December 14, 2023

From New Age to Orthodox Christianity with Vesper Stamper

Inside This Episode

Having suffered childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a family member, 13-year-old Vesper Stamper was hungry for a sense of control. An answer was seemingly found in wicca, transcendental meditation, and other occult practices; but after her first experience of astral projection, Vesper became plagued by a dark spiritual oppression that only conversion and exorcism could lift. Decades later, the celebrated author and illustrator reflects upon the suffering that led to her experimentation, as well as the pain that has persisted years into her Christian walk. For the very first time, Vesper publicly discusses her recent health diagnosis, the despair she’s battled in the wake of the October 7th attacks, and the surprising companion she’s found in Christ.

Vesper’s illustrations, books, and podcast: 

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Eric Huffman: Hey, Maybe God family. Thanks for tuning in today. Before starting today's conversation, just a quick disclaimer, we're going to be getting into topics related to childhood sexual abuse and other kinds of trauma. So just know that it's viewer and listener discretion-advised kind of episode today.

I'm really excited to welcome today's guest. She's someone I've wanted to have on for quite some time. Her name is Vesper Stamper, and I can't wait for all of you to get to know her.

I want to jump right in with Vesper here. Vesper Stamper, welcome. You are an author, an illustrator of a handful of books, a couple of which I've actually read and not just to prepare for this interview. I stumbled across your work with my daughter who was a preteen reader at the time, and we came across What the Night Sings, which we'll talk more about in addition to the other things that you've written. But just tell us about yourself first, Vesper, you've got an amazing story and just kind of where you come from and how you were brought up.

Vesper Stamper: I'm an author, illustrator, as you said. Somebody said I should write some books. I don't know why, but that's what I do now. We'll get into that later. So I was born in Germany on a U.S. Army base, raised in New York City. Very much a person who fits everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

I was raised in a family of artists and really wonderful grandparents, but my nuclear family, let's say, had a lot of trouble in it. I did experience some very capital T childhood trauma, as did most of the people in my family, most of the women especially. But through a combination of my really wonderful grandparents and books, I managed to come out of that not unscathed, but equipped, I would say.

Eric Huffman: Did the abuse happen overseas? Where were you when the abuse happened?

Vesper Stamper: In New York. It was a relative in my extended family. I never met my father, my biological father. He was in the Army, which was why I was born in the Army base. When I was four, my mom remarried my Jewish stepfather. So I was raised Jewish with him. My mom was a convert to Judaism.

Eric Huffman: Okay.

Vesper Stamper: And they were married for about 10 years and then unfortunately they divorced. So he was, you know, in my life for a fairly short time, but it was a really impactful time in terms of growing up in a Jewish environment that really impacted me in ways that I didn't really comprehend for many years after.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, sure. And where did your grandparents live?

Vesper Stamper: In Staten Island, New York.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. So I lived a great deal of my childhood at their house.

Eric Huffman: And were they Jewish?

Vesper Stamper: No, they were Episcopalian. They used to take me to church and I would sit in the front pew right by the choir. It was a really rich environment sensorily. It was a small stick Gothic church, you know, wooden, but really beautifully ornate carving inside, which my grandfather had a large part in helping to restore the church from the 1880s, I believe, St. Alban's Church in Staten Island.

So, you know, I kind of grew up with this really interesting mix of, yeah, this really talented, detail-oriented grandfather in this kind of working class environment, but with all this beauty, you know?

Eric Huffman: Yeah. I know the abuse was a massive event in your life and in your family's life because your abuse coming to light shed light on other people in your family. It's sort of all surfaced through your trauma coming to the surface.

Vesper Stamper: It was a great uncle and... I'll put it this way. He made his way through every female in my family. Unfortunately, the generation that this happened in... my mom was a teenager when she had me, so, you know, my aunts were younger. I was sort of like the sixth child coming along in a way.

So it was at dinner one night when we were all sitting around the table and the great uncle was over and I was three years old, three or four years, and I said something like, "Oh, do you remember when you did blah, blah, blah?" And it was like record scratch moment. And everybody realized that this had been going on and nobody had been talking to each other about it. My understanding is that when I said that very innocently at the dinner table, that the abuse stopped for everybody.

Eric Huffman: Why do you think that is? Do you think that it was a matter of just it had been spoken or do you think...? Were all the victims isolated from each other until you spoke up?

Vesper Stamper: That's a good question. I don't really know, but I think that... As I said, it was a generation in which those things were not spoken of. And if they were brought up, they were downplayed. It, in fact, my grandparents who were really wonderful people, saintly. In fact, when it was brought to light for them, they said things like, well, but he helped us build our house and he's been very helpful to us.

So it's inconceivable to me that as a parent who has been very protective of my children and yet I'm not a helicopter parent by any means, I was a latchkey kid. Like I'm not hovering that way, you know. But in that one area, I was very protective of my kids and taught them how to properly understand their bodies and their right to their own bodies, their relationship to their bodies, the goodness of their bodies, and keeping the lines of communication open in our family, our immediate family, as I was raising them, enabled it to not happen to them.

Eric Huffman: In what ways do you think you were shaped by that experience, the abuse itself? And how did you have to heal?

Vesper Stamper: In Walter Education, we talk about the dream of childhood and not waking the child up from the dream, right? It's about when a kid turns seven that they start to emerge from all of the dream, let's say, the fantasy, the imaginative play, and the blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy that happens between birth and seven, right?

