Quality of life. Freedom from death. This weekend I heard just such a story of freedom. I was so touched that I want to share it as widely as possible.
Sunday was the second teaching from Colossians in a dramatically titled new sermon series, Playmaker, Prophet, Priest & King: The Supremacy of Christ. It was on Colossians 1. 9-14. In verses 9-11 Paul is joyful having heard from Epaphras about the faith of the Colossians. He prays with high expectations for the Colossians to be filled with Christ. Pr. Scott asked: Do we pray with high hopes or low expectations? How much joy do we have when people come to know Jesus? What is the transformation from darkness to living in light? Then, we heard from Barbara B. Grace. Dignity. Joy. In Christ. I give you Barbara, in her own words, below.
This is a story of beginnings and endings, light out of darkness and hope.
A few days ago Pastor Scott called and asked me to participate in today’s service. I said why on earth would he want me to do that? It seems he and my dear friend Don Barkley had apparently felt that my current life situation fit into the theme of Colossians. Long ago I learned that unless there was a darn good reason to say no to such requests, the answer had to be yes, so here I am. It has been a privilege to know Don through our work with women recovering from alcoholism. He and his family have been a great influence on my growth in faith.
Colossians: 1: 13: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
1. Throughout my entire life, every good thing, every difficult situation has had a purpose to help do life on God’s terms and come closer to him. And he has been there and facilitated it all even when I wasn’t paying attention.
2. My younger sister and I grew up in a perfectly good home with hard working parents. We went to church because we were supposed to but did not know a relational God. My early concept was that God was not mean but was stern and had expectations of me. As a young child I “knew” that I was not meeting them. Nobody told me that. I believe it was Satan getting a hold of my life even then. I’ve always known that Jesus was God’s son and had died for me but didn’t know what that all meant for many, many years. I could not fathom Christ as a friend beside me but only as a Lord to be worshipped.
3. There were two spinster aunties that my sister and I spent time with so my parents could get a break. They introduced us to their Congregational Church in Claremont and to their dear Christian friends. I loved going to Sunday School and VBS there. I always felt welcome and safe as opposed to rejected and different at home. My sister and I had no meaningful grandparents but these amazing Christian women were awesome surrogates and had so much to do with the foundation of my faith that was to blossom much later in life. Again, God working on me and I didn’t know it. Without a doubt these wonderful ladies and most likely my mother were praying for us just as Paul prayed for the citizens of Colosse. They saw this hard headed, arrogant, bossy kid and knew I was going to need all the help I could get.
4. As I got older I pulled further away from God and then I got into alcoholism. I need to say that no one caused me to be an alcoholic. My parents weren’t and I didn’t learn it but there were alcoholics on both sides of my family. In our family it was a moral issue full of shame and guilt. Today I am fully aware that it is a disease and that we who are alcoholic do not metabolize alcohol as the normal person does.
5. Even before I had any glimpse of the new life God had planned for me he began rescuing me. In 1935 God brought together two drunks feeling hopeless about ever gaining sobriety. What was to become hope for them and millions of people suffering from alcoholism was born. God knew that this kid who was to be born in 1938 was going to need them.
Through my 15.5 year old daughter who was not yet a believer, God was working to transform both of our lives. Through God’s divine intervention one morning she confronted me with the right words at the right time. I was then blest to be introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous when I was 40 years old. At that time I believed that God wanted nothing to do with me because I was so bad. Thankfully, through 26 days in rehab and a firm commitment to learn and follow the ways of AA I was re-introduced to the spiritual side of myself. Here I found a loving God who accepted me just as I was. Jesus was his son who died for me but I still did not figure out how to accept Jesus as my friend and fully allow him into my life. But God was patient & persistent.
