Anything but God – Adrienne Johnson’s Story

Apr 29, 2022

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
Anything but God - Adrienne Johnson's Story
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Former skeptic Adrienne Johnson embraced anything but God in her life until her drive to discover truth led her to belief.

Resources

Prager U, Stories of Us, Adrienne Johnson: Why I’m No Longer an Atheist https://www.prageru.com/video/stories-of-us-adrienne-johnson

Max McLean, Fellowship for Performing Arts, https://fpatheatre.com

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Learn more about the C.S. Lewis Institute Fellows Program at https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Fellows_Program

Visit www.sidebstories.com to explore more resources and stories of atheist conversions to Christianity.


Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to the Side B Podcast, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist but who, against all odds, became a Christian. Everyone is different. Every story is different. Everyone has and holds beliefs, yes, based upon intellectual reasons, but it’s usually more than that. We all have good and bad experiences, influences, emotions, desires, and disappointments. We have people in our lives that shape our expectations and thinking about what we should believe to be true or good or real. We are complex and complicated, but oh, so interesting. Every story of an atheist moving from disbelief to belief is nothing short of fascinating. This huge paradigm shift occurs not merely in the mind of someone in their expressed beliefs, but it also affects an enormous transformation of life and living. After all, what we believe dramatically effects how we behave, how we see and live life, or at least it should. If not, your beliefs are essentially meaningless. 

But when you see a remarkable shift in someone’s life, it causes us all to look more closely at what happened, to step in. One thing I can say from listening to story after story of conversion from atheism to belief in Jesus Christ is that an extraordinary change occurs, an exchange of life so undeniable that it captures the attention of all who’ve observed the before and after, so to speak. We stop in our tracks, and we want to know why and how it happened. What was so profound that turned someone from resolutely walking one way to changing course to a nearly opposite way of thinking and living? 

Today, we’re going to hear another one of those incredible stories. As an atheist, Adrienne Johnson couldn’t remotely conceive of God as a possible reality, much less anyone she wanted in her life. Now, she can’t imagine life without Him. I hope you’ll come and listen to her story and be encouraged by her courage, inspired by her change of belief and change of life. 

Welcome to the Side B, Adrienne. It’s so great to have you with me today! 

Thank you so much for having me. So, my name is Adrienne Johnson. I’m the chief of staff at PragerU. And we have a series called Stories of Us that features Americans from every walk of life and their amazing stories of transformation. We recently released an episode featuring me and my story, about how I was a lifelong atheist. In fact, I was a chain smoking, tattoo covered, sexually promiscuous, suicidally depressed atheist that was transformed by Jesus.

Wow. You have set the stage for us, Adrienne! I’m so intrigued to find out your story. Obviously, you’ve come a long way. Transformation is probably the right word to use for your story. So let’s start at the beginning of your story. Tell me about your childhood, where you grew up, your culture. And was there God in the picture? Did your family have any beliefs? Just start us there. 

Sure. So I grew up in Santa Monica, California. I grew up with two very loving secular parents. We really didn’t have any religion in the home. We didn’t have a whole lot of moral structure or guidelines, and my dad was basically an atheist. My mom was sort of a New Age hippie, and any time that I was exposed to any kind of religion or spirituality, I rejected it, even at a very, very young age. I thought it was all make believe and fairy tales. It didn’t make sense to me. It wasn’t logical.

I was a very rational, logical child. In fact, when I was about four years old, I came to my dad, and I was so earnest, and I said, “Dad, I just want you to tell me the truth. Okay? Just be honest with me. Is Santa Claus real?” And he was so taken aback by my directness that he said, “No, he’s not,” and I was relieved, because, to me, that whole thing didn’t make sense. How could one person fly all over the world in one night? So even as a little four year old, I wanted everything to be rational and make sense, and when I heard things about Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark and the parting of the Red Sea, it just sounded like Santa Claus to me. It just sounded like fairy tales, and so I rejected it, and we really didn’t have any kind of religion or spirituality in the home?

Did you ever talk about religion or belief with your father and his atheism? Did you have any discussion? Or did you just come to this conclusion on your own? 

A little bit later, when I was in college—high school, college—my dad and I would talk about… That was really when I started coming into my own with my intellectual thinking, and we would have philosophical discussions about history. And I remember him telling me things about The Selfish Gene, which was a book that was written by a prominent atheist. I don’t know if it was Richard Dawkins or someone else, yeah, and he was saying how the only reason humans exist is because we’re really good hosts for DNA and that sort of sums up our entire existence. I guess I was a college student maybe at the time, and I thought, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” And I remember saying to my dad in the car—I went to college at UC Santa Barbara, and so we would drive back and forth often. I would go home on the weekends and then drive back to college, and so my dad and I would spend time together in the car, talking about the world and economics and politics and philosophy and all of these things that I was just starting to learn about as a young woman.

