Former Atheist Sees the Light

Posted on April 16, 2013

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By David Ettinger

It was atheism born of paternal pressure, but atheism nonetheless. For First Orlando member Debra Lozano, it was also an active atheism, one she tried to fuel in others. “Whenever I talked to Christians, I would tell them how foolish it was to believe in God and that it was nothing more than a crutch,” Debra said. “I used every argument an atheist would use.”

Caption: Debra and Marc in North Carolina.

But all that ended several years later when her toddler son Marc, on his second birthday, lay motionless in her arms. In fact, he was so still that Debra thought he had died.

Born and raised just outside of Chicago, Debra was raised in the Catholic Church. “That was my mother’s influence,” Debra said. “My dad had nothing to do with religion. But for me growing up as a girl, Jesus was very real.”

However, her relationship with her mother was difficult. “On the one hand, she did raise me to believe in Jesus, and I will always be grateful for that. But we also had a very tough time getting along. In fact, I had a traumatic experience when I was a teenager that changed my life. I was cut off from both my mother and my sister [who is three years younger].”

Debra then went to live with her father, who by that time was divorced from Debra’s mother. And that is when Debra, age 16, began her dark journey into atheism. “I’m not sure if my father was an atheist, but he definitely had his own ideas about God. He pretty much convinced me not to believe in God.”

It was a very emotional time for Debra, and she was vulnerable. “Every night my father would teach me his theories on how others should live and think and say things like, ‘You don’t really believe in Jesus, do you? You don’t really believe there’s a God, do you?’ He told me that he wanted to ‘reprogram’ me.”

Caption: Debra with son Marc and daughter Alexis in the late 1980.

Though raised with the belief of God, Debra had difficulty combating her father’s spiritual influence. “At the time, he was all I had,” she said. “I had no willpower or any real sense of right or wrong. My dad was my idol and I wanted to be like him. Therefore, I adopted his point of view; I needed to have something I could claim as my own.”

She also laid claim to her father’s ultra-liberal worldview. “I liked the idea of being ‘intellectual’ and ‘philosophical,’ ” Debra said. “In my thinking, I was all over the map, but with my [strong] personality, I was able to ‘sell’ what I knew. It’s no surprise that when I became an adult I went into sales.”

But what she was selling during the time from her late teens and throughout her 20s was the “gospel” of atheism. “I waited for someone to mention God, and I attacked; I was in their face,” Debra said. “I was aggressive and obnoxious. I would say religion was for weak people and that you can’t prove the existence of God.”

At age 19, and with just $400 in her pocket, Debra and a friend moved to New York so Debra could fulfill her dream of becoming a professional dancer. However, finding jobs proved futile. “I was living the ‘starving artist’ life and not liking it. I was really starving; I was anorexic.”

Eventually, Debra had to undergo surgery, which ended her dancing aspirations. At age 24, she got married and gave birth to her first child, daughter Alexis. Two years later, Debra gave birth to Marc. In the meantime, she clung to her atheism. “I was just as adamant as ever. I was determined not to let the kids get baptized. My husband believed in God and we argued about [how to raise them].”

Caption: Marc, 26, and Alexis, 28, on the morning of Marc’s wedding.

Soon, however, there would be nothing more to argue about.

Fortunate to have two healthy and happy children, Debra was content as a stay-at-home mother. Then came the day of Marc’s second birthday. “It was 10 in the morning [February 13, 1986] and I was dressing him, getting him ready for his party. Suddenly, he said, ‘Mommy,’ and just laid down on the floor.”

Debra thought Marc was playing and picked him up. However, he did the same thing again. “I said, ‘Come on, quit it.’ I was getting irritated. But then I noticed he was beginning to turn blue. I picked him up again and he was lifeless.”

Debra knew this was serious. “I ran to the phone and called 9-1-1. Alexis, who was 4, was screaming, ‘Mommy, Mommy, what’s going on?’ I was frantic. I was telling the dispatcher, ‘My baby’s dead, my baby’s dead.’ That’s what I truly believed.”

Debra was growing desperate, so much so that when asked what her address was, she couldn’t think of it. Then, something happened. “While this was going on, I said [silently], ‘Oh God, you only let me have him for two years.’ It was a total recognition of God on my part. For all those years I did not willfully recognize Him, but this time I did — and with absolute acceptance that it was God’s will to give me a gift then take it away.”

But, as Debra was thankfully soon to learn, this was not God’s will. “I felt led to turn Marc over and slap his back. I did that and he started breathing.”

Debra then took Marc to the hospital, where he was weak and struggling. “He eventually started having convulsions for 18 straight hours. The doctors never did figure out what happened to him. At least, not for another 21 years.”

During those years, Marc continued to have problems. “He had many convulsions and was also behind in school,” Debra said. “At one time, his right arm stopped working. He had various psychological problems. He had horrific pain for two days, and then it would go away … all kind of things.”

Caption: Debra with Marc and Marc’s wife Chelsea.

At last, when Marc was 23 years old, a diagnosis was made. “It was his autonomic nervous system,” Debra said. “It was not functioning right.”

And yet, despite the trauma he endured growing up, Marc has overcome, graduating at the top of his class at the University of North Carolina in 2008. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics and now works as a financial analyst with Bank of America. On top of that, he recently got married. “I attribute it all to God being so faithful to us,” Debra said.

The Lord also had been faithful to Debra. “[Following the traumatic event when Marc was 2], I started taking the kids to church,” she said, adding that she and her husband divorced two years later. “It was a very good church, but I was still holding out. I started reading Buddhist and New Age materials. I had a hard time coping with life.”

But Debra was not alone. “I used to take my kids to a park where I challenged the other parents about their faith,” she said. “But they would challenge [my unbelief] with questions I couldn’t always answer. Eventually, I told them I wanted to go to church, and just about all of them said, ‘We have been praying for you.’ They really cared about my kids and me. God definitely used them in my life.”

Caption: Debra and Marc at Marc’s wedding.

In 1994, eight years following the incident with Marc, the family moved to Orlando where they began attending an Episcopal church. “They were offering a course that focused on who Jesus is, why He died for us, why we read the Bible — the basics. It was during this class when I said, ‘Oh, now I get it.’ ”

After giving her life to Christ, Debra immediately began serving and living out her faith. “I fell totally in love with Jesus and began reading the Bible,” Debra said. “In fact, I can’t get enough of the Bible. I try to read the Bible an hour every morning.”

Furthermore, Debra had the pleasure of leading Alexis to Christ in 2009. Eventually, theological differences with her church led her to come to First Orlando. “I craved more discipleship and was praying for a new church. Somebody invited me to First Orlando. I came and was convicted that this is where God wanted me.”

For Debra, the journey from atheism to faith in Christ has been a victorious one. “I have learned so much about God’s faithfulness to me. I believe God’s Word totally, that everything written in the Bible is absolutely true. I’ve learned that He can heal and bless in ways no human can. He has blessed me in ways that I never could have imagined.”

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