So because I had the grandparents that I did, and because I had so much art in my life, I think, music, books, I think I was able to segment a large part of my mind to still remain in that dream. So I think it gave me a place to go, maybe you could say to compartmentalize, you know, if you wanted to think about it that way. I was able to compartmentalize the difficulty in my childhood from the things that were very beautiful. It was a real lifesaver for me.

Eric Huffman: Have you ever thought about art as a gift from God in the sense that He gives it to people who need to cope with their pain as a way of coping? Anytime I run into somebody who's super gifted artistically and they're expressive in that art or someone who's really funny, even someone who's a gifted orator and storyteller, it seems there's always some deep story there of pain.

Vesper Stamper: Yes, that's true.

Eric Huffman: And it's their cultivation of that art has been a way of dealing with their pain and working through it.

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. I think that for some people it can be an escape. And if it only remains in the realm of escape, then it can become a trap, you know? I think it can feed the ego to a really dangerous point, especially for very wounded people. When you have something that you're gifted at that feeds your ego, then you can never get out of this kind of cycle of like pain and ego. There's nothing to kind of trip you out of that and push you into something that's like truly redemptive.

Eric Huffman: When you were a child, did you identify as Jewish or Christian or both or neither? How did God play into this?

Vesper Stamper: I think at that age, I didn't really have a concept consciously of God. I would have said I had a consciousness of something... that I was part of something bigger and that I saw things that people, other people didn't see. For sure I would have said that.

I think I understood that there was such a thing as religion and that I was part of a few of them in a way. You know, I had my Jewish upbringing in my nuclear family and that I had my grandparents' church that was very much identified with them, not so much with God necessarily, although I did feel a sense of transcendence there.

But then when I was in high school, I got involved with Wicca and transcendental meditation and the occult broadly, the new age and occult broadly and also the Hare Krishna movement. So that was sort of my syncretism of my early teenage years.

Eric Huffman: What kind of high school did you go to? Because it's a pretty deep thinking. It sounds like. I don't remember...

Vesper Stamper: I did go to a pretty exceptional high school. I went to LaGuardia High School in Manhattan. So it's the high school of performing arts, the movie and series fame is based on.

Eric Huffman: Of course.

Vesper Stamper: So that is where I went. It's fantastic experience. All of the misfits and weirdos and outliers from all the five boroughs of New York just kind of coming together and this nice little safe environment where we could just be our freakish selves. It was good.

Eric Huffman: Did you not see any conflict at the time of, in terms of integrating your Jewish heritage with your experience with the Episcopalians into occult and Wicca and all of that, was that not a problem for you at the time?

Vesper Stamper: Not at the time. In fact, I still maintain that my Jewish identity and my Christian identity are one and the same. In my estimation, those are part and parcel of the same thing.

Eric Huffman: Okay.

Vesper Stamper: However, when I was introduced to Wicca, it was specifically through this book that talked about how you could be a Christian and practice Wicca. Like, you know, it was fine. It was like, God is love and blah, blah, blah. It's all the same and all religions lead to the same place, and so you're just kind of expanding your spiritual horizons and things like that.

So, yeah, I was basically lied to in that way and bought it completely because I was a very open person. Like despite what had happened to me in my childhood and what was continuing to happen in my home, the abuse was one thing, but my mother has mental illness. And so that was the much more like chronic, if you could say. The abuse was more acute and the situation with my mom was much more chronic. That was really like the backdrop of all of that, you know?

So I coped with that by not covering it up. I coped with it by being the most open person I could possibly be. Probably too open. Like I would tell people my life is an open book. I have nothing to hide. Because the reality at home was being screwed with so much all the time that I had to fight for my reality. And my reality, like it had to be mine. I had to own the facts of what I was seeing in front of me and not let it be dictated to me from elsewhere. Does that make sense?

Eric Huffman: It does. Is that what appealed to you about Wicca and Hare Krishna and whatever else you got involved in at that point in time? Was it the, I don't want to say the control factor, but like you're in the driver's seat in a way? Is that...?

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I mean, with Wicca, especially with any of the occult stuff, it very, very much was a control thing. Like somebody told me that through certain spells and incantations, I could control the weather or that I could control how other people felt about me. I mean, that was very... are you kidding me? For a 13-year-old, who's like going through abuse at home, like that's very appealing, you know?

Eric Huffman: Could you do those things?

Vesper Stamper: Oh, who knows? I mean, I believe I could have. I believe that there was probably something going on there. I do believe in demons for sure. I had a strong encounter with one of them. But how much I was able to do, you know, I think that part is probably, mm, I don't know. I'll stay a little ambivalent on that.

Eric Huffman: I think that's probably wise. Do you think there was anything about having gone through what you did, both the acute and the more drawn-out trauma of your mother's mental illness and living with that at home that opened you up to those sorts of influences and experiences?

Vesper Stamper: There might've been a little bit of a sense of belonging and looking for community in that. However, it was pre-internet, so there wasn't a way to find other people really. I mean, in terms of the Wicca, it was me and my friend reading books and screwing around and lighting candles and things like that. In terms of the community aspect of it, it didn't go as deep as it could have. Whereas today it would be much easier to get trapped into doing some really dark things.

With the Hare Krishna part though, that was very community oriented. I mean, I got involved through a friend, but I also had met them through people on the street in New York, you know, went to a vegetarian feast, a lot of dancing. And it seemed like a very happy kind of hippie environment.

