Woman overcomes hurts, leads stepfather to Christ

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)--Mary Rudewicz approached her 32nd birthday with caution. As a teenager, she began having a strange re-occurring dream. Although by the time she awoke, she rarely remembered the details of it, one thing was for sure. She would die by the age of 32. Or so her dream told her.

For much of her life, this perception gave her both a sense of urgency in achieving everything she wanted by that early age and a sense of relief that her struggle with low self-esteem would soon be over.

"My mind had created a way out, an escape from the life I was in," Rudewicz realized later.

Born three months premature, with major birth defects, Rudewicz doesn't remember a time when she didn't feel different and inferior. A difficult and often abusive relationship with her parents helped to cement those feelings as a child.

Through the help of the Celebrate Recovery ministry of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., which helps people overcome their hurts, habits and hang-ups through 12 steps taken from the Beatitudes of Jesus, Rudewicz overcame struggles with low-self esteem.

More than 5,000 people have been through the 12 steps at Celebrate Recovery, and an average of 500 people attend the weekly gatherings. Now the program is being duplicated at 800 other churches around the country, with 150 other churches planning on starting Celebrate Recovery programs in the coming year. The program should be translated into ten languages in the next five years.

For Rudewicz,35, the journey towards wellness has been a long journey. Even at the age of five, Rudewicz desperately wanted to look like the women she saw one day when she stumbled on a stash of pornographic magazines. Soon she started taking diet pills and controlling her food intake.

"It was a life-long thought that I had to be thin to be accepted," Rudewicz said.

Rudewicz's battle with self-esteem continued throughout high school. By that time, her parents had divorced, and she felt abandoned by her father. That left her constantly needing the approval of others, particularly men. Throughout her early dating life, Rudewicz gravitated towards boys who gave her the attention she craved and improved her social standing regardless of the dangerous personal characteristics they possessed.

Right after high school, Rudewicz met the man who would eventually become her husband. At first, he seemed perfect: tall, athletic and good-looking. But it didn't take long until her dream mate started to make derogatory remarks about her. Eventually those remarks fed her already low self-esteem.

Rudewicz compensated for her low self-esteem by trying to control everything around her, including her husband. She planned everything from their wedding to his bachelor party. In the office, Rudewicz tried diligently to make her boss and co-workers like her by becoming the epitome of a pleaser.

"I always had this fear that I wasn't good enough," Rudewicz said. "So I tried very hard be what everyone else wanted me to be. I'd do anything so that they couldn't dig deep enough for people to see the real me."

As her 30th birthday quickly approached, Rudewicz's marriage plummeted to an all-time low. After making a trip to a marriage counselor, Rudewicz discovered that her husband had been having affairs throughout much of their marriage.

Rudewicz couldn't take any more. That evening, while her husband was sleeping, She took a large knife and held it close to her husband's neck. Just seconds away from ending his life, her mind shifted to spiritual matters. "Did God want (her husband) dead," Rudewicz wondered.

Those thoughts startled Rudewicz. She hadn't thought about God in years. Her father had been a minister while she was growing up, but his own struggles with faith and morality, combined with her parent's strong emphasis on outward perfection had warped most of her spiritual perceptions. For her, God was remote and impersonal. In fact, Rudewicz pictured God living somewhere in outer space. That meant the only form of communication that worked was yelling.

"God, it's Mary Rudewicz here," she yelled at God. "I'm about to kill (my husband), if you don't want me to do this, you'll have put this knife back."

At that point, Rudewicz felt God's arms hug her. She sat on the floor beside their bed and cried the rest of the night. That evening Rudewicz asked God to show her a place where she could learn more about Jesus.

The next weekend Rudewicz brought her daughter to Saddleback. Miraculously, Pastor Rick preached on the topic of relationships and sex within marriage -- a sermon Rudewicz desperately needed to hear. She sat in tears most of the service. During that service, a lady next to her handed her a tissue and told her she'd pray for her.

"I couldn't believe that someone was willing to pray for me," Rudewicz said. "At that point, I just knew I'd found my home."

Rudewicz rushed to her house and told her husband about Saddleback, but he thought it was too late to help their marriage. Although they gave it one more try and visited a Saddleback lay counselor twice, her husband moved out less than a month later.

A few days after first attending Saddleback, Rudewicz sat in CLASS 101 and reflected on her disintegrating marriage. She felt betrayed. Every man she'd been close to had abandoned her: first her father, then her brother and now her husband.

Before she could finish her thought, Pastor Brett Eastman said, "Everybody look up here. I have one thing to tell you. Your father in Heaven loves you. He wants you to put all your trust in one man -- Jesus Christ -- who died on the cross, so you would live forever with Him in Paradise."

