A Jewish woman’s journey to the Kingdom of Christ
I suspect that my walk from seeker to believer started long before I was knitted in my mother’s womb.
I come from a multicultural background; I’m Italian catholic on one side and Eastern European, Jewish on the other side, and I was born and raised in a traditional Jewish home in Brussels, Belgium. Both of my parents were raised as semi-orphans. My mother lost her mom soon after childbirth, and my dad is a holocaust survivor who lost his mother as well, along with most of his family. I suppose they found solace in each other for 25 years, but both had huge holes in their hearts and were highly emotionally volatile human beings. After separating, both parents eventually remarried 30 years ago to very ‘cool and collected’ introverts and these last 30 years they slowly became the calmest and happiest I have seen them. Needless to say, my brother and I grew up in extreme emotional chaos and my survival mode was, at best, a mask of happy extroverted cheerfulness.
In Judaism – in modern Judaism anyway, whether in the community or in worship, I did not experience being known, loved, accepted, or protected. I certainly did not have an experience of being in an intimate relationship with my Creator, my heavenly Father. Being in conversation with the Almighty seemed to be meant only for special people, or the most orthodox of all. The idea of God’s delight in me or the concept of authentic prayer, confession, and worship was farthest from my mind or heart. Spontaneous prayer was a foreign experience. Praying for another from our own hearts and words? Believing that God could pour into my heart for another soul or for mine? That was not even a concept that would have crossed my radar. I never once walked out of a Synagogue having experienced God’s fullness.
All I knew is that I wanted true love. And until I found it, I would be sad, disappointed, empty, lonely and not enough on my own.
I see now, as I look back at each season of my life, I have always been anxious and discontented. Even if I appeared warm and filled with life and charisma, I was actually filled with fear, anxiety, and gigantic mood swings. I was addicted to romantic love. I chased after boys for two decades. I was used to getting attention and was an expert at receiving it. I craved connection and attachment, relevance, and to simply matter. And the only kind of relationship that filled that role temporarily was the romantic kind. I didn’t understand that I was so empty inside and had very little to offer on my own, other than charm and need, which by default, would bring each relationship to an end. I kept telling myself that the next one would be “the one.”
As a child or young adult, no one sat me down and taught me how precious I was to God. Or assured me of His protection, showing me how precious my heart, my body, my soul are to Him. The bible was taught through the Torah in Synagogue, mostly in Hebrew. The related stories in English were a reminder of our history and traditions. I wasn’t taught or assured that I am whole and known and loved by Him and through Him. That I am precious to the Almighty God. That I am enough in Him. That I am His masterpiece and to concentrate on His pursuit of me. That have my identity in Him. To recognize the gifts he has put in me and to be used for His purposes and to have Him at the center of all relationships. To love others as He loves me. To share the good news of His mercy and salvation. To know His calling for me and pursue that calling with force and fervor.
I would never blame my parents or the Jewish community for this lack. It isn’t something that can be taught if Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not in you. I therefore have no resentment toward them for this. Regret, however, is something I do feel. My only way to look back at my life before Jesus and not regret or see it as a big wasted life, is knowing scripture. It’s knowing God’s word. And knowing the Word made flesh. Thank you, Jesus, that you don’t waste anything. That I can look back at my whole life now and see where you were. Where you protected me, where you turned me around, where you moved me forward. To quote Max Lucado, “that you use every mistake, detour, and complication, and fashion it into a future of blessing.”
In the process of seeking out the meaning of life in my mid-twenties, instead of pursuing a master’s degree, I was led to a Zen Buddhist monastery on the heart of a wild river canyon in the Carmel Valley mountain range. There was no electricity and the entrance consisted of a 14-mile dangerous mountain road. It was an actual replica of a Zen monastery in Japan founded by the son of a Zen Master in Japan. I lived there for six years. I was living in monk robes, learning a great deal of Japanese and Sanskrit, and had just been made head cook within a few months. The fall and winter schedules were disciplined and arduous. We woke up at 4am to a cowbell rung up and down the path, in 20-degree weather with a small oil lamp as our only light. We scurried into the zendo for silent meditation for two hours followed by a meager little meal, still in the meditation hall and finally a tea break, study and work (chopping wood, carrying water and the likes). After two years they asked me to be director of their Meditation Hall, teaching meditation to newcomers. I was really good at following directions and rules and proper form. Except one – celibacy. I secretly got involved in many relationships. By the end of the six years, however, the world was calling me back and I left and found myself living in Hawaii.
