This is a talk that I will be giving to a group of female inmates during a weekend “retreat.”
Hello, Ladies. You’ve heard seven amazing talks about seven life-altering good topics by seven top-notch speakers. My name is Karen, and while I am most assuredly not the most eloquent speaker you will hear this weekend, the topic I will share is one with which we can all identify: The Christian Life. (PAUSE HERE FOR PRAYER FROM REC GUIDE)
You’ve experienced some amazing things so far. Right about now, you’ve probably got a lot of things going through your minds, top of the list might just be “Man, I don’t know it I can do this.” You may be thinking that Christians have got it all together, and maybe you feel like you can barely keep up, much less “have it all together.” For some reason, most people look at the Christian life as some sort of “happily ever after” Fairy Tale existence. I mean, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to have that? But that’s not real life. . .is it? Maybe the idea of fairy tale Christian life isn’t as far off the mark as it seems on the surface. The problem with Fairy tales is that we tend to focus on the end of the story. What about all the stuff that happens before the Happily Every After? Today, I’m going to take you on an adventure. What will your story look like? Let’s take a look into the magic mirror and see what it has to say.
Every good Fairy tale starts out with the same magical phrase: “Once Upon a Time.” These words have so much promise. Just like the story, every life starts out the same way: we have big plans, big dreams, and big hopes. But there’s always an element of darkness at the beginning of the story. There’s usually someone in a desperate situation that is mistreated, taken advantage of and needs to be rescued. This is the part of the story we all get. We know what it’s like to feel that way. This is the “before” picture of our lives. In order to understand the story, we usually get a little background to help us understand our heroine. My story is like that: Once upon a time, a young girl lived with her older sister and her abusive husband. She sought escape and found it in the arms of a much older, recently divorced man. After a short period of time, the young girl discovered that she was with child. She was not in love, but the “right” thing to do was to marry, so five-months ripe with new life, she said “I do” in the back of a gas station. No pomp or circumstance to herald the occasion. No pageantry to begin their lives together; just an overwhelming feeling of “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” A short four months later, I was born and quickly followed by two more children in as many years. The relationship that began poorly only got more strained as the years progressed. My father was an alcoholic who was verbally abusive and after five years, my parents separated only to reunite when my mother became pregnant with their fourth child. Saying that my home life was volatile would be like saying the Titanic was just a boat. Fighting, screaming, drunken rages, physical beatings were only punctuated by moments of happiness and peace on the rare occasion.
So let’s pause the story for a moment. Doesn’t sound very romantic at this point, does it? These are certainly not the beginnings of a story that sounds like it will end well. But that’s how all fairy tales start. I bet that’s how some of your stories started.
II. The Calm before the Storm
We lived right down the road from a church, and even though my family was far from religious, from the age of six I felt compelled to attend, and began going every time the doors were open. Church was a refuge for me. I saw all those “happy” people and I wanted what they had, but inwardly, I felt ashamed and I certainly didn’t feel like I could be one of “those” people.
That’s another common thread in the Fairy tale. The main character is always looking for a way out of their current situation. Like a lot of people, I thought that once I became a Christian that my life would be miraculously transformed. All the problems of my past would disappear and my new life in Christ would be full of flowers and singing animals and a handsome prince and, well, a perfect life. Boy was I wrong. You see I had forgotten that there’s always another element to every fairy tale.
III. The Villain Factor
In every story, there’s a huge element of conflict in the form of an evil-stepmother, an over-bearing suitor, a warped wizard, or a dragon that must be slain. Christians’ lives are no different. In fact, when you look in the Bible, you can see quite clearly and often that we are warned about the hazards of life as a Christian. We aren’t promised rainbows and unicorns, hearts and flowers! Not at all! What we are promised (time and time again) is that we will face trouble, we will be treated like aliens, and we will not be welcomed or even wanted by many people in our lives. We are told, in great detail, how to prepare for the battle, how to arm ourselves for the attacks of a very real enemy. These are the pages in our story that we want to skip. Let’s just get to the good stuff. But these are the foundational pages in the development of the character.
