My “Grace Story” aka What is a Testimony?

I’m a preacher’s kid. And that means I grew up in church. I lived for church. I breathed church.

I was there on Sundays, twice (sometimes 3 times). I was there on Wednesday nights and typically Saturday nights too. And sometimes I was there on yet another night of the week. I went to Christian school and college (except for those 4 years when I went to a public high school). I was a volunteer nursery helper, Sunday School teacher, youth group volunteer, office staff, small group leader, lay missionary, church coffee-house coordinator, etc. I’d say… I was the perfect Christian. (OK, don’t judge me, that was said in total sarcasm.)

All of that to say when I hear old church-isms I just cringe. And when I was recently asked to share my testimony (for a women’s event at my church)… what did I do? I cringed. Not because I was asked to stand in front of strangers and share the intimate points of my walk with Christ, failure and all (no pressure) … but because someone just used another religious word: testimony. (People are still calling it that?!) As someone who happens to have a lot of friends who don’t go to church, I often think to myself “Do non-churchy people know what that means?“ So I did what most of them would do… I “Googled” it.  This is what I found…

Testimony:

  1. “In the law, testimony is a form of evidence that is obtained from a witness who makes a solemn statement or declaration of fact. Testimony may be oral or written, and it is usually made by oath or affirmation under penalty of perjury.”
  2. “A. Law. the statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court. B. evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.

Sounds somewhat ominous, doesn’t it?  Knowing what “testimony” means (in the church world), I was frustrated to find these in the top 2 searches on Google. So I changed my search slightly and found this on Wikipedia:

“Christians in general use the term “testify” or “to give one’s testimony” to mean “the story of how one became a Christian”; less commonly it may refer to a specific event in a Christian’s life in which they believe God has done something deemed particularly worth sharing. Christians often give their testimony at their own baptism or at evangelistic events. In the current age of the Internet, many Christians have also placed their testimonies on the internet.”

For the benefit of those who don’t use old church-ism I’m going to call this my “grace story”.  If it wasn’t for God’s grace I wouldn’t be sharing any of this.  I decided to share my “grace story” here … well, because I’m a blogger.

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Lori’s Grace Story

I’ve always said that my life is an open book, despite the many bad decisions I’ve made in my life.

You know the question: “If there was one thing you could change about your life – what would it be?” My answer has been and will always be: “Not a thing.” Everything happens for a reason and God uses those moments to love us, shape us, heal us, teach us and guide us. And a little farther down the road He can use those moments to teach others. And that’s what brings us here today.

So, let me give you some background:
• I’m Lori – a child of God and a woman of faith
• A wife of a loving man
• A sister to the best brother in the world
• A friend who longs to help others
• A daughter to some truly unique people
• I’m a Norwegian work-horse that has a streak of Bohemian-gypsy in me
• I love to cook (but not clean), photograph the beauty of real life, create things, go on long road trips, read a good book every now and then and enjoy a good belly laugh with my friends
• And I’m a preacher’s kid

Born in Fresno, three weeks early and on the night before our family was going to move to Oregon… yes, the moving truck was all packed and everything was ready to roll. I think I just desperately wanted to be a California girl. ::: wink :::

My early arrival delayed our move to Oregon by a few weeks. But when we arrived in Oregon we arrived as a Pastor’s Family. My Dad had just assumed his first role as head pastor in Halsey, Oregon. Halsey was a small town – about 500 people. My earliest memory of going to church with my Dad was in Halsey. The house we lived in was right next to the church. We would walk out the back sliding door, across our small yard and through the gated fence. That would take us right into the church parking lot.