SEASONS OF BLESSING AND TRIALS
During my life in Hawaii, I continued my streak of endless and meaningless relationships and I asked God to match me with someone the way the orthodox families do when relationships are brought together through one’s parents and friends. I still believe this to be a beautiful tradition. I forgot all about this request to God until a couple more hurtful relationships later.
I had planned on leaving Hawaii and landed a job teaching Israeli dance at a Jewish summer camp in California. Instead, I got into a bad moped accident and was knocked unconscious by a van with a family returning from church. I was hospitalized for a week and spent months recovering from broken bones in my arm and face. I have amnesia still after 20 years and don’t remember the accident to this day. I was told that the Rabbi’s wife came to the hospital to give me Shabbat candles to light and to tell me there was a special someone she wanted me to meet. We met a week later, still all broken up and bandaged up. I had a missing tooth in the front of my mouth and concussion marks under my eyes. He lived on a different Island in Maui and owned a jewelry store at the Grand Wailea Resort. He was from a family of seven sons, who were all married with children. Except for him.
I fell in love with him and his family and felt completely at home with their warmth and loving embrace. Kevin was different from his brothers. He was a combination of charm, charisma and character. But he was also very angry and had no ability to express or process frustration other than insult me and take out his anger and frustrations on me. But he was generous and wanted to take care of me. And I would joke that we were totally codependent with each other and somehow it would work.
But because I was still lacking identity and wholeness in the Almighty, I depended on Kevin for meaning, for nurturing, for being loved unconditionally. Yet he was not equipped to give me these things, nor was it his obligation. Instead, he put me down and insulted me every chance he could. I understand that it takes two and I am certain I lacked grace and patience at times. But I found all the excuses I could to blame myself for his anger. Everyone saw him as a charming, loving and generous person and he was, to everyone else. I hated that no one saw how he spoke to me behind closed doors. I was no longer just half empty or lost or discontented. I was now completely distraught and afraid I had made yet another mistake.
COMPLICATIONS, HARDSHIPS AND LOSS
I was pregnant 6 months after Kevin and I married. Unfortunately, we lost the baby midway through the pregnancy due to a genetic anomaly. It took me two years to emotionally recover. After seven years of trying to conceive again through fertility treatments, I eventually gave birth to our beautiful daughter Ava who is now 13. When she was two and a half years old, we decided it was time to leave the Hawaiian Islands and return to Southern California to place Ava in a Jewish day school and be closer to family. The moment we landed in Los Angeles, Kevin was diagnosed with bladder cancer, which left untreated can be deadly within six months to a year. He fought a good fight for six years but eventually lost his battle in July 2015. Although we had a terrible marriage, his death left me in deep inconsolable grief and depression. This was the most alone I had ever felt in my life. I was lost in hope, lost in meaning, isolated in Los Angeles, and forgotten by the Jewish community where Ava was going to school. I had no understanding of eternity, no understanding of forgiveness, no understanding of mercy, and no understanding of unconditional love.
I love how God brings believers and unbelievers alike into our world to speak to us. During this deep mourning season, I was introduced to my best friends. A family of three who, at the time, were on their own journey to find purpose in life. They were celebrities in Australia, who had given up all their belongings and were living each day with God’s provision. I offered them a place to live in our large apartment. Eventually, they introduced me to a Christian friend who had planted a seed in them of who God truly is, and this man of God patiently and lovingly did the same with me. He guided me to Christ himself. But as a Jew, this work can be painstakingly slow. My resistance was great. I had so many questions for him. And he had only one question for me; “What makes you Jewish?” I would get defensive and give all the answers any good Jewish girl would. I would describe our traditions and Shabbat and inheritance and culture. And he would ask me if I was familiar with biblical passages in regard to blood sacrifices and propitiation of sin, to which I would say, “we Jews don’t talk about that.” With a dazed look, he would ask again, “so what makes you Jewish?”
