My Story – Church Version

Today Pastor Ed had me tell my story in church. Here’s what I wrote out to say, which I followed pretty closely.

My Story

First, I want everyone to know that Ed tricked me. Since he was doing a series about Practicing creative devotion, I offered to get up here and talk about memorizing Scripture, and then he told me he wanted me to share my story! So it’s kind of a compromise talk about how the Bible has touched my life.

The reason I wanted to talk about memorizing Scripture is that I grew up in a Christian home, and my parents had the bright idea to pay us for memorizing chapters of the Bible. I wanted to earn some money and that sounded much better than housework, so over the years I memorized a lot of chapters.

But I do believe that God’s Word has power. If you put the Bible in your head – whatever the motive – it will find its way into your heart. Doing all that memorization honestly made me love it.

Now mine was the kind of family that was at church whenever the doors were open. I went to a Christian elementary school, a Christian high school, and a Christian university. I married a guy from Biola who sang in the choir with me. We were part of a small group of young married couples at our church in downtown LA.

After we got married, I went back to Biola as a math instructor. But when our first child was born, I wanted to have more time with him, so my husband joined the Air Force as a musician and I started teaching part-time. We moved to New Jersey and then Illinois. In Illinois, I had a second child and was put on bed rest for the pregnancy, and our church brought us meals and got us through.

After 5 years in Illinois, we got the opportunity to move to Germany, and we were thrilled. We got to see Europe, and I got a job in the base library and loved it. We extended twice so that we could stay until our oldest graduated from high school, for a total of ten years. I thought we were a good Christian family with a side of world travel.

But a year and a half before we left Germany, everything fell apart. On March 14, 2005, I found out that instead of spending extra hours at the office, my husband had been spending that time with another woman.

It didn’t even compute at first. I thought it was a terrible mistake. Some sort of weird misunderstanding. We loved each other, right? When I confronted him, he confessed by looking me in the eye and saying, “I’m not having an affair, but I am living a double life.” He said he’d been spending time with this other woman because he needed a friend and that I hadn’t been there for him.

He did apologize, and I thought that was that. We’d straighten it all out. But over the next month, he started telling me every single way I’d hurt him over 18 years of marriage.

What was devastating about it was that it was based in truth. I had done hurtful things over 18 years of marriage. But I begged forgiveness, and I groveled, and I cried and I looked for ways to make it up to him, but he said he just couldn’t forgive me.

That was pretty much the low point in my life. I remember going for a walk and chanting the names of my kids so that I wouldn’t think about suicide.

I want to talk about the ways God used the Bible in my life, and it was at that time, when I was in a deep depression, being told I was unforgivable by the person I loved most, being told that I was the one who had ruined my marriage – that Psalm 103 came up in my memorizing rotation.

So here I want to give a little commercial for memorizing. Imagine you’re feeling unforgiveable. Then this is what you’re memorizing. You’re reading it over and over again. It starts to sink in.

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 
As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 
with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.
19 
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
20 
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 
Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

You can see why those words were life to me.

I realized I’d always proved to myself that I was lovable because my husband loved me, and now I really had to turn to God.

The last year and a half in Germany were truly awful. It felt like my marriage was slipping through my fingers. I kept trying to patch things up, trying to be extra loving, trying to somehow get things right, and every time I thought I’d made progress, Steve would pull further away.

But I started following a ministry that encourages you to “Stand for your marriage,” and I still didn’t think there were grounds for divorce, and I believed divorce was wrong, and I made a vow, and, doggone it, I was going to pray him back. (I look at it now and think maybe I was a little controlling?)

One very good thing about that ministry was they encouraged you to listen to God’s voice. I was desperate and I started listening.

Toward the end of my time in Germany, the pastor there preached on the passage in Mark 7 where Jesus heals a deaf and mute man. It’s a weird passage. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and then spits and touches the man’s tongue – and the pastor pointed out that Jesus was speaking to the deaf man in sign language, telling him what he was going to do. And he said that God speaks your language. And I realized that my language is books. And Scripture.

