My Spiritual Journey

I’ve been involved in a Bible study called The Journey. It has been life-changing for me. We have studied God’s Word, read  books, answered challenging questions in workbooks, learned to trust, and now – we are all working on our own personal spiritual narrative. This is only a rough draft, so if you are reading this, please forgive me. I’ve omitted many details for obvious reasons.

Why am I sharing this? I hope it will challenge you to dig deeper into your past. Into your heart. Into God’s Word….so that you will truly grow to understand who He is, appreciate the people he has placed in your life, and finally see what His plan is for you. You won’t regret it.

From the time I was born until about the 3rd grade, I had what most would consider to be a wonderful childhood. Because of what happened later on, I often forget that my parents did at least try to do their best. Early on, my parents made me feel loved. All my basic needs were met. My mom had me involved in dance from the time I was 3. She made me feel like a princess. We lived in a very small home, but I always felt like I lived in the most beautiful house (even though it looked exactly like all the other ones on the street) and had the best parents ever. I had no idea that I lived in the neighborhood  that people made jokes about until later on, and had no clue that my parents failed to teach me about what I needed most – Jesus – until my best friend, Lesa, told me (when we were only in elementary school) that the neighbor boy we fought over would never marry me because I didn’t go to church. That was my first time that I realized that something  was missing.

I remember going over to Lesa’s house often, and she would come over to mine. One day she introduced me to her neighbor, Kathy.  The three of us spent a lot of time together. Sweet childhood memories that I’ll never forget. The neat thing is that the three of us stay in touch today.

My one and only sibling  was born when I was 7. We learned when he was about 2 that he was mentally challenged. The doctors at Riley told my parents that Rob would never be able to complete a sentence. They were wrong, but there were times when I wished that he couldn’t even  talk. His behavior  embarrassed  me to the point where I stopped inviting people over. He was so unpredictable. I hated that. The good thing is that I learned to love and appreciate who Rob was – much later.

When I was in the 4th grade, my dad told me that he and my mother were getting a divorce. I wasn’t surprised at all. They fought every day  plus I overheard them talking earlier about how they were going to break the news to me. When I overheard them discussing it, and the fact that my mom was planning on taking me to Georgia with her, I ran down the street to tell my best friend, Kathy. I remember her running into  the house to ask her mom if they could adopt me so that I wouldn’t have to move away.  I was so excited. Ha. (Funny how the grass looks greener on the other side.)

When my mom finally talked to me about moving with her to Georgia,  I was prepared to say no.  She was moving with a family friend who we referred to as Uncle John.  I was very hurt and angry with her.  I blamed her for everything. The fighting. The separation. Moving away with another man. Everything.

Although I loved my dad, his personality was much like mine. We never talked about what was happening. We just moved on and acted like everything was ok, but it wasn’t. I stopped playing with my 2 best friends who lived down the street,  and replaced them with TV.  This was a very lonely time for me.

My mom moved back to our home when I was getting ready to start Middle School.  I was in band and  a cheerleader all 3 years.  School was good, but my foundation had crumbled.   I remember crying every morning when my dad pulled out of the driveway to go to work.  I would peak trough the curtains, and tears would roll down my cheeks.   I really thought that life would be normal again when my mom moved back, but she had changed. She was drinking a lot, and she had lost all of her friends. She hardly ever left the house.

(It makes me so sad when I think about how she tried to live life all on her own. My mom was beautiful. She was not a horrible person, but she allowed her past experiences to control her. She had a horrible childhood, found out that she had cancer when she was only 21 years old –  then had a miscarriage. She wasn’t happy in her marriage, but how could she be when she was carrying all of this baggage? She knew that there was more to life, but she was looking in the wrong places. She wouldn’t forgive, so she became bitter. She lost all hope.)

I will never forget the time when she locked her bedroom door, pushed a dresser in front of it and wouldn’t respond to us. I managed to pry the door open enough to look in. She was sitting on her bed crying, and her head was shaking.  My dad took her to the hospital where she was admitted. I was told that she was having a nervous  breakdown. I didn’t understand what that was, but I knew it wasn’t good. She stopped driving after this, and the only time she went outside was to work on a tan on our back patio.

