#196 Living on Assignment

 Photo by Sophie Goforth

God saved me from death eight years ago but, more importantly; He gave me a new beginning when, by all rights, there should only have been a tragic ending. 

My name is Melissa and I’m a recovering addict, but much more, I’m a redeemed child of God. I am a writer by trade, and have done well in this career; although I have failed miserably as the author of my own story. The story I tried to write of my life was one I insisted on filling with excitement, money, power, control, and all the love and adoration I could stand. I wanted the perfect modern-day fairytale, and I wanted things to go my way, on my terms. However, the sad story I strung together for four decades was pretty on the outside but a total mess on the inside. It was completely empty, yet filled with selfishness, shame, regret, loneliness, unresolved anger, addiction, and despair. My tragic tale included bad choices, bad characters, and a very bad outcome. 

On January 29, 2012, God got tired of the way I was writing Melissa’s story, and closed the book on it. 

Prior to this, I was the hero of my own story. I appeared to be an empowered, single mom who was in control of every career move. I had worked as a reporter and had worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. I have met astronauts and had my accomplishments recognized on the floor of Mission Control. I have the only Hello Kitty doll that’s traveled to space! I was a successful woman on the outside and a total train wreck on the inside. I struggled with excess for a long time — excessive need for attention, excessive need for stimulation, and excessive need for alcohol to dull and/or enhance every situation in life. I was horrible at relationships, constantly thinking I needed the attention of men, and unable to control my drinking to the point of not remembering the night and, eventually, the days before. The character Melissa, whom I didn’t want people to know on a deep level, was not a nice, pretty person. She caused so much hurt with her drunken words. She didn’t care for her precious daughter like she should have, and she found herself being in trouble with the law around every corner. She even spent the night in jail after passing out in her running truck in a parking lot one afternoon. 

You would think after all that mess, and so much more, it would have prompted a change of heart. But even a weeklong stay in the hospital with pneumonia, brought on by a weakened, alcohol-induced state, didn’t change my heart. Destroying essentially every valuable relationship as a drunk didn’t change my heart either. Even threats from my parents to take my daughter from me because I was an unfit mother didn’t change my heart. In all my despair and shame, I was still prideful and stubborn. I was unwilling to do the work I needed to get my life on track. I wanted help but I wouldn’t budge. I still wanted to control my own story. I couldn’t get on top of my addiction, so I would pray and pray to God asking Him to save me from my every mess, which He did over and over again. But was I grateful, was I remorseful? Did it change my heart? NO! I just made bigger messes. It was the pattern in my life that kept me away from God. Even worse, I was a master at hiding my true self and making life look perfect to those who barely knew me. I kept those who knew the truth about me shut out as much as possible. 

I kept all my lies, deceit, and charades in motion until a dreary Sunday afternoon on January 29, 2012. That’s the day my world fell apart. My sodium level bottomed out and my body was depleted of all the nutrients it needed to live. 

I had essentially drank myself to death. 

In front of my four-year daughter and elderly father, I collapsed face-first and started convulsing. I don’t have a memory of it, but my dad told me later that I began throwing up and had blood coming out of my mouth. My dad called 911. My daughter was crying and the ambulance came and took me away. They didn’t have time to get me to the trauma center at the university hospital because they said I would have been dead on arrival, so they took me to a local hospital. When they wheeled me in, I was frothing at the mouth. My friend Gabe, whom I call my angel Gabriel, happened to be the nurse on duty. He was stunned to see me like that. They had already done CPR, and they couldn’t get me to breathe. 

I was dying. 

Gabe, who now calls me Miracle Melissa, told me he was so worried I wasn’t going to make it. Another nurse walked in and bluntly said “Oh, she’s going to die.” He could tell I was fading fast so he prayed over my body. He prayed for God to intercede and for me to live. It was out of medical hands at that point. In the two days that followed I was unconscious and on a ventilator. But, in that time, my entire life was transformed. 

While I appeared nearly dead to the world, I was on the other side and had an experience that was so profound it altered the course of my remaining life on earth. I was alive in this world physically but in every other way I was living on the other side. It’s funny, I didn’t believe in near-death experiences until I had one. I don’t want to be the crazy near-death lady, but it is what it is. There really are no words to describe what I experienced, but I will try my best. 

