Summary: A life changing experience

Seven years old, lying in my dark bedroom, saying a prayer to God, I realized that my words were bouncing down from the ceiling and hitting me in the face. God was not with me in my heart, but out there somewhere—and there was a great blackness between us. I couldn’t reach Him, and I knew, truly knew, it was my fault. Terror leaked from my heart into every bone of my body, and suddenly I had to run, to the light, to the safety of my parents’ presence in the living room. I dropped to the floor and hugged my mother’s knees, looked up into her face, and cried, “Oh, Mama! Something terrible is happening! I have been praying to God, but He won’t hear me, and it’s all my fault.”

Daddy jumped up off of the couch and turned off the TV. That shocked me. I turned to him and begged, “Please, you’ve got to pray for me!” At that moment my father uttered words that I didn’t think parents were allowed to say to their children. “I can’t pray for you, Elaine.” I turned toward my mother, and he said, “Your mother can’t pray for you either.”

Mama intervened with the tenderest name she has for me. “Oh, Laney, the Holy Spirit is calling you to repentance.”

My heart pounded as Daddy continued, “Your mother and I cannot be saved for you. Only you can pray the prayer that is needed now. Go back to your room and pray.” At that moment I panicked, “But what am I supposed to say? I don’t know what to say!” The answer was simple, “Tell God what’s in your heart.”

In anguish I returned to my bed and poured out my heart. “O God, I hate this feeling, and I know it is my fault. Please, God, please forgive me. I don’t ever want to feel like this again.” A warm peace suffused my body, and I fell asleep as my life changed.

At that time we were Southern Baptists and held conservative religious beliefs that included a Creator and a recent creation. These beliefs were not challenged until my ninth-grade biology class, when I had to write a report on the book On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. At that time, I tended to read captions and introductory and concluding paragraphs of each section, so I can’t even pretend to have read the book. However, what I did read must have made me quite furious. I know this because my teacher wrote on my paper, “Elaine, don’t let one man’s ideas upset you so much.” I translated that to mean, “Elaine, you are as smart as anyone else, so think for yourself.” Words to live by and woe to my parents and teachers since then!

During my ninth-grade year, a major change occurred that would have a profound effect on my theology: a new pastor was hired at my church. His first sermon was on creation, and he began by telling us that we had misunderstood Genesis. I was startled. He didn’t say we had misinterpreted the text but rather that we had not fully understood its meaning. He then proceeded to introduce theistic evolution to us. I was thrilled. I could merge my science and my Bible without the least qualm. During that one sermon, I fully embraced the concept and gave up my Creator for a “Divine Guide.” The theological implications of such a transition are astounding, but 14-year-old girls don’t know very much about theology. I quickly became a diehard theistic evolutionist.

This change in my theology did not manifest itself in a slipping and sliding away from God, and, although political bickering within two different congregations had dampened my parents’ enthusiasm for church attendance, my commitment to Him was as strong as ever. Consequently, my father drove my brother and me to various church meetings. When I turned 16, he gave me a car, and our church attendance increased. God was very close to me during those years even as my understanding of who He is became more confused.

As I neared high-school graduation, I was faced with a serious problem. I was fairly certain that my father expected me to do one of two things: get married or get a job. I wasn’t very keen on either option, so I needed to buy some time. Attending college was the perfect solution! As a science lover, I had no problem selecting a major—I would study history. It doesn’t sound logical now, but at the time it seemed quite logical. I didn’t have any plans because I was just biding my time until I was ready to get a “real job” or else . . .

Things, however, did not go quite as I had planned. In the second semester I was railroaded into a new class, Geology Concepts for Teachers. Over my protests, the teacher ordered me to the registrar’s office as he announced, “Elaine, what you need in your life is academic discipline!” I grumbled all the way down the hall, not realizing that minimum class size was fixed at eight, and I was number eight. Mid-semester I changed my major to reflect my passion for geology. My father was livid! His little girl was not going to work in the oil fields! Things were not going as Dad had planned either.

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