My Testimony

I was raised in the Catholic Church during my younger elementary years. My mother grew up in a strict Catholic family. Her parents followed all the rules, including the no-birth-control rule, resulting in 14 total pregnancies for my grandmother, who raised ten children. Four babies passed away either in the womb or shortly after birth, in her mid- to late-forties.

Despite the strict religious upbringing, no one in my mother's family had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Of the ten children, none grew to become Christians.

The Catholic faith teaches that Jesus' death on the cross covers only original sin. Personal sins are paid for in Purgatory (place in Roman Catholic doctrine where souls remain until they have expiated their sins and can go to heaven). I consider Catholicism to be one of the good-works religions.

In recent years I read that about 30% of Catholics are truly born again. Perhaps this is the 30% who read the Bible?

My mother began to date my father, a non-religious person, in her late teens. Mom left Ohio at age 19 to move to California, where my father eventually pursued her and proposed. They married, despite a rocky relationship based on guilt.

My father went into the Air Force and when my mother was 22, she had my sister, and at 24, she had me. We were both born in Germany, and then moved to New York briefly, and then on to England when I was 3 and my sister was 5.

The marriage was dysfunctional due to my father's cheating. It lasted 8 years, after which my mother left my father and flew us to San Diego, California, where one of her sisters lived. We saw my father intermittently after the divorce, due to his military travel. When he settled in the High Desert of California, we saw him bimonthly.

My mother took us to the Catholic Church for a few more years, but she was extremely embittered over religion in general. The priest she saw in the confessional (to confess her divorce) told her the only way she could get to heaven would be to never remarry. My mother was 29 years old and had no college education, and she didn't have the gift of singleness. The priest's statement overwhelmed her and embittered her against all religion--a sentiment which hasn't changed in over 50 years.

It wasn't long after our First Holy Communion that she quit taking us to church, except sometimes at Easter and Christmas. She remarried when I was 6 years old, to a Navy man, and we were off again on overseas tours (Guam and Sicily) when we weren't living in San Diego, which was their favorite city. My step-father retired in San Diego, in fact, where I went to High School and college.

I went to the Catholic Church with a Catholic high school friend, intermittently, but it was her parent's religion, definitely not hers. My friend remains today, nonreligious, as do her three siblings. I don't remember that family ever discussing or opening the Bible, and my friend never discussed faith.

I graduated from UCSD with a degree in Political Science, with initial plans to be a lawyer, partially because I was engaged to one. After two years I called it off. We brought out the worst in each other, and he was Jewish and I was Catholic (at least in my mind, I was Catholic).

Next, I pursued an elementary teaching credential. I got engaged to a Catholic man in my later twenties. In retrospect I know the same things were missing in his life, as in the lives of all the Catholics I'd known--no personal relationship with Jesus Christ, no Bible reading, no praying.

I broke that off shortly after becoming a teacher; by then, it was a long-distance relationship anyway. I had moved to the High Desert, almost 3 hours from San Diego, to live with my father while pursuing my credential.

My Catholic fiance cared about whether I knelt down on the correct knee before going into a pew, but he never mentioned Jesus Christ, so it was doomed, with neither of us knowing anything about spiritual things, other than rules of conduct.

Rules without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, involving the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, mean nothing but frustration. Even the meaningful rules that Jesus really cared about, couldn't be consistently realized in a life without the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is our Counselor and our Comforter.

I continued to go intermittently to the Catholic Church as a single teacher, but my relationship with "religion" was dominated by frustration. I knew I loved God, but I didn't know how to access Him. I didn't know what I was missing.

My principal and the two office secretaries were all Christians, and a few teachers in my school were as well. They prayed for me, and the main secretary tried witnessing to me, explaining that the Catholic Church did not teach a plan for salvation.

She told me one day that I had to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and that his death on the cross covered my sins. Without believing that, I couldn't get to Heaven, she went on to say.

I told her I had always believed both those things. No problem.

