“How did you come to know the Lord?”
It is a long and complicated story, but I will do my best to share it in one manageable post.
First, of course, there is the back-story….
As a child, my Mom took my sister and I to church every Saturday evening. It was a Catholic church. I know that my Mom had the best intentions in taking us to church, but the truth is that I hated going.
Except for the singing and sitting next to my Mom holding her hand, every memory I have of that church is a negative.
The priest, Father Orlando, spoke in a deep monotone voice, devoid of any emotion. I don’t remember ever once seeing him smile or feeling even a fleeting moment of joy during service. The sermons seemed to all focus on the fact that were were brought into this world, already in the red and needing to jump through the hoops to pay back the debt caused by Jesus’ death.
As we progressed, children were ushered through the various sacraments or rites of passage.
The first time in the confessional is a memory that is seared into my mind. As a child, it was pretty darn scary to be told to go into this dark closet of a room with a man you’re not comfortable with on the other side of a screen. You’re told to go in, kneel and recite, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (insert timeframe) since my last confession. My sins are….” Then, you’re expected to spill your guts to this man, knowing full well that he probably has a good idea who you are and will now know that you argue with your sister and steal Scooter Crunch snacks out of the cupboard.
After telling my most recent sins, I had to recite another prayer and then receive my “pennance” which would be to go out into the pews and recite 5 of this prayer and 5 of that, then I’d be cleared of my wrongs.
I went through the years of attending church and, once I was in my late teens, we were “confirmed”. I felt like I was free and I drove from that church as fast as I could and never looked back.
In those years, I never really heard the salvation message or knew that I could have a relationship with Jesus. What I did hear was a lot of guilt and a lot of rules. I never saw anyone carrying a Bible and there wasn’t a feeling of joy or praise, but one of condemnation.
I carried all of that with me and, in my early twenties my path detoured into “Hippiedom”. I decided to call myself a Pagan and even a Wiccan, but that was really just a way to make a statement about that God I had heard about in my childhood. Yes, I had an altar and burned sage and collected crystals, but I didn’t really delve into any spells and it wasn’t much more than claiming a lifestyle.
In my mid-twenties, I met a handsome dreadlocked man named Jay that stole my heart. We were on the same page when it came to our views on God. So much so, that we wouldn’t even celebrate Christmas, but we would have our winter holiday on the Winter Solstice. Jay had a two year old daughter when we started our relationship and we added Kaya to the family a year and a half later. We decided that marriage wasn’t our thing, but we were committed to each other.
I remember that when Nico and Kaya were little, sometimes they would pretend to pray and it would make me SO upset. I’d tell them to stop, only to find them doing it again. We would teach them about Mother Earth or the Great Spirit, but we scoffed anything having to do with God or Jesus Christ.
Fast forward a few years… In 2006, Jay’s issues with alcohol had been steadily growing. More and more frequently, he’d go straight from work to the bar or he would come home for dinner and then head out. So many times, I just wanted to leave but I didn’t know how I would support my daughter and baby on the way. I didn’t want to lose contact with my step-daughter, a child that I practically raised from the time she was two. I stayed and I suffered and I really hoped that something would change in Jay before he killed himself or someone else.
One night, he woke me up at three in the morning and he was a mess. We had our fair share of bad fights in the middle of the night after he’d come home drunk. So many times, I did all I could to pretend I was deeply sleeping. But this one night in particular, he was crying and woke me up. He said he needed to stop drinking and he needed help. I had heard the same words before, but the tone and the desperation that time was different.
The next morning, I called Alcoholics Anonymous. Though we lived deep in the country, there just so happened to be a meeting that evening, not ten minutes from our house. All day, I thought that Jay would decide not to go, but come 6:30, he was out the door and on his way. Turns out, he met a man that would end up changing our entire family
I didn’t find out until much later, as Jay was driving home the night before, he was very drunk. He had made a fool of himself at the bar that night and as he raced home down our country road, he steadily increased his speed. He says he heard a voice telling him to turn the wheel and crash into a tree. That voice came again and again. Words came out of Jay’s mouth.
“God, I don’t know who you are, but if you’re real and if you’re out there, I need help.”
