As promised, here is the story of how I came back to God after 8 years of sincere atheism:
After having had a genuine experience of God (that is, born again, baptized in water, baptized in the Holy Spirit), I suffered a series of setbacks. I was devastated the day my husband announced, “I don’t believe in God any more, and I don’t love you.” This was only 3 years into our marriage, and we were already parents of a little boy. He didn’t move out, but things between us had definitely changed. He was a workaholic, so we settled into a pattern that kept the marriage together for another 30 years: He would usually say something hurtful to me on his way out the door, and I would cry and despair for an hour or so, and by the time he returned home about 12 hours later, I would be over the hurt, and things would be fairly pleasant until the next morning when it usually happened again.
Thus began a slow decline in my Christian walk. We had recently moved to a suburb of Dallas and every church that I had tried seemed empty and dead. One preached about money, money, money, and even posted on a bulletin board in the foyer how much money each person had given the previous month. Outrageous! It seemed like we had not only left our hometown, but also the Lord. Finally, I just stopped going to church.
Not coincidentally, I also began to drink—a lot. Before long, my drinking was really out of control. So I was already far from God when both my sisters-in-law lost their babies within 6 months of each other. Then I read in the newspaper about 3 women in New York City who had thrown their babies out the window. I decided that either God didn’t exist or He was lazy. I became agnostic because I wasn’t ready to let go of the idea of God, but essentially, I had.
The final blow came when Phillip, my childhood sweetheart, was killed in a highway accident too horrific to describe. Phillip had been the only person in my life to show me unconditional love. With Phillip’s death I became a radical militant atheist. If somebody tried to give me a religious tract, I would respond, “I don’t want that sh**!”
Looking back, I can see God’s hand on my life because just 3 weeks before Phillip died I had quit drinking. This was God’s timing because when Phillip died I was so depressed that I wanted to crawl inside a bottle and never come out again. I would have welcomed death except for the feeling of responsibility to my son, who was 7 at the time. I had quit drinking because of having blacked-out at yet another party, waking the next morning to find my husband so angry with me that he refused to speak. I knew that I must have embarrassed him, so I told him that I would quit drinking. He (having grown up with an alcoholic step-father) said, “I’ve heard that before.” And I’m sure he had, but not from me. That statement made me so mad that I decided I would make him eat those words. I didn’t have another drink for 20 years.
So although I was a radical militant angry atheist, I was no longer an alcoholic when Phillip died. God allowed me to have my stew in my anger for almost 8 years. It’s hard to sustain anger for that long, so little-by-little I became less angry at God.
Shortly after we moved to Durham, North Carolina, we visited my childhood home in California for the first time since moving away 19 years before. I had such good memories of that place and my childhood there that returning to real life in an abusive marriage sent me into the worst depression of my life to that point. For the next several months I avoided the few friends I had made, and cried through my days.
Then I started having suicide hallucinations. There were 2 of them. It was always either taking the big kitchen knife and cutting my throat from ear-to-ear or plunging the knife into my heart. Both were so frighteningly real that I didn’t know that they were not really happening. In the middle of doing the most ordinary kind of household tasks (putting wet sheets into the dryer, setting the dinner table, bathing the baby) I suddenly had the knife in my hand and I turned it on myself. I felt the sharpness of the knife, but no pain, and I felt the hot, sticky blood on my skin and smelled the copper-salty smell of it. Then I would find myself back where I had been, with the wet sheets in my hands or the baby in the bath tub. I would immediately run and hide in my closet, terrified.
One day in the closet I suddenly realized 2 things: 1. I didn’t want to kill myself (I would never do that to my children) and; 2. If I ever did want to kill myself, I would never do it with a knife. And those 2 things led me to a 3rd realization: these hallucinations were coming from someone, and it was not me. Given that I sincerely did not believe in God, therefore I also didn’t believe in the devil. But I was very aware that there was some kind of a presence, and it was not a good one.
I went for counseling, and I worked at counseling with all my might. I wanted to get over this thing. Every appointment I talked non-stop about everything that had gone wrong for me in my life. If it hurt, I talked about it—every angle and every nuance. It was like emotionally disemboweling myself week after week. And my counselor offered no help, no insight, nothing. She might have been a bobble-head doll, just nodding and taking notes as I vomited all the pain of my soul. I told the counselor that I wanted 2 sessions a week because I shook, unable to sleep for 2 days before each session because they were so unpleasant. So we went to 2 sessions a week, and that was actually better. After a couple of months of that, I somehow came out of the depression and the hallucinations stopped. At that time I quit going to counseling and instead started taking a creative writing class.
One day in the car I heard a Bob Dylan song that I had never heard before. I only just today learned the name of the song: Positively 4th Street, and it starts out, “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say that you’re my friend . . .” As I listened to the song, it seemed that Jesus was singing to me, saying things like, “You say you’ve lost your faith, but that’s not where it’s at. You have no faith to lose, and you know it.” It was just like receiving a rhema word, only through a song. And for a few months I started getting rhema words on billboards and in overheard conversation. I knew that it was supernatural contact, and I knew that it was God, although I still sincerely didn’t believe in Him. Now I know that He was wooing me, pursuing me, getting me ready to come back to Him.
To be continued, but until then, here are the lyrics to Positively 4th Street:
You’ve got a lot of nerve
To say you are my friend.
When I was down you just stood there grinning.
You’ve got a lot of nerve
To say you’ve got a helping hand to lend.
You just want to be on the side that’s winning.
You say I let you down,
You know it’s not like that.
If you’re so hurt, why then don’t you show it?
You say you’ve lost your faith,
But that’s not where it’s at.
You have no faith to lose, and you know it.
I know the reason that
You talk behind my back.
I used to be among the crowd you’re in with.
Do you take me for such a fool
To think I’d make contact
With the one who tries to hide what he don’t know to begin with?
You see me on the street.
You always act surprised.
You say, how are you, good luck, but you don’t mean it.
When you know as well as me,
You’d rather see me paralyzed
Why don’t you just come out once and scream it!
Now don’t I feel that good
When I see the heartaches you embrace
If I were a master thief perhaps I’d rob them.
And though I know you’re dissatisfied
With your position and your place,
Don’t you understand, it’s not my problem.
I wish that for just one time,
You could stand inside my shoes,
And just for that one moment I could be you.
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes,
You’d know what a drag it is to see you.