The Whole Truth

Deep Thoughts 11 Comments

An Easter story – Lisa from TrueLight Productions on Vimeo.
Easter 2013

Filming that video and thinking God might use any part of my story to influence anyone was really cool and thoroughly unreal for me and yet there is so much about my journey I censored because I thought it was “played-out” or even attention-seeking. Everyone goes through hardships so why would publicly sharing my “stuff” make any difference?

There were times I wanted to share the details of my life so people could know me. I had wrapped up my identity in the difficult things I went through and the bad decisions I’d made. I’ve shared bits and pieces of my story with different people in the past, but never have I combined all the details like this. I must admit, there is a temptation to leave things out to make this story pretty. There is a fear of judgment if I share the shameful things I’ve done. What if you don’t like me anymore? What if you don’t trust me? What if I become an example of a hypocritical Christian to you?

Those thoughts spun around in my mind for a while but were silenced when I realized that although these are the details of my spiritual journey; this story is actually part of God’s bigger story, and leaving out the “dirt” dishonors God and the work He has done through my redemption.

Just to be clear, I have always believed in God in some form. There’s too much proof around us for me to have doubted His existence (bodies, plants, cars, the thing that hurts inside you when you’re sad); my problem was only ever with Jesus. I believed he was a real dude who lived and had a good message, but I did NOT believe he was the son of God nor that he really performed all the miracles (walked on water, healing the sick, water into wine….nah); especially NOT that resurrection business. I believed he thought he died for us, but that his sacrifice was just symbolic and only meaningful and real to less intelligent folk.

As I’ve prepared my story I’ve “listened” for how my personal experiences reveal who God IS; Looking back, I think I spent nearly 2 ½ decades unraveling who God was NOT so that my heart and mind would be ready when I finally recognized how God had been revealing to me who He IS.

jeremiahOne of my favorite pieces of scripture is Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…

I think my story adds to the burden of proof that God means what He said.

Traditionally, a story is supposed to start at the beginning, but, as with most of us, my story started before I was even born. Parts of my parents’ spiritual journey are actually the foundation for my own..

In 1975 my dad graduated high school as my mom ended her junior year. I have never known if either of them planned to go to college because that summer involved some critical decisions; the effects of which echoed into my life many years later. You see, my mom, Lynita, was “16 and Pregnant.”

My dad, Chris, was raised Catholic, and at the impressionable age of 18 he sought the guidance of a priest at his parish. Although to this day I am still unsure of the content of that meeting, what I know for certain is my dad was no longer Catholic. On July 19, 1975, my parents were married in my mom’s protestant church (the same church I would later be married in). 10 days later my mom celebrated her 17th birthday. 5 months later, during her senior year of high school my mom gave birth to my older brother, David.

5 ½ years later, on April 25th, 1981, I made my entrance into the world. (Put that date in your calendars)

During my childhood, we never attended church as a family; however, I must have heard about God and Jesus, but it was used to convey what I shouldn’t do like: Don’t put your Bible on the floor; Don’t say “Jesus Christ”; and definitely don’t watch Dungeons and Dragons.

That wasn’t God.

Even though my parents never attended church I remember several family members from both sides of my tree taking me to church throughout the years.

In my elementary school years some of my mom’s family picked me up occasionally to attend Full Faith Church of Love (not my mom, though; I don’t recall her coming along). The only reason I really wanted to go was because Pastor Tom at children’s church was cute (I was born “boy crazy“). I don’t remember much about the content of church, but I do have a vivid memory of being “saved” around age 6 or 7. At the end of a worship service the pastor was calling for people to come down front and be saved. I didn’t know what that meant, but people were clearly very excited when someone stepped forward. My Grandma Sinele asked me, with hope-filled eyes, “Do you want to go up there?” I don’t know if I wanted to, but I knew she wanted me to, and I wanted to make her happy, so I walked to the front.. When I returned my grandma was so happy she was tearing up. I knew I had done something that made her very proud, but had no clue what it truly meant other than I was going to Heaven and didn’t have to be scared of going to Hell anymore. I’d seen the dramas the church put on and that Devil was scary.

That wasn’t quite God.

