Glimpses of God – Renee Leonard Kennedy’s Story

Dec 22, 2023

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
Glimpses of God - Renee Leonard Kennedy's Story

Former atheist Renee Leonard Kennedy left the God of her youth behind for what she thought was a more enticing life. After years of atheism, she was surprised to find both intellectual and spiritual reasons to believe.

Resources by Renee:

  • Website:
  • Book: After the Flowers Die – Encouragement for Walking through Life After Loss
  • Podcast: Moral Tea – Spilling the moral tea on culture, taboo topics, and grey areas. A podcast exposing the artificial sweeteners of the world by multi-gen duo Renee Leonard Kennedy and Anna Gray Smith.
  • Moral Tea Podcast Instagram: @moralteapodcast

Resources mentioned by Renee:

For information regarding C.S. Lewis Institute resources and events, visit

For more stories about atheist and skeptics conversion to Christianity, visit

Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our Side B Stories website or on our YouTube channel. We welcome your comments on these stories on our Facebook page or through our email, at

Everyone recognizes that there are a lot of competing narratives in the world vying for our attention. They all seem to proclaim, “This is the way to live. This is what is true. This is where you’ll find meaning and purpose and significance,” but the reality is they are not all good ways to live, to understand truth, or to find what we’re deeply looking for and longing for. Sometimes our choices to go through one door of beliefs, as opposed to another, will take us down roads we never bargained for, places of darkness and despair. The story we thought would bring us life is actually leading us to death.

That dilemma confronts us all. When we see ourselves walking in the wrong direction, are we open to consider another point of reality, a different path? If we’ve been taken in by lies, are we willing to become sincere seekers after truth? Do we make choices to remain where we are, even if in deep dissatisfaction? Or are we willing to look for something different, something more?

C.S. Lewis once gave us perspective on this, saying, “We all want progress, but progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be, and if you’ve taken a wrong turn, then going forward does not get you any nearer. If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road, and in that case, the man who turns back around soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake, and I think, if you look at the present state of the world, it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We’re on the wrong road, and if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”

In our story today, Renee Leonard Kennedy had to decide whether or not she would remain in her life as an atheist, even though it wasn’t working for her, or if she was willing to consider something else. Come along to hear her story and the decisions that she made.

Welcome to Side B Stories, Renee. It’s so great to have you with me today.

Well, thank you. I’m so glad to be here. I appreciate you very much.

Wonderful. As we’re getting started, Renee, I’d love for the listeners to know a little bit about who you are. Could you introduce yourself for us?

Yes, I will. Thank you. My name is Renee Leonard Kennedy, and I live in North Carolina. I’ve lived South, I think, all my life, and I was born and raised in Virginia, Tennessee, and I migrated to Tallahassee, Florida, then Miami, and then came back to North Carolina, and this is where I’m home at. I work on my farm. And I also am an author of After the Flowers Die with End Game Press, and you can find it on Amazon. It was really great to follow that difficult book—it’s encouragement for life after loss. But to follow it up with Sweet Romance for Every Season. So I got to do short stories, two sweet romances. So I’m enjoying doing that. And I’m also the co-host of the Moral Tea podcast with Anna Gray Smith.

And tell me a little bit about that podcast.

We like to get together and talk or interview people who are pushing back against the cultural norms, and we like to talk about taboo subjects that might not be talked about or don’t get enough exposure. And we dive deep into it. We like to think we do. We try not to be too shy about it, the topics that we’re talking about. So we have some interesting conversations with people. We’ve heard some really, really, really interesting interviews. And then we’ll side note as we film it in my farm, which is a log cabin. So we have a great time. We have a great time doing that. Yeah.

We hope it reaches multi-generational, because she’s younger. She’s in her twenties, and I’m in my sixties. I’m 61.

Okay. Wow. That sounds very intriguing. All of it. Including the farm.

Yes. I thought it would be a little slower at 61. It isn’t. You know what I mean? You’ve seen that, right?

Right. Life is just ramping up.


That paints a really wonderful picture of who you are right now. Let’s get back into your life then. Let’s start in your childhood to get an idea of how you grew up and how your beliefs developed towards God or not. Why don’t you introduce us to where you were born and your family of origin and focus that life in terms of church or religion or God. Or was any of that in your life at all.

I was born and raised in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee, to Frank and Jackie Leonard, my parents. They were regular church goers. I really got my inspiration to know about God from my grandmothers, my Mamaw and my Nanny. They were my directors in that regard. I would often find my Mamaw in her rocking chair whenever I went up there to see her later on, or even as a child, just reading her Bible. And my Nanny as well, she would sit on the front porch and just be out there, and she would just be looking in nature with a very pensive look, and I always thought, “What are you thinking about?” But we did go to church from early on. It was a great experience. I loved it. I wanted to go to Sunday School. I loved it so much. And Mr. Bill Rollins, who’s with the Lord now, taught our class. And I just wanted to go so, so badly, but I wasn’t regular because my poor sweet mom, she was so busy with raising four kids, but I delighted when we made Sunday school. And then I would sit in the church of my grandmother. She would be two rows up with her hat, with all the ladies in hats. And I would say I loved the Lord. I think I really, as a child, loved the Lord. As a pre-teen. I remember taking the walk down the aisle, my heart pumping. “I want to give my life to Christ.”

