My testimony is “my story”, the story of Gods work in my life. It begins with how God pursued and protected me so I could be His child, a member of His family. I decided to receive His gift of salvation as a 29 year old woman. He truly brought me out of darkness and into His light. Sharing our testimonies publicly glorify God because it is God alone who does the work of saving us.
1 Corinthians 13:12 reads: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” As I share my story here on earth based on my self examination, I realize that when I get to heaven, I will see that there is much, much more to it than I could discern down here.
I was born in 1956 in Passaic, New Jersey. My parents immigrated to the US after WW2, my mother was Austrian, my father was Polish. I am the second born of 4 children. My older brother is developmentally disabled from viral meningitis that he contracted as an 18 month old. I have 2 younger sisters. My parents marriage became very strained with the growing family, and the oldest having special needs. The were very different in nature as well, my mother more volatile not filtering her emotions well and my father was more self-controlled and structured. Marital infidelity by my father was the final straw that broke the camels back. I was 7 when they divorced. We all lived with my mother. She carried much bitterness and resentment toward my father and her isolated situation and was very open about it with us. I didn’t really begin to get to know my father as a person until my 20’s.
My parents did not participate in church or religion with us although they made sure we received the first three sacraments of Catholicism, namely infant baptism, first holy communion and confirmation. On occasion we’d go to church on Christmas Eve with my mother, after the divorce.
From the Catholic church, I did learn about Jesus, his birth, death and resurrection, but nothing of the gospel message. The stained glass scenes of Jesus in the church were very beautiful and mesmerizing for me. I remember feeling like a bride in my white lace dress and veil at my First Holy Communion as a 5 year old. Looking back I view it as a foreshadowing of my destiny, the bride of Christ, washed in His blood, pure and undefiled.
I believe because my parents came out of war torn Europe and witnessed the depravity of other human beings toward one another as teenagers, their hearts were more hardened than most towards the Lord. Tragically as an Austrian, my poor mother received the satanic indoctrination of the nazis because it was required of all young people to be members of the Hitler-Youth. This adversely affected her views and her heart, I believe.
My father remarried shortly after the divorce and had another daughter with his second wife, so I also have a half sister. Because I was the oldest after my handicapped brother, I naturally assumed more household responsibilities than most girls my age. When we would stay weekends or more with my father and his second wife, I would watch over my brother and younger sisters as this wasn’t something my father was used to doing and his wife had a problem with alcohol and prescription drugs and often was sleeping off her intoxication. I learned to cook, clean and do yard work early on, to help my mother, who was overwhelmed with all this at times. I also helped care for my brother who remained a 2 year old developmentally and required all the assistance that toddlers do, dressing, bathing, toilet training etc. I believe this experience paved the way for my nursing career to come later in life.
LOOKING FOR LOVE AND LOST IN THE WORLD
As a young girl, I was quite the ugly duckling. I stuttered quite badly and had terrible buck teeth, that were corrected with orthodontics. When I began to receive attention from boys because I was blossoming into an attractive woman, a desire awakened in me that I didn't understand or was able to tame. Physical affection and edifying words was not something my mother gave us much of. It was all business with her. I do remember my father trying to hug and kiss me but I stiffened in response to it. Flattery and attention from boys, on the other hand, I desired.
At 17, I gave myself away to a flattering young man who had no affection for me except the sexual pleasure he received from me. This launched my search for someone who would love me who I could love also. I began to use alcohol and drugs like marijuana and hallucinogenics recreationally. I had lust and love all mixed up and made many foolish choices for the next 12 years until Jesus found me.
Initially, what I learned about Jesus was from the Catholic church. My half sister’s grandmother was a Christian. We would spend time at the Jersey Shore with my father and his second wife in their summer home there. Kristen’s grandmother, Grace, took us to an Episcopalian Church one Sunday and I never forgot it. The sermon was completely in English, not Latin like in the catholic church, and the hymnal was filled with easy to follow songs. I even remember the closing song one Sunday, “I have decided to follow Jesus”. 20 years later I would decide to follow Him!
My senior year of high school, the oId Left Behind Movie was shown in one day after school. It made quite an impression on me. God orchestrated these little tastes of His Kingdom for me years before I knew Him as my Lord and Savior.
I went away to college to the University of Vermont, right after high school. Initially my major was pre-med. Although I took my studies seriously, I engaged in quite a bit of partying, and just didn’t get the high grades needed for medical school acceptance. When I realized this, I initially wanted to enter the nursing program, but my mother talked me out of it, mainly because of her bitterness towards my father, who was a doctor, and who’s second wife was a nurse. So I changed my major to Biochemistry, which was a favorite subject of mine.