This was a regular occurrence… me going to church early with my Dad. Mom would send me off while she got ready (and would later join us with my little brother in tow). Three years later we moved to San Luis Obispo where my Dad took on his second head pastor role. Imagine being about 27 years old and the head pastor of a church of about 300 people. No pressure! ::: wink :::

I couldn’t give you a specific date, but at some point in my childhood I made a commitment to serve Jesus Christ. I was baptized, by my Dad, around the age of 7. I’d like to add that I was (obviously) the model Preacher’s Kid, the teacher’s pet in Sunday School, I attended every summer and winter kid’s camp our family could afford, I sang in the choir and performed in all the Christmas and Easter musicals and behaved myself during Sunday morning church service. Only once or twice, did my Dad have to call me out by name from the pulpit! ::: wink ::: I was probably giggling with one of my Sunday School class mates. Oh, but my Mom had the “church snap” down. If you ‘ve grown up in church, you know what I’m talking about. The snap of the fingers that each kid knows specifically belongs to their own moms. Right? She would quietly watch and wait for me to stop doing whatever it was I was doing … and if I didn’t stop in time, snap! Oh man… the look on her face right then… yep, you know the look.

A few years later our family moved again, this time to Escondido. My Dad had now accepted his 3rd role as a head Pastor. It was at this church that I got involved by teaching nursery and preschool classes, teaching Sunday School, helped to lead the youth and college age groups, went on several missions trips (to the Navajo tribes, various cities in Mexico, and to Romania on three separate occasions), etc. I ate, slept, drank and bled all things church.  I still woke early and went to church early with Dad… a true Daddy’s girl.

Needless to say, my whole life revolved around church services and church activities… including church people and church functions and I even wore church clothes. You know the kind… ::: grin :::

I’m thankful that my parents were very understanding of the position my brother and I were in as preachers’ kids. On a couple of occasions I remember my Dad addressing the congregation, on behalf of our family. He would thank the congregation for allowing us kids to just be kids. He would thank them for not reporting their concerns over our “questionable” behavior to them on the off-chance that we needed to be scolded. And by “questionable” I mean, that we were driving too fast through the parking lot or giggling during church service. Honestly, we truly were very well-behaved kids… for the most part. And I believe both my brother and I feel that our parents did a really great job of raising us.

But our home life was strained. Dad was always busy… either at the office, in staff or board meetings, on the phone with someone who needed prayer, at a conference, etc. And Mom wasn’t feeling it. My Mom will be the first to tell you that she didn’t think she was cut out to be a Pastor’s Wife. In her opinion, because she didn’t look like, act like, dress like or talk like the rest of the Pastor Wives that she stood out like a sore thumb. And she just simply refused to conform to the cookie cutter shape she felt was made for Pastors Wives. (Who could blame her?!)

Life continued and so did the busy-ness of life. The pressures on my Dad (and our household as a whole) became more intense and more frequent. At some point my parents started sharing the depth of some of those pressures with me. They wouldn’t share the details, or who from the church was involved… but they let me know some of the pressures and asked for my prayer in many of those situations.

And then it happened.

One day my parents sat me and my brother down to share with us a tough situation they had just gone through, which led to a tough decision that would affect our entire family.

It was evident that my parents had anguished over what they were getting ready to tell us. They explained that it was time for Dad to step down from his role as a Pastor. There in our living room my church world crashed in on me. At this point they shared some very hurtful details that they had been protecting us from – there were several men in our church who felt led to confront my Dad over some of the decisions he had been making for the church and the future of the congregation. They had long been in disagreement over these items. Their version of “agreeing to disagree” was to threaten my Dad with this… “Step down. Leave the church or we’re going to call for a church vote.”

(Looking back on it now, I feel these men believed they were doing the right thing, somehow. But I also understand that man’s wisdom and pride can often get in the way of what God wants to accomplish. And often times God lets us fall flat on our faces and show our foolishness.)

So, back to my Dad… with those words my Dad had to make a brave, courageous, Godly and unselfish decision… fight this? And risk a church split? Or protect the members of the church from further and unnecessary damage and instead step down and just move on? In the end, my parents decided that it was time to step down and move on to their next chapter in life.

