The following is her testimony, and I highly recommend it...
Oct. 18, 2005
South Nassau Christian Women’s Club
“A Harvest of Thoughts”
How are you doing today? I’m doing great these days. That hasn’t always been the case – nor is it always the case. But today, this day, I’m doing great.
It was a little more than 10 years ago, when I sat on the couch in my little studio apartment in Manhattan and contemplated my life. After years of striving, I had finally arrived! I had a glamorous job at a well-known magazine, I had an apartment – albeit small – in Manhattan, I had a boyfriend, who looked like he might actually ask me to marry him, I had everything I had wanted and had planned for.
Why, then, I thought to myself, why do I want to kill myself?
Oh, I knew I would never actually kill myself – too much pain for those I would leave behind – but the wondering was there which led to the natural question – why, if I have all I wanted, isn’t it really what I want? What was I missing?
Turns out, I was missing God! I certainly didn’t think I was missing God b/c, after all, I grew up in a Christian faith, was baptized, confirmed and all that. I even went to church now and again. When that church began to feel empty, I explored other spiritual options --- none of them seemed quite right. No, it wasn’t God I was missing, was it?
At the time, I was working for a woman who was a “born-again.” I had been working for her for about two years, watching her….watching her…
I knew about those born-agains….they’d been after me for years: first in high school, then in college, then in the workforce. They came after me with their big, thick Bibles, those huge wooden crosses around their necks and those long, sad faces. When I met them, I always thought, “No wonder they’re born again….Their lives are so sad, they clearly need God!”
This woman I worked for, though, she was different somehow. Her faith didn’t seem to weigh her down….in fact, she seemed almost joyful! She laughed a lot, didn’t take herself too seriously, even though she was one of the smartest business persons I had ever worked with.
Around the time of my apartment contemplation of my life, I had been working on a big project with her and she noticed that I was disturbed. So she asked me about the project….I told her that from my perspective the project was failing…so many things were going wrong and I couldn’t get it perfect….she told me that her perspective was otherwise and then she asked me an important question. She asked me, “Joyce, what can I do to help you gain confidence?” “Well,” I said, “if I knew that, I would do it. I’m the kind of person who fixes what’s wrong.”
“Joyce,” she said. “I know what is wrong.” And she proceeded to tell me that my problem was that I didn’t know God and His love for me. She took me to breakfast the following day and I will never forget how she used the salt and pepper shakers and the knife and fork to show me how I was alienated from God because of my sin and how Jesus Christ came to bridge that gap between me and God through forgiveness of sin.
Well, I’d heard this before….but it was like I was hearing it for the very first time that morning.
Later that afternoon, I went to her office and prayed that God would forgive me my sins because of Jesus and that He would set my life on the right path.
At my baptism not long after, God gave me my life verse – which has become our marriage verse, as well – from Jeremiah, chapter 29, verse 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 a hope and a future.”
I remember this verse often.
I remembered it when God began the very hard work of cleaning up my life. I found the process of changing my habits and especially changing my opinion of myself, which was bad, to God’s opinion of me, which is a beloved daughter. I remembered it when God called me to forgive those who had hurt me throughout my life … a long season of recalling past hurts and releasing those responsible from my debt by forgiving them.
I remembered the plans God had for me when I was harassed in my workplace by someone who didn’t like God. Ultimately, I was forced out of that job and into one that was less desirable.
I hung onto the promise that God’s plans were to prosper me and not to harm me as my longtime friends found that my faith was too much for them and they began to avoid me. My loneliness and isolation was crushing at times.
I recited this verse: 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 a hope and a future,” when I was one of the few people in the company to be job-eliminated – again by the very same person who had forced me out of the more desirable job earlier.
And I saw the realization of this verse, when God served as yenta between my husband Rich and I in 1997. You see, God had called me to be open to dating….I guess that was when I realized that I probably hadn’t been! We met at the most unlikely place – a singles’ retreat! Rich was performing and I was speaking. Mutual friends had prepared the way, by telling each of us about the other. “He’s your soul-mate,” they told me. I think to myself, “Who are they kidding? He’s an actor...I’m a business executive! We have nothing in common!” But the Lord reminded me that my plans for my love life had blown up in my face time and again. It was time to try His plan. His plan works, by the way.
And I remembered that God’s plans were to give me a hope and a future when in Feb. 2000, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a non-curable and progressive disease of the central nervous system. I’ve carried this disease for five years, with no visible deterioration. I hang onto God’s good plans with all my fingertips – especially when earlier this year, I developed heart failure because of the medicine I was taking for the MS. Now I’m off the MS meds and on the heart meds.
And I remember these good plans that God has for me when in June I was promoted to a position at my job that has global responsibility….one that expands my sphere of influence to the upper reaches of my company and the outermost parts of the globe.
And I remember these plans when, in July, I went to the hospital for a ambulatory surgical procedure that went awry, leaving me with an incision in my abdomen and once again, drawing upon that great insurance plan my employers provide.
You see, though my life has its ups and its downs, God’s plans for my life – His desire to bless me and to bless through me – have resulted in a harvest of righteousness. I’ve learned through hard experience that God is smarter, wiser and more powerful than I. I’ve learned that though we might have the same goals in mind, his way of getting to the goal is the best way and I’ve learned to allow Him to take control of my life – at least most of the time. Sometimes, of course, I get in the driver’s seat and then, watch out, there is usually some carnage in the streets and whiplash for me.
No, I’ve learned that God’s plans for me are to prosper me and not to harm me, if I relax and let Him lead. I’ve learned that those plans are to give me a hope and a future. I believe that like I believe in God Himself.
When I was spiritually dead, I had a lot of plans for myself. Fortunately, I never acted on the vague thought to kill myself. But now that I’m alive, I’m learning to let God do the planning. I can see now that He always planned that I would love him – He sent me those “born-agains” to soften me up -- so that when the time was right, when my boss told me that I was empty because I had no relationship with God, I actually understood. You see, she told me that I was separated from God by my sin. That Jesus Christ, who is God, lived a perfect life, died on a cross and rose from the dead in order that I could believe in Him. In believing in Him, I trusted Him to forgive me of my sins and make me new again – alive again – yes, born again! By this forgiveness of my sins, I could establish a real relationship with God. I could be remade into God’s image, like it was in the beginning before sin entered the Garden of Eden. I could be set upon a course of right living because I was connected to the source of all living, God.
What I needed to do, though, was to say yes to this forgiveness of sin, yes to this relationship with God, yes to being remade into God’s image. I needed to say yes….it wouldn’t just happen without my yes….it wasn’t enough to have been born and baptized a Christian, I needed to agree with all my being to being in the relationship with God. See I knew the gospel here, but I never knew that God would not force His friendship upon me. I never knew that He was waiting for me to say yes to Him….yes to all His love, His forgiveness, His plans for me.