Council Meeting Recap: January 2018

In an effort to improve our transparency and communication as your Council, we are sharing a recap of last month’s Council meeting. The full minutes will be available after they are approved, but here are some highlights in the meantime.

The January 2018 meeting opened at 7:35pm with a scripture reading.  After hearing the story of the Magi, each council member chose a star word to reflect on and meditate on throughout the year. We shared our words with the group and discussed what they might mean to us this year.

We moved on to old business and approved the minutes from the December meeting. We also approved two additional dates for the use of the Multi-Purpose room by the Boy Scouts. The proposal for the Helen Whede memorial donation to be used for new Advent paraments for the altar, pulpit and fishing pole, with any remainder to be donated to the capital campaign, was approved as well. The date of the Leadership Summit was set for 4/21/18. After an initial discussion around potential topics and agenda items, Council agreed to further discuss at the February meeting and to finalize a plan.

Next, we approved meeting space for the Friendship Center. There was a proposal to approve standing fee waivers for long-standing users of the building whose current use may not comply with LMC’s building and use policy such as The Friendship Center, Al-Anon, AA, La Leche League, Waters Elementary, Anna Torgerson (piano teacher) and VII Brass. The motion was approved.

A proposal for a new computer for our Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries was presented, discussed and approved.

We then held Executive Team elections. Jay Kapp, Angie Cooper and Toietta Dixon ran as a slate and were elected as follows:

  • Jay Kapp, President
  • Angie Cooper, Vice President
  • Toietta Dixon, Secretary

We then discussed and assigned 2018 Committee liaison roles:

  • HR – Angie Cooper
  • Tech – Jeff Conway
  • Property – Jay Kapp
  • Hospitality – Audrey Downes
  • Stewardship – Nicole VanderDoes
  • Mutual ministry – Toietta Dixon
  • Communications – Emily Moen
  • Investment – Audrey Downes
  • Social Justice – Larry Gehrke
  • WELCA – Angie Cooper
  • Stephen Ministry – Toietta Dixon
  • Congregational Care – Toietta Dixon
  • Worship Team – Larry Gehrke
  • One Stop Wednesday – Emily Moen

Ben Dietrich shared the Treasurer’s Report that he would be sharing at the Congregational Meeting.

Pastor Lindsay shared her Pastor’s Report in which she highlighted meetings with staff, team leaders and potential new members as well as looking forward to plans for Lent and Holy Week.

We adjourned the meeting at 9:15pm offering thanks and praise in our ministry, going out in God’s name and sharing the Peace.

Hopefully this gives you a little glimpse into our process and keeps you informed as to what we are talking about right now. As always, let us know if you have any questions or concerns. We are here to work for you!


Council Introductions: Larry Gehrke


Larry Gehrke was born and raised in North Central Wisconsin as a Missouri Synod Lutheran. After brief periods in the Army and beginning college, he moved to Chicago in 1972 and finished his Bachelor’s degree through night classes at DePaul University. Larry started working in Chicago as a billing clerk and a correspondence secretary. With time on his hands, he and a few friends worked to form Gay Horizons as a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender social services organization. That organization is now two: the Howard Brown Memorial Clinic and the Center on Halsted. Larry began working at CNA Insurance in 1976, where he spent the remainder of his work life, mostly in data management, until retiring June 2017. Larry was and still is a member of the Insurance Data Management Association. He served on its Education Committee for nine years and on its Board of Directors for five years. Post-retirement, Larry is still editing their new courses and creating the examination questions for those courses until the new curriculum is completed, which should be in 2020. Larry and his partner, Roger, met and moved in together in 1978. They were married in 2014, when it became legal in Illinois. In 1986, they bought a house in the Ravenswood Gardens neighborhood and, in 1987, Larry transferred his membership to Luther Memorial, participating as a choir member and as an assisting minister from that time. Larry previously served on the LMC Council from 1996 to 2002.

