Leslie Basham: Denisse was the young wife of a pastor. She didn’t feel prepared for what her husband asked her to do.
Denisse Cabrera: What I knew was to work with children and youth, but that was not where he needed me. So he said, “I need you with the women in the church.”
And that’s where I said, “No.”
Leslie: Today, we’ll hear how God changed Denisse’s heart.
This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for March 28, 2019.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: As you know, Revive Our Hearts is a listener-supported outreach. That means that we depend on the prayers and donations of listeners like you to do what the Lord has called us to do.
And I don’t want to gloss over that “prayers” part, either. Thank you for praying! Your prayers are making a huge difference in the lives of women around the world, day in and day out. So please don’t stop praying!
And your gifts are helping, too. All this month, we’ve been highlighting some of the ways that God is at work using your donations as we call women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.
We’ve been encouraging you to join our Monthly Partner Team by giving $30 or more each month. Those Partners are such a great asset to this ministry.
I love sharing stories of how God is at work in the lives of individual women around the world. And today, I’d like to introduce you to a new friend.
Denisse: My name is Denisse Cabrera, and I’m originally from Puerto Rico. I’ve been living in Oklahoma for the past ten years.
Nancy: Denisse is one of our Revive Our Hearts’ ambassadors. Recently, she was visiting our home base here in Michigan, and she sat down with our production team to share some of her story.
Denisse: I’m from the countryside. It’s right in the middle of the island, from Corozal. It’s not a small town like you would see here, but compared to San Juan, which is the capital, it is.
Growing up in my house, you would see mountains all around. In the backyard we had a river. I remember just playing outside in the dirt, making mud pies, playing volleyball, which is the main sport that we played in our town. And just having so many friends. Lots of family, lots of friends, lots of neighbors.
Nancy: And she’s not kidding when she says volleyball is the main sport in her hometown. Corozal prides itself on being the birthplace of volleyball in Puerto Rico. The city has a huge monument to the game, complete with larger-than-life bronze statues of volleyball players. That’s important because the sport plays a role in Denisse’s story later.
Now, like many Latin Americans, Denisse considered herself a Christian.
Denisse: We went to church, but I didn’t know God until I started visiting church with my maternal grandmother. She really had a relationship with God, and she was able to show me how that looked and how to live out a Christian life. So that’s when I started knowing about God.
Nancy: At this point, Denisse was about nine years old. Her grandmother’s model was a powerful influence for young Denisse.
Denisse: I wouldn’t say I became a Christian, but I started knowing and had this feeling that I wanted to be at church. It became my refuge. It was where I found peace.
Nancy: As she grew into her teen years, Denisse became more and more aware of a major problem.
Denisse: My sin. I kept going to church, but I was living in sin.
Nancy: In her childhood, she’d never seen a clear picture of a godly marriage. She says that, as a result …
Denisse: I was always trying to find my approval or satisfaction in men or seeing or having that love from men. I just had this relationship that it wasn’t—for a fifteen-year-old—a relationship that glorified God at all, and I truly believe I was living in sin.
Nancy: Her conscience was being tenderized by the Holy Spirit. He was speaking to her through the Scripture.
Denisse: Reading through the Word—and it was 1 John—I was able to realize, “Something’s wrong. You have to do something with your life!”
Nancy: She read passages like this one from 1 John.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
Denisse: I just knew I was in darkness.
While we walk in darkness—while we walk in darkness—while we walk in darkness.
Denisse: And going to church didn’t make my darkness go away.
We lie—we lie—we lie and do not practice the truth—and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Denisse: It had to be a relationship with God. And that’s what I was confronted with. It was through Christ. In Him.
My little children, if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Nancy: The old hymn says, “I will arise and go to Jesus.” In essence, that’s what Denisse was saying to her own soul.
Denisse: You have to take action here. You cannot keep on living and pretending and feeling okay because you go to church. No. There is more to this. Christ didn’t die on the cross for that. My life was not showing any fruits of salvation, and I was just convicted of my sin. I knew I wasn’t saved, and I needed a Savior.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Denisse: When I was impacted by that reality, I fell on my knees and asked for forgiveness, and from there on I tried to seek the Lord.
