Carolynn Yakush inherited her taste for the good life from her Czech grandparents, and her interest in faith from her mother and the Christian schools she went to. For many years, the desire for money and a life of luxury overshadowed her spiritual and religious concerns. One day, almost without thinking about it, she entered a church again, and was amazed at the strong feeling of belonging she felt.
Do you have anything to say to those who have not kept in touch with their spiritual family?
More than anything, I would encourage them to pray, because I know that prayer works wonders. I’ve seen this in my own life, and in the life of my family and friends. I would also encourage them to sneak into church and allow themselves to become a part of it again. I encourage them to become part of the church again, not to judge the people who are there, and those who are not, what others believe or do not believe about them, but to act as God leads them, because God speaks to them—they just have to listen.
Did He continue to speak to you even in those years of isolation?
He talked to me a lot, indeed, but I didn’t want to listen. I was like a baby who shoves her fingers into her ears, refusing to listen. I didn’t want to listen, because I thought He would make me do things I thought I didn’t want to do.
So I encourage my friends to pray, to return to their church, even if their feelings were hurt there. Talking to people who no longer go to church, they tell me that the church has made them suffer, that some person in the church has hurt them, and to some extent I understand them, but then I say, “You know what? We are all people. People mess up all the time. But that’s not why we go to church, we go there for God’s sake.” It has often happened for me to go to church when my friends where not there. Then I listened to the sermon and heard something I needed to hear.
Sometimes I compare it to going to the gym. Many say: “I don’t need to go to church. I can be faithful at home too.” I won’t say if I agree or not, just that this sounds like: “I don’t need to go to the gym to lift weights, lose a few pounds, and be healthier.” Can I just sit on the couch and just think about it? No. There’s something special about the fact that you are going somewhere, that you are a part of something.
Reconnecting to your family of faith did not, however, relieve you of emotional crises. In the short conversation preceding the interview, you even used the word “dramas”. Can these things still happen in the life of a Christian?
Always? Can you tell us more about this?
It is my opinion that often, as people draw closer to God, the forces of evil start working harder. There are always ups and downs in our lives, but I had reached a point where things were going pretty smoothly. However, about four years ago, I went through an experience that I thought I would not be able to survive. I was done. I had no hope.
Looking back, do you think that crisis was as big as you saw it then? Or did your psyche make the problem seem bigger?
Yes, it was my state of mind.
How did you cope?
At first, I couldn’t cope, because I wanted to have the problem under control and I thought I would manage it, up to a point. After which I failed. That is what happened. I barely had enough strength to deal with each day. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to know, because I wanted people to see me as a happy person, but when I came home in the evenings I struggled with myself. This was at the end of winter—the sun was setting early—and I had some huge struggles when it got dark, because my mind was going to very dark, very unhealthy, and challenging places, when, I can honestly tell you, Satan was fighting to steal my heart, my soul, and my mind.
I was struggling with this condition, I was crying, and I was depressed. One night, I went into the bedroom at one o’clock, hoping to fall asleep. I couldn’t sleep at all. I lay down with tears running down my cheeks, as usual, and I said to God, “I can’t live like this anymore, Lord! Now I surrender to You, because if You don’t do something, I can no longer live!” Half an hour later, and let’s not forget it was winter and already about two in the morning, a bird began to sing at my window…
A bird? In the middle of the night?
But birds do not sing at night. And especially not in winter…
I was sitting in bed and thinking: a bird is singing in a tree at my window. Amazing! The next thing I remember was that it was morning. I woke up and thought: I slept! I slept for four hours!
After a long time…
After weeks of sleepless nights. The same thing happened the following night. I was afraid to go to bed. I entered my room and the bird began to sing again. About four nights in a row, when the same thing happened, I knew that bird was sent by God. It basically sang me to sleep.
I knew everything would be fine. One night, although the bird had sang me to sleep, at four o’clock I woke up again with that anxiety. And the bird began to sing again. The bird stayed there until I was well.
I woke up remembering Bible passages from my childhood. Verses that I had never thought about and that I had not memorized now came to my mind word for word. It also happened to me with a song. I was humming a Christian hymn and thinking: Amazing! I haven’t heard it in such a long time and now I’m humming it! I knew that surrendering all control to God and telling Him that I needed His help was something of immense power, because the experience with the bird was something strange.
Are you saying you don’t know if it was a real bird or if it just happened in your mind?