Dad and Mom painfully delivered this news to my brother and I, with tears streaming down their faces. And I sat there, in their living room… and cried, speechless… I was immediately hot with anger. I was hurt. I was in disbelief. I had a lot of questions. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to our family… and to the church… and from these men…

I learned about confidences that had been broken by my long time friends… sharing personal info on our family with other people in the church. I learned about “friends” who I realized I didn’t really know after all. I reflected on the summer vacations we had taken with these families. I reflected on the holidays that were spent with these families. I reflected on us being vulnerable with these families … on the trust we had given these families by opening up to them over the years. I questioned everything I knew about these people. I questioned what it meant to be a “christian”. I questioned what it meant to be a friend. In fact, I questioned if I had any true friends.

I’m sad to say that I had quickly learned how to NOT trust people, especially Christians. I was building walls up around my heart. I suddenly found myself very lonely, and very hurt, and very much without a church family. My family went from 450+ to the 4 of us, in one afternoon.

And for the next couple of years I ran. I ran from church fellowship. I ran from intimate relationships. I ran from accountability. I just ran… and some of the details of this next chapter of my life are quite honestly, just a blur. Throughout all of this I struggled to find another church, but intermittently … do you know how difficult it is to find another church when you’ve grown up on your Dad’s preaching? It was a great excuse, by the way. ::: grin :::

So I share all of that background to share that what happened next was not pretty. It was downright ugly. You might hear people joke about the rebellious preachers’ kids? Well, they are typically talking about the junior high/high school age preacher’s kids. And here I was… a late bloomer. I was in my mid to late 20s and all of a sudden I was hitting that rebellious streak. And rebel I did… I found my way into the party world. Just about every night I was either throwing a party or out drinking at a bar. I party-ed every chance I could get. It was so bad, that on several occasions I showed up to work the next morning still feeling the buzz from all the drinking I had done the night before. It pains me to admit it out loud, but in place of the intimacy with God I was being intimate with men whom I barely knew. How ironic is that? I felt like I couldn’t trust Christians, so I was instead putting my trust in guys I met at the bar. Makes sense, right? No.

However, in the quiet moments I would find myself praying … I can’t explain it, but I had this peace that God was still with me. Even in my anger and rebelliousness… He was only a prayer away. I knew that He hadn’t turned His back on me because of my behavior. I knew he was right THERE. He was quietly nudging me towards better, healthier, more pure decisions. But for a long while, years … I held Him at arm’s length. I was mad at Him for allowing this pain to happen to our family, to our church, etc. Plus, I felt that I would be held accountable for my rebellious behavior and I wasn’t ready to ask for His forgiveness. I mean, who could blame me… neither was I ready to offer forgiveness.

This child-like, poor-me, bitter attitude continued for a while. In fact, it continued for too long.

But I finally moved into His forgiveness… but only by God’s grace. I honestly can’t tell you what changed in my heart or when it changed. But His grace and mercy overcame my sin and shame, once again, and I was returned to His arms. And that was painful, but glorious, and restful and healing. Accepting the fact that He NEVER left my side? It was beyond freeing. It was faith changing.

I returned first to God’s arms. And then eventually back into church fellowship. I continued my “church shopping”, and it took a while to find the right place. But through every single worship service I stood in His merciful presence and sometimes all I could do was breath (and cry). I couldn’t even sing or raise my hands …just breathed… and cried. God was healing my severely broken and damaged heart. He had already washed it clean… but now I was accepting His healing and love and embracing His grace.

I recently stumbled across a song on the radio that so perfectly fits into this situation. So I have a song I want to share with you… it’s by MercyMe, called “The Hurt & The Healer”http://youtu.be/3xzaivDbu9c

From time to time those painful hurts, and the distrust, would resurface… and once again I would be reminded of His grace. And He would once again patiently walk me through those times.

So now I’m going to fast forward a ways… through a new dedication to serve His Church (and finding an amazing “home church”), to serve our community, etc God began nudging me to finally and truly offer forgiveness for past hurts.

I had come back to church and learned to mingle and “play nice with others” (namely “Christians” again) but was still holding on to those hurts. That’s a long time. I’m talking like 11-12 years at this point!

Those hurts had been buried deep. I lingered in those hurts. I wanted to talk about them and relive them. But through all these years I couldn’t move past them. I lived in this place for a long time… until something changed.

