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In the Spring of 2018, Arlene came to Genesis Church. She was vulnerable, hurting, and scared. Her street-strong persona and a lifetime of being in survival mode were completely eroded, and she wanted to end her life.
Born in Newport, Arkansas in 1972, Arlene inherited a world of insecurity and fear. Her father was gone all the time, and her mother worked three jobs to provide for Arlene and her sisters and brothers. When her father was home, his abuse of alcohol and drugs was a volatile recipe for anger, along with mental and physical abuse of his family.
In this toxic environment, Arlene had to grow up fast (cooking and keeping house before her tenth birthday), each day experiencing the extreme trauma of being in survival mode as a child. Although her mother loved her, she could not provide the security and support that a child needs. There wasn’t time for church or any type of moral guidance, and Arlene lost her way, dropped out of school, and ran away from home at age fourteen.
Arlene wanted to be cared for; she was seeking love, which brought her to family in Fayetteville, but the pattern of dysfunction and abuse continued to such an extent that she turned to men promising to love and protect her. At the young age of fifteen, Arlene found herself pregnant and all alone. Pressured to end her pregnancy, Arlene refused and returned to a hard life on the streets.
Arlene found herself confused by what love was, not trusting anyone, and bouncing from place to place. By the time she was seventeen, she had two kids and was trying to be a good mom and provider. She described her entire adult life as “trying to find a world I wanted but didn’t know how to get it”.
At last, she began what she thought would be the long-term loving relationship she had always wanted. Tragically, the same pattern of abuse began and escalated to the point where she had to send the children away to a safe place. The man would apologize, and she wanted so badly to believe that he would change, that she stayed with him. One evening he brutally beat her, and she suffered stab wounds and an extended hospital stay.
Years of going in and out of bad relationships, struggling day to day, and feeling worthless, caused her to attempt to end her life with pills. By God’s miracle of grace, a kindly older Christian woman saw her attempting to take the pills and intervened. The woman told her something she had never heard before: “God loves you and I do too.” For the first time in her life, Arlene encountered someone who genuinely cared, and who referred her to Genesis Church. She was told that we could help, but after a lifetime of never asking for help, it was humbling to come to us.
From the first moment we met her, we accepted Arlene just as she was – broken and deeply skeptical of God’s promise of restoration and hope. Ashamed by what she had done and all of her life’s choices, it was hard to realize that God could forgive and love her.
“I have learned how strong faith and love is, I never imagined how powerful God’s love is. I never dreamed how easy it would be to have peace, that the power of love would give me a new and better life, and that I could truly be valued.”
This realization has been restoring every facet of Arlene’s life. She has accepted Jesus as her Savior and joined our church. Every day she has a purpose and can almost always be found serving at Genesis in whatever way is needed and is known for her broad smile and big hugs.
“Faith has taught me patience and to make better decisions."
No longer faced with terrifying survival fears, Arlene sees there is hope and a future for her. She has been reconciling with her family, is anxious to work, and has even begun taking college classes!
“Had I not found God and a church home in Genesis – I wouldn’t even be here. Genesis gave me a safe haven, a place where I can appreciate all that I have. I can smile and be happy with the family, love, and better life that I always wanted. I am forgiven and loved and can face challenges knowing that God has rescued and saved me.”
The key to Arlene’s transformation has been her Life Team, where four women meet with her every week to listen, encourage, challenge, and pray with her.
“I have a life to look forward to, even with the bad days. I’m not in emergency mode, I’m in FREE MODE! Never have I seen so much love as when I came to Genesis, I have never in my life been loved so much"
Psalm 71:20 -21 though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.
My wife and I started attending Central UMC 30 years ago, which was a few months after we got married. I was in graduate school and working at an internship and she was substitute teaching. We did not have very much money. A night out for dinner for us, which was rare, was getting Dominos Pizza and eating it in our small apartment living room.
We were a little intimidated when we first started attending Central. There was no contemporary service back then, which is where we typically attend now. Rather, there were just two classic services in the sanctuary. I remember when the offering plate came around each week that I felt terrible because we either didn’t put anything in or just a few dollars.
We learned about Central’s Covenant Giving Program that fall of 1989, which was simply a covenant between the person/family and God. I was thrilled that the church would not know what we put on our card. We put down $7 per week and I felt pretty good about it. (I looked it up and that is equal to about $14.50 per week now).
A few years went by and I heard that some of Central’s lay leaders were going to be hosting an information meeting on tithing on an upcoming Sunday afternoon. I was interested but afraid of what I would hear. God moved in my heart. I attended and was taught biblical principles of giving that day. I went home afterward and told my wife that we had to start tithing. We started and have never looked back. God has been faithful to us and we have been faithful to Him. Even in times of challenge, we have given because we did not view it as optional. Cable TV – optional. Sports/entertainment – optional. Eating out – optional. New car – optional. Big house – optional.
I want to now share a few nitty-gritty details that may help you if you will read on.
