Yesterday I sat in church service and got to hear 8 people come up front before our sermon and share grace...words and stories of the ways God's grace sustained them through difficult circumstances and painful times in their lives. A common thread in their stories spoke of finding and walking with God for most of their lives to date, and it made me ponder if I had been asked to share some of my own story, what would I have told our church family? Unlike the 8 individuals who shared yesterday, I have not walked with God most of my life. Honestly, it consumed my thoughts the rest of the day yesterday, and it was still in my mind when I woke up today.
But I realized that I do have a story; I do have a story of grace among difficult and painful circumstances, even if my timeline greatly differs from theirs....and it is worth sharing. I have only been walking with God nearly 5 years now, which, considering I am almost 48, is not anywhere near most of my lifespan so far.
Those who have known me long will know I grew up in a Catholic church. Mom made sure I attended its religious education and received all the sacraments, and I did take in a head knowledge of God. However, knowing God in your head is not the same as knowing Him in your heart, so I really did not have any sort of meaningful relationship with God. Something that was evident in my utilizing the confessional booth during my high school years, not to confess my sins, but to listen to Yankees baseball on AM radio with headphones. (sorry Mom) Clearly, at that time, I was more interested in hearing Phil Rizzuto call games than the priest preach a sermon.
Fast forward a number of years, and I was married with 3 children, the eldest of whom has special needs, specifically aspergers syndrome. The older he got, the home environment became more and more chaotic, stressful and overwhelming, which emptied me out with each passing day, but instead of turning to the one thing that would restore me, I turned inward, turned to drinking heavily, and dreaming of disappearing. The panic attacks came, the lack of sleeping, lack of eating, the despair and loneliness. Where was God? Did He even care or notice me? Who was I? Did I matter?
That was what living in painful, difficult circumstances without God was like for me. I realize now that I can look back over the last 5 years, last 6 years actually, that God was there all along. There are so many times that I can now recognize as Him working behind the scenes to preserve me because He was really just waiting for me to turn to Him. He had, and has a plan for my life, but I had to reach a point where I had nothing left, nowhere else to turn. He sent someone into my life to help me find the path I needed to be on, and I am so grateful. It's been nearly 5 years since I was baptized in the lake as an outward sign of who I belong to, who owns my heart.
There is a night & day difference between the difficult stuff in my life then, and the difficult stuff in my life now. Now that I belong to God, I have overcome decades of depression & despair, no longer lonely, no longer empty, no longer overwhelmed. I have learned how to find joy in the small things, and be grateful every day. I learned how to be happy, how to accept myself. The biggest and hardest hit in my life since I let God into my heart has been the loss of my mom. I still struggle to process it, and I feel her absence every day. Some days that horrible phone call feels like an hour ago. But my life is filled with blessings. My son is now 21, and living on his own in another state. My daughters are doing well in school, one in high school & the other in college. Our home environment is no longer chaotic; it is actually peaceful. I admit that it has taken some time to get used to it. But I am thankful, so thankful for it. I am actually happy. I work in a preschool where I am free to love on our kids, and every year I fall in love with the amazing children who come to us. I am on a sustaining fitness journey that allows me to love & encourage other women to do the same, as a Beachbody coach. If I had just one regret, it would be that I can't share this with my mom. So many blessings have come into my life since she went home to the Lord. But I have to believe that somehow she knows. That from up in heaven, she can see, and hopefully she's proud of me and how far I have come.
If I could go back in time, I would choose to walk with God much, much sooner. However, I am not sure if I would have as deep a level of gratitude, had I not suffered through the hard stuff without Him. How can someone fully appreciate the sunshine if they don't go through the rain? Sometimes, that rain was a light sprinkle and the other times it was a monsoon. I may not have walked with God most of my life, but He loved me enough to wait for me, and it is my fiercest prayer that He waits for my children, too. He is the light that saved my life, saved my marriage, and He is the light that turns all the rain in my life into rainbows. I am blessed beyond measure, and very, very grateful. If He can save a wretch like me, He can save anyone.