When I graduated from college in 1978, there was a significant economic recession. Jobs were hard to find. The east coast was hit harder than the west coast. I knew a friend from high school who moved to California, I had visited her there and loved it! I moved there in 1980. I found a job right away in Long Beach as an industrial microbiologist. I met a chemist at the factory and after only 2 months of knowing each other, we married. We moved from Long Beach to Oxnard Shores. When my mother came to visit with my handicapped brother, to meet my new husband, I saw a very ugly side of my husband. He was repulsed by my brother and did not want him anywhere near him. My heart grew immediately cold towards him and I filed for divorce. Our marriage was annulled, since we were only married for 11 months.
I was not able to find a job in my field in Oxnard so I waitressed and tutored high school students in science. I would meet the students in the library and once when I had a no show, I browsed the books near our designated table and spotted a book in the non-fiction section that caught my eye. It had a swastika on the binding. It was called “The Hiding Place”, by Corrie Ten Boom. I checked it out and quickly read it. I was amazed at how Corrie and especially her sister Betsy were able to thank God and see His hand in the day to day events in the concentration camp where they were imprisoned. God was wooing me but I still desired to live my life as many other foolish young people did, bouncing from one relationship to another and taking many risks.
I found a job as a health educator at the Lung Association where I met a nurse who taught a community education class there to people with lung disease. Because of my experience and background, this nurse inspired me to pursue nursing as a career. I applied to the Ventura College Nursing Program, got in and started the next semester. No wait period, that was unheard of. Looking back, I know that was the Lord!
While I was in nursing school, I became very close to a terminally ill Christian woman named Diana that I met during my Oncology rotation. She was consumed by breast cancer that spread throughout her body. Even though her body was decaying, her countenance displayed beauty and grace. She would call me precious. I loved to talk to her. Looking back on that time it was the Spirit of God that flowed from her that I thirsted for. One day she was asking me about my boyfriend at the time and I shared how it wasn’t going well and made the statement, “I don’t even know what love is, do you?” She quickly answered, oh yes!, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” I exclaimed, “that was so beautiful, who wrote that?” Surprisedly, she said, God did, it’s in the Bible! Don’t you have a Bible? I didn’t, so she gave me one the next day. A few months later she went home to be with the Lord. I still didn’t know Him, but once again the hand of God reaching out to me, this time through a terminally ill patient, having loving concern for me and quoting 1 Corinthians 13:4-8!
After I graduated nursing school in 1985, I looked for jobs out of Ventura County because the relationship with my boyfriend at the time was becoming very unhealthy. Moving north, where it was less crowded was most appealing to me. So I moved to San Luis Obispo county and took a job at a local community hospital.
Once again, I found myself in another destructive and now perverted relationship. I was so stressed about it, my hair was falling out. I needed to move again. Apartments in San Luis Obispo, a college town were not easy to find. A physical therapist at the hospital where I was working suggested I try the listings at the Cal Poly Housing office. That's where I found my apartment. It was the front apartment of a larger house in the back. A Christian family owned it, and in fact next door and two doors down lived Christians as well. This family never used the Cal Poly Housing Office to advertise for their rental because they wanted Christian tenants. Even though they posted it on the church bulletin board, it remained vacant for several months. They tried the Cal Poly housing office because they needed the income, and they rented to me, an unbeliever. Again Gods hand orchestrated all this!
I became close to my landlady, Linda. She and her husband Dan had 3 small children. What I noticed first was that they never screamed at their kids, or cursed and they didn’t drink alcohol. She invited me over for dinner numerous times and often would share homemade treats with me. As we got to know each other better I shared with her more about myself and remarked one day, “It must be nice to know that you’ll go to heaven when you die”. She said I could know that too, but I doubted that. I shared with her the extent of my sexual sin which was probably hard for her to hear because she did it Gods way, was a virgin until she married, sparing herself the guilt an shame that I struggled with even long after I was saved. She invited me to their home Bible Study on the book of Romans and I went. I’m sure many saints at their church were praying for me! A few weeks later, I received the Lord and my walk with Him began.
A SINNER REDEEMED AND SEALED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dan and Linda went to a church in San Luis Obispo named Grace Church. I joined them. Linda accompanied me to a new believers discipleship class. I made big changes in my lifestyle and began to fellowship with other believers. I joined the choir and learned many worship songs.
Because they didn’t have many people my age going there that were single, I didn’t feel like I really fit in. I was very open about sharing that I was now a born again Christian at the hospital where I worked , and a nurse I met who was a believer, invited me to a Christian Singles function and that’s where I met Gary. Many in this group of singles went to the Vineyard church, so I also started going there.
