One of our favorite projects is telling Redemption Stories – stories of real people who have been changed by Jesus. We do this both through video and through writing. Here’s the story – in her own written words – of God’s grace in the life of Lisa, who has been around Coram Deo for about four years now and recently became a church member along with her husband Ryan.
“I think it’s good for you, this new church…” The words I felt I needed to hear from a family member finally spoken from my grandma’s lips as she lay in a hospital bed. The conversation didn’t last much longer. I was sitting in her room, lights out, waiting for her to fall asleep. She was scared. Cancer. She said she just wanted me to sit with her until she fell asleep.
She was one family member, well, one person, with whom I was able to discuss my “religious struggle” without having to have a “plan of attack.” For almost two years I had been swinging between my Roman Catholic upbringing and a new church called Coram Deo. I lived at home with my parents, strong-willed Catholics. I was also in a relationship with Ryan, who had started visiting Coram Deo and studying the Bible with men he’d met there.
I think most would view my childhood and high school years as successful. I was extremely competitive in the classroom, school activities, and athletics. I was raised in a structured, loving home. I attended church every week. I never touched alcohol or drugs. I was granted a scholarship for athletics and academics to Drake University. This new freedom – college – led to an out-of-control lifestyle. However, the control I did maintain was over my reputation with my family. I would call home, maybe once every week or two, and update my parents on my classes, track, my friends, and the Catholic church I attended on Sunday. I conveniently left out the late nights, the drinking, the marijuana, skipping classes, and the fact that the hour I did spend in church on Sundays was spent feeling guilty over the reckless activities of my college experience. Did I pray? You bet. I prayed for God to help me. I thanked him for bringing me to church every Sunday. Also, I thanked him for helping me to be successful in school and track and to please continue to do so.
Two years later, I’m living back in Omaha. My mom had survived breast cancer, and I felt I needed to transfer back to be closer to her. I’m still living a split life: structure during the day, reckless lifestyle at night, guilt in a Catholic pew on Sundays. I had started dating Ryan, a college basketball player, engineer, and lead guitarist in a band. When Ryan started taking me with him to Coram Deo, I figured it was just a phase. It was weird to me. These people would say the name Jesus – out loud, and not in vain. They spoke of him as a person that they knew and loved. (I had made fun of people like this at Drake.)
During the services at Coram Deo, I remember I would look around and see people worshiping. I felt so out of place. It was scary to look next to me, to see changes happening in Ryan. I felt like I was being left behind. Ryan’s heart was starting to change. He developed a love for the homeless. He was no longer interested in going out drinking with me. He wanted to discuss how we were living sinful lives. For fear of an impending breakup, I started attending a small group through the church called a missional community (MC). Ryan had been attending and connecting with this group, and after all, I figured they were the lucky ones to have me. I could put on a good front, loving Jesus, loving others, while still living the same lifestyle.
I did feel tension between my Catholic background and this new church, but nothing I felt deserved too much time or energy. I could handle juggling both sides. I had been juggling for years. To keep my parents happy and keep up a new interest in Coram Deo, some Sundays I would attend both churches or alternate weekends. I also started to research the history of the Catholic church and practices – so I could defend Coram Deo to my parents, and defend the Roman Catholic church to the Coram Deo community.
I didn’t realize the depth of change I needed until 2007-2008, as I was taking my bedding downstairs at 3am to throw in my parents’ wash machine because I had just puked in my bed after drinking too much. I had driven home after binge drinking. I had been belligerent and yelling at Ryan, I didn’t have my clinical paperwork ready for the next morning, and I was going to have to be up in two hours. I had a story ready to tell my parents about why I was doing my wash at 3am, one of many lies I had started making up in order to keep my good daughter image. I wish this was the only “a-ha” moment. Unfortunately there were many of these over about a two year span of juggling. I could no longer keep up.
Above all, I could not get over the fact that through all of this, Jesus loved me, died for me, and was my only crutch. This struck me in a new way. I had heard this all before, seen it on bumper stickers and billboards. Now I felt it in my heart. It still brings tears to my eyes. A man I had no interest in knowing or talking about was the only one who knew me, the real me, and loved me. I feel I had reached rock bottom and was exhausted. Broken. The only comfort I had was in the story of Jesus.
At Coram Deo, I had started reading the Bible. The Word became encouragement, comfort, and strength. I struggled with the weight of just how great of a sinner I was and I am. I didn’t understand how Jesus could forgive me and love me in spite of it! Over time, and with help from the Coram Deo community, I realized my past, my struggles, and my weaknesses are not the focus. The point is the victory Jesus obtained over sin, the love He provides, His beautiful and amazing forgiveness, and healing only He is capable of achieving. I had to let go of control and anger I had been holding onto for years. It is not my will or my work, but His.
I prayed for forgiveness, for my broken heart, for others around me whom I had grown to love and have compassion for. I prayed for patience and understanding. I prayed to know the purpose God had for me. God answered. I was blessed with the strength to say goodbye to friends and a lifestyle that were not glorifying to God. I had feared facing a loss of popularity and fun when walking away from these things, but I experienced a greater victory than I could imagine: a relationship with the Father. I also started experiencing a healthy, loving relationship with Ryan. We are now married and expecting our first child. I have honest, loving relationships with my family and friends. How did this happen? When did this happen? Well, not overnight. In fact, it’s still a work in progress. It continues with the help of my friends at Coram Deo, my loving husband, and ultimately because of God and his son named Jesus. I’d love to tell you about Him!