Right there -- in the middle of CLASS 101 -- Rudewicz committed her life to Christ by praying the "Sinner's Prayer" and was baptized a week later.

She was 32 years old.

Even though she had asked Christ into her life, her problems didn't go away. With her husband moving out, her depression mounted. She even contemplated overdosing on sleeping pills.

Fortunately, just after she bought the two bottles of sleeping pills, the Saddleback lay counselor she and her husband had seen twice called her right in the knick of time. After Rudewicz told the counselor about the problems the couple was still having, he told her that he had been praying for her and would continue to do so. Rudewicz couldn't imagine that someone else, who barely knew her, would be praying for her. His prayers gave her the strength to continue.

Realizing there were hurts and habits she had to overcome before her new relationship with Jesus could flourish, the next day Rudewicz showed up for the first time at Celebrate Recovery. Rudewicz wasn't quite sure where she fit with the program.

"The hardest part was walking into the Celebrate Recovery tent that first time and admitting that I had a problem," Rudewicz said. "I had lived my whole life pretending that there were no problems, so to admit that there was this humongous problem that I could not fix on my own was to admit something very bad. I thought there must be something terribly wrong with me that I'm at this broken spot."

But those she met at Celebrate Recovery made her feel at home right away. A volunteer at the ministry's information table directed her to a recovery support group centered on wives married to sexually addicted men. Rudewicz cried most of the evening.

"I couldn't believe that God had put me here, just minutes from my home," Rudewicz said. "There was this awesome support group, and it was safe. They new exactly what I was feeling."

That was the beginning of some of the most profound changes in Rudewicz's life. Not only did she learn to work through her own emotions about her husband's infidelity, but soon she began to tackle other issues that had haunted her for years. She began to look at her constant control of food intake for what it was -- an eating disorder bordering on anorexia.

She also spotted and began working through her own perfectionism, an outgrowth of both low self-esteem and an inward anger. Eventually, Rudewicz had to admit that her perfectionism had played a part in ruining her marriage. Even her relationship with her daughter had been infected by it.

Rudewicz settled into a small group that went through Celebrate Recovery's twelve-step program, which is divided into a series of three books with four steps in each book. Eventually, the women she went through that study would become some of her closest friends. She still fondly refers to them as her "step sisters."

Rudewicz's first few months of recovery were not easy. After finally admitting she had problems, the walls she had set up around herself to protect her from pain had come tumbling down. Instead of always trying to please everyone, she quit trying to please anyone and became angry at everything. Depression followed.

One of the first habits God worked on with Rudewicz through the Celebrate Recovery program was her criticalness.

"I've really learned to be more graceful with people," Rudewicz said. "You have to separate the hang-up or hurt from the person."

Taking that step has allowed her to forgive her husband. "I realized that it wasn't him that I had the problem with, it was his behavior," she said.

Celebrate Recovery encourages believers to claim their identity in Christ not in their addictions. That often helps those in recovery take a more graceful and forgiving attitude with those in their lives.

For Rudewicz, maybe the most important change God has made in her time at Celebrate Recovery has been the improvement in her relationship with her daughter. For years, Rudewicz hung on to much of the bitterness of her past and passed much of it on to her daughter, particularly with the overloaded schedule she was on before recovery.

Rudewicz has also begun developing some of her own interests and talents. For years she lacked her own identity because she focused all of her energy on becoming what others wanted. Now she has begun painting again and enjoys cooking. She's even starting guitar lessons.

"Celebrate Recovery is different from all of the self-help books I had read before," Rudewicz said. "I always thought they had what I need, but it was always a program that worked for someone else. It never sunk in to me. Celebrate Recovery has been the only thing that has changed me from the inside out. It wasn't about taking a video or a book and internalizing it. It's about God changing me. That's really the only way it was going to happen."

More than 5,000 Saddleback members have been helped through Celebrate Recovery in the ten years since the ministry's inception.

Now she's also reaching out to cultivate struggling old relationships from her past. Her mother and stepfather have become important supports for her recovery process by helping to watch Lauren during Celebrate Recovery meetings.

Recently, Rudewicz had the opportunity to lead her stepfather to faith in Christ. Last year when he had a heart attack, he had a vision of sitting on a boat and he couldn't get out to come to Jesus. When he told this to Rudewicz and his own daughter Cheryl, she pulled out her Saddleback Base Card and led him in a prayer of repentance.

Now divorced, Rudewicz admits that she still struggles with her Christian walk at times, but she believes her life has been changed forever. Instead of dreading life, she now looks forward to each day as a new step in an eternal journey.

Rudewicz concluded: "This is a process...I'm sure I'll be in a completely different spot three years from now, because I know three years ago I was completely broken, but God healed those hurts."


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CELEBRATING HER RECOVERY, MARY RUDEWICZ and NEW LIFE.

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