It was the “realest” experience I have ever had. I went through a life review, vividly experiencing my life from birth until the moment I collapsed. Not just seeing it, but truly experiencing it with all my senses, including smells. It was wonderous and upsetting all in one. I relived a lot of joyous times but also saw how my negativity had overwhelmed my life. I saw how I had taken for granted all the blessings — and third and fourth chances God had given me. My time on the other side was filled with Jesus, full of grace, advocating for me. I pleaded with God to return me to my daughter Sophie. I didn’t read the Bible, so I didn’t know that it says Jesus is my Advocate (1 John 2:1). God had mercy on me, allowing me to come back to life. I woke up knowing that the most important thing in life is the love we give and the love we allow other people to pour into us. When I was allowed to return to life, I was given two assignments, clear as day. Number one, “get my life right.” Number two, “tell my story.” I have spent every day since then trying my best to do both. Even though I’m not perfect, God still gives me grace. He knows I am trying this time. I wasn’t trying before. The first person I shared my story with was my nurse, and she just sat down and wept. She said she had been praying for God to show her He is real.

Miraculously, I experienced no health issues after my brush with death. But the spiritual experience radically changed my life. I have more than 3,000 days of sobriety. I was the one who couldn’t go more than three hours without using alcohol or drugs. I know now without a doubt that God and Jesus are real and that our time on earth is just part of a much, much bigger picture. This knowledge has not only convicted me to live better, but it has freed me mentally and emotionally to live a bolder and more vibrant life for the Lord. I now let my life shine bright for Him, which is something I never did before. Before, my life seemed well put together, but it was depleted in every sense of the word. Without a personal relationship with Jesus to depend on at that time, I was crumbling quickly under the stress, sadness, and emptiness. My collapse represented where I was with life in all aspects, physically, emotionally, mentally and, above all, spiritually. 

Now fast forward to this moment, and for me to be walking bolding in the light and standing strong is nothing short of a miracle. Any one that knows me can point to that collapse and say the experience changed me forever. My life was still a mess when I woke up. It wasn’t perfectly put back together instantly. But I learned that I had to let go and give my problems to God. And He has pieced my world back together in incredible ways. 

I was baptized in my early 20s. I believed in God but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. But God didn’t give up on me. I knew God wasn’t punishing me. The life review was so important because it showed me all the chances God had given me. I have to push myself to share my story because I don’t want to be labeled crazy. I never knew that telling my story would set me free and point others to Christ. My story is not Melissa’s story. It’s God’s story told through Melissa’s life. I now serve people in active addiction and recovery, using my story. God has turned my mess into my message. Every day I get to use what was my shame to help pull people out their own personal hell. I know where to look for them in that darkness because I’ve tried to hide there too. 

God gave me the chance to get my life right, but I had to let Him take over as the Author of my story. I am still in awe of the way He has transformed me from life as an addicted, twice-divorced, single mom — stumbling through deep, dark despair — to someone living as a sober, devoted mom, grateful friend, and active church member who loves life. I have watched my daughter grow, rebuilt relationships with my parents, reconnected with friends and now I have a great Godly man in my life who loves me AND my redemption story! I’ve been transformed by the Lord into something beautiful. He has allowed me to connect with hurting hearts in my job — there is nothing that compares. 

The story God has written for me is beyond what I thought I deserved or would ever receive from Him. Honestly, all I had to do was to hand Jesus the broken pieces of the mess I had created over the years and let Him rebuild my shattered world. From there, Jesus took control, and I have never looked back. 

Don’t give up until your miracle happens. God is there. You just have to reach out and be willing to do what He calls you to do. 

“…. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah  29:11 (NIV)

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.

#195 God Renewed My Mind


Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in 1956 and lived on a farm with my parents and two sisters. My parents were sort of sharecroppers. Our rent was free but my dad had to farm the land, and my mom had to do all the ironing and work that normally black people did back then. 

We moved to Lexington, Kentucky, when I was about five or six. I got into a lot of trouble at school because I had a speech problem. I stuttered really bad and people made fun of me, which caused fights. The teacher would always call on me to read, knowing I had a speech problem. I hated going to school. One day the teacher sent me home with homework, and I asked my mom and dad if they could help me. They told me they couldn’t read and write. I thought if they could make it without being able to read and write, then I didn’t need to go to school. I dropped out in the seventh grade because I got into trouble fighting.

I started hanging with guys in the streets when I was about 10. They were driving big Cadillacs. I didn’t realize what they were doing to get those cars. A couple of older guys liked me. They would give me silver dollars to watch the girls. They made their money on prostitutes and drugs. That was the only role models we had in those days. Drug dealers, pimps and thieves.

