I feel very blessed to have met some really wonderful people in my hometown of Cullman, Alabama. One of those people is Karen Roberson, who I actually met through my [previous] blog years ago… She is a woman who encourages me in many ways, and is actually the reason that I found a way to begin painting murals in Cullman!
I recently asked Karen to share her story of some of the things she has been through and overcome. I know about some of the burdens she’s had to bear, and I have seen how she spends her life devoted to helping others, and I think that she is a huge inspiration.
You can read the story that she sent me below:
“I am originally from Calera, AL. I lived in Birmingham for a short while before moving to the Cullman area with my husband Brian in 2004 (we absolutely love living here)! We have been married 12 years. My stepdaughter Casi is 25 yrs. old and 4 years ago God blessed us with a sweet granddaughter, Brinly.
There have been many hard times and challenges in my life. One of those challenges has been my seemingly never ending feelings of self-doubt, a lack of self-worth, and a nagging feeling of just being “flawed” in some way. Add to that various poor choices, which led me to regret, guilt, shame and well, and you can see that this just doesn’t paint a very pretty picture.
I have always had this fear that once people got to really know me, and find out what I was really like, that they’d see this major flaw and turn away from me. So, me and this fear have built some walls together- some mighty thick and tall walls!
I want to tell you about the most life-changing experience that our family has faced in the last few years: the tragic and sudden loss of my stepson, Brian Jr. (aka Little Brian) who died unexpectedly in a swimming accident in 2005.
Brian was 20 years old and was one of the sweetest, most honest, genuine, caring and unique young men that I think anyone could ever meet. Most importantly, he had a very strong faith in God. The loss of this amazing young man is something that never, ever goes away, It seems to evolve over time.
I can’t speak for other family members, but that first year after his death it seemed that there was an invisible barrier separating us from other people, like we were living in a bubble. There was a profound sadness in my heart. Through this experience, I learned just how deep the heart goes–it is so much deeper than we know and at its greatest depth is actually a dangerous place where one can get lost. Only God helped me to stay away from that place.
At the time, I worked in Birmingham and had about an hour’s commute one-way each day. During those drives I talked to God, many times crying my heart out while asking a variety of things, such as “Why?”, “How could this happen?”, “What should we have done differently?”, “Why not me Lord, surely I deserved death more than he?”, “What is the meaning of life?”, “What are we to learn from death?”
Over time, God spoke; not audibly, but I felt it simply by finding a peace with so many things, and feeling that I finally understood. This happened in such a way that I know it couldn’t have come from me.
I finally came to a realization that what happened on July 4, 2005 was ultimately between God and Little Brian. It wasn’t about anyone else (even though so many lives were changed that day). For Brian and God, it was a wonderful, awesome day, it was Brian’s reunion in Heaven, and I can’t imagine anything being more important than that!
We were hurting, yet God was with us, embracing us and giving us little tidbits of hope, encouragement and love in so many ways-ways that still amaze me today (this helped shape my feelings of worth positively and made me realize that there really is hope in this life- through Christ)!
Today, I believe that true happiness comes from a REAL, personal relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit! (Three-in-one, what a deal, haha! I joke but yet I am serious about this).
A year ago, I would have thought true happiness somewhat differently. I think I saw happiness as being a mixture of God and achieving my own goals in life.
I feel God had a divine appointment for me on the weekend of October 11, 2014.
During that weekend, I attended a 36 hour retreat with Discovery Weekends. I’m a bit of a loner and not usually a religious-group-retreat-kinda-person. However, the timing of the invitation was perfect as it came at a time of great need to get away. My life hasn’t been the same since.
With the encouragement of the loving, awesome people at Discovery, God gently revealed to me my areas of bondage. My heart became fully exposed to Him, as He opened it and healed so much brokenness within me, places that I was unaware of, had forgotten about, or thought that “I’d” already fixed.
You see, we just cannot do this for ourselves. Only God, our true Father can do this! I experienced a true rebirth that weekend and also witnessed the very same thing happening to other women there. My baptism in 2011 was a monumental, special time but unbeknownst to me, I had still been in bondage to many areas of sin and doubt.
