An amazing thing about New Life is the sheer number of lives that have been changed because of God’s work. Yet this does not mean we are special. Rather, it points to the reality that there is a Master Story-teller…and your story starts to find hope, healing, and purpose when you find your identity in His Story.
No story (life situation, current circumstance, etc.) is un-redeemable. Our God is that powerful. He is also that good…and willing. Praise be to God!!!
Some may think a minister does not have much of a “past” or a story to tell. However, this is not my story. I want to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a story which tells of a person having walked closely with God from an early age. In fact, we need more of those stories of life-long faithfulness to God (I mean seriously, that is the type of story I want my children to have…and it would not be a “boring” story or life; walking closely with God is anything but that).
Yet, this preacher has a “past” you might say. I am not sure how much will be shared on this site, but I am always willing to share in person for sure (and parts of it often leaks out in sermons). Yet for now I will say this: right now a part of my story is how God continues to bring about change and growth in me as I try to shepherd and lead a group of people called New Life. It is challenging and I am far from perfect. I make mistakes yet I seek to learn. I am thankful there are so many people here who are willing to learn and grow along with me.
Brent had encouraged me to be thankful, to be content, for years. He had seen firsthand the devastation that discontentment can cause, because he saw how I lived. We had a pretty good life, a pretty good marriage, even a baby or two by that time, but what I focused on was the lack. What was missing. And I could get myself worked up into quite a state of discontent and it was miserable to live that way.
It goes back to putting Brent as an idol in my life, when we were first dating. I was, in my very deepest heart, surprised that a man would pay attention to me, would like me, and even love me, because I didn’t feel beautiful. So when I experienced dating Brent, I felt “on top of the world.” I never made the conscious choice to make Brent into an idol, but my actions show that’s what I did. I had wrong expectations of him. And anytime we put people – imperfect people – on a pedestal, expect of them what only God can deliver, they have numerous opportunities to fail and disappoint us.
I didn’t know how to deal with disappointment. I’d feel hurt, even angry, confused, and didn’t know how to deal with it. One example, growing up, I’d put so much expectation on Christmas, getting the gifts that I wanted, just the whole ‘feeling’ I’d get with movies and shopping. And most every Christmas morning, even getting the gifts I’d wanted, I’d feel depressed. My dad would video us showing our gifts, and I’d be so mopey and down showing mine.
Over the course of time, in the place of being sad or disappointed I learned to try and care for myself in ways I learned… which never satisfied. Pity parties – playing back in my mind how I’d been hurt, or misunderstood, repeating thoughts in my mind that sometimes I knew were lies and sometimes I was deceived into thinking they were truth, building up my anger, bringing in past events to build the anger and hurt more; Escape – to TV, movies, novels, and food, but these would only numb the pain for a time, and they were never enough; and Depression.
Depression is said to be anger-turned-inward, in my case many times my anger came from being hurt or disappointed. Both hurt and disappointment can drive us to God, if it’s handled in a godly way. I just didn’t know – or didn’t want to know – what that godly way was.
I say “didn’t want to know,” because several conversations with Brent over the years finished with him suggesting that I try to be more thankful, and think on the good things in our lives, to work on being more content. I would promptly get angry at that, imagining that what he was meaning was that things were never going to change and I needed to accept that, and that he would never change, etc. etc. I had always read Brent’s mind a lot, and was never any good at it. But that didn’t stop me from trying!
God was still working on me. In the beginning of the summer of 2013, a good friend of mine moved away. My initial reaction, as when all other friends had moved away – or had even let me know there were planning to move away – was to withdraw; to escape, by all my old methods. But God had done a work in me, a change in me. Over the years He had slowly invited me away from worshiping those other gods [or idols] of escape. And I was living more closely with Him. When Ellei was a baby, out back hanging up laundry while she was sleeping, I must’ve been praying, because I felt like God was saying, “Would you like to give up TV shows for awhile? Then they wouldn’t have to control you and leave you dissatisfied and empty…” Not forcing me, but an invitation. I could give you many examples of God winning my heart back to Him.
So this time, when my friend moved, I let myself feel the pain. I had not (to my memory) allowed myself to feel sad up to that time. Sadness really hurts – so I would escape the sadness by coping with things like I mentioned earlier. Yet instead of escaping this time, I talked to Brent. He suggested that I find things about this to be thankful for and said it is possible to be sad and thankful at the same time. So I chose thankfulness: Lord, thank You for the time we had together. Thank You that we could help each other. Thank You for the good times we had. I’m thankful for the work that You are doing in my friend’s life.
