The (pretty long- I apologize) answer to a fairly standard question:
“Cari, I’m always curious how you got to where you are spiritually—I was born and raised Catholic, so I am intrigued by people who start out one place and end up somewhere completely different. Assuming it’s not too personal to ask, I’d be curious what made you change your mind.”
The short story is: Jesus brought me home.
But, I had a lot of bumps and bruises and winding paths along the way. It is important to note that my parents were not Wiccan, so I wasn’t raised as such, I just found myself on that path because it made sense to me. I was raised in a spiritual home, not really any major religion was taught (although my parents are Christian). My sisters and I were encouraged to explore many faiths and find our own path (it sounds so hippie-esque when I write it, but it was much more subtle than that). I have read most of the primary works of most of the primary religions, the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, the Qaballah, and others and I was taught to always seek. My mother, while she claimed Christianity as her religion, always encouraged a “go to the source before you judge the faith” kind of exploration that has always served me well, but it kind of left me feeling ungrounded most of the time, especially as a young teenager. When my grandmother died, I had no understanding of death, no comfort to fall back on, it shook me to the core. I began to take my exploration to less “mainstream” religions, looking for something that would speak to me.
When I was a freshman in highschool, I found Wicca. I grew up in a household steeped in feminism, so a matriarchal religion didn’t really seem that far out of bounds. Its “Christianity keeps the good woman down” view of the Bible was a viewpoint that was consistently supported by the women around me and I embraced it wholeheartedly. (That being said, I still hid the fact that I was Wiccan from my parents for several years…) When I was in highschool, I found and joined a practicing coven in Eureka Springs….and I, being the overachiever, began studying as an acolyte to the High Priestess. All the while, I hid my religion from everyone because I was afraid of the ramifications of exposure. My senior year in highschool, one of my “close friends” decided to air my secret to the entire Catholic Youth Organization at retreat. It was one of the most hurtful experiences of my life, and it only solidified for me that Christianity was full of a bunch of hateful hypocrites.
I went to college and led a lifestyle that was completely acceptable to my religion, but that I was ashamed of nonetheless. I think the draw of a belief system completely without sin or regret was something that was very powerful to me, particularly then. I slept around alot, drank alot and did a good deal of the standard “college experimentation”. I was utterly miserable. By the Grace of God (who I didn’t believe in at the time), I met Charlie and his love helped me turn my life around.
After graduation, I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army and stationed in EL Paso (Fort Bliss), TX. By that time I had reached the level of High Priestess in my coven. It became my mission to aid other Wiccans in the military (at that time, Wicca was not recognized as an official religion and Wiccans were not granted the opportunity to practice their faith publicly). I worked with a committee that eventually got Wicca declared an approved religion by the military.
Charlie and I had married and were trying to have children. Due to an STD I contracted in college, I had problems. Doctors were unsure if I could get pregnant. I also experienced some pretty bad physical issues at the same time, lay on top of that some serious Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from some events that had occurred in my past….ask me about those later….and I was a mess. I thought a baby would change my life…I thought it would fill the void inside that was consuming me…my faith brought me no peace or joy…simply ritual. It was empty for me. In March of 2000, I finally got pregnant (after 2 years of trying), and shortly after had an ectopic pregnancy which ruptured my left fallopian tube. During surgery, to stop the bleeding and repair the damage, doctors discovered that the right tube was completely blocked by scar tissue and did not function. I was told I would never have children naturally. It broke me. I cannot express to you the depth of devastation those words caused. About that time, I met a sweet Christian friend on email. She and I had heated discussions on religion and politics and somewhere along the way, she stopped trying to change my mind and (recruiting her choir) started praying to change my heart. In May of 2001, a miracle occurred…I found out I was pregnant with Alexander. Doctor’s couldn’t then and still cannot completely explain it.
In July of that year, I left the army, we moved to St Louis, where I took a job as a factory manager. We hated it there. We were more miserable than we had ever been. Charlie lost his job with IBM shortly after we moved and was unable to find work. I hated my job for various reasons and desperately wanted to stay home with our new baby. We had no friends, no family close by, and no higher power to trust to get us through. We were lost….in every sense of the word…and we were desperately searching for something to fill us up. Meanwhile, back in northwest Arkansas, my email friend, Heather and her choir were still praying.