And it made me cry, because for the last several months exactly the book I needed kept landing on my desk at the library. I read The Divorce Remedy, which helped me stop chasing after Steve to try to get him back. And I read Love Without Hurt, which is about responding with compassion instead of anger. And there were several other books that came just exactly when I needed them.

Our time in Germany was up when our oldest graduated from high school. I’d planned to follow Steve wherever he was stationed next, so he could be near Tim, our youngest. But he got himself sent to Japan unaccompanied so that I could not follow him. He wanted to be on the other side of the world from me.

Well, that gave me a choice to go anywhere in America. I didn’t want to go back to California for a number of reasons – but I had two friends I’d known since 3rd grade in California who both lived in Herndon and attended Gateway, Kathe Barsotti and Darlene LeVault. I’d visited Gateway when I was here for Darlene’s wedding, and had wished there was a church like that where we lived. What’s more, Tim was starting 7th grade, and Gateway was meeting at Rachel Carson, a brand new beautiful middle school.

So we got it on his orders for me to go to Virginia. The day the movers came was the day Steve told me it had been an affair all along. Since I’d been saying for a year that nothing is unforgivable, I wasn’t able to turn around and say, “Except that! That’s not forgivable!”

So I came to Virginia still standing for my marriage. But I came here completely broken and devastated and sad – and Gateway took me in. Darlene and Matt let me and my kids live in their basement for six weeks, bless them. I was so distraught, I lost my cellphone and a key to Darlene’s house in the first week. I went with them to Trisha & Phil Sallee’s small group, and it turned out they’d gone to Biola and started the first semester after I quit teaching, so that was a connection.

But what completely touched my heart was that when my household goods arrived, the entire small group came over – even though they didn’t know me yet – and moved me in. Almost all my furniture had been disassembled, and some of it was broken, and they put it back together and made me feel so cared for and so much less alone. That was when Gateway became my family.

That was 2006. God was taking care of me, too. I knew I needed to work full-time now, so I got my Master’s in Library Science, and I was able to almost completely finish it while Steve was still in Japan getting a dual housing allowance. And when I did finish it, I got a job right away at the closest library to my house.

I was still standing for my marriage, still hoping to pray Steve back or somehow win him back with my loving, forgiving attitude! I had this feeling that if I were really spiritual, and really loving and forgiving, then nothing Steve said should be able to hurt me.

That brings up a story from August 2009, when Steve sent an email basically telling me I was a terrible mother and a terrible person. My mind didn’t believe it, but my heart did.

My first reaction was to write back a blistering response, but I was pretty sure that probably wasn’t the best idea. I did pray and ask God how I should respond.

That night I was planning what I was going to wear to church the next day. When I saw a t-shirt with stars embroidered on it, I thought of the verse Philippians 2:15. It says, “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

It comforted me to think that God was using all I was going through to make me shine. Again – you have to understand that I was feeling terrible about myself. As much as I wanted to not believe it, a part of me was believing that I was unlovable, that I was a bad mother and a bad person. But how healing it would be to think that God was using these awful times to build my character and was making me shine like a star. And that He brought that verse to mind to tell me so.

The next morning as I was getting dressed, the thought came to me, I think the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to pray that Philippians 2:15 would come up in the sermon. That would be confirmation from God that He was making me shine like a star, that I wasn’t unlovable, that God was bringing good things out of all this. That would show me that the verse coming up wasn’t a coincidence, but a message to me from God.

You weren’t preaching that day, Ed — and the verse did not come up in the sermon. Oh well. It was probably a silly thing to pray. I mean, what are the odds?

Then they sang the closing song.

“We are the people of God,
The sons and daughters of love
Forgiven, restored and redeemed,
Living our lives to the praise of our King
We are the ones who will shine
His light in the darkness of night
The hopeless, the broken, the poor,
They will be hopeless and broken no more.

You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine you, Lord.
You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine you, Lord.”

Okay, I’m getting very emotional, realizing how much this fits the verse, and they went through that twice, and then they sang the bridge:

“We shine like stars in the universe
Proclaiming the hope of our God
To the sons and daughters in all the earth
We shine you, Lord.”

In case you didn’t catch it, that’s a direct quote from Philippians 2:15. I completely lost it. Partly what meant so much was that God looked down and saw just how much I desperately needed that encouragement.