Eric Huffman: Vegetarian feast sounds oxymoronic to me, but I'm Texan, so.

Vesper Stamper: Oh, but you know, it's Indian food, dude.

Eric Huffman: Okay. Well, that I can deal with. I love Indian food.

Vesper Stamper: You know?

Eric Huffman: So, yeah. Man, what a story, Vesper. And we're only into your teenage years at this point. I've heard you speak about getting a little deeper into the New Age and occult stuff and your being drawn to astral projection in particular. Is there anything you could tell us about that experience?

Vesper Stamper: So the astral projection was actually the most appealing part of all of this for me. And I think it was because of this sense that, yeah, I could see things that people didn't see. I could perceive things that other people didn't see. I was a really strong dreamer, and not lucid dreams, but really powerful, powerful dreams that I felt like were showing me things that I knew were there. And I still dream that way.

So the astral projection, as it was advertised, okay, offered me the chance to tangibly see those things that I perceived. And so-

Eric Huffman: Can you just define astral projection real quick for people?

Vesper Stamper: Right. So it's the belief that you can separate your soul or your spiritual body from your physical body and to sort of like be unencumbered by your physical body so that you could fly around and translocate and all of these things, go in and out of dimensions, go to different galaxies if you wanted to. You know, just in general being unhindered by your physical body.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Vesper Stamper: And since my physical body was a source of pain for me, both from the trauma and from... I've had chronic illness since I was 13 or 15 that I still deal with today. I mean, it felt like very appealing to me. I wanted to do this.

So I would go home after school every day and I would read this book about astral projection and I would try to practice it and try to really do the steps, you know, to be able to do this thing. One day I came home from school, I got my book out, I laid down, and at this point I was about 15 years old, I was living on my own. My mom and I technically shared a studio apartment, but she was never home. She lived with somebody else. So I was alone alone all the time.

Came home from school, laid down, and for the first time I actually did feel like I was separating from my body. I could see through my closed eyelids, could see the room around me, and I started to feel like I was raising up about a couple of inches outside of my body and I was like, Oh, it's working, it's working. And all of a sudden, the phone rang. And I felt myself slam back into my body, but like off, you know. I didn't quite feel like I went back in correctly.

So it turned out the phone call was my boyfriend at the time. I picked up the phone and I immediately started shaking. So I was like, "I'm gonna have to call you back." So I'm trembling, shaking uncontrollably. And I looked down at my hands and they had turned black.

Eric Huffman: Oh my gosh.

Vesper Stamper: So somehow I came out of it, stopped shaking. But from that very day, I started having these uncontrollable thoughts. And they were disgusting, really horrible, horrible thoughts all the time. And it really felt like something else was thinking my thoughts for me. These weren't things that I thought or believed. They were just horrible. And I couldn't escape them.

Eric Huffman: Violent?

Vesper Stamper: Violent, perverted, racist, all of the things that I'm not. And it was from that day on, one day I didn't have those things, the next day I did. And they persisted for a couple of years. So fast forward, I had become a Christian—so at this point I was about 17—and I was at a retreat and I stayed behind after the speaker and I was just kind of praying alone in the sanctuary.

The same guy who led me to the Lord came over just to check on me, say how I was doing and, oh, how can I pray for you? I said, "Oh, well, you know, I was staying behind to pray about something else. But really what I'm dealing with is I have these uncontrollable thoughts." And I told him... I didn't connect it necessarily to the astral projection, but I was like, "I don't know why I can't like get rid of this."

And he said, "Well, by any chance have you ever been involved in witchcraft?" And I was like, "What? How did you know?" So he said, "Why don't you just let me pray for you?" And he didn't counsel me out of it or anything like that. But he started to pray, and all of a sudden I felt a physical manifestation of this being trying to tear itself out of me.

Eric Huffman: My gosh.

Vesper Stamper: And I felt like I was going to vomit. It was really physically violent. It felt inwardly. I wasn't getting violent, but it felt violent. It felt like it was tearing me apart. And I started screaming, "Get out of me." So my friend was praying for me and then all of a sudden it was gone, completely gone. And so were the thoughts. I never battled with them again. They were gone.

So what I think happened is that when I kind of slammed back into my body at that point during that astral projection session, which I never did again, by the way, it freaked me out so badly, I think that something slipped in while I was out. I think a being kind of slipped into a space between my soul and my body, if you wanted to put it that way, and was sort of inhabiting me.

Eric Huffman: Like a demonic being, you mean?

Vesper Stamper: A demonic being, yeah. And I've never experienced it since and it's been 30 years.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Huffman: And it hasn't happened since, the thoughts and things?

Vesper Stamper: no.

Eric Huffman: Which tells you whatever was in you at the time was in fact thinking those thoughts for you.

Vesper Stamper: Yes, yes.

Eric Huffman: Projecting them onto you.

Vesper Stamper: Very much influencing me, whispering them in my ear, all of that kind of thing. But it no longer had a place to be, and so it had to leave.

Eric Huffman: I'll tell you what, man, there's a lot of people that I've known that have expressed and heard foreign, unknown things and nefarious things, voices or ideas, pictures, projections, whatever, that they could not explain. Usually people seek out mental health solutions to numb or silence that sort of thing? And I'm not-

Vesper Stamper: And that's important.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. I'm not taking away from that at all. I just think sometimes we in the church do emphasize that at the expense of spiritual treatment.