I was about 13 years old when I started stealing and robbing. I ended up going to about every juvenile institution in the state. At about 14 or 15, I was sent to Woodsbend Boys Camp. A young man lost his life there. They tried to charge me and another boy with the murder, but it didn’t happen the way they said it did. I wasn’t convicted, but that young man’s death haunted me for years. That was the first time I had been around somebody who died. When I got out of Woodsbend, I went back to stealing in the streets. My parents didn’t have much money and were struggling. I felt bad for them and I wanted to help them. There was a lot of racial tension and blacks were trying to find to their place in society. I still remember when a food train came into the city to give out food to people who couldn’t afford to buy it. I went with my mom and two sisters to get some food. My mom was next in line, but a white lady got in front and told my mom to go to the back of the line. That lady called my mom all kinds of names.

When I turned 18, I was charged with theft by unlawful taking and detaining a female. The young lady had been babysitting my sisters, and I picked her up to take her home. She told her mom that I made her do things but this was not true. They sentenced me to four years in prison, and I did 13 months. I got out in 1977. I went back to the streets doing all the wrong things. In 1979, I ended up with a five-year sentence for possession of a forged instrument. I got out in 1981; then got another charge for robbery and assault.

I was given a life sentence because of the new persistent felony offender law. I was told I would never get out of prison or see the outside world again. I was sent to a maximum security prison and saw a couple of people get killed. That changed my life. Something clicked in me. I thought about my mom and dad and that they never had an education. I thought, “I’ve got all this time. I should at least get my GED.” I didn’t get into any trouble. I studied and got my GED, then they transferred me to another prison for good conduct. I decided to try a college course and eventually got an associate degree. I got another degree for hotel management. I also learned a trade in furniture upholstery. The way I viewed people and life was changing. I was at this prison for 10 years before I was eligible for parole. They denied my parole and told me I would never be allowed to return to Lexington. 

In 1992, I was transferred to Bell County Forestry Camp for good behavior. This was almost like a halfway house getting me ready to return to society. While I was there, I met a young lady and we began corresponding with one another. I explained to her that I couldn’t return to Lexington, which is where she lived. I asked if she would move to Frankfort, which is close to Lexington, and she agreed. I had been saving money all those years. I sent her money to get an apartment. She got the apartment and got in touch with a parole office in Frankfort telling him that I was going up for parole. He said that he wasn’t willing to allow me to come to Frankfort with my criminal record. She continued to talk to him and he agreed that I could come to Frankfort, but he wasn’t willing to let me move in with her without getting married.

I went to the chaplain at Bell County Forestry Camp, but he said he couldn’t marry us because they didn’t believe in interracial marriages. They let us go to another church to get married. We ended up being married for 21 years. During this time, we had a home and I had a good job where I worked for 17 years. But I got comfortable and complacent, thinking I wasn’t going to make a mistake. I ended up getting a DUI that violated my parole. I went back to prison for a year. I was out for another seven years, but then I got another DUI and went back to prison again for two years. 

I got back out and it was hard to pick up the pieces. I went to a halfway house. My wife asked me for a divorce, which I could understand. I got a new job working at a factory. My nephew came to the factory and told me my mom had died. I left work but told my supervisor my mom had died before I left. We were trying to make arrangements for the funeral. On Monday my supervisor told me I no longer had a job. I lost my mom, my job and my wife all in one week. I was devastated and started drinking a lot. I don’t know, maybe I was trying to commit suicide by drinking myself to death. 

In 2018 I got sent back to prison for absconding, which means I didn’t report to my parole officer. The parole board gave me 15 months. This time I was at Blackburn State Prison. I started attending a program called Alpha. I was told by some people that the people at Alpha would help me find a home. The first person I met was Greg (story #193). I told him that I wanted help finding a home. He said, “We don’t do that. But you can come and listen to what we are talking about.” I went back and then continued to go to the Alpha meetings every time they were there. I had never met any group of people who were so humble. They weren’t judgmental. They would sit and listen. Greg asked me if I had a Bible. I told him I had had a few Bibles in my life but never opened one. Some of the films they would show in Alpha had me in tears. I was really being touched inside by something. I didn’t understand it. I kept reflecting over my life and my childhood. I was the only one left alive from the people I grew up with. I thought about being told that I would never get out of prison. The Alpha program showed me that I might not have believed in God, but God believed in me. They taught me that God has me here on earth for a reason. I began to see how God was working in my life. Honestly, going to prison saved my life. I wouldn’t have gotten an education or training. I would have been dead. Somebody in the street would have killed me or I would have killed myself doing something crazy. And I wouldn’t have gone to Alpha. God changed my life through the Alpha program.