FROM SEEKER TO BELIEVER
Finally, he said “look at your bible and ask God to show you who He is and what makes you Jewish. I read the Old Testament from cover to cover, then continued into the New Testament. Reading the first chapter of Matthew and seeing the lineage going back to David was a game-changer.
I felt relieved and betrayed all at once. Relieved for what I knew was the truth revealed in our living God. And betrayed that this truth had been so carefully concealed. And above all, the truth of who God is was rejected and hated. It was sacrilegious of me to even consider the truth of who Messiah is. That God in the flesh came and died and resurrected is absolute blasphemy. I was entering scary times to genuinely face this truth.
TILLING THE WINTER SOIL
My friend would often mention that God was putting something on his heart, or that he heard God speak to him. I was so envious of this intimacy, this possibility of being in conversation with the living God! That was not a familiar narrative in my Jewish life. And so, I asked him to pray for me and to ask God to truly show Himself to me. His response was, “Regina, be careful what you pray for because once you ring that bell, you can’t un-ring it. And once Jesus enters your life, He will turn it upside down!”
I wasn’t sure whether he would pray for me or not. The next morning, I woke up feeling quite disturbed and anxious. I realized I had a vision imprinted in my mind of an unblemished baby lamb sleeping at the foot of my bed. I called my friend and told him about the dream. He paused and changed the subject. It wasn’t not until several days later that he admitted praying for me and being totally shocked by how quickly God had acted and used the image of the unblemished lamb to show me Jesus. No wonder I woke up disturbed! Of course, I had more questions for him to which he finally said, “Regina, there will come a time when you need to stop asking questions and just decide to believe.”
SOFTENED AND SEEDED
Somehow, that did it. The next day when I woke up, I knew I wanted to be baptized. He didn’t hesitate and he baptized me the next day.
Soon after being baptized, my life in Los Angeles began to change. The more I was leaning into God, the more God was leaning into me. It felt more and more uncomfortable to live in Los Angeles. I not only saw the lost all around me, especially at synagogue. Through their masks, I saw discontent. disconnect. despair. desolation. depression. The urge to leave and move near a wholesome church community became my entire focus.
BEING ROOTED IN LOVE
A month after I was baptized, I found myself in the mountains at a women’s weekend retreat. From the moment I stepped out of my car I experienced Jesus. Jesus in fellowship, Jesus in worship, Jesus bridging all our hearts together, and Jesus in all the stories and messages. On the last morning as I climbed the hill behind our cabins, snow began to fall on me ever so softly. I had just asked Jesus what I should do about leaving Los Angeles. I knew this to be the beginning of my life turned upside down and although it was terrifying it was also exhilarating. Where do I go and what do I do Lord? His answer was so simple and so doable. He said, “well, you’ll probably need to start jiggling some door handles and see what opens. If a door swings open or a door slams shut, you’ll know what’s next.” I knew that I knew that this answer was from Him.
SWING WIDE ALL YOU HEAVENS
Within a month we found a perfect little rental in Irvine, about an hour south of Los Angeles, in a quiet neighborhood close to Mariners Church, where I had been driving for an hour to and from each Sunday. I also found a good private school for Ava, but it was really far from our new home – but Jesus…The door was swung wide open. I was moving forward! At the time of our move in early July, Jesus even planned Ava’s future for eternity into the story. During VBS week at Mariners Church, she stayed with friends near Mariners church while I moved us from Los Angeles. I had no idea what VBS even was, but I figured a week of summer camp at church couldn’t hurt. Following VBS and our move, Ava almost immediately began summer school at Carden Hall, as she needed to get caught up academically on so many subjects to stay in her grade.
THE HARVEST BEGINS
On July 17, 2017, a day or two after VBS was over, Ava handed me a little note one night (she must have been too afraid to ask). It read, “Mom, can I be baptized?” Needless to say, I still have the note. It’s the most precious thing I own.
