Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pride and Joy: Julie Lechner

"After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you!  Yes, you are our pride and joy."  
I Thessalonians 2:19-20

The above scripture is the one I closed out our 2011 Life Coaching retreat with this past weekend.  I shared with the women that after my natural children,  they -- my spiritual children, ARE my pride and joy.  Larry and I take very seriously the call to be the father and mother of a church.  When our spiritual children grow, there is NO greater joy.  We can't take the "stuff" (the material things) of this life with  us -- when we get to heaven it will be people around the throne of God with us who are our treasure.  After telling the ladies this, I got the idea of doing a blog series where I would introduce some of them and give them opportunity to share their personal stories.

The first person I'd like to feature here on the Pride & Joy series is Julie Lechner.  She is a young lady of just 19 years old and I have the privilege of having her in life coaching group.  I have seen her go from being a very angry young teen wanting absolutely NOTHING to do with God or church, one who was bound up with hurt, anxiety and fear -- to being an absolutely fearless, Holy-Ghost-filled-on-fire-for-God, praying and  prophesying woman!!  She is a blessing to everyone around her - a servant who has grown exponentially in the past few months.   This is what the power of God can do. Enjoy her story.




Julie Lechner
When I first began attending our church a few years ago, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God.  When I was twelve my grandfather died; I lost the most important person in my life and felt as if my world was ending. I was angry at God for taking away one of the most influential people in my life. After a few years, when I finally felt at peace with his death, one of my favorite uncles died of cancer. My uncle Richie taught me how to fish and do a lot of the things I love to do to this day, and was the uncle who was most like my grandfather. He was a very important part of my life and I wasn’t ready for him to go. By this time I was absolutely positive that I would never serve a God who could take away two amazing people that I needed! 

While a senior in high school, I decided to save as much money as I could and backpack through Europe in the summer, after graduation. After much hard work and planning, I achieved my goal and went to Europe for five weeks, backpacking through five countries with my mom. Many things changed during my European trip; I saw so many different cultures and met people who had a big impact on my life during those five weeks. Some of them showed me the bad in the world; others, the good. I came back to Florida completely different, changed, a mature young adult. I was no longer afraid of living on my own and ready to take on the world. 
 
I came back to the church, which had just been newly named Celebration Church, and everything felt different. The core of the church had not changed; we still had the same pastors, and most of the same people still attended, but there were many fresh, new faces. There was a change of scenery, and fresh coats of paint, and even the sermons seemed to be more on fire. The biggest change was in me: I came back a new person with a new longing for something more meaningful in my life. I was missing something inside and needed to find it. Truthfully, I don’t know when it happened. I do know if it wasn’t for my dad and stepmom’s support (along with many other friends and family who never lost faith) during the previous years I would have never made it. They were there for me all the times I sat on the couch and cried about how I didn’t know how God could do all these things in my life. They talked with me, never judging or condemning me for bad decisions I had made; instead, they were always very supportive and loving. It was exactly what I needed.

My fire for God has come back tenfold. I listen to Spirit FM on the way to work, completely losing myself in the music. I attend church Sundays and Wednesdays, really letting the words soak into my life. I’m reading the Bible more and now realize that God was never at fault for the things I went through. They were life events I couldn’t control or stop. I thought about what my grandfather had endured before he died and understood that God released him from years of suffering, when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and no longer remembered him. I thought about the heartbreak he must have experienced, and felt joy that he no longer had to deal with the daily hurt and pain. My grandmother has recently passed away and she and my grandfather are finally reunited in heaven, after so many years of being apart. Knowing they are finally together has made her passing a lot easier for me. Rather than being sad about it, I can find joy in knowing that they are reunited. My uncle had died of colon cancer and I now understand, with new clarity, that God had taken him quickly, sparing him, and our family, from a painful, prolonged death.

At the beginning of this year I joined the women's life coaching group offered at our church and, when I first decided to join, I was very hesitant about what to expect. I looked at the women who had been in this group from the beginning and saw them almost as a tribe would look at their group of elders. I saw them as women who were experienced, with a strong relationship with God, women who were strong in their prayer life and knew all there was to know. It seems silly when I think about it now; the idea that anyone in this world has life figured out is absolutely absurd, but that was how I saw all these women. Our first life coaching meeting was absolutely terrifying for me. When Pastor Deanna informed us that we would be using the last hour of each meeting to pray out loud I thought to myself, “I will never be able to do this.” At the time I was terrified of praying; I wasn’t afraid of talking to God, I just didn’t know how. I had never truly prayed to God before and I didn’t really know how to pray to Him, nor how to really hear His voice and know that He was the one speaking to me. I felt as if I was doing everything wrong when I prayed. It felt awkward and forced and I wasn’t comfortable with it. I would thank God for my food before meals and that was as far as prayer went for me. 

