Wednesday, April 27, 2011

She's a Star!

I thought it was just me, but from what I'm hearing, it's not. Those of us who attended The Moody Church service on Easter Sunday were moved beyond words. I even raised a hand during worship, almost two! As a congregation, we were ushered into the presence of our Risen King and experienced genuine celebration of the Easter Holiday. I'm so grateful to have been there. If you want to watch Pastor Lutzer's message, click here

I have to share with you one of my favorite parts of the service: Star Costello. Star shared her personal story to an audience of 2000+ with boldness and grace. Her story is powerful and real and reflects the amazing, redemptive work of Jesus. Below is what she said, or you can watch the video by clicking here.

"I have seen the Lord bring great healing out of darkness. Growing up, I was taught to try my best, be honest and do good. To my perfectionist ears I heard: be the best and do not show weakness because that is admitting failure. This was fine for the first fifteen years of my life when I found I excelled in school, but I grew in the awareness that not only could I not always be the best, but that I really wasn’t all that good. I was selfish, dishonest, mean to my little sister (and she only deserved it about half the time)—and this just did not fit with what I had been taught or what I expected of myself.

At this same time I struggled with depression, but I did not recognize it as such—instead it was just another way in which I was failing to live up to my own expectations and I feared that I would disappoint those who loved me if I admitted I was not the girl behind the smiles and accomplishments. So, I wore a mask. But it grew heavier and tighter, and harder to keep in place.

I knew I could not be good on my own, so I began looking for a way, a system, anything, that would fill that emptiness and allow me to drop the mask. I looked at and practiced several Eastern religions and philosophies, but these did not suffice. I then discovered Wicca and the occult. In this I thought I had found what I was looking for: real, lasting peace, joy, true purpose for my life. I participated in many occult practices and I admit that for a time the mystery, the seeming of being in harmony with creation, were exciting and met my needs.

But I discovered that the more I practiced the occult and the deeper into it I got, the peace that I thought I had evaporated, and instead left me with a gaping hole—I was consumed with anxiety, fear, anger and frustration. I started cutting and burning myself because I honestly did not know how else to release that terrible pressure.

At this same time, my best friend invited me to church with her—and here I have to pause a moment and speak to the young people here today. Please do not underestimate what your friendship can mean to your non-believing friends. Do not think that your youth means you cannot have an impact in someone’s life. Your invitation to church or to a youth group activity may be that very thing that opens the door of the Gospel to that person.

My friend invited me to church with her and I laughed in her face. I wanted to deny the existence of God, but I knew too much to believe He did not exist. I was just incredibly angry at Him for allowing me to feel so horrible.

My friend persisted. She knew I liked to sing and so she invited me to join the church choir with her. Understand, it was a church of about thirty with a choir of ten, five of whom were the pastor’s children!

But I joined. I just told myself that I wouldn’t pay attention to what I was singing or what the pastor said. Be assured that this is no longer the case. So, I went to church and pretended not to listen and continued to be involved in the occult, and day by day grew more and more depressed. Finally, I could no longer bear it. I waited until my family was away from the house, I left a note where I knew they would find it and I prepared to kill myself.

I made a shallow pass over one wrist with a razor just to see if I could do it. And then I cried out to God, to the one whose existence I had tried to deny. I said, 'This is Your last chance. If You are real, if You are who You say You are, prove it.'

I did not hear a booming voice from heaven; I did not see God appear. But I can tell you that in that moment, I was filled with the most overwhelming sense of peace that I have ever  known. I am alive today because the God of Heaven and earth pursued me and would not let me go. A few weeks later, my friend, my dear persistent friend, tricked me into going to a Billy Graham crusade. She told me it was a concert, and to be fair, there was music.

Now, unlike Pastor Lutzer, I do not do a Billy Graham impersonation, but I will tell you that when I heard him preach the Gospel, everything that I had been trying to ignore in church finally made sense. I realized that I was a sinner and I could not be good on my own as I had tried so hard to be. But I also realized that I could be righteous before God because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. When Billy Graham gave the invitation to go down and accept Jesus as Savior, I went.

Today, through God’s grace and healing, and the help from godly counselors, I have that peace and joy I had been missing for so long, even when my life has not been easy and I and my family have suffered loss. And I can say to you with full confidence that He is risen. He is risen indeed."

Amen, Star. Thank you for sharing.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More Alike Than Different

You might have guessed that I'm writing today about my experience at the Christian Working Woman's  23rd Annual Weekend Getaway that I attended over the weekend. I spent two days with about 350 other women...worshipping Jesus, ministering to one another, and soaking in everything my little brain could contain from the long list of excellent speakers. And if I could sum up all that I learned into one sentence, it would be this: We are more alike than different.

