“I’m just a little baby Christian, I don’t know how much I have to share,” Leanne confesses in our interview via Zoom in November. No doubt, the Apostle Paul would have felt similarly. Very aware of his life before meeting Christ, Paul came from that experience on the Road to Damascus utterly changed. He had been journeying there with the intent to persecute Christians when Jesus intervened (Acts 9). Saul’s assistants observed the whole thing, hearing the Lord’s voice just as Saul had. They also certainly would have observed the later change in their master. Jesus then led Saul and his companion travelers to Ananias, a Christian in Damascus. Ananias knew of Saul but was afraid to help him lest he be persecuted. But Ananias, through the Holy Spirit, healed Saul of his blindness and baptized him. Convinced of his encounter with Jesus and his rescue from his sin, the new apostle preached in the synagogues he’d been planning to oppress.
Leanne grew up in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada, a small town of approximately 5,000 people when she lived there. Even today, the town is home to only 30,000 residents. Cochrane was the original Western Canadian town, with beautiful landscape surrounding every angle, the Bow River winding through and onto Calgary, and the “big city” 30 minutes away. Leanne’s parents traveled back and forth to Calgary for work every day, but on the weekends they all attended the local Catholic parish as everyone in her immediate and extended family were Catholic. She attended Catholic school as a young child, which was very small. “As far back as I remember, we prayed before dinner…being Catholic there were all these ‘templates’ for prayers at certain times.” Her time in Cochrane was surrounded by similar families and friends, her classmates in the Catholic school. “I don’t think I was ever encouraged to have a relationship with God, or really get to know who God was,” Leanne reflects, but she definitely remembers getting ready for “reconciliation,” the Sacrament of Confession. Having studied and prepared for it in her religion classes and chapel at school, she was so nervous. “Sin wasn’t really talked about. I had a list of things I’d done that I knew were bad, [like] eating goldfish crackers when my mom told me not to…and some other things. I was told by the priest to go into the pew and say a bunch of Hail Marys or Our Fathers. And that was it.”
The family decision to move to Calgary when Leanne was about 12 or 13 came as a disappointment to her. She shares that she was really unhappy and “fell into the wrong crowd.” Out of curiosity, she developed bulimia and started smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Of that time of her life she says, “I didn’t have faith, I had the motions of saying the [right things], but I didn’t know who Jesus was. I didn’t have truth.”
During her time of walking through some tough stuff and in a dark time, she met a Catholic girl at school who really loved God and was connected to a great church with great people. Although she continued to struggle with using alcohol, drugs, and the grip of an eating disorder, she felt at home with this group of God-loving people. The Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church is something young people usually progress through around 7th or 8th grade, and Leanne did it too. But, she admits, “I’m confirming I will go to church once a week. It just wasn’t a big deal. And, well, that didn’t stick.”
In high school, Leanne’s battle with drugs really took hold, causing her to get in trouble with the law and become alienated from her family. “I was not to be trusted,” she acknowledges. It seemed desperate and dark, cold like the Calgary winters which make rural roads undriveable. “I just fell apart…I honestly don’t remember much,” she humbly shares. Trying to find truth during high school, Leanne fell back on practices her mother had shared: yoga, mediation, wearing crystals, reiki, energy healing, and the like. (Although her family attended Mass, their at-home practices were different and varied, inclusive of all faith systems.)
Around age 20, Leanne began to walk away from her drug addictions. “I’m a very convicted human. When something isn’t right, it just isn’t right anymore. There were a lot of things that led to me quitting drugs, like seeing friends and strangers die [from drugs].” She realized that she could not have success and have drugs. She knew she needed more education to be able to have a good job, and doing drugs wouldn’t help her do that, “So it was like, ‘see ya!’”
She clarifies that she still struggled with other addictions, specifically smoking, alcohol, and her eating disorder. “I just swapped what I was addicted to. That’s really when the seeking energy got started. [It was like] if I do all these things, I can fix myself. If I can just balance all these things, everything will be okay!” And for the short-term, her hard work worked! She graduated high school, got a job, and things started to improve (although her bulimia was an accepted part of her life at that point).
Up until recently I thought that I could do it all myself, and if I just figured out that one thing, everything would be okay. I knew it existed, it was man-made, and I could find it. But that one thing was always changing. Thin. Strong. Fast. Wife. Writer. If I can be good at this one thing, then I’ll be happy. No matter what I did, there was this unsettling hole that I couldn’t fill. I tried it with drugs, sex, everything. It was still there.
Paul, or Saul rather, wasn’t that different. Surely, and this is speculation on my part, he was looking for that “one thing” too. Surely he was trying to find that last piece to the puzzle. He knew the Hebrew Bible, he knew the laws and the traditions. He’d been presented with Jesus, but rejected Him and His followers “violently.” And lo and behold, that “one thing” appeared on the road. That “one thing” got in his way so he couldn’t go around or run away. The “one thing” disabled him so that he would know His power to change. Only God knew the next steps on the path of Paul, just as he knew the steps for our sister Leanne. Giving Paul respect in his culture, wisdom, and skill to support his ministry after his conversion, he also provided a megaphone for spreading the truth and grace of Jesus Christ. And God isn’t done working in ways such as Paul’s.
What has been your “one thing” after which you’ve sought for peace? How is Jesus better than what that “one thing” promised?
Verses for mediation: Acts 9