Council Introductions: Emily Moen

Emily Moen became a member of LMC in early 2016 after attending for a year with her fiancée, Jesse Lava. At LMC, Emily sings in the Chancel Choir and recently served on the Call Committee. Emily’s favorite part of LMC is the opportunity to build relationships with people from a wide variety of ages who are united by their desire to follow Jesus’ example of how to live with and care for others. She works as the Marketing & Public Relations Director at Thresholds, a large mental health services agency. She grew up in a tiny town in Northern Wisconsin, and has lived in Chicago for more than 10 years. Emily and Jesse live in North Center.

God Is In the Messy Places: Dave Goss

Luther Memorial Church is experiencing a “Big Messy Summer” of renovations to the building. To go along with that, we are doing a series of stories shared by members called “God Is In the Messy Places”. Read more Messy Stories here.

My favorite story in the Bible is the story of David and Goliath. And it’s not because of the action or the violence. . . and there’s plenty of both of those things. . . but because of the message, as I see it, that some things are just too big to carry. Some battles are too hard to fight. And sometimes it’s OK, and even necessary, to give those things to God to handle. If something’s too big, God will carry it. If a battle’s too hard to fight, God will fight it. So Goliath, to me, symbolizes those moments.

My daughter Maddie lives on her time. Maddie time. She hears from us regularly, maybe daily: “We have to pick up the pace. We’re not on Maddie time, we’re on real world time. We have to get moving. We’re going to be late.” But she’s on her schedule. My wife and I have come to realize that she will probably always be on her schedule. She always has been on her schedule. Like when she was born. She decided to come into the world a few weeks early, on the day of my wife Lori’s baby shower. Which we missed. . . and have never let Maddie forget.

Lori’s water broke while my parents were carrying decorations into our apartment. And just to give you an idea of the mindset I was in as I watched a waterfall pour out of my wife’s body onto our living room floor, I didn’t even realize until after we’d been at the hospital for a couple of hours that I had packed an entire bag full of socks. My brain was a mess. My mind was a total mess.

When Maddie was born, she weighed about four and a half pounds. She was so tiny, she fit in the palm of my hand. The absolute smallest premie diapers we could find reached up past her armpits, and we had to roll them down and double them up. And, I have photos to prove this, her foot—her entire foot—was about half the size of my thumb. She felt like air in my hand.

From what I understand, the last month of development in the womb is when we develop—for lack of a better phrase—the sucking mechanism. It’s what helps us eat. Latch onto a bottle or a breast. Since Maddie came early, she didn’t have time to develop that, so she struggled to eat, and she struggled to survive. And as a result, she developed jaundice. Very badly. Now, at the time, I probably couldn’t have told you what jaundice was, except that it turned your skin yellow. . . but I can now. I know a lot about it. There are these things in the blood called bilirubins. The liver breaks them down, and the body expels them through waste and bodily fluids. You can’t produce waste if you don’t eat, so your body has a much harder time getting rid of these things, and they’ll build up in the blood and turn your skin yellow. If you have too many of them, they could kill you. Maddie’s bilirubin level reached the point of near fatality. Just for frame of reference, let’s say the fatal level is here. Maddie’s level reached about here, so she was not far off. And for two weeks, we were in and out of the hospital—back and forth, back and forth—constantly. For two weeks, we didn’t eat. We didn’t sleep. We force-fed Maddie every hour, on the hour, breast milk through a syringe or a little plastic cup that we would pour into her mouth as we held it open. For two weeks, we fought the hardest battle of our lives. Our lives were a mess. Our apartment was a mess. We were a mess. We could barely function. In the beginning, we tried to take shifts, with one of us sleeping and the other taking care of Maddie. . . but being first-time parents, neither of us wanted to put the burden on the other, and we couldn’t have slept even if we’d wanted to, because we were so worried our daughter would die.

And, finally, at a crucial point in the process—the point of no return, the make-it-or-break-it point, where we had to press forward at all costs, no matter what—we met our Goliath, and our battle got to be too hard. We fell asleep and forgot to set the alarm. Had we slept through the night, I can only imagine what would have happened. I don’t like to think about it.

