Casting all her cares on Christ
The Testimony of Sis. Jean LaBarge
Many people spend their lives trying to run away from their problems by running to things they think will help them cope with life's disappointments. But as one young troubled woman would discover, it isn't until we run to the arms of Jesus Christ and cast our troubles on Him, that we can truly find the relief we so desperately need. Such was the case for Sister Jean LaBarge.
I wasn't born into a saved family. My mother always considered herself a Catholic, while my father on the other hand, considered himself to be an Episcopalian. It was my understanding they could never agree upon which church we should go to, so we never went to any church.
As a child growing up in the 1960's, good Christian morals predominated in my life. I was raised to do what was right. There were absolute wrongs such as stealing, lying, and swearing. Nevertheless, sin was all around me – I saw things and heard things. There wasn't much affection or expressions of love displayed from my mom or dad. I can remember my mother spitting on her hand to wash around my mouth (as mothers tend to do); I recall the warmth of her hand and how I longed to feel her touch.
Wondering, wandering, and running away
But the Lord saw me and He started to talk to me as a child. When there was thunder, my mom used to tell me things like, "Oh, don't worry. God's moving His furniture", or "God's just bowling". Well, as a young child of 8 years old, I believed her. At night, I used to look out up at the stars and wonder who God was, where He lived, and what He really did. I wondered those things a lot as a child.
Then somehow, I ended up in a church in Jamesville, New York every Sunday. My mother would drop me off and pick me up. I loved it! My Sunday school teacher was so nice and people were so kind to me. My Sunday school workbook meant so much to me. To this day, I can still remember the smell of the pages.
One day, my mom said to me, "Jeannie, I am sorry, but I can't take you to church anymore. It is too much for me to drive you there, so you won't be able to go anymore." Oh, I was so sad! I remembered the last day there for a long time. My Sunday school teacher and the pastor knew I wouldn't be coming anymore. I think they were disappointed, too. That Sunday after church, the pastor took my hand and held it; his hand was so warm and strong. He walked me from the back of the church, down the middle aisle, and gave me a personal tour. Oh, how special I felt! I never recalled anybody taking time like that with me. He showed me his office, where the choir sat, and gave me a hymn book to look at. Then, after the tour, he reached into his podium to give me a goodbye gift and handed me a glass-framed picture of Jesus. That meant so much to me. I recall spending a lot of time studying that picture, always wondering who God was. I held on to that picture for years.
My dad started his own security business which began to take off. He was not home much and my mother began working there at the office, too. As an adolescent, I was left to roam and do whatever I liked with not much parental control at all. If I didn't want to go to school, I wouldn't go. That's just how it was. At the age of 13, I began to find friends that were similar to me and I found myself getting involved in drugs. Later on, I ended up dropping out of high school.
Many people I knew were hitchhiking around the country, and I began to do the same. From the ages of 15 to 17, I ran away several times to New York City, Boston, Colorado, and to California. Wherever I went, I always had that picture of Jesus with me that the pastor had given me. This continued until I was in Colorado, where all of my belongings got stolen, along with my picture.
People have asked me why I ran away. Actually, I wasn't running away from a bad situation; I just never felt a sense of family. It just seemed like nobody really cared about me. I felt like it didn't make a difference if I was home or not. My thoughts changed after the last time I ran away; it was bad. The people I was with kicked me out of their car and left me out in the middle of nowhere in California. My friend's boyfriend was jealous of the lack of attention he was getting from her, so they kicked me out of the car. There I was - alone, scared, and not knowing what to do or where to go. I began to hitchhike and was picked up by some man. After a while in the car, the man began making gestures to me that really scared me. I asked him to let me out and thankfully, but strangely enough, he did. However, he continued to follow me as I walked away from his car. I began to cry and started to run. I ran into a gas station where there was a man working. He obviously saw the fear on my face. He held up his hands and said, "It's ok, I am not going to hurt you! I am a family man, it's ok!" He coaxed me into his office at the station and asked me what was going on. I told him I was from New York and someone was following me. He told me I could use his phone and call my family. I did, but when my father heard my voice, he hung up the phone on me. Oh my, I was devastated, scared, and alone! I kept calling back until he finally picked up the phone again. He told me to go to the police station and tell them I was a run away. The man at the station drove me there. Eventually, arrangements were made and I flew back to Syracuse.
When I got off the plane, I saw my father. I was so happy to see him, and at the same time, so sorry for running away. But, as I ran to him and hugged him, he stood cold and stiff. He wouldn't even put his arms around me, nor talk to me. I was very confused and at the same time, felt deep pain in my heart. The only thing I could do after that was to try and get my father's approval back. I changed the kind of clothes I wore, who my friends were, where I went, and what I did. I took my GED as well.
