When Larry began to sense God telling him to leave his role at Cass Information Systems, he had been serving as CEO for 18 years and Chairman for 16 years. For 43 years, he had also been traveling and speaking on the side, working with churches and Christian organizations and building relationships with a variety of Christian leaders. During that time, Sherry also had a career in child development as a teacher, director and family counselor. Both felt the blessing of the Lord on their work. Larry’s role at CIS was fruitful and enjoyable. Everything logically indicated he was where he needed to be. Despite all of that, he began to feel the Lord calling him out to something new.
GETTING TO KNOW RICH AND LINDA
Larry first met Rich Case at a CEO Forum meeting in the year 2000. At that time Rich was based in Dallas working through some business problems. His transparency was refreshing as he described the issues he was facing. As their relationship grew through involvement in the CEO Forum, Larry learned that Rich and Linda were conducting overseas retreats. Since he and his wife loved travel, they decided to join them on a week long retreat, a time when their friendship really grew.
“What God said to me on that trip would ultimately redirect our lives in a new direction.” – Larry
“We have known each other most of our lives. We met in 7th grade and have since been friends and then spouses. Experiencing the 2000 retreat was transformational for both of us,” Larry says.
During the retreat Rich asked them a simple question, “What is God saying to you?”
“That statement was somewhat new on a personal level. We had sometimes heard that still, small voice. But we had never heard God at a level of deep intensity or engaged in personal conversation with Him.”
What He said on that trip would ultimately redirect their lives significantly. Larry felt God was telling him to leave his job. God’s direction was for Larry to leave a successful company that was impacting organizations near and far. While the idea of leaving didn’t make much sense, Sherry encouraged him to process this in more detail. By the time of their return home, he had made up his mind to tell the Board of Directors he would be leaving. While they were very kind and approving, it didn’t quite sink in that he was serious.
That simple question, “What is God saying to you?” brought a surprising answer that didn’t make sense, but wouldn’t go away. When they discussed it with RIch and Linda, they advised them to “camp” on this issue and continue seeking God. Rich asked what other visions or ideas were being received. Larry replied that he had a recurring reference to ‘gardening’. Rich suggested reading various passages of scripture that related to “gardens”.
“After that retreat, Rich’s advice was mostly ignored. But the theme of abiding began to impact our lives,” Larry explains. “Through Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” and Rich’s teaching on abiding we learned to not only pray to God, but to try to live in the presence of Christ, daily. Rich’s ministry drove us to ask ourselves: “How do we abide with God” and “What does that look like?”.
They both began to experience the reality of an abiding relationship with the Father, individually and together. The simple act of abiding dramatically improved their marriage. Though they continued to have differences, they began to approach problems from a different perspective.
“We found the more we were able to abide, the more we came to unity.”
Abiding also helped them be more sensitive to the needs of the other, and their mutual need for unity. There were still distractions of course, but now they battled to give priority to the Father over all the other obstructions.
“The simple act of abiding dramatically improved our marriage. Though we have our differences and approach problems from different angles, the more we abide, the more we come to unity.”
GROWING THE GARDEN
The following year they attended another retreat. It was at this second retreat when Rich asked for an update on the things God had spoken to them last time. “Are you still getting the feelings about leaving the company and gardening?”, he asked. While the feelings were still there, hardly any time had been spent searching the Scriptures. Rich’s direction was to immediately do so, particularly those on “gardens”.
A lot of time was spent reading about the Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane. Eden seemed great! Gethsemane… not so good. More insight was needed.
ABIDING THROUGH CANCER
Two months after the second retreat, Larry was diagnosed with a severe form of blood cancer called non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The diagnosis kept getting worse and the specialist finally said, “Whatever you and Sherry want to do, you’d better do it within the next year”. They knew the prognosis was not good.
The doctors suggested a course of treatment that included a stem cell transplant. Describing how they processed this news they said, “We were not excited about this! Strangely enough though, we were at peace the whole time. We were not fearful! Larry had lost his brother to this same disease ten years previously. Yet our response to the Father was not, “Why is this happening?” It was, “What is this about? What are your trying to teach us?”
