I want to give a little background, before I tell what the Lord did with my life. I am an only child, my mother took her own life when I was 3. I was told I was present, although mercifully I don’t remember. She’d had several miscarriages after I was born and she was suffering grief and depression. I myself had 4 miscarriages after our son Wyatt was born so I can relate to her grief and sorrow in that respect. Miscarriage is a clinical word for a medical event that in no way speaks of the life of the baby who died. It was going to be my son’s baby sister or someone else’s first grandchild, a person that was loved and held great hope for its family. Pastor Jack Hayford wrote a wonderful book called “I’ll Hold You in Heaven”. (He was founding pastor of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys and my husband’s pastor who baptised him.) The book is out of print, but can be found online. It will give confident assurance that any infant or child, no matter how it died, is in the arms of Jesus, safe in His care. I only have two memories of my mother, one is of her taking me to church and I also remember the song “Jesus Loves Me” from that time in my life. So I have hope that I may meet her one day in heaven.
Barely a year after she died, my father married a woman he had known in medical school. She was recently divorced from a man who she discovered had been unfaithful to her. As a result, she had been excommunicated from the Catholic church and she was a very angry and bitter person. My stepmother did not like children and particularly did not like me…I was little and looked like my mother whom she had known – secretary to the dean of the medical school they went to – and my father loved me, that was enough for her.
As soon as I was old enough, around 5 or 6, she started sending me away. I really grew up in summer camp, boarding school and with relatives, anywhere but home. I would sometimes spend the entire summer at the camps, early June through end of August. One of the strongest childhood memories I have was of being homesick for a home that didn’t really exist. I wanted to go home, but then I would get there and it would be just awful. She was frightening and cruel to me. But mostly, I was just terribly lonely. Her parents were lovely people, she had 3 sisters and 2 brothers and they were wonderful to me, so spending summers with them wasn’t all bad. My dad loved me, but I never got to spend enough time with him.
Although I spent many years in Catholic boarding school, we never went to church and there was virtually no mention of God in our home, other than profanity. The nuns always tried to get me to be baptized and become a Catholic. We used to collect dimes to “buy a pagan baby” in Africa and what that meant was to buy a baptism for them. They always joked that we are saving the dimes to get Suzie baptized.
My understanding from the nuns was if you were white, well off (Joan Crawford and ZsaZsa Gabor sent their daughters there) and Catholic you could go to heaven. I felt a sense of hypocrisy which I didn’t understand at the time and I just didn’t quite believe them. I wanted to belong and I tried but I just couldn’t believe what they did. They were absolutely in love with Mary. We were always supposed to be ‘Mary-like”, not a bad thing – they stressed modesty and reverence. Our school papers were always titled, “All for Jesus through Mary”. But we should have been Christ-like.
After 10 really turbulent years, my father divorced my stepmother when I was in high school , it was the happiest day of my life. Almost immediately he remarried a nurse he met at work. My new stepmother was 9 years older than I, so I was 15, she was 24 and he was 49. When he first brought her home, she was so young, I thought she was supposed to be a friend for me. Dad, I have friends and they’re way cooler than her! It was a very peculiar situation, but over the years she and I have grown very close; she is the only mother I have ever known as well as a sister and dear friend, and she has always loved me both for my father’s sake and for my own and she is very precious to me.
And by the way, God did a healing work in my spirit and I have been able to truly forgive my first stepmother for the heartache and rejection of those early years. I understand her better as an adult than I did as a child, among other things she was an alcoholic, which explains a lot I didn’t understand then. I was told by adult friends that she was bitterly jealous of me which I will never understand, but that was part of the trouble
While I was still in high school, the Monterey Pop Festival came one town over from mine. It was a turning point in our culture and certainly in my life. If I say hippie or flower child just imagine the direction my life took. There was nothing at all off limits as far as I was concerned. I smoked pot and took psychedelics; I had a leather dress, drove a Volkswagen bus and, of course, wore beads and flowers in my hair. I look back on that time with great shame now, I was so very lost
After high school I started college but I dropped out and I spent the next 20 years or so moving from job to job, boyfriend to boyfriend, city to city. I had some interesting adventures. I lived in a hippie commune in the Haight Ashbury down the street from the Haight Ashbury. I worked on a pot farm in Mendocino for two summers – it was dangerous work because of the sheriffs who flew over in helicopters – they never found our ‘garden’. We made a lot of money doing that and I lived on a sailboat in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico with the farmer from Mendocino for a year.
