My story is not a dramatic one. I wasn't down in the depths, and God didn't come to me in a single, explosive event. I never openly rebelled against God; I just hit a point in life where he wasn't especially close. It was as if I didn't want to be bothered. I always related to life primarily through my head rather than my heart, so God seemed more like a concept than a person to me. When I would hear people talking about God as a real person, I couldn't relate to that at all. My God didn't have much to do with my everyday, personal life. If he was there to me, it was a conceptual thing. He did run the universe in some kind of vague, detached way and was probably watching over us from a distance; but that was all.
God seemed so vague, in fact, and so far removed from me that even when I did pray, it was never with a conviction that he cared about answering me. I'd even ask other people to pray for me, because I was really sure that God wouldn't bother listening to me. That approach to life was reflected in all my relationships, I suppose. I was pretty detached and self- contained. I liked an orderly life. I planned it day by day, and I didn't appreciate other people interfering. I was task-oriented rather than people-oriented. If I were to achieve a particular task, then my day would seem worthwhile.
Not surprisingly, I was also afraid of taking risks. That's one reason I had trouble with relationships; life seemed safer if I didn't get involved. I also hated making decisions about anything. I'd take ten steps down the road, then have to analyze everything to the Nth degree. Even though I hated being so analytical, I was always weighing pros and cons, every aspect of every decision, so I was afraid to take any risks at all. When I met my husband Torn, he began to help me, but in a very gentle way. He had always been withdrawn. but now he wanted to begin reaching out. He wanted a relationship. And so, very gently, he began opening me up to the possibility that my life could, and should, include more contact with people rather than simply with projects. Then, when God knew we were ready, he dealt with our lives. But he, too, did things very gently. Even the way he brought us to our first prayer meeting was just a gentle nudge. It wasn't a big, dramatic thing, just a gentle notion that we should go.
So one night we did. After that we kept returning, We made the Life in the Spirit Seminar and were, baptized in the Holy Spirit, and again nothing particularly dramatic seemed to happen. It was a very quiet, very gentle experience.
In a way, I guess I was even a little disappointed. I'd almost expected more. But a week after we were baptized in the Spirit, Tom and I went on vacation, and it was then that I noticed the first significant change in my life. To my surprise I began reading the Bible regularly, and liking it. That was unusual for me. I also found myself able to face some of my own shortcomings. For no particular reason I'd begin to think of some area of my life and decide: "I really have to do something about this." Sometimes it even had me down, but it kept happening; all of a sudden I'd notice things about myself that needed to change.
Also, I began to have a whole new knowledge of God. Again, it was very gentle, but it was so important to me. It was such a gift! I became convinced, shortly after the seminar, that the "God of condemnation" that I had been raised to believe in was not really what God was all about. He was a God of love. No matter what happened, he loved us. He always had loved us. He always will love us. I really became convinced of that. I still didn't have much of a personal relationship with him, even at that point, but I knew positively that he was a God of love. And I clung to that knowledge. I was so happy that God had showed me that!
Tom and I soon joined a nearby prayer community where we kept hearing about the importance of having a "personal relationship with Jesus." I began to understand that this was something I didn't yet have. I realized, though, that I was very close to having it, because I had come to know God's love as a reality in my life.
Then one weekend it happened. I knew that there were many past experiences in my life that had hurt me badly, so I began to talk to the Lord about these. And deep in my heart, I listened to him respond. For the first time in my life, I was having a conversation with the Lord. I wasn't simply asking him for something; we had a real two-way conversation.
The conversation was so real that after we finished talking I even imagined that the Lord got up and started to leave, when I suddenly remembered a bad experience at a doctor's office. So I said "Wait a minute, I've got to tell you about the doctor's." And he answered, "Oh, I know about the doctor's. I was there. You talked to me then, and I heard you." It really hit me then: when we talk to him he responds. I thought, "Well, of course!"
It was suddenly so natural and real to experience God's love in this way. And this is the way I see Jesus now. He's a very loving, listening person who knows me and accepts me and loves me, and I love him.
Helen Bradley (Aged 29 when she wrote this in 1980).
How Wtness.org heard of this story: Bob Ovies, the long-time deacon of the now-closed St. Columban church in Birmingham, Michigan, shared with Bill Griffin, Managing Editor of Wtness.org, a book Bob had edited titled "New Lives". In this book was the story of Helen Bradley, of Southeast Michigan, who Bob knew personally in 1980 when this story was written. The three of us still know each other today.