It took quite a bit of unearthing and painful moments of reflection and allowing God to soften my heart before I could truly walk in forgiveness towards those who had a part in turning my world upside down.

But it hit me, at some point, how could I accept God’s gift of forgiveness … for my rebelliousness and pushing Him away… without offering my measly forgiveness to those who hurt us? I mean, my forgiveness means much less than God’s. But I was being very stingy with that forgiveness. And why did I even have the right to do that?! This bitterness and unforgiving spirit was only hurting me…

Up to that point I hadn’t been ready to swallow my pride and finally live in forgiveness (even though I wouldn’t admit that at the time). I finally heeded God’s call. I sat down, and if you know me at all you know that I did what I do best … I made a list… a forgiveness list. This list contained three itemized lists:

  1. People to contact for reconciliation purposes,
  2. People to forgive in the quiet of my heart; and
  3. Situations to pray over – will I be contacting these people? Or is this a personal forgiveness? (Some of the people on this list were involved in this situation with my Dad and our church. Some of them were not.)

I eventually asked several confidantes to pray over these lists with me, in an effort to surround this painful process in prayer. So, are you ready to hear what happened next?

You won’t be surprised to hear that our loving, forgiving, amazing God had been leading me to a place of forgiveness for every single person on that list. And by that I mean, He had been simultaneously preparing my heart as well as theirs. He had divinely orchestrated “meetings” for me to run into some of those people… at a local coffee shop, in a craft store, at a friends’ anniversary party, via emails that arrived out of the blue, etc.

God has an amazing way of surprising us with things like this, doesn’t He?!

Reconciliation and forgiveness are sweet things. God is a gracious God, freely offering to us what we don’t deserve… a merciful God for not giving us what we do deserve. He is my Healer.

From where I sit now… looking back on what happened to my Dad and at our church over 14 years ago, I can recognize that God had a bigger purpose for my life. I can recognize that He can use this ugly mess for His glory.

For instance, I’m writing this today and sharing my testimony with you…. which means there’s at least one reader here whose heart needed to comprehend this journey. God is using the hurt from my life, my painful journey, His gift of forgiveness and the lessons I learned to speak to someone else’s journey. That’s just how God works.

Taking this even further, what have I learned through this ever-difficult lesson?
• I have learned that my faith belongs in the Lord, not imperfect humans.
• I have learned that He will never leave me… even if I’ve pushed Him far away.
• I have learned that God’s grace is sufficient for ALL of my needs.

There are a number of people still on my “forgiveness list”. And I’m praying for God’s wisdom in how to handle those situations. Is He preparing my heart for a face-to-face conversation with some of these people? Does He really think that needs to occur? Or am I to quietly find a place of forgiveness in the quiet of my heart for some of these people? Whatever He thinks is best… I’m open to His will.

Lori’s challenges:

  1. May I suggest you taking some time to look inward and assess any bitterness you might be carrying around? May I encourage you to rest in His grace and forgiveness and ponder on finally letting go of those things. When we live from a place of bitterness we are living offended. And that’s no way to live…
  2. Pray for the Pastors (and their families) and the Leaders in your church.  They desperately need it.
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3 thoughts on “My “Grace Story” aka What is a Testimony?

  1. Thank you for sharing this with me! I feel like I know you so much better now and found several connections with your story. I continue to need to work on forgetting and forgiving others for the past and feel motivated to attack that part of my life from your grace story! I’m so glad you reconnected with our little group of ladies! I missed you!

  2. I am touched by your Grace Story! I’ve always loved “testimonies” but now prefer Grace stories as that Glorifies God! We were close to the Pastor who re-married us. He had 5 daughter, one exactly the same age as our daughter. I see her in your story but she’s still so lost….but I know God is pursuing her relentlessly!
    I’d love to connect further! My Grace Story is here: https://lifetimeofforgiveness.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/life-seems-so-hopeless/
    May Our Lord continue to fill you with His Grace!
    Your Sister in Christ!
    Debbie

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