The moment we moved to our new home, we found ourselves immersed in church life. I was registered for three Bible study classes over eight weeks. I made 300 new friends during that time. I was full. I was joyful. I was in Heaven! I was also deep into discipleship. God was now in the business of taking my heart of stone and transforming it into a heart of Flesh.
I finally caught my breath and settled into my new routines, which involved almost daily attendance at Mariners for worship and serving, Bible studies, yoga classes, and adjusting to Ava’s life at her school as a new parent.
HE EQUIPS THE CALLED
Every event or ministry at Mariners Church began and ended with prayer. These prayers were always encouraging, loving and edifying. The words etched on my heart after each prayer were. “I want to know how to pray like that.”
The prayer team pastor kept asking me to join the prayer team, but I kept telling him ‘No, not yet’. I felt ill-equipped and intimidated and yet the invitation stayed on my heart. I didn’t realize that God often speaks by invitation, and if you don’t hear him, he will keep asking and nudging. I finally heard him. I joined the prayer team and found myself praying for others at the end of services. For weeks my inner critic or the enemy would have a field day criticizing how I prayed. But God, in His grace and love and mercy, showed me to ignore those voices and keep going. Within weeks, I was praying for staff and God had even more planned than I could ever imagine. It turns out that the moment you step in faith to his invitations, He makes life abundant.
DON’T BE AFRAID
I agreed to be on the prayer team for a large event at Mariners with a surprise guest and the next thing I know I am being dragged very reluctantly to the green room. Janice Freeman needs prayer? THE Janice Freeman who was on The Voice and occasionally joins our worship team on Sundays? “Nope! Sorry, no way!” I went straight to NO.
Janice’s eyes were downcast, she appeared to be in deep sorrow and didn’t look at us as we walked to pray for her. We stood behind her, laid hands on her and began to pray. Next thing I know my best friend who dragged me into the prayer room said, “they are calling me to the stage for rehearsal, continue to pray for Janice and I’ll be back.” Again, feeling totally intimidated and ill-equipped I fumbled along with prayer the best I could. I felt led by the Holy Spirit to massage her shoulders for a moment and I could see that she was beginning to weep and urged me to continue and mentioned how much it was helping her. I quieted my prayer, listened, and let my hands be the prayer. I have no idea how much time went by, but Janice was called to the stage. She never saw me come and she never saw me go. I never approached her to introduce myself and I loved that this was a completely anonymous act of love and surrender. Prior to this, I didn’t really do anonymous. I craved attention, affirmation and acknowledgment. But I knew I had been spirit-filled in that green room. And that was fulfillment enough.
I shared this story with a friend whom, at the time, I didn’t realize was authorized to invite prayer team members to join The Well, our new prophetic prayer team ministry. He invited me on the spot. I immediately responded with a no! I wasn’t ready. And my friend reminded me, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” And God, in his goodness, did just that. I have been mentored, poured into and encouraged into this ministry ever since.
This ministry literally forces me to forget about me and get on my knees with the Lord for others. To trust Him. To wait on Him. To listen to and for Him. To dive into the Word. To be taken over by the Holy Spirit. To trust an image or a word he may have given me. My listening muscles getting stronger.
A NEW SEASON: MORE TILLING
All that listening led me to Shiloh’s Holy Yoga class at Mariners Church. As class ended, I told Shiloh I felt the Lord urge me to start a Holy Yoga teacher training. And she said, “today is the last day to sign up. Immersion is in May. Go purchase your plane ticket first!” Over the next three hours, I paid for the training, the plane tickets, downloaded the manual, got online and sat face to face with Jonnie! So, for eight weeks I had open heart surgery with Jonnie, Brooke and Brenda in small groups, Jesus all the while was keeping me still. And then there was Immersion.
Where my old self and new self collided with all our amazing leaders at Holy Yoga Immersion. Social Media is not exactly my gift or interest, but I forced myself to ask several Godly women half my age to disciple me into Instagram. And one post later, a Mariners Church friend invited me to teach a monthly class in our brand new Special Needs ministry for exceptional adults and families which began the day after I returned from Immersion.
