When Venna Huffaker was fourteen, her parents got a divorce. These days, it seems like divorce is so common that it is either a part of our own family or at least part of a family we know. While some communities provide emotional support, others turn their backs.
Venna had always viewed family as the main foundation of the church, but when her family broke apart they started treating her differently.
“They thought I was getting into trouble, so I went and got into trouble.”
She still went to church on and off, and still knew that God loved her unconditionally, but Venna didn’t feel like she belonged in a church.
“I felt like you need a family to be loved by God, and I didn’t have that.”
When Venna was seventeen, her mom sat her down to talk about Venna’s lifestyle. Her mom asked her, “Is this how you want your life to be? Do you want to continue being this way? Do you want to be an alcoholic? Is this how you want your kids to be?”
Venna’s mom was disappointed, but not angry. She still loved Venna and she forgave her; she also showed her that God’s love is that way - unconditional. Her mom told her, “God loves you more than I love you, if you can imagine that.”
They decided to make a list of people that Venna needed to forgive. One of those people was Venna’s father. Looking back on her childhood, she now knows that her dad cared about her even though she couldn’t see it at the time. She didn’t like the way he treated her or her mom. He was not abusive; it was more that he was absent.
“My dad didn’t tell me he loved me. The first time he told me I was beautiful was at prom. I think dads need to tell their little girls those things.”
Venna decided to forgive her father even when it was hard.
“I need to love my dad because God loves him.”
She wanted to mend her relationship with him so that she didn’t lose out. Through this forgiveness Venna and her dad have learned to understand each other. She realizes that although he doesn’t always express it well, her dad will always be there for her and loves her unconditionally.
Venna moved to Moscow in the fall of 2012. The following summer her friend Jamie invited her to go to Resonate. The first time Venna agreed to go, the sermon began with the topic of puzzles – that God is a huge puzzle piece in our lives that makes the other pieces fit together. Without Him, there is just a giant hole in the picture.
Something about Resonate was different, and Venna kept going back. Many thoughts were running through her head that summer.
“I want to be part of community. I want to be part of the church. I don’t want to drift away. I’ve always done that and now I want to stay. I need to be part of the Church.”
About three months after Venna started going to Resonate she heard a sermon that changed everything she had ever thought about church.
“Religion condemns, but Jesus covers.”
When we do something wrong, religion calls us out on it. Religion digs through our closets for skeletons, pulls out our dirty laundry, heaps our sins in a giant pile and makes us ashamed of who we are and what we’ve done.
Venna, just like the rest of us, didn’t want to face that. So she ran from religion. But what she learned is that religion and Jesus are entirely different. Jesus picks us up when religion knocks us down. He sets us on our feet, dusts us off, gives us a hug and says, “I love you and I died for you; I dealt with your sin so you don’t have to.”
Venna chose a new life. She is working to forgive herself and others, like she has forgiven her father.
“I’d been trying to live up to the church’s standards. But what I've realized is that I need to live up to God’s standards, not simply the church’s.”
The good news is that God’s standards are not, “If you do more good than bad, I’ll love you.”
Instead, His standard is simple: “I love you no matter what.”