Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Long Journey: Carin's Story

It wasn't the tidy story I wanted to hear, but real stories rarely are.  When you read a novel, watch a movie, or even craft your own tale, you can tie up all the ends, assign parts- villain and hero, and point out all the causes and effects.  When I asked my sister Carin (pronounced like the more commonly spelled Karen) to tell me the story of how she became a Christian I was hoping for a simple story that I could sum up with three points on how to be an more awesome evangelist.  What I got instead was the messy-wonderful tale of how long God will seek a person, how long a person will seek God, and how despite mistakes and missteps there is joy in heaven and on earth when the two come together.

Carin's story begins with a dream.  She remembers as a young child dreaming that she was on the playground swing dragging her feet the way kids do.  As the tennis shoes moved the dirt, in her dream she uncovered hell.  Although she fell in the dream down in the tunnel towards hell she says that from that childhood moment on she always knew that hell was utterly avoidable if only she chose so.  This in her memory marks the beginning of her search for God.
As the child of one practicing Catholic, she was baptized as an infant.  She attended catechism class in her pursuit to know God better.  However when her sister died as a child and wasn't buried on consecrated ground, the Catholic church refused to allow a priest to come and officiate at her burial.  Even though Carin herself was a child, she was struck by the lack of compassion. This deep childhood impression was one of the things that led her as a teen to seek God beyond her Catholic roots.

As a young teen, and after a move to a new town, she was introduced to the local Pentecostal church.  She was accepted there and indoctrinated: no dancing, no movies, no mixed bathing (swimming with boys and girls), and certainly no drinking or smoking.  While this may seem very restrictive, it was there she found family and stability while her own parents went through a messy divorce that left both of them unable to properly keep up with their strong-willed teen.  It was there she learned that God longed to have a personal relationship with her, something missing from her Catholic background.

Through all this diverse religious instruction, Carin longed for God.  Leaving Nebraska for Wyoming and work in the mines, she still longed for Him.  But when she arrived, the local Pentecostals were not the family she was used to, not so welcoming, not so warm.  After a while she gave up; 20 and far from home, she fell into the world and God faded into the background.
However God had not given up on her.  She married into a quasi-religous family.  Her husband's grandmother, a godly woman, would come up to Wyoming from Arizona and everyone would show up at church. Carin showed up too and struggled.  Although her husband was greeted with open arms (every adult male Christian was desperately needed), in her mind she did not receive such an effusive welcome.  Being timid, the closeness among the sisters was intimidating; it was hard to break into the circle.

Life went on. Although her marriage had hit a rough spot, she got pregnant with their daughter and went through a long spell of basically not attending at all.  Her husband went and enjoyed showing off the sweet baby girl, and she stayed home, glad the little one was getting the religious education she needed.  A few years later,the death of her mother shook her badly.  Her husband had stopped bringing their daughter to church and  she decided it was time for her to get serious. She slowly started attending on Sunday mornings at the church where he had gone and took her little girl, then more regularly.  After taking her daughter to a summer Bible camp organized by the members, she committed to herself: she would be in attendance at all meeting times during the week.

God continued to pursue her.  Although she grew much closer to the Christians there, and found the sense of family and belonging she was seeking, it seems no one really noticed that she wasn't yet a Christian.  More years went by. No one at Church was offering to meet with her to study and explain God's plan.  There were no regular Bible studies outside of the weekly Sunday school.  In her words "I felt like I was flying alone, but I had basically been on my own since I was a young teen, so I didn't know it could be different."  All of the spiritual food she was getting was coming from what she was learning in Sunday sermons.

Yet she wasn't alone at all.  Through all this time, God had been calling to her through his word.  Over the years and through the regular preaching of his word, and a few long talks with a beloved sister in Christ, she came to understand that though she sought Him, she had never actually committed her life to Christ.  (As the saying goes, "Going to church doesn't makes you a Christian any more than standing in the garage makes you a car")  So one evening during a gospel meeting (think like an old fashioned revival) she decided she needed to be baptized.

Carin is a Christian.  Her daughter is a Christian and sought a fellow believer to marry. Her husband, her mother and father-in-law, all have grown into being people of God.  The story wasn't simple.  There was no tract, no book, no video, no mysterious feeling or emotional conversion moment.  There was no disciple, discipling her.  Just a long (and often lonely) journey seeking God with an honest and open heart.  Just a God who over all those years, from childhood dreams, through adolescent spirituality, into young motherhood was seeking her. 

Carin's story drove home several important lessons to me.  That we can NOT assume that the people who attend at our congregation are Christians.  That we must never overlook the quiet and unassuming people among us.  That there are lots of folks who would love to study the word, if we only invited them.  And that even when there are missteps, God's word is powerful, living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.


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