I worked as a flight attendant for an international airline for five years. I traveled all over the world. I went everywhere I ever dreamed of and places that never crossed my mind. The most exotic and beautiful cities in the world were our regular destinations (my first flight was to Rio de Janeiro) although we also had some dark and depressing flights. We evacuated the refugees from the Viet Nam war, the sorrow of those people was heartbreaking as they left their country, homes, villages, families, friends, culture, language and everything they had ever known for a new life in America. We took Nigerian Muslims to Saudi Arabia for their Hadj pilgrimage to Mecca – that was harrowing in the extreme. I had a boyfriend during those years who was a well-known (cover of Sports Illustrated) professional athlete so I was always excited to get back to America no matter where we had traveled.
I worked in the television and film industry for about five years after that. I was in the Star Trek V movie filmed in part at the Monterey Aquarium, worked 2 seasons on Doris Day’s Best Friends, soap operas, commercials, music videos. I was in a terrific car accident at one point, in which neither I nor my passenger were injured, but I was sued and that was a interesting and horrible experience. So interesting that I went to paralegal school which I found fascinating and I worked for some lawyers after that.
When I was about 36, I was living in the small town in northern California that I grew up in, Carmel, kind of an artist colony, tourist destination, but also a retirement community. I had an apartment, a job, a cat and a pretty empty life. About that time, two things happened to begin to change the course of my life. I had a job that sent me to Bali for 3 weeks and I missed my best friend’s wedding. So I went to visit her in the Bay Area when I returned. We had flown together and partied and carried on for years during the disco era in San Francisco. I was really impressed with how well marriage suited her. She had been such a wild woman. She was calm and happy and sober and that made a huge impression on me. It crossed my mind to reconsider never getting married because I had decided a long time before-when I was 11 or 12 – never to get married or have children. (You would have to have really known my stepmother.) I had just so rarely seen a long-lasting marriage that was happy. The women’s lib movement had solidified my determination.
So I was thinking about marriage. The other thing that came to my mind about that time was that I needed some sort of a “spiritual life”. I had no idea what I meant by that, I was thinking maybe Buddhism, something to do with “inner harmony” or peace, maybe the ‘supernatural’. I just didn’t want anything that was going to take up too much time or make me change in any way.
About 2 weeks later I ran into a man named David whom I had met several times before. The first time I was having lunch with my stepmother Dale, he was introducing himself to everyone in this little café and asking people to vote for him, he was running for city council. I read later in our little town paper, the Carmel Pine Cone, he was a lawyer from LA. And I thought ugh! I’ll never vote for him and I didn’t. It turns out I actually married him, but I didn’t vote for him. (He was not elected either.)
So outside my work one day we started talking. We actually intersected outside my building, I was walking home for lunch and he walked with me. It was a Wednesday and he asked me to go to church with him that night to a Bible study at the Calvary Chapel in Pacific Grove. I thought, this is really strange, not dinner or cocktails or the movies, but church? People go to church at night? Why? I hadn’t been on a date in a long time and I thought well, either he is weird or he’s special but I said I would go. He made it clear he was a born again Christian and he got saved reading the Bible twenty years earlier in college.
And what do you know? The pastor was teaching on sin that night, I remember it was the gospel of John. I was positive that everyone in that whole church knew who the sinner was that he was talking about. I felt as if there was a spotlight on me, not knowing the first thing about the Holy Spirit and how He works. I remember the pastor saying that God does not grade sin like humans do, in other words that some are severe and others are not so bad. He said that you either live your life in God’s will or your own, that there was no fence to sit on.
He specifically talked about some activities and behaviors that God calls sins which I considered at that point in my life a form of entertainment…sleeping with people you weren’t married to, drug and alcohol use (abuse), gossip and backbiting, things I had done for years and so did almost everyone else I knew. I almost always felt bad after I had done these things, but just kept doing them anyway time and time again.
But the pastor’s words from the Bible rang true like nothing I had ever heard and were such a comfort to me. I found out that there was a way to live and feel good about yourself and know what was right and why. After the service, I told David I don’t know if you want to bring me back on Sunday, but I am definitely going to be here. He said he would bring me back. He said he’d be happy to bring me with him.
