Recently I was visiting family and friends in Illinois, and the subject about “black sheep” came up. One of my dad’s friends looked at my brother and said, “I’ll bet you were the black sheep of your family." My brother kind of smiled and looked at me. I had to ‘fess up – “No, that would be me,” I stated.
Many people who know me now find that hard to believe – I work as the director of a Christ-centered ministry! But the story of my life is much like the prodigal son, or the “black sheep of the family." I have told many friends who have wayward kids that my story will give them hope. Because I was that wayward kid!
I actually accepted Christ as my Savior when I was in Jr. High, but there was no follow-up, no follow-through, no discipleship. I knew Jesus was my Savior, but wasn’t submitting to Him. Quite honestly, I really didn’t know that came next! So for years, I knew Jesus loved me, that He died and rose for me, that He forgave my sins - but I kept right on living the way I wanted to live – not the way He wanted me to live.
I won’t go through the laundry list of things I’ve done, but I’ll name a few just so you get the picture of what kind of a kid I was. I started drinking regularly when I was a freshman in high school, I smoked, I disrespected my parents, I skipped school on a regular basis, I hung out with a drug-addicted crowd (for some strange reason I never got into drugs – something I am VERY grateful for.) I dated drug-dealers. When I was in college, I took a friend of mine to have an abortion. Wouldn’t you have liked your daughter to have hung out with me?!
I was blessed to have parents that provided unconditional love – I knew that there were consequences to my choices, but one thing I never had to wonder about was if my parents loved me – I knew the answer was yes, no matter what! I was also blessed to have a mother that prayed (and prayed and prayed and prayed) for me.
I didn’t know then, but I believe that God was at work – even when I was as bad as I was! The New Living Translation of Philippians 1:6 says: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
You know, when I look back at some of the things I’ve done, it is amazing that I am still alive – let alone was able to graduate from high school and college. But I know now that God had begun a good work within me, and while I wasn’t being obedient to Him, He was still at work in me!
When I was in my mid to late twenties, I actually started reading the Bible at the encouragement of some friends who were Christians. When I was 29, after the birth of my son, I knew I needed to really start following Christ and living for Him. So I rededicated my life to Him. And my life has never been the same!
You know, one of the most amazing things about God is that, while He NEVER wants us to sin, He can take our sins and past failures and ultimately use them for His glory! It is one of those mysteries that really has shaped my life. He took my sin of taking my friend to an abortion clinic, and has used it to give me a passion for women who have abortions in their past. Now I am the director of a pregnancy center and am the co-leader of the Surrendering the Secret Post-Abortion group at Valley, offering these women hope and healing through Jesus!
Because I used to hang out with people who abused drugs and alcohol, I think God allows me to see the good in them that is often overshadowed by their addictions. I believe I relate well to people struggling with addictions, as I have had some very good friends who have suffered from the same issues.
As I mentioned above, I used to smoke, and that opened the door to a great spiritual conversation with a girl who had never wanted to talk about God. She was one of my clients in IL (I’ll call her Jody). One day Jody was having a really rough day. She had come in for her parenting appointment, but was so anxious and frustrated. “I just need to go outside and have a cigarette!” she exclaimed to me. “That’s ok,” I told her. “I used to smoke too, so I know how it is.” Jody went outside and had her smoke break. When she came back in to the center, she asked me “What was your life like before you were a Christian?” You see, I think Jody just thought Christians were all born sin-free and led sin-free lives. She didn’t know that we are simply sinners saved by grace, and the only important difference between us was that Christians know and trust Jesus! Jody and I had many, many more conversations about God, His love, His Word! The last contact I had with Jody, she was seriously reading the Bible! While I’m not sure she had accepted Jesus as her Savior at that point, she was well on her way. God used my cigarette smoking in my younger days to open the door to Jody about His love. He is truly amazing!
The verse in Philippians says that God will continue His work in us until Jesus returns. That means He isn’t finished with us yet! We just need to be humble and submissive to His will, and live for Him rather than for us. That is way easier said than done – at least for me! However, He offers us grace when we fail, and uses our failures to bring Him glory. And all the while He is refining us to become more like Him. For all of us “black sheep”, there could be no better Shepherd!
Brenda Knollenberg has been a member of Valley Church since she and her family moved from Illinois to the Des Moines area in 2006. She has a heart for women with unplanned pregnancy and has been involved in pregnancy center ministry for almost 17 years, currently serving as the Executive Director at Agape Pregnancy Center in Des Moines, She is also one of the co-leaders of Surrendering the Secret, the post-abortion Bible study offered to women at Valley. Brenda lives in Grimes with her husband, Jeff and two (almost) adult children, Henry and Audrey.