Drinking, drug abuse, and a downward spiral
In the course of time, I met my husband Scott. He was 17 and I was 18. Like me, he felt alone a lot and had his troubles, too. So he stated to pray for a girlfriend and I showed up. For the first 6-7 years of our marriage, it was "drinking and drugging" all the time. Scott was in and out of jail because of drinking offenses. I drank too, for the most part, but not to the extreme that Scott did. I carried with me a sense of guilt and shame about the way I lived. I tried (oddly enough) in all the confusion, to make our lives somewhat calm and organized. I had two children (Jessica and Scott), and I wanted to be a good mom. I didn't want all this drinking in our life to continue. I wanted my husband to stop.
(But it wouldn't be until Jesus began to touch our lives that things would change.) Through the blessing of my father, we purchased several homes but frequently defaulted on our loans more times than not, and had to make arrangements with mortgage companies so our homes wouldn't go into foreclosure.
Life for me finally hit bottom. My dad died and Scott was sentenced to one year in jail the same month for breaking probation for a previous DWI conviction. There I was again – alone and confused. But this time though, I had two small children and no job. I remember walking out of the jail the night Scott was taken away to go to jail for a year. I walked outside and looked up at the dark sky. It was raining and the raindrops were falling on my face. I thought, "My dad's gone, my husband's gone – how poetic – even nature is grieving with me." At the same time, I felt liberated. No more problems with alcohol in the home. I didn't have to try and please my dad anymore. I was confused, to say the least.
My life actually swirled rapidly out of control after that point. I began drinking now more and hanging around some pretty rough people (even rougher than us). I started to neglect my kids more and more as I sank into a world of partying and alcohol. If it wasn't for my mother's financial support and for my brother Eddie being there, I can't imagine what worse thing could have happened.
During that time Scott was in jail, my saved Christian brother Ed reached out to me a lot. Scott had been in the middle of painting our house when he went to jail. My kind brother Ed offered to finish painting it. Even in the middle of all my confusion, his kindness overwhelmed me. I'd think, here I am drinking like I am, my husband is in jail, and there's my brother painting my house. I lived in Auburn and he lived in Syracuse, and here he is driving all this way to help me. That made such an impact on me, I felt guilty and ashamed, but God used that to draw me near to him.
"I want to be clean!"
Eddie would come and take Jessica to church with him and take her to Sunday school, too. I loved her going to Sunday school. I would fuss over making sure she had the prettiest dress I could find for her. She would bring home papers she had done, and I would display them often and read them, too. At the same time, I felt left out. There was a quiet yearning in me to have "that" which Eddie had in my life. Whatever it was, I wanted it.
Again, my brother was there for me. One night I went out drinking. My mom had just given me a chunk of money to pay my heat and electric bill. Well, I had the money all rolled up in a ball and stuffed in my pockets. When I got home, the money was all gone – I had lost it! I called my brother Eddie up and lied to him and asked him for money so I could pay my electric and heat bill. He replied without any question, "Sure." Oh, how that pulled at my heart! I was so ashamed. He was so kind and I was so bad for lying to him. I then thought he was truly a Christian. I knew then he knew God, and God was working in him.
During this turmoil period in my marriage, Eddie courted and married his wife, Diane. My children, Jessica and Scott, were both in the wedding. Secretly, I continued having this ache in me to be like my brother, so anything affiliated with the church, I was happy to go along with it.
One night, we went to their wedding rehearsal at church. It was the first time I was ever there. I just sat in the back, quietly holding back my tears. I felt the presence of the Lord, but I didn't know what it was at that time. I knew if anybody had asked me if I wanted to get saved, I would've accepted Jesus Christ right there. But, it wasn't meant to be that night. I think the Lord still had some work to do in me.
Eventually, Scott got out of jail. After so much confusion between us, we decided we were going to work through these difficulties. I could always take drinking or leave it, so my energies and efforts went into helping him stay sober and doing the best to take care of our family. We got very involved in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous); I was in Al-Anon (support group for family members experiencing alcoholism). Our whole life became the 12-step program; a program used to help people quit drinking and other addictions.
A year had passed; Scott and I had not drank once. Things were definitely were getting better. Sister Diane was now pregnant for her first child and she had invited me to her baby shower. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the sisters' modest apparel. That impacted me in a way that turned me even closer to accepting Jesus in my life. They were all dressed with long skirts; nobody's clothes were tight or revealing, they all looked pure and Godly. On top of that, they were kind, happy people. I was told that they were once all sinners like me. I thought, "Wow, God has really done a work in these women". I wondered if I could be like that.