But God called. We got a wake-up call from God. Our phone rang. I answered it, and no one was there. And immediately, it woke Lori and me back up, snapped us back into reality, and brought us to our feet so we could continue fighting. And fight we did. We fought hard that night. And the next day, we started to win. Things took a turn for the better, and Maddie’s condition started improving dramatically. Soon afterward, we found that we were in the clear. And we realized God had carried us through that time. That messy, messy time. In that mess, God was our rock.

Our lives are still messy, and they probably always will be. Maddie still lives on her schedule. And now we have Shelby, who doesn’t even know what a schedule is. . . who lives in her own wonderful, magical, amazing world of Shelbyness. But we’re in this mess together, and we’ve come to realize that where there’s a mess, that generally indicates life. When something is messy, that usually means someone has been living there.

And we have been.

And thank God for that.


Dave Goss and his family (wife Lori and daughters Maddie and Shelby) started attending LMC in 2013.  At the time, the Gosses were looking for a family-friendly church community that was welcoming to everybody. LMC had partnered with their former church for a couple of years on Vacation Bible School, so they were already familiar and decided to visit. Dave feels that  here at LMC, people go out of their way to make newcomers feel like they’re part of the family and appreciates that folks here rarely shy away from an open, honest discussion.  Perhaps this has been a tough summer for Dave at LMC with all of the construction because he considers himself to be particularly accident-prone.  We think that’s just part of his charm.

God Is In the Messy Places: Ted Heinecken

Luther Memorial Church is experiencing a “Big Messy Summer” of renovations to the building. To go along with that, we are doing a series of stories shared by members called “God Is In the Messy Places”. Read more Messy Stories here.

As I thought about which of the messy places in my life that I wanted to talk to you about today, I was confronted with a bunch of choices.  Not surprising, given the fact that the first one that came to mind took place around the time of World War Two, and others were scattered through the seven decades since.

I considered the time when, in my early twenties, I borrowed my father’s car to attend a high school reunion; on the way home from the Philadelphia suburb where it took place, I decided – helped along by more than a few beers – to see if I could get the car to go 100 miles per hour.  I could, but barely slowed enough at the turnoff to avoid a serious crash with a stone wall.  The car was a bit less fortunate than I, and even though I could drive it home it required some repair work.  I know that God did some repair work on me too at the time, and when the event re-occurs in my mind’s eye from time to time, I am humbled by the fact that He was with me that night, saving me for a fruitful and productive career.

There were of course other messy places on the long and winding road since, not the least of which was the untimely death of our older son three years ago; as grievous as that was, it had the happy result of my finding my way to this church and its fellowship.  But I have chosen to speak chiefly of the most recent messy place that I am still in as of this moment.

About a year ago, not long after our grandson was baptized here, I had an episode of shortness of breath which was severe enough for me to make an appointment with my cardiologist.  He prescribed some medication as well as a colonoscopy and EGD.  So I went through that, and shortly after was informed by the gastroenterologist that I had cancer in my duodenum which would require a “serious operation.”

For whatever reason, for almost four months I told no one about this diagnosis, but of course God knew.  And I knew that at my age I would never commit myself to a “serious operation” regardless of the consequences, and God agreed.  As did my wife and son, when I finally told them in October that I had made an appointment with an oncologist.

The CT scan that ensued revealed Stage Four, meaning that the cancer had spread somewhat to my liver.  This precluded an operation, so I never had to make that decision, and I commenced with chemotherapy in November.  In December I shared the news with relatives and former close business associates, and was told by many that they would be praying for me (including several I know to be agnostics – maybe those will be the most effective of all).  The chemo is continuing with no termination in sight, since there has been progression revealed in recent scans.

Throughout, I have been blessed by the absence of any symptoms beyond some weight loss, as well as most of the uglier side effects of chemo, so to that extent the prayers are being heard.  My own prayer is that Thy will be done, and that in the time remaining to me I can be useful to my family and friends and my church.  Your prayers are of course welcome as well – but please, no Stephen ministers yet.

I think I know now how my gay friends must have felt when they came out publicly for the first time.  There is a sort of hushed stigma attached to the word cancer, as opposed to any other illness.  Perhaps because it connotes the termination of life more than any other.  But all life terminates.  And, God willing, begins again.


