Excerpts from West Church Sunday message on 12/27, 2020

Pastor Andrea Smith: We are blessed to have our own staff member Dawn Lynch this morning. She is going talk about her testimony and how that grew into a full-time ministry position at West Church. Tell our folks out there about yourself.

Dawn: My name is Dawn Lynch. I am the communication and connections catalyst at West Church. I have four amazing children who inspire me daily with their courage and wisdom and who truly help me to be live into being the best me possible. I enjoy leading yoga for West Church on Friday evenings.

Pastor Smith: One of the things that I want us to communicate today is your story, where God has been throughout your story, and how God has revealed God’s self to you throughout your experience. The first thing I’d like to ask this morning is, when in your life have you felt far from God?

11:55 — When have you felt far from God?

Dawn: When you first told me that this would be one of the questions, I thought, “You know, God’s always been with me. I haven’t felt far from God.” But then I started to think about it and I’m like, wow, the list just grew longer and longer, but actually I discovered that it was my pain and my anger from my pain that really prevented me from being able to see how God was already at work in my previous situations.

I had wonderful parents and a beautiful childhood, for whatever reasons, my parents separated and divorced, and that brought pain to me early on as a child. Then I married at a very young age of 21, and my husband battled with anger, which led to addiction and an abusive personality. So there was a lot of pain in that marriage and that time together. Then just when things felt like they were finally starting to come back together after the brokenness of my marriage, I fell in love with this wonderful man who truly showed me what love should feel like and look like through his example. Then he was tragically killed in a boating accident, so that just really left me feeling lonely and sad and afraid and somewhat unworthy of happiness.

15:50 — Where have you seen God, even in difficult times?

Pastor Smith: I’ll never forget the morning that you found out that Walter had been in a boating accident. I think your mom texted me actually, and I came to be with you. One of the things that I have appreciated about you from the beginning is even in your pain, you embody strength. Your world had just collapsed suddenly, and your children loved Walter, and he was such an important part of their lives too, and it was just inspiring.

You were inspiring because that morning, I just watched you hold it all together. You were immersed in your own grief and shock, but yet your youngest needed breakfast, and I remember you just getting it all together long enough to make that happen. Despite feeling far from God, you embodied that connection.

Where you have seen God, even in difficult times.

Dawn: Looking back now, I can see so much more clearly, not through the trauma lens and the pain and all the anger that I was so much consumed by those feelings and emotions. I can see how God was at work, even in those times. When I was married, I randomly attended West. My mother has been a part of the West worshipping faith community since its launch, and we loved attending West with her. She loved the grandkids coming and I really felt connected every time I was in that auditorium and the messages really spoke to me. I could feel God’s presence, and I loved that.

It was in a time where there was so much turmoil in my life that I wasn’t even really confronting myself, it was just kind of grin and bear it and do what you can do to get through; just kind of survival mode. That presence and that warmth that I felt at West was always so present. I really wrestled with leaving my marriage, I knew that divorce was a sin or frowned upon, and I knew the struggles that I had when my parents separated, and I didn’t want my kids to have to go through that.

17:55 – God at work: Leaving an unsafe relationship; growing spiritually

So even though I knew those things, it became unsafe for us to stay. My mom was connected at West and in one of her small groups, she opened up to a friend about the situation. They gave her the name of a counselor who was able to see me and give me the knowledge and the courage that I needed to leave to keep the kids and me safe. I really feel like God moved in and through all that. I didn’t even realize at the time what was happening. I just felt bad for divorcing. After leaving the marriage, I began attending West more often. My mom got me plugged in to a women’s small group and I can remember that being a safe place for me where I could get outside of what was going on in life and really dive in and grow spiritually, and not have to think about everything that was going on. That was really great for me.

How serving the church provides purpose and meaning

I can remember that Brad had asked me to serve on the Tech Team. I know nothing about tech or worship arts, but he’s like, all you have to do is push a button. He made it so simple. That really gave me purpose and meaning and a reason to be at West more frequently, and then the kids got plugged in. God was really lifting us up and surrounding us through the people at West, through serving and the small group. Those things were pivotal for our growth and survival and just feeling His love.

21:00 — Jesus wrestled with feeling far from God; we can too

Pastor Smith: You shared about your former husband battling addiction and wrestling with his own demons, and as he would wrestle with those he would take it out on you and the kids, so you had to leave. Then you shared about just when you felt like your life was great and back together, it all fell apart again with the death of Walter. When I first asked when you felt far from God, you were like, I really haven’t… I’ve always known that God was there. But when you started thinking about it, you’re like, Oh my gosh, I felt disconnected or removed or far from God here, here, here, here and here.

