God drove my car

I went to confession for the first time in several months this week. Sometimes motherhood and life can get really heavy,and being able to have a special confidant I can speak to and who can give me some solid, spiritual guidance can be so uplifting, not to mention the light feeling of knowing my sins are forgiven by God.
I haven’t always been a Catholic. Actually, I have only been a member of The Church for 4 years now, and I have definitely had my struggles with it. There are so many rules and regulations which can be expected, I suppose, for a religion that has been around for hmmmm…..about two thousand years. Probably the biggest issue I have had with the Catholics is how judgmental some of them are. But then I have to realize that these are only humans who are doing all of the judging, not God. And there are plenty of judgemental Protestants, Mormons, Jews, muslims, and atheists. Humans just love to judge.
But once I start to study “those rules” I am often amazed by the history and beautifully rich traditions of The Universal Church. Which is what the word Catholic means. Because before there were a zillion other churches there was The Church. So why not hedge my bets on the oldest Christian Church on the planet? The one Jesus told Peter to start? Oliver and Isabelle, St.Guillame Le Desert, France, 1999. These trips to holy places when we had our house over there, created a desire to learn more about the church in me.
So Christians have been arguing and fighting about what Jesus really set out to do since Martin Luther nailed his opinions to the church door hundreds of years ago and started the Reformation.
Actually, they have been fighting since the church began, as research on all of the groups that broke off from the early church proves.
I recently had lunch with one of my best friends, who is consciously raising her child with no religion, which is how I too, was raised. Not that my parents were atheists. We never went to church, but I did learn some things about God and there was a general belief in him, although the specifics were somewhat vague. Both of my grandmothers, Italian and French, were devout Catholics. But one lived in New York City, the other was in Seattle, and I rarely saw them except for a few holiday visits.  I did inherit my grandmothers rosary when I was 16, after she died. It would be almost 20 years before I would learn how to use it.
But somehow I considered myself culturally Catholic. The way many non practicing jews today still consider themselves Jews.
When I asked my friend why she chose her path of no religion at all,  her answer was that since religions have caused so many wars, and been the source of so much hate between people, she doesn’t believe in any of them. She believes her child should choose what to believe for herself when she grows up. So maybe she has a point and why raise a child in a religion at all, when so many are flawed?
I didn’t really stop to think about God myself except in very abstract terms, until I was 17, and some gang members tried to car jack me. I found myself praying for my life. I was coming home from a nightclub in Hollywood with my friend Yvonne, and a car load of thugs started following us and hit the back of my car. I stopped and they pulled in front of me. Four guys jumped out with guns and started spreading out to surround us, yelling at us to get out of the car. Time seemed to stand still. In that moment I prayed to God, asking that if He was there, could he please help me?
Somehow, in that moment, I went from a scared kid to an action movie character… I turned off my car lights, threw the engine into reverse and sped down Wilshire Blvd backwards at over 40 miles an hour. Wilshire, normally a packed street was empty that night,very unusual, and I somehow hit no one. I know it was God making me drive like a stunt woman that night. I suddenly turned left onto a small street, and followed it. It became a dead end. But there happened to be two cops coming out of someone’s home, and I ran to them for help. The cops had been looking for my assailants all evening. Apparently the group had been on a crime spree, stealing cars and robbing people.

Me at 20 with Yvonne, may she rest in peace,one of my best friends, who was with me in the car that night, and Marina, still my best friend.

There have just been too many crazy stories in my life like this where I realized that yes, there was a God out there watching over me, whether I worshiped Him or not.

My stories of barely escaping peril and danger growing up in LA are many. I was pretty much a reckless idiot. I now firmly believe I had a guardian angel protecting me. So why not study and get to know more? You would think I would have rushed out to find a church at 17 after that incident, but no, I was too self absorbed at that age to think much about God and the help given to me. Unless of course, myself or someone else in my family was in danger. You can be sure that I was praying then.

It wasn’t until my now 19 and 17 year old were in preschool that I decided to join a church. I knew next to nothing about Christian religions and joined my church because I liked the old fashioned clapboard style steeple building and the sound of the members singing inside when I would drive by on my way down Topanga Canyon to Malibu. I wanted to belong somewhere and I wanted my kids to have that, too.

