is for these people, and these people, and these people. You said, "And Good Friday is for this our gay brothers and sisters who've been told they don't have a place in church." Cue the waterworks, because I had never heard anyone in a church setting say that it was okay for me to be there as the human being that I was. That was powerful for me.
Eric Huffman:Well, I remember the email you sent me saying, "Eric, don't feel bad about the time when you were faking it, when you weren't believing the things you were saying." Because I do carry around some guilt about for a period of time in my life, I've preached stuff that I didn't really believe or I preached wrong things and things like that. You were one of the few that wrote me from Kansas City to say, "Hey God, used you then to keep me in his orbit."
Eric Huffman:That was like talk about waterworks. That's when I lost it. You said something before, Jess, that. I have to circle back to because I heard a little bit of uncertainty in your voice when you said it. You said, referring to what I said on that Good Friday, about you having a place in church and you said, "I'm not sure if you would still say it today, Eric, but when you said it, then it mattered." I hope you know that as, as I've changed, and grown, and evolved in some of my theology, my views like that is one thing that has not changed, the idea that you belong in church with Jesus as you are. I hope that never changes about me because you are a living breathing testament to God's grace, and beauty, and truth. I see his image in you.
Eric Huffman:I love you.
Kristiina:Well, I love you. I appreciate you saying that. Do we agree on everything? No. Do we believe in people's worth and value as children of God? I would think yes. I guess that's where we start. That's where we start. If the only thing we can agree on, is that we are loved and valued because we exist, that's where we'll start.
Eric Huffman:Hi, this is Eric from the Maybe God Podcast.
John:Hi Eric. How are you?
Eric Huffman:I'm good. How are you doing?
Eric Huffman:Our mission with this podcast is to inspire people to love God, especially people who have experienced the dark side of organized religion and Christianity in particular. When I read the Bible, I find a God who is love. I want the world to know that. That's why it's a little extra special whenever we receive emails from people who are self-described atheists, like this man, who I called recently. He asked that we don't share his real name, so we'll call him John. I think John's motivation for reaching out to Maybe God may have been a little bit different than our other listeners.
Eric Huffman:As I understand it, you and that Maybe God producer Julie, who I call Julie Miraculous, you guys go way back.
John:Yeah, yeah, I've known her since fifth grade.
Eric Huffman:Since the fifth grade. Okay.
John:Yes, yes. All throughout high school, we just kind of always ended up hanging out. Her and I never had a curfew. So after parties, we'd just go hang out, campfire, go on some weird, random adventure, or just kind of hang out. We were always friends never awkward moments of love or anything.
Eric Huffman:Julie and John grew up in a small town in central Massachusetts. They haven't seen each other in nearly 20 years. Last he'd heard, Julie was working in Chicago for Oprah. So we tried googling her one day and found out that she was now living in Houston, and her new boss was yours truly.
John:Then I came across your podcast, and I was shocked when she lives in Texas now.
Eric Huffman:How did it strike you at first to know that she was working for a church and a Christian now and all that stuff?
John:It caught me off guard Just because I didn't know her as a religious person. Not many of us in that town went to church. It just wasn't a thing.
Eric Huffman:When you think of Christians, do you think of people that are understanding and non judgmental or do you have a negative view of Christians?
John:So I was baptized Lutheran, my parents are from the Northern Midwest. When I was three, my dad got a new job that was going to pay more than whatever he's ever made. He was working like three jobs at the time. We then have to move to Arkansas, a little town in Arkansas called Harrison, which not a lot of people know about.
John:Are you from there?
Eric Huffman:I'm almost from Arkansas, but I don't know that Harrison rings a bell.
John:Harrison is the mailing address of the Ku Klux Klan.
John:It was the type of scenario where if you weren't Southern Baptist, you're better off to saying you're not religious. The whole community is basically church fairs weekend and carnivals, everything was kind of around the church. Then you had the Klan aspect. So we bought a boat. Basically, every weekend we went to a lake, I love fishing, and I grew up doing that. Just because we didn't really hang out in town too much. That's when we really stopped going to church.
Eric Huffman:The whole story you're telling is is interesting, and in some ways it's familiar. I find myself apologizing for Christians a lot for anything from the Ku Klux Klan to handsy priests to Christians who are just a little too judgmental and mean. I find myself as a first step in conversations with people who don't believe just saying I'm sorry. I pray that one day you'll be able to look at Christianity honestly, without the filter of these negative experiences, like that's my fervent prayer because I know that stuff is real.
Eric Huffman:John still lives in Massachusetts. He's married and has three sons. When we started talking about his COVID reality, it's a lot different from anyone else we talked to. It's not a nice peaceful break from his everyday life. In fact, he's been in total isolation for one year now.
John:What everyone's kind of freaking out about common flu, 30% survival rate, with COVID I have a 10%. So I'm pretty used to. Actually right now I'm in the category of do not treat which is kind of scary.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. That is terrifying.