And I remember saying to him once, “Religion is something that man created back in the ancient times, when we needed purpose and reason and something to make sense of the world, and now we don’t need it any more, but it’s this ancient holdover that we still have. And one day we’ll be rid of it. We’re just sort of in the middle transition phase right now.” And I really believed that, and in fact, when I was in college, I was an adamant atheist, like an angry, cynical, hard, harsh atheist. And any time I was exposed to religion or spirituality, I was very hostile toward it.

What do you think informed that contempt? 

That’s a good question. I mean, now I have sort of my own opinion about it, which is that there is so much truth and power to God and Jesus, that it is so offensive to people who don’t believe. I suppose there are some atheists or some agnostics who just sort of shrug and say, “Oh, I don’t really believe anything,” or, “I don’t care what other people believe,” but I know from my personal experience, it was incredibly offensive, and now I think—it’s sort of like when you’re in the dark and you are exposed to the light, and it’s so harsh and blinding. It’s very hard to be indifferent toward it. You either can accept it or you reject it, and you have to fight it, because it is so offensive to your worldview and who you are, and that was how I felt.

So as you were growing up, you obviously had this very pragmatic view of life, but you observed your mother practicing some form of spirituality. What did you think that was? Obviously, she believed it, or did she talk with you about her New Age beliefs? 

A little bit. I mean I was definitely exposed to it. I definitely saw it. I don’t think we discussed it that much. I was sort of more in line with my father, who was very intellectual, very cerebral, and we would have these discussions, but I saw my mother dabbling in all of these different sort of New Age spiritual practices, especially in Los Angeles. She would go to these different organizations, different… I guess you would call them churches but sort of New Age versions of churches or spiritual centers. There was definitely a seeking about her my entire life that I witnessed. She’s always looking for something to make her happy, make her whole, make her complete. And I didn’t quite understand this as a child, but it seems to me that she’s always been sort of seeking for something. And I was intrigued. She would have a room in the house with her paints and her canvases when I was a child, and she also had dream catchers and rain sticks and crystals. And I was very interested in that stuff, probably just because it was my mom’s. It was like “my mom’s neat stuff,” “my mom’s neat room,” that I thought was interesting. But it didn’t have any meaning. It didn’t have any spiritual meaning to me.

During that time as you were growing up as well, I know you’re in LA. Especially, you’re young enough that there were some forms of Christianity around you. Did you ever have any touch points with those? Any people who called themselves Christians in any kind of orthodox sense? 

I love that question because Christianity is actually such a huge part of our culture. It’s very easy to be exposed to things around Christianity, and I was, and yet it never penetrated. For example, I didn’t really have Christians in my life. I didn’t have Christian friends or Christian family, but I was very much exposed to it with things even like Christmas cartoons. I loved Christmas cartoons. I loved the Charlie Brown Christmas special, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, and in it, Linus quotes Luke. He quotes several verses of Luke, and I must have seen that cartoon a hundred times as a child, and so I even probably had some of it memorized, but if you asked me what it meant, I would have no idea. Hearing terms like the Son of God, died for our sins, Jesus is Savior, you know I heard things like that because it’s part of our culture, but I didn’t know what any of that meant. I certainly never, ever knew that Jesus was God. No one ever said that to me, explained that to me. I thought He was a special person in the Christian faith. I didn’t really understand who He was or what Son of God or Son of Man meant. But it is really interesting that you could grow up in America, and even in Los Angeles, and be exposed to parts of Christian culture and still never hear the gospel, never really know what it means, and that was my experience.

So as you were moving along and you were becoming this adamant atheist. I like the way that you say that. There’s a certain worldview that that entails. Atheism itself, atheists would say, is not a worldview, but there are certain worldview implications to that, where you’re embracing, whether it be naturalism or materialism, those kind of worldviews where the natural world is all that exists, or the material world, that there is no supernatural world. Were you, as an intellectual person, aware of the implications and what those worldviews entailed in terms of meaning and purpose and value or free will or consciousness or those kinds of things that go along with embracing those kinds of ways of thinking? 

