by Therese Gruba

I was raised in a loving God-fearing Roman Catholic family. We attended church every Sunday, on Holy Days, and often daily mass. I was taught in parochial school that Communion was a means of attaining Godís grace for the days ahead; that the Rosary was used to connect with Mary, the mother of Jesus, for extra help in getting through to God; and prayers to particular saints were used in times of great need and for special favors. I grew up believing that in order to gain Godís favor, I needed to try my hardest to be good. I hoped that my good would outweigh my bad when I stood at the gates of heaven.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a good girl in order to please God. Childhood, however, included instances of alcohol abuse, marital strife, and sexual abuse within our home. These issues contradicted what I was taught and deeply influenced my sense of right and wrong, proper boundaries and trust. In grade school I wanted to be a nun. In Jr. High, I discovered boys, so that ended that! In high school, I discovered drinking, promiscuity, feminism, me-first philosophies, and broken hearts. College in the late 70ís included drugs, parties, and a Women and Religion course. There I began to embrace the popular belief that to put God in a box from a Fundamental Christian point of view, and exclude other belief systems such as Buddhism or Pantheism, was narrow-minded. I also took issue with prayers that called God "He" or "Father," and decided instead to relate to God in an androgynous sense. I created God in my own image.

After switching my major 5 times, moonlighting as a musician, living the night life, and searching for direction and meaning to life; I was tired, lost and scared. I left school in the Spring of my Junior year and moved to be closer to my sister and family in St. Cloud, MN. She and I shared an interest in the Bible and began to hold Bible study and prayer groups. However, as sincere as we were in our attempts to understand the Scriptures, I must admit that for me it was like "the blind leading the blind." Good feelings would come and go Ė but answers, direction, and God still seemed just beyond my grasp as I continued to struggle to understand life, meaning, purpose and love.

At age 20 I was married and soon blessed with 3 sons. We had material wealth, a beautiful home, good friends, good health and good jobs. I taught Sunday school, prayed daily, had my sons baptized Ė it was what seemed to be a perfect life. But on the inside I wasnít happy. Something was still missing.

Believing the trouble to be my marriage, I sought counseling and became so depressed that by the summer of 1987, I could no longer eat. It was as if life was too much for me to swallow. I couldnít function. My doctor suggested a six month program of counseling and anti-depressant therapy. Just two weeks into this, I regained my emotions. It was a relief to feel again, but the deep restlessness did not go away.

It was then that our marriage counselor suggested a marital separation.

We never even considered this as an option, we were both shocked and confused. Yet we followed her advice in an effort to make things better. Three years later, I learned that our counselor was going through a separation from her husband at the same time.

What ensued after this was a three-year roller-coaster existence which consisted of a marital separation and ultimately divorce, and a BFA degree in Theater through which I won many awards.

While gaining this success and fame may have looked glamorous and fulfilling, on the inside I WAS DYING. You see, I was writing my own rules as I went and using my own feelings as the guide. If it felt good, it must be good; but why the good did not last, I didnít know. I really thought something was very wrong with me. It seemed like I had it all, but could not appreciate anything. I was running from this to that, all the while trying to juggle life as a single parent and trying to be the best mother I could be to my three boys.

Reality hit as I discovered how truly empty the world and its media/commercial-based messages about total fulfillment and happiness were. I tried attending Al-anon groups and a separated/divorced support group sponsored by my Catholic Church. This turned out to be a big ex-mate bash and pity-party, and I lasted only two meetings. I was much like the dreamer in Isaiah 29:8Ö when a hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite....

No matter what or who I became involved with, what seemed good to me at the start, grew burdensome with that never ending thread of emptiness woven through it.

Believing that I had turned away from God, writing my own rules as I went, I turned back to my Catholic roots and became religious. I was determined to live by Godís rules now for my rules had failed so miserably. In an attempt to please God, I spent a great deal of time in prayer. When I was a child, I remember my mother stressed one thing above all else: telling the truth. I believe her love and training were instrumental in allowing me to settle for nothing less than complete truth and carrying me through some very dreary times as I prayed through tears for God to show me what I needed to see. I thank God today for allowing that sense of emptiness to remain throughout that Spring and Summer. As I continued to seek Godís face, I specifically asked him to help me find the answers to my questions about happiness, fulfillment and true love; and that if there werenít answers, I asked Him to at least give me the right questions! In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 4, verse 29, God sets forth this promise:

But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.

Gradually, God began to fulfill His promise.