And then the great…. Well, then some things happened, and it’s why I wrote After the Flowers Die. My favorite second cousin died around when I was ten. And he was sixteen, and he died in a car accident. And he was gone. And that, I think, was the pivot point where I began to think, “Oh, this is scary. I don’t know what’s going on, but is this wonderful God of the Bible that I’ve learned in Sunday school on occasions and even listening to the pastor. There’s something very scary about Him, because He took my cousin.”

So a divide started to happen, and it really kicked in when I hit my freshman year in high school. And I thought, “I don’t fit in. I’m just going to be me.” I really do believe I had a very divided heart. There was a part of me that wanted to follow God and do the right thing, so I worked at tennis. I worked at acting. I was maintaining my grades. But the other part said, “No. I’m going to drink myself silly,” because the darkness, the darkness was eating me up. And I had to do something. It had to go somewhere, because I wasn’t following the Lord. So at 16, I remember shutting my little white confirmation Bible for the last time, because I loved reading the Psalms, though I read other parts, of, I believe, the New Testament and the Old. I think I read everything I had. But the Psalms particularly were my go-to book. And I have even said to the Lord, “I can’t wait to come to heaven and discover which page I shut that day, because I know it’s going to speak to me even now.

And then I set out on a mission of self-destruction, even though I still maintained grades. But everything started to slip. Everything started to slip. The partying was extremely hard, to blackouts, and it was very, very dangerous, and I continued this through college. About my second year of college, a blessing happened to me, and people don’t see this and parents don’t see this. I got booted out of Florida State University because they had the audacity to kick me out because I wasn’t attending classes.

Imagine. Imagine that!

So real consequences do something and also being told ‘no’ made me step up to the plate. And I went in and I can’t believe I had the boldness, but I went in and spoke with the dean. I said, “I’m on the straight and narrow. I’m never going to do this again. I’m ready to change. I’m ready to show you.” And she says, “I am so glad to hear that, Renee. I just think that’s wonderful.” I said, “Well, that means I can sign up for college, right?” She goes, “No.” And she says, “What I want you to do is go to Tallahassee Community College. And you show me that you get your AA, and I don’t want you fooling around. I don’t want you bringing me Cs and Ds. Get me some As and Bs, and come back when you get your associates, and I’ll let you in.” “We’ll talk about it. We’ll see. Because you will earn it.”

So that was an incredible time. Now my drinking was still going. My atheism was definitely ramped up, because at this time I met some people, and this one young lady said, “You don’t remember where you were before you were born,” in that nebulous place of pregnancy. “Why do you think you will remember when you’re dead?” So with one simple statement, I went, “Yes, that makes total sense. If I didn’t remember what it was like then, why am I going to remember? It’s just this world I’m in. This is my life. It’s from birth to death, and it’s all over.” So I found a new passion, in the sense of, “Okay, I’ve got to get these grades. I want to get into the school. I will show her.” And I found men, and I got involved in a relationship, and that was an atheistic relationship as well. So everything, from that part. Again, it was a divided heart.

So I just want to back up for just a minute. I know, at sixteen, you said you closed your white little confirmation Bible for the last time. And you mentioned that you had a divided heart, and you talk about darkness. And I know that you had the horrific loss of your cousin. He was sixteen; you were ten. And that put you on a little bit of a precarious road of trying to understand who God was. There’s a big leap between experiencing a loss and beginning to question God and then moving into darkness and calling yourself an atheist. I’m presuming that, at sixteen, when you closed your Bible for the last time, is that when you actually dismissed God altogether?

No. That is when I said, and I remember distinctly. I can’t remember many things, but I can tell you I remember simply saying, “This is too hard, God. I’m not going to do it Your way anymore. I’m going to do it my way.” And it was my way of… I was going my way, and I laid the line down with Him.

So when you say you were going-

I said goodbye.

Yeah. So you were willing to say to goodbye to God. It’s interesting to me because, especially considering Psalms was one of your favorite books in the Bible, and in the Psalms, David cries out to God in all kinds of pain and loss, and so gave you actually an example of what it looks like to maintain a relationship in the midst of not understanding, but still with God and God is with you, even though you may not understand. But for you, I know you had that loss, but were there other things going on that made you want to go your own way, as you say, and move away from God, rather than towards him?