Topanga Christian Fellowship

We had a brief and happy membership at this church which happened to be affiliated with the Foursquare church, a Pentecostal denomination. I was baptized in our swimming pool while my husband looked on a bit skeptically. He’s not the religious type. That wasn’t part of the deal when we got married and I don’t expect him to change because I did. As the way of many small Protestant churches, our happy group fell apart when our pastor was ousted by the church board. We moved to a new area as well, and I stopped going to church.

It wasn’t until we moved to this old farmhouse that I would become a Catholic. I had been homeschooling my kids and found a small Catholic school that I liked. My two kids had been baptized by a friends cousin who was a priest when they were little, on the off chance that they might want to become Catholic someday and because in the back of my mind, I always thought of myself as Catholic.

I really knew nothing about the Catholic church and was a little worried about all of the horrible things I had been reading in the papers about predatory priests. It took about 5 years of studying, and my son getting his First Holy Communion, until I decided  I would join the church of my grandparents and the church my own parents had been raised in. It’s not perfect, and I have a lot of questions still, and doubts sometimes, but that’s OK, my priest tells me. A priest I firmly trust.

So I go to confession and each time I hope to start again. And each time I mess up. I’m trying to raise my children in a church and believe it’s the best choice for them. At times I’m a real flake about being consistent with it. But I want them to know that they aren’t alone in times of need. That they are part of a community. That yes, they will screw up like I did, but hopefully not as many times as I did, because they have a guide map. And that when they do mess up and they will, God loves them anyway. Its been twenty five years since that night in Hollywood and although I have come a long way in my spiritual life since those days, I still have a long way to go. Maybe another twenty five years.

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  1. amy mayen says

    Religion was never big in my house growing up either. I’ve got bits and pieces of religion from lots of denominations, tagging along with friends to different churches. I read the bible and try to live by His word…but I’m totally embarrassed to admit: I strongly dislike church. I always feel good after I go, like I finished a horrible chore…and I usually learn something. I have a lot of guilt, I feel like I’m not doing my daughter justice by not going to church regularly. I could blame it on the people…because sometimes “churchy” types” are the WORST, but its not just that..it’s my laziness I think. I dislike the social obligation. Not sure why I’m sharing all this for all the Internet to see…maybe readers can pray for me? I have so much to be thankful for, God has blessed me! I teach my daughter scripture and we have daily conversations about God. Maybe I’m not a total lost cause….

    Another good, thought provoking post Justine!

  2. Sew Blessed Maw says

    I honestly believe [no, I know] that God delivered you and your friends , that awful night from the thugs , who were trying to get you. Not only , did He let you drive backwards with no lights, and go down a one way street [that could have been the fatal end for you girls]..But, just at the right time, He had the police officers right there. He loves us and He is there for us.

    NO matter how many times I fail, I know He cares for me and hears my cries. God is a loving and caring God.. He wants our love also.

    I am a Baptist, but , I feel like putting a title over you, is not the important thing, I try to love the Lord and do what He would have me to do. And I must say, I fail Him miserably, but He loves me the same. Thank God .

    I have 2 grown children. One is a high school history teacher, and one is a Baptist preacher. I am very proud and thankful to God, for protecting my children and helping them through the trials of life.. and there has been some for sure.. Some times, it is so hard to know what to do.. But, I know, if only I would turn my heart and life over to God, He would lead me .

    Your friend ,that wants her children to decide their way themselves. I pray that she will decide differently.. Churches and religions do have there troubles and things that are wrong.. but God doesn’t. Children need that love and care of knowing God, and knowing that He loves them. I just can’t imagine going through the hardships of life with out my God. He is there to help through all things. one of my favorite bible scriptures are:
    Psalms 46:1– God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
    this really comforts me.. God is our strength, and I love the “present help”,
    it means right now when we are in trouble, He is there. [Just like He was for you
    many years ago.]

    My husband was raised in church and taught about God all his life. Myself.. not as much, My parents occasionally went to church.. But, I didn’t get the grounding in faith, that I wished I could have. I would love to have been taught about God , and learned all the wonderful stories in the bible.. But, I didn’t know very much at all , when I got married.

    hugs to you.. and I have to say, I am so thankful that God was there to protect you girls. I had cold chills just reading this horrific story.

    Hope you have a good weekend..

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing! I’m Catholic convert too, baptised just before I turned 20! That’s amazing that you had your children baptised in faith! Love it when God whispers (sometimes yells) in your ear!

