I grew up spending an hour at church every Sunday, but I had no idea I was just going through the motions. Both at home and at church the message I heard was that I needed to be perfect. Being a first born and a people pleaser, I worked hard trying to be everything everyone wanted me to be. Despite my best efforts it seemed that nothing I did measured up, which I translated into, “I’m not good enough.”
Attention was mistaken for love. When my high school boyfriend proposed, the thought of saying, “No” never occurred to me. “No” had never been allowed to be part of my vocabulary, plus I thought no one else would ever want me.
One day I came across a collage I made for a college class depicting what I wanted in life. I noticed I possessed everything on that page - a husband, children, even a house with a picket fence – yet I was empty. I didn’t realize that what I was missing was a personal relationship with Jesus, or that everything I would ever need could be found in Him.
The facade of the perfect life all came crashing down on me when my husband announced he was leaving. There I was, alone, with a daughter who had just turned 6, a son who was 4, and a part-time job that paid $75 a week. I can’t give any explanation as to how I managed to feed us and pay every bill on time, except that God provided for me even before I knew Him personally.
I definitely wasn’t looking for another husband, but God had other things in mind. A year later I married Bob, who had three children just older than mine. Over almost two decades of marriage we’ve experienced the joys and struggles of a blended family and the heartbreak of never having completely blended.
The best thing Bob ever did for me was to bring me to the place where I met Jesus. I had attended church my entire life thinking God’s only role was that of judge, keeping track of the good and bad in my life. I had no certainty of salvation. I didn’t know certainty was even possible. I thought all one could do was to try his or her best and hope in the end that the good outweighed the bad.
It took me a long time to grasp the concept of grace. What I was hearing destroyed the picture of God keeping a tally of right and wrong and introduced me to the One who loves me unconditionally. Wrapping my mind around the fact that I was good enough just being who He created me to be, and that I had been good enough all along, was a painstakingly slow process but a life-changing one.
My children and I began to learn about God together. I was able to introduce them to Jesus and help them to understand His unconditional love and His desire for an intimate relationship with them. They grew up with the confidence I didn’t have as a child; one that comes from knowing they are valued and cherished by God, who created them in His image and knows them by name.
God enabled me to do things I thought I was incapable of, such as studying the Bible with my children before school. (To this day I don’t think I’m gifted in “early.”) The first time I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me was during one of these early morning sessions. The passage Jeremiah 29:11-14 seemed to jump out at me. I had no idea that it was a message from God, a message I would need to cling to in the years ahead.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.”
At just thirty-two years old I lost something I had taken for granted – my health. I know exactly when this happened because I remember thinking my husband turned forty and yet I was the one to fall apart.
My medical problems started with pain in my hip and a limp after a long July day spent with the family at an amusement park. For a year it was all downhill from there. Not one of the many doctors I saw could accurately diagnose what was causing my pain and declining mobility. Anger and frustration set in as I did everything the doctors suggested but experienced only miniscule improvement. I couldn’t understand why God would allow this to happen to me.
The Holy Spirit brought Jeremiah 29:11-14 to mind and I realized I needed to cooperate with God rather than fight against Him. Through hard work and God’s grace my condition began to improve, but in increments so small that I would have to compare one year to another to see any progress.
Three years later I was still in a great deal of pain but gaining mobility. One way I strengthened my legs was to ride my bicycle, at least until I was found lying in the middle of the road with a closed-head injury.
I don’t remember the accident, though I do remember being unconscious. As I came to I was praying, telling God I was still there, that I wasn’t going to battle with Him again because of this setback. I found myself on another long road to recovery while I hadn’t yet reached the end of the first one.
The world doesn't have much use for someone who can't sit too long or stand too long because of chronic pain, or who has short-term memory loss and a lot of headaches. But thankfully the ways of the world are not God’s ways.
What does God do with such a person? In my case, He calls her to teach about Him and sends her on a mission trip to Africa! How God managed to convince me to go is a story in and of itself. Suffice it to say, it required a huge leap of faith on my part. It wasn’t easy by any means, but it was life-changing, and my faith grew by leaps and bounds.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons God chose to send me was so that no one else would have an excuse. If He made a poster with my picture on it, I think the caption would be, “If I can use her, I can use anyone!”
Pain and limitations are still a part of my life, but I’ve learned that my constraints don’t limit God in the least. The girl who was terrified at the thought of giving the valedictory address at her high school graduation is now a woman eager to share what she’s learned about Christ with as many people as will listen. Failure no longer frightens me. Instead, I have a confidence that comes from knowing that I am cherished by God who looks at my efforts rather than just results.
I love my life! While there are many experiences I wouldn’t want to repeat, I wouldn’t change them either because without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. I now possess the peace that passes all understanding and know a joy not influenced by circumstances. I live in the freedom that comes from seeking to please God and God alone. My hunger for Him and His Word has only grown, along with a desire to share what I’ve learned with others. I want everyone to know the transformation possible in a life submitted to Christ!
Being a Christian, totally surrendered to and trusting in God, is an adventure! Once deemed the person least likely to go back to Africa, I’m now looking at what will be my fifth trip. Bob and I will be returning to the school for orphans that we broke ground on back in 2008. OpeN Christian Center received 501c3 status in August 2011 and we are on the board of directors. I’m currently working to compile information on each of those precious children and seeking to find sponsors for them so they can eat at least once every day, learn of their value in God’s eyes and live a life transformed by Christ.