Ted Heinecken started attending LMC in 2014 and became a member on Easter Sunday 2015.

When his older son died suddenly in spring of 2014, Ted and his wife decided to memorialize him at a Lutheran church and were directed to LMC by the funeral director.  They had not been active in any church for almost 50 years, even though both were children of Lutheran seminary professors – nevertheless, Ted always considered himself a Lutheran, a fellow traveler so to speak. He was much impressed (read blown away) by Pastor Tim’s organizing of the service and his sermon for his son.  He began attending Sunday services and, following coffee with Pastor Tim and participation in the “Great Conversation,” during which he was mentored by (Legend in his Own Time) Dieter Schulte.

Ted’s favorite part about LMC is the wonderful sense of fellowship within the congregation.  On the few occasions over the years when he encountered the new (at the time) practice of Sharing the Peace, it made him uncomfortable and almost embarrassed – here at LMC one can feel the love and warmth, and it seems the most natural thing in the world to do. Ted adds that his first encounter with the Caemmerer windows was love at first sight.

Most of Ted’s working life has been spent in the weird and wonderful world of book publishing.  He has always considered it a holy calling – truly – which might explain his estrangement from the church until after his retirement.

God Is In the Messy Places: Sara Russell

Luther Memorial Church is experiencing a “Big Messy Summer” of renovations to the building. To go along with that, we are doing a series of stories shared by members called “God Is In the Messy Places”. Read more Messy Stories here.

In October of 2015,  I was in San Antonio with my family, to stand up as a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding.  On Friday night, as John and I were leaving the rehearsal dinner, I checked my phone.  There was a voicemail from Sean Hennegan, another member of Luther’s Praise Band.  I listened to it and he said “Hey Sara, it’s Sean…. Can you, uh?  Just, call me back”  Something in his voice bothered me.  I told John, “Sean would usually just text – mind if I just call him quick?”  Sean answered right away and asked me where I was and if I was in front of a computer.   “I’m in Texas for a wedding,”  I said, “What’s wrong?”

“Briana’s been arrested”  He said, “It was on the news tonight”
I didn’t understand
“What? For What?”
“Something with one of her students”
“No” I said  “Something’s wrong.  That’s not right.  Who’s helping her?  What does this mean?”
“Sara” he said “They set a very high bail.  They have some kind of evidence.”
“What do we do?”  I said  “How can we talk to her?”

We didn’t really know what to say and we hung up.

I was stunned.  I told John.  I googled the story, of course.  We rode back to our bed and breakfast, shaken.  Her mug shot was plastered in my mind and the sparse details of the article were disturbing. I didn’t know how I would get through a wedding the next day.  It took me a long time to fall asleep.

For the day of the wedding, I put it out of my head.  I supported the friend who was celebrating the beginning of a new life.

On Sunday, we walked the Riverwalk with family.  As we walked,  lyrics repeated over and over in my head.  One thing I have learned about reading scripture and singing worship music:  when you read or listen long enough, the words will come to you when you need them. I hummed on an endless loop,  “Everyone needs compassion, Love thats never failing, let Mercy fall on me, Everyone needs forgiveness, the Kindness of a Savior, the Hope of Nations” , one verse of that same song over and over and over as I walked.  I finally let a tear roll down my cheek.

When we finished our exploring, everyone fell into a mid-afternoon nap.  I took that opportunity to call my Dad.  Not only do I have a great listener for a Father, he has also been a Pastor for more than thirty years.   He has seen and heard it all.

“Dad”  I said, “I’m calling you as a Pastor not a Father – do you have a few minutes?”  I could hear him move locations.

