Connecting with Lost Family03/24/2017 .
Born to a single mother, Lisa was a product of her parent’s tumultuous affair as teenagers. Because of this, she did not even know her father until adolescence. “My mother worked multiple jobs and double shifts to make ends meet. She had no assistance from anyone aside from welfare when she was able to qualify.” As a young child, Lisa’s mother, step-father and several other extended family members struggled with addiction, and she was often left to pick up the pieces and look after her five younger brothers. Her childhood was unhealthy and emotionally damaging.
Lisa’s mother raised her Catholic, but not the practicing kind. As an adult Lisa didn’t have a personal relationship with God. That, coupled with her father’s absence, her family’s struggle with addiction and her own failing marriage, left her angry, confused, and hunting for help and answers. She knew there was more, but she didn’t always know what she was searching for.
At the invitation of a friend, she began attending Saddleback in 2007 and over the next five years began to reconcile her upbringing with a God who offered grace – specifically grace over her divorce and her broken family. “We were raised to have very strong faith. “‘God always provides,’ my mother constantly said. But truly knowing God’s word, that I didn’t know.” Lisa was learning how to make the faith of her childhood personal; to really know and lean into the love her Heavenly Father had for her, and to love him back.
One painful, broken family relationship was her relationship with her younger brother, Sergio. Over four years had passed since the last time Lisa had seen Sergio. Sergio struggled with addiction and homelessness and at times it was too painful to know all the details. “Not fully understanding how an addiction works, I took it as a slap in the face that my brother chose his addiction over us. I took it very personal — I was angry.”
Since he was many years younger and she had helped raise him in her the absence of her mother and father, she felt a maternal connection with him. The pain of losing relationship with him to the sea of addiction was bitter.
Lisa always prayed for her family, and her brother Sergio specifically. “Lord, let him live to see another day. Lord, don’t let me get that phone call.”
In November 2016, when Pastor Rick taught on breakthroughs and 34 days of prayer, she took fasting and praying even more seriously. Lisa journaled and prayed fervently, specifically for a breakthrough in relationships. But the relationship she had in mind was of a romantic nature; she prayed for the man God had for her. Little did she know that God had his own plan to restore a relationship extremely dear to her heart.
On Thanksgiving Day, a hundred miles from her home, and on an errand she hadn’t planned on running that day, Lisa unexpectedly drove past her brother, Sergio, on the side of the road in Riverside. She hadn’t seen Sergio in four years and no one in the family had spoken to him for months; no one was sure of his whereabouts.
“As soon as I realized it was him, I slammed on my brakes and just prayed “Lord, don’t let him run, don’t let him run. “ There was no telling what he’d do surprised by Lisa’s sudden appearance and no telling what frame of mind he was in.
For the first time in a long time, she was suddenly able to see past his addiction. “I just ran to him, and I grabbed him, and held him, and tears just came. I told him ‘I’m not giving up on you. I love you so much. I pray for you every day, brother.’ I hugged him so tight and said ‘I don’t want to let you go.’ And he chuckled and said, ‘It’s okay, Sister, you have to. That way we can see each other again.’ At that moment, I knew my brother was a believer.’”
That night she journaled, “This week has been amazing; I got to see all my brothers. Lord, I surrender them to you.” Lisa didn’t realize it then, but that 10 minutes with Sergio was the answer to the relational breakthrough for which she’d been so fervently praying. It was also the last time she’d see her brother here on earth.
Just over a week later she got a call from the Riverside County Administration Office informing her that the night before police had picked up Sergio for loitering and suspected drug possession. However, rather than booking him, they had taken him to Riverside Community Hospital and were trying to reach his next of kin. Lisa felt urged to leave work early and headed out on the two hour drive to Riverside to be with Sergio. She spoke to some of her brothers on the way and they were heading in from different directions and planned to convene at the Hospital.
While sitting in gridlock traffic on the 55 freeway, Lisa received the devastating call she had always feared; Sergio, her little brother, had passed away.
That the County had even gotten a hold of her was a miracle. Sergio had no emergency contact on record. “We could have gone months or years not knowing he had passed. We would have just thought he was out on the streets.” While her tender heart mourned the loss of her little brother, she was eternally grateful God granted her reconciliation with him just days before his passing. “That moment gave me peace with my brother’s death, because I got to tell him I loved him.”
In the hours and days after Sergio’s death Lisa witnessed God using her brother’s passing for good. Walls have been broken down in her other four brothers, who have in the past been very closed to anything overtly religious. They are coming to see things less as coincidences and more as God moving. They were even willing to join her at church on Christmas Eve, something she had specifically prayed for, but thought impossible. “Even in my grief, I knew God was working.”
And Lisa’s faith has been strengthened. She is confident God had been preparing her for years for one of the most tragic times in her life by surrounding her with a church family and a support system that swooped in when disaster struck. Over the years at Saddleback she has built relationships and gained mentors that showed up to help in her time of grief.
In the weeks before Sergio’s death, all of her siblings had unexpected interactions with Sergio. She believes God gave her this special moment to heal her relationship with Sergio before taking him home for eternity. “Can you imagine the guilt we’d have had if we didn’t get those last few minutes with him?” she says. “I don’t think we’d have survived his death without those last precious moments of connection.”
Because of this relationship breakthrough with Sergio, Lisa has a new motto of “experiences over stuff.” “She says “If this is the last 10 minutes I’m going to spend with someone,” whether it’s her family, friends, or someone she has a quick interaction with, “I want them to know they’re appreciated. I want to always leave people with love.”
Learn more about Pastor Rick's series, Praying for a Breakthrough, at saddleback.com/pray34.