I had a great childhood, loving parents and I was raised Buddhist.
But growing up in the early 1960’s, school wasn’t diverse like it is today. I was not blonde or have blue eyes and I felt very much like an outside. In first grade, my classmates discovered that I didn’t believe in God and a declaration was made that “no one should sit with Mary Ann at lunch.” So, began my journey of never feeling like I fit in or accepted, “as is”.
In addition, I was described as a “half-breed” because my Dad married a Japanese woman. They told my Dad that I would not have a fully developed brain and certainly would never get to college. Determined to prove them all wrong, my focus was to study hard, get good grades and follow the rules.
I went college and graduated with an Accounting degree. Marriage came next, along with a banking career as a Commercial Vice President of a national bank and then Chief Financial Officer for a multinational IT corporation. Life was clicking along…
But 15 years later, in 1997, I found myself, divorced and a single mom with two young boys, Alex 11 years old and Jackson 8 years old.
Surely, I could pull this off too. “I got this.” …right?
But the stress, the shame and the work to keep it all together took its toll.
I had battled depression before, but now it came back with a vengeance.
“Hope” was gone. And without hope, there really is nothing…
Nothing to look forward to.
Nothing to live for.
Zero love…..I believed the lie that it’s better to not live at all…. So, I tried to end my life.
But God intervened.
And with my 2 boys, we moved into a new neighborhood and met Jeff and Becky with their 4 boys. I learned that they moved to NC from California to start a church.
Church?! My guard was up.
For 2 years, Jeff and Becky would include me for dinner, cookouts and holidays. Loving me “as is”. Becky would not only “allow” (shock!) but encouraged me to get Jeff to help me with fixing things around the house. Like when I kicked a door down, only to discover that I also dislodged the door jam! I was a mess! And yet they never judged me and never lectured me.
Becky would get up at O-Dark thirty to walk with me before the boys were up. Knowing her now, that crazy early time was a gift from her to me. She would ask about my life, truly interested in what I was doing or thinking about. Being a single Mom, it’s rare to get that kind of attention when every day is poured out to others, from my sons to the people at work.
Gently and sparingly, Becky would mention what their church was doing. She sang in a quartet that toured local churches and would share the funny stories of arriving late or trying to get the lipstick off her teeth. She opened her home to me anytime and especially when I didn’t have the boys with me on weekends.
Holidays are difficult and Becky always included me.
She would invite me to their women’s events and a few times, she would invite me to church.
After 2 years of declining invitations to church, I finally attended in July 1999.
In my 40 years, no one had ever invited me to church before. Ever.
The week prior to that first Sunday, driving to work I started thinking “I wonder if we should go to church this Sunday. Wait. What?” Then, “Oh we can’t do that, I have to take the boys to my Mom’s on Sunday.”
To: “But I think this is the Sunday we should go.”
Then: “You don’t have time for that! You have too much going on.”
Back and forth, all week, little did I know that the battle was on.
Until Friday, I realized I didn’t even know what time church was and so I could just call Becky and then decide. This may all be a moot point!
I left a voice message asking; “What time is church?”
Becky was at their youth camp all that week and the main topic or theme was PRAYER! She asked her group of girls to pray for me. “I have a neighbor who is wonderful but she needs to meet Jesus. Let’s pray that she comes to church.” And they did. Every night.
When Becky got home on Saturday and heard my voice message; she called all her girls!
I’ll never forgot that my first visit, looking for a reason to leave and hoping there wasn’t a parking spot.
Because I was certain that these church people would not like me and I knew I would not like them. I expected to be judged, criticized (albeit behind my back) and I could imagine the gossip wondering what I must have done to end up divorced. I wanted to throw up.
Instead, I was loved and accepted “as is”; a hardened, critical, bitter, hugely skeptical…. broken person.
We sat with Jeff and Becky and their family. I was super nervous. But I also felted like it was going to be okay. Because I knew Becky and I knew that she would never put me in a position that was unsafe or unkind.
On August 10, 1999, I made an appointment with the Pastor to let him know that a Buddhist was attending his church, and to see if that was okay. As I put up every excuse about not looking to God as real and loving, I remember the Pastor asking me, “Mary Ann, what are you waiting for?”
I surrendered to Jesus.
I started serving with 4th & 5th graders, reading the bible and learning about God at an elementary level.
It was exactly what I needed. That God.
But life is still complicated. July 2008 was the last time I saw my oldest son, Alex. He has refused any contact with me or my extended family. No fight. No explanation. I remember thinking; “This won’t last that long.”
There was a time when I would obsess over how to find him, talk to him.
But God led me to Luke 15:24 “…for this son of my mine was dead and has come to life again…”
I noticed that the father never went out to the “far country” to find his son. He never used his power, position or money to get others to help retrieve his son. No, to the father, his son was “dead”. There is nothing anyone can to for a dead person – only God revives us – wakes us – gives us a rebirth – brings the dead to life both literally and spiritually.
I KNOW and trust God’s promises. He will bring Alex back.
I also believe that it will happen through the local church – through the people who say they love God – whether inside or outside the church walls. God will use to reach him.
But there are so many more “Alex’s” out there that need Jesus.
Those who need to be seen and know that they are wanted and belong.
The way Jeff & Becky accepted me and loved me into the kingdom is exactly what God is calling each of us to do. In our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our gyms and absolutely in our churches!
God is looking to us, His people to reach even the one far from God.
We must find them, we must see them and we must love them.