My normal route to drive to the church building would lead past my friend’s old apartment, and I asked Cheryl, should I just change my route? Because it makes me so sad and it’s hard to drive past there. She advised me to NOT change my route, but instead to pray as I drove by. So I’d be thankful through the tears and pray for my friend. Over time, being thankful actually helped me to feel better. And I hadn’t behaved in ways that didn’t honor God, so I didn’t have to deal with the aftermath of those dragging me down.
In our community group, Tammy led us through a study called 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Ann teaches on how the Bible so clearly lays out the importance of being thankful. Recognizing that God is good, and all that He gives us is grace. She shows how thankfulness precedes miracles. The Israelites marched into battle with the priests in the front, singing praises of thanks to God, and He routed the enemy for them. Jesus gave His Father thanks, and then a man came back to life. Jesus gave thanks at the last supper, he broke the bread and poured out the wine, then he let his body be broken and his blood poured out for us. The Last Supper is referred to as communion, or the Eucharist. The word “eucharist” is a greek word and it means “to give thanks.” Part of that word is “charis,” meaning “grace.” The root of that word is “chairo,” meaning rejoice, and we also get “chara” or “joy” in this same family of words – to give thanks, grace, rejoice, and joy. So this is what Jesus told us to do to remember Him, and to proclaim His name until He comes back. To give thanks, to recognize the grace God gives, and let it give us a deep contentment and have joy. Doing this every week is such a reminder, but not only reminder, we can allow ourselves to be refreshed by it, renewed, and changed by grace.
Ann challenged us to keep a gift list. To count up to 1,000, gifts God gave us. She talked about “all is grace,” and asked the question, “Are we like a spoiled child that gives thanks for the good that makes us happy, but not for anything we don’t want, that might be hard or difficult or help us grow?” She said it was important that we open hands, receiving all that God gives us as grace. And even in the hard times we face that aren’t God’s fault – that are a result of our choices, or others’, or just natural disasters, etc., to give thanks for what God can bring out of it and what He can do through the hard times to grow us more into the image of Christ, to give thanks that He is with us and we can experience His presence.
She maintained that counting God’s gift changed her life, and knew I could use a change of life as well. I decided to do it. I wasn’t legalistic about it, saying every day I have to add to the list, just tried to write regularly.
- August 5. #4. Sounds of our kids – click-clack shoes, “Mama!” kids at play, screams of delight during rough time or ticklefests.
- #6. Zeke’s cries of waking up at 6am, because that means he didn’t wake up at 2:30am!
- #11. Loving people here in Emporia, I’m accepted, listened-to, able to help and be helped. It’s pretty perfect.
- #14. Sunrises
- #15. Coffee
As I wrote, it caused me to be more on the lookout for gifts from God as well. A few months after my friend moved, in December, my dad’s brother died suddenly of a heart attack. A couple weeks after that, my grandpa passed away. With the experience of grieving my friend moving fresh in my mind, I knew that to be thankful was the path to take now. It didn’t take away my feelings of sadness or loss, but I did experience deep contentment and peace in the midst of the pain. Even though both of these men were believers, anytime someone dies there is loss to deal with.
- December 12. #194. A chance to say goodbye to my Grandpa Wenger today.
- December 13. #195. The sweet time with the family, saying goodbye to Grandpa. His farewell “I love you’s” are a memory I will always cherish.
- December 18. #199. My grandpa’s funeral service, so many people – never seen that church building so full, sharing how Grandpa mentored and served, how he and Grandma were greeters and knew everyone.
- #200. I’m thankful all of the family could be there, we weren’t missing anyone.
- #201. My kids got more time with their grandparents and cousin Ethan this way. My sisters and I got to sing, it was a sunny day. Pastor Yess did a great job, Mom still touched the urn and said her goodbye’s.
The other side of that, is that my parents helped my sister and I load up our little ones, and we were the last ones to leave the church building to head to the graveside. When we arrived, everyone was leaving. They hadn’t noticed my mom wasn’t there and went ahead with the graveside service. This was a deep hurt for my mom and sisters, although I was sure the family hadn’t meant to leave us out. The pastor kindly said his words again for us, and then my mom got to hear Brent explain to Ellei about cremation and how it speeds up the process of decay in our bodies, and how when Jesus comes back we will all have new bodies. Then she knelt down on the cold ground and touched her daddy’s urn containing his remains, and said her last goodbyes. If we had been included in the graveside service, she wouldn’t have been able to hear Brent’s explanation, and she said she wouldn’t have knelt down like that and had an intimate moment remembering her dad.