I am out of prison now. I feel good about who I am and where I am in life. I have a new job, which is a great blessing. I know many people are out of work these days because of the coronavirus. I still connect with the guys from Alpha every day, and I read my Bible every day. They are some of the greatest people I have ever met. They have become my best friends. They have mentored me and helped me to understand so many things. 

I don’t know why it has taken me so many years to realize that God loves me, even if nobody else does. God is forever loving. God is all-knowing. One of the hardest things for me to do was to change my way of thinking. God has renewed my mind. If God can change me, He can change anybody. Every day I try to help someone out. I didn’t do that before. I am in great pain when I see someone suffer. I’m not saying I am perfect — by no means. I am a work in progress and God is leading me every step of the way. Sometimes I open up the Bible and don’t understand what I read. I ask God to help me to learn what He wants me to learn, and then I come back later to the Bible and I do understand it. 

I am happy for the first time in my life. I mean really happy. I really don’t have anything. But I have God in my life, and I am peaceful. Don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on yourself. Your life is a gift from God. 

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Romans 8:18–19 (NLT)

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.

#194 Learning to Love Again


Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in America’s white middle class. I was raised Catholic, and I am grateful I grew up in a home where God was important. I went to Catholic schools for 12 years and then went to college. I have always been active in sports. I played a lot of soccer, including playing during college. 

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and got a couple of really good jobs after college. In my mid-20s, I got involved in a bad relationship with a lot of domestic violence. I was stuck in this relationship for about three years. The person I was with was involved in illegal activities, including drugs. I knew what he was doing, but there was so much violence. I was just focused on surviving. 

When the police came to our house, my abuser said to me, “If I’m in trouble, you are in trouble, too.” He testified against me in court and said things that weren’t true. I had drug charges, but I wasn’t involved in drug deals. We shared a home and a bank account, which was a problem. I never sold drugs and never had a drug addiction. But addiction definitely could have been part of my story as a way to escape. I think I was headed in that direction. 

I was sent to prison with a five-year sentence in Marysville, Ohio. I served four of the five years. Going to prison actually saved me. The violence had gotten really bad and more frequent. I believe I would have either been killed or would have killed him to protect myself. While I was incarcerated, I was free from all that, and it was such a relief. As crazy as it sounds, I can honestly say I am glad it happened.

I believed in God before I went to prison. Before I got involved in the bad relationship, I had really begun to pursue a relationship with God. But that was put on hiatus through the relationship problems. While I was involved in the relationship, we went to church together. It was a matter of show for him. For me, it was a way to convince myself and everyone else that I was fine. It was very difficult to accept and admit that someone had taken every part of my life away.

My journey with God in prison began when one of my friends sent me a picture of Jesus walking on the beach. It said, “You never realize God is all you need, until He is all you have.” I remember sitting on my bed and reading that. It was the beginning of me starting over. It was the beginning of me letting God tell me who I was again. Because of the relationship, I had no idea who I was as a person anymore. I had been listening to the voice of the man who was abusing me. I had let him tell me who I was. 

In prison, I began to dive into scripture, trying to find out who God believes I am. I wanted Him to teach me to be the person He originally created me to be. I was excited to learn who that was. I also went through the process of discovering love again. I had become very jaded about “love.” For three years, I had someone tell me they loved me while they were abusing me. I had to go through the process of believing that God loved me, that others could still love me, and that I still had the ability to love others. God taught me how to love again and what love means. 

I read the book Redeeming Loveby Francine Rivers. I cried so many times during that book. I put myself in that book — as someone who had run away and didn’t feel like God loved me, yet someone who God kept pursuing and loving. I felt like God was saying to me, “I’m still right here. I’m still right here. No matter what, I’m still here.” I hung on to that. 

I went through scripture and read about the Proverbs 31 woman. These were all the things I wanted to be. I felt like God was telling me I could still be that person. When I went to prison, my confidence had been destroyed. I went through the process of regaining confidence, but it wasn’t coming from me. It was a different confidence. Before my confidence was dependent on something that I did to earn it. Now my confidence comes from God. Even when I am weak, He is strong. I have learned that God has it. Now I just see myself as a willing vessel for His plan in my life. I have confidence that He will unfold that plan and guide me to become the woman He created me to be. 