Well, I did believe, and you’ll remember this from the time we were growing up, our culture was at odds. I mean it’s been at odds since the fall, but particularly during our time, we had grown up in the late sixties. We knew that there was this hold back to 1950s and Father Knows Best, but we’re moving… It was a lickety split pace to protests and Roe v. Wade and all of the culture was changing.

And women. And Playboy came out. As a child, my neighborhood, some kids had some really great… my sister had a great experience. I had the complete opposite. It was a place of evil and darkness and hedonism. I mean all there was, because everybody was getting…. Their dads were getting Playboy in the mail, and so everybody was playing grown up at a very young age. So all this was going on and building up towards… This obviously is the way to go. This other little white Bible, even though David is crying out, I’m thinking, “Well, I want to go down this road.”


And I’ve always been very strong willed, much to my parents’ chagrin, so very much it was a very strong-willed attitude, and I felt this kind of…. It was heartbreaking in a way with the Lord, because it was saying, “You know what? I’m just going to go this way because I’m going to see what it’s like.” I wanted to taste the forbidden fruit, and I didn’t want to lose any of it. I was into acting. I had seen the magazines. I was following the actors and what they were doing and just walking in the grocery stores at that time and reading the Glamour magazines and the Cosmopolitans. It’s like, “This, this is life. This is going to be fun. This other thing is too hard. Let’s just go this fun route.” Not knowing what I know now, that I just went the road of hell, and it was so hard. And that’s what led up to all that.

I definitely remember what was happening during that time, the sexual revolution, freedom, and, like you say, the hedonism. I’m sure that the cultural pull, your social groups, your friends, everybody, the enticement. There was a lot for a lot of people around that time, to try to…. They see something else, and they want to try.

Well, and I always had great friends. Why they tolerated me, I don’t know. I don’t know if it was the Lord’s protection even then. I just don’t know. But I was still extremely wild. And definitely prided myself on being that way. So all I can talk to you about is I was extremely divided. And the thing is, once you start tamping down that part, the conscience that says, “You know, Renee, you shouldn’t be doing this. This is not the right way,” that’s when the danger… you realize you’ve given yourself over to the world. Well, you don’t even realize it. It’s okay. It’s that slippery slope into hell.

Yeah. It’s an easy path, isn’t it?

It is very easy.

A path of least resistance, let’s just say.


But again, as you described your story, you were moving definitely in that direction. It was affecting your life and the way that you were not only treating yourself but treating your obligations, like school or whatnot, but through that, you also called yourself an atheist. Now there’s a difference between kind of being a lapsed Christian, if you will, and just kind of going your own way, and then rejecting God altogether and identifying as an atheist. What informed that? Or was that a conscious thing that you were doing?

After that talk with the young lady about… That’s when, all of a sudden, I started forming my atheism. When she said, “Well, if you don’t believe….” And then I got to thinking, I started thinking deeper. But it haunted me at night, because I knew death was real. So leading up to that point, I wouldn’t label myself a Christian. I wouldn’t label myself anything at that point, up to when I was that age. But the further I got, the more unrealistic God seemed to me. I was a very lazy atheist. And I basically…. It was there was no room for God. He did not exist, and I would tell you firmly that I did not believe in Him.

Because at 2:00 a.m., when you’re still drinking, and you’re lonely, you ponder a nihilistic life, and you go, “Okay. This is all there is.” It’s haunting to you, and you try to work it out in your brain, because that’s all you have at that moment, because you’re not calling on a higher power, the Lord God Almighty. So I would try to figure it out, and the only remedy for that was more drink, more whatever, more activity, more men, to satisfy that. I made fun of Christians. I mocked them. I told my parents. Just like I was always high, “Mom and Dad, I don’t believe in God anymore. I’m an atheist.” What my true feelings at that point really were, I know I did not think about God. I did not consider Him. I know the depths of my soul were crying out in lostness, and I was so deep I couldn’t see anything.

So to say that…. There are some people who will go, “Well, I definitely thought this through in a sophisticated manner.” I didn’t do that. I just know I was hurt. There was a lot of hurt behind that. It was very, I guess you would say an emotional decision, but I was very, very cold-hearted about it.

Did anyone in your family or Christians in your life try to talk with you about God or your belief or any of that? Did you even entertain conversation in that regard? Or was it just something that was completely off the table?

My brother Roger. He’s my older brother, has always been a deep Christian and wanted to read and find and discover. And he still does to this day. And he would try to talk to me. He would be the one the parents would send in to reason. My whole life, because once you start living the life that I lived, it was just full of sin. I look back at it, and I’m the worst of all sinners. It was a very dark, dark life. But he would come in, and he would try to talk to me. There was a young man in college. I will never forget this. But it only added to my, “Oh, that’s why I hate Christians.” Apparently, he liked me, and he invited me to play tennis. And I loved beating up boys on the tennis court. I just loved winning. It was just fun. So I gave him a really good battle, and I was winning, and he started throwing a temper tantrum. Anyway, I was just playing fair and square and quiet, just like I do. But he started… not  temper tantrum, but he was just really mumbling to himself, and his displeasure was rolling out of his body and onto the racket.