I told him I had bad news. I told him what I’d heard about Briana.  Instead of asking about her current situation, he asked me about our relationship.  I was emotional as I told him John and I had been to her wedding and reception here in the church basement. We had worked together in Arbonne.  I had talked her through some of the challenges of being a new mom.   I was with her many times as she struggled to help her husband start a business, hang on to her marriage and eventually go through divorce.  Then, I told him what Briana had done for me.   I explained how after I had Owen, I was struggling to find my new identity.  I wasn’t performing anymore.  I thought I was no longer an artist and had to sacrifice all my talent and desires on the altar of family and motherhood.  I was bored creatively when Briana invited me to sing.  I came to band practice,  and just a few weeks in, I realized I wasn’t starving creatively.  I was starving spiritually.  Music is my worship.  To use Anne Lamott’s words, it’s my “Help”, my “Thanks”, and my “Wow”.  Briana ushered me into this place of worship again.  We connected there.  We understood how much was said with music when words failed.  She is a gifted musician and just singing next to her made me better.

My Father was quiet and after a moment he said, “You don’t need my permission, but you can still be Briana’s friend.  She will need someone to listen.  She needs to know she is God’s child; loved and forgiven”

I thanked him.  I cried.  I knew I needed to figure out how to talk to her.

During one of my first days back in Chicago, after Owen left for school, I played “It is Well” by Bethel music over and over on my laptop. “My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, what a glorious thought, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my Soul!”  I was comforted for me and for Briana.  I was still shaken.  We knew nothing of what happened.  Details were scarce and so much of it felt like none of my business. What I knew without a doubt was that I had to see her.  I wanted her to know I cared and was worried and would help however I could.

I was back in church for service on the 25th.  Briana had already chosen the music and emailed us two weeks prior.  I promise you the Holy Spirit is alive and working among us!  I opened my email and on her song list for the 25th were the songs “Mighty to Save” and ‘It is Well” – the song I hummed on the riverwalk and the song I played on repeat just days before.   The second one is primarily piano and was hard for the guitars and bass – they wanted to switch it out, but I pleaded.  I don’t usually ask for specific songs and they couldn’t argue when I casually mentioned the Holy Spirit told me to sing this one.  It was hard to sing without seeing Briana at the piano. I found the music from deep within and the communion song was my lamentation.  I was grieving my friend.  I was grieving her actions, even though I still didn’t know what they were.  I was grieving our church braving so much transition at one time. I grieved and let go of my own sins and the dark places I had gone.  I reached out to God through that song and asked for Peace and Strength. I wanted to say, “It is well”.

During Briana’s time in Jail, I went to no less than five court dates in Lake County. I sent her letters at least twice a month. I set up web chats with her and listened to her cry from a cell.  I  made sure in each letter and each conversation I reminded her she was loved and forgiven.  She would reply thanking me for small comforts and for “washing her feet”, for reminding her there was more to her life than the current situation. She said she felt Jesus in the letters she received from a few members at Luther, people reaching out in spite of the accusations against her.

What is the point of Christianity but forgiveness? I thought this so many times over the past year and a half. When I heard others disgust, anger or condemnation after Bri’s arrest, it’s not that I didn’t understand; I was frustrated that grace didn’t also come up as freely. I was baffled at the aversion to mentioning her name.  She wasn’t dead. Eventually, I had to work harder myself on extending forgiveness to those not in a cell wrestling their own emotions than the one who was facing a lifetime behind bars.  I found myself explaining over and over that we are all sinful, that God forgives all of it. Growing up I remember you never left a service of my Father’s without hearing Jesus took it all away.  Boom. Forgiven.  As an adult, when we visited churches, sometimes I left with an instruction on how to live but no mention of mercy.  That always made me sad.  I come to church for a little grace.

I was so nervous driving to the court date almost a year later where Briana took a plea bargain. Fellow LMC member and my friend, Emily Haite, came with me.  I didn’t know if I could handle it, hearing more details, hearing the plea or the sentence. My stomach hurt and I had a perpetual lump in my throat.  The day will live burned in my memory.  She read a statement with tears and snot streaming down her face, unable to wipe them away, her hands cuffed together.

I sat silent and watched her, just trying in my mind to beam love her way. I never looked away.  I surprised myself. Peace and Strength.

Throughout this experience, I learned that I do have peace.  I learned that I have a strength inside me I didn’t know existed.  I just have to ask God to come and take over when I feel weak or weary.  He shows up.  I stepped into my talents.  I felt a strong obligation to show up to church week after week and sing – to be a leader and to offer hope during a tough time for so many of us.  I had an unwavering conviction to champion grace. I feel it wasn’t me, but the Spirit in me, singing on Sundays, driving to court dates, and writing letter after letter, especially those first few months. It was so far out of my comfort zone, but it always felt like the right thing to do.

