“For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
I was born a questioning prodigal.
Brought up in a strict, conservative Eastern European family that believed in the Bible and read it often, even as a child, I knew many Bible verses by heart. To me, however, God was like a smiley face sticker up in the sky looking down: He created the heavens and the earth and pronounced them “good.” Just religion, nothing personal. My dream was to break free and live independently in New York City–an impossibility for a young unmarried girl from an Eastern-European family.
When I graduated from high school, my parents were so proud of me they threw a huge party, inviting all our family, friends and neighbors to celebrate. Hours after the party, I rose before dawn to make my grand escape, leaving a note thanking them for everything, telling them I loved them, but not telling them where I was going. I became a paralegal assistant, enrolled in NYU, got my “I think therefore I am” card, and embarked on a wondrous journey of learning. I was always busy, but I felt empty. Something was missing.
When asked if I had a religious background, I’d say, “Not really,” but one of the courses I decided to take at NYU was the philosophies and practices of various religions. At first, as I sat on velvet cushions, philosophized, and chanted, taking part in the practices of one religion after another, I found each one intriguing, but once the initial infatuation faded, once again I felt the void. That’s when Scripture began to pop up in my head. Repeatedly, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” made me question what I’d been inviting into my head, my heart, my spirit.
Shortly thereafter, a Christian man entered my life and challenged me to think of God in a different personal way. He told me I needed a savior because I was a sinner. Indignant, I said, “How dare you? I’m a good person!” Quietly, he replied, “None of us are good. But for Jesus, we’re all evil.” I asked him to leave. He did, but he kept coming back, inviting me to church. Tim Keller, an amazing scholar, philosopher and writer, was the Pastor at Redeemer Church. Eventually, I began to go.
When I was invited to a Christian concert in a YMCA basement somewhere beyond Bohemia, I went. I cannot remember the song, but it was about Jesus, how he died for us, and how we needed him because we were all sinners. Something supernatural happened to me. A switch flipped within me. I could see the ugliness of my sins against the grace of God. I understood all the hurt I’d carelessly and arrogantly inflicted upon others. Humbly, I realized I desperately needed a savior, I needed Jesus. He alone could fill the empty void in my wanton heart.
God was waiting for me in the basement of that YMCA, he’d been with me all along, and he’s been with me ever since. I’m blessedly assured that he will be with me always. Dee Hayes