Eric Huffman:In 2019, right after turning 40 John decided to head to the doctor's office for a routine physical for the first time in three years. As soon as that doctor looked at his blood work, John realized something wasn't right.
John:He goes, "Did you fast before you got this?" I said, "Yeah, yes." We're going to need to rerun this. He's like, "You have pancytopenia." It's basically all my counts in my red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma were about a third of what the low was.
Eric Huffman:Wow. If john had waited another few weeks to see the doctor, he could have been dead. Within days, he was admitted to Boston's prestigious Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
John:All of a sudden, I'm in the back of an ambulance going to Dana Farber thinking hopefully this is something that we can just take care of. Then I hit the cancer floor. They're all air control rooms. I'm looking in the rooms as they're reeling me in. No one's got hair. Everyone looks like they're in rough shape. I thought this was a little more serious than I thought.
John:Now, I have acute myeloid leukemia. There's two basic types of leukemia. Not a lot of people know about it, chronic or acute. Anyone that does know about it, as soon as they hear acute, they'll make a face of, "Oh."
Eric Huffman:Yeah. Did you have a stem cell transplant?
John:I ended up having one. Yes.
Eric Huffman:How long ago was that?
Eric Huffman:Okay. So you're still in this period where you can't be exposed to any kind of infections?
John:No. So since that, if the kids were sick or had a cold, I have a four-year-old that's a walking petri dish, I masked and gloved up in the house. I have a leather recliner that gets wiped down. No one's allowed to sit in and then no one was allowed in our bedroom. So when any of them had the sniffers or snot or anything, a fever, I freaked out. The first hundred days after a bone marrow transplant is real critical, like the common cold could kill you.
Eric Huffman:Right. So this has been your reality for some time, this kind of isolated living situation and you've got three kids ages four. And what else?
John:Four, 10, and 11. All boys.
Eric Huffman:Wow. I'm exhausted just thinking about it. I mean, this has been just one storm after another for you.
John:Oh yeah, yes.
Eric Huffman:Since John's chances of surviving COVID-19 are so small, no one in his family is able to come into contact with other people. He and his wife have both had to quit their jobs. They have everything delivered to their house where they wipe it all down. They've settled into homeschooling knowing that this may be their reality, not just until the summer, but until COVID-19 isn't a headline anymore. John says this season of his life hasn't changed how he feels about God. He doesn't have any reason to believe that there is a God at all.
Eric Huffman:I remember you mentioned to science in your email, and it was a really profound question I thought. How can someone who doesn't believe in God come to believe in God while depending entirely on science to keep me alive? I find it fascinating to think about that.
John:Yeah, I mean, I think the closest spiritual thing I've ever felt is karma. If you do good, good things will happen to you. By no means was I ever a saint, but I wasn't a bad guy. I tried to do a lot of good things. Now, I just kind of explain it as bad luck. I am so happy it happened to me and not my wife or one of my children.
Eric Huffman:Yeah. Sometimes I think people that maintain faith through seasons like this are more surprising than people that have none. Because you see too much, you experienced too much pain and it raises too many questions about how a good God could let something like this happen to people. The way I look at it is just a little bit differently. I think the Bible that I read says God doesn't prevent us from every suffering. He doesn't micromanage our lives. He goes into the suffering with us. He walks us through it. He experienced it himself and Jesus. Have you had any thoughts about what might be waiting beyond this life?
John:What I think about your afterlife is my legacy that I leave my behind, like my children. Are they going to be okay? My wife are they going to be okay? Friends and family, I don't think about me.
Eric Huffman:I know a lot of people who believe what john believes, that this life is all that really matters, and there's nothing to look forward to after we die. But even believing that this life matters can be a starting point on a journey toward deeper faith. Julie told me a story about john after I spoke with him. She said the last time that she remembers seeing him, she was 19 years old and home for the summer after a tumultuous freshman year.
Eric Huffman:She got herself into some trouble. She won't tell me what exactly happened. But one morning at 6:00 AM, she called John from a payphone. He was the only person that she felt comfortable turning to. Sure enough, john drove almost an hour from his parents' new house to be there with her all day until she felt better. He didn't ask questions. He didn't judge. He was just there for her. Julie didn't know Jesus back then. But she realizes now that Jesus was with her then through her friend John.
Eric Huffman:As I listened to John, I heard a man of faith. He believes in things like love, loyalty, and life. But like a lot of people, he's had one too many negative experiences with religion to call himself a believer. The good news is if God is real, when the day comes for John to meet his maker, all he will see his love. All he'll need to say is yes. In the meantime, I hope you'll join me in praying for that day to come many, many years from now. You may not be much for prayer, but I am praying for you today and in the days ahead, for you and your family. I hope that God makes himself known to you in some way that blows your mind, and that out shines all the darkness of religion that you've experienced in the past.
John:I really appreciate that. I need all the help I can get.
Anonymous:Hi. I can't take your call right now. All right, I can take your call right now.