Vesper Stamper: Believe me, growing up with a mentally ill parent, I firmly believe in mental health, all of that, and seeking out help. I don't battle with mental illness, thank God. That was not what was going on here. I know some people have heard my story and said, Oh, that's OCD, or whatever. I don't have OCD. I had this manifestation for a year or two, and after one event, it was gone. After one event, it came in, and after one event, it was gone.

Eric Huffman: Fascinating.

Vesper Stamper: And it didn't take medication or counseling to get out. It took deliverance. So I think this is what the Catholic Church and what the Orthodox Church do really well is they do have a tradition of exorcism that is strong and it's practiced, it's methodical, it's not emotional. It just is, and it works.

Eric Huffman: It's also holistic in my experience with it. We outsource a lot of our exorcisms to the Catholic Church locally. I laugh, but I should not laugh.

Vesper Stamper:

Eric Huffman: Because it's a very serious matter. What I'm laughing at is the fact that we outsource it to the Catholics. Not that it's a funny thing, but we do that because they're very historically responsible. The exorcism department in the Catholic Church is as solid as I have found anywhere else.

Other groups of Christians do deliverance things, and Pentecostals and Charismatics, they are very serious about that. But I have just found more success, I guess, more care in the process. They require every person who's afflicted to go through pretty intense psychological evaluation first.

Vesper Stamper: And thank God. We understand in the modern world that you can make distinctions between all these things.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, for sure. Okay, so you sort of alluded to this earlier, but at some point in your teenage years, you fell in love with Jesus.

Vesper Stamper: He hijacked me.

Eric Huffman: If you ever needed proof of the power of Christ, here we have a teenager who is dabbling in New Age and Wiccan sort of practice at, I would presume, a pretty secular arts high school-

Vesper Stamper: 100%. Yeah.

Eric Huffman: New York City, having been raised in, or born at least-

Vesper Stamper: Middle school.

Eric Huffman: And born in Germany and all these reasons why you shouldn't be a professing Christian today, and yet Jesus wrapped His arms around you. How'd that happen?

Vesper Stamper: Well, I was friends with a bunch of people in a Catholic community theater group, and they happened to be Protestants who just loved to act in community theater. So they would always invite me to this youth group, and I was like, "I'm not going to your Christian youth group. I'm sorry. It's not a thing that's happening." So for a couple of years, they would just gently say, "Oh, but it's fun, you should come."

And when I was 15, I started playing guitar. And so they were like, "But you could come and bring your guitar." "Okay, fine. I'll come and bring my guitar." So I would go on Friday nights, and man, the leadership there was really incredible. They were respectful of us. They never talked down to us. They didn't assume just because they were adults that they had the corner on-

Eric Huffman: Knowledge and truth.

Vesper Stamper: Knowledge and truth or seriousness about the Lord or anything like that. So I respected them a lot because they respected me. What I didn't know is that for two years, these same friends, they had a prayer group on Tuesday nights that would go out on the Bayonne Bridge, and they would pray for the toughest cases. And they said they basically took me on as a prayer project. So they would go out there on the Bayonne Bridge on Tuesday nights, and they would pray for me for two years.

Eric Huffman: At what point did they tell you this?

Vesper Stamper: A couple of years after I became a Christian.

Eric Huffman: Okay, good.

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. And they prayed for me because I was the toughest case. They were like, if she comes to the Lord, we'll know there's a God.

Eric Huffman: At that point, what did they know about you that put you in that category?

Vesper Stamper: Oh, all of this stuff.

Eric Huffman: Okay.

Vesper Stamper: Like I said, I was a very open person. Anyway, I was at a friend's house, a guy friend, on a Friday after school, and he started trying to seduce me, basically, tried to talk me into having sex with him. And he was pretty bad at it, and I was not interested. Not interested at all.

So nothing happened, but I knew I needed to get out of that basement. I went upstairs, and I asked his mom to drive me to youth group because very conveniently, oh, it's Friday night-

Eric Huffman: Look at the time.

Vesper Stamper: Youth group. Look at the time. So she drove me over there, and youth group was already going on. And I felt such like, I don't know if it was shame, it was just darkness about this thing that had just happened, this conversation I just had, because I didn't know what was going on with me, with my body, with my sexual orientation, my desire, any of that. It was all very confusing to me.

And so it really sent me into a tailspin, and I realized, gosh, I have no reason for anything that I do in life. It's just empty. It's just total emptiness. So the way the building was set up was that the youth group was in the basement, and the sanctuary was on the second floor, and there was this vestibule with a staircase in between. And I could not bring myself to go downstairs to the youth group. I was so dark.

I had this vision. As I was sitting there crying, I had this vision of looking over this abyss into just nothingness. It was like pure nihilism. So this youth group leader, who's the same gentleman I told you about before, he came up and saw me there and he just sat with me. And he let me cry. He didn't ask me what was going on. He just sat with me.

And he said, "You know what? They're going to be coming upstairs in a minute. Do you want to go in the sanctuary. You don't have to explain yourself or whatever?" So we went in the sanctuary, and he just sat with me again. He just didn't say anything. He didn't put his arm around me. He didn't try to comfort me in any way.

And then after a while, because I'm just bawling my eyes out, he just said to me, "Do you want Jesus?" It had never occurred to me before to want Him or not. I barely even knew who He was. All of a sudden, everything just rushed together. This rushing wind out of my mouth came, yes. I didn't know what I was saying. I didn't know what I was signing up for. It was just, I knew that I knew that I knew that I knew that I wanted Him.