I was first stuck by the diversity of woman that attended. I had the privilege of volunteering at the registration table so I literally saw just about every woman who attended the retreat. You would not believe the range of cities, skin colors, ages and even warmth I felt and saw from each woman as she checked in. Some women came by themselves...amazing. And some came with their whole church it seemed! And I would even say that there was a variety of reasons why these women came -- some to "redeem their story" as the theme inspired. Some came to hold the hand of a girlfriend who had a broken heart. Some came because they come every year and didn't want to miss out on what God was working up in this Itasca hotel! And I’m sure there was even a few that came even though they didn’t want to.

Soon after everyone was checked in and ushered into the ball room, something happened. What seemed like a huge pool of different women from all over the map (both geographically and spiritually), there was instant connectivity. Although some were more quick to leave their "label" in the lobby, most everyone followed suit by the end of night one. I feel like I watched the differences of these women melt away and our similarities rose to the surface. An unusual spirit of safeness was offered from the beginning of the program. I attest this to Mary and her incredible staff for trusting the Holy Spirit to come and bless these women, but I also give credit to the ladies. They trusted and believed that God would meet them at this retreat and with great expectation waited for Him. It didn’t take long.

It was incredibly refreshing to witness so many women unpack their baggage throughout the weekend and surrender their unmet needs, or deep wounds, or unanswered prayers straight into the hands of God. And I saw so many women do this together! I watched one woman, probably in her 70s, wrap her arms around the waist of a newer Christian (probably in her 20s) and love her so deeply. As I watched, I wept -- I was thinking that God was literally using the body of this older woman to hug the younger woman. It was a picture I will never forget. Healing was taking place in the heart and soul of this new Christian and she had the love and support of a sister to take each scary step with her. Talk about differences melting away. In that moment, they were more alike than ever as they worshipped and experienced God in the exact moment.

You may remember a few weeks ago I shared my testimony on video for Mary (Share Your Story). It was for this retreat – I was one of several videos that played throughout the weekend. I was so nervous as the video played! I just aired all my secrets to a room full of strangers! But I bet you can guess what happened…throughout the rest of the day and weekend, woman after woman came up to me and said “thank you.” “Thank you for sharing the part about this…” “Thanks for being honest about this….” “I could relate to this…thanks for making me feel like I’m not the only one.” But here’s the coolest part of these grateful women: they were all so different! They were different in the sense that some were 20 or 30 years older than me! Some were not married or didn’t have children. Some came from an entirely different background than me. But yet again, we were alike because we all have struggles, we all have insecurities, and we all have secrets. And even bigger than that, we all believe God can in fact, redeem our story.

And one more story. A young woman came at the last minute, by herself, and for the first time. Leaving her kids and husband at home, she knew she needed a weekend away to wrestle with God. Life has been tough lately and things were not going according to plan. I chatted with her a few times throughout the retreat and each time we talked, I saw restored light in her face. Not only was Jesus blessing her with His faithfulness and sovereignty, He was using other women to come along side her to offer support in difficult times. She told me she met women she never knew and maybe never would have if she hadn't let herself be open to someone new...someone different. It is when we get past the differences, past the preconceived notions, that our alikeness bonds us. She was ministered at the core of her soul because she is a sister, not by what community she goes to on Sunday mornings. And I can assure you she blessed those who blessed her! It reminds me of Psalm 34:3, "Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together."

Oh I could go on and on! But hopefully I made my point. And I’m now more inspired than ever to ensure our church resembles the culture that was exposed at this retreat: we have the freedom to leave our labels in the lobby!  We are so much more alike than different then we even know and I pray we embrace this truth so that we experience the fullness of the body as God intended for us. Amen?

Have a blessed week!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Home Groups

I'm so excited about this announcement -- we are launching the third option of the Shepherding Program called Home Groups.

A Home Group is made up of a small group of a women, lead by a mentor, designed to build relationships, engage in meaningful conversations, and learn something new that you can incorporate into your life or your home! To register to a group below, email by April 24th. Spots are limited so act fast!

A Biblical Perspective of Workplace Issues, April 29, 6:30pm 
How do you implement Christian principles on the job?
Mentor: Mary Whelchel
Location: Glen Ellyn

Jar Recipes that Anyone Can Make! May 2, 6:30pm
Create a recipe in a jar for yourself or a gift! 
Mentor: Mary Peterson
Location: Northbrook

Oh baby! About to have one? May 13, 6:30pm 
Discuss the knowns and unknowns of having your first baby (or if you just had one!) 
Mentors: Shannon Carter & Simone Halpin
Location: Rogers Park

Skinny Cooking, May 15, 3-6pm 
Learn to cook a skinny meal with big taste! 
Mentors: Carme Bertsche & Sandy Long
Location: Old Town 

Sew Yourself Something Special, May 21, 1-5pm 
Sewing 101! Create a pillow from scratch. 
Mentor: Lara Tabangay
Location: Downtown
*you will need to purchase materials beforehand and bring your own sewing machine

Please don't hesitate to ask questions! 
Mary and Simone