I think it all made sense to me at the time. At the time, it was the most rational, cohesive worldview that I saw out there. It definitely made the most sense. And I actually found comfort in things like, “We are a speck of dust hurtling through an infinite, vast universe with no meaning and no purpose. There’s no explanation. We don’t know why we’re here, how we’re here. We can never know. We will never know. We can just sort of throw our hands up and say, ‘It just is.’ It just is, and it’s all random, and there’s no meaning to any of it,” and somehow, when I was a young person, maybe in my early twenties, that was enough for me. And it brought me some weird sense of comfort. I think it came from an intellectual arrogance in a way. I really thought that I knew best and I knew more than other people. I definitely held myself above others, and I think maybe that’s part of being a young twenty-something. I thought I knew. I had it all figured out. I understand. I understand the way the world works, the way the universe works, and I don’t need meaning or purpose, and I thought that that served me just fine, but unfortunately it left a huge, huge void in my heart, in my life, and I was trying to fill that void with other things. Now if you had told me that at the time, I would’ve said, “Screw you. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” and I wouldn’t have believed it, but now, of course, looking back on it, I can see how that meaninglessness really affected me and left me thirsty, wanting more, and then very painfully trying to fill that void with things that could never and would never fill it.

You say you have a God shaped… or a void in your life that you were trying to fill. So in a sense, your intellectual beliefs were having an existential kind of connection to your life, the way you were living it out. You were searching because, I suppose, if there is a God in the picture, there is a sense of source of meaning and purpose and value and identity. But without that, on your own, did you feel a sense of kind of grappling or grasping for, “What is life all about?” “How do I make sense of life?” I presume, based upon your introduction, that it was affecting your choices. 

100%. And that started at a very young age. That started at age twelve. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen is when I started trying… Now, I didn’t realize I was trying to fill this void, but that is what I was doing. Because I wasn’t comfortable in myself. I didn’t have confidence just because I am me and I am human and I exist. I needed approval and affirmation, this feeling of really wanting to be good enough and wanting to be liked and wanting to be popular and wanting to be cool. And that meant, at the time, being a twelve, thirteen year old, middle school student in southern California, that I would start drinking and smoking and doing drugs and being sexual with boys because that’s what the cool kids did and that’s how you get approval and affirmation and how you feel good about yourself and how you build confidence, is by being a cool kid. So I really went at that full force. And I enjoyed a lot of it. I had some fun. But I also really damaged myself. And I also did things that I didn’t really want to do, but it was more important to appear a certain way, to look a certain way, to do certain acts, than to say things like, “I don’t want to do that.” “I don’t like that.” “Please stop.” As a thirteen, fourteen year old girl, I basically gave in to things that I didn’t really want to do because I thought it would somehow benefit me or elevate my status.

And it’s just pretty heartbreaking to think about, that that’s what I was doing at such a young age because I didn’t have a better sense of self and love and acceptance, even though I was in a loving family. My parents adored me. They gave me a lot of praise. I still was seeking and longing for something else. The only thing that I can make sense of now is that there was something that was lacking that I was trying to fill with those other things.

So you’re going through adolescence. You get to college. You’ve become quite hardened against the idea of God, and I presume organized religion and Christianity. Why don’t you take us to that place and walk us forward from there? 

Okay. So it’s funny. I remember—you bring up this memory when I was in college, and I was very much the way you describe. I was at a coffee shop, and this sweet older man started talking to me and my girlfriends. We were there studying for class or whatever. And I thought he was just so pleasant, and I was so surprised that this nice older man would just strike up a conversation and start talking to us, and then maybe about five or ten minutes in, he dropped the, “Well, I just want to tell you that Jesus loves you,” and I don’t remember the exact words he used, but it was basically—he was being so kind and generous, and the reason he was doing that was because of Jesus. Because he loves Jesus, and Jesus loves him, and Jesus commands him to love others, and he just wants to spread Jesus’s love to us. I was livid. You could see the smoke coming out of my ears. I thought, “How dare you?” I didn’t say this to him. I just got very cold and turned a cold shoulder. But I was so offended. “How dare you pull this bait and switch on me? Here you are pretending to be this nice man talking to me, and then you drop the Jesus!” And I was so offended.

I wish I could somehow tell that man what has happened to me since. And maybe there was a seed that was planted there. Maybe all along the way, all along my life, there have been seeds that have been planted, even though I was very clenched and very hardened to them. Only God knows what those little interactions and encounters have done to me throughout my life. So God bless that man!

Yes.