Eric Huffman: What do you think you knew exactly? A critic would say, well, you were emotionally vulnerable and you would have said yes to anything at that point.

Vesper Stamper: Mm-mm. No, no, no. No, I wouldn't have said yes to anything because two hours before that or an hour before that-

Eric Huffman: You were saying no.

Vesper Stamper: I was offered sex and I was saying no.

Eric Huffman: Good point.

Vesper Stamper: I never thought about that till just now. I was like, yeah, I could have had the one or the other and I chose the other.

Eric Huffman: I think you chose the right man.

Vesper Stamper: I think I chose the right one.

Eric Huffman: So at that moment, at the moment that I said yes, I had another vision. And when I say that I had a vision, I really mean it. I'm not just saying I had an imaginative moment. I was transported to somewhere else. So just like I had had this vision of the abyss at that moment of saying yes, I had this vision of being in front of the cross and all I saw were Jesus' feet.

And in this vision, I was crumpling up pieces of paper and violently throwing them at Him, violently throwing them at the foot of the cross, crumpling up, hurling, until this pile of crumpled-up paper would build and build and build. And as soon as it would touch His toe, the whole pile disappeared. Then I did it again. It was just like all my rage and all of the pain and all of the trauma and all of the abuse and everything was just all hurling it at Him. And then as soon as it touched His toe, gone again.

So this guy said a prayer. I don't remember what the prayer was. He asked if I had a Bible at home. I said, no, he gave me a Bible from the pew. Splashed my face. I went downstairs. I joined the youth group. We had a fun night, whatever. And the next day, well, I went home with this Bible and I read the Bible all night.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Vesper Stamper: I just was like, who is this? And why have I not known about this before? And I proceeded over that night, I think, to fall in love. And the next day, I saw my friends again, we were going to a theme park and I said, Yeah, I think I got saved last night. I don't know. Is that what you call it? I don't know."

Eric Huffman: Are these your Christian friends?

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. And they were like, What? These same people who had been praying for me and I was like, yeah, that's me, you know?

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Vesper Stamper: That was 30 years ago this year and I've never looked back.

Eric Huffman: So touching.

Vesper Stamper: I've never been the same.

Eric Huffman: So moving, honestly. And the way you articulate it is so important. Sometimes Christians talk in very stale terms about what God means to us, what Jesus is for us. And I read somewhere, I don't remember where I got this or where I came across this, but it stuck with me that Christians today often have Christian sacred morality and secular imagination. And that's a plague upon the church right now, at least in the West, is that we don't think imaginatively or in terms of visions and images.

I think about your vision of the cross, the foot of the cross, and the fact that you're throwing wads of paper at the foot of the cross might not sound significant to the average listener, but you're a writer and an artist. And that to me, I don't know if this is how you interpreted it, but those are all your feelings and thoughts and pain and all of it. You're crumpling up at the feet of Jesus and when it touches His feet, it goes away and it's resolved. Is that how you interpreted that?

Vesper Stamper: So I didn't have an interpretation of that vision for many years afterward. I didn't know what it meant. And that's what confirms to me that it was a legitimate vision.

Eric Huffman: It's like, why paper and not rocks or something?

Vesper Stamper: Sure. And why were they blank pieces of paper? I don't know. I think now, yeah, you're exactly right about I think what it meant. But for a long time, all I knew, and really all I still know is that I met this man. In fact, in the darkest times where in those 30 years, it's not like everything got perfect by any means. Believe me, the pain didn't stop. The suffering didn't stop. There's a lot of ways in which it's reached new levels. But I know that I met Him. There were times where I was tempted to walk away and I would hear him say to me, Yeah, but you met me. You know me."

Eric Huffman: "You know me."

Vesper Stamper: "You know me. You're not gonna leave." And I would say, "Yeah, you're right."

Eric Huffman: What was it about His person, about His character that you fell in love with initially? Do you remember?

Vesper Stamper: I don't know if it's necessarily qualities as much as it is just Him. I can't escape Him. I can't escape Him. He's so present.

Eric Huffman: How is Jesus different from the other men that you had known to that point in your life, at least?

Vesper Stamper: He's never hurt me. I was gonna say He's never demanded anything of me, but that's not true. He's demanded everything of me. He's never taken anything by force, that's for sure. He's always, always been so gentle, way more gentle than I am with myself, way more gentle than anybody else is with me or than I am with other people.

I don't know if you can tell... I'm sort of a tough bird. I'm not everybody's favorite flavor. I can be fairly intense. But He's never condemned me for that. He's always invited me to just give more of myself to Him and invited me into more and more life, more and more beauty, more and more joy.

Eric Huffman: "Man, He's never hurt me, hit me like a wall just now." Wow, thank God. Vesper, thanks for sharing that part of the story with us. It's so beautiful to hear the different ways Jesus reaches us exactly where we are.

Vesper Stamper: Can I say a little bit more about that?

Eric Huffman: Please.

Vesper Stamper: You're actually catching me at the, I want to say tail end, I hope it's the tail end, of a couple of months of really deep sorrow. And mainly the backdrop or a big part of this, not even the backdrop, it's a big part of it, is the attacks on October 7th. And as somebody raised Jewish, as somebody who writes about the Holocaust, I study this deep, this is like my beat, it's my beat.