  4. Shirley Ann says

    I too was not raised with religion; I had to find it all on my own. When we moved back to the states after the first time living overseas, now 7 years ago, I had myself and my children baptized at my husband’s parent’s church. I’m still learning too. I just wanted more of a foundation for my children than I had received, which was nothing. Now with my recent health challenges, I am sitting down and writing verses on index cards to learn. I still haven’t found a church, but I have found different ones online that I love to listen to and get their Podcasts on my ipad. I enjoyed reading your post this morning.

  5. says

    Your story was very interesting to me, I was raised just the opposite, I was raised in the Catholic religion, and believed in it, but as I got older and traditions or beliefs started to change so did I, I don’t believe that a church should change their views to please the congregation. So I decided to raise my children without religion, not to say that we don’t believe in God or pray, but I don’t believe in belonging to a congregation for the sake of it, I consider myself more spiritual than religious.

  6. says

    I totally agree with Jamie above. My child is being raised without a religion, I think at some point she will be aware of what religion/path she’ll want to follow.

  7. Claire Cooper says

    I go to church most weeks, I try to follow Jesus’ teaching and love most of my Church family. The church can get it soooo wrong and when it boils down to religious activity rather than a building a relationship with God that’s when it fails to have any relevance to everyday life. I truly believe that there is no spiritual/ secular divide and that what god wants is a people who want to follow him, love him, learn from and follow Jesus and accept that they are not perfect, but that He is. I’m still learning, getting it wrong, sometimes getting it right. I know that my Church family are in the same boat, we are not perfect, just forgiven.

  8. says

    We’re all on a journey, that’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t all have to make sense now. But on every single issue, when I’ve really looked into what the Church actually teaches about it, I have found a compassionate and thoughtful reason behind the stance. I have great faith in her wisdom.

  9. Jennifer Gregory Miller says

    Oh, that driving story is amazing! And isn’t confession such a gift?? Such beautiful thoughts you shared!

  10. Bethany says

    I love this. I too mess up a lot. I was raised in a religion, and left it for a short time. When my life was almost taken, I knew I needed to go back to God and my faith. I need to remind myself everyday, when I am complaining about something or someone in our faith, is that the people of any religion are not perfect, and neither am I. The Gospel is perfect, no matter what our minds believe or society tells us to think or accept. The Gospel will always be perfect. Even if I think differently in certain ways, my mind has more growing to do and more testimonies to build – because in the long run, the Gospel has been right all along. God has a plan for all of us. I applaud you for sharing this post. You are a major influence on others, and are strong in so many ways. Much love to you Justine.

  11. says

    Hello. Thank you for this post. Your honesty and your vulnerability. There are so many things that are taboo to talk about, but I believe if everyone has the approach that you have taken … things like religion would be much easier to talk about. We all have our own paths. And we should all be encouraged to take those paths and have our own stories, just as you have shared yours. And if we accept each other in our in our humaness (faults and all). And accept that life is not black and white. But very, very gray. Just like God is – to me gray = the grace and mercy he extends to each of us. Thank you again for this post. It was a wonderful way to start my day.

  12. says

    I was raised catholic and when I reached my twenties the questions and doubts I had made me turn away. But having that foundation was so comforting. All children need a shoulder to lean on that doesn’t judge like parents do ….even though we try not to.

  13. says

    The honesty here is lovely. I really love that you are seeking religion not just for the sake of your young children, but in order to understand where it fits in your life alongside them. We are at the point with our girl where we’re trying to decide which of our community’s churches (a newish community to us as we moved here only three years ago) best fit in with our beliefs and values. It’s no east task 🙂

  14. Jennifer says

    I had been a ‘Church Hopper” from age 12 to 29 never feeling like I really ‘fit in’ to any of the denominations, but still knowing in my heart that my God loved me and was with me. I am now settled into a Church home that truly feels like home.
    I am grateful for all the experience and wisdom gained while searching over those years. It gave me a broader picture of Christianity.
    Our God is an AWESOME God – one who loves us, protects us (as in your story), forgives us, and provides that fresh new start each day.

    So glad I found your blog 🙂

  15. says

    I loved reading this, Justine! Thank you for sharing! I have always respected the longevity and stability of the Catholic Church. There have been many times in my life that God has protected me, too, so I loved reading about his intervention in your life. Thanks again! 🙂