For having that conversation with me. I wish I could tell him what’s happened to me since. College, I basically came out of college. I felt the whole way through college. I was still constantly trying to fill this void. I mostly did that through relationships, jumping from one relationship to another. I was pretty much never faithful in my relationships because my relationships couldn’t satisfy me. I would get into a relationship, and then it still wouldn’t make me happy, so then I would need to find another person that would make me happy. If I wasn’t in a relationship, I was engaged in a lot of one-night stands, being sexually promiscuous, again trying to get that attention and approval and affirmation from other people. It felt good in the moment and then would quickly wear off and not last very long.

I met my ex-husband when I was, I think, 22. I was very young, and we were in graduate school and dated for a few years. We thought it was very romantic to be sort of these tortured artists who had a lot of emotions and a lot of pain and a lot of struggles, and we were very intellectual, and we wrote poetry. I thought that that was really beautiful and romantic at the time. And I thought that, by us getting married, that that would make me happy and make me whole, even though I had been unfaithful while we were dating, and he warned me and said, “If you ever do this to me again, I will leave you. I cannot let you do this to me again.” And I said, “I won’t do it again,” and at the time, I would mean it. I would cry and say, “Of course. I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again.”

He married me, and very shortly after our marriage, I really plunged into the depths of depression. I started struggling with depression shortly after college. I was in my early twenties when I first had my real first bout of depression, of feeling completely meaningless, wanting to end my life, needing to get help, starting to see a therapist, see a psychiatrist, get on medication, and that went on for many, many years. It would kind of ebb and flow. I would have some good periods and then bad periods, and shortly after we got married, I went into a pretty deep, dark depression, where it was very hard to get out of bed on a daily basis. I couldn’t really find meaning in anything. I really just wanted to end my life. I would fantasize about killing myself all the time. It was a terrible, tortured place to live in, and my poor ex-husband was right there alongside me for all of it, and I certainly was not a pleasant person to be around for all of that time.

And then eventually… I couldn’t stay in that place. It was unsustainable, being that depressed and that far gone and wanting to kill myself, so I really think I had three options at the time. One was that I could get healthy, which my ex-husband was begging me to do, which I honestly had no interest in whatsoever. Really taking responsibility for myself and making a change and saying, “I’m going to get healthy.” No, thank you. The second option was to kill myself, which I really thought about doing all the time. And the third option was to act out and to blow up my life and to totally go crazy and just burn it all to the ground, which is the choice that I opted for. So I was unfaithful in my marriage. I just created a lot of chaos. At this time, it felt like needing to escape from this prison that I was in, which was really a self-imposed, self-induced prison, so that’s what I did. I was unfaithful, and my ex-husband and I had a business together. I completely blew all of that up. And my ex-husband, after many months of really trying to work things out and wanting me to get healthy, said, “I told you. I can’t let you do this to me anymore, and I’m leaving you.” So he left me, and that’s when I really, really hit rock bottom, and that was when I finally made a change.

Yes. Tell us about that. It sounds like you were in a really, really hard place. 

It was awful. It was. I mean hitting rock bottom was so terrible, but the one good thing about rock bottom is that it finally got me to admit that I needed help, and that I needed to do something different. I had basically been doing the same thing for many, many, many years, and even though I was in therapy for years and on medication for years, I was stuck in this cycle, and it just got progressively worse over time. Every time I was unfaithful, the stakes were higher, and I caused more damage. Every single time. And I kept doing it. With the same result. And finally when I hit bottom, I said, “I have to do something different.” So I basically crawled in on my hands and knees to these meetings, these support groups for people struggling with sex and love addiction. I was incredibly ashamed. I was now approaching thirty, I was going to be divorced, and I was going to these support groups for people struggling with sex and love addiction. This was not in the plan. This was not the life I was supposed to lead. And I would go into these groups, and I would just sob. I would just cry the entire time, and I was so angry and so hurt and so broken. But I was also so desperate that I was willing to try basically anything.

And so in these groups they said, “You have to get some kind of spiritual practice. You have to have some kind of higher power.” I don’t care what it is. It doesn’t matter. Try a bunch of different stuff. Try New Age stuff. Try Buddhist stuff. Try Jewish stuff. Try Christian stuff. Whatever. You know? And so I did. As uncomfortable as it made me. I mean, you’re telling an atheist to pray to a god that she doesn’t believe in. This is ridiculous.

Right. 