Yeah. And I’m looking at him going, “Okay, he’s identified himself as a Christian to me. And if that’s what a Christian looks like on the tennis court, I really don’t want to have anything to do with them.. And so at that point I was really affirmed, but you reminded me of something that….  I believe the Lord puts little plot points or people points in our lives to remind us of things. So when I was in my teen years, I watched a young man who was a freshman in high school, and he was a Christian. He proclaimed to be a Christian. And at this point I was either… I think I still was going to church.

But his name was Tom Brown. And my dear buddy just adored him, and she was my age. And we would stand there and talk to him, and I would look at him. I’m going, “What is different about him?” Because he was experiencing leukemia. So he ended up losing his leg, and he was the star football player and all that. And I remember standing there, talking to him—or not even talking, just listening. Because I’m going, “Ahhh!” But he lost his leg, and I’m going, “How can he be so happy? Why is he glowing?” He literally was glowing. How can it be? And he ended up dying, and I went to the funeral with her, and it was one of these points in my life. Now, I don’t want to believe in God anymore. But it answered. I just was like, “Okay, if he believes this, then that really worked for him,” but it was really one of these little people points that I came back to years later.

And I went, “Okay, yeah. There was the not-so-neat Christian guy playing tennis, but then there was this guy. This Tom Brown.” So I do think there’s this going on in all of our lives. And I actually say this to remind myself, of all the loved ones that I love who are not walking with the Lord, that God is in the business of putting people in their paths and giving them memories and touch points that are going to eventually lead them closer.

But I was still out in left field at that point. And I’d walked away. And I went through some really… a transition, and then I get married, and it wasn’t until… I mean, it’s astounding to me to think that, during the birth of my son, doing the whole pregnancy of my son, I didn’t pray one time. I didn’t think of God in my child’s life. I didn’t think about God in the creation of this beautiful child. I didn’t think of God at all. And it was when I was twenty-nine when I had my son. I held him after a very difficult delivery and said…. One of the first thoughts, besides, “I’m glad he’s in the world,” is, “This is something that is too big to simply have just happened. This couldn’t just happen.”

Yeah. That is a marker for many people. Seeing what seems like a miracle of their child coming into the world. Look back for just a minute, because- We were talking about, you were talking about how you had kind of failed college, and you were encouraged to go get your degree, your AA, and then come back. So I presume… You had mentioned there that you were continuing to pursue atheism. You were dating someone who was an atheist. Is that right?

Yes. His whole family.

So, from there to your marriage, was that the man that you married? You married someone of likemindedness in terms of their beliefs?

Well, he was my first husband. So I did marry of like beliefs, but that didn’t really come up, because you just don’t think about it. Now, what was stunning about his family is one of the family members was a Christian, so everybody would talk, “Oh, this is a Christian,” and we’d all, like, “Oh, that’s the Christian.” But that was it. That never came up as a reason. I’d really been passionate about a lot of things and dove forward into a lot of things. But a lot of things, I’d just go along with willy nilly. And marriage was one of them. I was just, “Okay. Yeah. Why not?” So it wasn’t our beliefs that aligned us at all. We both loved reading, and then we had similar interests in drinking, and I think I was just his great little buddy. That’s really [UNKNOWN 31:44]

So you weren’t like a strong anti-theist. It seems to me that, at that point in your life, it just wasn’t part of your life, God, belief in God, nonbelief in God, worrying about it, talking about it. Nothing. It was just irrelevant. Is that…?


But you’d asked me, I would say, “I’m an atheist because I don’t think of God.” I didn’t think about His presence. He was nonexistent to me.

Right. A nonissue.


But then the birth of your child, did it cause you to think, “Okay, maybe there is something more. Maybe there is a God. Maybe there’s something other that I should consider?”

It did. It was just too special and too deep, and for somebody who likes to learn things, too biologically incredible. And I can’t believe I went a whole nine months without thinking of the biology, even though I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I knew what size this little baby was. But that’s all I thought about, was that. Not even the science of it, just the book of it. And so the moment I had him, that was like [UNKNOWN 33:42], “This is too big. This is too big to have just happened by two people. It’s too incredible.” And that opened me up to start pondering about the Lord.

I had a lot on my hands, as I was raising step kids and a new baby and helping with the business. And by this time I was with my second husband. I had done a lot of work in very few years with men. So my time was…. I was exhausted. So I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the Lord.