So even in the hard times, there is still grace. I’ve found that forcing myself to be thankful in the midst of anger or hurt actually changes my mind. If you want to know a practical way to ‘renew your mind’ like Paul writes in Romans 12, listen and take to heart what Brent is staying that thankfulness is essential to following Jesus. It’s like a shaft of light blazing into the darkness of my mind, it opens me up to Truth, opens me up to the beginning of healing, and saves me from a one-track-mind of complaint that only leads to bitterness and being unfulfilled. In closing I’d just like to share a few more gifts with you that God has given me recently.
- October 25. #999. Falling leaves. Peaceful.
- October 26. #1000. Beautiful sunrise and sunset that I got to see.
- October 28. #1,005. Supper cleaned up and dishes done for me by Brent!
- November 6. #1,031. Patience and kindness after having snapped at Charis.
- #1,045. Conviction of how I’ve been “shaming” Charis, talking to others – in front of her – about her bad behavior. I’m thankful it’s not too late to change and be more loving towards her.
- November 20. #1,061. Patience and calm when I normally would’ve been upset with the girls.
- November 21. #1062. Small feet padding down the hallway.
- #1063. Morning ‘wild hair’ on the girls.
Because I’m not stopping at 1,000, it has changed me too much to stop counting gifts. I’d love to leave behind books and books of all that God has done for me, forge a new legacy for our kids of thankfulness.
Our lives are filled with stories, one after another, but we have to capture them. There are many wonderful stories and sad ones, which I believe make us stronger & show us God’s mercy & grace. We want our lives filled with happy endings. I’ll begin with a part of my story that brings me to where I am today. As many of you know, Brent has been encouraging us to know and share our story for quite some time. If you are like me, my first thought in response to that was – “No way…can’t I do that” – but recently I have learned/God has shown me that I do need to…
Over 30 years ago I held my precious newborn little baby boy in my arms and rocked him to sleep. Yet the sweetness of the wee hours of the morning would be interrupted as guilt pressed down as an ever-present weight and deflated my joy. And my heart would bleed, hoping the pain would go away. I would wake up each day with a memory that cut a fresh wound. I longed to hear the words “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Conversationally, the part of my story I am about to share, was unapproachable… simply impossible to discuss. On the rare occasion when I allowed my mind to go there, I wished I had a different story: one of life, not death – of joy, not pain. A story of a time when I’d made the best choice, not the worst choice.
But that’s not my story. And because it’s not, for years I was convinced that my mistakes demanded silence. That I should punish myself. That I should try very hard for years to make up for what I had done. But because of what I’d done and where I’d been, I was bound to be quiet whenever the sacred topic of life arose. Certainly, I had no right to speak… or so I believed. Shame buttoned my lips. For years my abortion story went untold. It was a secret held tightly by a locked heart – my worst nightmare and darkest memory. Not something I wanted to talk about. Certainly not a story that I thought could be used for good.
For the adults here you likely remember how difficult it was to be a teenager – wanting to fit in, not be different, and be popular. On top of all that I was at a new school where both parents taught and my dad was the football coach. So as a scared 14 going on 15 year old girl, I tried to hide that I was pregnant, just wanting this ugly thing inside of me to go away. I tried to make it go away, but to no avail. As time passed, I kept hiding my secret but eventually it could no longer be hidden. So, it was the fall of 1970-something, and I had a 2nd trimester abortion – it was scary, painful, and horrific. My dear mother held the baby boy in her arms, I didn’t want to look. I just wanted what I determined was that ugly thing to go away so I could get on with my life. I wanted to be the popular girl in school, but I carried a dark hidden secret.
While my family had attended church for years, that summer I met Jesus in a small white Christian church, my family was baptized and I was born again. Even though I was now a Christian, I still struggled immensely with my decision. It was not until I went to a 2-3 day retreat at Ozark Christian College that I knew I was forgiven. God used that event, the group of people I was with, and more focused time with Him, to bring the assurance of forgiveness that I so desperately needed.
Eventually I met Dan and we got married. I shared my story with him while dating, and I am amazed at how God brought Dan into my life of brokenness and really worked through Dan to bring help and healing to my life. We were married in that little white Christian church in Hartford Kansas on June 21, 1980. That year our first son David was born, then in 1982 came along Daniel, and in 1986 came along Bethanie. Through each pregnancy and birth I wanted it to fix my mistake, to maybe redeem myself from my shameful burden. I was determined and felt I had to make something beautiful out of an ugliness in my life.
So if the event was so tragic and I was silent about it for so long, with only Dan knowing about it, why am I now talking about it? Well, the first time I ever mentioned it to anyone else was because of a crisis in our own family. There came a time in our daughter Bethanie’s life that she was at her darkest hour, a time for her that had no hope and then I shared my story with her. Through this, she found love, hope, and redemption from Jesus as well. She is now married, lives in Colorado with her husband Josh, and our precious granddaughter, Kallianie who is a darling blessing and joy. Bethanie is expecting our first grandson in January.
