by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
SENECA — On April 17, 2003, Judy Hehr’s life as she knew it changed.
It was on that day that she learned that her husband Bob had cheated on her.
And he had fathered a child with the other woman.
Hehr’s reaction was not a surprise.
“I knew our marriage was over,” she said.
Hehr thought there was no question that her marriage would end in divorce.
But now, 16 years later, she says that her marriage has never been stronger, thanks to the love of God.
Hehr shared her story during a Lenten retreat April 6 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Seneca. It was the second part of a three-session retreat Hehr spoke at April 5 and 6 at the church.
Susan Stallbaumer, a Sts. Peter and Paul parishioner and retreat coordinator, knew she wanted Hehr to come to Seneca after hearing her talk in February 2018 at Christ the King in Topeka.
“I was very captivated by Judy’s story, the way she told it,” Stallbaumer said. “It was very similar to things that I had gone through in my life, and she really spoke to my inner self about how God works in our lives.
“We’re all broken, but God loves us no matter where we’re at,” continued Stallbaumer. “We each have our own story of God’s forgiveness, and he transforms our lives and makes us into disciples that he calls us to be.
“So, I invite you today to open your eyes and ears to the Holy Spirit; to be open to what the Holy Spirit is telling you and how your life can be transformed.”
Hehr was born and raised Catholic but said that she was never really raised to understand and know God’s true love for her. Therefore, she struggled through the early part of her life, only having profound encounters with God when she was at her lowest points in life, like when she became addicted to drugs and alcohol after her mom’s death.
However, as soon as she was stable financially and had started building her own “kingdom,” she said God went back into the shadows again because she didn’t “need” him anymore.
“I was full of pride and self- righteousness,” she said.
Once her four children were born, though, she encountered the Lord in the most profound way.
“What was insane to me was how something so pure and beautiful could come from someone so unworthy,” she said.
While Hehr found God in her children, he was nowhere to be found in her marriage. She was so focused on continuing to build up her career that she wasn’t the wife she needed to be to her husband.
“I sent the constant message to him, ‘I got this. I don’t need you,’” she said. “All our spouses want is to know that we need them because two are better than one.”
It wasn’t long after that when Hehr’s father and stepmother came to visit, and it was her stepmother’s words that resonated with her.
“You have everything, but nothing,” her stepmother said. “Nothing has left you satisfied.”
With that, her stepmother urged the family to go back to church. That’s what led to Hehr making the New Year’s resolution: “We’re going to get God.” Hehr became a daily communicant. She read book after book about God and began to learn about his loving, merciful and forgiving ways.
“God was waiting like this perfect gentleman,” she said. “I became a Jesus freak.”
That Lent, she said, and unbeknownst to her, God’s plan was about to unfold.
“It was the most grace-filled time in my life because I never felt closer to Jesus. And I never felt more love and I never felt more accountable and responsible for my actions in our marriage,” she said.
That spiritual renewal sustained her.
“I knew there was nothing that would make Bob’s behavior acceptable,” she said, “but I also knew I didn’t love, honor and cherish him the way I was supposed to.”
That doesn’t mean that when the affair was first revealed, Hehr didn’t think her marriage would end in divorce. But her stepmother convinced her to try Retrouvaille first, a program for struggling couples. For 12 weeks, Hehr and her husband attended the classes, and it was through that program that they decided that they would try to make things work some way.
There was still a long road ahead. Hehr said she cried for two straight years. But that was where God came in.
“All those tears were tears of healing. My heart was broken in 50 million pieces. It was as if someone shattered it and there were so many pieces just laying everywhere,” Hehr said. “I had no idea how to put it back together. I knew it would never be the same.
“But [God] put it back together. He put it back together in such a profound way that it loves like it has never loved, and it forgives like it has never forgiven. I would change nothing about my marriage.”
“Out of this misery came the awakening of a marriage and the awakening of two people that were still broken and came together in our brokenness to form this united front,” she continued. “All of a sudden, we were there — shoulder to shoulder, side by side.”
After that, Hehr said her prayer was simple.
“Change me,” she said. “Change me to be the woman that you call me to be. [My husband] still deserved to be loved.”
Ida Schiffbauer and Sally Lauer, also Sts. Peter and Paul parishioners, agreed that it took strength and courage for Hehr to speak so openly and tell her story.
“It would take a lot of strength from God to bare your soul to people you do not know and seek the faith,” Schiffbauer said. “She’s walked the walk.”
“Somehow, she makes it very personal for everybody,” Lauer said. “She has a lot of God-given insights. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is very much at work.”
Patty Locher of Sacred Heart Church in Baileyville, said she was glad she attended the retreat.
“What a story from brokenness to healing,” Locher exclaimed. “It just shows that no matter how down you get, the Lord can still save you.”
For more information about Hehr and her ministry, visit the website at: www.judyhehr.com.