But fine. “I’ll just do whatever you tell me.” So when I first started… I couldn’t even pray out loud. It was so embarrassing. Even when I was alone in my apartment or in my car, I would turn all hot and red, and I couldn’t bring myself to say anything out loud. And then finally I started, at the direction of my mentor, I started saying, “This is stupid, and there’s no one here, and I’m only talking to myself, and I’m doing this just because I was told to.” And that is how my prayer life began. That’s how I started praying. My prayer life now is really different, but that was how it started.

That was honest. That was honest. 

Yeah. It was very honest.

Yes. 

So, for months, I was going to these groups, and I was trying all this different spiritual stuff. I would try basically anything and everything that was presented to me. Now, being in Los Angeles, there was a lot of New Age type stuff that I tried. I went to some churches with some friends. I went to synagogue. I tried Kundalini yoga. I tried Buddhist chanting. I tried Sufi healings. I was basically open to anything and everything, and the more I did this God stuff, the more I saw it having a positive effect on me. It was very uncomfortable to go through it, but I could see that it was starting to affect me. I was still in a great deal of pain. I was still crying on a daily basis, but for the first time in my life, I wasn’t acting out. I wasn’t doing the unhealthy behavior that I had done for so many years. I was doing something different. I was spending time with healthy people, journaling, praying, meditating, writing, being alone for the first time in my whole life, and it was a very, very painful process, but it got me to a really seeking place. I sort of became a spiritual seeker, but then it became clear to me that I didn’t want to just be a spiritual seeker. I wanted to be a spiritual finder. I wanted to find it. I wanted to find the truth. And it was after going through that whole experience—the timing was just amazing—that a friend of mine invited me to a play of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and I had never heard of it. I didn’t know what it was, but I loved theatre, and I just thought it would be a fun thing to do with my friend, so I said, “Sure, I’ll go with you to see this play.” And so we go, and it completely, completely changed my life.

Yeah. That’s a powerful production of Max McLean. It’s a very sobering production. For the listeners, can you tell what The Screwtape Letters is? Tell us what that is and what is based on? 

Absolutely! Yeah. So I go to the theatre, and I open the program to see, “Oh, what is this play about?” and it says who the characters are, and it says God and the devil, and I was like, “What?” Like, “What is this play? What am I about to watch?” And it turns out that it’s essentially this production with Max McLean that was put on by Fellowship for Performing Arts. It’s like a 90-minute monologue essentially, where Max McLean plays Screwtape. Screwtape is sort of a high-ranking demon official in the underworld, and throughout the play, he’s writing letters to his apprentice, to his nephew, named Wormwood, who’s sort of a junior demon. And he’s teaching Wormwood, this junior demon, how to be a proper demon and how to properly torment his patient, which is a human. And so the book and the play are sort of that idea that you see in popular culture, when there’s like a little angel on your shoulder and a little devil on your shoulder. It’s like, “Oh, that’s a real thing!” The whole concept of these little devils do exist, and they do torment you, and they do plant lies and deceptions into your thinking, and so the whole play is really about spiritual warfare, spiritual attack, about these dark forces that want to keep us hurting, doubting, alone, separated from God, and even comfortable. They want to keep us comfortable and separated from God, right?

And so I’m watching this play, and it’s like watching a mirror. Some of the things that Screwtape is saying about how the demons torment the patient is just… it’s what I had been living for so many years, for so long. It felt so true. It just resonated so deeply within me. And for the first time in my life, this thought occurred to me. And I always saw myself as messed up, like there’s something wrong with me. I’m tortured, and I’m this, and I’m that, and it was the very first time in my life that it occurred to me, “Maybe that’s not me. Maybe there is a dark force that is doing that to me, and that’s not actually who I am.” And that, “God actually wants me to be pure and happy, like truly connected to him, and full of joy, and there’s this dark force that doesn’t want that for me.” And it just really blew my mind and opened up my eyes, especially after I had been on this year-long spiritual journey of trying all these different things, and then I see this play. It just completely shattered me.

Now, considering Christianity as an atheist was ridiculous and extremely uncomfortable, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, as I had been doing for an entire year, sort of just taking the next right action and doing the next right thing. I actually ended up reaching out to Fellowship for the Performing Arts to let them know what an effect they had on me, and Max McLean himself said that he was so moved by my reaching out to them, and he actually even became a spiritual mentor of mine because of this whole interaction.

Wow! That’s amazing! 

