Back when I was old enough to remember, but still so young that I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in time, I was asked by a teacher about my religion.
“I’m half Jewish and half Christian,” I proudly told her, to which she responded, “You can’t be both.”
I explained that my father was Jewish and my mother was Christian and that since I was born, we (sort of) celebrated both Chanukah and Christmas. This conversation could never happen in a public school during the 2000s, but apparently during the ’80s it was fair game.
“If you were standing in the middle of a train track and a train was headed your way, you would have to jump one way,” she metaphorized to a human who didn’t yet have an inkling of what a metaphor even was. “So which are you?”
The closest answer I would have to that question for the next three decades was neither. Most of my life, the concept of religion was as elusive as the institution of marriage; it was something I witnessed over at a friend’s house every now and then, but nothing I had any personal experience with.
My disposition was complicated: the Jewish faith didn’t really accept me, as they believe religion is carried through the mother, but how could I be a Christian with the last name Ornstein? Though my father considered himself a Jew and cringed at the name Jesus Christ, he refused to attend services or expand his practices past lighting a few candles on the menorah and trading gifts for Chanukah. My mother was pretty much the same when it came to Christianity, though a few times we attended services at a hippy Unitarian church, where at the end, everyone would hold hands and sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
My parents, who tumultuously split up when I was 5, were both alcoholics in “recovery,” though neither bothered to attend 12-step meetings because they were “cured,” my mother through her marijuana maintenance and my father was simply “too smart” for “those people” and could do it on his own just fine.
Needless to say, my upbringing was far from traditional and I pretty much lived alone from the age of 14 on. I spent the formative years of my life floundering, raising myself with little guidance of any sort. It was a very dark and lonely period of my life. While other people my age were learning about the importance of hard work, responsibility, and self-respect, I was numbing my pain with alcohol, drugs, money, and men. I didn’t believe in God, not in the slightest. “If there was a god, then why would BLANK BLANK BLANK,” would become a barroom conversation that I exploited to the max.
The concept of God was really introduced to me when I landed in rehab at the age of 21, which I might add, was my own idea. An important part of the program is coming to believe in “a power greater than yourself,” which for many people who stagger in, broken and beat up by life, is downright near impossible. It’s like God 101; they encourage you to start small and keep it simple (one person I knew used a Gumby doll). I chose the ocean, because it made sense to me that if I stood in front of a wave and tried to stop it, I couldn’t. My first year of recovery, I would walk down to the ocean every morning and pray to something I didn’t really understand, because they told me to “fake it ’til you make it.” For whatever reason, it calmed my mind and made me feel at peace.
Eventually, I started to believe that everything in life happened for a reason and my concept of God evolved into a more spiritual entity, void of any religious context. I still shunned religion as a whole, considering AA my “church” and the people within the program my “congregation.”
It wasn’t until I was 10 years sober with an unplanned pregnancy and an ex who wanted nothing to do with it, that I really turned my will over to God, because I had to believe that his plan was better than mine.
Seven months into the pregnancy, I was reunited with the love of my life, my college boyfriend Nick, and we immediately knew we wanted to spend our lives together. He was there in the room for me during my ultimate God moment, when my son Jackson was born. It was as if everything I ever knew about life changed in that moment and it became clear that nothing in this life happened by accident. There clearly was a God, and he wanted this beautiful little creature and wonderful man in my life.
I started going to church with Nick and his parents when we visited them in Minnesota. Though I initially had trouble connecting to the traditional sermons and music, I always felt better walking out the door than when I walked in. We started discussing finding a church back home because we wanted to raise our kids with the foundation of religion, but it wasn’t a priority, mostly because we liked being lazy on Sunday mornings.
Then one weekend a close friend came to visit and we decided to tag along with her to church, if for nothing more than the free childcare and the laughs we would get making fun of the quacks lifting their arms praising Jesus. But something really crazy happened when we walked into Community Christian: we actually enjoyed it.
It wasn’t the way I always envisioned church to be. The pastor and congregation were happy and looked like us, the music was modern and current, and the sermon was totally relatable. We decided to return the next week and then the next and have been going ever since.
At first I felt like just a visitor, but within time I knew the lyrics to most of the songs and intuitively related to the teachings. “Finding your way back to God,” is our church’s motto and many of the members are people just like us who got lost along the way. I cried a lot during services the first year, as my connection to Jesus Christ deepened. I saw how my life of sin had transformed, especially since the birth of my children, and recognized all the unexplainable miracles that had transpired in my life.
Just last weekend, the day before Easter, I was baptized along with my two children in a beautiful service in front of my husband’s family, including my mother- and father-in-law, who are now my godparents. As I knelt down in front of the pastor and received the sacrament in the name of the Holy Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — I was overwhelmed with a juxtaposition of emotions as I pledged my faith to the church and simultaneously bid farewell to the lost little girl inside of me.
As I watched my son’s, then daughter’s christening, it dawned on me that I was never really alone. He was always there, watching over me and guiding the way from there to here. All of the darkness, pain, and struggles made sense, because everything that I had gone through in life — good and bad — led me to this love-drenched life.
We are all on a different path in life. I don’t want to convert anyone, nor do I think I am better than you because I believe in God and you don’t. All I can share is my experience, which is that once I found God, I began to bask in a happiness I never knew existed. Sure, there are bad days and hard times, but I’m not alone anymore. And I never will be again.More On