A couple of evenings ago, I gave a little talk at our church for a bunch of ladies who had asked me to give "my testimony." They gave me carte blanche, which I suppose is a dangerous thing to do. However, after praying about it, and not getting any "red lights"... I decided to do it.
A couple of people have expressed disappointment that they weren't able to hear me speak. Although I can't imagine that, I did speak from extensive notes, so, to accommodate them, I have decided to transcribe what I said into this blog post.
Here is the text of what I spoke.
Romans 8:28, 29
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who are (the) called according to His purpose.
“For whom God foreknew, He also did predestine to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will (continue to) perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Most of you know that six and a half weeks ago, my youngest daughter Arielle was killed in a car crash in Alberta. Since that time, God has worked miracle after miracle in our lives, in our relationships, in our spiritual walk, in our attitudes, and in the lives of so many more people.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how many miracles there have been; I’ve lost count.
But anyway, about a week ago, I was talking to Neil and we were discussing how we would have reacted to “all this” if we both were the people we were five years ago.
We both shook our heads. We would each have dealt with it far differently. He would have dived even farther into a vodka bottle. And I – instead of standing before you tonight – would have been on the prayer chain because I would have been in Unit 9 - the psychiatric ward.
So in order for you to understand the miracles that have been happening lately, maybe I’d better let you know what miracles He started doing back when our lives were so far in the toilet that we thought we’d never get out.
Before I start, I need to let you know that I’m not telling tales out of school. Neil has given me permission to share anything about him that I need to share in order to show you how strong God is. And I have to stress above all, that this is not really our story so much as it is God’s story – the one He is writing in us. In me.
This is what my life was like five years ago.
I was a wife and a mother of two girls aged 19 and 16. I was in the music ministry with my husband of 28 years. I had just started a great job in the government, one I liked a lot. It looked like I had life by the tail.
But I was miserable. My husband was an alcoholic – he was drinking two pints of vodka a day just to stay normal, and he’d go to a quart a day to get to a blackout so he could get rid of the pain of living life with no emotion at all. He was unable to feel anything unless he was drinking. The girls were dealing with his problem the best way they could. And I was trying to keep it together. But my keeping it together was making everybody crazy. Including me. I was hiding his problem from people at work, at church, from his friends and mine. I was afraid of losing him, of losing my kids. So I tried to control them. Every last second of their lives!! That was my secret life.
In the meantime, I was living in Denial. I lied to people that I was doing great, Christian lies. Masks.
My home life was a joke. My kids hated having me around. I was judgmental, controlling, and manipulative. I could host the greatest guilt trips going. Everything was about how they were hurting me, attacking me, or attacking God. I’ll give you an example. The television.
I forbade them to watch certain shows. This show is SO New Age. That movie is Witchcraft 101. They watched them – behind my back – and they resented me for judging them. The truth was, I didn’t want to discuss those things, felt uncomfortable around them and didn’t want to see them myself. So I prohibited them. And I called it “standing for righteousness.” They didn’t see it that way. They saw it as me being a “Christianazi.” And they resented me. And they resented the God I thought I was serving. As for me, what this whole thing was about was not standing for righteousness at ALL. It was all about fear. I was afraid they’d turn their backs on God. And without knowing it, I was making sure they did.
God on the other hand, was getting pretty tired of this. I’d been deluding myself. And my worst fear of all – of Neil’s alcoholism – was the very thing He used to get me to the place where I was willing to ask for help.
I was so arrogant, so hypocritical. And I was hurting. So. Much. In my pain I accused him of choosing to drink, thought that he chose alcohol over me.
He drank more. I threatened to leave. He drank more. I was mean to him. He sank into silence and drowned his sorrows in alcohol. I wept. He drank.
Finally, in December 2008, I couldn’t hide any more because his drinking led to him losing his license. For six months. At the beginning of winter.
Now you might or might not know this … but I hate winter. Hate the snow, hate the ice, hate the cold. And I HATE driving in it, shoveling it, wearing bulky clothes in it. It might seem like a small thing – but a very small puff of wind can topple a house of cards. And I could see the cards slipping.
And I was scared.
The kids blamed me, of course. I blamed them – especially our youngest, who was at that time in full rebellion mode. And I knew that if this kept up, I’d lose everything: my marriage, my kids, and my ministry.
I was desperate. I prayed one of those “Peter prayers.” You know, like the one he prayed on the Sea of Galilee during the storm after he got out of the boat, when he started sinking below the waves.
“Lord, HELP ME!”