I think that is how we all process and journey through our faith. When we’re in these good times, we wanna think, Oh yeah, I’m so connected and totally feel God. And we don’t want to even admit sometimes that we don’t… because I think we feel guilty, we’re made to feel guilty if we’re not the perfect Christian or perfect follower of Jesus. But Jesus wrestled with feeling far from God, so I think if Jesus can wrestle with it, we can too. And I think that’s such a powerful part of your story that you did feel not okay and not in love with God, and your journey through that, and here you are this leader of people in faith.

22:00 — Was there a turning point that you remember realizing you needed God?

Dawn: There were many times. A lot of it came with a feeling of pressure like I had to have this all figured out. Or doubt and fear of, Oh my gosh, there’s no way that I can do this; there’s no way that I can leave the situation because I have four children. I’m not gonna be able to raise them on my own. Whenever I felt that pressure, I can remember a physical act of just falling, just caving to my knees. Sometimes I would just throw my hands and be like, God, I don’t have the answers, I don’t know what to do here. He would always meet me there. I was not surprised, but I wasn’t expecting it either. But this kind of warmth that surrounded me and held me and picked me up and carried me. God was always present in the people around me, and definitely when I came into the West faith community. They just were so welcoming, even in my brokenness. They just loved me and accepted me and made me feel hope. I didn’t feel so broken.

I can remember when Walter died, I was newer to the West faith community. And there were people who showed up, strangers at the time I did not know, with food, and they would stay and talk, and it was just so inspiring to me and to feel that love from them.

Pastor Smith: I’ll never forget the Celebration of Life for Walter. Looking out, the church was packed and there were West people there, and I was so proud of them for showing up. The Christmas Eve message was about God with skin on, and that in our times of fear and anxiety, we want someone with some skin and we believe that was Jesus, we also believe we are that now for each other in the name of Christ. It was a moving moment to see those folks show up for you.

25:00 — Don’t underestimate the power of prayer. We don’t have to understand it, but it is very real.

One of the things we can learn from Dawn is about the power of prayer. Dawn surrendered herself to her pain and her anxiety and worry, and just threw up her hands or physically fell to her knees in a posture of prayer, and said, all right God, here I am. I hope you heard what she said that in those moments of absolute brokenness: “you felt this warmth just sustain you.” Please don’t ever underestimate the power of prayer, both in self-surrender, but also in praying for each other. There is something that happens in the universe that when we pray for one another, energy surrounds them and lifts them up when they need it. It’s a real thing. We don’t have to understand it, but it is very real, so please don’t ever underestimate when someone tells you they’re praying for you or praying for each other. It really does make a difference

Dawn: It’s how I am able to be up here today and have the nerves at bay. You said in a message a couple of weeks ago, reach out, ask people to pray for you. And so I did because I knew that I do not speak well publicly because my nerves consume me. So I just prayed first for God to work in and through me, and then I asked some close friends to pray for me because I knew that if they were praying then that would sustain me and give me the peace that I needed to let God speak His message through me.

Pastor Smith: The power of prayer is a real thing. I anticipated your nervousness and you are 100% different than what I thought you would be. You’re so calm and collected right now. This is living proof that prayer works and prayer matters.

28:00 — The challenge of starting over as a single mom with four kids

How has God transformed you?

Dawn: Throughout the pain and anger and everything I was dealing with, just truly the love and kindness and generosity of other people. Being a single mom presents its challenges and starting all over… truly I started all over with very little. I left my marital home the week before Thanksgiving, and it was Christmas time, and we were recipients of Ding Dong Ditch. We were living with my mom at the time, and I was just so overwhelmed with joy, seeing the smile on their faces because it had been like hell. It felt like we were going through hell.

People that we didn’t even truly know yet had just surrounded us with so much love and to see the kids’ faces light up and be excited like, Wow, it’s not even Christmas yet. I let them open the gifts when they were dropped on the front porch; I didn’t wait till Christmas. I didn’t even know about Ding Dong Ditch the mission and what it was. So that truly has transformed me. It has made me want to become a generous person and to learn finances. I don’t enjoy math. I actually kind of run from it and go into shut down mode when it comes to finances, but I am starting to learn how to be a better steward of my money.

And then to fall in love with the vision at West and the ministries and missions. I began tithing because I believe in what we’re doing here and the difference that we’re making in the community. That love that you showed me made me want to be a generous loving person in return.

