My family is just like yours: loving, dysfunctional, distinctive and filled with people and situations that will impact me for the rest of me life.
I grew up with a love of family first, though I’ve often failed at that myself, and what I call that Puritan upbringing — a belief in hard work, tenacity, having smarts and hanging in there. I walked into adulthood with three components: love of family, belief in hard work, and belief that church was not the place you showed your vulnerabilities.
Until my early twenties, I believed Christianity was for the emotionally needy, unintellectual and dull. It took some time and wisdom for me to finally realize those words described me exactly. I became a Christian when my oldest son was born; it’s hard to go through childbirth without realizing the miracle of it.
For 20 years, I had a faith and life you see a lot, one you may even be living. It was filled with a desire to be obedient, to have quiet time, constantly trying to say and do the right things. I had a big house, helped with the kids’ homework, and went on fun vacations.
But trying to juggle everything was difficult, and a lot just became a façade.
I could not understand what in the world people were talking about when they spoke of the joy of Christ or the peace of Christ. I had no earthly clue what that meant. Eventually, I decided that my lack of joy in Christ was my cross to bear — I was simply never going to know that side of Him.
Despite my self-perception that I was special and different, I fell right into a standard midlife crisis and threw a nuclear bomb into the whole dynamic: got a divorce and hurt the people I love the most in this world. Then I spent four years in therapy and church trying to come to grips with my destructive nature.
But thanks to God’s forgiveness and grace, this part of my story has a happy ending. I was sitting in an amazing church many years ago, and as the pastor was preaching a sermon on “The Chronicles of Narnia,” he said the most innocent words: “You do not have to sin again.”
Or something like that.
And all at once, the indescribable happened. I felt like I was one of those huge doors with the tumble locks in the center. I could feel the locks tumble inside of me, and joy walked through. And it has never left — never for one instant! I walked into church that day as one person and walked out an hour later filled with joy. I was transformed.
A New Life
That is not to say I didn’t then and still don’t now get discouraged and down. Obviously I do, but the days of going back to the beginning and asking myself, “Is there a God or isn’t there?” are over.
My tent is firmly planted in Christ’s camp. And this joy feels so good, I can’t even begin to describe it. Sustaining. Filling. Happy. Optimistic. All that and more. And for many years, I just felt great. I tried to rebuild relationships, tried to be the best mother and wife I could be, and that was plenty.
As I got close to my 50th birthday, the Lord began to do a new work in me. It grew partly out of conferences, partly out of an incredible church environment, and mostly from the Lord’s nudging. But I eventually asked God for a bold and audacious ministry to work in the last half of my life.
I thought I would volunteer in a soup kitchen or something. Clearly, I really had no clue how transforming He could be.
So, from watching what kids in my area were exposed to, and with the help of dear friends and fellow horse lovers, we started an equestrian day camp that gives some of the kids in my small town something fun to do on a couple Saturdays a month.
Starting out, there were ten kids at most. Fast forward a few years and you see how it is now: three hundred kids and families cooking out, having fun, riding horses and being served by incredible volunteers who give one Saturday per month serving their neighbors when they could be doing all the other things on their lists.
From that small start, the Lord started moving in our hearts and in the hearts of others. It was no longer okay for just our kids to have enough food or medical care or warm clothes. It became important for our neighbors to have the same.
Saying Yes for the Love of Joy
The health clinic, the Bible Study, the parenting classes, the Christmas store — these all happened because someone said yes instead of no or even maybe. The Lord opened a door and we walked through.
And that’s it. That’s my story. I am called — we are called — to stand in the gap for a vulnerable child. I don’t have any more time than you do, fewer problems than you, or a greater need to help. I’m not closer to God. I don’t understand any better than you how to serve the poor. I don’t have more money. I’m not immune to the desire to turn the other way and get on Facebook instead.
I like all my time to be my own, where I decide how it’s spent. I want to go to Italy. I’m constantly balancing work, school, family, time alone, trying to get skinny, trying to exercise, trying to read my Bible, just like you.
But here is the deal — I am alive in a way I’ve never been before. It is hard and it is painful, but it is Kingdom work, and you and I are designed for this.
We were kissed by the Holy Spirit, and we’re inclined to desire to be a part of His plan. So the feeling is joy. And joy always, always leaves you wanting more.