I told you my mother had taken her own life when I was three. My father had killed himself when I was 28. It was absolutely the shock of my life. I loved my father completely and after that I had periods of severe depression and I was troubled with suicidal tendencies for years. I sometimes felt as if I couldn’t control them. I didn’t want to die, but I often didn’t want to live either. It was an emotional burden that I always carried with me. I always thought when things got rough, well if your parents can just check out and leave you, why not? One counselor I did talk to helped me to understand it a little, he said if someone you loved had been murdered, you might feel like killing someone, you identify with their experience – it made sense at the time. About a week after I met David and had been to church twice, the thoughts of suicide were overpowering. I had actually scheduled an appointment with a psychologist.
I saw this woman and she said how horrible it all was that my parents both killed themselves and how I would have to be in therapy for at least a year, I would likely need medication and there was no assurance that she could help me but it was just so depressing. So afterward I went by Dave’s office and immediately he asked what was wrong with me. I just met him and I really wanted him to like me and I didn’t want him to know how messed up I was, but I just felt drawn there, so I told him all about it and he asked if I had ever prayed about it.
Well, of course not. This wasn’t a problem for God, this was my problem. He had to run the universe. What could God do or what would He do? I really didn’t know who God was. The only prayers I knew for sure were Our Father and Hail Mary and I was pretty sure that wasn’t what I needed.
Since I was so upset and didn’t know what else to do I went home. I had never prayed anything but emergency prayers in my life, you know, God pleeeeeease don’t let this airplane fall out of the sky, I had had a couple of close calls, one in a jungle in Africa and believe me, I was praying. Or God, if you get me this job, I promise I will do something, not do something. I truly did not know how to talk to God but I remember saying, “You know how terrible I feel and I don’t want to die and I don’t want to live like this any more. Please help me”.
The Lord spoke to my heart for the first time I ever really heard Him. His message was clear and unmistakable, in words I heard in my brain not in my ears. These are the exact words He said, “Forgive those people. Don’t look behind yourself at them, look ahead to Me.” Instead of the suicide thing that is what filled my brain! I almost fell over, I could not believe that God Himself had a message for me. I was surprised to know I needed to forgive my parents, but I immediately did. I didn’t even know the Lord but I was already experiencing His power. He was “calling me out of darkness into His marvelous light”. That was the moment I knew I could take God at His word. The Lord delivered me from that oppression that held me in bondage for so many dark years at that moment 27 years ago and I never felt suicidal again
After that 1st Bible study, I kept asking Dave questions. I wanted a rational intellectual explanation about God and why someone ought to make a commitment to follow Him. So he always would point me to a Scripture, give me a tape (he had 100’s of them, it seemed, one for every question) or give me a book that I could find answers in, but he never tried to convince me himself. About 2 weeks after that first night at church, I prayed with Dave at the beach and committed my life to the Lord. I confessed that I was a sinner in need of a Savior and asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life. I have joy on earth in place of the emptiness and loneliness of all those years and I know for certain I have the promise of heaven. One of my favorite scriptures is from Isaiah, also found in Romans 10 – “I was found by those who did not seek me, I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” So true in my life!
I have two dear younger cousins who are Christians who had prayed for me for 10 years. When I called the older sister Jenny to tell her I was saved, we were weeping with joy. She said, “I prayed for you and my brother for ten years and you were both saved the same year. You were on my ‘impossible list’, but God doesn’t have an impossible list!” So I want to encourage you to continue to pray for that impossible person, because He saved even me! Don’t give up! Psalm 27:10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Amen!!
I had a bad habit that I hadn’t quit and that was soap operas. Don’t take this wrong if you watch soaps, some things are okay for some people that aren’t for others – it was spiritually unhealthy for me. I had gotten hooked on them many years earlier living with a roommate who watched them. Later I worked on some soaps and I actually met Nicki and Victor and Ashley. If you are smiling, you know who they are. I would tape 3 or 4 soaps every day and watch them at night. If you are unfamiliar with this particular bad habit, I suppose it is similar to pornography, it can be very addictive. Maybe not wrong for everyone, but not good for me as a new believer.
So one morning all of a sudden I had this terrible burning pain in my stomach. I was in my kitchen and I doubled over. I was standing in front of the refrigerator and when I opened my eyes I saw this magnet “The Young and the Restless”. I knew the Lord was telling me it was time to give it up. I went to the VCR and took the tape out and promised Him I would not entertain myself with TV shows, movies, magazines and things like that that were ungodly. With His grace, I have been faithful to that promise. The pain began to subside and as I walked back to the other room, it suddenly came again. Much more painful, like I had swallowed acid. If I had not been a believer I would have dialed 911, but I began to pray instead for relief. I lay on the bed curled up and the Lord began to remind me of many of the times and people I had had the opportunity to be a good example to and I was not. He reminded me of people I had totally forgotten and things I had done. He spoke to my heart that when I put the name of Christ over my own, I had a commission to be His representative on earth. He took away many ungodly desires that day and delivered me. (I just recently remembered I got rid of the refrigerator magnet that day too.)
