Behind the Ministry: Jeff and Julie Garner, Part 3 of 3

This is the final installment of this series featuring Jeff and Julie.  Revisit Part 1 or Part 2

Last week, we spoke about how you guys met. Where did God take you afterwards? 
Julie: I continued my education and graduated from Christian Life College. Jeff then decided to extend his education at Western and get his Masters. We got pregnant with Jeru. I also decided to go to Western Seminary (San Jose) and get my counseling degree.  When he went back to school, Jeff went through some spiritual transformations and had some significant academic opportunities. 

What do you mean by that?
Julie:  The president of Christian Life College (Dr. Segraves) was resigning and wanted Jeff to step in as President.  During this time God began to really speak to Jeff about where he wanted to take him, spiritually, vocationally, and physically.   We felt God leading us into a way of following Jesus radically different from the way we were raised.  Dr. Segraves was disappointed that Jeff wasn’t going to lead the college his grandfather had started.  There was another side to this story that was very painful; one that he has prayerfully--and with forgiveness by God's grace--struggled through.

What was that like for you, Julie?
Julie: Jeff’s been really good about—when it’s negative stuff like that he doesn’t bring it home. People think, “Oh, I’m sure when he gets home, he talks about everything.” It’s really not that way. He knows how upset I would get and take it personally.  He had great mentors in his life that helped him through that process.  I think it was tough on him. 

You've had a long history with fundamentalism and legalism  
Julie: There’s a lot of guilt and doom, “If you do this or that, you're going to hell.”  It’s hard.  Lots of distrust and spiritual prejudicism.  

There were a lot of slanderous things said about Jeff, from church pulpits and at church conferences and in hush-hush conversations.  He never talked back about them.  He just focused all his energy on God and doing what was right.  I know it was hurtful for him.

The hardest part was when his extended family called him names, discredited him to people in Lighthouse. But he’s only become stronger and a better person through it. The outcome has been amazing. I see all the people he’s reached out to and people who are going through horrible things in their marriages or as pastors and they’re calling him and saying, “How did you do it?"  

Jeff:  The more I read and prayed and opened my heart to the Truth the further I went in God.  I have two vivid experiences with Jesus—one was a physical light and aroma fragrance, 3 a.m. during an all night prayer meeting in 1990.  The second was on Broad Street [San Francisco] while praying all night, September 2003.   I heard the Lord say, "Stop praying and write down these words."  I stopped and I began to write these words, "I have called you to suffer and I have called you to be rejected by your family and church upbringing. Follow me."   I remember looking up and seeing a vision of Jesus walking away from everything I had known and into San Francisco.  I was struck by how Jesus and the Village (as Julie calls it) were going two different directions. When I heard, "Follow me," John 21:20-23 flooded into my heart and I got up and started following.

I never saw the transitions of legalism to grace as leaving Stockton or leaving the Village, I always saw it as following Jesus. He called me to follow and I did. Jesus became my heritage. Jesus became my legacy. Jesus became my family. Jesus became everything that I valued.

What was it like to finally move here?
 Freedom. Grace. Challenge. We were alone, but alone in the good sense of the word.  No one manipulating us with guilt or controlling us with fear-talk.

I feel like we get to be blessed with Jeff's walk with God which he shares on Sundays. Julie, I'm curious about your walk.
Childlike faith.   I see God like a child sees their parent.  He is my protector. My safety.  My security.  This keeps it simple for me.   I like my relationship with God simple.  Complicating it doesn't work for me.  Just simple child-like faith.

I like seeing myself as a child to Him, and He is always there for me, willing to die for me.  

Fifteen years ago God was a rulebook, a church manual, a bunch of disciplines and beliefs. Now, God is a person, He is Jesus.    

I would also add, that I experience God and walk with God in mothering my children and loving my husband.  God gave them to me. I want to worship God and honor God in these roles and identities.   

Graduate degree as a Marriage and Family Therapist (2002)

Graduate degree as a Marriage and Family Therapist (2002)

At this stage, I feel like God’s moving me in a new direction and I’m not sure what that is. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready. Both my kids are going to be in high school.  I was anxious, but at the first of the year, I felt like God put His hands on my shoulder and said: “I want you to be content. Everything’s good. Don’t look over there. Don’t get distracted. You are blessed.”

I’m probably the strongest now than I have ever been. The shyness I had as a kid turned into insecurity as an adult.  And the religious culture we were in led to feelings of depression and guilt.  There was a time, before the kids were born, I was struggling to maintain a perfect religious life and keep up with all the other people who had perfect religious lives.  Jeff took me into the bathroom and said, “Look in the mirror,” and I am crying. "I want you to repeat after me—say, 'I'm worth something. God loves me. He has something for me.'"  After I finished saying these things and crying, he said, "We’re going to do this everyday until you get through this.”  In those moments I found the courage to say things in the mirror that were not the things that I was feeling, but the things that were true.  

What would you like people at Lighthouse to know about you?
Julie: I’m a private and shy person—so this interview is difficult for me.  I'm not comfortable reaching out to other people and getting into other people's business.   But if someone comes to me I am very comfortable talking and sharing.   I guess I would say, "I love people and show my love for people differently than some and I would want people to know that I want connect even though I am introverted."

I would love for people to feel comfortable emailing me (as they often do).   Sometimes when I’m at Sunday worship I have tunnel vision with all the things that need to be done. Even if I’m busy, stop me, grab my arm and hug me.  

This is the big reason why I went into education in psychotherapy and counseling because I wanted to be a better people person. I knew as a Pastor’s wife that I needed to know how to be with people and that meant I needed to know myself better, too.    

I can say this with a smile on my face, but I really don’t know what I’m doing. [Laughs] There’s not really a pastor’s wife I can look at and go, “Yeah, I want to be just like her.” I never really had that. Then again I feel that would throw me off and it’s better for me to be just who I am.

Jeff: I love Julie just the way she is.  I'm happy with her being happy with herself.

Thank you both so much for taking the time to share—and for all that you give to Lighthouse. 

     The whole Garner fam' (Summer 2003)

     The whole Garner fam' (Summer 2003)