Karyn Renee: I just knew that God had heard my prayers

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Evanston, Illinois
Baha’i since January 2010

I was born on the south side of Chicago into a family that was by then, non-practicing in any particular faith. My mother was raised Episcopalian, but was no longer attending her church regularly. My Father was raised Methodist, but as he grew older, he had many misperceptions about his church and his minister’s perception of God. Ultimately both of them worried about a God who might be judging them, so over time they started to focus less and less on their churches.

From the time I was a little girl, I had a deep love for God. Being spiritual from day one meant that no one quite knew what to do with me. I was a very self-determined child. By third grade I started to get a bit overzealous, and my mother started to see by the way I was dressing and wearing my hair that Catholic school might be good for me, as it would keep me down “the straight path” and perhaps instill in me a sense of closeness to God and “make me be a good girl.”

This became an amazing experience for me, as it was the first time I had really engulfed myself in religion on a daily basis. My parents never supported me in my wanting to actually become a Catholic and I was unable to take sacraments or have a confirmation. But, I still went to church every Sunday and I fell in love with God. At that time, as well, various family members of mine were struggling with their health, so I found myself praying all the time. Eventually each one of them got better and I just knew that God had heard my prayers. He was my constant companion as I felt that I had gotten to know Him in a very deep and personal way.

By the time I graduated from eighth grade, I had considered seriously wanting to become a nun. But, again I was lacking the support I needed from my family and wasn’t able to get enrolled in the classes I would have needed to take in order to go down that path. And even though I graduated at the top of my class, because I was not “officially” a Catholic, I wasn’t accepted into any of the Catholic high schools. I thought this was really unfair and I started to feel disillusioned with the Catholic Church. This led me to start searching elsewhere.

I got accepted into a great high school; it was a math and science academy. It was at that point when I started meeting different people of different religious backgrounds. I would go to a different church with friends every Sunday. At first, I didn’t realize that learning about different Faiths would become a huge part of my life, but it did. I studied Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism. And I also went to every Christian church I could go to from Methodist to Protestant to Presbyterian to more charismatic churches. I even spent some time at Trinity, which is the church that President Obama attended.

My search continued all though high school and college up until the time I got married. My husband was a Catholic, but by the time he had grown up, he was no longer a part of the Catholic Church. His mother, who was my best friend, was also a Catholic. She really wanted us to get married in a Catholic Church, but for various reasons, we ended up getting married by a Baptist minister.

For the first five years of our marriage, neither of us really participated in any specific faith. But, when we started having children, we talked about the importance of raising them in a religious setting. So, we decided to join the Unitarian Church. For me personally, I really needed a mixture of true, crazy love for God expressed in song and I felt that this church provided that. But, at the end of the day I felt I really struggled whenever a member of the clergy said something that I strongly disagreed with and I had a very difficult time reconciling myself with that. Again, I continued to search spiritually for a path that would work best for me.

My first experience with the Baha’i Faith was seeing the Temple in Wilmette, Ilinois while I was studying at Northwestern University in the late 70’s. I didn’t know any Baha’is at the time, and I never went inside, but I always thought the outside was so beautiful. It was not until more than twenty years later after the horrific tragedy of September 11th that I began to once again think about the Faith.

I was on a visit to see my friend, Marguerite, and she had just become a Baha’i. She started telling me all about it and, intrigued, I began reading a few things, studying some of the basic principles and teachings and going into the Temple to say prayers. I enjoyed what I learned, but didn’t yet feel the connection to join. But then when I started reading the Writings – from the BabBaha’u’llah‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, that’s when I really started to fall in love with this Faith.

After Marguerite’s mother passed away last fall, she and I decided to take a visit to the House of Worship. I went to my favorite part of the Visitor’s Center, the bookstore, and it was there that I met a woman by the name of Eriko. She introduced herself to me and mentioned that she is a singer in the Baha’i House of Worship Choir. I shared with her that I have a son who lives in New York and that he is also a singer. She asked me if I sang and informed me that rehearsals had just started up again for the Choir and that I should consider auditioning.

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Karyn Renee (seated in the front) enjoys the 4th Annual Baha'i Choral Music Festival at the Baha'i House of Worship in May, 2010

Because of my love for music as a way of praising God, I attended the very next rehearsal, auditioned and was offered a space in the tenor section. I have made so many wonderful friends in the choir; they’ve become like family to me.

Not long after joining the choir, I was given the opportunity to join a Ruhi Book 1 study circle with Dr. William Roberts of the National Spiritual Assembly. While taking this study course, I realized that I really needed to change my life if I was going to commit to becoming a part of this Faith. In the past I had always been surrounded by people who said one thing, but did another. I wanted to truly live and put into practice what I would be learning and talking about with others.

I saw people in the Baha’i community living their lives according to the beliefs and values that they expressed and that really impressed me. It helped me to realize that I had a lot of work to do and I started by looking at every aspect of my life (my marriage, career path, etc.) and re-evaluated it. I wanted every part of my life to be about being a Baha’i.

I joined the Baha’i Faith in January of 2010. One huge leap of Faith that I have been embarking on is this idea of being obedient; to accept God’s Words and be obedient to His Will. This is really the first time in my life that I’ve embraced this concept.

I’ve learned that if you meet God, even just half way, He will meet you more than half way. This learning has had an amazing effect on my life. I have finally found a Faith that truly makes a difference in my life and makes a difference in the world.

10 Responses

  1. i too am a bahai also of 22 or 23 years it was really lifting to read your story sometimes it feels strange trying to find way spiritually with so much division i love spreading the bahai word…

  2. Julie Hutchinson

    Karyn – it was wonderful to read your story. I am so happy that you have connected with Baha’u'llah :) Sending you lots of love!

