Strengthened by Grace

My Anything
by Kelly White

Honestly, I’m not sure when my “anything” began and as I write, it is very much in process. As is God’s way, He was working in me and my family long before I acknowledged Him. I think things through in pictures, and for me, His working has been like a peeling back of layers; not so much the unraveling of myself as a revealing of Himself. Kind of like sitting in the optometrist’s chair peering through the myriad lenses until you can see the letters clearly. Sure, you may have been able to make out a fuzzy “E,” distinguish it from a “B,” but another click and the edges are crisp. This is how I see the Christian walk. As my favorite scripture says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18. As we look to Him, He transforms us. The trouble for me was that for most of my life, I was looking everywhere else for salvation. I knew of Jesus, I even believed in His death and resurrection, but my eyes had not yet been opened to the glorious implications of this truth. It took breaking to open the eyes of my heart.

To put some specifics on this journey, I will take you back to the birth of our daughter Naya. From the outside, things looked perfect, a brand new home and a brand new baby. My husband and I were young and strong and had the world at our fingertips. Little did we know the pain that lay ahead. In the first year of our daughter’s life, I entered a deep, dark postpartum depression, my husband tragically lost his lifelong best friend and another of his groomsmen in a plane crash, a ride he was supposed to have been on, we also lost our home and filed for bankruptcy. Over the next several years, we would continue this journey of ups and downs as I continued to struggle with depression and developed food allergies and thyroid disease. Everything was strained and we came face to face with the ugly truth that though we had always considered ourselves Christians, we had never truly surrendered our lives to Him. In this dark season, the beliefs of my childhood began to crumble, and I cried out to God that if He was real, I needed to know.

When I was overwhelmed with the 24 hour a day job of motherhood I would go for a run or a drive. One day, after feeling like I would lose my mind, I left the kids with CJ, hopped in the car and drove away to clear my head. Just out of our neighborhood, I sat at a red light fuming and feeling sorry for myself. As the light turned green, I pressed the gas pedal to turn left and was blindsided by a car that had run a red light. I was shaken up and bruised, and the car was totaled, but otherwise I was unhurt. It rattled me. Was this punishment for my selfishness? At this point I had no real understanding of who God is. I had grown up in church and prayed all my life, but I realize now I struggled with legalism and though I didn’t even know the word at the time, practically I was a bit of a deist. Sure, I knew God created us and sent Jesus to die on the cross in our place, but was He really involved with the affairs of this troubled world? I wasn’t actively reading my Bible so I didn’t know. Sometimes He felt near, but was that really His Spirit or my imagination? I remember that for months the only prayer I could manage was “God, help.” We continued going to church regularly and I joined Celebrate Recovery to seek help for my depression and anger. It was here that I began to see God’s nearness and intimate work in broken lives. The God who breathed life into mankind, who makes the grass grow, who knows the number of hairs on my head and is with every sparrow who falls to the ground is here with me, with us. Indeed, Colossians 1 tells us that in Him all things hold together! God Himself was beginning to reveal this to me. I initially felt very out of place in a group of women who had endured lives of severe abuse of all kinds, and battled addictions I could not imagine. “God, why am I here?” I thought, “I have nothing in common with these people.” How wrong I was! We are not so different, any one of us. Created in the image of God, created for His glory yet born into a fallen world where without Him we seek only our own. I grew to love these women and I was amazed and humbled at the way Jesus unites people and the way He was allowing me to see into their hearts and allowing them to see into mine. My husband and I also joined a small group together for the first time and we experienced these men and women being the hands and feet of Jesus toward us at some difficult times. I can remember walking down the hallway to pick up the kids from Sunday School one day shortly after we’d joined, at a time when we were struggling to make ends meet, and one of the women pressing a folded bill into my hands as she hugged me. God was seeing our struggle, and He was providing. Our pastor urged the couples in the church to begin praying with and for one another at a set time each week and we awkwardly but faithfully began this practice, it has been transforming.

Throughout this time, my energy was rapidly dwindling. It was more than the sleepless nights of mommy-hood, every movement felt impossible and living in a 3-story condo with two small children threatened to crush me. At the same time, my husband’s company was beginning to fold, and he seemed always to be gone or on the phone. Bills began to mount yet again and promises of a promotion for CJ never panned out. We were down to one car at this time and I had never felt more isolated and utterly alone. One night as the darkness closed in around me and I could hear the enemy whisper that things would never get better, that I was a terrible mother and my family would be better off without me, I got out of bed and through a flood of tears, I began to write a letter to my children saying good-bye, and when CJ awoke, I told him I was leaving. I longed to close my eyes for the last time. He and I fought physically that night as he pleaded with me to stay. I used every ounce of energy I could muster to get out of his grip but in the end I was too weak, I crumpled to the floor on bruised knees and wept. The funny thing is, as I tried to explain on paper this betrayal to my children, I longed to turn them to Christ for His comfort and strength. I realized the absurdity and hypocrisy but I continued because I couldn’t bear for them to turn away from Him in their need. God was speaking to me then and as His promises flooded through my pen, the devil fled and the darkness began to lift. Those moments of despair make no sense to me now, but oh how real they are in the valley. Indeed, we do not fight flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. And as each wave of darkness has ebbed, the firm foundation of God has been further solidified beneath me.