Today though, with all praise and glory to God, He has freed me from these chains!
Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Another area I believe true happiness stems from is serving others. Such joyful, rich, and meaningful moments can be found in times like these!
My schedule offers me the opportunity to spend a couple hours a week of volunteering (this really isn’t much time at all considering that there are 168 hours within each week).
Please know that I usually don’t eagerly and purposely share this information and am in no way telling you this for my own praise or reward, but will share just a little, with hopes of inspiring others to get more involved.
I’ve been running a Meals-on-Wheels route once a week for about 5 years now and have been so blessed by this: blessed with friendship, fellowship, and love. The ultimate goal is to feed homebound seniors but yet it seems at times that I’m gaining more than they, just from simple interactions with them. Some strong friendships have formed over the years and these beautiful people have shared some amazing life stories that I’ll never forget!
Another outreach that I was fortunate to join is a pen-pal program with female inmates at a local jail; this ministry is operated by a local church and I, along with many other wonderful volunteers, have been writing to women on a weekly basis (not sure how long this ministry has been in place but I’ve been involved since 2011). Sometimes we write to one woman, sometimes two or three; some for a couple of weeks while others for many months, just depends on each woman’s time in the jail. This is an extremely important ministry as many of these women are hurt and broken, having hit bottom. Many of them have absolutely no one on their side.
Sure, they made some poor choices which resulted in their being in jail… but in no way is that the end. If anything, my hope is to encourage them to look at it as a wake-up call, a beginning; the beginning of a new chapter of their lives where they make positive, true and lasting changes, one of those being a relationship with Jesus Christ, and also understanding that they have to take responsibility for their lives and make better choices going forward.
Early on, when first learning about this ministry, one of the directors advised us that many of these women will return to jail again, and again, and again. She advised us to stay devoted to the cause and not give up, for if only ONE life is saved from this ministry, then it is worth all the time and effort put forth – I must say that I agree, for I sure wouldn’t want anyone to give up on me.
How about you? Dear readers, there are many areas of need within every community. Just reach out, look around, even ask if need be and you’ll find opportunities to help, even if it’s for only one hour a week.
There are many books that have helped me through my journey in life. The writings of Dr. John Claypool (1931-2005), from numerous sermons shared online, to some of his published works, have greatly influenced me. Some of them include, “Mending the Heart ”, “The Hopeful Heart”, and the one having the greatest impact, which is , “The Light Within You; Looking at Life Through New Eyes” (this book was published in 1983 and is now out of print but used copies can be found online).
Here is an excerpt from Claypool’s sermon, “Going Back or Growing Up”, a piece that really pierced my heart and stayed with me for a while:
“On the street one day I saw a naked child, hungry and shivering in the cold. It made me very angry and I said to God, “Why do you permit this? Why don’t you do something about this little girl?” For a long time, God said nothing, but that night he replied quite suddenly, “I certainly did do something about her, I made you,” (Anthony DeMello Jesuit priest and psychotherapist) … Claypool goes on to say, “there are two great moments in each of our lives, the moment when we’re born and the moment when we begin to realize why we were born and start taking personal responsibility for the fulfilling of that destiny. This is a rite-of-passage this second moment – that we have to participate in. I’m born into this world, not because I planned it, but because God gives it to me. But the degree to which I grow into my destiny and fulfillment I have some say in how far and how well I go.”
If you have ever been in the place that I’ve been in: struggling and confused, bitter and hopeless, I would like to leave you with these thoughts:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” Matthew 22:37-40
Do your best (but don’t expect perfection). Don’t give up. And don’t give up on others; forgive and love others as much as you possibly can. Read God’s Word, for it holds the answers.
“Every individual has a purpose for living – every one of us. No one is insignificant. The tragedy of all tragedies is that we should live and die having never found that purpose, that reason for serving our generation. You have, like no other person on this planet, particular contributions that you are to make on this generation. They may not be as great as your dreams, or they might be far beyond your expectations; but whatever they are, you are to find them and carry them out.” –Bedside Blessings