Until the COVID-19 shutdown, I was working for an optometrist and enjoying sports and going to the gym. I still attend the same church that I attended prior to going to prison. I am involved in their prison ministry. When I first heard about their prison ministry, I thought, “There is no way I am going back to a prison,” but God kept nudging me. Diving into that has been really awesome. I walked into the same prison in Marysville where I was for four years. I walked in and walked out on my own accord. It was a total redemption story. God brought it full circle in that moment. I thought, “God, You got me here and saved my life, and now You have brought me back to the same place to be a source of hope.” I am also a board member with a nonprofit that helps people affected by domestic violence. This has been very healing, too. God already had the whole thing planned out. Everything that was a struggle — everything that was a negative in my life — has become a positive. I have wonderful people in my life that I would have never known. God worked so much good in what Satan meant for evil. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I have learned that God is so loving. He knows so much about me. He knows everything I struggle with and everything I am good at. The unconditional love of God is something you will never experience anywhere else. It’s always there. It’s never-ending. It’s the best relationship you will ever be in. 

No matter what it looks like or what people are telling you right now — there is hope. You might not believe it every day; there were definitely days I didn’t, but there is a story that is already written for you. It is an amazing thing to be on a journey with God. Having an open heart and spending time talking to God and listening to God is so important. The more time you spend with someone, the better the relationship. It’s the same with God. I never wanted my time in prison to be for nothing. Don’t walk out of prison without the relationship with God. Don’t waste the time. Don’t waste the time. 

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 2 Corinthians 4:17

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.

#193 First Step: Surrender

 Photo by Larry Ball

I was born in 1955 and grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky. My biological mother died when I was just six years old. My father got remarried fairly quickly to a woman who was so good to my brother and me. She tried to take me to church, but my dad didn’t like that idea very much. So, I had a great childhood but didn’t go to church. My dad and stepmother were great!

My parents really couldn’t afford to send me to college but they did, and I flunked out. So, I came back to Frankfort and went to work. I decided I wanted to be a policeman. I got a job in 1977 with the Lexington Police Department. I wasn’t a Christian at the time. Really all I cared about was working. Early in my career I met the police chaplain, and he saw something in me. He took me under his wing and mentored me. It wasn’t really about being a Christian but more about how to be a compassionate policeman with integrity. I saw in him some things I really liked but it never occurred to me what a better policeman I would be if I were a Christian man. He was a great role model for being a Christian and a police officer. 

I worked at the police department in narcotics two or three different times. I was undercover, buying drugs from people by myself. It was dangerous work and I had a lot of crazy things happen to me. All aspects of being an officer, whether a detective or in uniform, has built-in dangerous situations. Looking back, I thank God for protecting me, but during that time I wasn’t a Christian and I never stopped to thank God for how He protected me.

I never really thought I would get married but, in 1983, I met a wonderful woman, Keene. We got married in 1985. She had two children and their father had died long before I met them. The children really didn’t remember much about their father, just as I didn’t remember much about my mother. As I look back, I can see what a good role model my stepmother was for me. She showed me how to step into a marriage with children and be a good, loving parent. It’s amazing how God worked that out. I adopted both Jason and Shannon after just one year of marriage. They have been wonderful children. God really knew what I needed. 

My wife was a lifelong member of a Methodist church. She asked me many times to go with her to church while we were dating, but I usually had an excuse. Occasionally, I couldn’t come up with an excuse and I would go, mostly because I loved her and she wanted me to go. I began to get involved with the church and liked the people there. The people at church liked me as well, and they began to put me on committees. After we got married, I was still really attending for my wife. I was playing church. 

Keene kept on being a role model for me and the children, but she wasn’t pushy. In 1986, I was preparing for the test to be promoted to the rank of police sergeant. It was very stressful. I was working so hard to prepare. One day Keene asked me, “Are you praying about getting promoted?” I said, “No, you can’t pray about that stuff. God doesn’t want to hear about that.” She said, “Yes, God does want you to pray about things like that.”There were 155 people who took the test, and I had the third-highest score. This taught me that I could pray about anything and that God listens to all prayers big and small. 

