Photo by Jon Anderson
Kara Moritz Harrison
Kara Moritz Harrison of Hoover's Shades Mountain community is finding new meaning in Christmas this year after converting from atheism in May.
My Christmas tree looks the same this year as any other tree I’ve ever had, but to me it’s very different.
Carols sound lovelier. Nativity scenes are more delightful. The blooms of poinsettias more vivid, wrapping paper more festive. This is my first Christmas as a believer.
My family and I always celebrated Christmas, but until this past May, I was an atheist. I did not believe in God. To me, the story of a poor baby boy born of a virgin and adored by shepherds and wise men was simply a comforting myth. A sweet story about angels and a big star that gave people something to celebrate once a year.
Until this Christmas.
It was a regular Thursday this past May. I got the kids off to school, and my husband left for work. But after making coffee, I noticed the light in the house seemed crisper. Fabrics felt softer. A box in the den without much of a smell before gave off the rich scent of cedar. I could breathe deeper, as if a tightness was lifting. Running errands, I noticed people were somehow friendlier. A cross at a store didn’t make me feel as alienated as usual.
A kind of a quiet, calm slowness settled over everything that day and the next. For a while, I had no idea what was happening to me. And then comes the hardest part to explain: I began to feel the strong presence of someone watching over me — someone indescribably gentle and loving. But it was not until Saturday, while walking along a path near my home, that I knew that the presence was Jesus.
I was raised in a very caring, non-religious family. Our home was filled with learning, books, art and the bluegrass gospel my father loved to sing and play on the banjo. I believed in evolution, and still do, but saw no way it fit with the idea of a creator.
I wondered often about the meaning of life and about the vastness of the universe. Nature was and is very beautiful to me, and so I thought there might be some sort of impersonal power out there. But definitely not a deity of any sort. Life on earth was basically survival of the fittest.
I had never read the Bible, thinking it was simply a collection of stories made up by men to give people rules of behavior. The idea that it was divinely inspired never crossed my mind.
Jesus was probably just a great teacher who said a lot of nice things about love. Religion was understandably comforting for people, given the sad fact that you only live once, then are gone forever. I thought Christians were very lucky they could believe in anything like a loving, just God. My father did tell me before he died a few years ago that he thought there was a God. It surprised me that he said that, and honestly didn’t make any sense.
I had a happy childhood but in my teenage years began to struggle. With no firm direction. no real anchor, I made a lot of stupid mistakes and was irresponsible and indecisive. I loved many things about life, such as my family and friends, flowers, trees, birds and rock music, but was basically an anxious person. Although often surrounded by family and friends who loved me, I was lonely and never felt content.
Eight years ago, soon after we moved to Birmingham from Minneapolis, my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. Life got even more difficult.
During that dark time, I began to make friends with some Christians in my neighborhood. They were funny, smart people who went out of their way for us. My son’s elementary school teachers, who I knew were Christian, did everything they could to help him through the intense hardships of his early childhood. These teachers deserve the most credit for the amazing progress he has made over the past few years.
Last summer, a pediatrician discovered a large and very frightening tumor in my older son’s arm. We were terrified but were led just in time to a brilliant UAB surgeon who removed it in a very difficult procedure. The tumor could easily have taken his arm and left him disabled.
A year and a half later, he has made a complete recovery. His incredible outcome seemed like a miracle then, and now I think it actually was one. And during the whole ordeal, all my Christian friends brought us through with plenty of love and food and prayers.
Then, this May, a friend and I started a text stream about atheism, agnosticism and Christianity. During our back and forth about all sorts of religious topics, including the fact that plenty of Christians believed in evolution, she texted me a photo from a magazine at a dentist office.
It was a page about Francis Collins, the physicist/geneticist who led the Human Genome Project and who is known for his discoveries of disease genes. The current director of the National Institutes of Health, Collins is the author of the New York Times Bestseller “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.”
Thinking it was a strange coincidence that she happened upon it in the middle of our text stream, I read a little about him and was intrigued. I had honestly never thought that any evidence in science actually pointed to a Creator, although now I know many of the greatest scientists who ever lived have said that for centuries. I decided to read more about Collins the next day.
But the next day turned out to be May 7th, when things really started to change. In three days, Jesus lifted the veil from my eyes. He showed me that my idea of one short life followed by an eternity of nothingness was very wrong. I suddenly knew that Heaven existed. I was given grace.
Now, the universe is not cold and impersonal anymore. I realize that my wonderful husband and sweet boys, my friends and neighbors, and even my little dachshund, are all blessings. It’s not that life is ever easy, but His loving presence is with me every day, giving strength through difficulties. He loves me so much that He took the penalty of my sin on himself. He died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead. He offered me forgiveness and an eternal life with Him in Heaven. All I had to do was repent and put my faith in him.
I now attend Discovery United Methodist in Hoover, where I’ve made new friends who are kind, gentle people. Many work very hard to help those less fortunate than themselves. We praise Him and feel the Holy Spirit together each Sunday in a casual, lovely setting.
I enjoy every sermon given by senior pastor Mike Skelton and student minister Jeremy Auvil. Gifted musicians play all sorts of different instruments and sing songs of praise for us all. There are usually treats made by talented bakers and chefs at church, which has turned out to be a huge plus for my boys. I pray and read the gospels daily and look forward to taking communion each month. I was baptized Aug. 15 in Buck Creek in Helena.
This Christmas is all about joy. My 10-year-old son did an awesome job as a wise man in a children’s production at Discovery. Amazingly, he stood up through the entire show, singing and dancing and having a blast.
The deep, pine scent of our tree is filling the house. I can play carols on the piano for the first time in 25 years. The lyrics of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” — “born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth” make complete sense now.
If you are not a believer or have lost touch with your faith, I want to say this to you: Everyone has their own path. Christianity should not be shoved down anyone’s throat. Still, I need to share my story. People who have not yet experienced God’s grace need to know that the door is open to them and it’s not too late (it didn’t happen for me until after I hit middle age).
Each person’s experience of grace is different, but no matter how it happens, you will become a much happier person. Jesus wants a relationship with everyone on this earth. He is trying to get your attention. If you listen, you will hear Him speak to you in the things you love. He was speaking to me my whole life, but I didn’t know it.
If you begin to be open to belief in Him, everything will start to change. Doors will open as they have for me. Opportunities will simply start to present themselves. If you are struggling with addiction and anger, He will help you. You will become a kinder person. You will enjoy giving to others more. You will start to forgive those you believe wronged you. You will want to use whatever gifts He has given you to give back to the world, and you will probably more deeply appreciate His beautiful creation surrounding us.
He will make you the person He always meant you to be. He will also give you the promise of eternal life. He truly is the Savior. And He came into our world in a humble manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. We can all rejoice at His birth on Christmas.
Kara Moritz Harrison enjoys writing, photography, flower gardening, bird watching in her yard, and good music. She lives with her husband, two boys, and a dachshund named Molly in in the Shades Mountain neighborhood of Hoover.