I grew up in a loving, Christian home and my parents were missionaries in Southeast Asia for a few years as well. From my earliest memories I was learning scripture and Bible history. Every Wednesday and Sunday I was at church and every summer I was at church camps. There was never a time in my childhood where I wasn’t hearing about God, His love for me, and how to develop a deep and lasting relationship with Him. Yet, I misunderstood what Christianity was all about but I didn’t even realize that I had it wrong. I somehow managed to come away from the church of my youth thinking I had a checklist of things to do in order to be a “real” Christian. Do this devotional, pray this kind of prayer, sing these songs, wear these kinds of clothes, don’t drink that, don’t say that, give this amount of money to the church, read your Bible every day, go to church every Sunday; check, check, check. But why did I still feel so alone and empty? I didn’t understand what was missing. I was doing everything I thought I was supposed to do!

"Reading tarot cards gave me an

immediate answer to the questions I asked."

As I grew older, I became more aware of this emptiness and disconnect and I desperately wanted this emptiness to be filled by something, anything, but I didn’t know what. I clearly wasn’t finding it in what I thought church was so I secretly began exploring other options. I got married young to my high school sweetheart and my husband and I joined a church where we lived. We made friends and I loved it! I became friends with a woman there who had similar interests as myself, in things that were deemed “taboo.” I saw her as a strong Christian who also seemed perfectly at home using tarot cards and she practiced something called Reiki, she likened it to praying and reading the Bible. Reading tarot cards gave me an immediate answer to the questions I asked. It was more tangible than what I thought Christianity was. Her warped ideas about Christianity fueled my confusion. When some church members found out about my new practices, they confronted me. I became frustrated because when I asked them what made reading the bible versus reading tarot cards so different, they couldn’t answer me and they became defensive and hurtful. Instead of having someone talk to us in a loving, private, and Godly sort of way my husband and I were called out in front of our whole church, humiliated, and asked to leave. No grace, no love, no one coming along side of us to help explain everything. My husband bounced back. I didn’t.

 "I began to seek out ways to study and practice paganism

more with others because I felt so alone,

and that led me to discovering a local coven."

I was hurt, confused, bitter, and angry. I allowed all of that to drive me farther from Jesus and I decided I wanted nothing to do with church and I wanted nothing to do with who I thought God was. I was never going to fit the Christian mold that was presented to me. I could never fulfill those rules and the things that were expected of me. I didn’t realize though that true Christianity wasn’t really about any of that. My husband and I moved states and I began to seek out ways to study and practice paganism more with others because I felt so alone, and that led me to discovering a local coven. I vowed to join this coven and began a yearlong course of studying. Eventually, I began practicing paganism openly and no longer in secret. Paganism and witchcraft weren’t totally out of left field for me; I had always been interested in other cultures, religions, and anything “taboo” and paganism seemed easy to follow and the community was very friendly and welcoming. My situation with my old church was more just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had been disgruntled with what I thought Christianity was for many years at this point. I made some amazing friends within the Pagan community and my coven and felt like I had maybe found that thing I had been missing my whole life. Maybe paganism could fill that deep void I felt! But it never did.

"Until I learned that true faith in Jesus Christ wasn’t a check-list religion,

it was about developing a relationship with God, I was going to continue

to feel stuck, no matter what faith I pursued."

There was always that gnawing emptiness. I just got better at building walls and blocking those feelings out. Over the years I would flip flop between Paganism and Christianity; always going back to Paganism though because it was easier for me to understand and “succeed” at and because I kept trying to treat Christianity like a checklist of to-do’s and it was impossible to maintain. I do remember thinking about the things I was doing and I knew, deep in my heart, that what I was doing wasn’t right but I just couldn’t bear going to church because I thought people and God would judge me and belittle me. I knew I didn’t really want to be involved in witchcraft, yet I felt like I could never be free of it. I had literally dedicated my life to it and the coven. I found it too seductive, the false sense of control, and the worship of nature that catered to my romantic hippie side, and my sheer stubbornness and pettiness to shun anything having to do with Christianity because of what happened in the past. Witchcraft also soothed my desire for a checklist-like, mindless faith. Do this ritual, say this chant, and get this supposed result; Mindless and easy. Much easier a pagan check-list than the Christian check-list I had tried to maintain. Until I learned that true faith in Jesus Christ wasn’t a check-list religion, it was about developing a relationship with God, I was going to continue to feel stuck, no matter what faith I pursued.

