…..”The first victory needed to happen within my own heart allowing God in. Jesus was beckoning to me. He came to me through the love I had for my daughter which made me desire His love for her. Discovering that, I realized in order to show her His love, I needed to accept His love for me. I wanted it more than anything.”
Liezel Graham says, “Every woman who heals herself, heals her children’s children..”
Let that sink in… I only learned this phrase recently, but how incredible is it? It’s like breaking a chain of bondage so your children don’t have to carry around what you did. When you are FREE, they are free.
Aren’t we all broken in some way? Don’t we tend to carry around baggage or pain with us, maybe without even realizing it? This was true for me. I carried around DEEP pain, believing lies about my goodness. The choices I made because of those lies, cost me my relationship with God and myself. I didn’t know my worth as a youth, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let my daughter go through life like that! No, I would protect her. I would teach her what I didn’t know. I would instill the Truth in her so she would never doubt for one second, her goodness. Because God made her and He doesn’t make junk! But how could I teach what I didn’t know?
I had to go back to school. But school wasn’t a classroom. School was Christian people who taught me how to find God and to know Jesus’ heart. Like I said before, I needed resuscitating. I wasn’t going to learn how to have a relationship with Jesus going through the motions at church not having any clue why I was doing them. And “Encountering Christ” was what I believed I needed to try.
Encountering Christ is a weekend away with other Christian’s open to all denominations, but Catholic in nature because of the Sacraments offered. You start on a Friday and you hear a bunch of talks, you go to confession, you have Mass and adoration.. you bond with other women (they have a weekend just for the men too); and through the witness of other regular people, you hear how God worked in their life. You are reminded the obstacles of how “life gets messy” and how to be a Christian in this modern world and how to keep that a priority amidst all the chaos. By Sunday we are taught to have a true meaningful relationship with Christ and how to feel His love and bring others to that love. You acquire an accountability group of women you have met, and you meet weekly to discuss your plan to stay close to Christ. You talk openly about your failures that week, and your moments closest to Christ, and then your plan for the next week.
My father attended this retreat after he became sober through AA. He was on his third step for the program, which was turning your life and will over to the care of God… and was led to Encountering Christ (mentally kicking and screaming) when he was an atheist. He came out a born again Christian who changed his life around, and became the man who has helped countless others to do the same. He’s who I want to be when I grow up! My mother made the weekend shortly after my dad and both of my parents were involved with it for years, helping to bring other people to Christ. My dad still has the same prayer group 40+ years later and has also been sober for 43 years.
***My parents sponsored Joseph and I to attend the weekend, but first I had to talk Joseph into going. He was fine you see… He didn’t need spiritual help like I did. But he eventually obliged to go. If you were married, the rule is husbands have to go first, because apparently the men would rarely go if they had the choice- because they’re all fine and don’t need it. So luckily I had a husband who truly did want me to feel better and he knew I could only go IF he went first. If only one spouse were to go there is danger of becoming unequally yoked- which puts a strain on the marriage when one is full of faith and the other is not. So he went. For me… An entire weekend. To get me off his back. That’s true love!
I was so nervous. He was spending 48+ hours away from myself and our daughter who was a little over a year old, with no phones or TV, or connection to the outside world just so I could go to this thing later. I was walking around on edge all weekend because I thought he would hate it and be so bored and be completely annoyed with me that he HAD to go, just so that I could go. Because after all, he was fine and didn’t need to be there. It was me who needed it. I felt like I completely put him out and was wasting his time.
When my parents brought Joseph home, (they had to take him there and pick him up as his sponsor) he came through the front door. I followed him trying to look in his eyes to read him. “How are you doing? How was it?” I asked, all paranoid. He walked into our bedroom and put his suitcase in the closet and flopped down on our bed. I gave him a bunch of kisses thanking him for going for me and apologizing that he had to go so I could go.
He looked exhausted and there was something else.. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it.. there was a difference in his eyes… He looked at me… “Spring. I thought I went on this weekend for you..” I interrupted him, “I’m so sorry baby!! I-” Then he said, “Shhh.. wait. I thought I went on this weekend for you, but realized it was really for me…I was meant to be there.” I was blown away. His eyes were all misty. There was a softness about him in his eyes and his expression. I’d never seen it before. It was irresistible. There was a light I had never seen radiating from him. More kisses. I was so happy for him, for us! He was so at peace and I could hardly wait to hear about it but he had to pick and choose what parts he could tell me, since he wanted me to experience it for myself and be surprised.
I had to wait 2 weeks until the women’s weekend started. I could hardly wait to go because of what he went through but as the time came closer I got grumpy. I started having doubts. What if I hated it? What if Joseph couldn’t handle our daughter all alone and something bad happened or an accident?? I began to have horrendous anxiety about the whole thing. Then came to the day I got to go. I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. This is what I wanted, right? Now I was getting it and I just wanted to run in the opposite direction. I didn’t belong at a church group with all these holier than thou people.
