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EPISODE 73: Searching for the True Story - Dr. Josephine Thomas's Story

Archeologist and former skeptic Dr. Josephine Thomas once thought all religions were fictional stories until she finally encountered the 'true myth' of historical Christianity.

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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 at www.sidebstories.com. We welcome your comments on these stories on our Side B Stories Facebook page or YouTube channel. You can also email us at [email protected]. We love hearing from you. Also, please know that many of these former atheists have made themselves available to talk with anyone who has questions about God or faith. If you'd like to connect, again please email us at [email protected], and we'll get you connected.

We live in a culture that tells us that we must create our own story, that we must create ourselves, our own identity, our own purpose, that we have the freedom to create our own truth for ourselves and the power and personal authority to make it true. We also live in a time where there are many different stories that we choose to believe in, many religions who tell different stories answering the big questions of life: how we got here, who we are, where we're going, why we're here, what's right and wrong, why things seem to be broken, and how things can be made right. How do we navigate all of these choices? How can we know which story is true? Not just true for ourselves as individuals or even true for groups of people. How do we know that what we believe is not just a story, a myth, but what is really true? After all, we all want to be part of a bigger story, something that is grander than ourselves, something that is true and life giving.

You see, the irony is that, even though we desire ultimate freedom to choose our own story, our own destiny, to create our own reality, the harder it is to actually live in a self-created world because whatever we decide is true for us bumps up against the real reality, the true truth. A true truth seeker searches for what is really real, what matches with reality.

In today's story, former agnostic Josephine Thomas was a trained explorer. She knew what it meant to search through history and archaeology to find answers. She also explored different human stories throughout history, searching for the one true story that made sense of her life and of all of reality. She eventually found it in Jesus. I hope you'll come along to listen to her fascinating journey of discovery.

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

Thank you so much for having me, Jana.

Before we get into your story, Josephine, why don't you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you live, perhaps a little bit about your educational background, your family?

I live in south of Scotland, about 3 hours south of Glasgow, but that's not where I'm originally from. I am actually from Germany, but I’ve been in Scotland for about 10 years now. And I live here with my family. I've got two young children. My daughter's about 5, and my son 18 months. And, yeah, my background is really that I trained to be an archaeologist. I've got a PhD in archaeology. But, yeah. I came to Scotland and worked with special needs people, and I met my husband here, and that's where I've been, ever since yeah.

Okay. That's terrific. So let's go back to your childhood. Tell us where you were raised. Were you raised in Germany? Or tell us a little bit about what your world looked like as a child, with your family, with your culture, with religion.

Well, my background is German and Dutch, but I was actually born and brought up in Indonesia. I was born in Jakarta and spent the first 16 years of my life there. But we lived in a sort of ex-pat community. So my upbringing was, my schooling was in German and English. So I my family is really…. I would say they were nominal Christians, at least my father's family, my mother's not at all. She's very agnostic, atheist, although maybe open to a supernatural or spiritual element. So the main influence was really from my father, so he did introduce me to the protestant Christian faith. And he would pray with me at that time. And especially from my grandmother. She would really… she still had this very traditional Christian faith, and she gave me an illustrated children's Bible quite early on when I was little, which I have to this day. So that is really actually where the main influence came from. And yet, of course, I mean, being in a predominantly Muslim country, I was very much exposed to different religions and different faiths. So I began to look at these things from very early on and wondering about it. Yeah.

Yeah. So, yes. It sounds like you were in quite a fascinating place, Did you have any touch points with the religion and the religious tradition of what was going on in Indonesia? Even though you were in this ex-pat community and being raised in German and English and Christian?

Mm-hm. Yes, I did experience lots of things like that. For example, I mean, I knew what Ramadan was as a child. I would wake up to the Muslim call for prayer early in the morning. And I also knew what Hinduism was to a degree because, when we went to Bali, I would see the temples and everything very much alive. But I think, with my family, it was very much in this sort of German Protestant tradition that you… I call it life insurance Christians. You sort of sign up for it, sort of to be sure, you know? But you don't really engage with it very much.

Did you ever go to Christian services? Or did you have any personal rhythms of prayer, grace at the table, or anything like that at all?

Not so much. I mean, I did mention the bedtime prayers, but they were very much sort of childlike, that you ask God to watch over you and other things that you might want. Or also praying that animals are kept safe in their habitat and these kinds of things. That was really what my father taught me to pray. But it wasn't really this greater view or a worldview that went beyond that, really. And I was then, later on… I mean, I got baptized as a baby, and then, when I was about 13, I did have some education to get confirmed in the church. So, interestingly, although my father doesn't really have an active faith as such, you do accept it as something that traditionally was done, but it is not really something that informs your life. It's not really something that you live with on a daily basis, that goes beyond maybe some bit of, “Oh, yeah. Christmas!” It’s very secular. But you just have it in the background. And when I started going to these classes once a week, which went on for a year, it was something that did spark my interest, so I began to take it seriously. It was something that I wondered about because, when I was even younger, I started to have these existentialist questions that I remember, saying to my stepmother, “Oh, isn't it strange that I am me?” And she was just a bit taken aback and thinking there was something strange about that. But it was really that, when I was about nine or so, I began wondering about these things and actually getting a sense of really my own sort of limitation, my mortality if you will, really very early on and somehow a sense that something is just not right.

