Photo by Nicole Tarpoff
I am a runner, and this story is about how God used running and something else—really, someone else—to heal me from one of the greatest pains in my life.
A little backstory…
My church has a ministry that reaches out to women—dancers in the sex industry in local strip clubs. I am a massage therapist, and in 2007 I was asked by the church to provide massage therapy for the women this ministry served. I agreed and approached it very casually. I wasn’t worried about it. After all, I had been in bars before. How different could this be?
But it was very different and made me very uncomfortable. As I was providing the massage therapy for the women, the thoughts I had were so disturbing. I wanted to stop, to leave. I thought, “Why did I agree to do this?”
And then I felt Jesus saying, “Don’t you know if I were still on this earth in flesh I would be here?”
I had been viewing the women through my eyes, but Jesus gave me His lens. It was then that I could truly see the women and my heart broke for them. A seed was planted that day and I wanted to serve them and help them. I knew I couldn’t go back into the clubs to help—I had terrible dreams for weeks after my visit—so I asked God to show me how to help.
This experience—this softening of my heart for this specific group of women—was used to prepare me for what was to come. The next year, my marriage came to an end due to my former spouse failing in various areas of sexual sin. I was devastated. We divorced, and for months, I was in a pit of despair. In the midst of all of this, I had planned to run a race but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t healthy. Everything was about “that thing” that had happened to me.
Finally, I felt God saying, “Let’s get the focus off of you.” I felt as though I should start running again; specifically, I felt that I should run in a race to raise money for women at the Refuge for Women, a place that provides a safe haven for sexually exploited women.
I called the director of the Refuge and told him I felt like God wanted me to run a race to raise money for the women. There was a long pause on the line and then he said, “We just had our first board meeting, and during the meeting we prayed that the Lord would press upon the hearts of ordinary people to raise awareness and money for this ministry—and then you call and tell me this!”
The Lord gave me visions that I would conduct my own races for the women at the Refuge and put teams together to race and even run with some of the women served by the Refuge. All of this has come to pass. Running that first race was particularly healing for me.
But there was another run—a training run—that I will never forget. I was training for a marathon and had gone to visit my parents at their farm in Ohio. I needed to run 18 miles the next morning, which proved difficult given their location and many country lanes/roads. I carefully planned my running course from my parent’s dairy farm to the little town of Bryan, Ohio, and wrote the directions on my hand.
I got to mile 15 in the little town and there was a big detour sign. I couldn’t get through. I had to choose a different road. I soon came upon a Dum Dum sucker factory. It was early Sunday morning and the parking lot was deserted. But in the distance I could see a person sitting on the concrete with their head down. As I got closer, I could see it was woman in high heels and a mini-skirt who looked like she had had a really “rough” night. I didn’t want to, but I felt God urging me to go to her.
I took off my headphones and walked over to her, “Excuse me, are you okay?”
“No, I’m not,” she said.
“What can I do to help you?” I asked.
“I’m lost. My phone is broke and my boyfriend doesn’t know how to find me.”
“How long have you been sitting here?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did you get here?”
“I don’t know.”
The factory was in the middle of a residential area.
“Why haven’t you gone to one of the houses to ask for help?”
“Have you looked at me?”
“Well, I’m here to help you.” She used my phone to call her boyfriend and I asked her if I could stay with her until he came. She said I could. Then I asked if I could pray for her and she said yes. I prayed for her and soon her boyfriend arrived. He was very thankful. I offered them money but they said they didn’t need money.
What are the chances that I would encounter this woman? I could have chosen many weekends to visit my parents. I could have chosen a different road at the detour. But I chose the one that led me to this woman. I believe it was God’s plan to lead me to women that represented an industry that had destroyed my marriage and nearly destroyed me—a painful reminder of a hurtful time in my life. But again, Jesus gave me His eyes and His compassion. He used this experience, this encounter with her, to heal me.
When I think about what I am most thankful for, there are so many things. Perhaps it sounds weird to say I am thankful for the pain—but I am. This current version of me is much better than the version of me before. God had a “beauty out of ashes” plan for me—and only God can come up with that kind of plan.
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.