The Lord spoke to me over the past year and a half through my Father and my husband, through my letters with Briana, through scripture, through music and through some members of LMC.  I heard over and over that we are each so much more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.  God does not define us by our sins.  The Lord whispered to me nearly daily as I made time for long walks, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…. I was in prison and you came to visit me”  The Lord broke my heart open for those incarcerated and for our broken, racist, and punitive justice system.  The Lord broke my heart for victims of sexual assault and abuse.  The Lord broke my heart for Christians; such a flawed, messed-up and often misunderstood bunch.  I thank God for Briana and our time singing together.  I thank God for the brutal and ugly experiences in life and the challenge to truly offer grace.  It hurts, but we learn, and instead of becoming hardened to pain, we can emerge softer.

Sara Russell started attending LMC in 2007 when, humored  by our sign which read,  “This church is prayer-conditioned,” she and her husband John decided to come in a see what LMC was all about. Sara loves LMC’s emphasis on family – watching kids help with communion and eating dinner together at One Stop Wednesdays – and she is as much a gift to our Praise Band as it is to her. Sarah, John and their son Owen are currently on a mission to visit all 59 National Parks. They’ve crossed off 11 so far and have 48 to go! 

God Is In the Messy Places: Nicole VanderDoes

Luther Memorial Church is experiencing a “Big Messy Summer” of renovations to the building. To go along with that, we are doing a series of stories shared by members called “God Is In the Messy Places”. Read more Messy Stories here.

My messy story is about marrying a man who made me feel worthless, my stepmother’s death, and how God’s grace and God’s people helped me survive and eventually remember just how loved by God I am.

A little over 5 years ago, I moved to Chicago for a new job just 10 days after I got divorced. Since then, God has filled my life with all that I need, according to his perfect timing. So there is a happy ending, I promise.

But, the year before I moved to Chicago was the worst year of my life. And the 2 1⁄2 years before that were pretty bad, too.

Even on the first date, something was off. But he was smart and liked to talk about the law and seemed to like me. Soon, though, he started criticizing me, getting angry, and making me prove I liked him. Before I knew what was happening, I was doing things I didn’t want to, crying when he yelled at me, and apologizing constantly even though I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Things only got worse. And I only tried harder.

While we were dating, I lost my job as a lawyer, had to work at Macy’s for about $75 a week, and eventually had to sign my house over to the bank. He encouraged me to seek forms of employment that were, let’s say, degrading.

Almost a year after we met, he proposed. And, unfortunately, I said yes. A few months later, I got a job at a law firm in Cleveland. (The one good thing that happened during this time). Which meant we lived apart for 8 months of being engaged, and the first 7 months of being married. His hurtful behavior continued to escalate, but I told myself it would be better when we lived together as husband and wife.

I was wrong.

Within a few weeks of him moving to Cleveland, I wanted to die. Truly. Because it immediately became clear exactly what the rest of my life was going to be like.

He criticized virtually everything I did and everything about me. He controlled the tiniest details of my life. He was addicted to activities that were not healthy within a marriage. He yelled a lot. And, because of the way his brain worked, he was mostly incapable of understanding how his behavior affected me, or how I might be feeling in general.

None of this was new, but living together meant that from the moment I woke up until I finally fell asleep at night, I lived in fear of setting him off and was made to feel worthless by the person who was supposed to love me.

I was so unhappy that he reluctantly gave me permission to speak to the very conservative minister who did our premarital counseling. I told my husband and the minister that I wanted to figure out how to be a better wife. Thankfully, that minister knew I was asking the wrong question, and instead asked many tough questions of me.

I also reached out to the minister at my new church in Cleveland, who became a source of wisdom, humor, and encouragement.

During discussions with them, I began to admit how unacceptable some of my husband’s actions were. But I didn’t know what to do about it yet. I was crying every day, and living in fear of my husband’s next tantrum. Somehow I still trusted God loved me and was with me.