And so, when I started having this sort of more formalized education, what I discovered was that there weren't really any clear answers. It was really in this German tradition of higher criticism that everything is allegorical. So you approach the Bible as something that is sort of wisdom teachings, but it's not really anything tangible. It's not really…. It can guide us, but it's not something that somehow keeps us safe or is in any way any other use, really. And I remember, during that time, really formulating my own version of Pascal's wager, although I didn't really know about it back then. It was this idea that I thought, “Okay, either it's really true, or it's something that somehow just helps me to get by and get through life and not be too afraid, and then that's the only purpose. There’s no other reason for it.” And I found that so bleak and so… yeah, that actually…. That's when I began looking into other things under the influence of my stepmother, really, who was very much into New Age and did all these things like Reiki and everything and that I read a lot about these kinds of things then and also the idea of reincarnation and all the rest of it that really began to take root in those days. And yeah. And really, so I drifted away because there weren't really any other answers that were satisfying.

Okay. And of course, were looking around, and you were observing other religions. Were you being you considering those and just all of religion kind of different stories that weren't necessarily true? Were they all in the allegorical camp as well, that whatever their story is it's just a story? So were you becoming skeptical of all of that?

Yes, I think I was. I was really, despite the fact that my schooling, it was really the religious education was Christian. Interestingly. But it was really that I began to wonder, in this sort of pluralistic sense, really, to think, “Well, are all of us wrong? Or who is actually right? Is it the same God? What are we talking about?” And of course, back then, I came to the conclusion that somehow it must be, although of course I don't really think that way now anymore. But back then, that was the only explanation I got, and the problem is really that nobody could help me through this confusion or this conundrum to think what is actually the right path, and that actually became completely arbitrary. It's almost as though, “Yeah, well, it doesn't really matter. Whatever feels right for you.” And I did not find that satisfying at all because there was no actual intellectual rigor, either, or it wasn't really something that also satisfied my heart. So I was really at a loss to think, “Well, I don't want to believe something that's maybe not true only because feels all right, because it makes me happy. I really want to rely on something that I have good reasons to believe in.”

So even as, say, you were a teenager, and you began to become more invested in your mom's New Age spirituality or way of thinking, did you pursue that with some kind of rigor for a period of time and find that wanting? Or was that something you just dabbled in and left behind? How did that look?

Yes. I was really sort of dabbling in it a little bit, and I did explore lots of these things. I remember reading books about all of this. Also very much self help books, about reincarnation, about even Wicca and these kind of… everything. These nature religions and thinking, “Okay, we go beyond everything that's old in a way,” and that was at the time when I started to be very interested in history, in archaeology, in these kind of things, and the Celts and the Vikings and everything really sparked my interest. And I really somehow looked to connect to this. And that began actually in my early teenage years, that somehow I was looking for answers. I wanted to know where we’re coming from and where we're going. And I thought maybe that there would be answers if I went back in history.

So where did the quest end or take you, I guess? Did it take you farther from belief in God and religion, or did it take you more towards belief?

Actually, really away from it, because, like I said, it was really this feeling that it was completely a matter of opinion, and it didn't really matter. It was a totally private thing, and I think, in Europe, that is very much the case, that nobody actually really openly speaks about it, especially if you're a Christian. And that's a tragedy really, that it's something that you hide, that's something that you do maybe not even amongst your family members. You don't really talk about it very much. It’s almost something that is not intellectually respectable.

In the time when I then went on to university to study archaeology, I really experienced quite a long period of time where I was totally lost really in this quest and quite fearful of what I might find. And there was almost like a time where I deferred this, that I said, “Yes, I've got lots of questions. I want to know about it, but where do I look? Where do I look first? Who can give me the answers?” And it's really this sort of sense of being so lonely and in this isolation because, like I said, you're not really supposed to talk about it very much. You will get a wry smile and just thinking, “Okay, well, whatever you want to believe. Fine for you, but that's not something we talk about here.”

