Friday, September 28, 2007

A Journey of Faith

(Note: This post is actually a talk I gave this week to a group of people who have attended a spiritual retreat called the Walk to Emmaus. If you've never heard of it before, The Walk to Emmaus® is a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders and is sponsored by The Upper Room. My purpose is sharing this is not to promote the Walk to Emmaus, but to share part of my faith journey with you. )

My faith journey goes back as far as I can remember. There is not a time in my memory that I was not part of a church. The first 12 or 13 years of my life were spent in a Baptist church, and my years since then have been spent in the pews of the Methodist church. I can clearly remember the felt boards used during Sunday School to illustrate the Bible lesson for that morning. I can clearly remember memorizing scripture verses during Vacation Bible School in order to get that special reward, whatever that was. I can clearly remember that day at VBS where I made the decision to ask Jesus to come live in my heart and be my Savior. So church and Jesus have just always been a part of me.

My first knowledge of the Walk to Emmaus came when I was in high school. My older sister was asked to go on a Chrysalis (the youth and young-adult version of the Walk to Emmaus) towards the end of her high school years, so that was my introduction to Emmaus, though I didn’t know much about it besides I was asked to write a letter to Susan that she would read while on her Chrysalis. Truth be told, I’d probably be embarrassed today at what I wrote because quite frankly Susan and I really weren’t always fond of each other in high school! We did get over that, and when she left for college, she quickly became my very best friend. On a typical day, we would have emailed back and forth 2 or 3 times throughout the day and probably even talked on the phone again that evening!

Fast forward four or five years, and after Susan married, she and her husband became very involved in various Emmaus activities, and they would both talk about it frequently to me. They both had a fire in them that was contagious, and they wanted me to have that Emmaus experience as well. Susan was very excited at the prospect of being able to sponsor me for such a special weekend. I put them off for a while, never really feeling it was my time to go and also being young and single, the money to go was an issue for me. Though they never pushed me to go, they always were encouraging me and even offered to pay for me to go on my Walk. With money no longer standing in my way, and feeling in my heart it was time to go, I filled out the application in October of 1998 and sent it back to them to submit so that I could be put on the waiting list for the next women’s walk.

As I remember it, it was about 10 days later that life would suddenly change for me. I received a phone call one Saturday morning—it was actually Halloween day—and was told that my sister had been taken to the emergency room because she had gotten very ill during the night. Susan had been diagnosed with lupus when she was in junior high, so a sickness that was serious enough to go to the emergency room was of great concern to my family, knowing the complications lupus would add to the picture. We would later learn that Susan had contracted a very serious case of spinal meningitis, and less than 36 hours later, she went to her eternal home to be with our Heavenly Father.

As you can imagine, life would never be the same for me again. Life lost much of its joy, and my heart was broken into so many tiny pieces that I honestly thought it would never be whole again. I didn’t see how it was possible. But as scripture tells us, “all things are possible with God”—not some things, or most things, but ALL things. In the months and years since then, God has shown me first hand just how powerful his works can be and that He does still give us miracles each and every day, if we’ll just look for them.

As I prepared to give this talk, the thing that kept coming back to me over and over as I prayed about this and thought about this is that God is enough. God is enough. When you feel like you have nothing left in life or no where else to turn, God is enough. And he proved that to me during this time after losing my sister. I was single at this time, so God was really all I had most of the time. My family was all an hour away, and though I had a fabulous church family that gave me so much love and support during this time, when I would go home at night, it was just me and God. I went through an extremely lonely period of time during this grief, but on the other side, I found that God was indeed enough.

About 10 months after my sister passed away, my name came up quite suddenly to attend a Walk to Emmaus. I had such mixed emotions about going because a time that I had been looking forward to for so long had finally come, but the one that I had hoped to share it with the most was now gone. My brother-in-law (Susan’s husband) still wanted to be my sponsor, and I agreed to go.

For me, the Walk to Emmaus was a weekend of healing, as you can imagine. In my journal after returning home from my Walk, I wrote, “My weekend reminded me that God will surround me with his love and grace and give me the healing I need. Not only will He give me that Himself, but He will work through others as well.” I have truly learned how the Body of Christ works throughout this journey.

I have been amazed at the people that God has continually put in my path that I have been able to minister to because of my experience and grief in losing my sister so tragically. I realized early on that God could use this difficult time to help others if I would only allow Him to do so. It’s amazing what God can do if we will just lay the broken pieces of our lives at his feet and allow him to go to work.

Since my sister’s death almost 9 years ago, God has brought healing to my life that I never dreamed would be possible. My brother-in-law, who has remained very close to my family, has since remarried, and God has given me the gift of a very special friendship with his new wife. That is not something that could have happened outside of a miracle from God. Mark and I were even the only guests present at their small wedding ceremony, and Mark was the one conducting the ceremony—again, nothing short of a miracle could have allowed us to be there in that situation.

