Shifting Sand

Trusting God in a Culture of Deconstructed Faith
by Samantha Branch


Faith is a lot like sand on a beach—moving, shifting, and even briefly disappearing—before it slowly begins to come into view again. As I get older, I am desperate for more tangible proof that what I have believed my whole life is real, begging for manna to appear on the ground or water pouring forth from a rock. I wake every morning to barren ground outside, yet there is still this draw to believe. There is something about the way the sun rises every morning and never fails to set. The teachings of Jesus—humility, kindness, forgiveness, and striving to love others well—just make sense in a world of so much destruction and despair.

Spring-break campaigns were important at the university I attended, and every year I excitedly signed up to spend a week doing mission work. One year, I worked at a church in Maine where we painted and completed odd jobs around the building. Another year, I served at a church in San Diego where we did important kingdom work.

Humility, kindness, forgiveness, and loving others well just make sense in a world of so much despair.

The spring-break mission trip that had the biggest impact on my life took place during my freshman year. This campaign was called “Seek and Follow,” and that was the whole point—to seek God and go where he led us. We had no destination in mind and no preplanned work scheduled. We loaded onto vans, chose a direction on the map, and simply started driving, trusting that God would take us where he wanted us to go. It was the most faith-building experience of my life because, undoubtedly, everywhere we stopped, we were needed.

Hours after embarking on the trip, we stopped at a church in Texarkana. Our group leader asked if the church had any needs that two vans full of college kids could help meet. The church was hosting an event that night and readily accepted our help. After serving at the church that evening, we looked at the map once again, picked a direction, and loaded the vans, driving toward an unknown destination. This is how we spent the entire week. We sought the Lord, and he never failed to lead us in the right direction.

Faith is a journey, liable to change as we move from one stage of life to another. When our firstborn turned one, my husband and I decided to try to have another baby. We had become pregnant with our first child remarkably fast, so we naturally assumed it would happen the same way with our second. Months passed, and my womb remained barren. Initially, this seemed like only a minor setback, so I tried to increase our odds as best I could. I drank green tea religiously, took my basal body temperature daily, and took advantage of every opportunity to make pregnancy a reality. But still, every attempt fell flat, and each month I welcomed a steady stream of heartbreak instead of a positive pregnancy test. It was one of the few times in my life that I felt complete desperation, finding myself on my knees begging God for this one gift. I also felt guilty. I already had a baby, while others I knew struggled with ever becoming pregnant. I was asking for another baby when I had a perfectly happy, healthy toddler running wildly around a living room littered with brightly colored toys.

We sought the Lord, and he never failed to lead us in the right direction.

When our son was two years old, and we had been trying to become pregnant for nearly a year and a half, we moved back to my hometown. We finally decided that it was time to see a fertility specialist. I dreaded my appointment at the hospital, where they would perform some tests, frightened of what they would find. On the morning of the appointment, I took a pregnancy test, certain I would find myself staring once again at a negative result. Instead, I was shocked to see those much-anticipated double-pink lines. I took a second test, sure that the first result was faulty. I was ecstatic that it too said I was positively pregnant. I canceled the appointment at the hospital and instead made a new appointment with a doctor who could verify the pregnancy. Nine months later, I held my baby girl in my arms, and I felt that same certainty I had felt in college. God is always faithful. In his perfect timing, he had made us wait until we were close to my family and had a contract on a house of our own with plenty of rooms to fill.

As my kids have grown from wild toddlers running in cramped living spaces to teenagers with big ideas and even bigger questions, I find my faith challenged increasingly more. Stories like Noah and the flood do not seem as innocent as they once did on felt storyboards with pairs of animals lined up to board the ark. My baby girl, who came with God’s perfect timing, was dealt a hard blow when a traumatic event disabled her dominant hand, resulting in a huge scar on her entire forearm. We have begged God for complete healing and have found it difficult to understand why he has refused our pleas. Yet I see tiny glimpses of his goodness and mercy, even in great trauma.

My kids are embarking on new seasons of life, and a heaviness weighs on my shoulders as I consider what comes next. There are no signs of manna on the ground each morning, but still, peace settles over me. I have learned in marriage counseling that trust does not come easily for me, and trusting in something as daunting as an unknown future is no small feat. But the history and evidence of God’s faithfulness amid the unknown settles any rising fear. Faith shifts as seasons change, but his voice breaks through the fog with a simple Trust me. And I am finding that for now, that is enough.

Samantha Branch is a writer and mother of four from Houston, Texas. @sammylynn82

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