Yeah. Max is absolutely fantastic, and he has literally watched me transform from being a very broken, not even a Christian. I mean, when I first started talking to him, I was still just a seeker. I was still just sort of curious and interested and still very, very broken and hurting. And then God was so amazing in this time because He kept putting person after person in front of me. My friend who took me to the play, she actually was somebody who had not been a Christian who then became Christian and actually became Catholic, and so I said, “That’s crazy! That’s a crazy story. Can I talk to you about that sometime?” And I went over to her house, and we ordered Thai food, and we stayed up until 1:00 in the morning talking about Jesus, and I was crawling out of my skin, and it made me incredibly uncomfortable, but there was something about it that felt right. It felt like truth. It felt like a bell ringing within me, like I was being covered in water, you know what I mean? And then she introduced me to someone else. And God just kept putting all these people in front of me, and every time I talked to someone, I went to coffee with someone, I read this book, it was like God was wooing me, you know? He was pulling me, lovingly, gently closer and closer to Himself.

And I just kept exploring Christianity, and one morning, I was getting ready for work. This is probably now a few months in to exploring Christianity, and this thought occurred to me. I was listening to Christian worship music, getting ready for work, and this thought occurred to me that, if somebody asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I would have to say yes at this point. It wasn’t just like a moment. It wasn’t like a white light, road to Damascus moment for me. It was a gradual transition, and I became a Christian. And after that, I found a church that became my home church. I got baptized. And that is church where I met my husband, my current husband, my new husband, who’s also a Christian and who loves Jesus more than he loves me.

That’s an amazing transformation! And it all started with The Screwtape Letters. Of course, C.S. Lewis himself was a former atheist, so he, in writing that narrative, understands the struggle. Not only in becoming a Christian but also in the Christian life still. There’s struggle. But through that process, as you talk about your exploring. You were reading books, and I presume that you opened the Bible, maybe for the first time. 

Yes.

As a former atheist who probably had never even been exposed to the Bible, what were your thoughts when you started reading it? As an atheist, what did you think the Bible was? And then I’m curious the perspective of when you actually opened it and read it for yourself, the first time or thereafter. 

Yeah. That’s a really great question. I certainly did not read the Bible before then. I had no interest in reading the Bible. So after I saw The Screwtape Letters, and God kept putting all these different people in my path, one of the people He put in my path was a pastor psychologist who was in Chicago who very, very graciously offered to talk to me, sort of counsel me, once a week if I wanted to. And my initial reaction when that was offered to me, it was offered by my friend who took me to the play. I really wanted to say, “No, that’s okay. No thanks, I’m not interested in talking to a pastor once a week,” but it was so clear that it was one of those next right actions that God put in front of me that I just had to say yes to.

I said, “Okay. I will talk to this pastor once a week on the phone,” and so I started talking with him. He was a wonderful, wonderful mentor, a wonderful guide, and he said to me, “Why don’t we start by reading the Bible? Why don’t you start by reading the Gospel of John? And just take your time and read through it, and whenever questions come up or things you want to talk about, we’ll just talk about it on the phone once a week.” And so that’s what I did. I actually started—I had a drive. I was driving from Los Angeles to Sacramento to go stay with a friend for the weekend, and I decided to listen to the audio version of the Bible, read by Max McLean, and so I listened to Max, in my car, read to me the Gospel of John. And I still remember the experience completely to this day. It was… I was alone. The sun is shining, and it’s that same feeling, that same feeling of just being washed with water, this bell ringing inside of me. There’s something about this truth. It’s just resonating. It just feels so right and so true. And in fact, once I got all the way through it, I was so thirsty for me, and at the time, I didn’t know there were Bible apps and different things, so I’m driving and trying to find… “I need to find more Bible that I can listen to in the car!” I’m frantically scrolling on my phone while also driving, which was not a great idea, but it was like I was so thirsty! I listened to the Gospel of John and then I just wanted more. I just wanted to consume more of the Bible.

And I had a very interesting experience this entire spiritual journey of simultaneously going through what I was going through and then also watching myself in total disbelief. “I cannot believe this is who I am.” I still feel like this on almost a daily basis, like I pinch myself. I look at my husband, and I’m like, “Who are you? How did this happen? How is it that I’m a Christian? How is it that I have these two children with you? How did this life even happen?” It’s just so mind blowing to be called to goodness and truth and then still have that very dear former self part of me that sort of judges all of it and questions all of it and is a skeptic about all of it. It’s a really amazing dichotomy that I get to live out on a daily basis.

Oh, I’m sure! And I bet there are some people listening who are saying, “Yeah, you are a rational, intellectual, skeptical person.” So you mentioned that you had been reading some books. I wonder if… Not that the scripture isn’t intellectual in and of itself, but I wondered, did you read beyond that in terms of intellectual grounding of the Christian worldview? Or to support maybe that what you’re reading in the Bible is actually true and reliable text? Did you wrestle with any of those issues? 

