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Perfectionist in Vermont finds grace in Christ

BARRE, Vt. (BP) — When pastor Matt Dunavant and his wife Stacey came to Faith Community Church in Vermont, they made sure “connect cards” were placed in the pews so attendees could request more information about being a Jesus-follower.

Those cards helped change Barbara Petrie’s life.

Like most people in Barre, Barbara had been raised Catholic — “baptized, communioned, confirmed, the whole nine yards as far as sacraments go,” she said.

“Much of my upbringing as a person … was tied into behavior. If you say the right number of ‘Hail Marys,’ your sin will be forgiven. If you follow the Ten Commandments verbatim, you’ll stay out of trouble.”

The problem was, Barbara hadn’t stayed out of trouble. Her life had unraveled with a failed marriage and broken relationships. As a devout Catholic, she was at a loss for what to do.

Her children had started attending the youth group at Faith Community and Barbara had noticed a difference in their lives. She decided to visit one Sunday to see what it was all about.

Sitting in the pew, she noticed the “connect card.” Her interest was piqued because “following Jesus” seemed more active than just believing in Him — something that might help her fix things. So she checked the card to indicate she wanted to be a Jesus-follower and dropped it in the offering plate.

“I thought it was odd that I wanted to mark that box, thinking, ‘I am already following Jesus, aren’t I?’ But I marked it anyway and the very next day I got a call from Pastor Matt,” Barbara said.

Within the week she was tearfully recounting her journey with Matt and Stacey. The conversation quickly came around to Barbara’s desire to be perfect and her inability to ask aloud for help. Even as Matt encouraged her to do just that, she couldn’t get the words out.

“It was like an unmasking, a vulnerability, showing my soft underside — terrifying!” she said.

Soon Barbara realized that it wasn’t about what she could do, but what Jesus had done for her. “Then it hit me — I have been a perfectionist my whole life. Which also means that I have been a failure, because I can never be perfect in God’s eyes until He perfects me,” she recalled.

Haltingly, she got the words out. “I stammered that I needed help, and have frequently done so since,” she said. “I came to Christ a sobbing, sloppy mess, sitting on a couch in the Dunavants’ living room.”

Stacey led Barbara in a prayer for salvation: “Dear Jesus, thank You for loving me and creating me. Jesus, I want You to be Lord of my life. I give my all to You. Come into my life and wash me of my sins. I want to follow You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Barbara marvels at the immediate change she experienced. “Such weight lifted suddenly, I could see things with a clarity I couldn’t before. All those mistakes led me to where I was,” she said.

She was soon baptized along with her two oldest children — Nick and Catherine. Her youngest daughter Alexandra was baptized last year. All three are continuing to seek after God; Catherine, in fact, just returned from a mission trip to Kenya.

“I am humbled that my children were so instrumentally used by Him to bring me to Him,” Barbara said. “And I’m in awe of how the Lord uses them daily to introduce Him to others.”

Life has been immeasurably better since Barbara met Christ two years ago, but not easier.

“In many ways and by human standards, life is harder as a believer,” she said.

Circumstances of her life have been as difficult as ever. Financial burdens, health concerns and parenting challenges have threatened to overwhelm her in recent months, but despite those obstacles she has continued to cling to Jesus and dig into His Word.

“It is the most important and most amazing and most unwavering relationship in my life,” Barbara said. “I still get scared, angry and impatient, but He has never failed to meet me on the other side of awful.”

Faith Community began a simple Bible-reading program aimed at getting church members into God’s Word daily and started a Facebook page to share what they were learning. Stacey was amazed at Barbara’s spiritual vision.

“She wrote some of the most amazing things that God was telling her,” Stacey said. “The Holy Spirit was all over it — she went from knowing nothing to really having insight.”

Stacey also saw Barbara persevere in the midst of the challenges.

“All this stuff happened, but she stuck it out. She’s there every Sunday; she’s in God’s Word. I’ve been in awe of the Holy Spirit’s work in her life and her ability to stay faithful and grow in the tough, difficult circumstances,” Stacey said.

Barbara continues to learn daily what it means to follow Jesus.

“Every challenge and crisis is like a birth — traumatic, messy and dark. With Christ I know that there is a coming out into the light, seeing and feeling things differently than before. I have come to accept that being in this body means hurting. But there is joy in Him,” she said.

“He is the only chance at perfection we’ve got.”