This past weekend our life coaching group took a trip to Kissimmee for a retreat. In the days leading up to it,  I was not exactly looking forward to the time away. I had just moved out on my own and had yet to unpack, and work had been very hectic. I had to take three days off from work in order to attend the retreat. The first night Pastor Deanna preached about the night Jesus was to be crucified and how He decided that in His last hours of life He would be a servant to His disciples and wash their feet. She spoke about learning to be a servant and how being a servant makes you an even stronger leader. Then, Pastor Deanna took it a step further by telling us that she would be taking the time to wash our feet individually and pray over each one of us. I was overcome with so many emotions when she told us this. First, there was the fear of knowing that I would be sitting with everyone in the room watching me and that she would be washing my feet. I was also filled with joy over the fact that she cared so much that she would do this for all of us. When it was my turn to have my feet washed I erupted into tears; such a small thing as having someone wash my feet really made me realize how long it had been since something had been done just for me. I had spent so much time holding the worry of everyone else’s problems that I had thrown myself to the side, ignoring my desires. I realized that I needed to start focusing more on myself. I needed to learn how to not be overcome with grief over things out of my control. It dawned on me that I hadn’t done any of the activities I absolutely love doing, things I used to do all the time, like drawing and painting, and hiking. It was only the first night and, already, God had shown me so many things I had forgotten.

I spent the next day with these amazing women, catching up on some much needed rest and relaxation. I thought nothing more could happen since God had already given me so much insight into my life, but, really, when is God ever done showing us just how amazing He can be? That evening, during praise and worship, I noticed how progressed a lot of the women were not only in their prayer but their ability to speak in tongues. I started to think about how long it would take before something like that happened to me, how much practice it would take before I had a strong prayer life with God, like some of the other women in the room. I began imagining how amazing it would be if we had an altar call, where anyone who wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit could be prayed for to receive this wonderful gift, and how I would jump at the opportunity to experience it. 

Pastor Deanna began her sermon by talking about how some people had become dry, as she described it, with speaking in the spirit, and that some of us had never been filled with it before. It dawned on me that she would be praying over people to receive the Holy Spirit. I thought, “God, I really didn’t mean right now ya know!” I was suddenly overcome with a spirit of fear. I curled up on the coach and just stared at the woman whom Pastor Deanna was already praying over, completely taken over by the fear coursing through my body. After Pastor Deanna finished praying over this woman, who had just been filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time, she asked who would be next. Here I was, sitting on the couch mere feet away, doing everything to avoid her eyes. Of course, she noticed the fear and came right up to me, praying, and I froze up completely. I allowed myself to be taken by the fear and began to have a panic attack. Pastor Deanna began speaking great words of encouragement while many of the other women laid hands on me and prayed. I remember feeling like my entire body was covered by someone laying hands on me and that each of these women had confidence in me that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit. I was still terrified; the thought that it wouldn’t happen for me kept running through my mind. At first nothing happened; Pastor Deanna looked straight into my eyes and with a warm smile told me that I had nothing to be afraid of, that everything would be ok, and all my fear melted away. I felt all the fear leave my body and I was calmer than ever before. After just a few moments of prayer Pastor Deanna prayed for me to release it, and then it happened! Slowly, but surely, I began to speak in tongues. My body started to shake and tears ran down my face; I was in shock over what was happening. Never in my life had I thought that I could ever speak in tongues and it was happening! After I got over the utter shock that I had spoken in tongues I felt the pull to begin praying for other women in the room so that they, too, could experience this gift.  It’s as if the words came from thin air because all of a sudden I was praying with a passion I had never experienced. Before, when I would pray, I was never able to think of the words and it was as if God was putting every single word into my mind and I knew exactly what to say, even when I didn’t know what the woman I was praying for was going through. It was as if God was telling me what encouraging words to give them to help them with whatever struggle they were experiencing. I remember feeling my entire body tingle when I began speaking in tongues over them, saying, “Let it flow” when one of the ladies began to speak in tongues. I can’t even describe the feeling that overcame me. It was unlike any joy I had ever felt before. I remember giggling while I was praying because I felt so amazing. I came away from that weekend a new person in Christ. I know that there will be times where I will struggle but nothing can ever make me forget that moment. Nothing will ever make me doubt that what I felt was anything but God. I know myself, and the fear that overcomes me when I have to speak in public, and only God could have given me the courage and the words to be able to pray over people as I did. Only God could have given me the strength to stand in front of the entire church on Sunday morning and share my testimony of how He helped me do what I never thought was possible. I stood on the stage that Sunday morning no longer overcome with fear but with courage and joy, knowing that God had given me the power to speak without fear. I hope that if you’ve ever felt the spirit of doubt, you now believe that all things are possible through God. He will give you the power to do anything your heart desires as long as you have a little faith.

2 comments:

Pastor Lisa said...

How incredibly awesome.

Gayle said...

God never ceases to amaze me...and neither does Julie! I prayed for years that God would work on her heart, and that she would seek Him, yet I never imagined it would be so profound. I am doubly overwhelmed by our retreat, not only for my own rewards, but definitely for hers! All praise and glory to God!