Some months later Gary and I started courting. We had a lot in common, both believers, both professionals, both from the east coast, both had developmentally disabled brothers, and both had brief unsuccessful previous marriages. We soon became engaged and 6 months later were married. We both were 31and fairly young in the Lord. Dying to self was something I learned some years later. We’ve been married now for 29 years. I’d have to honestly say, our first 15 years of marriage were very strained. We both had a lot of pride, selfishness, and were stubborn and set in our ways. We sat in many marriage counseling sessions together those early years. What kept us together, I believe is every night we prayed together, even when we weren’t getting along.
A little more that a year after we married, we started trying to start a family. A whole year we tried without success. Tests determined that both my fallopian tubes were completely blocked because I had adhesions throughout my pelvis. The probable cause was scarring from a sexually transmitted infection. I was devastated. This was a consequence of my sexual sin. Two options were given to us, in vitro fertilization or adoption. We chose adoption. In August 1992 we received our 5 month old baby boy from Korea. He was beautiful. Matthew HoChul DeHart. Physically he was perfect but as he got older and was put in structured situations, like preschool, Sunday school and elementary school, he was unable to conform. He was very impulsive and unfocused. Initially all the doctors said he had severe ADHD, then they added Tourette’s disorder and when he was a teenager, attachment disorder and bipolar disorder as well. Through the school years I tried my hardest to help him to fit in and do well. In actuality I was hindering him from learning independence. This caused friction between Gary and I, who approached all of this much differently than I.
This brings us to 2004, Matthew was 12 years old and becoming more challenging every year. Gary and I were drifting further apart as I tried to “normalize” Matthew, work a stressful job, nightshift in the ICU every other weekend, keep up my high standards for house keeping and gardening and make visits twice a year to my aging parents and brother on the east coast. Up until this point I didn’t really participate in many church functions involving women. I guess I was in a pity party about my infertility that was always linked to my shameful past. I realized years later that this self pity was blinding me to who I was in Christ; one of His redeemed, a daughter of the King! My heart was becoming hard. I was weary and far away from the Lord.
FILLED WITH, LED BY, AND TRANSFORMED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
One Sunday, a woman at the sign up table for our church’s upcoming women’s retreat, personally invited me and offered me a ride. We had been attending Calvary Chapel Arroyo Grande since our second year of marriage. I had reached the end of my rope and thought, maybe this would help me, so I went.
As soon as the worship music started on Friday night, I started to weep. It was as if penned up flood waters were permitted to flow! I also began to sing worship songs again, like I did before I got married when went to the Vineyard church. The Holy Spirit began flooding me from the start of the retreat until the end. On Saturday night, I prayed that I’d be baptized with the Holy Spirit, but it actually had already started on Friday night. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is written about in Acts chapters 1 and 2.
Several of the women at CCAG had the gift of sharing prophetic words. At the Saturday night afterglow, one woman said, “theres a woman here who is worried because you went to your medicine cabinet for the pills you think you need and there aren’t any more, the Lord wants you to know that He will be your strength and to let Him carry your load”. Now in my pride I immediately thought, oh there’s a poor woman here addicted to pain pills and I prayed for her.
On Sunday for our last session and communion, I felt like a burden was lifted from me. I had peace about Matthew and peace about my marriage. I had joy as well and I couldn’t stop smiling. My husband and son both noticed a difference in my countenance and demeanor when I got home. I really felt like I was born again, again. I couldn’t wait to go to church again. I started going to Wednesday night church, women’s Bible Studies and joined a women’s prayer group. For over ten years I was in a valley, not growing at all in the Lord. I wanted to catch up.
The Holy Spirit was softening my hardened heart. He was convicting me of my sin and illuminating the Word for me. There was so much of my flesh that was still alive and well and the Holy Spirit was revealing this to me. I began to learn what dying to self meant for me. I was being transformed into the woman God created me to be.
I began to hear God speaking to me. Remember how I told you I was so weary from working nights and having such high standards for my home, garden and job? I was doing it all in my own strength. I used to take a supplement for energy that had ephedra in it, which is a stimulant. It was taken off the market because it was addictive and linked to heart problems. When I ran out I was so tired. I took one of my sons adderall, a stimulant for his ADHD and soon got violently ill, throwing up. I then remembered the prophetic utterance at the retreat about going to the medicine cabinet and finding the bottle empty, and God Spoke to my heart, “that woman is you, trust Me to carry your load”. Further reflection off these words of truth led me to this scripture. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy- laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light”. I was weary from all that I did. Heavy-laden from the sin of self reliance, self pity and pride that I could do it. I needed to let Jesus lead me, to be yoked with Him. My heart and my soul was craving the rest only He could give me.