Going through the AA program, Jay chose a sponsor. He tells me that, no sooner had he asked Jim to be his sponsor, he wished he hadn’t. Jim was an unabashed Christian and Jay wondered just what he had gotten himself into.
I can’t say a lot about Jay’s time in AA, but through the months I was seeing a change in this man I loved. Yes, there were bumps along the way but what a relief it was to have some progress. Jay attended several meetings a week.
Also, during this time, our family hit one of the hardest times we had been through to date. My step-daughter’s Mom decided to start a custody battle. Even though I had been the one to raise Nico and she was with us for more than half of the time, suddenly we were plunged into a world of lawyers, depositions and Family Court. We were not able to see Nico much at all and when we did, it was strained. Family Court is an ugly place of lies and manipulation. Our family poured thousands and thousands of dollars into trying to just have time with a girl we loved. By the time we had over $12,000 invested into it, we were given just six days a month with her.
As we were navigating this time, I came to find out that one of the “meetings” Jay was attending each week was actually a Bible study. Everything in me recoiled when he told me. His sponsor, Jim, and their family had become like a second family to Jay and their steadfast faith, even in difficult times, had impacted Jay deeply. I found out that he had been going to a church for almost 6 months before he told me, he was so scared that I would leave him. He said he was finding some peace and answers and wanted to start taking the girls to church and Bible study.
At that point, I didn’t have a lot of fight left in me. My world was rocked, we were paying so much for lawyers that our cupboards and fridge were almost always pretty bare… Beyond that, I was falling deeper and deeper into a dark place.
As I saw a child that I loved being lied to and used as a pawn, hatred filled me. As I saw the effect the custody battle was having on my other girls, rage consumed me. I spent more and more time and energy envisioning revenge on the “mother” who was capable of all of this.
My husband would come home from church and try to share the message with me and I’d put up walls. Arguments would erupt like clockwork on Sunday afternoons. Finally, Jay just stopped trying to convince me and he walked his own path.
One day, our lawyers notified us that Nico had told the court appointed therapist that I had been hitting her. These allegations of abuse were lies, coaxed out of a child who was just so confused and warped by it all.
I plunged deeply into what is probably my darkest hour. My heart was black. Most of my days were filled with a seething darkness. I would spend time daydreaming of how I wanted to inflict all sorts of physical harm to Nico’s Mom.
One day, in the middle of a dark train of thought, I passed by a mirror and stopped in my tracks. I didn’t recognize the woman I saw. For the first time, I realized that I needed help beyond myself.
Tentatively, I looked up out of my dark hole and I prayed. “God, I don’t know who you are but if you are real and if you’re out there, I need help. Please reveal yourself to me.”
And, He did.
It wasn’t as if I was hit by lightning, but very quickly I felt something stirring. Healing. An unmistakable presence that said, “I am here. I am with you.” Tension was unraveling within me
Truly, in that next week, a dozen little “coincidences” popped up here and there through seemingly random situations. I wanted signs and I was getting them left and right. It was still somewhat awkward, though. I had spent so long proclaiming my stance against God, that it was uncomfortable to fully dive into seeking.
One Sunday morning, as Jay and the girls were getting ready to go to church, there was a strong and unmistakable thought in the forefront of my mind.
“Get up and get ready to go to church with your family.”
I remember thinking, “Are you nuts?” I didn’t think I was there yet. My memories of the church of my childhood flashed and I squirmed inside.
But, the message was persistent and despite my inner conflict, I found myself on auto-pilot and getting dressed. I can still remember the look on Jay’s face when he asked what I was doing and I told him I was going to church with him. He was absolutely delighted.
That is how my journey began, You know, there is so much more to the story….but I’ve shared the first few chapters. From that day in 2008, I have been learning more about what a true relationship with Christ looks like. The road since has had ups and downs, but it has been an amazing journey. Looking back at how our trials brought both Jay and I to the Lord, it puts our current trials into perspective as well. Sometimes it takes feeling weak and broken to remember that there is One who gives us strength to get through another day.
Thank you to those who asked this question and prompted me to share my story. This post ended up a lot longer than I meant it to be and there is much of the story that wasn’t shared. Maybe I will save those other bits for another day!