Also through serving others. Serving really got me outside of what was going on in my situation, and it gave me a different perspective, and that truly was very transformational for me. Then just learning and growing deeper spiritually through various small groups that I’ve been a part of at West was completely transformational for me. That deeper understanding and connection and how to connect with that piece when I feel anxious and I feel worried; having those skills to know what to do when the painful times arise has been transformational for me. Instead of going to a place of triggered trauma, I can meditate and go inward or do yoga and express it and get it out of my body.

And then, too, therapy West is a proponent of therapy, so it’s never been anything that I’ve had to be ashamed of or hide from. It was pivotal in the early days of my suffering and still today.

33:00 – God’s ironic sense of timing

Pastor Smith: As we were talking about and getting ready for today, we talk about God doesn’t make bad things happen to us; like God did not take Walter from you. God did not put you in a relationship so that you would go through those hurdles with your marriage only to make you stronger. That’s not our approach to faith and understanding of God. We believe that we have free will, we make choices, everybody else makes choices too, and our choices interact with each other. And sometimes, bad things happen to really good people. It’s just the way it happens. But we do believe that God works in and through all things, and we read in scripture that God uses all things for good regardless of how tragic and bad they may be. I’d like for you to talk to us about God’s ironic time timing.

Dawn: I was at one time living in a constant state of fear, and that fear caused paralysis, like real physical paralysis for me. I couldn’t get outside of my own pain and grief and worry if I could be enough and figure it out on my own. I thought having those fears in place would protect me from being hurt again, but I learned about actually tearing down the walls and learning how to be vulnerable and setting healthy boundaries and trusting and relying on God, not my own ability and understanding.

PTSD diagnosis: Healing from the trauma with EMDR

After leaving my marriage, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was very triggered. Co-parenting was difficult because every time I would see or talk to him, I would go into this spiral and that fear and that paralysis were very real so I struggled to physically and mentally get outside of that. My ex is in recovery now, and a few months before he went into recovery, I learned of a therapy EMDR that helps trauma patients heal. I just think the timing is ironic. The kids and I needed that time and that space, and he was also going through his own recovery. So it was this beautiful healing for all people, even though it was happening in separate ways and separate situations. It was exactly what we needed and God provided a way so it allowed me and the kids a place to heal.

36:00 — Dawn’s journey into employment in ministry

Pastor Smith: Tell us about your journey into employment into the ministry; God’s call on your life.

Dawn: That was definitely ironic timing. So I was very broken and afraid and paralyzed by those fears, so I prayed a lot. I knew that the people that I would be around would be important and very pivotal in my healing journey, and so I prayed for the right people to come into my life, for the right position and job because I was a stay-at-home mom and working part-time as a pre-school teacher making very little, but now I had to sustain a household on my own, and I feared looking for employment. And I just pray though, even in my fear, I prayed for God to send the right people.

I came into West as a part-time with our pre-school ministry. That was right after Walter died. I didn’t know how much I needed that purpose, and the staff that surrounded me and the faith community that I just got deeper emerged into. That was very pivotal and ironic timing because it was exactly what I needed. And then for the full-time position, just praying, God lead me to the right people and places. Then you had reached out to me and said, Hey, I don’t even know if you’re looking for a job, but we have a position… I actually came on as Andrea’s assistant full-time and that was right as I was moving into my first home with the kids, so it was perfect timing how it all worked out and all the pieces started to come together.

Pastor Smith: So you became an assistant, and that was much needed for that season, and then you became full-time… We had a huge void in some of our other ministries, and it just seemed like wherever there was a void, you morphed into meeting that need. You just kept growing and now you are one of the key faces of West. You lead yoga Church. You are their pastor and you are so gifted and you have allowed God to use you in so many ways. I can just see the way, you’ve grown and you inspire me to be a better leader and that a pastor…

Thank you for letting God use you. Thank you for being willing to follow that call and we are richer for it, and everybody that comes in contact with you leaves blessed, and they share that with me, and I hope with you as well.

Is there anything else you want to share with us today?

Dawn: I just think just go all in. Just leap through your fears and get plugged in. Get connected if you’re not. It is transformational, and it will be the hope and love and peace that you need to sustain you in and through all things — the good and the bad things. Thank you for being a community that accepted me and my brokenness that offered me a safe place for my kids and I to feel welcome and healed and just for your extravagant love and generosity. It is inspiring.

Pastor Smith: Dawn has some foundational Bible verses that we wanted to share with you.

Psalm 55-22. Pour your troubles on God’s shoulders. He’ll carry your load. He’ll help you out. He’ll never let good people topple into ruin.

Philippians 4-6. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.