I understand why the Holocaust happened, how it happened. It's not just the Holocaust. It's this cyclical hatred. So was I surprised by the attacks on October 7th? Not at all. And yet what really, really hurt afterwards was the gaslighting, the minimization, the glee, the protests. It's all been really dark, really dark.

Concurrent with that, there were some things that happened in my personal life. I got a health diagnosis. It's been rocky. I'm not somebody who struggles with depression, thank God, and I have compassion on people who do, but I was very depressed. And I was kind of scaring myself a little bit in terms of where my mind was going. All I could do was cry out to the Lord, and say the Jesus prayer, and just, "Lord, help me. You're the only answer."

When you write about the Holocaust, if you really deeply research it in the way that any of us who have worked in this subject matter know, it changes you. There's a part of you that dies. Your hope in humanity dies a little bit. And I think it needs to. You know?

Eric Huffman: Mm-hmm.

Vesper Stamper: So one of the things that the Lord showed me when I was doing this work is He gave me access to His sorrow. I thought I'd known sorrow before, and I had. But this took me to a new level of sorrow, but it was His sorrow. And that's different. There's human sorrow that is despair, and it's nothing but darkness. It is that abyss, right? But then there's His sorrow on the cross, which brings life, right? Like if a seed falls to the ground and dies, it emerges as new life.

So what He gave me was access to His heart, and access to the wound in His side. So that's where I live. I live there. I live in that wound in His side. I live in the reality of His suffering and in the fellowship of His suffering. And I'm not trying to make more of that than it is. I'm just saying, He gave me access to that.

That wound is the closest place to His heart. So it's the safest place to be. It's the best place to be. It's the most loving place to be. So when all this stuff happened, I had to go there. I've been crying out to Him ever since. "Okay, if I have to do 40 more years of this, and it's despair, I'm not gonna make it. I won't make it if it's just the darkness." But if you can somehow give me joy in this, then I'll do it. I'll go as far into your sorrow as you need me to go, as long as you give me joy.

There's the aspect of it where it's like Paul's thorn. So when Paul talks about the thorn in His flesh, he talks about it right on the heels of like he's been given this revelation. It's right after he talks about going to the third heaven and all of this stuff, like I've been given all these revelations. And then he says, and then I was given this thorn in the flesh in order for the Lord to say my grace is sufficient for you.

So as I've been processing this, I've been thinking, I don't want it to just be for my own sanctification. Like, I get that part of it, that's fine. But I don't want other people to look at me and feel bad for me because of the things I go through. I hate that. I don't want anybody to say, Oh, honey, you never get a break. Everybody's got their suffering, right?

But what I want from the Lord is joy. I want the joy that I have in Him, the belonging and the love that I have for Him to be the thing that people see out of that. Because if all they see is my suffering, what good does that do for anybody?

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Vesper Stamper: Then it's like a barrier to other people's salvation. But if they can see that there's joy in the middle of that suffering for me, then maybe they can see that there's joy in the middle of that suffering for them too. Does that make sense?


Eric Huffman: It does, but I have a question and I don't know if it's time to ask it yet. But have you found it yet, the joy in the midst of all of this pain?

Vesper Stamper: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Can you describe it?

Vesper Stamper: It's the same thing it always was. It's Him.

Eric Huffman: Just being with Him?

Vesper Stamper: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: I think you're onto something profound and ancient and forsaken in many Christian circles today. I think we are striving for a pain-free Christian journey on this earth.

Vesper Stamper: Good luck. It's not gonna happen. I hate to break it to you.

Eric Huffman: No, you're exactly right. Actually, it can happen, but even if it does, it's not what you think it is.

Vesper Stamper: Well, all that is, is insulating yourself from the inevitable. Like, I'm sorry, we're all gonna die and we're all gonna lose people and we're all gonna... nobody gets out of this unscathed.

Eric Huffman: No, you're exactly right. And I think embracing suffering is what you're describing and finding joy in that, in the wounded side of Jesus. I mean, that's next level. It's anti-American in some ways, anti-West. But man, we should probably get used to that instead of... Because then what happens is we experience pain and we think God has forsaken us.

Vesper Stamper: Oh no. How could it be? How could that be? He went to the cross. He went to the cross. And it says, for the joy set before me, I will endure the cross, right?

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Vesper Stamper: For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame. And he sat down at the right hand of God. The cross was the way to the joy.

Eric Huffman: In the New Testament, Paul writes, "We do not grieve as those who have no hope." That's what keeps coming to mind. Hope seems to be the bridge to joy, the hope we have in Christ.

Vesper Stamper: I'll tell you, I get this from my Jewish upbringing.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Vesper Stamper: Yes, 100%. This is the Jewish story. It's choosing life, it's choosing joy in the midst of suffering. It's choosing joy when everybody's lying about you. It's like we don't have another choice. It's either that or hell. And I don't want to live in hell. I want to live.

Eric Huffman: Well, for listeners and watchers that aren't familiar with your work, I think it's important to say, your writing is, I guess, technically fiction, but it's nonfiction fiction. It's historical fiction. You are extremely well-researched in your writing and, you know, the setting of your first book, or the first book I read of yours, forgive me if there were others before that, but What the Night Sings was set in the Holocaust itself, and it was about a girl named Gerta who didn't even know she was Jewish until she was taken away to the camp, which is just amazing.