"I knew paganism was wrong but I was just too hurt,

confused, and stubborn to ever give God a second chance."

Meanwhile, I quietly watched the way my family lived their Christian lives and I noticed a disconnect in the way they lived and the things they told me about God versus what I thought about God and the church. I couldn’t figure out what made their faith so different than what I had tried to do before leaving the church. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for them with me making fun of their faith, loudly boasting about my pagan faith, and then in my rare moments when I’d let my walls down, confessing to them I knew paganism was wrong but I was just too hurt, confused, and stubborn to ever give God a second chance. I didn’t know how much my family, especially my mom, would spend hours praying for me, fighting for me, never giving up on me, always knowing God was lovingly and relentlessly perusing me. My family would ask how they could help me and I would just tell them to pray for me because my heart was hardened, like pharaoh’s heart of stone.

"... while visiting my twin sister and her husband’s church,

I decided if I was going to go, I was at least going to wear

my pentagram necklace and look as mean as possible."

My family talked about a loving Heavenly Father and would tell me things like “with Christ there is no condemnation” and they didn’t shun me or belittle me about my beliefs. Now, of course, they didn’t agree with them but they loved me regardless and continued to show me grace and mercy in everything. Sometimes they would even convince me to go to church with them. I remember one such time, while visiting my twin sister and her husband’s church, I decided if I was going to go, I was at least going to wear my pentagram necklace and look as mean as possible. Silly, I know, but I didn’t want anyone talking to me and I wanted to make it very obvious I didn’t want to be there. So, I put my pentagram on and my sister took one look at it, smiled and reassured me no one would care about it and they’d be happy to see me. I scoffed at her. We’d see about her “no condemnation” thing! They’d take one look at me and talk about me behind my back and avoid me.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will

put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from

your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” - Ezekiel 36:26

We got to her church, she introduced me, and wouldn’t you know it these people were wonderful! They talked to me, invited me to lunch, and wanted to add me as a friend on Facebook, and it was genuine! That seemed so backwards to me from what I had experienced but it piqued my curiosity and made me want to know more. Perhaps there really was something more to Christianity that I missed when I was younger. So, I started going to some bible studies, actually reading the Bible, and trying to learn more. I was driving home one day after a Bible study session with my sister-in-law and I felt like God was speaking to me and gave me a verse. So, I pulled the car over and looked up the scripture. It was Ezekiel 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” I couldn’t believe it! Not only had God heard me all those years when I would tell my family to pray for my stone heart but He deeply desired my freedom and healing from my own condition. I dedicated my life to Jesus that very hot summer day in 2015. God didn’t speak to me through tarot cards or the rituals we performed in the coven, he spoke to me and answered in the most intimate way; a still small voice speaking through His scriptures. So, did I change right away? Absolutely not.

"I didn’t know just how vital having a good

church was in my budding Christian faith."

In my heart and spirit, the moment I became a Christian, I was a brand-new creation in Christ, but it took my outward self, and my thoughts a few years to reflect that. I struggled for a couple of years because witchcraft, and my warped mentality of what Christianity was, still had a hold of me. I had to really dig deep and reread and relearn everything I thought I knew about God. I also went through periods of time where I’d totally stop going to church because I thought I could do all of this on my own. I didn’t know just how vital having a good church was in my budding Christian faith. The more I discovered about the true nature of God, and watching God’s love displayed in my family towards me and others, helped me in the process of leaving all of my old way of life behind. I was started on a path of discovering who God really was and how he felt about me. There were a lot of walls I had built up and lies I had told myself over the years that the Lord had to help me tear down. I just had to remind myself to be patient, that God still loved me, to keep praying and reading my Bible, and getting to know my heavenly Father. I really realized just how important it was to have Godly people around me! I needed that encouragement from other Christians to keep me going when things got tough and when I would start to feel discouraged. My family was, and is, such a blessing to me! A couple of years after I become a Christian, I had some major events happen in my life and I really decided to make drastic changes in the way I lived because at times I was still toeing the line and living in the shadows and by bringing everything to the light it helped propel me further on my path of reconciliation and learning what God’s character is really like.