One of the best things that happened to me in Middle School was meeting a boy named Danny.  He was the best example and friend I could ever ask for.  He invited me to youth group several times and over to his house. We remained best friends throughout high school and still stay in touch today. Because things became so difficult with my mom, I have no doubt that God placed Danny in my life for that reason. He would share Scripture with me, even though I didn’t really understand it’s significance.  Danny made me realize that God was real and that I wasn’t doing life alone, but I still didn’t understand how Jesus fit into the picture I’m so thankful that Danny taught me to pray for my mom and for others who made life difficult. I can’t put into words the difference that has made in my life.

During my high school years, I was in band, a cheerleader, and about every club there was so that I didn’t have to be home.  I never knew what to expect when I would walk through the door.   Sometimes my mom would be in a good mood, and sometimes she would be unbearable – there was no in-between.  I loved HER, but hated how she was when she was drinking.

I became close to a couple of girls who were Christians – Dee and Lynda. I spent a lot of time with them, but never opened up to them (totally) about my personal life – other than school stuff and boyfriends.  Dee invited me to stay over often,  then I would go  to church with her and her family.  I remember her reading  her Bible right before we turned out the lights – every time I stayed. Her actions spoke volumes.

I dated a lot of guys in high school.  I liked everyone and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I never said ‘no’ to anyone.  I became serious with one and planned to marry him.  His name was Gary. He came from a very strict Christian home  – one that made me think of all the rules that God has, but nothing about his unconditional love. We ended up drinking together – a lot. Truthfully, I was frightened that I was turning into my mom and knew that I needed to get away. That’s when I decided to break off the relationship and go to Ball State.

When I look back to this time, it is so exciting to see how God worked it all out. I ended up rooming with Lynda (my friend from high school) and another girl who I really didn’t know that well.  Robin and I went looking for a house/apartment the summer before school began. When we were in her car,  she asked if I would mind if we prayed that God would show us where we were supposed to live. I think that was the first time anyone had asked me that  –  other than Danny. It made everything feel so right.

I turned 21 in September, and I celebrated like a lot of others do – with drinking too much alcohol. I will never forget thinking – there HAS to be more to life than this. It wasn’t long after that when one of my roommates talked about the three of us attending  a Bible study. That’s where we learned about Campus Crusade for Christ, and that’s when everything started to click. I FINALLY began to realize what I was missing. 

I don’t even know how to explain the bond that my roommates and I had that year. That was the closest I’ve ever been to anyone.  This was the year that I met Mark through Campus Crusade. This was the year that I learned that life can be different. I accepted Jesus as my Savior, then was baptized on Easter Sunday.

Although this was such an amazing time in my life, my commitment to Christ and the bond I had with my roommates became a wedge in my relationship with my mom. I remember wanting to spend time with my 2 roommates (who also lived in my hometown) when I would go home on a weekend – rather than spending it all at home. My mom became so angry. She stormed into my room one day and told me to fess up. She wanted me to admit two things that weren’t true – that I was a lesbian and that I was involved in a cult –  Campus Crusade.  From that time on, I did make sure to spend more time with my family, but I rarely made it home.

It was Mark’s passion for Jesus and leading others to Him that I was attracted to. I was a new Christian, and I wanted to marry someone who was strong in their faith. Although I found who I thought was ‘the one’, my mom thought otherwise – especially when he dropped the bomb that he just wanted to be friends after dating for a couple of years. When he called a few months later, asking me to meet him for dinner, my mom could not understand how I could forgive him. A few months later, he proposed to me and then we were married the following summer.

My mom stopped talking to me (actually everyone) the week before the wedding, then topped it off by not coming to our wedding.  We didn’t see each other for about 7 years. Probably the most hurtful thing was when she called to tell me that she burned all my pictures and said that as far as she was concerned – I never existed.  That’s when Mark took the phone away from me and told her to stop calling, and she did.

