Spiritual Biography

A Child of God Again
 
I first encountered God at the age of six.  My family and I were taking a walk on an unusually beautiful afternoon.  I felt happy and peaceful and I was holding my Dad’s hand.  At that moment, God put a question on my heart, I turned to Dad, and asked him, “What’s God?”  He smiled. “God, Lilly,” he replied, “is love, joy, and peace.”  I felt a rush of happiness. I jumped up and down, clapping with delight. “I have God right now!” I said.  
 
This experience, however many years past, was when I first met the Holy Spirit.  I was only six at the time, but the next eighteen years of my life would only bring me back to that pivotal experience, the joy of a child discovering she belongs to God.
 
My family was a missionary family, and I spent my early formative years in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  Later, we moved to Kansas.  As a child, I was very happy. I had two loving parents, Rob and Mona, and my big sister, Sara.  I believed in God, the way I believed in my parents, my sister, the sun, moon and stars. God was real, true, and could always be trusted.
 
But, as I grew older, I started to see the brokenness of life. There was more to the world than love, joy, and peace.  I grew critical and rebellious. I have often wondered what led to my long rebellion and I think it comes down to a few, small things.  First, I was alienated, growing up in Honduras and transitioning to a Midwestern town, an agricultural place like Kansas where conformity is a virtue.  My family and I stood out. I always hoped to be the cool, popular girl with the classically normal and perfect family, but my family has always been off- beat (I now consider this a blessing, because normal and perfect is boring). Secondly, my experiences in Honduras made me unusually aware of the suffering of others and the hardness of life in a way most of peers were not.  As I reached adolescence, I saw myself as an outsider.   
I began to hang out with a crowd of teenagers that felt the same way. We were angry with our school, town, and the world.  This showed itself in our appearance and our behavior, which was often destructive. We were into the whole party scene. At this time in my life the devil came and told me one of the most persuasive lies I have ever heard:  “Lilly you are an outsider, a freak.  You will never fit in anywhere.”  It was much easier to hang out with a group who wore their outcast badge with pride and broke all the rules, than to try and fit in and face rejection.
By the time I was twenty, I had nearly forgotten God. I found Christianity, for the most part, conventional and stuffy.  It was something reserved for my parents.  I didn’t fit in with most Christians, and I now wanted to experience the “real world.”
The sins of my youth intensified.  I was throwing myself into everything, trying to experience what would work for me; what would make me happy, excited, cool, or in control.  Despite my best efforts, I always felt there was something missing to life. I wasn’t aware of this thought, but it was always lingering around me.  There was something I was looking for, but never found, and so, I moved from one thing to the next. I was lost and confused.  Moreover, I was ashamed of my sins.  They did damage to my soul and my self-esteem suffered. I didn’t like who I was or what I had become.  I was a screw-up. I used to try and shrug this feeling off, “who cares. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong. I don’t need to fit into anyone’s mold.”  As I am now aware, the best way to describe my sins would be an invisible knapsack.  I kept putting things in it and it kept weighing me down.  I carried it with me wherever I went.  Through my Christian upbringing I understood that I was a sinner and in the wrong.  I felt always convicted, but never forgiven.      
 
The saving grace of my life was my family who loved me unconditionally and the righteous prayers of my parents.  Without the prayers of my parents, I am not sure where I would be today.  I was very close with my mother.  She was my best-friend and she never gave up hope in me. Then suddenly this changed. My mother whom I loved so dearly, was diagnosed with cancer.  Four months later she was gone. I remember crying out to God, “my heart is breaking God.  You have broken my heart.” Somewhere deep inside me, I still believed enough to cry out to Him in anger. Once a person is angry with God, that is a defeat for the enemy.  God loves our honesty.
 