They didn’t know me! I assumed none of those ladies had ever sinned like I did! Here I was 24 years old with so many older woman around me, and the ones that were my age were totally people I knew I would never be able to relate to.. They didn’t know my past and if they did they would wonder why I was there. I didn’t belong there. I got lectured in confession once after all, when I was 15.. and then told I was luke warm and would be spit out by God a few months later by another priest (for not going back to confession). How could I belong here?? Some of the women at my table discussed where they prayed and how they did it. I didn’t pray, (unless it was a quick thought here or there when I really needed something) let alone have a special place I went or special prayers I said.. I didn’t read any books about faith.. I felt like a fish out of water. I knew they all had to be secretly judging me.
About the second day of the retreat, I decided to go to confession. We had heard a great talk by a priest about the subject and I thought I would go just this once. This would prove I didn’t belong here because surely after 9 years and the sins of high school and college, I’d get yelled at again. So I went. I told the priest about being scolded in confession as a teenager and then being told that basically I was vomit and that God didn’t want me. The priest stopped me right there and this man apologized for what the other priests had said to me. He didn’t even tell me I must have misunderstood them (as I realized on my own years later with a much wiser mind and perspective of a parent), he simply apologized to me for the hurt I felt all these years on behalf of the priests that said what they said to me. And for the first time, I thought maybe I wasn’t terrible after all! My heart was softened by that priest who I can’t even remember now. Softened enough to open up just a little bit, the rest of the weekend.
And that’s all God needed to get through to me. One little crack to let the light shine in…I eventually came to see the ladies at my table as beautiful sinners like me trying to find their way even though we were at various levels in different journeys. They said they admired me for coming to the retreat at the age I was because it meant that when I was their age, I would be far past where they are at now. That made me feel great- like I made the right choice! They didn’t look down at me for being young and a baby in my faith.. They just loved on me. I met so many women that felt like God had placed right in my path.. One of the women on the weekend worked for the doctor who had helped me get pregnant with my daughter Evie. I found so many little things in common with so many of these new mentors God gave me. It was no coincidence.
By the time my weekend was over I was blown away with a new sense of purpose. I was filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time. I lived on this cloud of happiness and I never wanted it to end. I relived everything I learned on the weekend with my husband. We sang songs about God’s love on a whim, and we prayed together now. That was totally foreign to us. But we did it. We were on this level we’d never known before and it was better than anything I can explain. We started listening to Christian music and turned away from anything that was not of God. And it was hard and took years!! We had new eyes to SEE things for what they were and we helped each other during weak times. We both joined prayer groups immediately and went to them weekly. We even gave our own personal testimonies to this new community of ours as a way of starting over and letting people know where we came from and hw God worked in our lives. (This is NOT required.) We were on fire!
Shortly after Encountering Christ retreat, my depression started to creep back in. I was crushed. I thought everything I’d experienced had been a lie- that happiness truly wasn’t meant for me. I’d experienced God one other time at a Teens Encounter Christ weekend 7 years before, but came back to a huge rumor about myself spread around the high school. It erased the entire experience for me and the progress in my faith I’d made.
Was this instance just like the one years ago? Was it all gone? I explained how I felt to my Encountering Christ prayer group and how doomed I thought I was. One of the women, in her wisdom explained to me.. “Spring, the devil had you for so long.. he’s not going to let you go without a fight.”
That was a light bulb moment for me. She was totally right. The devil had me believing lies for so many years. I was under his thumb. I had been miserable and in bondage. Why would he just let me go without trying to pull me back down??
I had led so many astray during my faithless period before. So, I made an inner vow to do the opposite now. I was going to lead others TO Christ. It had to start in my family and with myself and my husband. I began my journey with my new evolving relationship with Christ. I took me awhile to figure it out and I’m still figuring it out. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without those women on that weekend and that movement. It was a catapult that helped me go out and send me on my journey to knowing my identity in Christ… the precious beloved daughter that I am. I can not pour out on others if I am empty. Christ is the limitless fountain.
Being a born again Christian, or a Catholic revert, was not always easy. I slipped and fell many times over the years. My husband and I have been put to the test.. and almost broken. In Encountering Christ, we were shown how to have the eyes to see Him, ears to hear Him and the grace to endure all that the evil one would throw our way. And when we were weak, God gave us community to back us up. We learned how to pray, and how to submit to God and resort to our faith which He grew and strengthened when we were put to the fire. And when we fell our prayer warriors held us up.
The nothingness I lived in before, was so much worse than the cross I picked up when I decided to follow Jesus completely.
Matthew 16:24-26 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
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