At the beginning of summer, the pastor of my church started a series of sermons using Disney stories and characters to share spiritual lessons. She also shared that she hoped we would all be thinking about our own stories during this time. She asked if I would be willing to share part of my story at the end of the series. I made a promise a long time ago that I would never say no to sharing my story.
I was at the church on Wednesday talking with Jan, the pastor at the church and saw the bulletin. It said, “Sermon-Cathy Morton”. I showed it to Jan and explained that I was “speaking” on Sunday, not doing a sermon. She laughed and said I was indeed doing the sermon. I jumped on the internet and searched for the definition of “sermon”. Here is the definition I found: 1. A religious discourse delivered as part of a church service. 2. An often lengthy and tedious speech of reproof or exhortation. OK, I was doing the sermon. I just hoped it was not going to be lengthy or tedious.
Several friends asked if I would share the sermon with them. I decided I would share it on this Sunday morning in lieu of being with my church family today. I am sitting in a beautiful country house in Vermont this morning and spending some quiet time praying and having incredible gratitude for my life story.
Here is the “sermon”. Please remember that the grammar and sentence structure are not correct throughout. This was my outline for speaking. Thank you for letting me share this with you today.
“What Is Your Story?”
I was so excited when I heard that the sermons this summer were going to be based on stories and characters from Disney. I am still a kid at heart and love Disney. I was even more excited the day the story was from Peter Pan with my favorite character Tinkerbell. Since Pastor Jan asked if I would share part of my story with you as part of this series, I have been praying about sharing it with you.
Some of you know that I have a blog and that I love to write. Writing for me is about telling my story. As I heard some of the stories this summer, it seemed that I had forgotten some things about these stories or remembered them in a different way. Have you ever heard a story and realized that it wasn’t the story you remembered or this person told the story in a similar way but the facts were different?
It took a long time for me to figure out that I had been listening to the stories about God and Jesus from other people. I read the stories myself, but I let others tell me what they really meant. Over the years, I came to realize that what I was missing was a relationship with God and trusting God to help me understand the story.
The children here sing “Jesus Loves Me” every Sunday morning. The kids love it and the adults get involved. The song has had a bit of different meaning in my life. I heard the story of the song in a different way. As a child, I learned very quickly that I was indeed weak. The people who were supposed to care for me, protect me, love me……didn’t. They were strong but used that strength in harmful ways. By the time I started going to church I was in the first grade. It was the first time I heard that song. At six years old, I had already experienced several forms of abuse from those strong people. I had been abandoned by my parents and sent to live with my grandparents……..that was just a chance of faces, not circumstances.
My grandmother started taking me to church and she did stop drinking, smoking, and cussing. That had to be divine intervention. It would not be the last time something happened in my life where I knew God’s hand intervened. But I don’t believe my grandmother ever came to know the God who loved the world enough to sacrifice His son for us. The story of God she told me was that God was a vengeful punishing God. She had stories from the Bible to prove it. When I heard in church that God loves us just as our earthly father loves us, well…it seemed to prove her point. I had already had two fathers who were punishing and vengeful.
She also said that bad things happen because we are bad. Yes…. so many bad things had happened that I wondered what I could have done that was so very wrong that it would keep God from loving me. I felt that God couldn’t possibly love me..in fact, I didn’t know anyone that I believed was capable of loving me.
Those beliefs followed me. As a young wife and mother, we lived in the church (I married a Southern Baptist so that is what we were.). My husband was a deacon, his father was a deacon..I taught children’s.Sunday school, VBS, youth , severed on any committee that had to do with kids and food. That was the extent of service women were allowed to have.
But I still didn’t believe God loved me. In fact, I felt so empty on the inside. I just wanted to know God the way other people said they did. Jesus was their best friend, God spoke to them all the time, in fact, God often told some of them that I should teach Sunday school and VBS, etc. Our pastor did a short series of sermons on evil and Jesus driving out demons from people and how God turned Job over to Satan. I started to believe that perhaps that was what happened to me. I went home after church one night and Billy Graham was on TV talking about the same thing. I stood and listened and at the end when he offered the invitation..I went to the TV with tears in my eyes and told God that I was so sorry for whatever horrible things I had done and if he would just take this evil from me I would do whatever he asked.