Eric Huffman:Hi. Is Christina there?
Anonymous:No, you probably got the wrong number.
Eric Huffman:Oh man. I'm sorry. Thank you.
Eric Huffman:It took a few days, but we did eventually drag down Christina in Alberta. I was anxious to check in on her since she'd emailed us in 2018 about a major battle she was facing with depression, a battle that caused her to question God's very existence. As a pastor and someone who struggled with depression myself in the past, I especially worry about people with a history of mental illness during this pandemic.
Eric Huffman:Hello, Kristiina
Eric Huffman:Hi, how are you?
Kristiina:I'm good. How are you?
Eric Huffman:I'm so good. I'm so glad to hear your voice.
Kristiina:Yes, good to hear yours. It's a little bit ...
Eric Huffman:When I finally got her on the phone, Christina told me it was understanding God's love in some small ways through this podcast that helps her cope with what she calls the toughest year of her life.
Kristiina:I don't think I really, truly understood how much God loves us. I think that was the biggest thing is because I'm quite hard on myself, I like being perfect. Of course, the older I get, the more I realized that it's not really anything that's possible. Perfect isn't necessarily the most ideal either. I think it was really just, first and foremost, just understanding how valuable and how loved I was to God, because I had always been thinking of doing enough to make me justify myself as being worthy enough to being loved.
Kristiina:Whereas at that point, I was at the end of myself, I wasn't in the best mindset. In my mind, I had been the previous couple years, or the first year in a bit of my marriage, I had been trying to be the perfect wife. I'd been trying to manage a business perfectly, I've been trying to be the perfect friend. That kind of all collapsed and just knowing that even though I would set the most broken, God still wanted me. God still loved me, and that there was hope for it.
Eric Huffman:Christina says she's never been as close to God as she feels today and that her relationship with God is what makes it possible for her to keep smiling, even when the world around her feels dark and hopeless.
Kristiina:I mean, there's lots of things that aren't fun, and there's lots of disappointments right now. But there's also I think a lot of really neat things that are happening and even just the fact that people are easy to talk with, like I go on a walk and people in my neighborhood want to say hello, which is really neat. I think.
Eric Huffman:Right. No, I've noticed the same.
Eric Huffman:I hope this episode has been a worthy tribute to you, the listeners of Maybe God. Our team is so grateful for you. You've blessed us more than you could possibly know over the past couple of years. I know these are scary times we're living in. But I hope this episode has reminded you know that you're not alone. We're in this together. More importantly, God is in it with us. He Even when we can't see him or feel his presence, he's there protecting us. Walking with us, showing us a better way to live. We couldn't end today's episode without one final rapid fire question that we asked everyone we called that if nothing else makes them Maybe God team feel pretty good about ourselves. Thanks for listening, everyone.
Eric Huffman:Be honest here, you're stranded in quarantine for another year. You can only choose one podcast to listen to and no others. Which podcast do you choose?
Carolyn:Oh my god. These two process.
Eric Huffman:Only one.
Clayton:Yeah, let me think a little bit.
Debbie:Wow. That, I want to think about.
Carolyn:I've actually been listening to Wayne Dwyer, Dr. Dwyer?
Clayton:So the one that I really probably have listened to consistently the most is a pastor here in North Texas Matt Chandler at the Village Church.
Eric Huffman:I was really hoping you'd say Maybe God.
Debbie:Oh no, there it is.
Clayton:I was going to caveat that.
Carolyn:Dr. Wayne Dwyer.
Eric Huffman:The Wayne Dwayer?
Carolyn:That topic, yeah.
Eric Huffman:You realize I just perfectly set you up to offer me a compliment and you didn't.
Carolyn:Oh no. Oh no. I'm just trying to be honest. So I'm not going to ...
Kristiina:I would probably I think choose the Chasing Hope.
Eric Huffman:Oh wait, that's The Story Houston Podcast.
Eric Huffman:Yeah, that's us.
John:You know, I don't listen to many podcasts. But I listened to yours. I check back every now and to see if you got something new on there. So I guess I would say Maybe God.
Eric Huffman:That's exactly the answer that I'm looking for. That's correct.
John:Yeah, it probably is.
Debbie:Carla Tegie. It's yours.
Eric Huffman:I love you, Deb.
Debbie:Well, good night. And this is my disclaimer, it's the only podcast I listen to.
Eric Huffman:You're not supposed to say that part. Come on.
Debbie:I know. I know, I know.
Eric Huffman:I was feeling so good about myself.
Debbie:I'm trying to be honest. But no, sometimes I recently like podcasts.
Eric Huffman:Sometimes you can be honest and hold back the stuff that hurts.
Eric Huffman:This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our new associate producers are Andrea Gentle, and Kat Brough. Shannon Stefan and Justin Mayer are our talented editors. Please don't forget to leave us your glowing reviews on iTunes or Apple Podcasts to help more people find Maybe God. Thank you.