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Since you may be considering sharing your story with me, I thought you may like to know some of mine. After all, we are fellow travelers, seeking to find our way together in God's larger story.
I was recalling recently that Jesus is referred to as a "man of sorrows." When I realized that my earnest prayer is to be like Jesus (conformed into His image), the two thoughts together gave me pause. The longer I travel through the journey of life, the more it is true in my life. I am becoming a woman of sorrows. How did I get here?
I was raised in a "perfect family." I am the oldest of four children, born in 1957 to loving Christian parents. I lived on a farm in Nebraska and was part of a close community, with my extended family also belonging to our church. I received Christ as my Savior at age three and grew in the certainty of His love for me.
When I was a teenager, my faith was strengthened and grew passionate and even more personal, partly in dealing with the extended illness and death of one of my classmates. This was my first (conscious) taste of growth produced through trials.
My college years were turbulent, but meaningful and fun. I graduated from Grove City College in Pennsylvania in 1979 with a degree in Business. After college I moved to Oregon to look for a job. I expected to find one easily, but was dumbfounded when days and weeks turned into months before I found a job. Everything felt gray, like a dense fog, and I was confused. I remember thinking, "This isn't the God I know." I had to think about God and my faith in new ways. I found myself asking deeper questions and shedding some of my easy, pat answers.
I eventually took a job in Iowa where I met Larry Lawson. We were married in 1982. Larry was a symbol of God's phenomenal grace in my life. At my lowest point — wandering aimlessly and caught in a lifestyle of poor choices — God chose to have his greatest mercy upon me by bringing Larry into my life. God reminds me through this that "while we were yet sinners " he provides his deepest gifts. In some ways I understand God's kindness even less than the trials he allows into our lives, but I am humbly grateful for his mercies.
About 15 months after we were married, I encountered the deepest sorrow of my life. My brother three years younger than I, who was my closest sibling and friend throughout childhood, took his own life. It shattered the wholeness of my family of origin and any illusions that life was under my control. The pain seared through my being and even still stings my eyes and brings a lump to my throat. In places of my soul where there are no words, the loss of my brother brought a new and different shape to my faith walk. Perhaps, like Jacob, I walk in deeper wisdom, but with a permanent limp.
Larry and I moved to Michigan in 1984 and spent the next 12 years in the suburbs of Detroit. In many ways it was a refreshing renewal and a time for solidifying of our faith, largely through the ministry of and ministry to our church. There I spent about eight years in youth ministry, as youth leader, confirmation teacher, and youth pastor. Though the activities wore me out, I always loved the hours of intimate sharing I spent with individuals or in small groups.
In 1989 we started our family. Joanna was born that year and Maria two years later. They brought with them a whole new level of joy and life and meaning, not to mention a whole new level of exhaustion. I gained fresh understandings of the Father's unconditional wholehearted love for us in the midst of our joys as well as our, um tantrums, and how he longs to just BE with us and enjoy our simple, childlike presence. I have the sense that, in the grand scheme of things, there is more importance to my parenting than to anything else I will ever do.
The same year Maria was born (1991), Larry and I both suffered the deaths of our fathers, Larry's dad to Alzheimer's and my dad to cancer. Another loss, another sorrow, another tender hurting place in the soul.
A couple years later, while watching a video presentation in church of Bibles being passed out to children in Russia, God moved in my spirit. I thought, "It's good to have a Bible, but for a child to know the love of God, he needs to feels the arms of God around him. Just send me one of those kids." To make a long, long story short, three years later we adopted our son Denis into our family. He was almost nine then and the girls were seven and five. The next several years were the most intense years of our lives.
We have learned more from the trials and tribulations (sound melodramatic? It felt melodramatic!) of raising a child with attachment disorder than anything else we have encountered. We have loved him, nurtured him, encouraged him, been confused by him, fought with him, struggled with him, and learned with him. It has been a major crucible in our lives, with profound ramifications, both positive and negative, for all five of us.
After Denis had been with us a year, Larry's back suddenly and unexpectedly "went out" one day as he ruptured a disk. He was completely incapacitated for many months. Being self-employed at the time, his disability caused a financial crisis for our family. We "ate through" all our savings and some of our home equity as he slowly recuperated. Larry felt the time was right to take a salaried job in Colorado. This overwhelming period of our lives felt like a whirlwind, one that picked us up and dropped us (Dorothy-style) in another land hundreds of miles away. We brought many of our struggles with us and left many securities and friendships behind.
As our pastor told Larry at that time, "I have a sense this move is more for Deb than for you." With all my kids in school, I decided to enroll in counseling classes at Colorado Christian University, where Larry Crabb, one of my favorite authors, taught. I found myself in tears the first day of class, for the sheer joy of being in this kind of learning environment, after so much recent suffering, with the move, the financial difficulties and the intense, ongoing struggles with Denis. Within three years, I walked away with my Masters degree in counseling.
Since 2001 I have been in private practice at Heart of God Counseling. I have had the pleasure of meeting with so many people, just like yourself, honest strugglers seeking to know greater truth about themselves, desiring greater intimacy and wholeness in their relationships with others and with God. I am thrilled and honored that God has brought me to a place where I can meet with fellow journeyers, joining them in a portion of their lives.
What I have shared with you in this little
biography is certainly not my whole story, but it gives you
a glimpse into who I am. I do find that the longer I live, and the more
I gain in wisdom, the more I believe the truest wisdom comes from suffering
with integrity before the face of God. I have known loneliness, grief,
confusion, lostness, brokenness, and emptiness. And I have known God
and have tasted of his love and goodness for me. Certainly I may be
a woman of sorrows and sin, but even more I am also becoming a woman
who knows the comfort and assurance of the presence and goodness of
God in the midst of every circumstance.
Heart of God Counseling, Debra J. Lawson