I tried so hard to find the perfect formula to make him love me. All the work in the church, starting the day with devotions, reading my bible, not listening to secular music or certain tv shows. But it just didn’t work. You see..I missed another part of the story. I knew John 3 16…I am sure you all do..
John 3:16-17 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
But we stop reading there… one day I read the rest…
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Wait…God didn’t want to condemn me. All I had to do was believe? It couldn’t be that simple. Or could it?
One Sunday, my husband walked the isle after service and announced that God had called him to the ministry. I was speechless…I was sure there was no way God was the one making that call and I was certainly not being called to be a minister’s wife. But nonetheless, we packed up and moved to NC and attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He got his masters of divinity and master of religious education while I became an alcoholic. Yes..you heard that right. I started drinking and with my genetics it didn’t take long for me to become a full blown alcoholic. During the next few years it got worse. I left the church. Eventually I lost the only thing that mattered to me in this life..custody of my two children. I moved out the state and for the next few months, I went as far down as possible. I lost my kids, my family , my friends, my morality, my dignity, my hope and any bit of faith I ever had. In early March of 1987, I was at the end of my rope. I tried to take my own life. But God had other plans. That night, God intervened and I got help. I found an amazing therapist and she sent me to Alcoholic Anonymous.
My first meeting was in a church..Most meetings are held in churches back rooms, fellowship halls, basements, etc. I looked at the wall and saw the 12 steps. I got as far as number three. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
God?..I didn’t sign up for this. Been there done that..I could tell everyone in the room more about God than all of them put together. How was this going to help me? But something happened in those rooms. The people showed me the love of God. There were people from every denomination, every creed, some new believers, some old, some doubters…but it didn’t matter. They told me to pray and even if I thought the prayers hit the ceiling and bounced..to act as if I believed it…….. and keep doing it. They said that God loved me..yes me..a drunk, a women who had lost everything and done everything.. and one who didn’t understand God at all. Yes, God loved me.
I stayed sober. Two months later I saw my children again. That Christmas their father said they could come spend the holiday with me if I could get them there. He knew I couldn’t. I shared it with my friends and my group and asked for prayer. The next day my sponsor took me to lunch and pulled out a voucher for two airline tickets. She told that she lost her kids and never got them back. She wanted to help. She wanted me to have a chance with mine. The next day my group went out after a meeting and they handed me an envelope with cash and gift cards. They said, “we are going to keep loving you until you can love yourself and know that God loves you. ” It was the first time I saw a glimmer of hope and I really thought it was possible they were right.
A couple of years ago, I knew God was leading me to come back to church. I started visiting several churches. I thought I knew the type of church I wanted to attend, but nothing was connecting for me. I decided to visit the church where one of the volunteers from my job was associate pastor. I didn’t know the name of the church so went to the internet to find it. I couldn’t find it, but the search came up and the one at the top of the list was Park Circle Presbyterian. Wonder if that was another one of those “God moments”? I grew up Presbyterian and I knew I was comfortable with the theology and doctrine. I decided to visit and what I was found was a group of people who were welcoming and accepting. You seemed to accept me as I am…..tattoos and a feather in my hair and all. You have become my church family.
One of my favorite story tellers is an author named Anne Lamott. I know some of you are familiar with her. I want to share one of her quotes with you.
You were loved because God loves, period. God loved you, and everyone, not because you believed in certain things, but because you were a mess, and lonely, and His or Her child. God loved you no matter how crazy you felt on the inside, no matter what a fake you were; always, even in your current condition, even before coffee. God loves you crazily.
― Anne Lamott
Today my story includes the fact that God loves me–just as I am–PERIOD.
I hope that becomes part of your story, too.