6. It took a long time but eventually I knew I wanted to get back to my Christian roots. I searched many churches but just didn’t find a fit. Sometime in the mid 90’s I was searching for an 11:00 p.m. protestant service on Christmas Eve. This had been a wonderful childhood tradition. The only one I found was IPC. When I walked in the door I knew I was home. All of you were warm, and welcoming and I found the Lord’s presence here. And I am so grateful
7. Through all the ups and downs of life that we all face God’s hand has been guiding me even when I wasn’t paying attention. Like everyone I’ve had painful times – learning to change my life, attitudes and behaviors completely through the program of AA (by the way, though not religious in nature, it was founded on Christian principles.) My first marriage broke up – so difficult. My second husband, precious Dale who was a gift from God in sobriety and found Christ here at IPC, died after 21 fabulous years of a marriage truly made in heaven. Two years ago, after 28 years teaching at Saddleback College, I had to retire before I was ready. Through it all, God’s hand has been the guiding force and in recent years I have begun to really recognize just how wonderful he has been and how it has all worked out according to his plan.
8. Last July I had an opportunity to take a yoga class for us senior citizens, something I had never done but I figured, why not. As we were stretching out and relaxing at the end of one of our sessions I went to my place of relaxation – a mountain lake with all it’s beauty. Immediately Jesus appeared and took me in his arms and I have never felt anything like it. It brought tears to my eyes then and it does now. It was so powerful.
9. I have not been feeling fully myself for about 6 months so finally scheduled an annual physical. Monday, May 19 I had blood drawn, expecting to get results at my scheduled appointment. I figured I’m getting older and there probably was some chronic stuff I could adjust to just as many of you have. Tuesday my cell phone rang. When I saw it was my doctor’s office I was concerned. The nurse was kind & supportive as she told me my white blood cell count was 366,000 (10,000 is normal) and I needed to get to the hospital immediately. I knew then that my life was forever changed. God gifted me with 53 years of service as a practicing RN, a career that I have loved and cherished. I knew what was ahead.
10. My wonderful family was immediately by my side as were Pastor Scott & Don Barkley. This brought so much comfort & support. And they are still there, every single day and when needed. (And to think that without God’s intervention I would never have stopped drinking and missed all of this.) After 2 days of tests and treatment in the hospital the doctors told us it is acute lymphoblastic leukemia and there is no good end. They offered heavy duty chemo but I’ve seen enough of how weakened people become with that approach. I’m choosing to take some easily tolerated oral medication and have all the quality of life that God has in store and, as the old song goes “live, live, live ‘til I die.”
11. The girls asked the doctors if this had started in December when I first began feeling ill. He said no, it had probably been more like a year ago. When asked what caused this illness the doctor said it was a disease of aging. It was reassuring to know that I was powerless to change the outcome.
12. I believe that when Jesus came to me at yoga that day he was making it very clear that he had me and all was well as the future was to unfold. It is so comforting. Today I stand before you with nothing but gratitude, no regrets. Thanks to the lessons I’ve learned and the work I’ve done in AA today I have no known baggage from the past and no secrets I’m holding on to. I am completely at peace with who I am and also willing to deal with something if there is some issue I’ve missed. I am ready to go to the Lord when he is ready. I’m a little uneasy about what happens between now and then but I look back on my entire life, the ups and downs, and see God’s hand in it all and I know he is taking care of all of this, too.
13. For a long time I have sought the friendship of Jesus walking beside me. Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, it began at that yoga session but I’m a slow learner and it has taken until now to become truly real. I have struggled to fully embrace and live as a beloved child of God. I’ve been praying for a closer walk with him and to experience him as I see all of you do. In AA I was taught early on to be careful what you pray for. I am now a novice but, through this illness, experiencing the presence of Christ beside me for the first time.
14. According to the doctors I have a few weeks to a few months to live – less than a year. According to God I will be here as long as he wants me to be and that just might be longer than the doctors’ think!
15. Thank you so much for indulging me these few minutes. If it can help anyone realize that there is joy and peace at the end of life when we are connected to our Lord then this has met the goal I believe God wanted. Also it’s my desire that it gives hope to families who are struggling with chemical dependency issues that you never give up. There is hope for recovery if people will just be willing to listen and make some life changes. Seeking help from programs of support, listening, learning, working and growing can bring an entirely new and wonderful life to those who are genuinely seeking it. Connecting with the Lord makes it a whole lot easier.
16. As I transcend to my permanent home with our Lord – don’t know when – I’m here before you with amazement and gratitude for this life I’ve been given. Today I am living happy, joyous and free, one day at a time.