Oh, very much. The entire process was a wrestling match. And this pastor psychologist who counseled me, one of the things that he said to me that was the most powerful, that has always stuck with me, is he said, “Faith requires doubt. Faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is not 100% certainty. If it was, it wouldn’t be faith. Of course you doubt. You will continue to doubt. You doubt, and you take a leap of faith, anyway,” and that was a real revelation to me. Because I always wanted to have 100% certainty, and that’s just not available in human existence. You’ll just never… Even in atheism. Sorry. I would never have admitted when I was an atheist that atheism is a stance of faith. It is a belief system. You believe that there’s nothing. You believe that life is meaningless. But that’s the case.

And so, at the time, I really struggled. I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, which was also incredibly enriching because C.S. Lewis had been an atheist, because C.S. Lewis was such an intellectual and so well read. I mean, he spoke to me very, very deeply. He got me, right? He understood me. He knew that God had to prove himself intellectually to me, and He did. I was very lucky, in that my initial exposure to Christianity, having been a former atheist, was C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller. Max McLean had recommended to me Tim Keller’s sermons, and I think I consumed nearly, and have consumed nearly every single Tim Keller sermon that exists in the world on the internet. I find him incredibly intellectual. I never knew that a pastor could talk like that. As a former atheist, I thought that Christians were either sort of what I’d call like a used car salesman, where they have a like a really cheesy smile and they’re like, “Praise Jesus!” Or like a very somber, Catholic, pageantry Mass. Neither of which appealed to me as an intellectual atheist. Then I find these sermons, and I think, “This man talks like a college professor. This is meeting me intellectually, where I need to be met,” and so our God is so amazing, He can meet anybody where they need to be met.

For some people, it is a very spiritual experience. It’s like that white light experience. And for other people, like me, it’s a methodical intellectual breaking down of ideas, reformatting my mind and my thinking, and that is what God did with me.

That’s wonderful! Now you’ve spoken about your journey, where you came from, and then you found yourself saying that you believed you were a Christian. Talk with me about how your life has changed since you became a Christian. And what of that question of meaning and void in your life? Has it changed at all? Has God met you there? 

Yes. 100%. My life has changed. Now, that does not mean that my life does not have struggle. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that are hard or challenging or difficult. I still cry. I still have anxiety. I still have stress. But it’s not like it was before. It is not this meaningless, hopeless, debilitating depression. I now am married to a Christian man. We both love Jesus more than each other. Jesus comes first, before anything else, comes before my marriage, comes before my children, comes before my career, my success, money in the bank, how I look, whatever. Because I know that ultimately all of those things will fail me. Even my husband will fail me. My kids will fail me. My body and my health is eventually going to fail me. Everything is going to fail me. The only thing that is not is God. And realizing that, realizing that I don’t have to strive and strain and struggle, that it’s not all up to me, which it always used to feel like it was. “It’s up to me to find the thing to make myself happy and to give myself meaning.” And now it’s like I can let go and just let God take over, and we’ve been very, very blessed in our Christian life together, my husband and I. We’ve had struggles. We’ve had very painful losses in our family. We’ve had tragedies. We’ve had things that we’ve had to deal with, but we also know that this world is not the end all, be all. This is not the ultimate. There’s something greater.

For now, we’re here and it matters, and it’s important, but it’s all going to fade away eventually. It’s all going to fade away eventually, and so we get to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, knowing that that is our ultimate hope and that is our ultimate meaning, and it has definitely, definitely served me well.

Well, anyone who’s listening can see the obvious, or hear the obvious, change in you, that it is night and day from where you used to be. As we’re kind of turning the corner here, you have a voice of wisdom because you understand what it means to think and live as an atheist for a long time and in a very deep way. I guess you could say you lived it out to its fullest. But you also found Christ. And I think one thing that’s really beautiful about your story is your willingness to seek. That you were not just a seeker but you wanted to find. And you did. You found. 

Yeah.

So if you were speaking to someone, a curious skeptic who’s listening in today, how would you speak to them? 

Yeah. That’s a great question. For anybody who’s struggling out there, I would just say that it’s never too late. It’s never too late, and you are never too far gone. There’s truly always hope. I know, for me, it was very, very hard to believe that there was hope. It was very hard to believe that there was any way out of the dark that I was experiencing. And it really felt like it was going to kill me. It really felt like the darkness and the depression was going to destroy me. And for somebody who’s in that place, I would say it won’t. It may feel like you’re going to die, but it cannot take you unless you let it.