In my story, some of the conflicts I had to endure were continued familial dysfunction, sexual molestation and harassment, and an explosive relationship with my mother. Mind you, I was a Christian. Before I took on that mantle, my life wasn’t perfect, but it was bearable. The “after” picture was supposed to be idyllic, but it was far from that. The fractured relationship between my mom and dad eventually was broken beyond repair. The relationship between my mother and I became so inflammatory that we could barely be in the same room with each other. But through it all, I had the literal sanctuary of the church. When I was 12, I accepted the gift of salvation that Christ offered, but I knew that there was more. At the age of 23, I had an even greater encounter with the Lord that took my relationship with Him to another level. Before this, I had been trying to write out the fairy tale story on my own, with only a cursory and vague reference to Christ when (and if) it suited me. However, after a particularly difficult period where my family literally imploded, I had only one place to look, and that was up. That’s when I experienced the next great phase of every good Fairy Tale:
IV. The Ultimate Romance
What I finally realized is just how much God loved me. Not with a kind of love that is easily spoken and just as easily forgotten. No. The love that I felt from God was and is otherworldly. Listen to this well-known scripture about the love that God has for me and for each one of you.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (The Message)
The Way of Love
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
You see, growing up in my crazy family, I didn’t see that kind of love. The love that I saw was conditional. If you do this for me, then I’ll love you. If you behave this way, then I’ll love you. If you perform well, then I’ll love you. So this new kind of love was a little hard to accept. The way that God loves is so different from the way I had been shown. I didn’t have to worry about making a mistake. I knew that if, wait – scratch that – I knew that WHEN I messed up again, God wasn’t going to give up on me. That’s an amazing feeling that you have to grow into. At least I did. I still do. It was during this same time that I realized that God was calling me to work in ministry vocationally. However, like every other story, love is not easy. There are obstacles to overcome, there are mountains to scale, and there are dragons to slay! In my life, like in many of yours, the biggest obstacle I face is me. I place unrealistic expectations on my life, because I know that God is perfect, I think I need to be perfect. I know that He is Holy, so I think I have to be holy. But I’m reminded of something comedian Mike Warnke used to say, “Do you get cleaned up before you take a bath?” God doesn’t ask me to be perfect. He wants me to be the best Karen I can be. He made me. He knows me. All of me, the good, the bad – ALL of me, and He loves me completely, unreservedly with no strings attached.
This year, I turned 44. My story has not been at all what I thought it would be. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 33 years. During that time, I have been physically and sexually abused. I have experienced depression and rejection. I have lost friends, family and loved ones. And I almost lost myself. 21 years ago God asked me to serve Him in full-time ministry. At the beginning of this 44th year, I considered my Christian Life and determined that it wasn’t what I wanted or what God wanted and so I’m making a change. For too many years, I’ve let other people and circumstances control my story, but no longer. I’m ready to take the next step in the process of every Fairy Tale:
V. Taking a Risk
For Cinderella, she had to take the chance of going to the ball and getting caught by her step-mother. For Belle, it meant leaving the comfort of her home and life to embrace love for a beast. For Snow-White, it meant trusting seven weird little guys! For me, it means quitting my job as an Elementary Music Teacher, losing a pretty good paycheck and benefits, moving away from a home I only recently purchased and my now very close family to live on faith! It means taking on service in the mission field of a college university in another state and the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
What risk are you facing? What are the obstacles that are standing between you and your Happily Ever After? What dragons need to be slain? You have a real Prince who is ready to come to your rescue. Are you ready to let Him? Your story won’t be exactly like my story. What you can expect is that your story won’t be perfect. None of ours is. But if you are a Christian, you can expect to see some similarities. You will see that you will try to live and act like Christ, not because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do, but because of the love you have for God. You’ll find that you have courage to do the right thing even when the wrong thing seems easier. You’ll see that you will be more humble, caring and giving. And the most amazing similarity you’ll see in our stories is that you’ll have a source of happiness that sometimes doesn’t make sense to people looking from the outside in.
Paul says it like this in Galations 2:19-20 (The Message)
19-21What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
And in Philippians 3:8-9 (The Message) we read,
… all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
Your story isn’t like my story, and my story’s not like yours. And they shouldn’t be! How boring it would be if all the Fairy Tales were exactly the same. So don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Let your story be unique and personal, just like you! Most of all, know that you can be secure that the reason for your happiness is because you know the end of your story, and it really does end Happily Ever After.