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A scary cancer diagnosis, followed by a painful divorce, left Joan in deep depression—a time so dark that she went through chemotherapy and radiation in a fog of emotional pain, nearly oblivious to the physical trauma of the treatments she received.
How could he do this to me? she asked herself over and over, unable to get past the pain of rejection by her spouse of more than forty years.
As her son, Rick, witnessed Joan’s pain, he renewed his gentle campaign to bring his mom to the church where he had found support and help during difficult times in his own life.
On several occasions Joan accepted Rick’s invitations and came to a service, sitting with him in the balcony. But even though she found the sermons interesting, her attendance was sporadic. Other than babysitting for three of her grandsons while their parents worked, she had little energy to spare.
As Joan’s depression deepened, Rick’s concern for his mom grew, and he renewed his invitations, urging her again to go to the DivorceCare group that met at the church on Monday evenings. Eventually Joan agreed to give it a try.
Joan is so thankful for her son, who patiently and lovingly invited her. “Even though it took nearly a year, he never pushed,” she says. “It was never, ‘You’ve got to do this.’ It was, ‘Why don’t you come to church with me this Sunday.’ Or ‘This DivorceCare group is really good. Why don’t you go and see if maybe they can help you?’
“I know he loves me and that he was praying for me the whole time.”
Just getting out to attend the DivorceCare meetings provided a new interest in Joan’s life, but even more significant was the friendship that developed between Joan and another woman in the group—a new friend who later invited Joan to join her at the Alpha group for women she attended on Wednesday mornings.
The Alpha Course
Coming to Alpha was another big step for Joan, and from her very first week she realized how little she knew about the Christian faith. Although she had attended a Catholic school as a child, she admits that she paid little attention during the religious instruction time, and since church services were conducted in Latin in those years, she picked up very little of what was said. But over the weeks of Alpha, Joan was introduced to a whole new world of understanding.
She remembers early on—during a question-and-answer time—asking guest speaker Lon Allison an important question: Are God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit all one person? That question was apparently on the minds of several in the group, because a number
of other women later approached Joan and thanked her for asking.
“Lon explained about the Trinity,” she said, “and told us about how God the Father sent His Son—Jesus—who came down from heaven so He could straighten out this world and rescue us by dying on the Cross for our sins. Then, when He went back to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to take His place.
“You learn so much in Alpha,” Joan said.
After Joan completed the ten-week Alpha class, she knew she wanted to learn more, so she signed up to be part of a follow-up class called Beyond Alpha. That class, she explained, goes deeper into Bible study. The members of the group are also encouraged to memorize some of the key verses they study.
“My memory,” Joan says, “hasn’t been very good since my cancer treatments.” So to remember her verses, she writes them on little cards that she puts on the shelf by her kitchen sink. “That way I can read them over and over again,” she said.
“One day, as I was washing dishes,” Joan says, “I was reading those verses, and I came to John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’”
Joan says she had read her verses many times before, but in that moment, “a feeling of complete calm whooshed from my head to my toes. It just washed over me as I stood there, thinking about what God had done for me in sending His Son.
“At the sink,” Joan says with a smile. “Washing dishes.”
Joan marks that moment as the time when Jesus Christ became her Savior and Lord, and when God’s Spirit took up residence in her heart—and when she knew that whatever life might bring, she would spend eternity in heaven with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The next thing Joan did was to text Debbie, her Alpha table leader, who shared her excitement about what God had done in Joan’s life.
“I’ve known about God all my life,” Joan says, “but not like I know Him now!”
As Joan describes her new relationship with God, she points to a little booklet she was given at Alpha that has special meaning for her.
“It’s called My Heart—Christ’s Home,” Joan says, “and the first time my Alpha leader read it to us, it went right over my head. What are they talking about? I wondered.
“Now I get it. It’s about Jesus knocking at the door of your heart, and if you let Him come in, He will move into every room of your heart, and He’ll change you.”
One of the biggest changes Joan sees in herself is the calmness that’s come into her life. “And I’ve forgiven my husband,” she said, “because that was really dragging me down. I’m more at peace with myself than ever before.”
Today Joan is continuing in her Beyond Alpha studies. “I look forward to it so much,” she says. “It’s my time to learn about God.
“I’m way ahead in my reading,” she confesses. “We were only supposed to be on a certain chapter, but I read this at night, and I just keep going.”
Another change for Joan is the joy and meaning she’s finding in things she’s able to do to serve God, including her Sunday-morning role as a helper in the “crawlers” room during the 8:15 service.
“I usually go to the 9:45 service myself, but I’m up at five anyway, so I’ve been helping at 8:15,” she says. “And the babies are so sweet. When they come up to you with a great big smile, it’s beautiful.”
Joan is also teaming up with a friend to be part of the Wheaton Bible Church Hunger Team, delivering food boxes to area families who request the help. And she’s exploring the Safe Families program that provides short-term care for children while their parents need time away to deal with something going on in their lives. “I’m regularly caring for my grandkids,” she says, “and I have an extra room.
“I know there’s nothing we do to earn our salvation, and I’m not doing things try to earn credit with Jesus, but I get real satisfaction knowing God is allowing me to do something useful for Him.”