Yeah. That would be a very isolating experience and discouraging, I'm sure, in many regards. You’re you're wanting or searching for answers, but there's seemingly no resource or no person to help guide you towards that end. And I find it interesting, too, that you were venturing more into history and archaeology, which are, I guess especially archaeology, a bit more tangible kind of source of grounding. I mean literally speaking, grounding of reality there, in terms of not metaphysical grounding of reality, but hints of things historically that could perhaps, on your quest to search for something, like you say, that's true for everyone. You just want to get something tangible that you can believe in, and so what did you find in your quest historically, archaeologically? What were you finding as you were putting the metaphysical in the background and searching more for the tangible?

Yeah. It became such a great disappointment, really, because I didn't really find what I was hoping for. I don't really know what I thought as a teenager, what kind of connection or sort of almost ancestral connection that I was looking for. But it actually only went further into this almost despair. I also vividly remember a conversation with two professors, and it was about this question, really actually about spiritual dimension and the afterlife and everything. And I just remember one of them saying, “Yeah, how many bodies have already disappeared?” And I just sat there thinking, “Oh, right.” And it's almost as though that really drove me back into this. How could you believe in a bodily resurrection? But that's also because now, of course, looking back, it had not been taught in a way that I could deal with it. Of course now, I would say, “Okay, I've got answers to that. I can really look into the historical evidence of what actually happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. But there, I was just really at a loss to think, “Okay. I don't know how to answer that.” And it was just… I don't know really. I remember even mentioning it to a friend, and all you got was really, “What are you talking about?” Almost as though, “I can't understand how anybody could still believe anything like that,” or something.

And yet there was something really that was actually one of my first catalysts. And it was when I was working in France on an excavation. And we were coming back. It was 2004, that was. And the strange thing is what happened to me then is that…. I was about 23 at that time. And I had a very, very strong… I was moved emotionally, I was thrown into something that I can only describe as really existential fear. And that was towards the end of it. And I began to sort of suddenly, after many, many years, to pray again. And the strange thing was that, on the way back, we had a terrible, terrible accident, and the girl next to me got flung out of the mini bus and got so severely injured that she ended up with severe brain damage and that she's blind. And I don't know how she is now. I've got no contact anymore. But I only broke my arm. There were another three people in the car as well. But then I remember being in hospital, and it just really sort of washed over me in this wave that I thought, “I have to change my life,” because prior to that, I was just really, like I said, I lost my way. I did lots of things, just lots of broken relationships, partying, all the sort of typical thing that you do actually as a student, sadly enough, and that was really somehow that I thought, “Okay. I've got to do something,” and after that followed a period, which was strangely so happy, because I really slowed down. I somehow also felt as if I somehow wanted to go to church again. And then when I did some research into my master's thesis, I went to Hungary. And I remember it was very cold in Budapest then. And the interesting thing is that the professor who invited me to do the research left a note in the hotel room, with a list of different services I could go to. And I just thought, “Okay, this is very strange. Why would he do that?” And so I ended up going to a German language protestant Lutheran service. And it was just this strange feeling, almost like coming home. It was this sort of, “Oh, I haven't been to this kind of thing for almost ten years.” And I just said, “Why? What am I doing here?” And then I even slipped into an Orthodox service, just out of interest, and I was absolutely blown away. I thought, “This is amazing!” And, like I say, it was really then that I took a few very reluctant, very hesitant steps. I thought, “Okay, somehow it’s pulling on my heartstrings. What is this? What is this?” And unfortunately I still had a very, very long way to go, so I wasn't really actually totally converted, convicted there and then. So I actually really have to say I slipped back into very bad habits, and I was just… unfortunately not. I did not stay in that sort of healthy environment after that. Yeah.

So that's very interesting. So you were kind of on this path of discovery, but you weren't finding anything, and it sounds like you were just…. It's not that you were closed off so much, but that you just could never find truth. You couldn't find the answers. You were agnostic, I guess? An open skeptical agnostic? I presume, as an inquisitive person, you were still questing in a sense, through your studies and all of that, but just really not finding or landing anywhere. And then this car accident happened that was very unsettling, obviously, that caused you to rethink and that you were open towards going to a church service as something that was familiar. Obviously again I'm impressed that you were still willing to give God or religion or something a chance.

Now, I think what happened is really that, prior to that, I did realize that I really was on a path that was quite destructive, really. I thought I could do it all myself, I could somehow find answers elsewhere. I was just really filling myself up, this God-shaped hole, with all of these distractions, and I was craving relationship.

And the strange thing is that, prior to this accident, I had this sort of feeling already that somehow this impending thing that I needed to sort out, and I'm not saying that it's of course directly related, but it is very coincidental that somehow this trigger came and is just slapping me right in the face. And I think somehow, sometimes this happens in our lives. I think C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s megaphone. You are just really…. you have to do something about it. “Come on. I'm calling you. Where do you stand? What do you want? Where are you?” And, “You can't put this off any longer.” And I'm feeling so terrible now, looking back, because I think He needed a few more calls to somehow say, “Look, you're still not here. Where are you?” Because, I mean, we're talking about this was a very long time ago, almost twenty years, and there were other times where I was again forced to re-address this thing. And yet, somehow, back then, there was something that happened. It happened that I think, “Okay, I will reconsider this, and I want to find out. I'm going to look into all of these different things because somehow there has to be something that will give me an answer.” Yeah.