They continued praying.

My principal gave me More Than a Carpenter, a book about Jesus, but while I loved to read and would often read until 2 or 3 AM on the weekends, I never opened that particular book, before returning it a few months later. I loved my principal, a godly man, and I didn't want to lose his book, so I returned it.

They continued praying.

I dated a man after that Catholic relationship ended, and a year or so into the relationship, we ended up at a Calvary Chapel, but not near my home, as this was another long-distance relationship (60 minute drive one way). We both said the prayer of salvation in our seats, but nothing changed. No one discipled us or gave us a Bible, and we didn't have a desire to get one on our own; we were unchanged essentially. No hunger for the Word. We didn't understand what just happened, and we didn't know what we were missing.

I broke that relationship off, becoming uncomfortable with the man's recreational drinking, which I wanted no part of. Drinking occurred in my home growing up, and to me it was a recipe for dysfunction and heartbreak.

I returned to the Catholic Church after the break-up.

Finally, I became friends with a fellow first-grade instructor. She was very close to God and her life showed it.

Being a widow, Phyllis was lonely and needed a friend, and I needed someone who had something spiritual that I was missing--a personal relationship with God that spilled over into every aspect of her life. This woman's faith wasn't just a weekend religious thing. The Lord was her life.

If we really want to impact the world for Christ, we have to really love the Lord Jesus Christ with all our hearts, and our love for Him must shine.

Phyllis's husband had committed suicide when they resided in Ohio, where she was a housewife and he was an engineer. After that horrific event she sold her home and moved to the California High Desert, to live with her brother and his wife, taking her teen-aged son with her. Her daughter was already in college at the time.

I met her after she was back on her feet, having earned a teaching credential, and even battled ovarian cancer. A clean bill of health, she obtained a job as a first grade teacher at my school, which she did for a few years before becoming a reading resource specialist on our sight.

One day in the teacher's lounge Phyllis told me that her first grandbaby had contracted meningitis. I was amazed at her calmness...her faith...her peace in the midst of tragedy.

She flew that weekend to Ohio, where her son and his wife resided. The baby had to undergo an amputation, but it looked like he would make it.

Phyllis flew home, and then the baby worsened and passed away. Phyllis flew back for the funeral and was heartbroken, but her peace remained intact. To say I was amazed at this woman's peace was an understatement.

I wanted what she had.

Unfortunately, her son and his wife fell apart and in the next 18 months, divorced. Despite my friend's great faith and obedience, her life isn't smooth, even now, 17 years later. Having endured plenty heartache of my own in the last 17 years, I know that our obedience and faith bring peace and inner joy, not a smooth life. Jesus didn't promise a pain-free life.

Neither Phyllis's adopted son or daughter, both of whom they adopted at birth, have ever become Christians, partially because Phyllis became one after her marriage and the beginning of motherhood, and it's doubtful that her husband ever became one. Without the support and leading of a Christian father, it's very hard for children to adopt their mother's faith. Statistics show that children more often take their father's lead in spiritual things.

One day months after her grandchild's death, Phyllis went on a day trip to Big Bear Mountain with me, just 45 minutes from our High Desert town.

On the windy drive up the mountain, I told her how much I hated being 31 years old and still unmarried. I feared becoming an old maid. Any time I dated, I always found something wrong with the person and called off the relationship. Though the serial nature indicated a dysfunction on my part, my reasons were good in each case for calling them off. As the adult child of an alcoholic, aware now of how that upbringing affects adults, I perceive the reasons for my serial monogamy, but was blind back then.

On the ride up that mountain, I expressed my fear about the future.

She kept saying, "That's not too big for God."

She listened some more, telling me, "Take that to God."

She said that multiple times, almost like a broken record, but gently spoken.

Never in my life did I pray any prayer that wasn't something like: "Bless this person, God. Bless that person, God." Along with your usual Hail Marys and the Lord's Prayer.

None of my praying meant anything. It was little better than what the pagans do.