One evening that August, there was a knock at my door. It was Jim, the manager of the local grocery store, with a Bible tucked under his arm. He invited me to have a cup of coffee with him, and I thought, "Well, Lord, whatís this?" I was free to go and said that I would but only if I could drive us in my own car, not on his motorcycle. It was on the way to the restaurant that he asked me this question: "Do you know where you will spend eternity?" I said, "I thought I would go to heaven."

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"I believe in God and I love Him and I believe that Jesus died on the cross... is that right?" I asked him.

He said "yes" and then he went on to explain that the Bible says that you can know for sure now, today, where you will go when you die. God wants us to know now, before we die. There in the middle of a very popular restaurant, I swallowed some pride and allowed Jim to show me passages from the Bible that explained Godís plan of salvation for me. This was the first time I heard the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He showed me several verses:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (I John 5:11-13)

But God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

I knew that I had failed to meet my own standards for my life, much less Godís. And as I began to understand the unconditional love of God in allowing His only Son to give His life as full payment for all my sins, I was finally free to admit my need for a Savior. As I realized that by faith alone in Christ alone I could be saved from hell as the penalty for all my sins, I was then able to see myself for the first time as a sinner in need of a Savior. There was no longer any need to downplay my soulís condition in order to simply hope I was going to gain Godís acceptance or somehow trick God into agreeing with my opinion of how well I had done based on my own score card. Trusting in Christís work on the cross to get me to heaven removed the burden from me completely. What a relief! I believed in God; I believed in Jesus and that He died on the cross and now I believed He did this as full payment for all MY sins! I was no longer lost and confused. I was saved!! Two verses that really soothed my troubled conscience and ministered Godís amazing grace to my broken and contrite heart were:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:12)

After a while I prayerfully approached my priest and the deacon at the Catholic Church where I was serving as the music coordinator (in exchange for my sonís tuition for Catholic elementary school). I had done some research on the rite of infant baptism and had discovered this to be in direct contradiction with what the Scriptures taught. I had hoped that my priest could help me reconcile this practice with the Word of God. But during the meeting I realized that there simply was not a scriptural basis for the sacrament of baptism in the Catholic Church as one of the necessary things required by the church in order to be accepted by God into Heaven. On the contrary, I now understood that the Bible says Christ Jesus laid down His life for each one of us so that we, through Him, might be saved.

All God requires from us is to accept by faith that through His Sonís death, burial and resurrection from the dead, we are saved forever! That day was very important in that I witnessed for myself the necessity of knowing and understanding the Word of God for myself and not taking some manís word on this eternally significant subject.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

(2 Timothy 3:16)

I began attending a grace-oriented Bible study, and I read the book of John three times. It was my practice to read it to my boys before bed, and one by one, they each placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that same Fall. Together we all began to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ.

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby. (1 Peter 2:2)

After a year of trying to reconcile my ever increasing knowledge of the teachings of the Bible with the traditions of Roman Catholicism, I chose to resign my position as music minister and transfer the boys to public school. I also changed my career goals and decided not to move away to a larger metropolitan area in pursuit of an acting career. Godís peace followed every one of these major decisions, and the following verses became a well-worn promise for me:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It was also during this time that the Lord allowed me to fail in an attempt at doing things my way. I sought fulfillment in romance outside of Godís will and began dating a man who seemed to have it all: beauty, brains, brawn and bucks. I had explained to him that I would not date someone who was not saved. He showed an interest in the Gospel and eventually I caved in; talking myself into believing that he was saved, so I could marry him. I am thankful the Lord began to help me to see him as a chameleon. He was charming but very lost. I broke off the relationship. Not long afterwards I began to argue with the Lord about not even wanting to consider a deeper relationship with my best friend at the time... my grocer, Jim! While I was in Hungary with a theatrical production for 6 weeks, the Lord allowed me to recognize the true desires of my heart and His will for me. I found that my boys were not the only ones for whom I was heartsick. I missed my friend, Jim. I longed to hear him talk to me about the Word of God and would plan my phone calls to him out very carefully so I could cherish the verses he would give me. I did not understand what was happening to me and I fought with the Lord on this one. Jim was "not my type," I reasoned, and I was so afraid that I would do something to hurt my dear friend in Christ. "No" I said to God; but He gently softened my will to match His. I was not looking for marriage, but suddenly it all seemed very clear. Jim had stolen my heart! Our mutual desire to know God intimately was the foundation of our own intimacy, and the beginning of a romantic, exciting life as husband and wife, serving the Lord together. We have been married six years now and have added three more children for a grand total of six. Our home is built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.

Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it. (Ps. 127:1)

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

All glory to God!! Ę

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