So it was just a refreshed kind of desire to seek after what was true. And so when you got that list of the service times, that was an easy direction to head, I guess. “Okay. Let me go try this again.” Right?

Yeah. What happened next was that I was in a relationship with somebody who was totally… not hostile maybe but quite apathetic in a way to religion. And I have to say it's because… In Germany, I mentioned it earlier, I think, with this tradition of higher criticism It’s not even questioned as an option. You just get a blank face, “What are you talking about?” That’s a non question. Religion or something, or belief in something that just simply doesn't exist, it's laughable. And he was like that. And I still remember saying to him, “Look here, but I mean… Christmas. It's Christmas. I'm still going,” and he looked at me like, “Huh? What?” And yeah. But for some reason, I still did. I still did.

Right.

Yeah. I mean, there was somehow hope, I think, hope that it would come back and that I would somehow understand it, because what I did know was I didn't fully understand it. I couldn't. And I think that's really where I was at that point in time. And I was pushed even more into this sort of, “Okay. I have to look into it even more.” Yeah.

Yeah. In a strange kind of compelling… against the flow, right? You were going against common thought, cultural thought, even your partner, who obviously didn't esteem it at all. How did you approach this quest that then you started on?

I pursued my PhD, and I was working so, so hard, and it was just only work, work, work, and I was totally stressed, and I really lost so much weight. I'm quite a petite person, but I was even thinner then, so much so that the doctor said to me, “Look, you really need to make sure you gain some weight really.” But I was really…. In those years, it was again this sense of isolation, of this God-shaped hole again, and I really had a quite a bad depression around about 2010, which was also the peak of my thesis, where I had to do most of my research. And I remember sometimes I went home about 11:00 at night or something and just grabbing something to eat. And then after five or six hours sleep back to the office again. And I was on my own, trying to do that.

And I then remember these questions popped up again, and then I really started to look into more of the scientific side of near death experiences and all this sort of thing. And around about that time, this book from Pim Van Lommel came out and I started reading about this, because I was really thinking about it deeply, thinking, “Okay. Well, but what are we? Who are we? What actually is the meaning, the purpose of my life? What am I doing here? Where does all this work actually lead to?” And actually, I was so craving for a family. And I just thought—at that time I was in my late twenties, and I thought, “Okay, am I ever going to experience motherhood? Am I ever going to actually find what I actually want the most?” And that was a very, very difficult time for me. Yeah.

Well, yeah. I mean, pursuing a PhD, you're by yourself, you're working these long hours, and I can understand, having experienced a little bit of that. It’s extremely difficult. And I can imagine, too, that it would be exhausting and causing you to question even the purpose of the work itself. Where does it fit into everything? Is it worth it? Is this meaningful, really? And then your own life. What is happening in my own life? What is meaningful? What is your purpose? And those big existential questions are in us all, and sometimes circumstances bear those out, right? The pressure comes of life, and you're trying to figure out what really is all of this. And so, I can see where it would bring those bigger questions to bear again. So, walk us on from there. How did you deal with those big questions and that difficulty?

Apart from really looking into what I just said about near death experiences and all these kinds of things, I found myself, again, in a more new agey, spiritual section of the big bookstore. And yes. Because that is in our culture what really jumps at you, that’s really what is even there before you actually get through to…. You have little religious or Christian bookshops, but they are somewhere tucked away, and you don't see them very much. And I think, at that time, it wasn't really very much of an option because of my experience, in my teenage years, that it was only something that is maybe valid for us to live a decent life, but it doesn't give us any other hope other than that. It's almost this social justice gospel, which is great, but only if it's in the context of true Christianity. That's what I would say now. Because if you sever it from its roots, it’s just like a flower that wilts, and it's not really rooted. It's not the true vineyard.

And yet, I really think, looking back, it does enable me to see where these different things are coming from, because I explored so much of it. It helps me to have this understanding, I think, at least to a degree, where I can say no. I can really explain. I have reasons to say, “No, this is false. And this seems to me a far better representation of reality. This is far closer to what we really experience, of which we have evidence and even proof sometimes.” And that's what I'm actually thankful for because, despite all the pain, I now know that really I was walked through it. I was never…. He never let go of me. But that wasn't the end of it. That was only another step. Yeah.

So you went into the bookstore, and you were drawn more again towards New Age. But you're talking about using terms like exploring, which is certainly what an archaeologist would do, but in a different kind of genre, right? And different direction you're exploring towards truth. You're exploring towards God, and so you found your way through or out of the New Age towards more traditional forms of Christianity? Or apologetics? Or what did that look like?