Keene was still chipping away at me, and I was still going to church. The police chaplain and I were still friends. But I wasn’t really committed to God. In 2001, I was having a discussion with Keene about sin. I told her that I prayed about the same things over and over again. I said, “I ask for forgiveness for two things over and over again.” She didn’t ask me what the two things were but she said, “If you ask for forgiveness once, you are forgiven. You don’t have to ask again and again.” One day after that, I was talking with my pastor about the conversation with Keene about forgiveness. It was just the two of us at church. He said, “Let’s go down here and pray about that.” We walked to the front of the church, and I knelt at the altar. The pastor said, “Quit praying about this. God forgives you but you have to surrender. You have to move what you have in your head to your heart.” He led me in prayer and after we finished that prayer, I felt totally different. I was a changed person. I had tried to read Mere Christianityby C.S. Lewis before that day, and it was like there was something that was blocking my understanding. But after that day, it just clicked with me. The same thing happened with the Bible. Before, I was reading the Bible so I could quote scriptures. I could “play” church as well as anyone. I put on the best act going. But after that day in 2001, I read the Bible for a different reason, not to impress anyone but to change me. Really everything changed for me — my marriage, my friends, being a policeman. 

Many people know Jeremiah 29:11, which says:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

But you have to read down a little further to get a more complete picture of the message. This is one of my favorite verses:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

God had a wonderful plan for my life, and He had been preparing me; but I had to surrender first before His full plan for my life could be realized.

I left the police department after 20 years to become the director of police training for the Department of Criminal Justice in Kentucky. During that time, I was really able to share my Christian faith with many people. In 2004, I was appointed to work for the governor in a statewide law enforcement job. There were a lot of Christian men and women in that organization. We prayed at meetings, and there were Bible studies that started as part of our work. I felt like I was not only doing a good job, but I was being more significant. I started to really grow in this job. In 2008, we had a new governor and I left that job. I went from making a really good salary, to making no money. But God provided for us and our way of living did not change. Still, I wanted to work. 

The County Attorney offered me a job working as a gang enforcement specialist. As a part of this job I worked to help identify criminal gang members in conjunction with the police department in the community and in jails and worked in the school system to put gang prevention initiatives into place. Working in the schools was challenging because I was older. But God provided a partner for me in this work. One of my friends got into a conversation with a man named Gerald Gibson (Geo) who worked at a local gas station. Geo told my friend that he was looking to work with young people. He was a convicted felon and while he served time in prison, he developed a program called Operation Make a Change (Story #187). The purpose of OMAC is to invest in the lives of troubled youth to promote change. My friend invited Geo to come to the police station to talk with us. I knew when I met him, he was the real deal. But he was a convicted felon and I wasn’t sure my boss, the county attorney, would permit him to work with me. When I went to my boss and told him I wanted to work with Geo, he was very reluctant. But when I told him that I would vouch for him and I would work closely with him, he agreed. The school system let me bring Geo into the schools with me, but I had to be with him in everything we did. We led the OMAC program in the school. Then we started leading the program in jail. Here you have a younger African American man working with an older white retired police captain. It was like Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte!

At first, Geo worked as a volunteer but we ended up hiring him part-time through the county attorney’s office; then we hired him full-time. Geo was a changed man. It was his faith that had changed him. I called myself a changed man, but I still believed that people in jail deserved to be in jail. I had separated the person who committed the crime from the person God created them to be. Over time my perspective changed. I sat in the group when Geo talked to the men in jail. They loved him and hated me. But after a few weeks, the men began to see me differently and wanted to interact with me when they got out of jail. I helped them find work and find a church. During my 10 years in this job, I had many other jobs offers, but every time I turned to God for an answer, the answer was “No.” I was right where God wanted me. I can remember many incarcerated men found so many blessings in the two of us working together on their behalf.  They were quite surprised to see this unlikely duo. 

We were still working together, but my work was dwindling down. There was another transition in our governor, and I was told I would get a big job in justice with the state. However, I didn’t get the big job and was disappointed. Out of the blue one evening, a national leader for Alpha, a prison ministry, called me. Typically, I don’t answer calls at 9:30 p.m., especially if I don’t recognize the number, but that night I answered. He asked me to think about becoming the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. I was familiar with Alpha because my wife and I had taught a 14-week Alpha course in the church and had been involved in the marriage and business components of the Alpha ministry, but I didn’t know that Alpha had a prison ministry. The national director came to Lexington the next day and spent three days talking with me. He told me that all my years of work had prepared me to go into prisons and do ministry. I was open to this because I had begun to see jail as a real dark spot for many lost people. The least and the lost!