Right away, Phyllis knew what I was missing. She grew up in the Presbyterian church and never had a personal relationship with Jesus until adulthood, after she married. She explained what a personal relationship was and encouraged me to talk to God in my own words. She also explained what she was taught in the Presbyterian church: "You're okay. You'll get to heaven as long as you don't hurt anyone or commit horrible sins."

I don't remember being taught that same doctrine per se, but it's what I believed. Phyllis had to explain to me that no one is good enough to get to Heaven. No, not one. Not even Mother Theresa.

Jesus is the only way to Heaven. No one gets there outside of trusting His work on the cross completely as the only way of cleansing us and making us acceptable to God. We must also acknowledge and ask forgiveness for our sins.

Previously, I thought I had to take what Jesus did on credit, and then be good enough to pay it back. That, in essence, it still trusting myself for my salvation, rather than seeing Jesus' gift as one of grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Our sins kept us separated from God. A perfect, Holy God cannot be associated with sin. Jesus and the Cross are the answer to that dilemma, that separation. Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins, past, present and future. When we humbly accept that and stop trying to save ourselves--through good works or following rules--we are made clean and holy and acceptable to God. We become part of God's family--we have His peace, we have His Holy Spirit dwelling in us while we are here on earth, and when we die our place in heaven is secure.

That trip up the mountain with Phyllis was just the beginning.

I wasn't saved on that day, but it's the day my whole life turned around. I still can't think or write about it without tears. Someone had taken the time after all my years as a frustrated "religious" person/worldly person, to tell me what I was missing.

It seems like such a small thing, but it was huge. The difference between life and death. Peace and angst.

I can't pinpoint, as some can, the exact moment I became a Christian. On that mountain, no salvation prayer was uttered, but God was faithful and in the next weeks and months, I changed. (Maybe the fruit of the salvation prayer I prayed at the Calvary Chapel? I don't know.)

Phyllis invited me and our first-grade aide to her house for a weekly Bible Study. She started us in Romans and it wasn't long before I was on fire for the Lord! I spent hours reading the Bible. Instead of continuing my love of classic literature, and staying up till all hours reading, I devoured the Bible for hours and listened to Christian radio exclusively.

I asked Phyllis tons of questions, day after day, during recesses, weekends, and on the phone. She discipled me for two years.

Phyllis attended an Assemblies of God church, but I could not go there with her for long. It made me very uncomfortable, so with her blessing, I began to attend a non-denominational mega church in the area--the same church my principal went to, as well as the school secretaries and a few other teachers on staff.

I was baptized soon after, and all the Christians on my staff attended. I'm sure they wondered: what took her so long? I began teaching there in 1992, and was saved in 1997.

Two years after becoming a Christian, I met my husband on a singles' hike--an event set up by the singles group at our church. We met in early October and did things in groups for several months, not knowing the other was interested.

We were married the following July. Phyllis was one of my bridesmaids.

Thank you, Dear Father, for your faithfulness. Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice. Thank you, Phyllis, for your time and your obedience.

May we all take the time to explain the reason for our Hope...the reason for our Peace. May we pray for and befriend the unsaved, investing in their hearts and lives, for that's far more effective than anything else in escorting someone to the Throne of Grace.

May we keep reading our Bibles, and conversing with our Father, so that someone sees something in us that they simply must have for themselves.

We don't have to be perfect, just obedient, and the Holy Spirit does the rest.

3 comments:

Rachel E. said...

What a fabulous testimony! Thanks for sharing it. Some take a while to come to Him, others don't. The importance is what we do with Him when we have Him.

whitney zeiger said...

Thank you for your testimony. Can you tell me more about adult children of alcoholics?

Christine said...

Whitney, I learned about adult children of alcoholics by researching the Internet. It helped me a great deal. Try adultchildren.org

I wish you all the best. The things you learn will help any child who grew up in a dysfunctional home--it doesn't have to be alcohol or addiction.