The interesting thing is really that, at that time, I decided, “Okay, I'm going to finish this,” because I really don't like to do things halfway. So I said, “Okay, I'm going to finish off my PhD. I really want to, but I'm not going to stay here. I have to somehow change my life,” and I had this urge to then go traveling, and then after I completed my PhD, I went to Mongolia to teach English at a school there. And I remember one of the teachers there. She had very recently been converted and had become a very evangelical Christian, and it’s also due to lots of Korean missionaries there that it's the fastest growing religion in Mongolia.

Okay.

And she asked me if I wanted to come. And I said, “Hmm. Yeah. Okay. I'll come.” And she took me to this service, and of course I did not understand a single word, but there was also another amazing man, and he went over and asked me, and he spoke English with an American accent. It was lovely. And he said to me—and he was Korean. And he said to me, “Do you want me to translate?” And I said, “No. No, thank you. It's okay.” And he just looked at me and said, “Yeah, you'll understand. Your heart will be moved by the grace of God.” And I just sat there, tears streaming down my face. And I was just like, “Okay. Why are you doing this again?” and I had no idea why I was there, and somehow still, I know I had to be there. Because that was another nudge.

Right.

It was another sort of, “Come on.” Yeah. Yeah.

Yeah. So you found yourself in a Mongolian Korean church?

Yes.

And not understanding the language but understanding that somehow God was pursuing you. Even there.

Yeah.

So then did you keep going there? Did you want to talk more about it? You obviously were touched emotionally by it. So what happened?

The very biggest problem I had was this cultural notion that I think I mentioned earlier that it's, A, just opinion, B, it's all equally valid, and it's a totally private matter. And it doesn't really matter, really. You justify your sin in a way that I could do whatever I like. I don't really have to realize that I'm imperfect. It’s the lies that are fed, that we are perfect just the way we are, we can do no wrong, and God loves us anyway. But it is, of course, a bit more complicated than that, I didn't really understand that I had to take that step and say, “Look, I've messed up. I'm a sinner. Do you still want me? Or what do I do?” And that's really where I was at the time. It was just a wake up call, but I was still hovering the wayside really. Yeah.

Okay. Yeah. So almost pluralistic ideas that somehow still invaded your understanding of what all of this was about and that there was a sense that you could still do your own thing and be okay, even in terms of, I guess, the God that you were finding in this Korean community. So, yeah. And I think we're all guilty of that in some way, wanting it to be our way, rather than perhaps the way of the Lord, which is the way, right? So walk us on from there. How did you how did you negotiate this process?

Well, I then took that step because I knew I could not stay in academia. I was, at that time, about thirty, and I really thought, “Okay, I really need to change something.” And as I went on traveling, I then actually met two American girls who worked with me on an organic farm in the south of France. And one of them said, “Look, I think Camphill community, that would really be something that you would like.” And I said, “Really? What’s that?” So it was really working with special needs people, and it had been set up by German refugees in the 1930s. And they came to Scotland and set up this idea that you could live with special needs people in a community and have them integrated into day-to-day life, and so that they could actually also live a fulfilling life amongst us.

And I wrote to them, and they said, “Yeah, great! When can you start?” So I packed my bags and ended up in the northeast of Scotland, near Aberdeen, in this community and signed up for a year as a volunteer, that was the best thing I ever did, because that's where I met my husband. And yeah.

Okay. Well, what an amazing…. I mean, it's a huge or tremendous shift, not only from your work in archaeology, but to another part of the world and doing something that was completely self giving, completely selfless towards these special needs people. So what happened there in that environment? Obviously, you met your husband. But how did that shape or form your views of God and yourself?

Yeah. The interesting thing is, too, being there, I also met a girl who's now really my best friend. And she is from Romania. And somehow, there was a little church not far away from the farmhouse where this community was set up. And I asked her, around about Christmas time, “Would you like to go to the watch night service?” which is a beautiful thing they do here, that on Christmas Eve, you go at about half past 11 at night, and you sit, and just the candles are on, and the traditional carols are sung. And I just felt… and that's really the little baby steps that I thought, “Okay. I'm really going to do this now. I really want to give it another go.” And because I was really sitting there thinking, “Now, it has happened so many times. I will now really not stop going, and I will really try again.”

So again, another touch point in your journey, but at that time were you wondering or convinced that it was more than just another story, another religious story like all the others, or was there something tangibly different? Again, as a historian, as a thinker, as an archaeologist, and you were searching for truth and what is not only historically true, which the Christian religion purports to claim, that it is a falsifiable, historically grounded religion. Were you looking in those terms? Or just kind of more spiritually, “I've just decided that I'm going to pursue this.” How did you navigate that?