But then a funny thing happened in that time period. My mother-in-law asked me to take my stepchildren to church, because they were Bible believing people. And I wanted to be a good daughter-in-law, so I looked at her and I go, “Okay,” and I wasn’t scared of the church in that sense, because I’d been. I grew up… you know. So I knew what I believed. I didn’t believe in God. And I thought, “What’s it going to hurt? She asked me to do this for them. I’ll do it.” So I found a church down in Miami and started taking them to it. We would go-

And your husband at that point, what were his views?

He claimed to be a Christian. But yeah, he was not…. If he was a Christian, he was not a practicing Christian. The fruits were not there. So he would go to church with us sometimes. He worked a whole lot. I guess that was his addiction. He worked a whole lot, even on Sundays. But I would take the children because I talked to my mother-in-law regularly, and I could score brownie points, because I had that people pleaser thing going on. So I would listen. Halfheartedly. So I would just keep going and just kept and listening and nothing changed at that point. I enjoyed the softball team.

And then we moved up to North Carolina. And that’s the Bible Belt. And I made jokes about that. I went, “Oh, we’re going to the Bible Belt! Yay for us!” Because Miami was… I did love Miami. There were so many great things about it. Except for the traffic. And the reason we moved is we did not want to raise our children in a car, going back and forth to work. So I came to know North Carolina and got my stepchildren in school, and almost immediately, one of my stepdaughter’s friend’s mother comes to the house.

And she goes and she introduces herself, and her name was Marlene Nance. And I was beginning to dabble in New Age, so I guess I was spiritually seeking. Just dabble. Because something had come in the mail. It was from some book club called One Spirit or something. And I was like, “Hmm.” Because I was like, “Okay, something’s weird was happening,” because I felt that same way with my daughter, when she was born two years after my son. I was like, “This is too big. This is too big.” So my friend came in. I mean, she wasn’t my friend at the time, and we’re talking, and I’m thinking, “Oh, great. That’s nice. We’re talking.” And it felt weird, because I wasn’t used to just people walking in and sitting a spell, as you do in the South. And just taking it easy. I was like, “Okay, what do you want?” deep in my head, “What do you want?” or, “What do you want from me?”


And she said, “Hey. I have a really neat church. You want to come this Sunday?” And I looked at her, and I went, “No. I don’t.” And she went, “Oh, okay.” And she would stop by every now and then, and she’d go, “Hey? You want to think about it?” And I don’t know how many times I turned her down. But one day, she came in, and she goes, “Hey! Do you want to come to my church?” And I’m like, “Okay, this woman is persistent in such a nice way. I hate to turn her down.” Because we had started talking a little bit more, and I was starting to get to know her, and I really liked her, and I was like, “Okay. If this means something to her, I’ll go.” And it felt very much like going to the doctor. I was like.

“Okay, I’ll come to your church,” and she didn’t bat an eye. She didn’t jump up and down for joy and hit the ceiling, like I think I would have. I would have, “Finally!” But she didn’t do that. She was real cool, and so she told me what time, and then all of a sudden, I’m going, “Oh, I have to dress the kids up. I have to do this,” and so I end up going. And it’s a little country church in the off-road of  Thomasville, North Carolina. And I drive up there, and it looks like a little church. It was a brick church with a white steeple, and I’m going, “Oh, what have I done? What have I done? But I really like this woman. I want to be her friend.” It was nice not being lonely. It really was nice, not being lonely. So I walked in with my kids, and they were really young, and someone, another friend of mine, who is a dear friend of mine, said, “Well, we have a nursery.” And I heard nursery, and I’m like, “Yeah!”

Right! Not so bad after all.

Yeah. Really. One hour of not having to watch my children, whom I dearly love.

Of course.

So I go in, and I listen, and there’s this man talking, and he is really intelligent. And his name is Joel Smith, and he’s starting this series, and it’s a series of apologetics. And he is telling me, answering all the questions that, if I would have thought about it, I would have asked. And I am just fascinated, because he’s going everywhere from science to eyewitness account, and I’m sitting here thinking, “I’ve never heard this before. This makes total sense.” But he got to creation, and, you know, no evolution. Or something like that. I forget what it was, something on creation, and I go, “I just don’t really believe that,” and it was at the end of the day. This was like the second day I’d come. No. It was the first day I came. And I get at the end of it, and I’m like, “That was really fascinating. I’m not sure I believe all of it.” So I go to him, and I go, “I get some of this. I don’t believe most of it, and I’m not really sure about it,” and he just looks at me. He goes, “Okay.” And he says, “Hey, I’ll see you next week.” And I didn’t get a rise from him, I wasn’t trying to, but I was like, “Well, that’s an interesting way to respond to somebody.”

So the curiosity was just killing me. I had to hear the rest of this. And I guess I started asking him a lot of questions, You know how when you’re really curious, and all of a sudden the floodgates open. “Okay, but what about this? What about this? What about this? What about this? What about this?” And one day, after a couple of weeks, he says, “I have some books for you.”