Nancy: I love that! It’s the beauty of the gospel, right? God gives us a new heart. He “makes us alive,” as it says in Ephesians chapter 2. And so now we actually hate the sin we once loved. We turn in faith toward Jesus, trusting only in His righteousness, and believing that His sacrifice took our place and was the punishment for our sin. Instead of seeking after ourselves, we’re changed at the level of our core desires. Now we’re oriented toward pursuing God and His agenda for us.
We’re going to hear more of Denisse’s story in just a moment, but let me just pause right here and ask: Could this be something God’s doing in your own heart right now?
Sin is anything that goes against God’s revealed will for you. Are you maybe stuck in that cycle of trying to fix your sin problem yourself and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing?
Maybe you need to do what Denisse did and start by reading the New Testament letter of 1 John. As you do, ask God to show you where you fit in that picture. Are you walking in darkness or light?
Now let’s hear what happened next in the life of Denisse Cabrera.
Denisse: So Christ saved me, and then I was just so hungry and wanted to learn more from God. Unfortunately, I did not have a sound doctrine church, and I was battling a lot with what I was reading to what I was being taught.
Nancy: Things like, “If you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t be sick,” or “If you’re poor and you need money, you just need more faith.”
Sadly, this kind of teaching spreads like a spiritual cancer through areas of the world with higher rates of disease and poverty.
But God had a plan for Denisse’s growth. And it involved sports, and a certain very special man.
Denisse: From Corozal, which is part of the countryside of Puerto Rico, I end up in the city because I was offered a scholarship to play volleyball with my sister. There it was a Christian school, an academy. And I met the man who’s now my husband.
Nancy: His name was Felix Cabrera. They started dating. Denisse told Felix about the inconsistencies between what she was hearing in her church and what she was reading in God’s Word. Together, they came up with a solution.
Denisse: We spoke, and I had asked my parents for permission, and he asked his parents for permission (his father is a pastor) to see if we were ready to be engaged and all that, to see if I could. A year before I could start attending his church, and that’s exactly what we did.
Nancy: It wasn’t the only time God would use Felix to help Denisse grow. We’ll see that in a moment, too. But now, for the first time, Denisse was saturating her life with the solid preaching of God’s Word.
Denisse: I just sat there and listened and took notes and was a part of these Bible studies. It wasn’t just one verse. It was a chapter. And all the truth that came out of it. I had never heard that before. So I just wanted more and more and more.
One of the things that I liked, because in all the other churches that I was at before, since I could do several things in the church, they would allow me to lead the youth or stuff like that. But my pastor said, “No, you’re going to sit, and you’re going to learn, and you’re going to allow us to disciple you.” That was the first time . . .
Nancy: So Felix and Denisse were married in 2001. They embarked on life and full-time ministry together. Through a series of events involving Felix’s brother, they wound up living in Oklahoma City.
Denisse: When we moved to Oklahoma, my husband felt that he was being called to plant a church. And he did. I learned what a church-planting wife looks like. It’s, “What can I help you with?” I’m a helpmeet, “How can I help you?” And what I knew was to work with children and youth, but that was not where he needed me. So he said, “I need you with the women in the church.”
And that’s where I said, “No. There is no way. I have no studies. I cannot. I don’t feel prepared.”
So he was very wise, and he just left it there. He was the one who introduced me to Revive Our Hearts.
He would put it on his computer and ask me to listen to it. And that’s how I started learning. It was biblical truths for womanhood. It’s like the blindfolds were taken off, and I was able to understand God’s design for me was perfect.
Nancy: We talk a lot here on Revive Our Hearts about the importance of mentoring relationships. We often mention Titus chapter 2, where the apostle Paul encourages older women to teach younger women. At this point in her life, Denisse didn’t have that kind of relationship.
Denisse: I was always lacking of that Titus 2 mentoring relationship. I think that’s why Revive Our Hearts became such a big part of my life.