A lot of other things happened during that time. I had a back injury 15 or more years earlier and it caused a lot of pain in my hip, particularly while sitting. Every Sunday at the end of the service our pastor read from James 5:14, If any man is sick …. he should be anointed with oil, and the elders will pray for him. I had been going to a chiropractor for the pain for years, but every Sunday when he read that I could sense the spirit of God urging me to go forward. For some reason, I just wouldn’t do it. Self conscious, embarrassed, I don’t know.
After months, finally one Sunday I went forward. I told the two elders why I was there and they asked if I believed that God could heal. Of course I did. They asked if I had faith for God to heal me. I did not and I said so. They said, well, that’s all right because we do, very enthusiastic, very confident, I’m thinking, yeah right. As they prayed I thought I sensed a warmth flowing through my body, but I convinced myself that it was my imagination. However, that particular pain left that day and I am sure my chiropractor wondered what happened to me, but I never needed him again. I do have some back problems. I found out I have spina bifida, scoliosis, bone spurs, some fused discs, arthritis and of course I still have damage from that injury, but that particular pain, pain from sitting, they prayed for went away.
David and I dated for about a year and he asked me to marry him, about a year after we had met. The Lord directed us to move to Arizona after the wedding in 26 yrs ago this past December and we spent the first night here in a hotel. We went to bed and I couldn’t sleep. I was seized with the most paralyzing fear. I had left my home, my family, friends, church, pastor, job, town and moved to this place –I remember he said the Phoenix metropolitan area was 400 square miles and that terrified me, my home town city limits are one square mile–I didn’t know anyone here.
I just said what have I done? Who will be my friend? The room was absolutely pitch black and at that very moment I had a vision of Jesus. His eyes were looking right at me, His hair and skin and robe were luminous golden silver light and He spoke to me, not out loud, but He said, “Don’t be afraid. I will be your Friend.” Immediately the fear was replaced with the most incredible peace and I went to sleep. (I know this was a miracle because I couldn’t see anything with out my contacts and I could see Him perfectly, even His eyelashes.) He truly has been my Friend and has blessed me with many others over the years here.
The same month we got married, I became pregnant which was such a surprise and blessing. I guess it always is, but I was almost 40 and didn’t know if I could become a mother so that was a joy and still is. I once told David that people told me when they heard this story they were surprised that God delivered me so quickly in so many ways when they had struggled for years with some of the same things, quitting smoking for example. He replied, “Well, Susan, when I met you I had walked with the Lord for 20 years. I prayed for God to send to send me a wife for 8 years – not a girlfriend, a wife. He had to bring you to a level of faith quickly in order for us to be equally yoked. I couldn’t wait another 8 years for you to grow up spiritually so we could be married!”
My husband encouraged me to share a story that really impacted our family. When Wyatt was 2 his dad and I worked at the same office of course. But Dave left at 8 and I left with Wyatt at 8:30, dropped him at the babysitter and went on to work. One morning he said, “I want Daddy take me Mary Grace.” I said, no honey, we’ll watch Sesame Street” – that’s what we had done every morning for 6 or 8 months. He repeated it, I want Daddy take me Mary Grace. His dad was in the room and he said, it’s ok, I’ll take him. After they left, the beds were made, the dishes done and I went into my room to pray the way the nuns teach you (for some reason I can’t remember). You kneel by the bed, close your eyes, fold your hands and bow your head. But I couldn’t pray…in my mind all I could hear was “Call the mechanic, call the mechanic.”
I had an old car and it had play in the steering wheel for about 4 weeks. So I called the 2 Italian Christian brothers – Giovanni and Luigi – who fixed my car. Whoever answered said – don’t drive the car, put it on a tow truck and get it down here, whatever you do, don’t get behind the wheel. When he called me later, he said there is a steering box, it functions to connect the steering wheel to the tires. It had 3 bolts, 1 was missing, 1 was hanging loose and only 1 was connected. We lived at the time at the top of North Mountain, Point Tapatio, 7th street, very steep. There were 7 lanes at 45 mph. In those days the baby car seat was in the front seat, facing front. If I had lost the ability to steer my car going downhill at rush hour I could have been a catastrophe. When I got the car back and drove to work the next time, when I opened the door, there was the bolt lying right where I parked every day. We believe the Lord used the baby to save our lives and possibly others that day.
