Two events happened in a six-month span that led me to dedicate my life to the Christian faith and never turn back. The first was the death of my Dad, and the second was when a beloved, Joey, ended his life. My dedication to New Age nonsense came to an abrupt end because it offered nothing.
Sargent Joseph Nelson
Joey was my daughter’s best friend—they were peas in a pod. Throughout middle and high school, I used to joke that they wore groves in the pavement walking back and forth to each other’s homes so frequently. He was a son to me.
Long story short, in his early 20s, Joey joined the Marines. In his 4th year of service, he sustained a debilitating injury to both his shoulders. After many surgeries and with large metal rods holding him together, the Marines no longer wanted him and granted him an honorable discharge.
At first, he transitioned to civilian life well, going to college and working on a degree in accounting. And then the seizures started. Although the military diagnosed them as epileptic seizures, they weren’t. Instead, every muscle in his body violently tightened in unison and he stayed locked in one massive contraction. He always lost consciousness during an attack. The VA’s solution was drugs. At one point, he was on 7 different psychiatric meds as well as opiates for pain. He dropped out of school and started doing a lot of street drugs along with the VA prescriptions. He cut off contact with all of us who didn’t do drugs, changed his phone, and moved to Reno, NV.
On the morning he took his life, he was coming down from a 3-day binge and functioning on no sleep. He had an appointment with his VA psychotherapist, which he actually kept. We know that his therapist talked to him about rehab because Joey left the information packets on his bed. Along with the rehab information, he laid out his numerous guns (the Marines brainwashes the few, the proud, the brave to LOVE their guns before God, country, and family), selected one, walked to the local park and shot himself in the head. It was 9 days before Christmas and he was 30 years old. It was and remains devastating.
Where did he go? Will we see him again? Do Heaven and Hell exist? Will this nebulous being called God be merciful to our beloved Sargent Joseph Andrew Nelson? Does the Christian faith have the answers? I pray for his Holy Soul.
Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I found myself walking through the valley of the shadow of death and the only one there was God. As I travelled that bleak landscape, my heart opened and I wanted to know God. I wanted to know my God—not some exotic god of distant times and places. With my advanced degree in Anthropology, I had always prided myself on my knowledge of strange deities from around the world past and present. Arrogantly, I would make cynical remarks about my lack of knowledge of the Christian faith. “Who needed Him? All the other deities are so much more colorful and interesting,” I’d claim. Now, the yearning in my heart was to know the god of my ancestors and my culture; the one named Jesus Christ. My decision to live the rest of my life with Christian faith was set in stone.
Studying the Faith
During that time, I read and studied, discovered EWTN and the brilliant Venerable Fulton Sheen, listened to conversion testimonies on the Journey Home program and attended Mass faithfully. I was amazed at how many aspects of the Church have been secularized, repackaged and literally sold to the public. For example, how psychology and psychiatry replaced confession and deliverance; how so called New Age healing and meditation replaced anointing and an incredible meditative prayer tradition of 2,000 years. I was floored when I heard Bishop Sheen say, in the 1950s, that you “can judge how well a society is doing by how they treat their women.” In the field of Anthropology, this was thought to be a revolutionary idea “discovered” in the late 1990s by feminist ethnographers! I am captivated by the remarkable intellectual tradition of the Church and I’m also stunned by the brilliant logic upon which everything is built.
Jesus is Truth
Coming in from the outside, I had a malformed idea of Jesus as Mr. Love. The broad cultural messaging around Jesus is that He’s love, He loves everyone, He loves me, He loves you, He loves enemies, smack him in the face and he’ll turn the other cheek so you can do it again, and on and on. I have no idea why or where all this lovey dovey cultural characterization comes from. Personally, I think it’s nebulous and misleading. Remember, I was raised right next to the City of Love. Love to me was “All You Need is Love,” “Hello, I Love You,” and, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” In other words, in my cultural upbringing, love was secular, changeable, and pretty meaningless. That is certainly not what I found when I read the Gospels.
In the Gospels, the Jesus I encountered is Truth. He is the Word (logos) made flesh and he “dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Nowhere does it say he’s “full of grace and love, or love and truth.” Why? Because truth has to precede love. Truth, not love, will set you free (John 8:32). People, this floored me! Like one massive tidal wave, John 1:14 and 8:32 washed away all my preconceived ideas of who this great one named Jesus was.
Jesus, like God the Father, is tough, unrelenting, confrontational, fearless, bold, lionhearted, and even harsh if need be. Truth isn’t always pretty and, likewise, neither were all the words of Jesus (for example, see John 8:44). The lessons we need to learn aren’t always easy and overflowing with love. Truth must be present before we can even get to love. While I don’t want to minimize or dismiss the role of love in our Savior’s ministry, He’s a whole lot more. Praise be to God!
©2018 Anne Manyak
Photograph – Anne Manyak