On a sunny morning in June, 2003, two days after my 37th birthday, I had an unsolicited, unexpected and unbelievable encounter with God. Put more simply, without asking, praying or seeking, I woke up one morning a churchgoing agnostic (following years of rabid atheism) and put my head to the pillow that night a newly minted, highly unlikely Christian.

I wish I could say my radical conversion happened gently…all harps and angels and light…but that was not my experience. On the contrary, I was nauseous, had trouble catching my breath and felt like there was a 500 lb weight on my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack.

But here’s the kicker.

A lifelong skeptic who was, at times, militantly anti-Christian, I suddenly believed without hesitation that the Christian story that I had frequently railed against was true. I couldn’t have told you what that story was, but I knew without the luxury of details that it was all true.

Ridiculous, right?

Now this might make some sense if I needed a spiritual experience. Say if I was fighting a serious illness or was down on my luck financially–or maybe if I were struggling with a painful loss or trying to navigate a tough personal challenge. But I didn’t need a spiritual experience. As far as I was concerned, my life was perfect.

I was a successful PR executive making a healthy six-figure salary, married to my best friend who also made a six-figure salary. We had three healthy, happy kids and lived in our dream home about an hour northwest of New York City. I was seven years sober and had faced down most of my major issues/resentments in a program of recovery.

Life was pretty good.

Yet, there I was–sick, crying and convinced that something beyond my comprehension had happened to me.

No one was more surprised than my husband Martin, who was there with me when it happened.

He had been a Christian since he was a kid and knew the extent to which I thought the whole Christian thing was a contrivance. I had fought vigorously over coffee and cigarettes to convince him that religion had been created by leaders to control the masses or by weak individuals to soften the blow of their incapacity to deal with their day to day lives. He never did come around to my way of thinking, but I figured if he could overlook the fact that I was an alcoholic single mother with two kids and marry me, I could overlook the fact that he was a Christian and marry him.

So here I was, convinced that this Christian thing was true, with no idea what that really meant.

What followed was five years of learning that is discussed in much greater detail in a book that I am writing. Suffice it to say that I learned that following Christ and living by the dictates of the Holy Spirit does not always add up to the overly simplified “join the team and your life will be wonderful” message that I have heard so frequently. As a matter of fact, the years since that day in 2003 have been some of the most difficult I have ever encountered. We have lost more than you can imagine–money, possessions, prestige and people.

And yet, I would not turn back for the world.

So, now I’m trying to make sense of this new life.  Attempting to go beyond predictable platitudes in order to allow this change of heart to lead to a genuine change of life. This blog will chronicle the day to day joys and trials of my journey and raise some key questions and challenges I face as I find my place in a faith that still confounds me.

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14 Responses to “My Story”

  1. Jessica Giannino Says:

    Joan, Im very excited that you have a blog! I’ve always wanted to read your words 🙂 If you haven’t read ‘eat pray love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert you must. It is in the same vain as your writing and, I belive, your experiences. Its very well written and relatable. I look forward to reading more!

  2. roopster Says:

    Joan,

    Very nice story. I wish you all the best on your journey.

    Paul

  3. cliffordthedawg Says:

    God bless you. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Cliff
    http://www.twocookiesaday.wordpress.com

  4. LeoPardus Says:

    Very interesting experience. A bit sad to me though. It’s the sort of thing that might have kept me in the faith.

    I saw on a personal page you have that among your interests you list, “Applying monastic principals in day to day life.” Have you read any of the Desert Fathers in this pursuit? If you haven’t looked in at the Eastern Orthodox, you might want to. I think you’d find them very intriguing, and they can certainly give you some great insight on monasticism.

    Best of luck in your journey.

  5. The Razzler Says:

    This is very interesting, I will be coming back to find out more. I’m looking forward to delving into your blog!

  6. qmonkey Says:

    whoa.

    if theres a hell… god has chosen you to stay out of it… and he’s chosen not to reveal himself in this way to millions of others… lots of them good people, helpless children with no food or hope. does it not anger you that god chose to revel himself like this to you and not them?

    are you sure it’s god who did this and not the devil? its strange that you ‘woke up’ believing the bible since your married to a Christian. i wonder how many people in the lost tribes of the Andes wake up one morning and realize that a man called jesus lived and dies in Isreal and was god etc etc. im guessing, not many.

    it is an amazing story.

  7. Joan Ball Says:

    Lots here qmonkey. I do not know who God does or does not reveal himself to and how/why he makes these choices. The notion that I have the mental acuity to “get inside” the head and understand a being that could knock me off my feet and shift my thinking in such a profound way is beyond me.

    As for being sure that it is God and not the Devil–I am quite confident of that. The outcomes of this experience illustrate a methodical journey away from a lifetime of highly-effective self-centeredness, self-deception and self-deprication (can you see a pattern developing here) toward something different.

  8. Barbara Says:

    A friend pointed me to your blog. Its very intriguing and I look forward to reading more.

    Its interesting, my recent experience has been kind of the opposite of yours. After 17 years of “being a Christian” I woke one day to a heavy weight on my chest and nauseous feeling because I no longer believed. I just simply no longer bought it. I have since tried to pull myself back, because I want to believe in God – but I honestly can’t say one way or another from day to day. Not a fun way to live.

  9. Joan Ball Says:

    Hey Barbara: Hate to pepper you with questions, but I am fascinated. Two things in particular.

    1) Can you recall what happened 17 years ago when you became a Christian? Would love to hear what that was like for you.

    2) When you say that you try to pull yourself back, what does that look like for you?

  10. Brandon Says:

    Joan,

    What a wonderful testimony to God’s irresistible, unconditional election. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Todd Says:

    Hi Joan – You have a story to tell the world around you. Thanks for sharing it here. Perhaps 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 will help put some of the pieces together. It was 1990 for me.
    Todd (WVHS ’84)


  12. Found your blog after you started following me on Twitter. Great story and i look forward to exploring your blog and knowing more about your book.

    Wishing you Happy Holidays!

    Warm Regards,
    Existential Punk

    1. Joan Ball Says:

      Existential Punk: Thanks for stopping by. Will catch you here or on Twitter.

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