The second time I mentioned it was at one of New Life’s Community Groups. In the span of one week two different devotional readings converged, along with Brent’s continual emphasis on knowing our own story and finding our place in God’s Story, and I was compelled to share mine. During this process of preparing to share my story I came to know a deeper grace. A grace found in the testimony of redemption & forgiveness. God’s grace. A grace that testifies of hope, healing, and restoration. A grace found in the sharing and releasing of my broken heart-places. Amazing grace that boasts in the truth that all things can work together for good to those who love God and who are bound to His will and purpose (Romans 8:28).
By the grace of Jesus Christ, I now understand that – knowing what I know and having been where I’ve been – I am actually uniquely qualified to speak and encourage others toward life… forgiveness…and hope. What I have been shown at New Life Christian Church, through Brent’s teachings, I’ve found forgiveness once again. Death’s grip is suffocating and scary… but it’s not more powerful than the forgiveness and love found in Jesus. Don’t allow fear and shame to keep you from the restoration that God longs for you to experience. That is my story. I encourage you to know and embrace yours and allow God to bring the healing you so desperately need.
Last week in Brent’s sermon he said, “It is hardest to believe something when we have yet to experience the reality of it.” This has certainly been my experience as I spent many years looking for love and acceptance everywhere and with anyone except for God.
I did not grow up in a Christian home or even what most would call a loving home. Granted, it did have moments of being loving but they were few and far between. We did go to church on and off when I was little and I met amazing people there but had too many secrets to belong. As I got older, and especially into my teenage years, I found myself making very poor choices.
As I mentioned earlier, I was looking for love and acceptance everywhere and with everyone. My life experience to that point had been people taking what they wanted from me, which seemed to make them happy. So I thought that if I did things to “give them” happiness maybe I could find that same happiness or at least they wouldn’t hurt me for it. Boy was I wrong.
Fast forward to adulthood and inside I am still just a scared sacred little girl begging for someone to love her. So like another thing Brent said last week – life experience can be a great teacher, but it turns into a horrible mentor – I continued down a path of bad relationships looking for love and acceptance but not finding it.
Finally I landed in a relationship I thought was going to be different. So what do I do? I move in with him! Well now this one didn’t hurt me physically… so that made things better right? Wrong! I stayed with him for years because I was afraid to leave. I was afraid no one else would want me and that I would not get to keep my relationship with his children. I was correct on that last part as he cut me off from the boys. Looking back at this point in my life I was constantly comparing myself to others and feeling “less than” them because they had things I wanted and did not have.
Fortunately this past boyfriend had introduced me to his friend early in our relationship. At that time his friend was going through a hard time and we had become good friends. I reluctantly started dating that friend. He listened to me and didn’t judge me; he wanted to know who I really was. Somehow he was able to see that the me everyone else saw was a fake me, and he was not going to settle for the fake me.
He invited me to church and promised no one there would judge me either. I was skeptical and afraid; after all, I have too many secrets to belong in church – or so I was deceived into believing. But after a few weeks of trying to get me to go I went. I walked into these doors terrified. After about 3 trips I set up a meeting with Tom, who was preaching here at New Life at that time, and he was gentle and kind to me. This was not something I was used to from church people, especially men. He answered my questions and didn’t condemn me; this was different. This is what I was always searching for; all of those bad relationships and everything else I tried and did… I never would have thought the answer to what I sought in my life was found in God and God alone, Who was working through a person – Tom – to show me God’s love.
I can’t say that it has been an easy road but it has been a wonderful road. I was baptized that summer and that fall married that wonderful man, my husband Chris, who talked me into coming in the first place. Since coming to Christ I have had to look back at a lot of things in my life and work through them. I have truly experienced Jesus undoing the effects of sin in my life. That is the ‘not easy but wonderful road’ part. But everything worth doing takes work. I did this with lots of help from my wonderful family here.
So what would Jesus undo? I do not know about you, but in my life He has undone sexually immorality, abuse, anger, hurt, loss, loneliness, fear, and best of all he broke the mask I wore every day. He doesn’t let me be that fake person anymore even when at times it would be easier.
While I still don’t have all of the things that I have envied over the years, the jealousy doesn’t consume me as it once did. It is something that Jesus is still trying to undo in my life along with other things and I know He will continue to do so as long as I let him. And I have people who love and accept me and will continue to show me that without string attached. I am BLESSED.