"The way that God see’s and love’s me is the same

way God see’s and loves his own son, Jesus."

I finally realized I couldn't change myself but God could and He could give me strength! Things really started to click more for me. Christianity isn’t about trying to achieve everything on this “perfect Christian to-do list” it’s about God’s incredible mercy, His love for us and our relationship with Him! I couldn’t see myself how God truly saw me. Part of John 15 and John 17 says something along the lines of, “I love you with the same love that the Father loves me.” I didn’t realize just how revolutionary that is! The way that God see’s and love’s me is the same way God see’s and loves his own son, Jesus. It was never about my works! It’s all about God’s mercy and love for me and what Jesus did for me and that is a mind blowing, life changing revelation. That kind of love took that check-list and blew it right out of the water! I didn’t pray, read my bible, and go to church because I had to do them, I do those things because I want to do them! Because I love God and God loves me and I want to continue to build and strengthen my relationship with Him. Just like how I love my husband but our marriage takes consistent work. In the same way I have to work on my relationship with God. It isn’t just something where you take your vows and then never talk to each other! It's no wonder I felt empty and disconnected before. I had God all wrong! My family really embodied that Godly love and relationship and it was, and is, incredible to see. They continue to challenge me in my faith and encourage me and I love being able to talk to them about the things God is doing in my life. I definitely wasn’t perfect even after realizing this and I’m still not but God is leading and guiding me into this incredible revelation of what He’s really like.

"... paganism and life without Jesus is hollow and useless."

In 2017 my dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer, I found out I was pregnant, then my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I gave birth to my son, and then both my parents died within five months of each other. I wasn’t able to be with my dad when he died but I was with my mom for a few months before she passed and I have never seen anyone with the faith of my mom. She was terminal, there was absolutely nothing that could be done for her, but she never wavered in her faith. I wondered if I was in her position would I have been like how she was? Would I really trust the rope, that is Jesus, could truly hold me safely over the pit I was dangling over? I was faced with some difficult situations that forced me to confront some uncomfortable truths and my beliefs about paganism were further confirmed; paganism and life without Jesus is hollow and useless. I needed the real comfort and truth that’s only found in Christ. The comfort and truth my family had always displayed for me; even when I was screaming about their God. The kind of faith my mom clung so fiercely on to. And here I am now. Sometimes, I still struggle in life, as we all do and will, but I know my relationship with Jesus is an ever-evolving process and he’s leading me through it all. I know if it wasn’t for God and the support of my family, I wouldn’t have been able to leave behind my old life and habits. I don’t want the mindless, easy checklist faith of my past. I’ve seen and felt the empowering, life-changing love of a real relationship with Jesus Christ and I’ve happily and wholly devoted my life to God and to getting to know Him more and more and I don’t ever want to go back.

 

Haley McLean is a 31-year-old mother to a rambunctious toddler boy and has been married to her U.S. Marine husband, Jon, for over 12 years. She was born in north Georgia to a British mom and an American dad, has an identical twin sister, and an older brother. She spent many summers of her youth accompanying her parents on mission trips all over the world and eventually her parents became missionaries in northern Thailand. After her family moved back to the U.S. she met her future husband in high school. She was married a couple of years after graduating high school and has supported her husband in their many around-the-world moves, deployments, and adventures with the military; all while juggling her own work as a running specialist and now as a mother. Haley is a self-proclaimed nerd and uses her odd passions, like anime, cosplaying, and video games, as a way to reach “fringe” communities that wouldn’t normally come into contact with many Christians. Haley and her husband love mentoring teenagers and created a small home group called ‘Christ, Comics, and Cosplay’ which they use to help encourage young believers to be bold in their faith while also finding a Godly balance between their interests and living a life wholly committed to God. The group also provides a less intimidating place for nonbelievers to come and learn more about Jesus and there have been many incredible opportunities to spread the gospel and love of God to the youth where they live. Haley and her family currently live in south Florida and can be caught any given weekend at Disney World. You can contact her at haley.mclean@yahoo.com.