An Organic Appetite

It was one thing for my Jewish father to marry my non-Jewish mother. It was another thing completely for both of them to become Christians within a month of each other eight years into their marriage. Let’s just say that the decision did not go down too well with the Jewish side of the family. (Imagine My Big Fat Greek Wedding without the happy ending.) A month after their conversion, I was conceived, and less than a year after my parents became Christians, I was welcomed into a world of religious tension. I didn’t know it at the time, but I became the bundle of glue that held the family together, because as upset as my Jewish grandmother was at my father, she wasn’t going to give up access to her only grandchild.

As a result of my parents’ backgrounds, I was raised in a Christian home with hues of Judaism. Think matza ball soup at Christmastime. I never knew how many gifts my Jewish grandmother was going to give—whether I would hit the jackpot with the stack-o-gifts that accompany Hanukkah, or receive the one big present that inadvertently acknowledged Christmas even though it was still wrapped in Hanukkah paper. The confusion ended when Grandma began giving the gift that embraced the fullness of my Jewish heritage: a check.

Throughout the years, I managed to learn a few random words in Yiddish, develop a quirky Jewish sense of humor, and inherit an undeniable sense of chutzpah. I developed a desire to know how these worlds that seemed so opposed in my childhood could ever get along. I also developed a hunger to know God. This hunger wasn’t anything I conjured up but rather seemed to be part of the “me-package,” like a strand of DNA, though it took years to fully manifest itself. My initial interaction with Scripture wasn’t so much out of longing as it was out of desperation. I was having terrible nightmares—the kind you can’t forget even when you’re an adult.

On a sunny, breeze-softened afternoon, I was fishing alongside a creek in a forest filled with maple and oak trees. Sitting on the moss-carpeted shore, I held a thin wooden fishing pole. I felt a slight tug on the line and an unmistakable surge of excitement. I began pulling back on the pole. It arched at the weight of the catch. Without warning, a huge shark with beady eyes and enormous yellow razor-sharp teeth came out of the water and toward my face.

I awoke, breathless. Heart pounding. Body covered in sweat. I knew sharks didn’t jump out of creeks and eat people, but now I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t want to fall back asleep ever again. Would the next nightmare be worse?

These night terrors continued for months. My parents held me. Prayed for me. Comforted me when they heard my screams. But the dreams didn’t stop until I made a personal discovery. Somehow as an eight-year-old, I figured out that if I read the Bible before I went to bed, I would sleep soundly. It’s a strange equation:

Bible before bed = No nightmares

The concept made perfect sense when I was eight. I couldn’t explain why it worked, I just knew that it did. And when you’re facing man-eating sharks, you’ll do whatever it takes to make them go away.

Two-plus decades later, I’m sometimes tempted to shrug off my miracle cure as an oddity or merely chance, except for the fact that those evening readings made God all the more real and personal. I’m humbled that God would so tenderly and intimately embrace a child with simple faith. And I am staggered to realize how God was preparing me, even then, to know him better.

Somewhere along the way, reading the Bible actually became enjoyable and not just a cure for nightmares. The stories of kings and queens and prophets and pilgrims came alive, and of course, the Jesus-man captured my heart as well as my imagination. What did he look like? What did his voice sound like? What did his hands feel like? I wanted to know.