Shortly after I had learned that we were expecting our 3rd child, she called me.  Our conversation was pleasant – something that I had hoped and prayed for. It was that next Christmas that she and my dad came to see us. That’s a Christmas that I’ll never forget. A day of forgiveness. A day of joy. It was like something you would see on a Hallmark Channel. A church youth group showed up at our house and sang Christmas Carols. My mom LOVED music. She cried…She tried to apologize for everything,  but  I stopped her and told her that the past was in the past; I wanted to move on and enjoy.

A few months later,  she was diagnosed with cancer. The last year of her life, she wouldn’t let anyone see her. She was always one who wouldn’t even answer the door if she or the house didn’t look the  best. She wanted to look perfect; she wanted life to be perfect. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to help clean, cook etc., but she gave me a firm ‘NO’.

One Monday morning, my dad called to tell me that he had called 911. The ironic thing is that I had written a letter to her the day before, just letting her know how much I loved her and how much I wanted to be there for her, and had even put it in my car so that I wouldn’t  forget to mail it. I was so sad and frustrated with myself that I had waited so long to write it, and now it was too late. My husband  volunteered to do her funeral, which made everything so much easier AND more meaningful. When we were leaving the cemetery, I looked up and noticed that my letter wasn’t  tucked under the sun visor. I mentioned it to Mark, and he told me that he knew how much I wanted my mom to have it, so he put it next to her in the casket before they closed it. Needless to say, that was one of the most meaningful things my husband has ever done for me – ever.

After my mom died, I really thought things would change with my dad. I was a daddy’s girl, yet we hardly got together. I think he was so overwhelmed with my brother and the loss of my mother. One day I received a call from my dad’s neighbor. She had noticed that he was doing unusual things like taking folded laundry out back and placing it on the ground. I drove to Greenwood right away. As I drove down my old street,  I spotted my dad walking on the sidewalk. I stopped the car and waved and asked him where he was going.  He waved back and said ‘Hi! Just taking a walk’ and kept walking. It hit me that he didn’t recognize me. I can’t even explain what that felt like. Perhaps finding out that someone you love has died unexpectedly  pretty much compares to how you feel.

We soon had to move my dad to a nursing home. He  went downhill quickly. I would receive calls from the nurse – notifying me of anything that my dad would do out of the ordinary. He swung at a nurse, stripped down in the courtyard, and became very unpredictable with his behavior. I couldn’t believe it. My dad was the most gentle and modest man I’ve ever known. I was so thankful that he didn’t realize what was going on.

Visiting him became more and more difficult for me. I always made sure that Mark met me there so that I would have the strength to walk in. One evening  we were walking down the hallway, and I noticed this man – sitting on the floor with a hospital gown on. He was moving his hand slowly over the floor, as if he was moving something away from him. As I got closer, I realized that it was my dad. He wouldn’t even look up, but continued to mumble something as he looked at the floor. It was after that visit that I went to my car, cried uncontrollably, and begged God to take my dad home that night.

A few months later, we received another call from the nurse, but this time it wasn’t concerning his behavior. Mark and I rushed to the nursing home, sat by his side, and watched as my dad looked my way and squeezed my hand. Somehow I found the courage to whisper into his ear – it’s ok for you to go, but please, if you haven’t asked Jesus into your heart – do it now.   Looking back, if God had answered my  “please take him now” prayer, I wouldn’t have had that chance to whisper those words into his ear before he passed away.

Now that I’ve covered what I would consider to be the most difficult years, I need to back up a little and share what I consider to be the biggest blessings – my children. About a month after we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, I started having sharp pains on my side. I thought it was my appendix, so we went to the ER. After a couple tests, we found out that a ruptured cyst was the cause of the pain. We also learned that we were expecting our first child! We never wanted to know if it was a girl or a boy. When Daniel was born, I was in such awe when I first saw him, I didn’t even ask the doctor what we had! I remember thinking – what a miracle. How can anyone doubt that there is a God?

We were just getting ready to celebrate Daniel’s first birthday when we found out that I was expecting another  baby. When I was about 3 months along, I had a miscarriage. It’s amazing what people will say to you when you experience it. Things like “At least you have one.” Or, “It wasn’t meant to be.” I learned that sometimes it’s just better to give a hug.