Nancy: A woman can also grow spiritually under the shepherding of a godly husband, and that was the case here. Felix wisely waited and kept helping Denisse to prepare to reach out to other women.
Denisse: He didn’t push me. I was listening to all the programs, and I was reading. He bought me the book Lies Women Believe. When I read that, I just thought, “I need to share this!” And then it was from me. It came out of me to say, “I want to share this with the ladies in our church,” which was a small group.
We were four to five or six ladies at the beginning. Once we started just going through it, our lives were transformed because it was more of us understanding what the Bible says and how we living that out—not just head knowledge, but actually living it out—and living it out in a sisterhood. So the relationships and the fellowship that we had among those ladies just grew.
We would start the class, and we would start praying, and we would give the class, and then they would have to come and get us because we were still in the class, and we would have to pick up the kids from the nursery because we had child care, and then we would bring the kids, and we’d sit them down, and we would continue. We wanted to learn more.
I think one of the things that I really enjoyed about that was that it wasn’t the pastor’s wife was in partying or teaching this class. It was more that I was learning with them. It was one of the greatest experiences that I’ve ever had. We could share our burdens. We could share even our sin and our temptations and know that this sister, she is going to be there for me.
Nancy: That book, Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, was recently updated and expanded. We asked Denisse what lies it helped her confront with God’s Truth.
Denisse: One of the things that the book helped me understand was—and it was in the first chapter, which was hard to read because my eyes were filled with tears, and I could barely read. But I read that God is not necessarily as my earthly father. I love my dad, but he’s not a Christian man. Sometimes I had problems in my relationship with God, and I didn’t know why. It was because I was translating many of the things—mistrust, lack of love—to God. And this book just opened up my eyes and said, “No! That could have been the situation, but this is the truth.”
Also, believing that I’m not going to suffer, I’m going to get prepared, and my education goes first, and if anything happens in marriage, then I could do this by myself. I went to marriage thinking that. I had all these perspectives which are not biblical—and I’m at church. I’d already spent quite some years in church, but I still thought that. It wasn’t something that I expressed, but I will live out my life that way because what we believe, we will act upon that. And this was really a changing point in my life.
Nancy: Working through the book also helped her battle some of the lies she was believing related to her emotions.
Denisse: I would say, “I’m feeling this, and if I’m feeling this, it’s because it’s true.” And that’s not necessarily true. For instance, this sister avoided me or didn’t say “hi,” or I’ve been trying to have some fellowship with her, but that hasn’t been able to happen, and then I switch and say, “Oh, it has to be because I’m not doing this. I’m not good enough, or I offended them, or I’m not looking for them.” You just turn it the other way and say, “Maybe that sister has an attitude.” And you build this castle that’s not true.
And what we have to do is let me pray for that sister and love her and go to her and ask her and be able to be transparent with her and just try to seek her more and love on her more.
Nancy: Denisse says it’s easy for pastors’ wives to slip into unhealthy worrying about what others think of them. I think to some degree we can all identify with that, but she thinks pastors’ wives may be particularly susceptible.
Denisse: All these emotions can just take over. And that can actually take you to a corner and make you feel alone and make you feel like there’s nobody else around you. And that’s not necessarily true. It is more the perception of what we have because of the different expectations that we have put upon ourselves or upon us. And it’s hard.
But when we put our (as Nancy says it in Spanish, our lentes) glasses on, it’s easier. And one of the things that I learned is that I have to see things through the perspective of the Word and then tell my soul truths that could help me have my emotions under control because emotions cannot take over my life.
That’s something that I had to tell myself over and over and over again because, if not, we will live in bondage. There’s not true freedom because there would always be that emotion of abandonment, or that emotion of feeling alone, or “I’m sad today,” which, I’m not saying that we don’t go through emotions, but we cannot allow them to control us. And that was something that I learned.
Nancy gave us a lot of those tools through that book that I was able to put in practice.
Nancy: Now I want to be quick to say that there’s nothing special about my book, other than the fact that it’s based on the Word of God. It’s the Scripture illuminated by the Spirit of God that transforms our lives.
