Thursday, March 12, 2009

Joy, a Former Atheist turned Christian

I was still what those in the newspaper industry call a "cub reporter," in my early to mid 20s and trying to establish myself as a journalistic force.

The newspaper ... you can't make this stuff up ... was called "The Cecil Whig," and it was tucked in the northeast corner of Maryland.

Joy was my competitor.

She was about 10 years my senior, and she worked at the much larger newspaper across the state border in Delaware. We often found ourselves covering the same courtroom stories and trying to scoop each other.

It was during one such stint -- a trial of a Bonnie-and-Clyde wanna-be bank-robbing couple -- that Joy and I finally bonded.

As we'd wait for lawyers to emerge from the judge's chambers, or for the prisoners to be brought from their cells, or for the jury to return, we learned about each other's lives ... and about each other's beliefs.

Joy learned that I was a Christian.

I learned that Joy was an atheist.

For the most part, we talked about the best places to get crab cakes and the hot spots in nearby Baltimore. Sometimes we discussed her 5-year-old daughter.

And occasionally, Joy would ask me a spiritual question.

I got another job soon after that in Pennsylvania. Joy continued to write and call. She'd bring her daughter up to my little apartment for weekend visits and treks to the Gettysburg battlefield. All the while, in the background of our benign chit chat, the issue of God's existence hovered.

Then one day I received a call from Joy. She was sick with breast cancer. Could she come for a visit?

I didn't recognize her. Her rosy face was now drawn and jaundice-yellow. Her frame, thin before the sickness, was now skeletal. Her beautiful auburn curls had been replaced by a bald scalp, covered by wigs and scarves.

She said she'd come to tell me something important in person.

She had accepted Jesus into her heart. She was a Christian now.

"And it's because of you that I figured it out," she said.

She died about a year later.

When I think about Joy, I feel very peaceful. I'm really looking forward to seeing Joy again in the afterlife.

This past week as I have debated with atheists via the Proud Atheist blog site, and now through follow-up emails that some are sending me because of the discussion, I reflect about Joy.

I realize that in this age of the Internet, we lack something essential -- that of personal connection. I have been through a series of emails with one atheist in particular, because we have miscommunicated due to lack of visual body language. We have worked out our communication hurdles and now are engaged in a constructive dialogue.

But that wasn't the case with others who I have encountered, including the Proud Atheist site owner.

He said something that jarred me: "You may not like me or my beliefs ..." and then went on with his thought.

Well ... it's true I don't like the fact that he's blaspheming the One I love.

But actually he would be surprised to learn that I like him just fine.

I actually don't know him, so how could I dislike him? However, if we were continuing the conversation in the manner I conversed with Joy, I wonder if the outcome would be different. I bet it would be. Maybe he and I have similar political views. Maybe he enjoys the same types of hobbies. Maybe he's a really great dad. I don't know anything about him -- only the views he expressed on the Internet.

I think it's important in this age of technology that Christians look hard at this dynamic. It's true that we have opportunities never before available to us to communicate the love of Jesus. But we have to be really careful about misusing them, or misconstruing what people are saying -- or getting angry at them without knowing them.

I'm guilty of that. Are you?

What issues have you encountered?

How can I pray for you?


  1. Getting to know someone in person really does change the complexion of a conversation. Body language tells us a lot. Anrgy words don't necessarily mean a angry person;maybe,just someone who is angry about bad things that have happened for which there is no closure. So many "whys" remain unanswered, so it is easy to get angry.How much harder it is to talk out difficulties in a civil manner. Still harder to share really important feelings with strangers on the internet. I like it that God is everywhere...even on the internet!

  2. Hi
    what a bittersweet story of your friend, she sounded like she was a pretty amazing woman to go from one place to the opposite end of the spectrum by the example of one person! I really do believe that our Heavenly Father puts people across our paths for a variety of reasons, you and Joy found yours and more!!
    Our church leaders have counselled us to use the internet wisely, not only reiterated the pitfalls of the internet but also encouraged us to share the gospel with it too. I guess i am a wuss, i dont go in for religious debate online because i'm feared of offending or upsetting someone with the lack of expression and body language BUT i do use my blog and my family stories to portray the Lords hand in our lives, our home and the gospel.
    I wish i had just a portion of your courage and strength to ''debate'' online but i guess that just wasnt my forte!! ;)
    I'm so glad I found your blog, its such an uplifting one to read!!

  3. Hi Debs!
    So glad we have found each other, and I'm enjoying your blog, too.
    With respect to the advice of your church leaders -- that is very sage advice! I have learned the hard way about using the Internet, even in the way that I debate others. The anonymous nature of it allows people to say the worst things possible to each other. By the same token, the temptation is there for us to do likewise, especially if they start mocking us or the One we love.
    The difference, though, is that Jesus teaches us to be "meek," and that's not to say that we have to be mamby-pamby. That is to say that we may have the strength to combat them, but that we choose to treat them with love.
    My tendency is to want to put people in their places. This is my personality, and it's a trait that I am not proud of. I always have to pray for "meekness," or the ability to be kind when treated with disrespect and hatred, despite the fact that I have the vocabulary and ability to dish it right back at them.
    By the way, if you ever feel like a "wuss," just pray for God to strengthen you and give you courage when courage is needed. He doesn't call all of us into the lion's den on a regular basis, but should you find yourself there, He will embolden you in more ways than you can possibly imagine. I've seen it happen in my life countless times!
    Thanks for your nice comments and talk to you soon.