The following ‘story’ is a bit of background on the person I was before I began to let God into my life.
I offer it here not to make excuses or to assign blame to anyone (but my own sorry self), but so you can understand how hard God is willing to work, how long He’s willing to wait, what power He is willing to devote just so we will know Him and allow Him to love us.
I have a strong sense that my story is not terribly unusual. As flawed as I have been, I don’t think I’m so very different from many others. So, this is not intended to be some riveting tale of unusually despicable and sinful living, but a story that, through its ordinariness, will give you hope.
God was waiting for me to finally turn to Him, to allow Him into my life. He’s waiting for you, too.
If you already know God, this story might help you better understand some other person in your life, who struggles against answering His call. It might give you hope for them.
I pray so.
It was the ‘60’s
I was in junior high and high school in the 1960’s. By the time I graduated in 1966, the country was entering what would seem to be looking back a constant state of change. The Civil Rights Act was discussed around our dinner table. Political leaders were assassinated, shocking and rocking the nation.
We were deep into the Viet Nam war by the time I graduated. Friends were being drafted. Some became conscientious objectors. Others got married and had children, possibly sooner than they might have done otherwise. Many left and never made it home.
Young women were increasingly encouraged to get a college education. And not just to get their Mrs credential. My mother encouraged my sister and me to get our college degrees. As she explained repeatedly, a college degree would allow us to teach school and support our families, if anything ever happened to our husbands.
I came to despise her reticence, what seemed to be her willing embrace of dependence on her husband. That man — my dad – had always challenged me to think and do for myself. The distinction between the two of them was stark, as I reflect back on them. (My mother will someday be the subject of her own post here. She was an awesome woman, whom I only appreciated later, after I’d found God and after having children of my own.)
They had a respectful marriage and loving, even playful personal relationship, I think. But in so many ways they were so very different. In their relationship with me, my dad, on the one hand, encouraged my independence and self-sufficiency, while my mother – a talented, capable, take-charge woman in her own right – insisted that a proper lady should necessarily be submissive to a man’s opinion and direction.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My parents were from the South and pretty conservative. They were loving, kind, responsible, protective, and very interested in all things spiritual.
While my dad had many harsh and uncomplimentary opinions about mainstream and fundamentalist religion, he and mom were still very much spiritual searchers.
We attended the Episcopal Church mostly in the early years. Dad belonged to the Masons. Both of them joined Eastern Star and later, the Rosicrucian Society. Dad was among the first to obtain a copy of the slide program of the Shroud of Turin and invite friends over to view it. He hosted men’s weekly Bible studies in our home. And he visited with the Catholic archbishop in our area, as well as the Jewish Rabbi on some question of biblical scholarship.
Later, we all began to study the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Vedas and attend Tuesday night classes at the Hindu Vedanta Center. By my late teens, I was much more familiar with eastern philosophy than I was with Christianity and the Bible.
Dad would eventually learn (just for sake of knowing) to cast horoscopes, make his own deck of Tarot cards, and “chase” flying saucers. This all, I realize, makes him sound just a bit loopy. He wasn’t … or maybe he was and I was too close to see it…but to say he was “curious,” verges on gross understatement.
Still, he was an electrical engineer, who mostly just wanted to go boating and fishing and camping, listen to classical music, entertain friends one or two nights a week and raise bright, responsible children. He didn’t drink or smoke or go places without my mother. We were, in a word, normal…well, except for that spirituality thing.
It all helped shape the woman I’d become. In many ways I think I benefited. But, along the way, I spent so much time in the gray areas of religious thought, that I never really understood any of the basics of Christianity – its foundational principles – well, or much else for that matter.
I remember one particular story that paints a pretty representative picture of my early exposure to religion.
I was about 11 years old and going through confirmation classes in our local Episcopal church. My mom would take me to class each Saturday morning for a couple of hours and the priest (I’ll call him Fr. Miller…we always used last names back then to address our priests) would instruct us.
There was homework we were all supposed to do during the week, which I remember vigorously resisting. I figured, even at age 11, that offering up my Saturday mornings was more than enough about God and the Episcopal Church for one week.
One Saturday we were discussing God’s ability to answer our prayers. Another girl in the class asked Fr. Miller if God could make a couch appear, if someone prayed to Him for one.
Father said that “yes, God could do that,” if He chose. He then surrounded his answer with a lot of qualifiers that I don’t remember.
I must have donned my best ‘you must be joking’ look, because Fr. Miller turned to me and asked if I didn’t believe that God had this power.
I don’t remember my exact words (this was more than 50 years ago!), but I scoffed with some 11-year old version of, “well, He might have the power, but He’s not just some circus performer, waiting up in heaven to pull rabbits out of His celestial hat in answer to people’s prayers.”
Later that afternoon, I was recounting the story to my dad. I don’t remember his actual response. I do remember his general good humor with the whole story (he especially didn’t like the priest) and his encouraging me to question everything…always.
Well, as the weeks went by, my uninformed questions (since I wouldn’t do my homework, you recall) were intended more for tripping up Fr. Miller and disrupting class, than for my own enlightenment. I mostly learned to misconstrue all sorts of important concepts and proceed to argue my case with such brazen confidence that Fr. Miller had neither the will, nor the patience for setting me straight.