You know what? The amazing thing about it was that, at that time, one of my friends was living with me, because she was looking for a home. One morning she came down and said: “I have a very strange question, but I must ask you.” “What is it?” I said. “Did you hear a bird singing in the middle of the night?” “I always hear it!” I said. She didn’t know about my problem. “But the time when birds start singing at night is still far away,” she added. “I know,” I answered. I am very glad there was someone with me, because otherwise I would have probably thought I was going crazy.
In a good way. But it was more than that. Apart from what happened in your soul, there was also something concrete.
And I could really feel God and Satan fighting for me, if I may say so. I felt this. And I felt when God won.
I imagine that listening to the trill of birds now has a new meaning for you, at any time or place.
More than ever. I live in Kennesaw; Mount Kennesaw starts from behind my house, about a five-kilometre walk away. I walk this road five times a week and try to do this around 6-7 in the morning. There are people jogging there, and I admire them for that. Others are just walking with their headphones on, listening to music.
I will never listen to music there, because I can listen to the birds and I think this is the most beautiful moment of the day, because as I am climbing the mountain, and for that half an hour I am full of gratitude and I rehearse in my mind all the things I am satisfied with. As I come down the mountain, I pray—with my eyes open, of course, because otherwise I would stumble—but those are my mountaintop experiences. You’re right, when I hear the birds, I remember that particular bird. It’s a wonderful memory.
Not just for you, because from now on, when we hear the trill of birds, we will think about how God sent those birds to help you. Jesus said that the Father takes care of even the smallest birds, and it is clear that He does this for a reason. We have to listen.
That’s what I tell myself every day: Listen, Carolynn! There is a message in this.
It seems that God’s specialty is to take care of us when we no longer can.
Yes, of course. It’s amazing and shocking. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be here today, I would have said: “No. I will not sit there talking about these life experiences.” I had many people in my life telling me about things in their own lives to encourage me, whether I was listening or not.
Sometimes we don’t listen, but something sticks with us, just like you said about those Bible verses and those songs that you may not have loved so much as a child. Nevertheless, they are there and, at the right time, God can use them for our good.
Indeed. For our salvation and restoration.
How does your current work as a consultant for healthcare companies relate to your life experience?
I think it comes down to watching people. I am a psychology graduate and I like to look at people, to listen to them. Often when I enter a new consulting room, I immediately notice the person who will challenge me, regardless of the reason. I am aware that I will need to dedicate some time to them, that I will need to listen, and pay attention. What is paradoxical is that, over time, being honest and authentic, and answering people’s needs, we find out how much they suffer in a way that has nothing to do with work and we find out why they behave the way they do at work. Then we can move away from work-related activities and talk, encourage or simply listen to them.
In a consulting room where I had been working for two months for two days a week, there was a girl who kept me at a distance and who did not participate in anything I did. So I decided to approach her with gentleness. About two months later, she said to me, “You know what? I didn’t like you at all when you came here.” I asked her why. “Because you were too kind, and people who are too kind always want something, and that’s never good,” she said. I told her I understood. About a week later, I came to the office earlier and she was the only one there. It was a Monday morning. We talked for a while and she teased me. “How many times did you go to church this weekend?” “It was nice of you to ask me that,” I said. “Carolynn, can you teach me how to pray?” she then asked.
Oh, all of a sudden. You hadn’t told her anything beforehand, had you?
She just asked me what I did over the weekend, and if people ask me, I tell them.
And what did you tell her?
That there are no rules, that there is no particular way to pray. “You are simply talking to God. You can pray while driving, you can pray on your knees, you can pray when you move or when you are here at work. I can’t list how many times I pray during the day and I feel that I am extremely happy all the time because I am where I am in my life; that, for instance, I am not seriously ill, or in a hospital, and I am grateful to God for this,” I told her.
She looked at me, thanked me, and told me she hadn’t asked anyone how to pray before. It was the most surprising conversation I had, given who she was and how challenging she had been as a person. Sometimes, in such moments, I realize that I am not there for the work I do and, though it sounds weird, I’m there for other reasons. I realized this a few years ago and I told myself: Carolynn, be authentic, don’t tell stories that aren’t true, don’t make anything up, talk to that person about God in any way, without suffocating them or telling them that they need to read around five books before going to church or something along those lines.
I’m not saying that that approach is necessarily wrong, only that it doesn’t work for me.
I am encouraged by the way people open up and really want to talk or listen and it doesn’t have to be for an entire hour, it can just be for three minutes. Sometimes I ask God to lead me to someone who needs to hear something encouraging about Him. The fact that I am the liaison between other people and God makes me very happy.
To be the liaison between others and God… this is a great starting point for each day. Thank you for talking to me with so much frankness and joy.