40 Years in America

Thank You to My Ancestors

Maria van Leeuwen Okamoto

In January of 1980 I was 18 years old but I had always felt mature for my age. I had been raised mostly by my father since my mother had died when I was 4 and also I had had to take care of myself a lot. My father was the love of my life until I started my teens. Then I began to have questions about life that my father could not answer and I realized my father was not perfect. I had been brought up as a law-abiding Catholic and at the age of 12 I finally began to try and understand what I had already long before memorized in the repetitious Sunday services. By myself I understood that what the Bible and Jesus taught were good and important things but at the same time I could see that it wasnít enough to solve the problems so rampant around me. The meaning of the Bibleís words were too ambiguous and antique for a young idealistic mind as my own. So I began my search for truth outside the church.

Influenced by my friends, I went to the rock and roll gods. I adored my favorite bands and I would cry in dreamy excitement when I went to their concerts. But the solutions to the problems I saw around me, read in newspapers and experienced in my own relationships weren't there. I thought if I took the challenge of a career, maybe I could meet some real people and find fulfillment, so I entered college. I was crushed with disappointment when I felt the falseness of the images people portrayed. I wanted to meet real, honest people and communicate about life sincerely. I wanted to live my ideals and nothing less. It was a very turbulent time on a very lonely path because everyone around me seemed to give up on their ideals, settle for less or not think at all!

But I wasnít going to give up. During my internal struggles I found that by writing every thought and feeling down in my journals (which became quite a stack), I could finally come to a calm and peaceful place in my heart; then I could clearly hear an inner voice telling me the right path for me to take. I had found Godís voice. Following Godís direction was always the most difficult thing to do. I had started college but soon was disappointed by the spiritless classes. So God told me to travel. I planned a trip south in search of something that was supposed to be there or else I wouldnít want it so much. I sold my car, boxed up my belongings and left my apartment. There was no turning back.

I was an 18-year-old country girl traveling alone for the first time, shaking nervously at the border to the U.S. The customs officer must have felt something suspicious because of my shaking and my vague responses about the purpose and destiny of my journey. I hadnít really prepared myself for those types of questions. I was promptly refused entry. I unloaded my pack from the bus and I stood outside the building, tears flowing down my face. Tears of humiliation, disgust at my own weakness and also loneliness. Luck was on my side -- a kind truck driver offered to give me a lift back to Vancouver. As we drove along the highway, he listened to my story and told me to not give up. His kind words healed my heart and I felt my confidence return and my determination double. It must have been God speaking through him. After arriving back in Vancouver, without a second thought I took the next bus directly to the airport. This time as I walked towards the customs gate, the officer smiled and just waved me through, barely glancing at my passport and wishing me a nice trip. I felt the "power" with me.

My first stop was San Francisco. I had a friend there who had invited me. I felt so small as I walked in that big American airport; my heart was thumping up an earthquake. I called and to my dismay, my friend was out of town but the person who took the call promised to try and contact him and tell him of my arrival. Now what was I to do! I gathered my wits and took a bus to the good old YWCA. I called again and left a message about where I was staying. I would wait for his call. In the meantime I decided to take a hot bath and think things out. As the comfort of the warm water relaxed my body, the tears began to flow. They were tears of exhilaration and profound happiness. It had been such a hard spiritual and emotional battle to come this far. It felt that the happiness was not just my own. Personally I felt a great victory and my confidence rose.

Following the voice in your heart is not easy. I planned the next day to do a little sightseeing and if so be it, go on to my next destination without meeting my friend.

The next morning was sunny and fresh. I picked up my map and went out. As I stood at the intersection studying the map, suddenly a young, friendly couple asked me if I needed any help. At that moment I didnít realize it but it was the moment that all my ancestors had waited for. After some chatting, to our surprise we realized that the couple lived at the same place, at 1153 Bush Street, as my friend so I went with them. It was the first and last stop of my search.

When we entered the Bush Street house, I sensed immediately that this was not just a house but it was a place of religious activity. Basically I donít and didnít at that time have strange concepts about religions and I didnít believe much of anything that the media reported. God and my upbringing had really given me confidence in my own judgment of what was true or false. Being young and strong-minded, I never once believed that young people could be controlled by their environment and I didnít believe much in mystic stuff like so-called mind control. At that time rebelling against the "norm" was what I thought young people did.

I was invited to a nice dinner and mingled around meeting people. After that there was some entertainment and a little talk about an elephant. To tell the truth, I didnít concentrate on what was being said much. At the end there was a slide show and this was what got me interested to go with them to their farm to work together and have group discussions.

Also, they promised that my friend would be able to meet me there. While talking to people on the bus to the farm, I came to feel that these were really nice and sincere people. I began to stop worrying about meeting my friend as I was making lots of new ones.

Studying and discussing the Divine Principle with other young people those days was one of the most wonderful times of my life. With every new piece of truth I felt a light turned on and the darkness left behind. One day I heard for the first time that God is not just Heavenly Father but also Heavenly Mother! It was the first time I heard it and at the same time I felt, "of course!" When I went out to pray by a beautiful stream, I prayed to understand Heavenly Mother. Then She appeared to me in the trickling of the stream, in the beauty of the little flowers, in the gentle caressing breeze, in the fresh blue sky. The warm, gentle, never changing heart of God, my Mother, was all around me. Now I always pray to Heavenly Father but I never forget my discovery of Heavenly Mother.

Stepping into the Bush Street house was really the stepping into heaven for me. I never have to struggle in darkness again. Even during the challenges of a life of faith I always have the truth and True Parents leading the way. I finally did meet my friend, but he had become my Spiritual Father!

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