I grew up in a suburb south of Chicago, in a town called Hazel Crest, Illinois. I went to the Methodist Community Church. – before they were United, I guess. I think it was a matter of convenience for my parents, my sister, and two brothers and I— that we became Methodist since the church was only a block away from our house. Yes, we became Methodist by convenience. Nonetheless, I was baptized there, I got my third grade bible there, I sang in the kids choir, the youth choir – and I can’t even sing! As a pre-teen, I was confirmed in the 7th grade and was in the MYF group in 8th.
Church was social for me. I was going to church out of habit but I was going! When I was really young, I went to church because my mother loved God. The rest of my family went to church because she would make us go. She was my example of a good Christian, always going to church.
My mom was schizophrenic and the church occasionally brought over dinners when she was in the hospital with her mental illness. I soon spent more time at the church for confirmation, then MYF. I guess you could say my Methodist flame was full and bright and red!
When I was in 8th grade my parents separated. It was a total surprise to me. I thought they would work it out, but instead they divorced rather quickly. My mom moved out to an apartment in Kankakee, kind of far away. She got her first job as a gym teacher at an elementary school.
My father married in less than a year and I had a new stepmom, (named Karen) and 3 new stepsisters. We moved into a crowded new home during my freshman year in high school… and away from my church.
My passionate flame for Christ, turned to a small flicker. Moving away from my mom and my church and into a new school, a new family….it was a LOT to adjust to. But then my flame really caught wind when months later my mother was murdered in her apartment from another mentally ill patient. It was July 1974, between my Freshman and Sophomore year in high school. Yes, my light went out…. My spiritual life suffered and almost died right along with my mother.
It wasn’t easy to grieve over her in a full house with a new stepmother, my dad and grandmother and 7 kids (I was one of 5 teenagers). My Dad apologized for not having time alone with me, that maybe I could spend a few day’s at his sister’s. He said I could cry more there, that my grieving, crying and carrying on was upsetting my new step-mom–so I went to my Aunt’s house to “get over” her.
We never really discussed my mom’s death or her illness. My mom’s family stopped communicating with us. We lost touch with each other. My older sister went off to college. When I was ever alone with her or my 2 brothers I got the nerve to ask about my mom’s death and how they felt about heaven… but the conversations turned into debates about the existence of God…. I was defending that there was a God. My older and “smarter” sister asked, “What kind of a God could allow mom to die so young? …To be ripped out of our lives like that?!” I wish I had the answer. She stopped going to church. My older brother stopped going to church. My sister and my older brother had completely lost their faith. My younger brother hid his grief, too, by becoming the family comic. My father was an awesome man, honestly he was, but his spirit had been damaged too and he had a new wife and 3 new daughters to worry about.
I stopped going to church.
I slowly became bitter, angry and I slowly just buried the past. Brett and I got married in a church but we didn’t really attend church all that much until I became pregnant with our first son. We shopped around for a church home and went to a few very close and convenient churches near by.
We chose the church for the pastor’s sermons… like entertainment! We joined Cypress United Methodist Church because it the pastor had a great sermon AND it was the first one we VISITED that wasn’t going through their stewardship campaign.
We have been members since 1992. We took our boys to Sunday School Class while Brett and I attended Worship service. How convenient? Looking back I see how selfish this was. We didn’t teach our boys the Bible, our church did. That’s when I was in my – what I like to call—pew potato stage. Do you know what a pew potato is? Kind of like a couch potato but at church. You don’t do much other than watch. I went to the services out of habit once again and to raise my kids in the church!
Little by little, church meant more to me as we got involved. It wasn’t about the pastor’s sermons, anymore, it was about the people, the Bible Studies, the small groups. It was about helping with Mayfest, Vacation Bible School, ushering, making friends. It was about getting involved. Along the way… My flame was ignited again! We joined a Sunday School small group when my oldest had to go to the Worship Service for Confirmation and he had to go to Sunday School. So we went to both, too.
Even after a few years in small group study, my prayer life was in a rut. Then, I started getting a heart for God in those small groups. In one Sunday School class we followed a leader’s prayer… and we would repeat the prayer in the circle addressing the person next to you. I remember being SO nervous by the time it came back to me. I would say it wrong or forget the person’s name next to me! BUT I wanted to learn more. I wanted to pray like them!
And so God led me to a Bible study several years ago taught under the umbrella of the Celebration Women’s Ministry at Cypress United Methodist Church. It was called “The Prayer of Jabez for Women” taught by Cathy Busa and Beth Domingue.
Beth was also the minister of worship at Cypress and I had worked freelance at the church doing their newsletter each week. When Celebration needed a new VP of Communications, Beth thought of me. Well, the blessings started pouring in! My flame was again burning bright! Oh! The desire to grow as a Christian!
During the Celebration Conference in 2007 with Joanna Weaver, my faith took a HUGE leap! During Saturday night’s prayer time, the keynote speaker asked us to forgive someone…. to release the burdens and hand over our troubles to Jesus. “Life was good right? who was I to forgive?”
And then God showed me… I needed to forgive the man who murdered my mother.
I needed to forgive this man for ruining my sister and brother’s faith and ALMOST extinguishing mine!
I needed to forgive my father and my stepmother for keeping me in the dark instead of allowing me to grieve properly.
I needed to forgive God… yes I can say that out loud finally… I was angry and bitter with Him because I thought he had abandoned me. I found out He was there ALL along, I just needed to forgive.
THANK GOD, He had other plans for me!! This is why Jeremiah 29:11 has become one of my favorite verses.
“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 suddenly had HOPE for my future! ….For life everlasting…. All by being able or learning how to forgive.
At the time, I had no clue how that forgiveness would change my life and WHY I was forgiving this man who killed my mom. I had buried that resentment and tried to forget. BUT thanks be to God, He knew what healing I needed! It’s been freeing to say the least.
Who do you need to forgive? Forgiveness allows you to become closer to God.
Written By:Karen Bidinger,
Cypress UMC Member and Volunteer