My student story began in the 1990s when my husband Benny and I attended Dr. Powlison’s How Do We Change? seminar. Suddenly trees took on new meaning as we started to understand the prominence of the heart in the transformation process. As a pastor, Benny began devouring CCEF materials and his affection for CCEF rubbed off on me. I grew in how I ministered to other women and to my children. Yet little did I know then that CCEF’s ministry would most be needed in my own life.
In 1998, a family crisis slammed into my seemingly picturesque life that included 25 years of marriage, seven terrific children and two decades with a growing church full of people we loved serving. This crisis was the first of several that would shake our family to its core and bring clouds of darkness, grief and perplexity into my formerly tidy world.
The cascade of trials went on for years. In 2013, I reached out to CCEF for counsel and comfort. I needed a tether to the God I loved but felt perplexed and defrauded by. Why had all these painful things happened in succession? Was there something wrong with me? God’s goodness and sovereignty, both of which I had cherished for years, were veiled in discouragement, grief, and hopelessness. I had been sinned against. People who I cherished had been sinned against. In a desperate quest for relief, I begged my counselor to “help me get whatever God is trying to teach me!”
It was during this season of upheaval that I decided to take an online CCEF class. I am a grandmother who didn’t graduate from college and who has spent the past 30 years at home educating our children–so this decision was no small feat. It wasn’t long into Dynamics of Biblical Change that I knew that while my ministry to others would be enhanced by this training, I was the one most in need of transformation.
Last semester I took my fourth course, Human Personality. This course providentially came during a season of marital struggle. Longstanding and unaddressed issues between my husband and me squeezed the sponge of my sinful heart. What came out was a mixture of Christ-incarnating fruit and smelly, stubborn resistance to forgive Benny. Week after week Dr. Welch’s lectures both comforted and confronted me. God lovingly haunted me with answers to the question, Who am I? I learned more deeply than ever that I am created in God’s image, holy and loved as his royal daughter. Yet I’m prone to wander and I resist the grace to obey. I am called to walk a path of tests, suffering, alienation and wilderness experiences where I experience the Spirit’s presence and power, just as Christ did.
One day as I sat typing my weekly response paper, I experienced the Spirit’s compelling presence. The combination of the lectures and the counsel I had been receiving from my counselor converged. God called me to forgive Benny–and I found his call irresistible. My proud and stubborn heart was softened by the knowledge of both God’s rightful demand and power to follow Christ in forgiving sinners. I too am a sinner who needs forgiveness, so who am I to withhold forgiveness from others? On that day I not only forgave my husband, but also asked God and Benny to forgive me for my stubborn, self-righteous pride.
By doing so, I found the relief I had been looking for. God wasn’t trying to teach me some yet unlearned “lessons.” Rather, he used the semester to at times remind me and at other times reveal to me that the Christian life is where his royal children are tested, tried and prepared. And that my suffering echoes Christ’s both perilous and joyous path back to heaven to prepare a place for me. My past and present suffering is taking on new meaning, and, as it does, I’m experiencing true relief.