And he gave me Lee Strobel.  He goes, “Here. Let’s do The Case for Christ.” So I read that from cover to cover, and I went, “Wow! Wow! There’s something to this. This is far stronger. This evidence is far stronger than my just, “Ehh,” kind of attitude. My nonchalant, blowing God off attitude. And then I remembered Tom Brown, and I remembered the other Christians that were placed in my life. And I was like, “Wow! This is what they believed!” So it was really a magical time of exploration, and the Lord was so good to give me this little country church. I mean, had it been a big one, I’d have probably gotten lost in it. And so it was nice and small, and it was incredible, because he loves apologetics, he was just so receptive. It wasn’t all, “Don’t ask these questions. I don’t know how to answer them.” Or feeling uptight about it. He loved answering these questions. And not that I inappropriately used his time, but he started having classes and offering classes on apologetics and on other things, and what does it mean to be a member of the church? What does it look like to be a Christian? And he was just a really fun teacher.

So all of a sudden, I started diving in. I said, “These are wonderful!” I mean yeah, I loved the child care, but it was like, “No! This is really fascinating.” So I started going down this wonderful exploration of the Lord, and it was several more years before I gave the Lord my full attention

I said the Sinner’s Prayer, and I became a member, but there was still a part of me that, as I took membership into the church, after following and studying what it meant to be a real member of a church. It wasn’t just giving your money. It was giving of your time, but more than that, believing in the Lord God Almighty, the Trinity. All that tenets that we follow. But I remember thinking, just like I did in everything, with the exception of motherhood, “Oh, I can get out of this anytime I want.”

So that was kind of my attitude. I had grown. Into my early thirties, that was my attitude. “I can get out of whatever I want.” Even though I had been proven wrong at FSU, that you can’t. I still was striving. There’s still that old man in me that needed to die. So one day, the least likely things happened. I went to the Denny’s breakfast place to have breakfast.

And I see this coupon book, and I think, “Oh, a coupon books. I love coupons. I love saving money at a grocery store.” So I take it home, and I happened to flip it open one night before I go to bed, and I’m looking through it, and I’m looking for the coupons. And then it comes on to a page where it says the Sinner’s Prayer. And I’m going, “Well, that’s an odd thing to have in a coupon book.” But just like me, I’m like, “I’m going to read over each of these to make sure that I understand this.” And it had convenient little check boxes, which I love to do. I still to this day love those check boxes. So I read through it, and the very last one was just invite the Holy Spirit into your life, to walk with you and guide you and lead you. And I went, “Oh, I’ve never done that part.” I said, “Okay. I’ll do that part,” and check.

And I’m not going to say it’s a magic pill. What I’m saying, the way God works is the way God works. But when I prayed that prayer, all of that, things started happening in my life, where it was unmistakable to me. The hand of God was moving, because I didn’t have the power to do this. One of the first prayers I asked was, “God, make me a good steward. Now where does that come from? So I prayed that. I guess I heard it at—he must have talked about being a steward, and it’s not just money, it’s of our time, everything. So I prayed that, and the Lord said, “Okay, Renee. You know those books you’re reading? I don’t want you to read them anymore. They’re really pornographic. This show you’re watching, you can’t watch it anymore.” And it didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me. That was the weirdest thing. I wasn’t resentful. It was a blessing. It was like, “Oh, finally! I have the power to get rid of this thing that I don’t really want to do in the first place.”

And then eventually it came… and that’s a fast forward after living, but it came to 2001, where I’d prayed for two years as somebody who was really actively following the Lord. But I was like, “Lord, help me stop drinking. Because this is just dissipating the Holy Spirit in me.” And I was a very functional alcoholic kind of person. I knew I had now, instead of doing the black outs as a teenager and a young woman, I had set aside parts, like I would say, “Okay, I can do this. I can drink this much this night and this much that night, and it won’t interfere with me raising my children, me going to the gym, me doing church work, me doing whatever. So I prayed it for two years, and then one morning, I woke up, and it was just, I mean just like I’m seeing you and hearing you, it was like the Lord said, “Okay you’re done. You don’t have to do this any more.” And I was like, “Thank you! Thank you!” And I was done with it. It was October 14, 2001.


It was like, done, done. “It’s been done for a long time, but you weren’t ready to catch up with it.” And that’s how it’s been. My walk has been… the Lord has been so gracious to just take me… it’s really day by day, and now I’m learning hour by hour walk with him and leaning on him. And it’s been the hardest… if I’m a crier, I couold cry. It’s been the hardest year since 2018, my dad’s death. And then my mom’s. I mean, it was 2016 with my dad and then my mom, and then a tree almost fell on me in 2019 and killed me.