That was the beginning. God led me to a counsellor at the treatment centre. I went there … not to help ME, I told myself, but to help NEIL. To get him to stop drinking. I walked into my first session. That was in January 2009.
God had other ideas.
Over the course of the next year, He taught me a few things about myself in therapy. He taught me about life, and how to really live it. I won’t tell you about that whole year, because I've only been given 20 minutes! But here are some things I learned in that year:
- It is I who need help. Even more help than Neil needed in his addiction.
- I was truly bound. I was truly addicted to controlling people and to getting my own way.
- The roots of my problem went back to my childhood. I had deep, unresolved issues and I was so very full of anger and self-pity.
- I believed awful things about myself. And I told these things to myself all the time. You’re not worth anything. Nobody can like you… if they really knew you they’d reject you. All this is your fault. Neil’s drinking because you are so hard to live with. Things like that.
- I was a victim. I let others walk all over me and I overcompensated by bullying my husband and children. They were AFRAID OF ME, of my temper, of my judgment.
Now … here are some of the things I learned about God.
- He’s not interested in my brownie point system. You know the one, where I keep score of what I do for Him so that He’s obligated to do what I want Him to do. It doesn’t work that way. It never did.
- He accepts me just the way I am and He loves me. For ME.
- HE. IS. FAITHFUL. He’ll NEVER give up on me … NEVER. EVER.
During that year, I learned that NOTHING I thought mattered, really mattered!! That God is about one thing and one thing only: INTIMACY – and that with respect to all the baggage I carried, He was all about ACCEPTANCE … NOT judgment.
I learned how to do this: (Put both HANDS UP, and STEP BACK).
That is, I learned that people have boundaries. (Who knew?) Really. I never had boundaries growing up, and so I thought there weren’t any; they didn’t exist! But He taught me that they do exist, it’s healthy to have boundaries, and that everyone has them. And that it was okay for ME to have them, too.
I learned what forgiveness is (and what it isn’t) and I learned HOW TO DO IT.
(… and that’s a whole other talk!!)
Again…. GOD DID THIS. JUDY DIDN’T DO IT. JUDY COULDN’T. Judy had tried to do it and had FAILED MISERABLY.
All the time that my attitudes were changing because of what I was learning, my behavior was changing. I didn’t have to TRY to change it. It just happened. “HE WHO BEGAN A GOOD WORK IN YOU WILL (continue to) PERFORM IT…”
My husband and kids were the first to notice it. And as I became more accepting, those relationships started to change.
Oh… did I mention that two months into this process, Neil got sober? And with God’s help every day of his life, he’s been sober since March 25, 2009.
I began to see how my own behavior caused the very things in my kids that I was trying to protect them from. I had to let go of those things. I had to let go of THEM.
So I needed to tell them. I needed to apologize to them for things I said, attitudes I held, things I did. Against THEM.
And you know … THEY FORGAVE ME. And relationships started to build.
There was a lot of damage to undo and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. But I’d learned how to live life. And God was more real to me than ever. My relationship with Him turned into this moment-by-moment friendship. I kept growing, kept learning. I still am.
FAST FORWARD NOW, to about a year or so ago.
Was I perfect? Were my husband and kids perfect? Of course not. But at least we could talk! And God still had work to do (and by the way, He still does).
The relationship between me and my youngest was still rocky. The one with my oldest was turning around some, but the one with Arielle… well, she was running with what I considered to be the wrong crowd. They were into drugs, alcohol, and more, and she was breaking every rule she could.
It was horrible. I had spent a whole year learning this new lifestyle of acceptance and freedom, of non-judgmentalism and letting go .... and it seemed that life wasn’t working. I just knew that when I clamped down, she was worse than ever. So I kept on letting go, as much as I knew how.
Before I go any further, I need to say that during this time I actually GAVE UP praying for Arielle. Unless it was to get her out of a scrape.
I’d given up hope that she’d ever change. I didn't think that even God could reach her. With her friends, she was amazing, patient, compassionate, wonderful. But with me… things were strained and she kept pushing the boundaries, even stealing from us. When she started doing that, and we had proof she’d hawked some of our possessions, we had to protect ourselves and her sister, and we showed her the door.
She never saw it coming.
I had to let go of her all over again, a whole new level of letting go.
She was so unhappy. There were so many strikes against her - her ADHD, her emotional problems, her work history, her lack of education … they made it impossible for her to get a job here on PEI.
So within a month, she decided to move to Edmonton with a friend I didn’t approve of at the time. I was TOTALLY against the move – but I could do nothing to stop it. She left.