I was still caught in this web of, “Well, it's something that is totally allegorical. It's something that is actually a good story that could work.” And I was actually, I would say, almost afraid to find something that would disprove it.

Right. You didn't want to look too closely.

Yes. Yes. And yes, of course. I mean, the interesting thing is we still got married in a church. And despite the fact that my husband would say, that he's not a practicing Christian, but he would defend Christian values and everything like nothing else. And I think I was then led along that path to explore it further, which also led to that, later on, about six years ago, I started going to a Quaker meeting, because I thought that that would be something that might suit me. In a sense that I thought it is not too steeped in these very traditional things, although now I know that that's actually what I needed. Yeah. But that's how I started going to a Quaker meeting in about year 2017. Yeah.

And so that set you on a little bit more, I guess, again, historically grounded or more, I guess, a thirst for understanding a little bit more with regard to Christianity as more than just spiritual in nature?

Yeah. Unfortunately, the Quakers weren't really what I hoped they would be, because with them, I think in America you would probably describe them as progressive Christians. And that is… Again, I mean, it totally severed or really cut off from all of that that actually made Christianity a viable, historic faith, really, because that is really just taking a few of these things that are nice enough, but a lot of Quakers would also say that they don't even believe in God anymore.

It was really something that I realized after spending some time with them. And I think another trigger was really that I—how can I say it? It was really that I experienced some… we experienced real fertility problems, and I had to go for some treatment in Glasgow, which took quite a long time and was very arduous, with lots of hormonal treatments and everything, and I then also lost my first pregnancy, my first baby, and I had a miscarriage in 2016.

I’m sorry.

And yeah. It was really, really terrible because, really thinking back, instead of then turning to the only One Who can actually help and give comfort, I was then again led astray in such a way that I was then again looking into “What is this psychic mediumship?” All of these kind of things. And it really opened a can of worms. It was absolutely awful, what I saw, all these conflicting things.

But my daughter was born in 2018, and that was, of course, such a beautiful blessing, and I was still going to the Quakers at the time. But the worst crisis really hit a bit later than that, and that was actually during the pandemic. And now, of course, you can say, “Well, yeah. No wonder. It really hit all of us.” But then, I'd delved in so much into this stuff with after death communication, all these kinds of things, and read so much about it that it somehow opened up this black hole, really. And when my daughter was about 2, and that was in 2020, I had such a terrible phase that of depression, of really abject fear. I mean, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. I really hit rock bottom. It was so bad that my husband didn't know what to do. He had no idea how to help me. It was just that I was paralyzed sometimes. I remember being waking about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and really just not being able to breathe. I just thought, “Okay, I'm stuck here. There's no way out of this terror, this terrible…. What am I going to do?”

So that was really the worst time that I had to endure, and I even had to go on antidepressant medication for a while because that just helped me sleep.

Right.

And then, in early 2021, I was pregnant again with my son. And that was really the final wake-up call, and I remember that so distinctly. I wrote a letter to the Quakers telling them exactly why I wanted to leave, that I could not agree with all of the progressive ideas, that I thought they were false, that they were misleading. And I said to my daughter, asked her, and she was only 3-1/2. And I said, “Well, mommy's going to church. Do you want to come?” And she would say, “Yeah, okay.” And that's in the summer, when I was already heavily pregnant. I started going to church, and they also have a more praise-based service, which is where you can easily take children, and I've been going ever since. And that has totally transformed everything, really.

All of these other things that I've been speaking about, put a stop to this. And I started delving into apologetics. The main thing, the first book I read, and I know everybody will say, “Oh, yeah! Of course. They all say that.” Mere Christianity. That's the first book I read.

Yes.

And that totally has changed my outlook, everything. And one of the main things was really this idea, the moral argument when I first understood somehow that there is an objective reality which is uncompromised by our whims, our fallenness, our fears, everything, and it is really at that point when—somebody who's actually a Baptist minister, gave me another book, N.T. Wright, to read. And he said to me, “It’s no matter what you think. I mean, the truth is still the truth,” and that really made me, in a way, stumble into this. And at that point, I just knew, “Okay, there's no way back. Finally, I am where I need to be, and whatever I can learn, whatever I know now, yes, maybe some things might change, the way I see them, but that’s only because my knowledge, my understanding was imperfect at that time. And I can reach out. Somehow, I don't have to look anymore. I don't have to be so afraid anymore. I'm not alone.”

So through your reading, through C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity—N.T. Wright. I presume… is that the work on the resurrection of Christ?

Yes.

Yeah. So I guess, as a historian, you could have appreciated the historical verification in a sense, the consensus among historians of what actually happened with this person dying and rising. You had mentioned earlier in the podcast that someone had mentioned to you about people dying and not rising? I'm not sure.