I slowly began to recognize my life revolved around my husband in a way that often excluded God. I knew that was not the way I was called to live, but I felt powerless to live any other way and survive. And because of the messages I was receiving every day from my husband, it was very hard not to see myself through his eyes, rather than God’s eyes.

In September 2011, my stepmother had a heart attack and died. As I was writing what I would say at her remembrance, my husband decided to discuss how to “save our marriage,” because if I wouldn’t make certain changes… he was going to have to see other women. I tried to tell him it was not an appropriate time to have that conversation, but that only made him angry at me for being selfish. He told me he was hurt I hadn’t thanked him for the sacrifice he was going to make by attending my stepmom’s remembrance, because it would partly conflict with an Ohio State football game. He demanded that I both apologize and thank him.

In that moment I finally had clarity. In the midst of intense grief, I could finally see his expectations and demands and treatment were not at all okay, and I deserved a better life than was possible with him.

Soon after, I followed up with both ministers, and a third minister who knew me well enough that I had not asked her to do our premarital counseling, because she would have known something wasn’t right. I also went to a Christian counselor, who was great despite my apprehension about counselors, especially religious ones.

All three ministers and the counselor essentially told me to end the marriage as soon as possible. They were barely even gentle about saying it. They commended me—kind of—for my stubborn commitment to the marriage covenant. But told me that, although God intended marriage to be for a lifetime, it’s a covenant made between three persons. In order for it to be the way

God intended, all three must play their part. And my husband wasn’t capable of upholding his part, nor was he willing to let God be an active part of it either. They told me God cared more about me and my happiness and my health than he did about “marriage” as an institution. And, if my marriage was separating me from God, as it was, it was not the kind of marriage God intended.

All of this was confusing to hear, because I expected the “Christian” advice to be that I needed to be loving, patient, and forgiving, keep trying to be a good wife, and pray. But instead I received a consistent message that made me feel valued for the first time in a long time—a message that reminded me I was valued by God.

My minister in Cleveland said something that stuck with me. He said he’d never liked the practice of using two candles to light a single candle in a wedding ceremony, because the individual candles are then extinguished. He thought it was important for each person’s light to continue to shine on its own, even as they become one and create greater light together. Then he said, in my marriage, rather than the two of us lighting a new candle together, it was like my husband had simply blown out my candle. He told me I needed to find a way to re-light my candle and then let it burn so brightly that no one could ever extinguish it, because that light comes from God.

That fall, as I was grieving the death of my stepmother and trying to figure out how to end my marriage, I felt God’s presence more intensely, more tangibly than any other time in my life.

I felt him holding me close, trying to lead me, trying to heal me. I felt peace that was stronger than my fear and even my grief. I felt him with me in those ministers who I was so fortunate to receive loving, wise guidance from. And I actually felt prayers. I felt so many people praying for me. I felt lifted up and loved by God and by God’s people.

When I emailed my minister in Cleveland to tell him I was moving here, he wrote back:

Just imagine what God has for you in Chicago. There is an amazing church that God has just for you. God’s grace is already there and you just have to live into it. Thank you for giving me the privilege to walk along side you for this time in your life. I truly hope that I was exactly what God wanted me to be for you and your difficult journey. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday but I do not look forward to saying goodbye. You are an amazing person and you shine with the light of Christ. Don’t let anyone ever get in the way of your light shining in the world.

I’m glad I trusted that minister’s counsel during the most painful, messy time in my life so far. And I’m glad I trusted God, and was able to cling to his love even when I felt so worthless, because he was with me and loved me all along, and the peace and hope he gave me carried me through and brought me here.

Nicole VanderDoes first visited LMC in December 2012 and joined as a member in November 2013. At LMC, Nicole particularly appreciates the contemporary worship band, her small group, and the friendships formed here. Outside of LMC, Nicole is an avid baseball fan, regularly tearing up at no-hitters and a player’s first hit or home run in the majors. But don’t put ketchup or yellow mustard on her hot dog. She’ll bring her own stadium mustard!