A final word. Generous people tend to have more joy in their lives. About 20 years ago, I met a man who shared with me that he and his wife gave away over 30% of everything they made AND they hoped to increase that. He was absolutely one of the happiest most spirit-filled people I had ever met. I wanted what he had. When I have a bad day…I give. When things aren’t going well…I give. When I have a good day…I give. When things are going well…I give. Regardless of the circumstances, giving brings me joy. I encourage you to try giving, but only if you want to experience joy, fulfillment, gratitude, and contentment. Anne Frank once wrote, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” So, if you haven’t already, start measuring your wealth by being a blessing to others, not how many dollars are in your bank account.
The past two weekends I had the opportunity to go to Harriet, Arkansas and teach a few hundred junior high students that they were chosen by God. It was an incredible weekend where we saw God do some incredible things, but, reminding junior high students that they are chosen by God isn’t the easiest task. I mean, do you remember your junior high experience? As I told them this weekend, if some crazy time warp happened and I was sent back to high school, I would be fine; I enjoyed high school. But, if that same time warp sent me back to junior high? Oh Lord, please let the end of the world coming soon! (Which, in this theoretical situation, if there’s a time warp that sends me back to junior high, it seems plausible that the end of the world would be rapidly approaching).
Junior high, and honestly younger, is where we are first flooded with the reality that there is pressure all around us to be like that person. There is a pressure that tells us to strive to do whatever we can to blend in with those around us or to work hard to somehow prove we are better. It may have started at a young age, and now it has extended into your adult life, and maybe you haven’t even realized it. You are searching. You never discovered your identity as God’s chosen and valuable possession, you never realized that there was value in who you are solely because God has created and chosen you, and you’ve been chasing value ever since those playground days caused you to believe that you were inadequate.
Well, hear God’s good news for you. If you don’t get anything else from this blog, I want you to leave knowing ONE thing, that God chooses you! Over and over and over again, God consistently says yes to you, despite anything that you might think disqualifies you, despite anything you might think isn’t worthy of being chosen by God, he chose you. In Deuteronomy chapter 7, God reminds his people who they are.
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
We have been chosen. I think we have a really bad understanding of what it means to choose something. For us, choosing something or someone is usually about what they bring to the table. Speaking of tables, do you like choosing options to eat? I hate it! I love food, but I hate choosing. I hate choosing because I want the best option and if I choose poorly, I’m going to be disappointed!
This is how we view choices! Really it is how we view any type of value. We want the best option! Maybe it’s an award that you’ve won in your life, maybe it’s being the best salesperson, maybe it’s making sure your child is the star athlete, or maybe it’s maintaining your status in the “in” crowd and surrounding yourself with things. All of these “identities” are usually based on something we can do. What do you bring to the table? Then in situations where we feel like we are not being chosen, or we don’t have anything to offer, it can produce some really serious anxiety in our lives. When we’re not chosen it causes us to wonder what might be wrong with us. It makes us feel worthless. Unworthy. Unqualified. So we keep up appearances all while wondering if we truly have any value.
You see, when we don’t know whose we are, we’ll never know who we are! Because of the life experiences which teach us that being chosen is all about what we add, we can start to feel like God might choose people the same way.
Do you ever feel this way with God? Do you ever think, “Does God love me? Does God choose me? Would the creator of the world really want to know me?” The answer is a resounding, “YES!”
In the above scripture, God is trying to get us to see that God chose us based on one thing, and one thing only! Because God loves us. Right now, as you are, YOU are a treasured possession of God! Not because you earned it, not because you were already cool or powerful, not because you were destined to be awesome, not because you have lots of talents, not because God thinks you’re going to be really successful. God chooses you, even when you think you are the LEAST likely to be chosen!
Old Testament, New Testament, from the beginning of time until the end of it, God is unchanging and God still chooses you! But, as I found myself prepping for my talks to these students, I discovered I often forget that truth. I think we all still forget. Over, and over, and over again! Reminding ourselves of our identity in Jesus is the constant battle of continually following Jesus. I don’t think it’s necessarily about getting things right, caring for others well, or about how much you read your Bible, Are those things important? Of course! They are the foundations of truly following Jesus. However, I think those are actually the easier parts to remember and do well. I’ve been following Jesus now for over 20 years give or take a little bit, and I still struggle believing that God chooses me. I forget this truth every month, every week, and every day.
So today, are you walking as a child of God? Are you reminding yourself whose you are?
If so, then hold your head high and be reminded that you have extreme value as God’s child. Take courage knowing that you don’t have to strive to find identity in anything else; we are chosen by God and our identity comes from God!
If not, maybe you find yourself exhausted as you chase after things to prove your worth. Maybe you feel so tired and stressed trying to make sure you’re wearing the right shoes, trying to make sure your kids have on the right brands, trying to make sure everything is picture-perfect in your family's life, but you still wonder every day - God, do you really choose me? Be reminded that the answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes! You ARE my beloved child, my valuable possession!”
What would happen if we stopped listening to the many voices who make us believe we’ll never measure up, and instead begin to see ourselves the way God does...
Remember, YOU are chosen by God.
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