Yes. How the bodies disappear, but I mean I'm now thinking, “Well, yes, of course the body disappears, but there is a resurrection body, and that's different. That is amazing.” And the sad thing is that that was never spelled out properly. There was no way that these central tenets, these central creeds on which Christianity rests were ever really talked about. And I just think, “Well, why? How is that possible?” Really, when I read C.S. Lewis, when I read N.T. Wright and lots of others, Tim Keller, and I went through all of them, I thought, “Why hasn't anybody ever said this? Why has never anybody actually told me when I was in my teens, when I had to know this?”

And I think the beauty is this, which I actually shied away from, this physicality, that actually… and God said, “It is good,” that the material universe is actually good, and it needs to be redeemed.

Yes. So it sounds like, in your journeying, you actually found not only the truth, the person of Christ, but you found truth that adequately and fully explains what we experience in reality, not only the physicality of the world and our own bodies in connection to the soul, but actually it provides those big questions as you were asking earlier, meaning, purpose. Why am I here? What am I doing? Is it meaningful? And it's all connected to the person, the resurrection, the resurrected person of Christ. All of reality points to that person and point in history that affects all of history, including our own lives.

So it sounds like to me that you were searching spiritually. You were finding things that weren't exactly spot on, but you were realizing that you were yearning. You were craving for truth. “Just give me what's true.” And you went on a search, an intellectual search, that helped bring everything together into what sounds like an a very cohesive, coherent view of yourself and reality and Christ and that you said you found kind of that, as an archaeologist, pardon the analogy, that rock, that you were searching for something solid, something in which you could ground your life, in which you could see all of reality coming together, and that it is uncompromising.

I mean, once you find that something that is solid, that is absolutely true, you can't pretend otherwise. And it sounds like it's actually transformed your entire way of thinking about yourself and about reality and about Christ and your own spirituality, that He is worthy of giving your life to because He is the truth, right? What an amazing story you have. It really… go ahead.

Absolutely. I mean I was just going to say about, when people say, “Yes, it's a story.” But we all live by stories all the time. That is how we are as humans, and there's a reason why God has given us this story, and there's this important thing that, again C.S. Lewis, how he said it's the true myth, and it's actually happened. And what I felt is, “Yes, of course. We have the option. Do we want to live by our own stories, the stories we invent for ourselves? Or does God come to us and say, ‘Well, if you live My story on My terms,’ which is better?” And I think that really is what we have to come to realize, that it is the greatest offer, the greatest gift. And it seems like a sacrifice, but actually, like the Lord said, if you give away your life, you will get it, or if you try and hold on to your life, you will lose it. And I'm just trying to formulate it in a way… I'm just paraphrasing, of course, but that's really what I got to.

And there are so many other things that, for me, indicate it. Also if I try and speak to others about it, even though I haven't really done a very good job yet about this to actually really lay out why I believe what I believe. But doing what I do now and learning from people at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, to be trained to make the case more effectively. Because, sadly, I think we are now at this point that we can't say that we can relate to the Bible. Because the attacks on it, I really think that what the prophet Isaiah, what he said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” And so that's really where we are now. It’s just it's so difficult to maintain that, but it is not impossible.

Right. Right. Well, what a journey you've been on, . I mean, truly such a journey. I mean, all over the world and even looking at different faiths and religions, but you landed on something solid, obviously something that has changed your life. For those who are spiritually open or are curious, how could… instead of…. Like you said, “I wish at age 13 I would have known of maybe C.S. Lewis or N.T. Wright,” or all the wealth of knowledge and really justification for the Christian worldview. You said, “I wish I would have known things like this.” It might have saved you a lot a lot of time, a lot of wandering.

Yes.

So how would you commend somebody who is a seeker, who actually really wants to know what is true?

I’ve thought a lot about this lately, because I think, apart from hearing a lot about the problem of suffering and evil in the world, it’s also very often that you get to hear about the hiddenness, or that you think, “Well, why doesn't He do this? Or why doesn't He do that?” And I think I would lead, in a conversation just along three different paths, science, history, and our own personal relationships. And I think I would point out how even science is hidden, that we need to uncover, discover the language by which natural laws work, and that it's like turning pages in the book. We never know the full story because we aren't in a position to do so. We’ve been written into the story. We are agents, but we're not the Creator. And the same applies to our own relationships, because that’s something that really struck me, that I thought, “Okay, how can you expect to know the Creator of everything if you can't even really plumb the full depth of yourself and of those closest to you?” There's always something that you do not know that comes and takes you by surprise, and it's the mystery of the self and the other, and that's how I see it. We seek this. In the Christian worldview, we seek a relationship with reality as it is. Then that is, of course, difficult. And it must be hidden because how else would it be? It’s impossible to get the full picture. And if we did, it wouldn't be God.