And then when I got home came the punchline. I looked up the verse to go over it again. I had forgotten that the sentence begins in the previous verse, Philippians 2:14 – “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine as stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

Remember that I had asked God if I should defend myself and answer the email that hurt me? Well, in His loving and wonderful way (with His sense of humor), He gently led me to the answer: “Do everything without complaining or arguing”! But he also answered the pain and doubt that came with the email. He was making me shine like a star.

And that reminds me of how you talked last month about coming to God as a lover. But what I learned in that awful time is that God comes to us as a Lover.

He says in Isaiah 54:5 – “For your Maker is your husband –
The Lord Almighty is his name –
The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
He is called the God of all the earth.”

He says in Hosea 2:14-16 –
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
And speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
And will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
As in the day she came up out of Egypt.
‘In that day,’ declares the Lord,
‘you will call me “my husband”;
You will no longer call me “my master.”’”

It took a long time, but I did finally realize, especially with the help of a sermon you preached, that “standing for my marriage” wasn’t actually trusting God. I was still trying to control the outcome.

I had this vision of bringing glory to God with a restored marriage. But how much was that really about bringing glory to me?

I think, for me, I had to let go of my belief that God would do this thing that I was sure was best – but hold onto my belief that yes, God would bring good out of this awful thing that happened. I had to realize that Faith isn’t telling God what to do.

At one point in the middle of this, someone said to me that “Everything works out for the best.” And I got mad. That’s not what it says! Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It’s not the best when someone makes a bad decision, and I still think my husband made a bad decision to leave me and leave the church. But – God brought me so much good out of it, I’m not sure it’s not far better than what I thought was best.

I remember sitting in Mark and Rachel Morgan’s small group, a few years after coming to Virginia, and I realized that I’d turned the corner. I no longer had to just believe that God would bring good out of my marriage falling apart, but I could already start to feel it in my heart. I was already so much closer to God, felt so much more loved by Him.

I had to trust that about the divorce, too. Our divorce was final in November 2010.

And God has brought all kinds of good out of it. Some things are obvious. I got a career for the first time, and I love being a librarian. Also, I wouldn’t even be here at Gateway if all that hadn’t happened.

It made me feel much closer to God, but it also humbled me. And I discovered how much I needed humbling. I had always looked down on people who were divorced. Even when I was standing for my marriage. I had to be shown that some things, believe it or not, are out of my control. And, boy, did it give me a heart for other people going through similar things.

Just last week, my small group was talking about the Beatitudes. And I was struck for the first time by “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” My heart had been broken, I was as low as I could go, and God comforted me. And that’s a blessing. It’s not a blessing I would have ever chosen for myself. But it is a blessing that honestly does outweigh the mourning.

6 Responses to “My Story – Church Version”

  1. Darlene LeVault says:

    Wow, Sondy, I am glad you posted this and that I was able to read it!! I/we missed church this morning!! I am glad that you have seen where God has been with you during the high & low times that have occurred over the years!! And, glad that you’ve been able to remember some wonderful scripture passages of God reminding of us of various things!!! He is so good to all of us and good &, unfortunately, not good things will happen to all of us!!! It is great to hear that you see wonderful things in your life!! And, I truly do enjoy having you live close by!! We need to get together soon!!

  2. Kristin says:

    Ah, Sondy. It has been a long road, and the Lord has brought you to a good place.

  3. Ruth Bridges says:

    Sondy, Thanks for sharing that with me too. s I God’s plans are always for our best and His glory. I am grateful to God for our years of friendship and the treasure you are in my life. As I read this on my laptop sitting in the apartment in San Diego, wondering if I am going to stay employed and what I should do about it. I am reminded that God is my Father and He always has the best plans for me if I only let Him lead and I follow. Gs is so GOOD! Love you!!!!

  4. Administrator says:

    YES!!! God will take care of you!

  5. Administrator says:

    Thank you for walking with me on part of that road!

  6. Administrator says:

    One thing I’ve loved with posting Project 52, Darlene, is seeing how friends like you just kept popping up in my life! We will have to get together again soon — you’re right!

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