  3. Earlyn Craig

    I read your story with tears in my eyes…i also have found this Faith after years and years of searching…i studied theology and the thought was that i would serve in my church, but something in me wanted more…i started studying other religions…practised bhuddism for a while then just found the Faith online…i read every thing i could and found that my search was over…i have lost a lot of friends, called crazy by others, distanced by my husband and also called crazy by Him, i know that for the first time in my life i have found all that i have craved for all my life…i am now separated from my husband and the bounties of God is supporting me….I am blessed and encouraged by your story…thank you for posting…thank you…

  4. Robert Berry

    I to became a Baha’i during the vietnam war and many friends thought I had gone off the deep end, which they never could explain. I am still a Baha’i, forty years later, and I am always overwhelmed by the power of the prayers that sometimes I can’t help it buy cry. Robert Berry

  5. Randall Dighton

    Even after 42 years as a follower of the Blessed Beauty, and hearing hundreds of stories like yours, my heart sang when I read your contribution. May Baha’u'llah bless and strengthen you always.
    Randall Dighton

  6. Anna Steffes

    Mine…a similar story. I was a Catholic nun teaching at St.Juliana School on the NW side of Chicago. About 5 or 6 of us nuns went to see the “new” Temple in 1959, To me, it looked like it had floated down on a Persian carpet. No one met us or explained anything. I was given a book on yoga & Hinduism by a Catholic priest & after leaving the convent in 1975I studied Hinduism & Buddhism in Japan. I was searching for some undefinable “new truth”. Finally, in 1992 a colleague at the university where I taught English brought me the book, THIEF IN THE NIGHT, and asked me to tell him what I thought about it. I studied about 12 books on the Faith after that & signed my declaration card on Nov. 12, 1992, on the 100th anniversary of Baha’u'llah’s passing and the day of His birth. My sister, too, became a Bahai in 2002.

  7. nicki Adgoiy

    Alluabha Karyn amazing you know when you are next to the sun it is hard to see the reflection is Great I was thinking people live in Chicago they know more about the Temple when I was in Ethiopia when ever I think about The Bahi faith because of the Temple I thought it is easy I just learn from you my thinking is wrong but you are lucky you find the faith your self, I did the same and we value it but for second and third generation they thik it is easy .God bless you .40 years being bahai all I like is teaching .

  8. Cyndy Pratt

    Thanks for sharing your personal journey with us, Karyn. I must print it out for my delightfully lovely daughter, whose first names just happen to be – Karen Lydia Renee. (She is nine.) We spent a long time considering her names to make sure they were her very own. We subsequently found out she coincidentially had a great Aunt in the USA called Lydia. Her other two names could very well have been inspired by you…Though we may never meet you in person. Karen is a third generation New Zealand Baha’i and her grandfather Ron (the oldest son and grandson of Baptist ministers from the US Atlantic Coast) pioneered to New Zealand (Aotearoa) in the mid 1960s with his young family to help bring the Faith to Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud at the bottom of the mighty Pacific Ocean. Arohanui (much love in the Maori language) to you. Cyndy Pratt, Napier, New Zealand.

  9. Karen D Williams

    KARYN, I decided to read your story because first of all we have the same first names. Then I noticed your middle name is Renee as a child it is the name I wanted for my middle name. As I continued reading I saw that we are from the same place, the south side of Chicago. Our lives may have been different but we have had the same spiritual cravings. I heard about Baha’i through a friend residing in Illinois who was invited by someone she knows through her employment. She was really taken by it and she is not one easily won over. I am searching for one in my own area. Thank you Karyn for sharing your story, I hope you and your family continue in great wealth.

    she knows through her employment.

  10. Shari Harder

    I was introduced to the faith through an online website called Prophecy Fulfilled by Joel Smith. Praise God!! Raised as a Christian, I was 48 when I visited this site. I first read the writings of the Bab who told about the One Who God would Make Manifest. When I first read some of Baha’u'llah’s proclamation letters, I was quite shocked. He proclaimed, “This is the Father foretold by Isaiah. Did Isaiah prophesy of the coming of the Father? YES he did. Wow! I have spent since 2002 studying the Bible and it is undeniable. As a Christian I had to admit that the Father could come to earth like the Son. Who was I to put limitations on God? I signed a proclamation card in 2003. For me to be effective in sharing the faith with fellow Christians, I knew the only way to do this was to follow Paul’s example. He reasoned with them out of the scriptures. For me to say I believe He is the Revelator for this era, would be like speaking Greek to them and they would judge that I was deceived by a false prophet. But when I found that the Bible does foretell of His coming, I do believe that this will bring down people’s walls. I have written volumes of studies that support His proclamation. Jesus said the Father will come in the Vineyard parable in Mark 12:1-9 Jesus said he’s not the judge and that “the word” will judge. John sees him in Revelation 19:11-13. I found that the Almighty, which is, and was and is to come is the one who will judge in Revelation 1:8 and 16:7. Peter said the Father will judge in 1Peter 1:17 and Paul says the righteous judge will appear in 2 Timothy 4:8. How can we feel justified in doing something Jesus said can happen in Mark 7:13 we can “make the word of God of none effect through our tradition. Paul says we’re not to think of men, above that which is written in 1 Corinthians 4:6 The scriptural evidences are all over the Bible. It is just amazing.
    I was so happy to read your story and pray that you will find a good support group and faith family where you live. I’m on the Canadian Border in northern Minnesota and have no fellowship here, but I have come to appreciate the saying, “One plus God is enough.