Father eventually gave me a D minus, minus, minus for the course – the obvious message was he just wanted to move me on in life and out of his hair.
Dad and high school
Like most kids, I admired my dad and his very strong personality. I looked to him for approval. It wasn’t surprising, I guess, that I ended up questioning and challenging most of what society took for granted…including, as time went by, many of those same issues that he and mom felt strongly about.
Throughout high school they enforced some pretty strict rules.
They forbade me from having friends “from the wrong side of the tracks.” In addition to those kids who were from families of the wrong neighborhoods, the list included blacks, Jews, Catholics, and anyone from any branch of the military.
I was not allowed to have a steady boyfriend, go to public dances “unescorted,” or wear makeup. Our school rules at the time took care of any question of proper dress. Girls were required to wear skirts that came to the floor when kneeling…in other words, skirts that came at least to the middle of the knee.
I rebelled…if quietly
I put on makeup on my way to school. Rolled my skirts at the waist to shorten them. Lied about where I was going and whom I was with.
It got so bad that I would lie for no real reason, just because I could. Not pretty. But, so began a prolonged period of deceit and eventual separation from my parents and their rules and direction.
When they finally caught me lying and going to an un-chaperoned party, just after high school graduation, I was put on two summer months of restrictions.
As part of my penance, we read and discussed passages from the Bhagavad Gita each evening after dinner. (I never really focus on this part of the story, but by the time the two months was over, I had actually come to enjoy the study and spiritual discussion each night.)
Still, I was pretty naive. I didn’t drink (never cared for the taste). I didn’t have a steady boyfriend (my parents thwarted those possibilities pretty effectively). When all was said and done, I was really just about everything they wanted me to be…virginal, proper, conservative, responsible…the main thing missing, outside of the lying thing, was any solid relationship or understanding of God and Christ.
Regardless, within a few weeks I was off to college, rockin’ and rollin’ from the first weekend – straight into an abyss.
It didn’t seem unusual or frightening at the time. If anything, I felt like I was late to the party…like I had some serious catching up to do.
We were all, it seemed, groovin’ to the beat of a very different drum from the one to which our parents marched. Somewhere in all the new freedoms of love and association and expression, I became untethered.
Higher education – college and life
College was essentially a community of 30,000+ people between the ages of 18 and 25. It was a whole new world for me…for all of us, I guess. It provided few guardrails for the young and restless. What guardrails there were back then – like Resident Advisors and curfews (does anyone even know the concept of a curfew anymore) – 10 p.m. weeknights and midnight on weekends – were easily overcome with a ‘little help from your friends’ and a loose window screen or two.
I made friends whose judgment and advice were at once enticing to me and self-serving for them. I dropped out of college and began dating a man who turned out to be married. Managed to lose him in favor of a man from Iran. We married and traveled to Iran a couple of times. I learned about Shi’a Muslims and their culture.
Along the way I returned to school and finished my degree in Economics. But cultural differences soon ended up overwhelming us. We divorced and I entered a prolonged period of single-hood, family estrangement, too much drinking, and unfocused soul searching.
Professional success, personal confusion
Despite a lot of confusion in my personal life, I enjoyed some early professional success as an economist and sometime later returned for my MBA. Instead of feeling gratitude for my good fortune at finding work during difficult economic recessions, this success (relatively minor in the whole scheme of things) fueled a sort of arrogance in me…a sense that I was invulnerable.
My friends became mirrors of narcissistic convenience. Who they were was not nearly so important to me as how they might benefit me. In retrospect, despite my well-practiced appearance of caring, I had developed a pretty well-honed disregard for most other people.
What about God? And church?
And God? I didn’t really think of Him much at all beyond some vague sense that there must be something or someone out there that could come to my rescue and help me be happier.
I visited church once or twice when I was feeling particularly low or introspective. I would just go and sit. I didn’t know how to pray or what to do, how to feel, how to discern what I was feeling. Heck, looking back, I didn’t really know if I was feeling.
A couple of times I tried attending an actual church service. Oddly, both times I ended up developing such a hacking, congested cough, that I left early with the excuse that I didn’t want to disturb the others around me.
I’ve since become increasingly certain that it was the devil rebelling against losing one whose soul he was so close to owning.
More often than church, I sought my own guidance and insight. I began writing in a journal.
My goodness, how I could go on. I wrote for pages and pages, filling them with ponderous, ranting, whining attempts at introspection. On reading them later, I found it was mostly embarrassing, undirected, mindless drivel – the uncommitted railing at the lack in her life of things born only of commitment.
The whole process was like trying to look through a window into the night, where all you can see is your own reflected image, suspended in the darkness.
Years later, I would put all of my many journals to a much-deserved and fiery end, before finally getting on with my life.
A merciful God finally intervened
It was on this barren terrain that the Lord mercifully intervened in my life.
Taking the circumstances of my openness to evil, when I chose to pick up my hitchhiker, and with the help of a heaven-sent guardian angel, He managed to finally get my attention.
Like striking a match to a long-tailed fuse, He lit in me a small, but tenacious desire to know Him, and to understand why He wants so much to love me.
And like economic recessions, which can only be measured after the fact, it would be years before I appreciated the significance of His hand at work back then. Nonetheless, it was here that my walk with Him really began.