The Prodigal Jewish Girl
By Dale Atlas
In the midst of a group of young children during a game of In the midst of a group of young children during a game of Duck, Duck, Goose seems an unlikely time and place for God to reveal seems Himself to a little Jewish girl. Yet that was what God chose to do.
I was only six or seven years old. At one point during the game, some of the other kids started teasing me. I remember standing there, frozen, with an angry face and clenched fists. Just frozen. And then God spoke to me, saying, “It’s okay Dale, I love you.” And that’s all He said.
Unfreezing, I said to myself, “I don’t care, God loves me!” And at that same time, God planted a seed in me—at least that’s how I’ve always described it. It was a seed that told me things about Himself that have been the foundation of my faith ever since. From that time on, I understood that God created everything, and that He is in control of everything. I understood that He knows everyone’s thoughts, all the time, and all at the same time. I knew He is totally good in every way. And I knew that He is always by my side, that He loves me, and will always love me. I have never doubted any of these truths, and it is this gift of faith that has carried me through my terribly dark times.
During adolescent years, my life at home was less than pleasant. My parents did not get along. Partly to escape from this atmosphere, partly because of my curious and adventurous spirit, and partly because it was the ’60s and ’70s in Boston, MA, I started smoking cigarettes and marijuana when I was 12 years old. Shortly after, I found that I enjoyed some of the pill drugs that were always available during that time. Although I knew so many wonderful things about God, and always felt Him close by, He was silent during those years. He never spoke to me about my lifestyle, or anything. Then, when I was 18, my father and I had a confrontation. And the next day I moved in with some friends. There I had few problems and restrictions, and I could just enjoy life. I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends at clubs and at each others’ houses, or I spent my time traveling. Whatever I was doing, I made sure I had a lot of fun.
Other than the situation at home, I had always felt very happy. But a couple of years after moving out, I found myself going into depression. It started with one bad day, which was rather odd, because I had always been so happy. But then there was another bad day, and then another, and another, until every day was dismal. I didn’t share how I felt with anyone, because I thought they wouldn’t understand. I began living a double life. I would go to work, putting on a happy face and pretending everything was fine, and then come home to crash in the reality of my confusion. This was the first time I remember asking God for something. I began asking for help, and I was absolutely sure He would answer me and give me what I needed—because He was my God who would always love me, from Duck, Duck, Goose to forever! But God was silent. I knew He was there, that He heard my every cry, and that He loved me.
I never doubted anything He had previously told me, even though He remained silent. The depression deepened, until I really believed I was going insane. I was sure I would end up in a straight jacket in an institution somewhere, detached from reality. I lost hope and began asking God to take me home, even sharing with Him my ideas on how that might happen. I wasn’t suicidal. I believed that when and how God wanted me to die was His choice. So I went on with my life, believing that I would never live to see 25.
Then one day, as I was pondering my dilemma and asking God for help, God made His next move. Approximately six years prior, my brother, who is two years older than I, had become a Christian. He was constantly trying to get me to talk about Jesus the Savior, my sin, everyone’s sin, and to go to church. I wasn’t interested. The people from his little Southern Baptist church were very nice, but very different from me. Their beliefs were odd, and I was Jewish. And besides, I already knew God intimately, at least I had thought so. But as I sat there, in God’s silent presence, a question formed, and I asked, “Is this why You are not helping me? Is what my brother has been saying about Jesus true?” Immediately the depression was gone!
Sometimes I wonder why I needed to go through deep depression to find the truth about who Jesus is. Couldn’t God have just told me, like He told me about Himself when I was a child? What were the benefits? What was the purpose? I don’t have all the answers, but I know that experience helps me understand and have a deeper compassion for people dealing with depression, or going through really difficult times. Hopefully, I won’t ever say to anyone, “Just snap out of it,” or “Just think about all the things you have to be thankful for.” One thing I know for sure is that sometimes the most painful things are the things that teach you the most about life, about being thankful. And most importantly, they bring you closer to God.
After the depression left, I began reading the Bible. I found that I understood what I was reading about Jesus—the virgin birth, my sinful nature, and how God revealed the depth of His love for me through Jesus, the Messiah. I so much wanted to be baptized, but I still did not want to live like those people in church. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened to me. Yet I slowly began to look at my life in a different way. I began feeling the emptiness of the superficiality of many of my friendships, and the lack of purpose for my life—things I had never felt before. And the consequences of my bad decision making and lifestyle were starting to scare me. Still, in all, it took me about 10 years before I started going to church, the same little Southern Baptist church that my brother had asked to pray for me for these 15 years. Immediately, I knew God was asking me to give my life to Him, and to make a commitment to follow Him. I did, and I was baptized on September 11, 1988, when I was 31 years old. Since then, my life has gone through a steady transformation, including a lot of forgiveness and healing with my parents.
Besides saving my soul, God also healed my body. When I was 23 years old, the mysterious illnesses that had been plaguing me since I was much younger finally led to a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, an incurable intestinal disease. From that time on, I lived with almost continual intense pain. I had to take multiple medications that caused side effects resulting in my having to take additional medications to help relieve the problems associated with the side effects.
Eleven years after becoming a Christian, I was hospitalized for the fourth time. My doctor told me that he might need to totally remove my intestines. I made a decision which I am not recommending since others may not see the same results. But for me, I felt at peace with God about it. Despite my doctor’s diagnosis that, if the infection in my intestines did not get better I would die without surgery, I refused the operation. I was discharged from the hospital, barely able to walk.
A group of pastors and friends I had been praying with weekly heard of my situation and asked if they could come to my house to pray for me. After the prayer, I went into remission. Actually, I believe I have been healed. Recent tests haven’t shown any signs of the disease, and not long after that time of prayer I was able to stop all medications. That was more than five years ago, and today I feel marvelous!
I know how hard it can be in today’s modern, fast-paced world to believe in God, or that He loves you or even knows you exist. But let me assure you, He does! He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). If you want His rest, just tell Him. He knows what is in your heart, good and bad, so there is nothing to fear. A simple “Jesus, I want to know you and give my life to you” is music to His ears.
Do you know… There are just over 13 million Jews world-wide (2000 figures), indicating that about 0.21% of the world is Jewish—about 1 person out of every 470. So the expectation is that 0.21% of the world’s scientists, musicians, entertainers, writers would, on average, be Jewish. Not so. Just looking in the period since the mid-nineteenth century we find that about 25% of the world’s scientists have been Jews and that, in 1978, over half the Nobel Prize winners were Jewish. Over 50% of the main contributors to the progress of mankind that year coming from 0.21% of the population!
(From The People of Many Names, by Steve Maltz)