Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lenten Journey: Ash Wednesday: A Faith Story

Hee, hee. Isn't the cartoon below, funny? :)

Two Sundays ago I shared my faith story - or my "testimony" as it is often called - at my church. As we record our services, I thought I would be able to share with you the video of it here. But it looks like only the sermons are available online, so I thought I would share the transcript of my presentation. There is much more to this story, but, as my presentation could only be around 5 minutes long, and I have a tendency toward loquaciousness - in case you hadn't noticed ;) - a good deal of the details had to be cut (I still came in with a time of 6 min. 45 sec., but they let me slide!).

I am sharing it with you today, because a common verse shared on Ash Wednesday to begin the Lenten season is this one found in Joel 2:12-13 and is one that was used in the Journey to the Cross devotional I began using this morning.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.

And my story is one doing exactly this. Like the prodigal son, I went away from Jesus for a decade and then returned, thankful that God does not hold grudges. :) Below is my story, and if you're interested in reading it, I am trusting that God may use it in some way to encourage you... and know that it should take less than 7 minutes of your time! ;)

Blessed Ash Wednesday to all of you,


"My name is Nicole Pivec and my family and I have been attending Woodcrest for almost two years. I'm married to Paul and I have two high school aged girls, Maia and Eve. My story about how I came to know Christ is really a story about coming back to Christ. I was raised in a Christian home, but while Vacation Bible School and Christmas pageants were part of my very early childhood years, we were more of a “weekend Christian” family and often had sporadic church attendance. Still, I loved God and I had had some real, if small, revelations about the truth about Him and even though I walked away from His Son later, I always knew that He was real.

There were a number of things that led to my leaving the church when I was 19 years old. During the same months that my parents began their path toward a divorce I began to question and distrust much of what I had been taught including the Christian upbringing of my early childhood years. I began noticing and then investigating alternative spiritual ideas. As a child, I had been fascinated with the paranormal. I'd read books on ESP, psychic activity, ghosts. The idea that some of this was real and that psychic ability was something that everyone had and could attain and was even good was powerfully intriguing to me. The part about it being “good” was important too, because I had been a good student and thought of myself as a “good” girl. I wasn't part of the “bad” crowd in school, and while I wasn't the least popular in school, I was far from popular either. Having moved a lot I was frequently unknown. Mostly, I was... overlooked.

When my parents split and we struggled to find our “new normal,” many things were left to the wayside, including church attendance, and so, intrigued with the new ideas I'd discovered, I walked away from Jesus and His teachings - what little I knew of them, because honestly, other than the big Sunday school stories of my elementary years and knowing the names of the four gospels, I had never read the Bible. But while I walked away from Jesus, I never really walked away from God. I believed in a god, just not in the Christian God, necessarily. Or actually, I did believe in the Christian God, but in my mind, He was the same god that every other religion referred to and Jesus was relegated to one of His wise teachers. Why limit myself to His teachings, I reasoned, (again, as if I actually KNEW what His teachings were) when there was a whole smorgasbord of teaching out there from which to pick and choose? I investigated all kinds of books at the new age book store. I purchased and studied tarot cards, astrology, and numerology. I visited psychics and took a world religions class at the University where Christianity was just another religion among many. I visited a Buddhist temple with a co-worker and spent the evening chanting. I studied Science of Mind.

The religion I really embraced, though, was Wicca, which is witchcraft. Being Wiccan also fit in with my desire to be different, to stand out and finally be noticed. Our world is fascinated with power and intrigued with magic and if I could possess even a little of that – and use it for good – then it seemed a win-win situation.

There are no “rules” in Wicca – only suggestions - and so the main thing I tried to craft in all those years was mostly a statement of belief. I tried to piece together something that I thought might happen to my spirit after I died. Did I believe in karma and reincarnation? Would I be able to achieve nirvana that the buddhists spoke of? Was I going to have to return to this life again and would I return as human? And if I returned as human, would I have to renounce all that was dear to me in order to achieve enlightenment? It all seemed so hard and there were no solid answers. Everything was relative, everything was tolerated; it seemed there was no truth – only theories. But it did all seem to be up to me to figure it out. That felt certain. It was my responsibility to realize this divinity within me and if I didn't then I'd just lose out. After a decade of time and energy spent looking and looking, I still felt I had nothing solid, nothing certain, and yet I knew I was still hungry.

One December day, a year after my first daughter was born, I was feeling those hunger pains again and I felt like I had so few answers. I leafed through the phone book and tried calling another buddhist temple I had read about somewhere. Maybe I would visit there, maybe they would provide the answer, fill up that space inside of me that felt so empty. The person who answered had a very broken English accent and I couldn't even understand the information he was trying to share with me. I hung up the phone, discouraged, and then looked up and over at the collection of Christmas cards sent from friends and family displayed on our television cabinet. I read the words, “ For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” “Maybe,” I thought, “maybe I should try a church again. Maybe I should try understanding what it is my mother and my grandmothers believed. Maybe, I should learn something about what Jesus really said and about what He really did.” After all the books I'd read on other religions, maybe I should try reading the Bible and find out for myself what it said, find out for myself if it really was no different from everything else out there.

And what I found, of course, is that it is very different. It is different, because there is no one like Jesus. It is different, because I discovered that all of my questions are answered in Him. And it is different because my salvation is not up to me. All the effort has already been made. Everything has already been done and all I'm asked to do is to rest and trust and believe. Rest and trust and believe that He noticed me. He is “El-Roi”: God who sees. He did not overlook me and He did not forget about me even when I walked away and went searching. And He knew that just what I needed all along was Him. There is a magic in this world, but it's not the selfish magic of me trying to accomplish my desires. Instead, the magic is what Jesus can do inside of you. Your outside world and your circumstances may not change, but everything changes – like magic – on the inside – and you'll see things in a whole new way. And now... now I am fulfilled. Now I don't need anything else. And in fact, now if you do notice me, I hope that what you'll really see, instead of me, is Him."

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