“We used to worry all the time. We both lost brothers to cancer. After the diagnosis, we found great peace. We discovered a supernatural calmness from God. Whenever we became fearful or worried, we knew we were not spending time with Him. This feedback became a key indicator of our focus. The Father always welcomed us back into His presence, providing peace and rest.”
One night, at 2:00am, Larry felt called to pray, ask and listen to what God would say. His mind was cleared of all obstructions and he was able to hear with clarity. He feverishly wrote everything he was hearing from God. This was the first time he cried out to God with the expectation to hear.
“The Father explained we needed to walk through this experience in order to move where He wanted us to be. The next question was ‘Why?’ The Lord said we would be receiving new assignments and it was important to make changes. Then He said, ‘The disease Larry has — I have taken care of it.’”
“The disease you have — I have taken care of it.”
This reality carried them through the sickness. When they received a second opinion, further testing revealed no presence of the disease. They decided to forego the stem cell transplant. It was evident the Father had done what He said. Eleven years later he is still healthy and healed.
“Without the transformational experience we had on those retreats, we wouldn’t have been able to weather this storm with such peace and assurance.”
Larry being a CEO was the most exciting and enjoyable job he could have. But the Father said, “Your new job is to participate in and execute the assignments I give you.” Larry realized his past career was merely to position them for something else: eternal assignments. His first position at CIS was, in fact, the role of “Special Projects Coordinator”. That was actually the job title. Sherry retired five years later and joined him in this new pursuit.
But the Father said, “Your new job is to be a special projects coordinator — do the projects that I give you.”
“Our new assignments became clear: to teach, write, and work with people, ministries and institutions that are having a Kingdom impact. Our focus is to relate the critical importance and spiritual reality of what it means to abide in Christ; to bridge the gap between the theology of abiding and the reality of actually doing and experiencing God’s activity in one’s life. In John 15, Jesus says “abide in me”. How do we do that? Are there personal disciplines we need to enact? It doesn’t just passively happen. The Lord continues to prune our work and activities, removing many past involvements, allowing us to focus more on teaching and writing.”
God also instructed them to be more intentional with their children and grandchildren. This challenged them to go deeper and to be genuine, to display to their family that walking with God is real and experiential.
SHARING THE HARVEST
“One of the greatest aspects of this journey has been the ability to share with others”, Larry shares. “It’s been a joy and privilege to write several books with Rich on the topics of abiding and resting in the Father. Many have been blessed and inspired to move from a passive Christian life to a supernatural one in Christ.” And there are several more books being written.
The Father wants us to know Him intimately and experience His abundant life. With each new assignment, whether speaking engagements or retreats, writing or one on one time with others, the Colletts hope to help other Christians experience this abundant life in a deeper way.
Remember the “Garden” idea that was mentioned earlier? The Father encouraged the Colletts to build garden on the back of the property. Since they live on a five acre hill near the bluffs of the Missouri River, the soil is very rocky and difficult to cultivate. When the Father says to do something, however, one just gets going. There are two sections to our garden development. The lower section has a walkway that requires one to climb numerous steps in order to reach the upper level. The Father said the lower level was the “Gethsemane” section. The upper is “Eden”. In order to arrive in Eden, one must traverse Gethsemane. It’s the only way! They named the Garden, “The Edge” (the first two letters of each garden).
Before planting the garden, there was a large group of roses next to the area designated for this project. They never really grew well. They were ready to uproot and replace them with something else. Some time after constructing the garden they were hosting a retreat at their home focused on teaching the practice of abiding in the Lord. During the retreat, the roses came alive, filling the hillside with beautiful color and fragrance. Rich realized this was an illustration of the new and abundant life God promised. It impacted all who were in attendance. “We sang the great old hymn, “In the Garden”, as we pondered and absorbed what the Father was saying.”
“We often get requests from friends and ministry leaders to come to “The Edge” to pray and just relax. It is a very quiet and restful place where one is encouraged to communicate with the Father. The garden has become a part of our ministry.”
The Colletts are still learning to avoid having their expectations driven by earthly activity. Instead, they are anticipating supernatural, Kingdom results to come from work given and directed by the Father. Life led this way can indeed be “abundant”.