I just say all that to say to everybody getting to know you now that what you're saying about Israel and the Jewish people is not a feeling, it's not an emotional thing only for you. You are extremely well-researched. And if you're listening now and you want more of Vesper's insights on what's happened since October the 7th and what led to October the 7th, I found your response on Instagram to be as clear an explanation of the situation as I've heard anywhere. And I feel like I've done my fair share of homework on what's been going on. So what's your handle on Instagram? Is it?

Vesper Stamper: @vesperillustration. It's pretty easy.

Eric Huffman: @vesperillustration. I encourage people to go check that out there. But sort of circling back to this conversation about Christianity and what I would call the grit of the Christian life, right, embracing pain, embracing suffering, getting our hands dirty, and being okay with it. One thing that came up in our pre-interview conversations was just your desire to identify more as a mere Christian and... you are part of the American Orthodox Church, is that, did I say that right?

Vesper Stamper: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Orthodox Church in America?

Vesper Stamper: Orthodox Church in America. Yeah.

Eric Huffman: As opposed to a Catholic or Protestant church here. Could you talk about sort of why you found a home in that part of Christianity versus a more typical Western evangelical Christian church?

Vesper Stamper: Well, I'm going to just say it's not a versus. I don't have the zeal of the convert with Orthodoxy. It was very much in a way like a lateral move for us as a family. It just seemed like, oh, this is kind of what we had been practicing all along or kind of leaning toward all along. And oh, it actually has an expression in the church, look at this.

We felt like the things that made us weirdos in more Protestant circles were totally normal in the Orthodox Church, you know. The sort of like mystical aspect of things but also... I think the thing that we felt so relieved by when we came in and... you know, prior to this, my husband was a pastor. We were worship leaders. There was this sense in the divine liturgy that nothing there was put there to cater to us or to make us feel comfortable or relevant or any of that stuff.

Eric Huffman: All those catchwords.

Vesper Stamper: All of those. There was no church growth program, anything like that. There were no screens. There were no lights except candles. There was no smoke machine except the incense, you know.

Eric Huffman: The OG smoke machine.

Vesper Stamper: OG smoke machine. The best. It smells great.

Eric Huffman: But it was there before you and it'll be there after you.

Vesper Stamper: That's exactly right. It's like you walk through the doors and there's this river flowing for 2,000 years. In fact, you could say for 2,000 years before that, because it's very similar to temple and synagogue worship. That there's this stream that's been flowing. And on a Sunday morning, you get to step into that stream for a couple of hours. It is participatory but in a different way. But none of it is meant to cater to you.

And it was such a relief because in previous expressions, which I don't disparage, I really don't disparage, they're part of our history in God, there was always that kind of stress of like, what's the pastor going to do next? Are we going to have to like co-sign to something? Like what's his next whim going to be? Or so much of it was based on personality and charisma. There's none of that.

It's like somebody once said, I think it was my friend Jonathan Pesceau. He said, A sermon in the Orthodox Church that's longer than 15 minutes is considered prideful.

Eric Huffman: Yikes.

Vesper Stamper: And it's just meant to exposit the reading for the week, which literally every Orthodox around the world is reading at the same time, you know. So there's just this sense of participation of you don't have to make anything up.

Eric Huffman: It's not performative or it's not as performative.

Vesper Stamper: It's not performative in the sense that is exhausting. But it is performative in the sense that it's very sensory and it's very participatory. Like it can't happen without the body of Christ there. You know?

Eric Huffman: Sure. No, I totally get the appeal to it. I think there's upsides and downsides to all expressions of Christianity, right?

Vesper Stamper: Sure.

Eric Huffman: But I definitely get the appeal. And I've seen it where churches like mine that are the opposite of what you're describing pretty much. But again, I don't disparage either any expression of Christianity that's authentic and based in truth. I see people flocking to our church for certain things and some people slipping away toward expressions like you're describing.

I tend to think those folks are usually creative in their personality or mentality or giftedness. They're artistic. They're reflective people, deep thinkers, people that like to, I guess, be invited into something and go deep rather than just be told what to think all the time and flash and fog machine stuff.

And it grieves me that that expression of Christianity that welcomes the creatives and artists is hard to find in this culture, I guess. And I wonder what happens to Christianity over the long term when it becomes just a convert-making factory. Do you think about that ever?

Vesper Stamper: I think about it all the time. I made a snarky comment on somebody's Instagram. I can't remember who it was. There was somebody talking about all these worship leaders and pastors who are having these moral failings and stuff. And I said, Well, the first thing you could do is tear down all the stages and put the altar back up.

Eric Huffman: Architecture speaks volumes, right?

Vesper Stamper: I think what the Orthodox get right is that it's a matter of attention. So in the divine liturgy, your attention, and in fact, the deacon who does a lot of the service, is constantly saying, Wisdom, let us attend. In other words, it's a constant calling back of your attention to focus on the liturgy and on what's happening on the altar, for example.

So when we decided to kind of do away with all of these things that hold our attention, whether it's icons, whether it's the altar, the Eucharist, you know, all of these things, well, our attention is not going to go automatically to the highest thing. It's going to disperse. It's going to atomize.

That's why we have, oh, now we have the worship team as the pinnacle of our attention. And it's like, well, if the worship team doesn't entertain me, or if the pastor doesn't entertain me or titillate my mind or something like that, then I haven't had a good worship experience. It's not about your worship experience. I'm sorry. I don't know what to tell you.