Throughout middle school another Aunt, my dad’s sister, would sporadically take me to Awanas at her church. What I remember is that I never knew anyone because I didn’t go consistently, and that I had to do certain things to earn….something. I don’t even know what it was or why I was supposed to do it except that it was “good” and everyone else was doing it. (that’s not always a phrase that leads to success)

In the long run, what I thought I knew about this particular aunt did the most damage to my idea of Christians and Christianity. One day, when I was in 7th or 8th grade, she drove by my house (she lived next door. she wasn’t just creepin’) and stopped when she saw me in the driveway. She asked me to sign a petition that had something to do with being against gay people. I wouldn’t sign it and she was unhappy with me. It just didn’t feel right to me to put other people down and leave them out. That was how I felt every day at school, even with my “friends,” so why would stillI want to do that to other people? She was really disappointed with me and she let me know it.

That wasn’t God.

In my 20s I unintentionally discovered the alleged multiple forms of abuse my cousins suffered from my aunt and her husband. Acquiring that knowledge made me hate Christians for many years and I began to believe that all Christians were hypocrites. When you start to develop a bias, you will latch on to anything that confirms it for you.

That wasn’t God.

Catholics; however, were a different story. They stuck to their traditions and routines and didn’t bother anyone. Many of my good friends went to St. Charles, as well as my Uncle Doug and cousins and my Grandma Hayden. I wanted desperately to fit in and take communion, so my junior year of high school I decided to become Catholic. I did one year of classes with the sophomores who’d been raised Catholic, but it quickly became clear that I was too mature (not a phrase often used to describe me) to complete the catechism courses with them, so I was shifted into an adult group of candidates. Although behaviorally I could “hang” with the adults, I couldn’t intellectualize or emotionally connect on their level. And, let’s be honest, I always hated school and being up early, yet there I was being forced to go to school an extra day of the week on Sunday mornings. Spiritually, it just didn’t connect with my life. At the conclusion of the courses I participated in a ceremony, during holy week, where I was baptized, confirmed, and received my first holy communion. I was IN! The bishop at the time even had me speak at a service because I had seen the Pope when he visited St. Louis and had been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City before I was even Catholic. Those achievements meant others should admire me and my “devotion” to the faith.

That wasn’t God.

It didn’t take long for the shine of Catholicism to dull. As is typical with most early 20-somethings, I wasn’t suuuuper interested in waking up early on the weekend and getting to mass regularly. I had a youth minister who was always so excited to see me and ask if I was coming the next week. One week I gave my standard non-committal response and her reply was “Jesus died for you. It’s the least you can do to show up to mass.” Ohhh, so that’s what everyone meant by “Catholic Guilt…”

That wasn’t God.

religionIronically, during that time, I remember begging my dad to come back to the church (not God…the Church). I remember telling him “the church had changed.”

My dad nodded and looked down at the floor and muttered “Exactly.” Then he looked up at me and asked a question that has stuck with me through my spiritual journey: “Has God changed?”

That may have been God.

His point was a little too deep for me at that time, but over the next 12 years I would understand it more.

Side note: Looking back now this is where I would pinpoint the pivotal changes in my life began. Almost unbeknownst to me I began  to run from God, but He had already set into place several elements that seemed so commonplace at the time, but looking back, were so very critical.

In September of 2003 I began dating James. 6 months later I had a ring on my finger and we were set to marry on May 21st, 2005….

I’m sorry to say it, but this is actually where the story gets long. These details are important though, so settle in.

Once James and I were engaged I realized pretty quickly we were not having a Catholic wedding because the diocese had some wonky rules: My dad can’t walk me down the aisle? Nope. No flower girl? Nope. No pre-recorded or secular music? Nope.

These are vital components to the 24 year-old’s ideal wedding, so not being able to include them meant we were looking for some place else to get married. Clearly my “religion” was super important.

Coincidentally, my dad played (and still plays) basketball several days a week and one of those days he just happened to play with several local pastors. My dad, who would never set foot in a church, played basketball one day every week, FOR YEARS, with a gym full of Jesus-loving pastors.

That was God.

Knowing we were looking for a new place to get married my dad said I should talk to his friend, Jim Walden, who pastored a small church in the Northland. James and I met with Pastor Jim, who quickly wanted to know “where we were with Jesus.” Regardless of our answers he wanted us to come see him preach that Sunday so we could see his “style” before we agreed to have him preside over our wedding. That may have been a Sneaky Preacher Trick, BUT…

That was God.

Since talking to Pastor Jim was dad’s idea I quickly informed him and mom they were coming to church that Sunday with us. Dad still claims, freeto this day, that he didn’t want to go because he didn’t want to influence our decision, but I know he didn’t want to go because he knew this would be a “hand-raising, contemporary Christian music-singing, hallelujah-ing” kind of service. He was right on 2 out of 3.