In the 12-step problem, the fourth step states you have to give your life over to a higher power. They did not preach Jesus, however. Actually, they let everyone decide for themselves who their higher power would be. I had no idea- the only higher power I'd seen was in my brother's faith and in his church. So, I decided to make "GOD" my higher power. I got so serious about this, I decided it was time to get my children baptized. The only place I knew where God would be was in a church, so I went to a Catholic church and met with the priest there. He said he would be glad to baptize my children, but I would have to come to church and sit in the front. He also added that I needed to learn about the Eucharist and that Jessica needed to do her first communion. He told me there were classes starting up for new Catholic converts. The classes would run simultaneously with classes for Jessica. So we did this.
There was a gentleman that had sort of taken me under his wing to teach me about Catholicism. He came over one day and dropped off Catholic music and a Bible. I would play that music and sing. I attended the classes as they asked me to. We were very poor and only had one broken-down car, so Scott would drive Jess and I to the classes. After 6 weeks at one of the classes, the teacher said, "Ok, let all of us bow our heads and pray." He said, "You can openly pray, too. Don't feel embarrassed, we can all pray together." I sat there with my head down and I looked to the right of me and to the left of me. I knew most of these people; they weren't like Eddie or Diane. They weren't like those sisters I met at the baby shower. They were not clean. I said to myself, "No, this is not what I am looking for. I want to be clean and be with people who are morally upright."
After that class, my husband came to pick us up. I said, "Scott, I am not going here anymore. This is not what I am looking for." He said, "Ok, if that's what you want." Because I had come to know my "higher power" as "God", I kept reading the Bible. I couldn't understand a word in it, but I kept trying. I didn't find "God" at the Catholic church, but I still felt like I knew Him in me.
Only one way to the Father
In the spring of 1983, I received an Easter card from my sister-in-law Diane with a hand-written Scripture in it. It said, "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." (1 Peter 5:7) I would meditate on that Scripture – ‘Cast all my care?' I would read and re-read that Scripture for a long time. It was the only Scripture I could understand.
That following fall, I called my brother because I wanted to let him know I had found "God" and I was like him now. I told him, "Eddie, I know God now." He replied, "Oh, you do? Tell me more." I told him I found God through the 12-step program and how I tried the Catholic church but it wasn't for me. He replied, "There is no other way to the Father except through Jesus Christ." To me, he was telling me that my "God" that I found can't really be true because I can't get to Him through any other way except through His Son, Jesus. That was such a revelation to me! He told me to read John 10:1-2: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep." Then in verse 7, it states, "Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." (John 10:7-9)
I kept reading. Then in John 14:6, there it was; what my brother Ed was saying: "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." I knew then that the Catholic church used a symbol to try and get to the Father, and that the 12-step program didn't even think about Jesus. So, both were NOT showing me the way to have "God". To me, they were like the thieves and robbers Jesus talked about. I began to see it was by HIS sacrifice on the cross which made it possible for me to come to the Father. The Scriptures came to life for me. At one point in my conversation with my brother, he told me I needed to repent by asking God to forgive me for my sins, and to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and to ask Him into my life. He continued sharing the same Scripture with me that his wife, Diane, had sent to me months prior. He told me to cast all my care on Jesus and that He would take care of me; no matter what happens in my life, good or bad, He will be with me, and that He would never leave me alone. Alone- no more being alone ever in my life!
I ended my phone call with him, went into my living room, and got down on my knees. I asked the Lord to forgive me for my sins, and I recognized Him as the Son of God. I continued asking Him to come inside of me and make me His child. I called Eddie back and told him, he was so happy! My guilt and shame I carried with me were gone! The Scriptures, which were once so hard to understand, just jumped off the pages of the Bible! I now had a comfort and a rest inside of me like I never knew before. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that HE was with me now and I wasn't alone anymore. I no longer had any desire to continue with the 12-step program, so I stopped that. Jesus took my foul mouth out of me, He took cigarettes away from me, too - just like that. I saw people so differently. I just wanted to tell everybody about Jesus, and I did. The world had light on it now, and I began seeing the good in others instead of the negative things. In a very short time, my whole family changed. My husband didn't come to know Jesus as his Savior at that time, but he quit drinking, and my home became what I always wanted it to be.
That was back in 1983. Since then, I can say confidently, that the Lord has been amazingly merciful to me and my family throughout the years to the present. I can never thank Him enough! Praise the living God!
Editor's note: Sister Jean's husband Scott would eventually get saved in 1995 and become completely transformed from the old ways of living, just like his wife. Since then, both Sister Jean and Brother Scott have labored selflessly in many areas to grow the church and to help further the Gospel. They have tirelessly reached out to many Sudanese refugees over the years and have been as family to them. Sister Jean says she remembers the kindness and the love of Christ that was once shown to her when she was lost in her sins. Now, because of what Jesus Christ has done in her life, she is able to offer that same kindness and love of Christ to many downtrodden individuals she comes in contact with in her profession as a nurse, and in her day to day encounters with people who are lost in their own sins. She has truly found out that she can cast all of her cares upon Jesus Christ and she is encouraging others to do the same as well.