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Nancy and her sister Carole were playing croquet at their family's lake house one summer day when their babysitter called out, "Where is Stephen?" They had no idea. But their two-year-old brother had a habit of venturing off, so they went looking for him.
As Carole headed for the woods, Nancy ran out on the dock and saw his little body floating face down near the shoreline. She shouted for the sitter and tried desperately but unsuccessfully to pull him out. Within seconds the sitter was there and lifted his wet, limp form. "What's wrong with Stephen?" Nancy asked, in all of her five-year-old naiveté.
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"He's dead, and it's your fault," the sitter screamed, and with that, ran off to the neighbor's house.
As their parents were summoned, and friends and neighbors gathered, Nancy and Carole sat on the front steps, numb, empty, and scared. Nancy withdrew to her parents' bedroom and drew on her vague understanding of God from church to plead with him to "fix" Stephen. Surely that was what a big, helpful God would do, she thought, as she rejoined her sister.
But no. After some time, their father came and told them that Stephen had died but he was okay because he was in heaven with God. Why would Stephen want to live with God? Nancy thought. God didn't fix him. "He's not happy with God," she shot back. "If God loved him, he wouldn't have killed him. He's not happy there, and I'm not happy he's there either."
"I hate you!" she said to God, walking back inside. "Stay away from me, and stay away from my family." She meant it with every fiber of her five-year-old being. This God terrified her. He killed her brother and let her take the fall for it. Who was he going to kill next? Would it be her?
Life went on, but for Nancy, the carefree innocence of youth had died, and the emptiness of Stephen's crib did not compare to the barrenness in her soul. Days turned into years, and she went on to earn three degrees from Indiana University, no thanks to God, whom she managed fairly well to avoid thinking about.
Until the later years of college, that is. Is there really a God or not? she wondered. And what is my purpose in life? She began asking people from all kinds of backgrounds what they believed. Do you go to church? Why? Do you believe in God? Why? This was not a casual survey. It was a serious attempt to get at the truth about reality. It was the "Christians" she found most interesting. And most disappointing. They would acknowledge that they did believe in God, but when pressed to explain why, not a single one could give a reason that made sense to her. Not. A single. One.
"I was raised that way" or "I find comfort in it" simply would not cut it for her, and so she concluded that the whole Christian thing was either a grand hoax or a contrived crutch for weak people. Well, she was not one to be taken in, and she was certainly no weakling. Therefore, life might as well be about her own success and comfort. She decided she would be a nice atheist/humanist. In the unlikely event that there actually was a real God, he probably graded on a curve, anyway. She'd never killed anyone, and she had volunteered to serve at a church brunch once. Surely she would still get "in."
She married Ed, a med student training to become a heart surgeon, and by age 32, had all the accoutrements of success and comfort: a nice home in the suburbs, four beautiful children, and a housekeeper and nanny to cover daily chores, leaving her free to play golf and enjoy life to her heart's content. And she was miserable—restless, empty inside, and debilitatingly fearful. She would wake up every night to check that her children were still breathing. American dream or not, this was no way to live.
Might God really be something different from what she thought? She needed to find out once and for all. When her youngest child reached six months old, she jumped onto an amateur golf tour and took a skinny little Bible with her to the first tournament in Florida. She started reading in the Book of Genesis and right away saw a God who was angry, who didn't really like people, and who killed a lot of them, primarily by drowning.
"I'm done," she said when a couple of friends dropped in and asked her what she was reading. "I can't believe in this God. Drowning. Drowning. Really?"
As it turned out, the friends were Christians, and better-prepared than the average Christian to give her some direction. Oh no, Genesis is not the place to start, they said. She should read the Book of John.
"Okay, fine," Nancy said. "Where can I get one?"
Mercifully, they showed her that the Book of John was about three quarters of the way through the Bible she had in her hands. She didn't know (why should she?), but once directed, took it from there:
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."