So mom and dad came to church that Sunday, under duress, and they’ve  never missed a Sunday since.

That’s God.

Over the next 8 years that small church folded and my folks found their way to the church I ridiculed most: Pleasant Valley Baptist Church.

How could they go to that church? I mean, how could you ever get to know anyone or do anything meaningful at that “Mega”-church? (This is the same church I now “check-in” to every single Sunday)

That’s God.

For me, those 8 years were filled with heartache and struggle, and looking back I KNOW God was walking with me.

Being married to James wasn’t easy. I spent 3 years in a tolerable marriage, but the final year and a half held emotional abuse that led to isolation from my friends and family. Misery really does love company, and I was married to a chronically miserable person.

In December of 2008, after 3 ½ years of marriage, I realized I was pregnant. We’d been trying for about a year, but were only able to celebrate for about 24 hours before the doctors said something was wrong.

**Please know this is not my attempt to get “political.” What I am about to share with you is very real and very personal.**

I was about 8 weeks along and numbers weren’t adding up, so I had to go in for weekly sonograms. I was told repeatedly the pregnancy would not last, but the practice I was using did not believe in ending the pregnancy while there was still a heartbeat. For 4 weeks I would be forced to endure weekly sonograms and hear my baby’s slowly fading heartbeat.

For weeks I knew I would not get to meet that tiny life growing inside of me, but I hoped, and I prayed, and all the while my husband grew more distant and angry, and unable to cope.

Eventually the heartbeat was gone.

purposeWhile celebrating Christmas with my family in Columbia I began to miscarry. As we drove home to KC that dark wintry night I told my husband what was happening inside me. He told me it was not a smart thing to say to him while he was driving and threatened to drive off the road.

In early January, the bundle inside of me finally passed after hours of regular and painful cramping. In the middle of the night I awoke and had to use the restroom. I didn’t realize what had happened. No one tells you what will happen; and so I flushed the tiny bundle that was my baby down the toilet. I felt very alone and very insignificant. I was afraid to tell my husband because of how he would react.

I’m a silver-lining kind of gal, and although having a miscarriage SUCKED I took solace in the fact that I could actually get pregnant.

James couldn’t see that silver lining. I didn’t have time to deal with my own feelings because he was plunging deeper and deeper into depression. I remember calling his therapist expressing my concerns that he would try to hurt himself. James knew the right things to say, so his therapist decided there was no danger.

One night he was acting really strangely, and I remember staying up all night to make sure he was ok because I was worried he might try to harm himself. He was very hostile that night. Although he never laid hands on me, he could be very cruel with his words and actions. I remember walking into the kitchen, falling to my knees and silently screaming to God to “HELP ME!!!” I was pleading to a God with whom I was so angry and that I knew didn’t really have time for my insignificant problems (compared to famine, genocide, and war). I knew He didn’t care for me because I was so dismissive of Him generally, but I was desperate. I didn’t know how to keep going everyday feeling so scared and alone.

In February 2009, just about a week after I’d shared my concerns with his therapist, I received a phone call saying he was being taken by ambulance to a hospital.

He had taken every prescription pill at his disposal (well over 100 tablets of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sleep aides).

There was a lot of confusion in the next few hours but here are the things I still remember clearly: My mom immediately left her work and picked me up at mine and my dad was already at the hospital when we arrived. When I called my best friend Corrie, who was at work, she immediately said “I’m on my way.”

That was God.

James lived, and I will always be grateful for that.

That was God.

That night, while James was in the hospital, I reached out to some of my friends with whom I had been so distant and let them know some rough things were happening in my life.

They all responded and our friendships began to rekindle..

That was God.

James was really angry that I had reached out to them. He had done an excellent job of isolating me from my family and friends or any kind of support system, in general.

The next 5 months of marriage were filled with intense emotional and psychological cruelty that I won’t take time to recount because it is still isaiahsometimes a challenge to recover from the weight of remembering it all..

In July of 2009 James ended our marriage. It was a Sunday morning and I had just gotten home from a float trip when he let me know he was leaving. It was about 12:15 in the afternoon and I knew my parents would be getting out of church so I called them to come over. They pulled in the driveway before he had even left. They walked me up the stairs and through the front door where I collapsed on the floor and cried…Then they took me to eat at 5 Guys Burgers and Fries.

That was God…and indigestion…but sooooo worth it. 😛

For 2 weeks I begged James to slow down with his decision and try couple’s counseling but he refused and blamed me for everything. Those 2 weeks are still blurry, but I remember my family and friends showing up and bringing food or cleaning the dishes or just sitting with me or gently reminding me that a shower wouldn’t be a bad thing.