In Jan 2002, I had Alexander, and as soon as I could travel, we came to Arkansas to stay with my parents for a while. A 3 day visit turned into 3 weeks. We decided that if we could find work here, we would move. Several of our friends got busy finding connections (God bless you guys)….and I took a couple interviews as well. 3 weeks into a 6 week unpaid maternity leave (I took 12 weeks off), my position at the plant was eliminated…I was out of work….So to sum up, new baby, new city, no friends, no job for either of us, living off unemployment…I was devastated….Charlie was excited…His words, “Pack your bags, we’re moving to Arkansas!”. We moved in with my parents until we could find our own place. Charlie interviewed with Walmart 2 days after we decided to move to Arkansas, and 3 days after that was hired (ya’ll that is a BIG miracle!) We found a Buyer’s broker (who by the way, was a Christian woman who insisted on praying before every meeting) who guaranteed we could find our house and move in in 30 days. We started looking for homes on May 5…we found and closed on our home on May 25 and moved in over Memorial Day Weekend! And all the while, Heather and her choir were praying.
In Aug 2002, we went to Maryland for summer vacation. As a “by the pool” read, Charlie’s stepmother handed me a copy of “Left Behind”. I read it in 4 hours. On the way home, Charlie and I discussed the implications of the book. I was terrified. I was also torn. I had, for over ten years, vehemently opposed Christ and his teachings. Was pretty sure he would never want me in his camp…Charlie’s response to me was, “I don’t anything about this stuff…ask Heather.” (by the way, for those of you who don’t know, Charlie was not a Christian either). So I did. And we talked, and she prayed, and eventually I asked if I could attend choir with her. This was a brave move….I was pretty sure that I would be struck by lightening when I stepped through the threshold of Immanuel Baptist Church, but I wasn’t. I was welcomed with open arms. I felt like I had come home. All of the bitterness that I had held onto for so long toward Christianity melted away…it was if walking through those doors healed all of those wounds I had nursed for so long, even before I publicly admitted that I had been wrong. For three weeks I attended choir and church with Heather and Jason. For three weeks, I white-knuckeled the pew during the invitation, allowing my pride to stand between me and God.
The third Sunday, the Pastor preached a sermon on blasphemy. He said it was the only sin in the Bible that God could not forgive. He talked about conviction and about how God only calls people for a finite period of time and that eventually he stops calling and the chance is lost. I had only known what conviction was for a short time, and I didn’t really appreciate how it felt. But for the first time in my life, I felt truly guided. Not wandering, or wondering, or meandering through life, but guided, nudged in the right direction. I could look up, and for the first time ever in my spiritual life, Someone bigger than me was standing at the crosswalk with me, waiting to take my to take my hand and help me cross the street safely. I felt loved on the inside, past the part of me that even my family could see…all the way to the depths of my soul…and I had NEVER felt that before. Even then, I was afraid to let go of the pew and step up to the altar. To crucify my pride at the altar of redemption was a big deal for me, and I fought it…hard…I stood there during that invitation and wept because I needed that love so bad, and I just couldn’t get over myself to walk down that aisle in front of all those people and publicly say I was wrong. I was also pretty sure, God wouldn’t have me…I was pretty sure that I had covered that whole blasphemy thing pretty well in my life. On the way home, I asked Heather about whether she thought that God had turned his back on me. She told me that if I was worried about it, then probably not, but why not ask Him and find out….Shortly after that conversation (the next Sat to be exact) I gave my life publicly to Jesus. The blessings that have been ever present in my life since continue to add to my testimony. God has blessed me beyond measure in both the good and bad times of our lives. Charlie’s testimony is every bit as long, but every bit as powerful…Charlie came to Christ through intellectual means…through hard evidence….(no other way to sway a computer geek I don’t think!) If you ask him..he will tell you his….
We weren’t bad people before we became Christians…We didn’t do bad things. But we were lost, and I believe we were on the fast track to Hell. If that sounds harsh, well, it is. But I also believe that there is no greater love than the love of Jesus Christ, and my heart aches for the people that don’t have that. I have been there…There is truly and emptiness that is only filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t rational or logical, it’s spiritual and it does defy reason….but that doesn’t make it any less real.
I am eternally grateful for those faithful prayer warriors who kept us in their prayers even when the outcome looked pretty hopeless, and to Heather and Jason who kept coming back to us with the love of Jesus in their hearts and outstretched hands even when, most often, we slapped them away. I am grateful to God for giving me a wise man as a husband who listened to His guidance even when he didn’t know Whose voice it was that spoke to him. But most of all, I am grateful to God the Father, for sending his son, Jesus Christ, to die for my sins….and for forgiving my blasphemous mind and healing my hurting heart and seeing my sinner’s life…..and accepting me…anyway.
So there you go, my story…..sorry again about all the length…but please comment and let me know what you think.