I was born a 'thinker' and my very first memory involves my thoughts and marks the beginning of my journey to find God.
My first memory at nine months involves my conscience. It was May of 1948. I was with my parents in the back seat of a car sitting on my mother’s knee. There were people sitting in the front and they were looking backwards, talking and playing with me.
I enjoyed the attention … it made me feel happy!
Then suddenly, they turned back to face the front and changed their language.
I grew up in a Mennonite home and the custom was that adults spoke High German to their children but Low German to each other. I knew the difference and hearing the Low German sounds made me feel excluded and I did not like the feeling.
So I did what babies do… I fussed.
From the reaction of the adults, who seemed confused about why I was unhappy, I knew what I was doing was not right. I tried to stop, but did not know how… I remember clearly the helpless feeling I had – wanting to do what was right and not being able to do it. I wanted someone to MAKE me good.
I was taken to church when I was two weeks old and rarely missed a Sunday all the growing up years of my life.
Though I went to Sunday school faithfully, I was not made aware of the gospel message until I was eight years old.
A single lady in the church who liked me, often singling me out for attention, on one occasion lent me a story book. I could not read German yet, so my Mother read the book to me at bed time. I no longer remember the details of the story other than it was about a girl who through various experiences came to the realization of her need of salvation.
After several nights of reading, the story came to an end. My mother closed the book, said good night and left the room.
But I could not sleep. My heart was in turmoil and I was suffering from deep conviction of my sin. I knew I was just like the girl in the story.
Finally, I just burst into tears. My mother came back into the room and somewhat harshly asked what the matter was. Unable to express my need, I borrowed the words of the girl in the story….”Mien Hertz ist nicht rein.” (My heart is not clean!”)
Immediately my Mother’s attitude changed and she came and sat on my bed and led me to pray the sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus into my heart.
Oh, how wonderful I felt, and clean knowing my sins were all forgiven!!
The next morning, I awoke to my new world…. Everything was different… I was saved! I belonged to Jesus!!
Over the next years I struggled to keep my faith alive and to make Jesus the most important thing in my life. But it seemed to me, more and more that I must have something wrong… until by the time I was twenty ( two years after I was married and had my daughter) the doubts had grown to be bigger than my faith and I turned my back on following the Lord.
There were several factors that culminated in destroying my faith.
One root went all the way back to when I was very young. My parents, like so many others, delighted in the fun of teaching me that Santa Claus was real. I was intrigued with this wonderful mysterious man who appeared only at Christmas Time.
I still vividly remember the excitement that filled my little heart the day my father came home with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Guess who I saw in town today?” Of course, I couldn’t guess and finally he told me it was Santa Claus. I was enthralled to think that MY father had not only seen Santa Claus but had actually TALKED to him, and he had even asked about me by name. I keep pressing him to tell me over and over again every detail of what he looked like and what he had said,
Then I remember when I was five years old, it was again almost Christmas.
Every day I kept asking my Dad if he had seen Santa Claus yet.
I guess my mother got tired of listening to my questions and finally she burst out, “You are too old to believe in Santa Claus.”
I did not want to believe that she was saying what I thought I heard. But she continued to tell me that Santa Claus was only a fairy tale.
Not only did I feel extremely betrayed, but the thought that exploded in my head was, “Next they will tell me that God isn’t real either!”
I remember the pain of the cry of my heart, “No, No! It can’t be!! God IS real.”
But the seed had been sown and it grew.
I also remember praying one night for my grandparent’s sick dog, and finding the next day that he was better. Excited that God had answered my prayer I was told never to pray like that again because God didn’t answer those kinds of prayers.
I remember one day listening to Christian radio, that my Mom usually had on, and I heard three radio speakers, one after the other all use the same text. What puzzled me was that each one of them had a different view, a different meaning that they put to the passage.
I went to find my bible and look up the passage. When I read it, I couldn’t see ANY of their interpretations clearly fitting the words I read for myself .
My thought - ”Well, if the bible is that hard to understand that even the educated leaders can’t understand it, who am I to be able to understand it?”
I was also influenced by my school teachers. One teacher in particular who I greatly respected for his ‘wisdom’ and knowledge, was an atheist and though he didn’t come right out and say so he ‘taught’ out of his world view and my doubts grew.
I was a ferocious reader and I read about evolution and how the world and all that was in it came to be. I believed science was true… so I began to doubt my Sunday school stories.
From the time I was eight and accepted Jesus into my heart, I instinctively knew that a Christian had to be different…that his/her life had to show that Jesus was living within him.
But looking at the people in my life I saw over and over again that they had faith on Sunday but Monday was back to normal. Their faith did not reach into their practical living.
I remember being told that I could not read a particular book on Sunday but I could read it on Monday, that we could play sports on a week-day but not on Sunday.
I struggled trying to reconcile something being a sin on Sunday but not on Monday. I reasoned that if God declared something a sin…would it not also be a sin on Monday as well as Sunday? My doubts were watered.
There were a few people I knew, two sisters in particular who taught my DVBS summer school, that I knew had something I wanted.. faith in God that was real. The fact that they stood out as 'different', made me wonder if it was just because they were especially nice.
But the seeds they sowed into my heart did not die.
When I got married my husband was also struggling with his faith much the same as I was, and when he openly expressed his views contrary to the things of God, I resisted at first, but then I choose to ‘join him’.
I remember well the moment I turned away from God. I was lying in bed, struggling as I so often did in my thoughts and emotions trying to find the reality of God and faith and fit it into my world view. While I WANTED God to be real, more and more I was finding that my doubts were bigger than my faith.
At this particular moment I knew I was at a cross road, either I believe in God, or I declare that He does not exist, or at least that He was no longer interested in the human race.
I made my choice – God was not the God I had been taught to believe in – and I closed my heart’s door on Him.
I remember the rush of relief when I made my decision final. I know now, the sense of relief was God stepping away and letting me go! I was free!
From then on, began my search for Truth. I searched in many places including other religions and New Age teachings. I never embraced any of them…I just looked - trying to find something that would fill the void that my faith in God had once filled.
For ten years, I walked my own paths, defined my own truth, and wondered every time I looked at a tall majestic tree… Who could make a tree other than God?
And always my heart’s cry remained…. “God, if you are there, please reveal yourself to me, but I want to know who you REALLY are!”
To be continued (See Part 2) –“God waited and watched… until I found Him!”