About 6 months later, I became pregnant again.  Needless to say, I was nervous about this pregnancy. I was so afraid that we would lose him, too. Once I made it past the 3 month mark, I finally relaxed and enjoyed the blessing of carrying another baby. Jared was born a week early, and I remember when I heard him cry – it was music to my ears.

We were outgrowing our small house in Arcadia, so we decided to have one built. We sold our home, moved everything out, and the four of us were living in a very small apartment. I will never forget the day that we were to close on our home. Mark walked into the apartment, and he looked as if someone had died. The buyers backed out of the deal. Even worse, our builder was supposed to start on our new home the following Monday. What seemed like such a wonderful time in our lives was quickly turning into a disaster.  By the grace of God, the builder found someone else who wanted our lot. We moved back to our old house, and thanked God over and over for protecting us from what could’ve been a financial disaster. This is when I found out that I was expecting a baby. What a blessing.

Mark has basically worked 2 fulltime jobs for many years – Sysco and part-time/fulltime ministry. He started out in the youth ministry, then was called to be a senior pastor about 18 years ago. He was gone quite a bit, but I really didn’t mind. My time was so filled with the 3 boys;  it all seemed to work out. The worst part of it all was that I didn’t feel qualified to be a pastor’s wife. It wasn’t until I started teaching children in Sunday school, VBS, and Jr. Church that I started to see that I had any kind of purpose. Still, I struggled with feeling like a failure.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in my married life was when Mark accepted a new position with his company about 4 years ago and began to travel. I never, ever dreamed that – after being married more than 25 years that we would need to WORK at  our marriage.  I was used to him being gone a lot, so I was fully supportive of his new job. I was truly excited for him, but there were some  things that caught me off-guard.

For the first several months, our communication was basically done in the evening. I became very frustrated when I would send him a text or call during the day, and would get nothing in return. He explained that he couldn’t really communicate during the day because he was in training; I understood, but I still didn’t like it. Actually, I hated it.  After a lot of work and commitment to prayer, we were able to make it through those frustrating struggles.

Family… You can’t replace your mom, but God provided a sister I never had – Mark’s Aunt Pat. From the first time  that I met her when Mark and I were dating, I loved her. We’ve been through a lot together, and I don’t know how I would make it through life without her. She’s the one I call when I need to talk. She’s the one who will make tears roll down my cheeks because she’s making me laugh so hard. I hope I’m half the friend that she is to me. She is also the one I trusted to become my mentor during this process. I am so grateful.

***

My grandma Opal. She was my favorite! She wasn’t your typical grandmother. She couldn’t cook; didn’t bake, but she sure made you feel loved.  When I was 5 years old, my grandma noticed that I was intrigued with my dad’s cigarette packages.  She asked me if I wanted to smoke one. She got out her matches,  and then handed me the cigarette. I remember her telling me to inhale as hard as I could. I think my throat was on fire! It’s not a lesson I would encourage today, but because of it –  I never had a desire to smoke a cigarette the rest of my life.

She was a telephone operator, taxi cab driver, delivered a newspaper, owned a small country grocery store and a pool hall. After working all of those years, she ended up losing all of her money. The last 15 years of her life, she lived in a tiny apartment, had an old car that wasn’t dependable – and nothing to spare. I found out by accident that she was an alcoholic – although I only saw her drunk one time. From what my grandma told me, her second husband “Hoppie” saved her. Because of him, she stopped drinking and became a Christian. THAT’S the grandma that I knew.

She lost her husband and two children to cancer. She didn’t have a dime to spare, but I could see that her love for the Lord and her family made her feel rich.  I was amazed to see that she could  keep her wonderful  sense of humor and remain so positive – even after losing so much. A short time after she passed away, I looked through her Bible. She had many pieces of paper tucked inside that were filled with her handwritten scripture references and names of people she prayed for. I remember seeing my name. What a treasure.

