Preparation for something good to come is so exciting. While getting ready for a much anticipated trip I usually start planning and packing way too early. Last summer we went on our first mission trip to Haiti and the challenge then was to pack everything I might need for the week into a small backpack. Thankfully each team member was allowed to take an extra gallon ziplock of personal care items in the team duffel bag. Everything else for the week (shoes, clothing, blanket, dress for church) I carried on my back.
To get ready spiritually our team started meeting weekly for a time of study, fellowship and discussion. It was a critical piece that made big impact once we got on the ground. We had come to know each other, we accepted each other’s shortcomings and celebrated our individual strengths. We were united. A year later, I still feel very connected to these people I served with and I love them dearly.
This summer Mark and I are preparing for two totally different mission trips ….. A return to Haiti in September and our. first domestic mission trip to support a LifeSong church plant in CT. In both cases, we are meeting with our respective teams to prepare. Naturally, every trip will be different, even repeated trips to the same mission field. But preparation for CT has a uniqueness to it. The challenge is to pack my story into words that unchurched people will understand, delivered in 3 minutes or less. Whether I ever have the opportunity to share my testimony is irrelevant, I must prepare.
Easy, right? Not for me. It’s about the scariest thing ever. Sure, it’s intimidating but I am able to talk about my past, my failures, my sin and mistakes and be real about it ….. but when I think of that moment I first believed emotion rises up and I break down in tears. Even now, just writing. Imagine having to tell a stranger out loud what Jesus did for me and not melt into a puddle of blubbering idiot. But prepare I must and in three minutes or less, so deep breath and here goes …..
My parents were Catholic and their parents were Catholic, so that made me Catholic but when I was very young something happened and we never went back to church as a family. I always knew there was a God out there somewhere but about the only time I “prayed” was on those occasions when I did something stupid I that wanted help getting out of. I didn’t really believe He would answer because deep down I knew I was wrong so I tried bargaining with Him, like “God, if you do “this” I promise never to do “that” again.” He and I both knew that was a lie ….
You know how people do things to try to make themselves feel better …. to define their purpose or fill a need? With some people it’s material things, with others it’s their job, drugs or alcohol …. With me it was a need to feel loved and accepted. I would just about do anything or say anything to feel loved, and I did, including leaving my first husband for another man. It didn’t work. Of course, that marriage was doomed before it even started ….
In 2006 I found myself close to rock bottom. By October the second marriage had ended. I was 48, angry, lonely, lost and empty. I was living with the consequences of my own bad choices. I turned to drinking to numb the pain and dove into my work to try to define myself. I still thought I could do it on my own, but the emptiness and hunger for whatever was missing just kept growing.
Looking back, I believe that God had to get me to a place so low and broken that I was finally receptive ….. In 2009 He moved me cross country to get me away from life as it was. I believe He put me all the way in CA with a new job, a new relationship to give me a new beginning …. but I was still the old me. Four months later He took that job, the last piece of my old identity. He stripped me of my arrogant pride and independence. But while God was stripping those things away, He was also putting people in my life who believed in Him and acted like it.
In CA we met a young pastor and his wife and they didn’t seem to care how messed up we were, they just loved us, accepted us and made us feel welcome. God used that time to work a miracle in me. It was a few months later, in their home during a Tuesday night bible study that I finally recognized my sin, my need for forgiveness, my need for a savior. At age 49 I finally understood that all along I had this big God sized hole inside me that nothing else could fill….. It was then I finally believed in Jesus and what He did for me and what that meant …. and that day my whole life changed!
I’m not saying that things are perfect, or that I have it all together, or that believing in Jesus has cured me from ever having problems ….. I’m saying that through faith in Christ I now have love, hope and purpose and life!! Not long after Mark and I were challenged by what God says in scripture about how we were living. We made the choice to do things God’s way and were married by our pastor. Ever since I’ve been on a journey of learning more about God and what it means to follow Christ ….. every day I am actively seeking His will for my life and allowing Him to continue the work He started. Faithful, available and teachable and more in love with the Lord every day.