Denise Bryant: When you’re not even looking God puts people in your life that you just know will be a blessing to you. And He did just that when He placed Denise in mine. We both ended up attending a meeting and sat next to each other, not by accident. I don’t know her well at all at this time but I know that God has big plans for our friendship. Denise is the leader of our local Community Bible Study, better known as CBS. This group of women go through 1 book thoroughly each year. The knowledge that she must have tucked away in her head. I can’t wait to have a chance to dig through it. Not only is she a blessing to me but she has been a blessing to so many and will continue that trend. I’m so glad to be able to share her heart with you.
It was a blustery snow flurrying November day in 1959 when I entered this world. I was blessed to be born into a loving Christian family. As an infant my parents dedicated themselves to bring me up to know Jesus. Attending church was a regular part of our week. We rarely missed a service. After 3 ½ years I was joined by my sister and our family was complete.
When I was four we moved to another town, where finding a church home was high on my parents’ priority list. After attending a couple of different churches we settled into one that became our church home. In this church the foundation of scripture was laid. Revivals were a big part of our lives and in the fall of 1969 before our fall revival I was part of a class that was teaching the steps of salvation. I was an avid student but had no real direction when the revival began to make that decision. But on Thursday night when the invitation was given my heart was pounding so hard inside my chest, there was nothing else I could do except to step out into that aisle and walk to the front to proclaim Jesus as my Lord and follow Him into baptism. The next day at school I was sure that everyone had to know what this 9 year old girl had done the night before. I was so free. I felt like I was walking on air.
My life continued on this same path. But the teaching that I was presented with was more about legalism and works than about grace. Once again our family was to move. This move was only 20 miles away, but the changes were so much greater than the distance. Yet Jesus was still my rock. He was the cornerstone to everything that I did. I was in high school now and my world was still rather small. When challenges came I was secure enough to say no, because of the love and confidence that I had at home. I confess I was easily frustrated and confused why so many of my classmates struggled and were so concerned about fitting in. My naiveté blinded me to the fact that my home life was more the exception than the norm, leaving me judgmental of my fellow students’ choices.
College time came and I chose to attend the University of Kentucky, living at home and commuting. My judgmental attitude followed me there. It did serve to keep me out of trouble, because I had my checklist of do’s and don’ts and my fear of disappointing my parents was always in the back of my mind.
Throughout college I was active in Christian Student Fellowship and God so graciously opened my eyes to the gift I had been given growing up with parents that not only loved me but loved Jesus even more. It was in these years He began to show me how harsh my judgments of others were. But it was not enough to turn my heart around.
I had met my future husband, John, at the end of my senior year in high school. We began dating at the end of that summer only to find that our focus for life, with God at the center, was completely different. After about 3 months we went our separate ways. For nearly 4 years we continued to run into each other at functions, feeling drawn together but knowing our lives were on two different courses. During my last year of college, John came to me and told me that God had been chasing him and that he was seeking and searching for answers. It still wasn’t time for us to return to dating. He again disappeared from my life for about 9 months. This return made it evident that God was the center of his life and within a month we were engaged. Thirteen months later we were married. God began using John to show me about freedom and what that should look like in my life. I was still holding on to the judgment. This different understanding of God’s love caused a few ripples in our relationship but we just kept moving forward.
Four years into our marriage we were surprised to find out we were going to be parents. It definitely wasn’t our planned timing but we were excited. In August 1986, we became parents to our precious baby boy, Jonathan. Life really changed, and I loved being a mom. It was the greatest! I needed to work outside the home but after a few months we decided that the sacrifice was worth it for me to stay home. Then in April 1991, Jonathan was joined with a baby sister, Anna. Our life was complete. We began homeschooling that fall and life was very hectic but blessed. Church and family were the center of our lives. Our goals were to teach our children about Jesus and to instill in them a love for God above all else. But as crazy as it sounds, for the first time in my life I began to doubt. I began to ask myself did I really believe all that I was teaching my children. Did I really want them to see life as I had always seen it? I was still living in a very legalistic mindset that was keeping me in a failure mode. I couldn’t live up to my own expectations. I was drowning in the failures. John was trying to show me the glories of grace, but I couldn’t really embrace it.
One Sunday in our church one of the men talked about having a broken and contrite heart. Just as when I was 9 years old my heart was pounding in my chest. He asked if there was anyone there that wanted to pray for this broken and contrite heart to come forward and he would pray with us. There were several that went forward and I was one of them. Little did I know what this would mean? Our lives changed drastically in the months and years to follow.
Tragedy seemed to come at us faster than we could process it. My sister miscarried. My father had a heart attack followed by open heart surgery. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 58. John was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease and three months later my daughter, Anna and I were run over by our conversion van. This all happened in less than two years. God was good in the midst of it all. My dad survived to live 17 more years, my sister became pregnant with twins, my mother-in-law developed a relationship with Jesus and John was healed. Anna and I survived with few injures and I began to see my need for Jesus more than ever before. But 7 months from that accident the children and I were traveling to church and I lost control of the van and drove into an embankment. Again we survive with little physical damage, but now we were dealing with more emotional damage, for that same day at almost that same time a friend of ours was in a similar accident and she didn’t survive. Survivors’ guilt became my best friend along with depression as I struggled to see my purpose in life.
I tried to battle the depression alone. I had Jesus so why should I need any other help. Finally I recognized that I couldn’t do it alone and sought counseling. I went with a great deal of anger but life improved. The improvement was short lived only to spiral down further the next time. This cycle continued for several years until finally after Christmas one year I told John I was empty and numb. I returned to the counselor and this time she had a different approach. Medication was prescribed along with reading through the gospels as if I was there with Jesus and He was talking directly to me. The scriptures became more than a rule book, now they became a love letter to me, personally. I could hear Jesus speaking my name and began to understand His grace for me and my need for it.
The years that have followed have continued to open my eyes to His great love for me, but there are still struggles. God has given me a purpose beyond my dreams when called to me to teach His word to women and children weekly through the ministry of Community Bible Study in Winchester for the last 8 years. What a joy to be used in this way! John and I celebrated 35 years of marriage and this past year God blessed us with the gift of a grandson. I pray to always desire a broken and contrite heart for with it comes the blessings of thanksgiving and the knowledge of my great need for Jesus.
To truimph over tragedy, is only done with God. I thank you Lord for sending Denise to give me that reminder. Amen!