I’ll tell you the first time I shared my testimony and why. We were in a little church in Tempe, I had been a Christian for about 2 years, we had a newborn baby. The pastor said a lady was going to start a prison ministry and she wanted to tell us about it and see who wanted to help her. I thought, “That’s nice, crooks. No thanks.” And I really wasn’t listening to her at all, because the whole time she was talking, the Lord was speaking to me “Susan, I want you to go. Susan, I want you to give your testimony.” And I was saying “No, no, no, no!” I don’t remember hearing a word she said, just this dialog in my head with the Lord. So afterward I went up to her and said, “God wants me to go jail with you.” – with a major attitude, and she was so excited, oh that’s great, praise God. So we went one Friday night a month, we took the church band, my husband played electric guitar and after several months of ministry, I did have the chance to share the story you just read.
But the interesting thing was the work he did in my heart the first night. We sang a song, “Change my heart oh God, make it ever true, change my heart o God, let me be like you.” And he showed me, basically told me there is no difference between you and them, just a blue suit – you’re on one side of the door and they’re on the other. I’m the One who decides who is where. Plenty of things you have done that could put you in one of those seats, sister. And it really did change my heart. But the sweetest thing would happen after service. We would sit in groups with the women and pray with them. It would absolutely break your heart. “Pray that my child would send me a postcard, I haven’t heard from him in 3 years.” “ My mother is sick, please pray that she won’t die before I get out.” “ Pray that my daughter will forgive me.” So that prison ministry that I dreaded became the thing I looked forward to the most and the chance to tell them my story helped them to trust me.
Joel 2:25 says the Lord will redeem the years the locusts have eaten and he was so merciful to bless me, in spite of my rejection of Him for all that time, I feel like the locusts didn’t just eat those years, but I fed my life to them.
1 Cor 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.“So the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful stepmother in place of the mother I never had, her husband, my stepfather who I love dearly to replace the father I lost, the husband I never wanted, the child I never dreamed of and now I have a step-sister and step-brother, 4 sister in laws, 3 brother in laws – 1 is in heaven already, he got saved the day he died, lots of nieces and nephews, truly a big family, and of course, all the brothers and sisters in Christ and many other dear and wonderful friends. Not only that, I have four children and three siblings in heaven waiting to meet me. God is so good!
So one last thing. A few years ago Beth Moore came to speak at Grand Canyon University, she’s a gifted Christian speaker. Some of you were there and the weekend’s topic was scars-really, scars. What she meant was our scars are evidence of wounds healed by Jesus. She said tomorrow I am going to ask some of you to tell how Jesus healed your wound. And they could be physical but also mental, emotional even spiritual – e.g. if you were raised in a cult. My darling friend Margi was on death’s door, days away and the Lord provided a transplant that saved her life-she has lived eleven years now, praise God, and she’s so thankful when she sees her scar.
Next day, all the way across the stadium, a young girl stood up and you could see at that great distance her arm was badly scarred. She said when she was a tiny girl she had been attacked by a dog, almost lost her arm. While she was still in the hospital the doctor asked her father if she liked music, well she’s 4 I guess so. The doctor suggested she be taught violin so instead of a useless, atrophied arm the muscles and tendons would develop and it could be strong and useful. And her testimony was that because Jesus healed that terrible wound, she was 1st violin in the symphony in the city she lived in, an amazing accomplishment for such a young woman. She was so thankful she has a talent, a passion and a profession.
If you are here today and you have a wound, one that is not yet healed, seek a confidential, godly woman who will pray with you. Or if you just can’t share it with another, do what I did with the open wound of suicide and loss-take it straight to the Lord. He wants to heal you and deliver you from that burden. Just ask Him.
It could be in an instant or it could be a process but nothing is too big, too bad, too much for our God. Psalm 30:2 O Lord my God, I called out to you for help and you healed me. His Name is Jehovah Rapha The God who Heals…He heal bodies, minds, hearts, relationships, lives.
So let’s pray. Father in Heaven, thank you for the abundance of love, mercy, blessing and healing you pour out on us every day. Make us an example of the life of your Son Jesus, and expression of His abundant love and an exhibition of His mighty power so You may be glorified in all we do. In Jesus Name, Amen
Click here for David Larkin’s Spiritual Memoir