Eric Huffman: And that sounds to me like the same instinct that drives people toward things like witchcraft or new age practices, which is make it about me. I want the power. I want to pull the strings. Man, I also think it's really unfair to pastors and worship leaders.

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. Nobody can bear that.

Eric Huffman: Nobody can bear that.

Vesper Stamper: Nobody can bear that weight. Nobody can.

Eric Huffman: Now, we do it to ourselves. I'm not saying we're unaccountable in that way, but yeah, it is untenable system of expectations.

Vesper Stamper: It is.

Eric Huffman: I hope it's going by the wayside slowly, but it seems like those are the churches that are always getting the attention. Again, mine is pretty adjacent to that sort of model. And we're working really hard at not... I guess what we're working hard at is, what numbers are we counting? What do we value most? And if it's just butts in seats on Sundays, we're far from Christ.

Vesper Stamper: And I think in terms of the occult stuff and all of that, I think what people who are tempted toward new age or artists, you know, or people who are deconstructing their faith and like... if like what they don't understand is that everything they're looking for is already in the church. It's just that a lot of things have been de-emphasized to the point of invisibility.

Again, I'm ecumenical Christianly, and I understand that there are certain emphases in different cultures and stuff that need to be there. So not everybody's going to become Orthodox. However, there are people like me who are wired a certain way and who are wired to see things and perceive things that other people don't see, that if they understood what was available to them in the orthodox church, for example, they might not be tempted to deconstruct. They might not feel that angst and that pain if they knew that there was a place within the church that they could go.

Eric Huffman: That's right. Man, that's a really good point.

Vesper Stamper: And I'm not saying that every artist needs to become Orthodox either. I'm just saying for that certain type of person, they can find what they're looking for. It's available. Just like somebody looking for something else can find it. There's a place for everybody.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. But I think you're right. I think what typically happens is someone hits a wall at the church they're going to because... I think what happens is creative people and thoughtful people stir the pot. And churches often find them a threat. So if they do have a next step in Christianity, it's usually like some unitary, universalist church that's not really a church. And then they're gone. And there are pockets of Christian community, like what you're describing, where folks can stay in Christ, stay among the body of Christ, and still, you know, go the direction that He's created them to go creatively and with their questions and doubts and things.

Vesper Stamper: And the pressure's off. Because an artist steps into the church, and what's the first thing that somebody asks them? Can you design our website? Can you be on the worship team? Can you...? And you're just like, I'm exhausted. I just need to come and be restored in the Lord and like not be dependent on to again on Sunday morning have to tap into my resources like this.

Eric Huffman: Well, Vesper, what are you up to these days? I know you're still writing. And then on a personal front, I know you mentioned some health struggles, but how is your family and what's life like these days?

Vesper Stamper: Life is good. I thank God I have an intact family. I have children who are following the Lord. My son is a Marine. He's training Special Forces, which is not something I ever, ever thought.

Eric Huffman: I didn't know that. That's... wow.

Vesper Stamper: No, my husband and I we're both artists, like never thought we would raise a Marine, especially that kind of Marine. But he is that kind of Marine. He's really crushing it. My health struggles are what they are. I've had them for 30 years. And this new diagnosis is not fun, but hey, it's all right. The Lord's with me in it.

Eric Huffman: And you're writing on this...?

Vesper Stamper: I am writing. I actually quit writing last year because the experience of writing my last book took so, so much out of me that I thought, "I don't have to do this to myself anymore." And then a story came and then I didn't... When the story comes, you got to go with it. It takes over.

So I'm working on the third book in this Germany series. So I have What the Night Sings, which is about the post-Holocaust period. Berliners, which is about, it's 15 years later and it's about the Berlin Wall going up. And the next one I'm working on is about the Berlin Wall coming down. And all three of them have to do... I don't intend to do this, but it's just what I know. It's all about artists and making their way in these difficult times.

Eric Huffman: Yes. It's fascinating, your work. You are extraordinarily gifted. I hope everybody listening goes and finds your work. You don't have to be a young adult teen reader to read, as I found because I enjoyed it in my 40s.

Vesper Stamper: Yeah. In fact, I mean, at least half of my readership is adult.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Vesper Stamper: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: That's good. It's affirming for a grown man like me who just enjoyed your work.

Vesper Stamper: Oh, thank you.

Eric Huffman: I hope all of our Maybe God listeners find you and your work and truly, especially about this issue happening now since October 7th. It's so near to your heart. I hope they go and hear your thoughts through your Instagram posts. If you're listening now and you're wondering, you'll find it easily on her Instagram page.

Vesper Stamper: Just look for my mug on there.

Eric Huffman: It's a video.

Vesper Stamper: And I'm going to do more of that. I'm going to expose it more.

Eric Huffman: I think you should. Naysayers be darned, keep going because what you're saying is the truth and it needs to be said and you have a particular platform and angle to speak into this conundrum in Israel that I think is worth leveraging. So grateful for you in that regard. I know it takes courage to speak on this particular topic. So keep going, sister.

Vesper Stamper: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: All right. Vesper Stamper, thanks for joining us on the Maybe God podcast.

Vesper Stamper: Thanks, Eric.

Julie Mirlicourtois: If you have any comments or questions about today's episode, don't forget to engage with us on social media or email us at [email protected].

Today's episode was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our associate producer and social media manager is Adira Polite. Our editor is Justin Mayer. And the director of all of our YouTube videos is Mark Calver. Please don't forget to rate us wherever you just listened to this podcast. And thanks for listening.