Because of the joy I experienced singing worship to the Lord, not long after the retreat, I prayed that God would open doors for me in the worship ministry. He did! At first I just sang background vocals. I prayed about more opportunities and God impressed upon me to learn to accompany myself. I bought a guitar, learned a few chords and started leading worship for the children on Wednesday nights and the women’s Bible Study. Later I learned to play the keyboard as the worship team needed a keyboard player. I still to this day experience such joy and peace when I worship the Lord.
I’ve had some short lived experiences with situational depression that I wanted to briefly mention to you. When my father died in 2006, I became depressed. After I became a Christian, I tried to share with him about the Lord but he wasn’t interested. Consequently when he died, I didn’t know if he made a death bed decision or not. This grieved me immensely. I really didn’t get close to him until I was an adult and felt regret for the lost years. I felt sick, like a had the flu, and was so tired, wanting to sleep a lot. I wasn’t motivated. I had a lot of medical tests done that revealed nothing. I did feel very close to the Lord though through this time and let Him carry me through this, and it passed.
The second time was when Gary and I had to do an intervention for our son, Matthew. He was completely out of our control. Got expelled from school, was using all kinds of drugs, engaging in self harm, getting arrested for public intoxication and disturbing the peace, so we sent him to a residential treatment facility for adolescents in Utah so he could finish high school, get his medications regulated, get counseling and be safe. It was a lock down unit. That was one of the hardest days of my life, watching him be escorted out of our home by the two football player sized men that did this kind of work and hearing him curse us and wish harm upon us for sending him there. I could not stop crying for a long time afterwards. But God provided a comforter for me, a little puppy. When we were starting to have our major problems with Matthew, a sister at my church had a poodle she mated with a Bichon mix, they had 3 puppies. She said that God told her to give me one. I really didn’t want a puppy because of all we were going through with Matthew. At her urging, I went to look at them when they were first born and it was love at first sight! Our dog Bentley comforted me through my grieving. He stayed with me, licked my tears. God knew just what I needed!
The third time was in 2012 when my mother died, my disabled brother, Stevie came to live with Gary and I. Suddenly, my orderly home was in complete chaos! Matthew was living in a trailer on our property and was not doing well. We had to quickly add on a handicapped bathroom to our house to accommodate Stevie’s needs. I had to resign from my nursing job, that I loved. I had to stop serving on the worship team. I had to look for caregivers to help me and that was very difficult. Stevie wasn’t easy to take care of.
When Stevie came he was very weak, caught a cold that went into pneumonia and was hospitalized. After he recovered, he broke his leg, was almost rehabilitated and then broke the other leg. I lost a lot of weight, more than 30 lbs. Again, I was crying all the time, but couldn’t take the time to be comforted by Bentley. So I tried taking antidepressants to help me but couldn’t tolerate them, one made me clench my jaw so much I thought I was going to crack my teeth. The other made me feel like a zombie. So I just let the tears flow, and prayed to God for comfort. At a nursing seminar I attended a year later, I learned that tears purge your body of ACTH, the precursor of the stress hormone, cortisol. God designed it that way, to protect us! Thats why you feel better after a good cry.
When I intentionally set up a quiet place so I could spend time with the Lord, in His Word, things started to look better. With time, I adjusted to the change with my brother. He became plugged into a day program that could handle him and I found capable caregivers to help me. My biggest lesson on dying to self was during this 3 1/2 year period. I learned that my perfectionist nature made it very difficult for others to be around me and work for me. I learned to lighten up and to be more flexible.
In September, 2015 Gary and I brought Stevie to Florida to live with my youngest sister so we could get our house ready to sell. We had our new house built in Gardnerville and moved here in June 2016.
What a blessing it has been for us to find HSF and to make it our home church. I am so thankful to be plugged back into the worship ministry, connected with the women’s ministry and now to be back nursing again as well with the “In Jesus Name Medical Ministry” and working once a week at Scott Southard’s office.
To conclude, I’ve learned that to walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s Power, we should:
1. Read and be washed by the Word of God daily
2. Communicate with God and prayer and ask to be refilled with His Spirit daily
3. Fellowship with the people of God by being active in a home church
4. Obey Gods statutes and leading
5. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit (don’t resist His leading or conviction, yield)
Finally, I’ve come to believe that the key to peace when we are in the middle of life’s storms and life’s calm times is to have a childlike trust in God. The peace of God comes when we take each situation in our life, and rest it in God’s hands. Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
by: Sylvia DeHart July, 2017