Right, right. So just it sounds like just opening themselves up to look, look at science, look at history, look for God. And understanding that we are finite, that we won't know everything, and if God is God, Who is infinite in every capacity, there's no way that we can reduce Him down and that we could know everything, but yet that…. The most beautiful thing I think I heard you say there is that He is real, He is the rock of reality, and He wants a relationship with each of us, which I think personally…. It hits us very, very personally in terms of our own deepest longings. What we want: We want to be known. We want to be fully known and fully loved and to belong, to be accepted, and he provides and offers all of those things. So I appreciate that.

I think you've done a beautiful job really articulating our need for Christ as sinners. But as someone who used to be an agnostic, skeptical, unsure, looking, a seeker, how can Christians better guide or and interact with those who are seekers? I know, like you say, in some cultures making it increasingly difficult to talk about things like the Bible or our faith, because of the negative push-back that we're receiving. How in this day would you commend us to speak and to engage and to live in a way that really is salt and light, is a way to draw people to this God Who loves them?

I think that the main thing is that we ourselves really have to realize, if we lose God or turn away from Him, we really essentially turn away from ourselves, and we totally lose our grip on reality. And I don't know whether it would work that way for everybody because we all have a unique relationship, and I think that doesn't detract from the fact that he is in himself and he is the same, but through interaction with us, of course, to us, we have our own ways, and I don't mean it in this pluralistic sense at all. I think there's only one truth, but the way we are drawn to it. For some, it might be this idea that the historical evidence—I mean, for me, that really helped me. And for others, it might be the realization that maybe it's not a myth, because there are so many evidences really to see that orthodox Christianity really preceded gnosticism, even though it's really been fashionable to turn it the other way around. And I think it is very important for us as Christians to realize that, that we do not have to be afraid about these bits that are leveled against us and also the other main thing is the cost of discipleship, to really know what faith is. It’s not believing in imaginary things or somehow to just make you feel better or something, but it does come at a cost. It is hard. It's not going to get so easy and somehow miraculously, your life turns into this blissful existence and you don't have to work at anything anymore, because that is really the cheap grace that Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke about.

And I also think what I would say, don't over spiritualize. Don't think everything is just a parable, and at the same time don't over literalize, because the Bible… always have to remember it's not just one book. It's over 60 different books. It's different types of literature. Some are allegorical. Some are historical reportage. When we understand that, I think we’re much better equipped to stand firm and make our case. And that's another thing that really changed it for me, when C.S. Lewis said that about faith, that it is the art of holding on to things. Your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods. And whenever I feel down, I am reminded of that. And that really helps me, because I'm thinking… I mean, sometimes it's really just some good food, a good sleep, and a cup of tea. And then

you know? Because, like I said, there's this wonder that I've now experienced, to fully accept myself as both or mainly actually a physical being in the first instance, which then has been given this marvelous, amazing thing, this connection in the spirit, just really to see that is how it works. And I mean that's also something that we can see in science. All the things point that that is the reality. It's not what I've seen in this New Age and everything. It just doesn't doesn't work. It’s not like that. And I think that really gives me such confidence now.

No. Yeah. That’s wonderful. Josephine, what a full and rich story you've given us today and what beautiful words of wisdom really here, wrapping it up at the end. I think if we've heard anything from you it’s that you have gone on a long journey to find the true story, much like C.S. Lewis, right? It took him a while. He moved through all kinds of ideologies until he landed on what he felt was undeniable truth. And it sounds like that's where you've landed, to the true God and the true story and the truth of Christ, and that it has been transforming for you, and we're just so very grateful for you to have come on and really been so articulate and really transparent in your story.

So thank you so much for coming on and telling the fullness of your story today. I think we're all very inspired, and I know that I am, that I feel more passionate, I think, about even pursuing the truth that is there. So thank you for reminding us about that.

Thank you so much, Jana. It's been such blessing. It's so wonderful to have been talking to you, and I've been such privileged and honored to share my story on this podcast, and I just wanted to say I've listened to every single one of the Side B Stories, and to everybody, thank you to all of you who shared your stories. You’ve been such an integral part of my journey. I can't thank you enough that you helped me to come back or to see what it really is, and now the journey's not finished. I just hope there's more wonders to unfold. Thank you.

Oh, absolutely, absolutely! And thank you for that about Side B Stories. It is truly a privilege to bring these stories forward. I can't imagine anything better. So thanks again.

Thanks for tuning into Side B Stories to hear Josephine's story. You can find out more about her and her recommended resources in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our email [email protected]. I'd like to take a moment to thank our amazing Side B Stories team for helping with this episode production. That would be Ashley Decker, our producer, Mark Rosera, our audio engineer, Kyle Polk, our video editor for YouTube, and of course C.S. Lewis Institute for including us in their podcast network. 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.

 


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