Before she died, Mom told me three things that I will never forget.  There is very little that can be compared with the wisdom of a righteous mother.  The first thing she said was, “Lilly always wear your hair long.”  I have long red hair and my mother loved this about me.  She used to call me her, “red-haired angel baby.”  Secondly, she said, “Lilly, please get married in a church and let your father perform the ceremony.”  The idea that I would one day be married and that Dad would officiate was too good to be true.  I had made mistakes with guys. I had low self-esteem and so I always dated ones who didn’t treat me in the way God wanted me to be treated – as His precious daughter. Then she said the most unbelievable thing yet: “I had a vision of you and you were a holy, strong woman of God.”  I rolled my eyes and shrugged.  I couldn’t quite believe that one – all the evidence was to the contrary.  But, her demeanor changed and she became very serious and determined.  “No Lilly, remember that I said this to you.  Always remember it, because one day you are going to need Jesus and you will call out to Him and He will answer you.”  
After Mom’s death, I didn’t call out to Jesus.  I wanted to understand why this happened to me, why life is transitory.  I desperately wanted answers. I read a wide variety of literature and philosophy, and I started to feel the world was meaningless. Around that time I read the poem, “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold, which struck a chord in my heart:
The world stands before us like a field of dreams
So beautiful, so vast, so new
Hath really neither light, nor hope,
nor help for pain
And we are here, as on a darkling plain
While ignorant armies clash by the night.
I came to fear that this was the underlying reality of human existence.  The only thing that was good about this time was that it made me very serious.  I lived a less sinful lifestyle and spent more time alone reading. 
After mom died for a whole year I had horrible nightmares.  I would see her body in a garbage heap.  I would run to speak to her, but she would be dragged away.  I would often wake up crying and yelling.  At this time I went home to live with my Dad, which was a very good decision.  My sister called me every day and my father was so loving to me.  He was mourning the end of a thirty-six year marriage, but he still had time to care for me.  I told him about the dreams and he would often pray for me. One night I was scared to go to bed because the dreams would torment me.  I told Dad and he looked so sad.  “I can hardly pray anymore,” he said.  He laid his hands on me anyway and said a very feeble prayer, “Lord Jesus, please have mercy on my daughter and take these horrible dreams away.”   
That night I had the most intense dream of my life, it was really more like a vision from God.  I saw my mother in heaven.  There was light in her and around and she turned to me and addressed me in my childhood nickname, “Lilly Pilly, I’m waiting for you.”  The next morning I woke up and was so happy.  I told my Dad and my sister about what had happened and we all received it as a gift from God.
I would like to say that this was the moment when I totally surrendered to God, but I was still carrying around the knapsack which prevented me from fully grasping the truth.  In some ways, there was an even more intense spiritual battle over my soul.  After college, I was accepted into a writer’s workshop in New York City.  The loneliness and despair I had felt since my mother’s death escalated. I became very fearful over my future and what type of life I would live.  I didn’t see anything good in store for me. I would spend hours riding the subway and walking all over the city.  One night, I was walking through the subway terminal.  There were signs that read, “The wrath of God is like a raging fire,” “Repent Sinners,” and so forth.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the signs.  A woman, an evangelist, standing at her accustomed spot, noticed my fixation and handed me a copy of the New Testament.
I began to read Matthew’s gospel. I started to actually read the Bible for the first time and the Gospel felt real and alive.  It was as if Jesus was speaking to me. I started to like Jesus and longed for his approval.  When it got to the part, “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25), I started to cry because such freedom felt unachievable. I persisted in reading the gospel, but I couldn’t accept the things I longed to believe, the knapsack was crushing me.
 
Around this time, I moved back to Florida and went for help at a Christian counseling center.  It was hard time because my sister had recently remarried and my Dad was remarrying too.  I felt really alone.  I met a friend there and she was a missionary from Kenya.  Rose invited me to her church.  No one had ever invited me to church, being a priest’s kid everyone assumed I didn’t need an invite.  It was so nice to be invited. She also said I could use some prayer.  I trusted her and felt as if God was doing something, so I went along with whatever she said. 
She invited me to a healing prayer session.  I felt incredibly tense and wanted to leave immediately.  I remember I changed my outfit several times beforehand and waited in the parking lot deciding whether or not to come in, until one of them spotted me and waved me in.  As soon as they started to pray, I felt the Holy Spirit very strongly as a mighty wind all around me.  I felt a powerful weight around me, ringing in my ears, and God spoke to me: “Say Goodbye.”  As soon as I heard these words a series of images from my old life flashed through my eyes; sweet memories of my mother, images of my rebellion and sin, and my loneliness and fear.  It was as if God communicated my life history to me in a moment. I knew at once what He wanted and I was afraid to say goodbye to my former self, including my mom.  I had grown use to lies, fear, and had grown very accustomed to grief.  The grief of losing mom had become like a constant two-faced friend – she is nice to your face, but says terrible things about you behind your back. I felt torn and didn’t know if I could say goodbye, but I heard God clearly say once more, “You are saying goodbye.”  I couldn’t resist his command.  I fell to floor weeping and I surrendered.  I don’t know how I long I was there, but someone came up to me and laid their hand over my heart and proclaimed, “The last few years you have had a foundation of sin, death, and despair.  Your new foundation is Christ Jesus.” Sometime later, my tears turned to laughter and I laughed and I laughed. It was all true!  That night I joyfully received my new foundation. I repented of my sins and received healing and forgiveness. I felt the love of God flow into me. It was so awesome. I was shocked when the same God I saw as a little girl, called me back to him, cradling me in His love, mercy, and grace.  I was forgiven and loved!
My life changed dramatically.  People even said, “Wow, Lilly you look different. You are glowing.”  It was true, I was in love. I was finally free and starting to live life again. I became involved in prayer ministry at the counseling center and became active in youth ministry at my church.  I became a part of a loving and sharing Christian community. My family and I have never been closer to each other. I received even more healing and deliverance from the past and I continued on with counseling. I felt that Jesus had set me from my past and that I was clothed in white and purity. I began to feel called to serve Jesus the very night he saved me and it never ended.  I only grew in love and faith and a strengthening conviction to serve him.
When I met Bo eight months later God gave me something I never thought I could have or deserve -- a godly man to love me and to love.  Becoming his wife was and still is one of the greatest desires of my heart. We were married in January, 2010.  My hair was long.  Dad performed the ceremony in a church and I knew that I was a holy woman of God, just as Mom told me all those years ago!        
Author’s Note: The old pessimist in me is always suspicious of testimonies like my own, which end on such a high note. The Christian life is filled with lows and highs and it’s not truthful to speak only of the highs. I have been serving Jesus now for four years and it has not always been easy.  I have struggled as we all do. However, this one does end on a high note and in truth, the story of every saint does: eternal life with Christ. Thank you for reading and God bless you.
Lilly Sanders Ubbens
October 2, 2012

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for a beautiful spiritual biography, open and sincere. I know God will continue to bless you throughout life's inevitable struggles.

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  2. Dear Lily,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story (to date.) I became friends with Bo, and found you! What a beautiful family. And you are precious in so many ways. Thank you! I look forward to growing with you. Carol

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