In January of 2012, I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, and fibromyalgia. My doctor looked at my lab work in disbelief and said she didn’t know how I got out of bed in the morning. I was both terrified and relieved; the hurdle was real, I wasn’t crazy. I was determined to continue breastfeeding my son though and refused medication at first. {Have I mentioned I’m stubborn?} By March things were so bad I spent 3 straight days in bed unable to even lift my arms. I could no longer care for our children properly so my parents offered to move us back to my hometown of Longview, Texas. Providentially, my parents had received an inheritance from a distant relative and they were able to purchase a modest home for us to live in as we got back on our feet. My dad’s assistant also quit, opening a position for me. That summer, we moved from Arizona to Texas. My health continued to deteriorate and I quickly learned that even a desk job was far too much for my body. My husband worked as a freelance photographer and stay-at-home dad while I went from a full-time legal assistant to a part-time legal assistant graciously getting paid a full-time salary.

We joined a church immediately and dove in head first. As the saying goes, when you’re lying on your back you have nowhere to look but up. We needed God & that is a blessed place to be. I began to hunger for Him and His word in a way I’d never before experienced. As my hunger grew however, I realized how much I doubted. Did God really love me? How do I know the Bible is truly His divinely inspired word? What does it mean to be saved? I stumbled upon a book called “The Explicit Gospel” by Pastor Matt Chandler that changed my life. I had no idea who this guy was, only that he was the husband of an old childhood neighbor of mine and I’d seen a Facebook post on this book he’d written. I devoured it and God used it to turn my life upside down – or right side up rather. I realized that I’d never really known The Gospel! I grew up in church, practically lived there as a child as my mom volunteered. I went to Kamp Kanakuk for several years. I graduated from Baylor University. But none of that saves you does it? I had believed in Jesus for as long as I could remember, but I never really knew Him. Driving to work one morning, it all just seemed to click. God is real; His word is truth; His Gospel is magnificent. A fire was lit and I was hungry for more. I pleaded with my husband to listen to some of this guy’s sermons, and to my delight he did. We became members at our church and joined a small group and though I couldn’t do much physically, CJ began to get very involved. We found family here and for the first time our closest friends were believers.

For the next two years, we immersed ourselves in God’s word and the more we grew, the more we wanted. We began to joke that God might call CJ to be a pastor and eventually the joking became more serious. As he began teaching and sometimes preaching at our church’s youth group, God began to solidify this call on our lives. I really fought it thinking there was absolutely no way God could possibly be calling messy little me to be a pastor’s wife! CJ had heard clearly from God and been affirmed by friends and pastors, but I had yet to hear it for myself. I was ready and willing to submit to my husband’s leading, but still I prayed to hear it from God. On a particularly hard day, I sat alone at the back of the sanctuary as my husband delivered a message on Romans 8. It may have gone right over the students’ heads, but it lodged deep into my heart. I wept as he passionately repeated these words, “Do you know who your Father is?” For the first time, I saw not my husband on stage, but my pastor. He came to me one morning and said that he felt led to apply for a church-planting/pastoral residency program at Austin Stone Community Church. He was afraid that I would say no, but in that moment, I knew this was what God wanted. We prayed the very same prayer that Pastor Matt Carter had shared in a recent message from Ephesians, “God, would you do far more through our lives than we could ask or imagine?” At the same time, we were feeling called out of our church home. This was our family, the only friends we knew in Longview. It would have been easy to stick things out until our potential move to Austin, after all, CJ had no real ministry experience and he needed some of our church family to be references for his application to Austin Stone; not to mention that if we were accepted, the financial support we would have to raise. But God was clear, it was time for us to leave. After talking with our pastor, we parted ways and began searching for a new church home. The next few months were one wrestle after another but God was so gracious to strengthen our faith. A few months after settling in to a new church, we found out CJ had been accepted into the program! This is where we are, praying, and packing and trusting God to provide what we need to go. Every day there seems to be another act of surrender God is calling us to. Whether it is selling CJ’s photography equipment, our livelihood for more than a decade, so that we can pay our bills, or sharing the gospel with old friends who want nothing to do with Jesus we move forward each day, trusting that God will lead us in all things for His glory and our good. Many days the pain and fatigue make life feel impossible, but God who never leaves nor forsakes His children has been faithful to carry me; indeed, His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in our weakness.

My husband and I have experienced such freedom in knowing that God does not need us to fulfill His purposes, but He invites us in; invites us to be broken and needy and dependent so that all the glory is His. We want Him, need Him, love Him and we want to spend the rest of our moments sharing that with a lost and broken world. God has lit such a fire in our hearts to share His Gospel with others; with people who do not realize their need for Him; with people who believe in Jesus but don’t yet see Him as beautiful; with people who feel too messy or weak to be used. We believe that this is only the beginning, and that until our dying breaths God has a purpose for our lives. So today, we pray “Anything God,” and trust that tomorrow by His strength, we will pray it again.

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you….”” – Isaiah 43:1-4