This capitalized 'Word' is Jesus, she thought. And he's eternal. And he's claiming to be God. She read on: "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
This was stunning! Here was a claim about a historical figure. She could research this! She could find out for herself if he really did exist. She kept reading: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son."
Nancy had three sons. And she would not give up a single one of them for anybody, not even a king! She was totally turned off about Jesus' idea that a person must be born again, but she did realize there was something spiritual about this that might make some sense. She kept reading. Overall, according to John, at least, this God was personal. And he was loving.
God, she prayed, if this is really true, if Jesus Christ really did what this book says he did, then I will believe and trust that he is God and my own personal Savior. She informed him that under no circumstances would she go to Africa as a missionary, and made a few other stipulations. And she still didn't actually believe it all yet anyway, but a fire had been lit. Golf could wait. She left the tournament and returned home to her family, anxious to begin researching this God and the Bible.
She started by simply writing out questions she needed answers to—questions about God and about this Christian faith, and she discovered that there was a wealth of evidence to support the reliability of the Bible texts. But what really moved her was the Scriptures' running total of fulfilled prophecies—general prophecies, yes, but the quantity of specific prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ was astounding! There was something supernatural about this, no question.
Why am I fighting you, God? she finally prayed. If you are who you say you are, just change me. And if you really are real, then to my dying day, I will worship you. I am all in.
And change her he did. God went from being her biggest fear to her greatest friend almost overnight, and life has never been the same. Her husband became a believer too, and the couple raised their four children accordingly.
About ten years later, as her oldest son was preparing to go to college, she asked him, "So what are you going to do if you get a roommate in college like me?"
"What do you mean, Mom?"
"I used to be an atheist," she said.
To which he responded, "What is that?"
Nancy was floored. Her own son had no clue about her history, and he was clearly unprepared for the university environment.
She set about organizing all her research material into handouts, rounded up a few of her son's friends, and held a class with six students. They loved it! She didn't preach to them, but rather interacted with them, and presented solid material using movie clips and other provocative visuals. From that start, her classes grew year by year, until some 150 kids were showing up weekly, with more being turned away for lack of room.
Nancy's classes may well have stayed confined to her community had it not been for the intervention of Charles Colson, who got wind of this popular class and hopped a plane for a visit. "Nancy, you've got to publish this," he said. "We've got to replicate what you're doing here across America." Nancy had reservations about ministries, and she definitely did not want to be a "ministry." But she agreed with his point that "people have to get smarter about their faith."
Fortunately, he prevailed, and the result became Anchorsaway Worldview Curriculum. "Because kids need anchor points in place when they go away," says Nancy. "Who is God? Is Jesus God? If he is God, then what difference does it make to the way we live out our lives?"
Toward Finishing Well
For her, it makes all the difference in the world, and she intends to finish well. "I'm a completer of tasks. I want to sink that ball in that last hole and finish victoriously, knowing that I played my hardest," she says, not necessarily referring to golf.
She gets frustrated with churches, many of which are not only not helping young people cultivate a grounded faith, but are resistant to her efforts do so on their behalf. Now a grandmother of ten, she could retire. "But Lord, where else would I rather be?" she asks with a charming smile. "I'd take a half-lap around this property, and then come back here ready to work again." •
Today, Anchorsaway is in all fifty states and fourteen countries, and has invitations to come into the Philippines and China. Nancy still teaches, but now she also trains more teachers (on-site or online).
After seeing parents sneak onto her deck to listen in on a class, she wrote Unanswered: Smoke, Mirrors and God, a program that can be taught by DVD or used as a basis for small-group study. Unanswered addresses questions like, Is there a God? Why are there so many religions? and What about Jesus? And like the flagship curriculum, it's rich in stories, videos, and visuals.
Never one to preach, Nancy simply disseminates solid information so that people can make informed decisions about the big questions of life.
For information about bringing Anchorsaway into your community, call 317-844-0381 or visit anchorsaway.org.
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