And then 2020 happened and some things in my then marriage that were horrific. But He’s been there the whole time, even up to the point that I’m going to a mission trip in the Ukraine this Saturday with my daughter. Now I am getting emotional. How about that? And I’m going, and I kept saying to the Lord, “I don’t want to race through these days getting there in uptightness and worry,” and I’ve had worry, but I said, “I really want to lean on You. I really want to see the moments of You in there. And this is one of them.” And it was almost like, “You’re leaning on Me, Sweetheart. You’re leaning on Me not just to get through this trip and not just to do your five days of teaching and then your two days of travel and your one day in Budapest. You’re leaning on Me hour by hour, because I’m here with you. And so that was sweetness. To keep learning in the Lord is just such a blessing. And we think sometimes, at 61, and as we get older, we can’t learn or we get too hard headed, but He’s teaching us all the time. And guiding us and loving on us, so it’s beautiful. It’s been a beautiful walk. Hard but beautiful.

So I tend to speed race through my life, but it’s gone from darkness to light. I love that verse. Bringing us out of darkness into marvelous light. And that is what He has done, what He has done.

Amazing. It is, in a way, a little ironic, in that what you’re describing to me is that you pushed God away as irrelevant, and you wanted nothing of Him in your life, but now you’re sitting there, speaking as someone who wants Him in everything in your life. That you want to slow down enough to make sure that He is in your life and that you’re now hearing what He’s teaching you and showing you, or how He’s with you. What an amazing transformation!


When I think about it, too, I was thinking about your story. I love the touch points that you say, the people points, the ways that He was drawing you to Himself through even your lovely little sweet neighbor, persistent yet kind-

I know!

… despite your refusals. And then, how, for me, surprising to find that the Sunday that you go, it’s a pastor answering questions, doing apologetics, which is hard to find in large churches, much less small country churches.

Yes, yes!

To find someone who has a heart for that and understands that there are hard questions but there are answers and that there are ways and means of thinking about God and thinking about things of faith that are rational and reasonable and historical. And that you don’t have to dismiss your mind in order to believe. And I think that, in a spark of curiosity and search for truth, so that by the time you got to that little coupon book, you had enough answers intellectually that you were willing to go there, and examples, I think, of really beautiful Christians in your life, that that was something that you actually not only wanted or found attractive, but also you weren’t just believing based on wishful thinking or attraction, but it was something substantive and worthy, so you got to that place, and then it’s amazing, too, how you invited the Holy Spirit in, and He has transformed your life. I mean, taking away alcohol after years of being a functional alcoholic, that is testimony in and of itself, because God is obviously with us in the hard places. What a beautiful story, Renee.

Thank you.

I’m thinking about those who might be listening who are far away. They don’t care. They don’t think they need God. They’ve got other things they’d rather be doing. Or maybe even those who are wondering, “Is there something more than this nihilistic existence? Is this all there is?” You were in so many different places in your life. And I think you can relate to those who don’t believe in so many different ways. If someone is interested in actually trying to seek or find what you have found, the Person of God, in such an intimate way, what would you recommend for them? How can they take a step forward?

I would take a walk outside in a beautiful place and look around and study something you haven’t seen. And maybe ask for eyes that can see and ears that can hear. And just for a moment, open your heart posture, And just look at the beauty about you. And wonder, “What if there is something different? What if there is something bigger?”

And then I would, if you’re a reader, I would check out Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ. J. Warner Wallace is awesome. If you’re into the CSI kind of things, he’s great to listen to as well. There’s so many people. Alex McFarland is wonderful. He’s a neighbor of mine in Pleasant Garden. There are so many people out there if you’re a book reader, or even if you’re not a book reader, there are so many videos of people that you can just find little short spots on, and just listen to that way. The podcasts. I mean honestly your podcast alone is witness.

And I am talking to that person out there who, their heart might be beating a little fast right now, and they’re thinking, “Hmm. Is this real? Is this true?” And I would say don’t run from the search. Run to seek. Because the worst thing that happens is you spend a little time investigating. And that is on this side of eternity. But what if it’s true? And what if your life can be enriched now, even during the dark times? So that is what I would do.

And I would open the Psalms. I would read them cover to cover. And I would go, “Huh? Why is that in there?” And I would look at it. I would recommend highly a Bible app that I have used for years, and it’s called e-Sword. They have a commentary, and they have C.H. Spurgeon, and he explains the Psalms. And F.B. Meyer, he does as well, but C.H. Spurgeon is really great to read because he explains the Psalms. Because some of them are… You’re like, “Okay, what do you mean by that, David?” And then there are other ones that are just sheer beautiful, you know? And, when you’re ready, look at Psalm 51 and consider that. And that’s what I would tell those who are seeking. Or maybe even considering seeking. Give it a try. Just give it a try. Be bold.

Yeah. It is a step of boldness. I think especially in this culture. Pushing back so fiercely. It’s okay to look and to search and to seek.

Yeah. Yeah.