Denisse was listening and learning and applying the Word of God to her life. She told us about one particular Revive Our Hearts program she remembers hearing.
Nancy: Meekness is not valued at all by our world. It is not in vogue. It is not politically correct. And we’re always calling women to be counter-cultural women, to go against the flow, to be salmon swimming upstream.
Denisse: When I heard that message for the first time, I was washing the dishes . . . doing the dishes, and I was just sobbing and crying. I remember having the sponge in my hand and saying, “I want to be a salmon! I want to be a salmon!”
I still cry about it because it was that marking point where I understood that it’s going to take an effort for me to go against the waters of what is being taught, what I believe, what I think, and actually take action of what the Word says and take it for myself and then share it with others.
Nancy: Again, Denisse recognizes that none of this would have happened had it not been for the gentle leading of her husband.
Denisse: He has been a blessing, especially in this new time that we are in and what I’m doing now with the ladies in our local church and ladies around the area because it was something that I didn’t feel prepared to do or capable of doing. But I always say that God gave him wisdom to work with me.
The way he discipled me through it was showing me how much he loves me but also how much more he loves the Lord, because he wanted me to understand all those biblical truths of womanhood and what God had in store for me as a woman, as a wife, as a mother. And he just took his time to teach me. Every time I would learn something, I would share it with him, and in his eyes, it was, like, “I know that. I just wanted you to find out!”
Nancy: One of the concepts Denisse was learning is a difficult one for a lot of wives.
Denisse: The word that many in the Hispanic culture would think is a bad word is submission
Nancy: As I said, it’s not just the Hispanic culture that gets tripped up over that word. It’s easy to jump to wrong assumptions about what Scripture means when it talks about wives submitting to their husbands.
We’re not talking about slave-like service or submitting to abuse or other things that God clearly says are wrong, but allowing her husband to lead, says Denisse.
Denisse: It’s been a blessing to us. And knowing all these truths actually just made our marriage stronger.
Nancy: Felix’s leadership has affected the way Denisse parents, as well.
Denisse: One of the things that my husband taught me was, “You know, when we sin against our children, then we have to go and for forgiveness.” And that was something that I was not willing to do.
God used homeschool to teach me that I have to do that—many times—during the day. That’s a way that I’m showing Christ because I sin; I receive conviction for my sin; go into repentance; ask for forgiveness. And there is no better way for me to teach my daughters how to be a Christian follower if I don’t model it. Sometimes it takes me to do the, unfortunately, the wrong thing to teach them how to do the right thing.
That was something that just scared me, and I just preferred to just stay behind and not show them any of my weaknesses. But it’s been a true blessing because I could say that my daughters really know who I am. I asked the Lord that they could see that I just want to follow Christ.
Nancy: Don’t you just love hearing how God uses different means to get His people into His Word? And what a privilege it is for us at Revive Our Hearts to play a role in that process!
We’re going to hear more from Denisse tomorrow, and I know you won’t want to miss that.
I’m so thankful for our Monthly Partner Team that makes this ministry possible. Today and tomorrow are the last two days we’ll be making this special offer you’ve been hearing about throughout the month of March.
For those who sign up to become part of our Partner Team, we’re going to send you a special welcome package. It includes copies of my most recent books, including Adorned, and Lies Women Believe,” that we’ve been hearing about today, as well as a number of other items that you can read about when you go to www.ReviveOurHearts.com.
Our Partners pray for this ministry. They share it with others. And they support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of $30 a month or more. So if you’d like to become a part of this special team, be sure to go to www.ReviveOurHearts.com to get the information, or give us a call at 1-800-569-5959.
And thank you so much to each one of our Partners for all you do to help us as we minister to women like Denisse, helping them experience freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.
Well, tomorrow—a devastating storm. One that caused some huge physical needs, and one that exposed some great spiritual needs, as well, and how God is using Denisse and Felix Cabrera to help meet those needs on their home island of Puerto Rico. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is equipping you to equip others. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
*Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.