In my Bible study group—the question of how I came to Christ arose.
For several years, I participated in a Bible study group with women who had been Christians much longer than I had. Eventually, the question of how I came to Christ was asked. They have, I have, people we pray for who we hope will realize that Christ is there for them. I know what happens when people of faith continue to pray for those of us who are lost and wondering around aimlessly.
Given how analytical I am, it stuns me that many eons ago when I was younger and dumber, I didn’t at least look at my older sister and think: gosh, Jackie is infinitely happier than I am. What’s she got going on that I don’t have?
Maybe I thought that, and maybe I debated it here and there. If I did, I never made the leap to the biggest difference between two very different people: She had a strong Christian faith and I had none.
The Bible, churches, and religion can be separate
I was fourteen when we left the church, pre-confirmation, and everything went for me because the church was God, the Bible, and Jesus combined into one entity. My mother belonged to a particular parish since she was born, but the priest told her she had to stop coming to that church—with her elderly parents—and go to the new one they built nearer to us. There was a rift of some sort, then there was a final rift. Her father never officially joined the church, but spent his life attending services and helped repair it more times that he could count. When he died, the priest would not say a mass for my grandfather. That was the final straw for my mother. She stopped going and kept us away with her. As children, none of the three of us minded—it meant more Sunday morning play time.
During college I witnessed an incident at the same church while attending the funeral service of a young friend. He died tragically in a vehicular accident. I sat there, listening to the old, dispassionate priest tell a grieving mother who idolized her son, to, “Be quiet, woman, you have no right to cry, your son is with God.” The ice of his words cut into me, forever stuck in my heart. Rising, I walked out and never looked back. I finally understood Mom’s frustration and upset from years earlier.
When I tossed the church out of my life, I didn’t separate church from God—the organization, the religion, faith, or following Christ.
Starting to wonder and wander
At the same time this was happening with me, Jackie was doing well. Quieter, more introverted, she was probably wise to shelter her faith from what would have been my ridicule. I was such a brat.
During college, events convinced me the devil existed and made me wonder if there was any god out there. Isn’t it always easier to believe in the negative?
As fate would have it, I had a class with a fabulous European history professor. That’s when I learned that the church was not God, was not Jesus, was not the only opening to the faithful. Hmmm, I pondered.
But still, what was the point of Christ? God was right there for the taking. Why did I need an intermediary to get to him? Eventually that thinking made me begin to wonder if I was Jewish. They had the right idea going straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
I spent some time thinking I was an atheist, then an agnostic. I repeatedly looked up the definitions of both and floated back and forth between them. Somewhere in there, though, I acknowledged that within this amazing world we inhabit, there is inexplicable wonder. Perhaps there was a supreme entity at the core of it. I believed in that vague creature for some time.
Then what happened?
When did I first become aware during these lost years of my life, that Jackie was praying for me to swing her way? To discover Christianity. Which conversation started it or did I finally compare my crazy life with her more peaceful one and think: what’s going on here? I’m crying myself to sleep, finding worth in the wrong places, and she’s happily moving along having a mostly good, cry-free time.
Something was amiss with me.
My sister and her husband had been Christians since they were teenagers. Jackie and I joke that it was another separation between us, but that’s probably not true because I doubt I knew it about her. Now each other’s better halfs (My Right Arm), back in the day we fought over everything, but that’s another blog.
Speed forward in time to my move to Montana in 1989—where Jackie and her husband had moved, little tykes in tow, the previous year. I was in a rotten marriage with a not good man and soon got divorced. Jackie and I were learning our way around sisterhood as adults, on our own, far from home. I was certainly learning how to be an aunt after three difficult years as a step-mom.
Without pontificating about it, Jackie began to converse with me about Jesus and how his coming changed everything for us mere mortals. I thought, well maybe, let’s hear some more. I bought Bibles: King James (was that ever hard to read), a study Bible (it was for teens, I thought I’d start slow—that didn’t work), and a theologian’s Bible that was still not an “easy” read.
My questions, prodding, and challenges began.
Pressing too hard, Jackie, the patient one, would give up and hand the phone to her husband: “Rosemary’s at it again, I can’t cope with her.” To my credit, I didn’t snicker in success every time I pushed her patience to the limit. I wanted to learn. My brother-in-law would answer questions over and over again. Bible passages came my way, tentative reading took place.
Still, I wasn’t getting it.
In November of 1997, there was a defining moment when I’d hung up from an emotional call with my dad who said, “Oh, honey, I love you,” an I heard thundering in my head: I LOVE YOU.
I knew that was my first Father speaking.
But did that convince me? Nope. Talk about redheaded stubbornness!
My final straw
Segue forward seven years to the terrible loss of my beloved cousin in a motorcycle accident. Jackie flew home. In the midst of overwhelming grief, what did I desperately want? To get a Life Application Study Bible—the same one Jackie and her husband have. I wanted to write in it, in ink, that I accepted Christ. “I believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ and wish to lead my life by following his teachings.” Why? Because I knew, knew then and know now, that my cousin could not be anywhere except with Christ. He was such a good young man, someone full of joy and love, sharing and acceptance, kindness and consideration—there simply was no other choice but for me to know that Christ existed because Davey was with Him.
I read the New Testament straight through like a kid devouring ice cream on a hot summer day. I read it again, this time including every footnote and personality profile.
My life did not become easy.
My faith provides me with a great deal I never had before: understanding, the desire to keep getting stronger in my faith, and the increased ability to share my beliefs.
Before believing in Christ, the losses in my life were consuming, dramatic, and overwhelming.
After believing in Christ, the losses in my life are consuming, dramatic, and overwhelming.
The difference is that now I have a rock of love enveloping me and giving me the strength to get through the grief, to begin the new normal of not having the person in my life, the assurance of knowing that the person believed in Jesus and went to join him when they left me.
The difference is knowing that if I lost Christ from my life, the loss would find me inconsolable. I would not get over it. The void that previously existed in me would be there again; unfulfilled by anything on this planet.
That is my faith at work in me.
There were other losses—a wonderful elderly friend, an adventurous friend, a work friend. There was another accident that set another family member on a different path in life. Then there was mom, my uncle, dad, my friend … a roll of losses over nine months. The old me, the non-believing me, would have been done. She would have quit, given up, been through with life.
But this version of me clung to faith, sought out Jesus, found a church for a while, a Bible study group, Christian music, and I grew stronger.
Life is still not easy. There have been other monumental losses. Another uncle, another cousin, another colleague, more friends … loss continues to rip my heart apart. There’s no getting away from it. But now I have support outside myself to rely on. I am held, comforted, and raised up during hard times because I know that the bottom line—the down inside there thing that matters the most in the world, is believing in that higher power—the God that gave us Jesus, the Christ that gave us hope, the Spirit that fills us with joy. This trifecta of faith gives us a new shot at a good life and the promise of a really great eternity. And that has changed everything.
Perhaps all of this explains my ongoing enthrallment with European cathedrals…so many years of joyous worship to absorb.
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