God moments…

I’ll never forget how God spoke to me one morning – years ago when the boys were young. I don’t mean that I actually heard a voice, but he reassured me that he was alive and that he was very aware of what I was struggling with in my heart. Mark had left for Indianapolis and I was busy getting the boys off to school. During that busy morning, I had this tug to pray for Mark and his drive to work. Those mornings  were so very hectic, so I rarely took time to pray for anyone or anything. Later that day, Mark called home about something. During our conversation, he brought up the fact that he was almost t-boned on his way to work. I sat there in silence as he told me that an SUV had run a light or stop sign. I remember Mark telling me that he screamed at the top of his lungs – anticipating a crash. It never happened. Not even a scratch. When I asked him where he was when that happened, I realized that it happened shortly after I had prayed for him.  I will never forget it.

***

About 3 years ago, I reconnected with a high school friend through FB. She was a faithful follower and servant of Christ. All of a sudden, her posts didn’t make sense. She later shared that she had a brain tumor. To make a long story short, she lost her battle to cancer. Penny had shared many times about her passion for reaching the lost in Africa. She planned to go there,  but never made it. Another high school  friend of mine, Becki, and I decided we would go in her honor. Schedules didn’t work out. I  was so disappointed.

I received  a message from Becki on a Wednesday asking me if I would be interested in going with her  and about 20 others from Greenwood on a mission trip to Costa Rica. I had until Friday to decide. Just like any major decision like this, I talked it over with Mark. Instead of giving me any kind of direction or indication of what he thought, he  told me to pray about it. Friday morning came, and I knew I needed to let her know. I sent her a message explaining that I would love to go, but just didn’t think I could come up with the money. Maybe next year. Went to preschool, and I just didn’t feel the peace I was expecting. I kept asking God – where is the peace? By the end of the school day, I heard these words being whispered into my thoughts – Ye of little faith. If you really think God wants you to do this, how can you doubt that He will supply all your needs?

As soon as I got home, I sent Becki a message telling her I changed my mind. Needless to say, it was THEN that I experienced that peace that I was waiting for.

I can’t begin to list what God taught me on this trip. Probably the thing that struck me the most was this: I had prepared myself for when we said goodbye to the kids in Costa Rica, but I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming emotions I experienced when I had to say goodbye to this group of people I had just spent a week with serving the Lord. I hardly ever cry, and I was sobbing.  Going to church is a great thing, but I realized that we need more. I need more.

It was on this trip that I learned the importance of Christian fellowship and serving God with others.  We had pretty much been on our own since we left the ministry. No Bible studies. No Life groups. Just church.

Looking back

I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be today if Lesa had decided not to mention that the boy next door wouldn’t marry me because I didn’t go to church. What If Danny had decided that he would be wasting his time sharing Scriptures with me, or if he had left out the importance of forgiveness and praying for people who make life difficult?  What if Lynda and Dee would’ve decided that it wouldn’t be a good thing to hang around me in high school – because I might have been a bad influence? Where would I be right now if I had stayed with Gary, because I couldn’t see beyond my life experiences that surrounded me?  What would I be sharing right now if Mark and I had given up on our marriage?

What have I learned through all of this? There are several things that I’ve learned, but there’s one thing that stands out. When you feel a tug on your heart to do or say something, don’t ignore it. You never know what God is up to – through you. I’m thankful for the people He has placed in my life – the ones mentioned above, and many others who changed my life forever.

4 Comments on “My Spiritual Journey

  1. Thanks so much Teri. Carol Dr holds many memories good and bad. The lessons of life are such great gifts of Gods. Keep passing them on. I definitely chose the school of hard knocks, but my gift today is knowing how God has loved me through it so I can help others. I work with other addicts and alcoholics today. Have been clean for six plus yrs. Feb 14th I am scheduled to speak to a group in Terre Haute. Every day is a priceless gift, so glad we can give thanks. Thanks again. Steve Reed.

    • Steve – I’m not sure why I didn’t see your comment before today. Congratulations!!! And I love hearing that you’re helping others who have similar struggles. You are so right – every day is a priceless gift.

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