And I’ve heard so many stories from people who were at the very, very, very end of their rope and said, “Well, I might as well try this Jesus thing, and then if it doesn’t work, I’ll kill myself, anyway,” and that was their coming to faith moment. I would just encourage someone that, if you’re in pain, to try something different. If you’re so far gone, if you’re so desperate, if it’s so bad, you might as well try something different and just give it a chance. That is what I did, and I couldn’t do it myself. I was powerless, but God is not powerless. He can do it, and so I let Him. I let Him take over. And I have been following him ever since. And I would just encourage anyone to honestly and earnestly look into it and give it a try.

Or just like you did, just that honest prayer. I love that honest prayer. “I don’t believe you’re out there, but if you are,” and it looked like the Lord really answered your prayer, like you say-

Yeah. Come to Him as you are, you know? You don’t have to get good or get clean. You just come to Him exactly as you are, wounds and all. You are totally accepted. You come to Him with your doubts. You come to Him with your skepticism. You can curse Him outright to His face if you want to. Don’t worry. He can take it. He is God. You know? I used to have this note that I had on my mirror that I would look at every single morning, when I was early in my spiritual journey, and I loved it so much, and it said, “Good morning. This is God. I will be handling all of your problems today. I will not need any of your help, so have a nice day.”

That’s terrific! So, turning the corner then, now as a Christian, you see things freshly, with new eyes, and I’m sure, thinking back to the man who came up to the table to you, you know, and he approached you saying, “Jesus loves you,” and it was so off putting to you. I wonder, as a Christian now, how would you best invite us as Christians in terms of engaging with those who don’t believe. Maybe not like that, but maybe. It sounds like he was a little bit of a touch point, even though at the time it wasn’t what you wanted or expected. 

Yeah. I mean, when I share my story, not just with you here, but just with friends, with friends and family, because I come from a family where I am the only Christian. Nobody in my family believes, and when I talk about it, I don’t try to convince anyone. I don’t try to argue or anything. Really I think the most effective thing I can do is speak from my own personal experience. And share my story. I know that it’s true, that it is objectively true. It’s not just subjectively true. It’s not just my truth. I know that it’s true, but I also know that you do have to approach people with a certain stance and a certain posture, and coming up and saying, “This is true, and you should believe this,” may turn some people off. So when I talk to people, it is my truth, and it is my experience, and I gladly and willingly and openly share it with people.

And I think just going back to… We were talking earlier about the Stories of Us episodes at PragerU. I mean that’s one of the reasons why they’re so effective, is because they really are people’s personal stories of transformation, where they get to just speak authentically. And it’s a way to not only change minds but to change hearts, too, and I really pray that my story would change some hearts and minds and maybe bring even just one person closer to God.

That’s beautiful! Like you say, it’s like someone may not be convinced by a story, but it might open the door for them to seek for themselves. And we can hope for that, right? 

Yeah.

What a beautiful story, Adrienne. What a beautiful life you’ve lived. It’s been tragic but beautiful. I mean, when you think of the word redemption and a redeemed life, that’s what comes to mind when you tell your story, that you moved from kind of a darkness to light and from a fragmented brokenness to such wholeness. Not perfect. Like you say, none of us are perfect, but it’s beautiful. It’s so beautiful. So thank you for… Oh, yes? Anything you want to add. 

I was just going to say thank you so much. And even though I did a lot of work, I really don’t take credit for this change. It really wasn’t me. The only thing that I did was that I became willing. I became willing to make different choices, but God is the one who did the change. Jesus is the one who did the change in me. That was all Him. That was all His doing. And He is the reason for my life now. That is why… Anything good I have is because of him. And I just want to encourage everybody out there to go watch this story. If you just go to prageru.com, you can watch my Stories of Us episode, and I’m just so grateful to get to share this story and hope that it affects some people.

Yes, yes. Praise God that you were willing. 

Yes.

Because the result is glorious, really amazing. 

Thank you so, so much.

Oh. You’re so welcome. And thank you for coming on. 

Thanks for tuning in to the Side B Podcast to hear Adrienne’s story. You can find out more about the books and resources she recommended in the show episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me by email at thesidebpodcast@cslewisinstitute.org. Please rate, follow, and share this episode with your friends and social network. We would greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll be seeing how someone else, another skeptic, flips the record of their life. 

 

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