Here’s my story…
Most of my life I was told that science was the answer to everything. We were here on this earth because of science — it was our guiding truth and savior. Evolution was how human beings came into existence and there was really no debate about it. Well, if there was you were scoffed at for sure. I think my father had a very bad experience with religion growing up because time and time again, he would tell my siblings and I that the church just “brainwashes” people; and basically to not believe a thing they say. So again, I was an obedient child and did just that. The dichotomy is definitely an interesting one because instead of being “brainwashed” by the church, I think I was actually brainwashed by him, being told these types of things at such a young age.
Anyway, things changed as I got older and was surrounded by more and more believers, especially growing up in the “buckle of the bible belt” - aka Dallas, Texas, meaning that there were literally millions of Christians living in one city….except for us. Most of my friends and family were religious in some form or another, but my parents weren’t. Therefore, as their offspring, my siblings and I weren’t religious either. As a child I believed everything my parents said, and honestly, why would I question otherwise? Even though I always felt like an outsider because of the clear disparity between myself and the mass number of Christians I grew up around, it wasn’t until only a few years ago that I finally woke up to understand things with a little more conviction. It’s actually kind of ironic because I’ve always been one that had to truly experience things before understanding. :)
My first encounter with the controversy behind the topic of faith and God occurred when I was just a few years old. I remember this somewhat epic conversation took place in the pink bedroom that my twin sister and I shared as kids. I think it probably happened after an intense game of hide and seek or a serious game of school — something along those lines. :) My cousins asked my sister and I if we believed in God, at which point I either shrugged or said “no”. This may have possibly been the first time my cousins had heard such an answer before, because in complete shock they said to us, “You know you’ll go to hell if you don’t believe in God!” Having heard another child say those words to me at the ripe age of 5 was enough to scare the bejeezus out of me. But I didn’t know how to respond. All I could say back to them was “my parents said there was no such thing as God.” And that was that.
Most of my childhood was pretty carefree so this heavy idea about the reason for life, and God’s role in everything, was never really something that crossed my mind. As for most people, things changed as I got older. But my situation was unique in that I ended up experiencing heavy things — the betrayal of trust, loss of loved ones, as well as the blessings of new lives, all before reaching adulthood. To me, these were all massive, life changing events that I experienced and through them all, I questioned God’s role in everything. During the tough times, I wondered how a loving God could allow such horrible things to happen to people, just as many believers today question and doubt. Why was there so much turmoil in this world if there was a God? When my nieces and nephew were born, they completely stole my heart. The moment they came into this world I never doubted that they were an absolute blessing to my family, in every sense of the word. Deep down inside I wondered if God had a part in them being here, on this earth, in this life, but for so many reasons I couldn’t put my faith in something that I didn’t understand. I loved them (and still do) with everything I had, but I carried on as a non believer.
A few years ago, something defining happened to me. I came down with a life threatening illness seemingly overnight that was so scary, it completely changed my entire outlook on everything I had ever known or believed. Literally the second I began recovering, I realized — I just KNEW that God was the reason for everything. I didn’t need to hear any reasons against religion or God to try and convince me otherwise. I was done with it so all I could do was funnel it out and embrace my new-found faith. I knew that there were many prayers said for me that day and that is what helped me overcome the illness, in addition to the small amount of hope and faith I always had in Him.
Shortly after I began recovering, Tanya told me something in confidence that still gives me chills to this day. She said that she went down to the chapel in the hospital and recited Psalm 23:6 for me. I asked her which prayer that was because of course how would I know?!
Then she told me and I couldn’t believe it. There is one part of the prayer that I felt that day. It goes:
“Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
-Psalm 23:6, American King James Version
I get chills when I think about it because I know I had almost faced death that day. And although I still can’t recall the details of the day I know that I had a spiritual experience. I also know that I was so close to death that that I told Leila on the plane I felt like I was dying. She knew I wasn’t joking either, and for that; for her being there I am also forever grateful. She understood the severity of the situation and did what it took to make sure I got treated somewhere. The reason I told Leila that I felt like I was dying was because it felt like my heart was slowing down. I was getting so weak that every movement felt like it was taking so much strength, and I would eventually just not be able to walk or something because I was wearing down so quickly. I felt like if I had fallen asleep I would’ve just stopped breathing. So on the plane, with Leila by my side, crying for me, I fought to keep my eyes open.
During this time, I experienced some very scary delusions. I was seeing and imagining all kinds of things, like aliens and us being on a space shuttle instead of a plane - yes it was very freaky. But at one point I experienced something that was absolutely terrifying. As I was getting weaker, there was a point where it felt like my soul was going to leave my body. What was so terrifying about it was that my soul had nowhere to go — it just felt lost, like it would wander alone forever and ever, through evil dark paths, and unknown places — lost and alone. All I know is that I needed something to protect me. And during this time, I felt like I kept searching for God but couldn’t find Him. That is why this prayer gives me chills. It’s like Tanya knew exactly which one to say because of Him.
I really don’t know how to explain it but then again, how do you explain things that are spiritual?! Sometimes they are unexplainable because they don’t follow the scientific laws of nature — the things that I was basically told were gospel growing up. I’ve learned that there is so much that will not and can’t ever be explained, you just have to believe. And I choose to believe in the one thing that did not give up on me, even when my faith was nonexistent.
Thank You God for everything - both the good and the bad. I do believe everything happens for a reason. I also know that there were others who prayed for me that day. I certainly didn’t ask anyone else if they said prayers for me, I just have faith that they did.