DECISION AND PREPARATION
God is a gentleman. He invites us. He waits for us. He prepares us each time for the next season. Post immersion, I was led to Trauma Sensitive Yoga and Leadership Development, both of which would begin online during the same summer. Oh my. More heart surgery. Thank you for the humility of “you can’t teach what you don’t know.” I must see and acknowledge and deal with the trauma in my own life before I can ask Jesus to guide me and help me breathe life into others. As the Trauma-Sensitive and Leader Development overlapped for a couple weeks, I wanted to run away. I wanted to escape. Excuses began to pile up for not doing the work. Ava needed me. I’m not spending enough time with her. I must prepare for a class. It was time to listen to what Jesus was doing once again. When Brooke taught week four of Leadership Development last week, her prayer began with “Till the Soil, Lord. Soften it. Show us what you want us to know Lord. Do it! Jesus, Come.”
UNPACKING THE TRUTH
That image of the hard soil being tilled and softened before the planting begins was stunning. The seeds Jesus planted in my garden this week through Brooke’s urging were decision and preparation. And I saw instantly that in committing to teaching Holy Yoga, my old ways wouldn’t hold up. I had to make the decision to believe I could lead, teach, have faith, repent and confess to Jesus I needed help with being prepared. If I didn’t, there was too much that could go wrong. (And I confess to Him and you now that my need to be relevant, my desire for performance and my strives to be spectacular actually helped me to be more prepared). Now I had to unpack what was motivating me. The truth was surfacing. I can’t say thank you enough to Holy Yoga for all it is revealing and transforming in me in the Leadership Development study. To come face to face with the hard truth with our earthly selves. Our deep-seated and unconscious defense mechanisms. So many of them to admit and repent. To come to our knees in confession and repentance is our freedom. To confess I couldn’t do this without the Lord. To confess how easily I was offended. How easily I defend myself to my own daughter. How easily I crumbled under anyone’s criticism.
ON MY KNEES – WHERE FREEDOM REIGNS
I knew deep in my heart that lack of preparation was my weakness. That I specialized in doing things by the seat of my pants. I also waited and expected for life to happen TO me. Not with me planning, deciding and preparing. Since Kevin had passed away, I had to make all my own decisions, financial, provision, education, and parental. And I had, for some time, been doing all of it by the seat of my pants, with my hands on my eyes as blinders, throwing darts into the wind. But once I confessed, once I came down on my knees in repentance and asked for help, love came down. The more I leaned on Him, the more He had to say.
It all slowly began to change as Jesus entered my life. He was now keeping me accountable, guiding me to agents on earth who gave me guardrails and nudged me to safer pastures. I had pastors, mentors, elders, friends, and teachers speaking into my life now. A true, abundant and fruitful harvest to eat from, chew on and very slowly, at my Lord’s invitation, to perhaps one day pour into others.
GREATER THINGS THAN THESE
Although, I still have a really hard time with certain aspects of preparation, (like writing reminders down, making lists and checking things off), I finally saw the consequences of holding things only in my brain instead of on paper or in my phone. My own resentment at never being a ‘professionally licensed anything’ (until Holy Yoga training) was finally overcome. And doors keep opening for more invitations to more responsibilities. God is on the move. I was just invited to serve in a few more ministries. I now coordinate memorial services at Mariners when needed. And the pastor of prayer is mentoring and grooming me to occasionally host our mid-week worship in chapel, which has been my favorite day and hour of the week these last couple of years. An experiential and organic worship hour. I can’t quite believe I am being invited to partner with Jesus during that hour and be his co-pilot while we praise and worship, offer a word and watch him heal, restore and inspire.
If you’re still with me my sweet brothers and sisters, I invite you my to continue listening and engaging where the Lord is leading you. May this Fall season be one filled with discernment, that the Lord gives you a heart to see and notice the bountiful harvest He is preparing in you and to share your testimonies and see how it feeds hungry souls around you.
I am excited to read and relive with you the stories of the Living God in your hearts and see what He is about to do next.
In his firm and loving grip, your sister in Christ –