About six months after Susan’s death is when Mark and I began dating, and what healing and what joy God restored to my life as a result of this man. And you know, God is so into the details of our lives, and this is such an example of that. One of the things I grieved after losing Susan was that she would not know my husband, be able to be a part of our wedding, or be an aunt to my children. And not only would she miss out knowing my husband, but my husband would miss out knowing her, and how could I ever be able to express with words what Susan meant to me and the devastation that became a part of my life when she died. But God had already taken care of that. A few years prior to my sister’s death, Mark pastored my old home church where my mom was still a member. During that time, he became friends with each member of my family in very unique, individual ways. In fact, Mark’s last conversation with Susan occurred at a Walk to Emmaus and centered around Susan’s excitement in sponsoring me for my Walk. So as a pastor and a friend of my family, he walked through this heartache with us, from being at the hospital with us and in the room with us as we signed papers to take Susan off life support, to being one of the pastors who took part in her funeral service. You see, God knew how the story ended. But I didn’t.

Another detail that amazes me still to this day happened a few weeks prior to Susan’s death and centers around a book that God made sure was waiting for me on my coffee table. I’ve always loved to read, and Max Lucado had a new book that had just been released. I purchased it, and with it came with a second book for free. I never paid attention to that second one because all I really cared about getting was Max Lucado’s. I brought them home and put them both on my coffee table, and quickly began reading the one by Max Lucado—again, never giving the other one a second glance. I returned home from the hospital that evening after Susan died, and my pastor had come over to my apartment to visit with me. As I sat there with him, my eye just happened to glance at the books sitting there on my table, and it was as if that second book just kinda jumped out at me. So as soon as my pastor left, I picked that book up. It was titled “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss.” This book was written by Gerald Sittser, a man who had tragically lost his mother, his wife, and his daughter in a car accident, and I learned so much from this book about the grief process and the grace God pours over us during times of loss. I have since recommended it to several people going through the loss of a loved one. I knew then and I know now it was no accident that I had that book on my coffee table. It was as if God himself had hand-delivered that book to me. It was no coincidence. Again, God is in the details of our everyday lives if we will but look for Him.

Emmaus has certainly been a part of my healing process over the past nine years. And I will say that my life has been molded and changed because of what I have learned as a result of traveling a road I never would have chosen for myself. CS Lewis wrote, “God whispers in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain.” I certainly have found that to be so true. I have learned more about God while walking through this valley of the shadow of death than I ever could have learned otherwise. I would not be who I am today without having gone through such a difficult time in my life. I was listening to a Focus on the Family show a few days ago, and the guest was speaking on overcoming adversity. He made the comment that when going through difficult times, misery is optional and joy is a choice. We sing the song, “I’m trading my sorrows; I’m trading my shame. I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.” In one of her books on prayer, Stormie Omartian says, “joy doesn’t have anything to do with happy circumstances; it has to do with looking into the face of God and knowing He’s all we’ll ever need.” God is, indeed, enough, and God is good, even when circumstances are not.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Karen, thank you for sharing this amazing testimony! I needed to hear this today as today is a hard grief day for me.
I am so proud of you for sharing this amazing witness talk with so many on the retreat!
I am sure it blessed many as it did me!

Bev said...

So many things I could highlight here, but the whole thing just blessed my socks off. You are so dear, and I had been looking forward to reading this for days, prayed for you as I knew you were speaking, how I would have loved to have been sitting in the audience as you spoke. You are a real treasure, and I'm sure your sister would be so so proud of the woman youve grown into. xoxxo Bev

Sandy said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story and walk of faith. So beautifully written, comforting and inspiring.

Mindy said...

HI Karen.
THANKS for this beautiful post. On this the first of my "fourth" days, I awoke with all that happened this weekend racing in my head and thoughts of getting my girls up and out the door. Back to real life--- but I do NOT want to lose what I found this weekend.
I will post on my blog all about as soon as I get the chance!
THANKS for this though -- it made me feel like I was there listening to a great speaker give "a talk" - with a clean sheet of paper, high idealism, a spirit of charity and a pen =)
blessings on you!
email me about your reunion group if you don't mind. I would love to hear your expirience.

Anonymous said...

What a great talk. I felt many emotions as I read it. Remembering back to that time of Susan's death. But how you have grown and have used that time to help others. Oh what joyful memories I have from your life with Mark. You have truly blessed me today.


Mayhem And Miracles said...

Wow, Karen! I would never have guessed your past by the peace you emaninate in your posts. And that is the mark of someone truly carried by the love of Christ. What an incredible testimony. I am so glad God has used it for good that you have witnessed. You are such a dear lady and I love to get to be privy to your wisdom.