Now, for those…. So many really wonderful touch points of Christians in your life, whether it’s your mother-in-law asking you to take your stepchildren or the neighbor who was bold and persistent and kind. Or even Tom. [1:04:32] Is it Tom Brown?

Yes. Yeah. Tom Brown.

What a beautiful example he provided for you, to give you a picture of what joy despite circumstance can look like for someone who is in Christ. 

So how would you commend Christians to engage with those who don’t believe?

You know, I look at that now, because my sweet friend Marlene was persistent. And a lot of times I think we discourage that as Christians. “But don’t nag. Don’t nag.” I think there’s a way to be persistent in a beautiful way. And I think the best thing that we can be is heartfelt. And in relationship with them. And even if it’s a short relationship. It can be the Uber driver. I don’t want to say…. People say you never talk people into Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job, and there is that. But I do think we talk about the Lord and what he is doing in our lives, or what we pray for that person if we’re close to them. So I do think we need to engage in somehow reaching out to people.

And I think we need to pray for the opportunities. I think we need to… which I can be kind of lazy about at times. Because I’m like… Some days I just don’t want to be bothered with that. Come on! I’ve got my agenda to do. But then also pray, whether we’re in the Uber for some reason, and you’re like, “Wow! This is an opportunity. Okay, Lord. Help.” It doesn’t have to be anything long. But I do think we do need to have a sign of some persistence in it. And it kind of varies, too. So you really need to… I think we need to be willing to make mistakes, quite honestly. And I don’t think we are. I think that we’re looking to be perfect [UNKNOWN 1:07:32] “Maybe now’s not the time. I can’t do this right now. I can’t talk to someone about God right here. I can’t mention my belief in God.” I think we need to be bold and a little less worried of what people think of us. And a little less worried what we think about the way we do things. And you know what? It’s going to feel like failure. I don’t know about you, but I have tried to share my faith before with people. And it has crashed and burned. To me, it felt like muddy mess. But I had prayed before, and I’d asked the Lord to help me. How do I know that that wasn’t what that person needed, was that muddy mess? Who am I to say?

So I think that we just need to be a little more obedient in that. And that’s a bad word now. You can’t say obedient, but we need it. So I think we need to just step up to the plate and not worry as much. And just be us. Does that make sense?

Oh, it makes total sense. Total sense.

What wise counsel, truly. Renee, your story and your wisdom are so rich and so deep and meaningful for, I’m sure, everyone who’s listening, When I think of your story, too, I think of, not only did God provide pointers in your life to Him, but even though there were some places where you didn’t want to see them or you didn’t follow the direction of the pointer to the source, there was a time in your life where you were willing to see the pointers for what they were. You were open enough to pursue, and look what you found!


An amazing life. An amazing faith. A bold and courageous faith that you want others to know. And I am so inspired by that. And I think we can all learn from you to be open to wherever the Lord is teaching us. He’s pushing us. He’s wanting us to be bold, wanting us to learn, to grow, to sit with Him. Anyway…. But it was because of your openness, your willingness, that you now find yourself where you are, filled with the spirit of God. So I-

I love the Lord.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s obvious. It’s obvious. So-

Well, but it’s obvious in you, and I feel like we’re having church right now in our hearts. Yes, yes, yes, and amen.

Yes. Yes. Absolutely. So thank you. Thank you so much, Renee, for coming and sharing this bit of yourself, so that others can find God the way that you have.

Well, thank you for what you do, because you’re a testimony. Thank you so much.

Thanks for tuning in to Side B Stories to hear Renee’s story. You can find out more about her, her recommended resources, her website and podcast in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our email at If you would like to connect with a former atheist with questions, please contact us again on our Side B Stories website or email, and we’ll get you connected.

This podcast is produced through the C.S. Lewis Institute, through our wonderful producer, Ashley Decker, and our audio engineer, Mark Rosera. You can also see these podcasts in video form on our YouTube channel through the excellent work of our video editor, Kyle Polk. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.

Recent Podcasts

Longing for More – Nate Sala’s Story

Longing for More – Nate Sala’s Story

Nate Sala rejected his parents’ faith tradition of Christianity and pursued life on his own terms, but his life failed to bring satisfaction to his deepest longings. His search led him to find all that he desired in God. Nate's Resources: YouTube:...

Returning to God – Melanie Beerda’s Story

Returning to God – Melanie Beerda’s Story

Although Melanie Beerda was raised in a Christian family, her life experience alienated her from the concept of a loving God.  After leaving Christianity to go her own way for several years, she finally discovered the loving God who had been there for her all...

Struggling with Doubt – Dr. Keith Hess’s Story 

Struggling with Doubt – Dr. Keith Hess’s Story 

Keith Hess grew up in a Christian family but began to question whether or not what he believed was real or true.  His doubts went unanswered for years until he was finally introduced to solid reasons for belief.  Now a professor of philosophy and...