I let go. Every day. And God protected her. Every day. Kept her from being mauled by a bear on the way up there, kept her from getting hurt by some nasty folks in northern Ontario. So many times, in so many ways over those months.
And I kept in touch with her. We texted nearly every day, more often as time went on and the relationship just … well it got better and better.
She’d been in Alberta about 2 and a half months when the unexpected happened. At least I didn’t expect it.
God stepped in.
In the space of 24 hours, He set things up and she had a powerful, real encounter with Him, and felt His presence so very strongly. She KNEW He was real. She’d believed since she was three, but this was one of those transformational, one-of-a-kind God-moments. This young man she was dating had just had a personal encounter with God and he told her about it. And she felt something warm, she said, all through her torso.
At one point he had to get out of the car, and so she pulled over and let him out. And she prayed. "God, I don't know if I'm just feeling his emotions or if this is something more. But if it is real, I'm going to need a sign."
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than she began to sob, deep wracking sobs. She felt God's presence in a real way.
|Christmas 2011 - we'd given her tickets to see her |
favorite comedian, John Pinette, live.
She was so excited!!
The young man came back into the car and asked her if she was all right, she was crying so hard! She told him about what had happened and he grinned. "It happened like that for me too!!" he said.
And they spent the whole night praying and talking about God.
My daughter. Praying.
She couldn’t wait to tell me, to tell her father, Dorothy, her friends, … everyone… what happened.
It was this experience and this transformation that got us through the next month of her life as she became homeless less than two days after this experience, living in her car, while fighting sickness, muggers, thieves, and cold – which affected the quality of her sleep – and of course lack of money. She wanted a home…so much. A little over a month of this lifestyle, and then, ... she was gone. Just like that.
And it was her experience in God that has comforted us so much since we heard of her accident. The healing has come from the love we have felt from literally hundreds of people whose lives have been touched by hers. Including the young man with whom she went to Edmonton. Because of her, he's celebrating five months clean and sober this week. And the young man who was in the car with her that night.
And there have been so many more … in Alberta, in PEI, in Newfoundland, in this church, in others, at work, at school even. I haven’t spoken in a lot of detail tonight about this part because it is so very fresh, and there are still some things that we don’t know about what happened on that road that night.
But from experience I can say this to you, about what is happening IN HERE. INSIDE.
GOD is faithful AND GOD is strong, WHETHER YOU THINK YOU ARE OR NOT. But He proves Himself faithful and strong THE WEAKER YOU REALIZE YOU ARE.
IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW MUCH FAITH YOU THINK YOU HAVE OR HOW MUCH YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO PRAY. GOD WILL DO WHAT HE PROMISED REGARDLESS. NOT BECAUSE YOU TWIST HIS ARM, BUT BECAUSE HE WANTS TO. BECAUSE HE LOVES YOU, BECAUSE HE LOVES ME.
AND GOD WILL DO ANYTHING, ALLOW ANYTHING IF IT WILL GET YOU AND ME TO THE PLACE OF INTIMACY, BECAUSE ONLY THERE WILL HE BE ABLE TO CONFORM US TO HIS SON’S IMAGE. THAT IS “THE GOOD” THAT ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR!!! THAT IS THE “GOOD WORK” THAT HE IS DETERMINED TO COMPLETE IN YOU AND ME.
AND HE WILL DO IT. BECAUSE IT’S HIS THING. IT’S NOT SOMETHING WE DO. HE DOES IT.
HOW? How do we cooperate with what He's doing?
THIS IS HOW.
HOW is spelled H – O – W
H stands for HONESTY. Be honest with yourself. With God. Masks DON’T WORK. You will rob yourself of a lot of joy by lying to yourself about your motives. Pray David’s prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me. Lead me in the everlasting path.” (Ps. 139)
O stands for OPENNESS. Be open to Him. Be open to the thought that you might not know everything … and let Him teach you. Be open to being changed. Be open to being found. Stop hiding from Him. Let Him in. That word, intimacy – think of it this way: “Intimacy equals into me see”. Understand that this is a process. God’s not going to ZAP you. Intimacy takes time to develop. Let it happen. It's worth it.
W stands for WILLINGNESS. Be willing to take the lid off. Be willing to look at those things that you might be afraid to look at in yourself. Old resentments, old hurts, attitudes you’ve been holding onto and thinking to yourself that “that’s just the way I am.” Ask Him to reveal those things to you and trust that He will walk through the process with you.
A lot of things have changed in my life in the last five years. And I've not done any of it. It's all been Him. And it's been His love, expressed in so many ways. Including you people.
I'm so grateful. Thank you.