That was God.

I can’t say what changed my mind, but after 2 weeks it dawned on me that I might be ok. My family and my friends were showing up and displaying to me that I was still loved even though I had been distant from them.

That was God.

I moved back in with my parents. Every Sunday they would invite me to church and every Sunday I would decline.

That was God.

The first year I lived with my parents I was hurting greatly and did some things that were very out of character for me. Although I wasn’t a Christian, I had always considered myself to be a person with good morals. At times those morals went out the window and I did things that hurt my own heart and could hurt others, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be noticed and certain men were paying attention.

At one point, I slept with a married man. I continued to run from God and put myself in some really terrible situations. Once I even wound up walking into a police station to report an attempted sexual assault by someone I thought was a friend because he’d even talked to me about God and going to church.

When we are grieving and when we are running hard from a God who is relentlessly in pursuit of our heart we fight hard for our independence. We fight hard to show we DON’T NEED Him. We fight hard to be in control and be our own God.

I think, in a strange way, that even parts of those experiences were God. I had to fall so far from who I thought I was to see where I needed to be.

hit rewindIn the Spring of 2011 a few occurrences happened that changed my life. Each moment on its own seems like no big deal, but we all know the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

1) Knowing my heart and mind were opening my best friend Corrie, who has been around for every single pivotal moment in my life, loaned me her favorite book, “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. This book blew my mind. I didn’t know anyone who actually believed in God and that Jesus was who he claimed to be AND actually had thoughts like I had, but Don Miller did. I didn’t know Christians talked that way or felt that way…I could completely relate and I was relieved.

That was God.

2) One Tuesday after school I met my parents for dinner at Pizza Hut in Claycomo (yes, really). I was talking politics and getting angry at Christians (because hard-lining right-wing conservatives and Christians WERE one and the same in my mind). While I was spewing venom about politicians and people my dad looked at me and asked “Is any of that anything God has done?” (Please recall his earlier critical question about whether or not God had changed when I was proclaiming the church had changed). That dad guy is pretty smart.

On the way home, driving down 435, I said aloud to God, “Ok, I can’t promise to do this right, but I’m gonna give it a shot.” “It” meant investigating Jesus.

That was God (at Pizza Hut in Claycomo…He goes everywhere)

3) In the Easter video I described watching the end of The Passion of the Christ shortly after Easter Sunday 2011. I saw the empty glowy tomb, but then what? I Googled. I talked with my dad and we looked in his Bible.

But the pivotal moment came when Dad asked “Why don’t you come with us Sunday and find out? I’m sure they’ll talk about it.”

I didn’t say “yes,” but Sunday morning I was sitting upstairs ready to go. 🙂 They did a good job playing it cool.

That was God.

So, I started coming to Pleasant Valley, and it wasn’t so bad. I mean, people were putting their arms up and the music was cheesy. People cried and people laughed….and God was showing up…and I could SEE it…even if it was weird.

One morning I woke up and immediately knew I needed to ask a co-worker a question about being a Christian. I knew Perri was a Christian, and I think I knew she was married to a pastor, but I didn’t really know her that well…I just KNEW I needed to talk to her about this. So I showed up in Perri’s classroom early one morning before school started. I told her I had a question, and I imagine she expected it to be about 3rd graders, but I told her I was thinking about becoming a Christian. I was worried because I didn’t know if I could ever “buy in” to what I perceived as some of the rules and restrictions. I would always be an “equal rights” advocate and I didn’t know if that meant I couldn’t also be a Christian.

She said “If you wait till you find a place where you ‘fit in’ all the way then you’ll never find it, but Jesus didn’t come because we needed more rules; He came because we needed relationship.”  (and she said some other stuff about 13 steps and a donkey in a well on Sunday, and I still don’t know what that was about)

That was God.

The following Sunday, at the end of service, Merle said people would be up front to pray and someone started singing the closing song. I heard mystery of gracethe lines “He’s not mad at you. And He’s not disappointed.”

Done. That was it. That was God.

I walked to the front and told Debbie Cunningham it was “my day”. I acknowledged I was a sinner and that I wanted a relationship with God through his son, who was my savior and had paid my debt, and was resurrected.

October 23, 2011. That’s the day I accepted Christ. I call it my “New Life-aversary!”

So how does my story reveal who God is?

God absolutely has the power to come roaring in and be big and scary and overwhelming.

But he didn’t.

Instead he sent me people who showed up and did His work, even if they didn’t know it. He built a system of family and friends for me who have never left me to question whether or not I am loved and wanted.

He was relentlessly in pursuit in a gently aggressive manner. He didn’t leave me alone; never once.

God patiently waits and works while we tell him “no” or “not now” or “never.” Even while we turn him away or ignore him he loves us and he waits.

pruneJohn 15:2 says
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

The first time I heard that scripture I didn’t even think about myself; partially because the experiences in my life don’t exactly match up with the original context of the verse, but when my parents heard the same verse they thought of me, and I have come to see why.

I went through some very difficult and painful experiences. God was intentional with those moments of pain and struggle. He used those things to refine me.

I want you to know that life hasn’t been perfect since I accepted Christ:

I have faced significant interpersonal challenges at work with supervisors and situations I thought could never improve or even make sense, but through prayer and constant searching for God’s hand in those struggles, I was able to find purpose, peace and resolution.

In my personal life my faith was tested by getting exactly what I thought I wanted….in the form of a romantic relationship. When I began dating again I knew I would be more careful about who I chose to spend time with, and was also very mindful of who I would allow to meet my family and friends because I knew I never wanted to cause them heartache or to worry about me as they had before. It took 3 years for anyone to become serious enough in my life to meet my family and friends, but someone did. That relationship lasted just under 6 months, and when it ended I was obviously hurt, but I was also very confused and angry with God. I still loved and trusted that He had a plan for me (I just really wanted to know what the plan was), yet I couldn’t see why this relationship had ended or even had to happen in the first place if it was just going to end. I had done the right thing and accepted Christ, so why was I being punished?!

It took several long months to come to peace with it, and to realize I may never GET to understand the “whys,” but I know and trust that God has more in store for me than my limited mind can imagine.

I consider myself an infant when it comes to having a relationship with God through Christ. I am still learning and seeking, and I think I always will be.

If I could leave you with anything from sharing all of this, if I could tell you anything I know to be true it would be this:

God is ALWAYS with you. He is all around you and within you. He will not waste a moment of joy or heartache. He makes all things work together for our good. He will not leave you because He made you and He wants you-all of you. No matter what-God loves you. And He is bigger than anything that tells you otherwise.

**As I’ve re-read this a couple of times I realize I have left out something critical: So do I now believe Jesus did all those things I couldn’t fathom before?

Absolutely.

Do I know I am forgiven and redeemed?

Absolutely!

I cannot separate Jesus’ miracles on earth from my own redemption because they were both made possible through the power of God made flesh and his subsequent sacrifice and RESURRECTION. None of what Jesus did made him different from many other influential leaders until he did what he said and rose from the dead (“in fulfillment of the scriptures” says the Catholic inside me).

It defies logic. It can’t be quantified.

And yet, it’s the most real thing I’ve ever known.**

priase

Life Transformation – Stories are Important from TrueLight Productions on Vimeo.


  1. Denise - October 26, 2014

    Lisa, can I just say I love the way you write!

  2. Lisa Richardson - October 26, 2014

    Beautiful, honest, courageous, life-giving, encouraging, hopeful. I’m so proud of you for sharing! I had no idea. Everyone has a story. Most of us have stories full of regret or shame. I do. Jesus is the only answer to the deep void inside of us, as you well know. Keep walking towards him, looking straight into his eyes. He’s the perfect man!!!  Sending you love and prayers for the continued journey!

    • Lisa, that means an awful lot coming from someone I really look up to. 🙂 Thanks so much.

  3. Jarod Sams - October 27, 2014

    Brutal and honest, but full of hope and renewed life. My own story has a couple parallels, and I’ve only ever shared the whole thing with just a few people. It’s funny how we can look back and see God in the most unassuming and unexpected of places. Then again it’s those times looking back, more so than the grandiose displays, that reaffirm the journey and our progress. 

    • Thanks Jarod. Looking back isn’t always easy, but it can really provide such clarity when you have the right perspective. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  4. Rusty suhr - October 27, 2014

    I have to admit. I’ve been “reading” your blogs for awhile. But, the engineer in me prefers math and calculus to reading and writing, so I’ll say I’ve skimmed your blogs for awhile now.  This was the first one that I read every word.  Well Played.

  5. I’ve read your blog post at least three times over the years and it STILL inspires me, Lisa! THAT is God.  <3

    • Thank you Tracy! I am honored to have you read my story and to give any kind of inspiration. Thanks for letting me know; that means a lot.

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