I accepted the non-paying job to be the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. We started that ministry four years ago in one jail, and over time it has expanded to other jails and prisons. This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Had I not been working with Geo in jails prior to this, I probably would not have taken this ministry job in prisons and jails. 

I have come to see people who are incarcerated in a different way. Their crime is what they didand they have to have accountability for that, but that is not who they are. I have recruited many people to help in the prison ministry. They all say they get more out of prison ministry than the inmates do. 

It has often been uncomfortable work for me. Sometimes I run into men in prison whom I arrested — sometimes for murder. This has really grown my character. I trust God and have seen God work in amazing ways. Once a man I had really connected with asked me if we could start a Bible study in his area. I said we could if he picked the people and the topic. We have been doing this Bible study now for four years. One Saturday afternoon he called me saying he had just talked by phone with a friend who said she was going to kill herself. He gave me her name and address. The police found her just as she was getting ready to take the pills to take her life. It was the anniversary of her son’s suicide, and her parents had been murdered a few years earlier. The police were able to get her help. I talked to the man later and told him that I had never known anyone who wasn’t a police officer who had saved a person’s life — but he did. He started crying. He and I would have never met if it hadn’t been for the Alpha ministry. 

A few years ago, I met a retired police officer who was dying from cancer. I started visiting him every week in the nursing home. We talked about police work and we also talked about God. I asked some of the inmates to make cards for him. This man was so touched by the love that poured out from the inmates that he left a large sum of money to be used in prison ministry when he died. He wanted to reward people who were surrendering their will to God. With his generous donation, we formed the nonprofit Kentucky Alpha Prison Ministries, which helps many people. 

Two of the most important things I have learned is that God is very forgiving, and God is very patient. I’m thankful that God accepts me as a sinner. I’m thankful that God’s Son took my sins and was crucified, died and arose from the grave. I’m so thankful to God for a great wife of 35 years. Keene has played such a big role in helping me to become the man God created me to be. 

You have to totally surrender every part of your life to God. Many people want to hold onto one corner of their life and not turn it over to God. They try to manage sin, but it is impossible to manage sin. Until you completely surrender every aspect of your life, you are always going to have problems. You will not be able to become the person God created you to be and live out the fullness of His plan for you. Complete surrender made all the difference in my life. If I can do it, anyone can. 

Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 10:25a).

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.

#192 Formed in the “Suddenly’s” Part 3

 Photo by Andrew Schacht

“Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, why did you doubt?” The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! Truly, you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 14:28–33).

About two months ago, I had a morning in Spain that is still having a ripple effect on my life. And it started with me breaking away from my normal routine to get a closer look at one of the many beautiful gifts the Lord has given us. Spontaneity is not really a new thing for me. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. I believe that when you are walking with the Lord, the beauty of life is found in those spontaneous moments with Him. So, I tend to seek them out. From experience, I do submit to the idea that living a disciplined lifestyle creates more freedom. However, the day that I want to share about was one of those where I chose spontaneity over structure. And the Lord radically met me in that place. 

5:30 a.m. wake up. 6:06 a.m. pick-up in the mini-van. 6:20 a.m. at the gym. That was my routine, along with six of my brothers, each morning of the week during my first three months in Mijas. I was incredibly blessed that the Lord surrounded me with a group of men who loved deeply and were willing to walk, battle, and pour into one another’s lives daily. That routine and group of men quickly turned into one of the most life-giving forms of church I have ever experienced. I was pulled closer to the Father’s heart more consistently in that 30-minute van ride than most Sunday morning services I have sat through. But on this particular day, a day that has been one of the most influential and prophetic days of my life, I decided to break away from my normal routine in hope of finding something different. Instead, I decided to head down to the Mediterranean Sea in the complete darkness of the morning to watch the sunrise from the beach. 

As I walked out onto the beach, the chilled breeze off the waves swirled about, waking me up and almost welcoming me into its tranquil space. I watched from the shore as one of my good friends, who I had gotten a ride down to the beach with, paddled off into the distance toward the horizon line. I sat contently by myself in the silence of the morning with only the smell of the coffee in my hands and the sound of the early waves to accompany me. As the stars and moon began to slowly drift away, I set up my phone to capture a time-lapse of that shift from darkness to light. I was at peace. In my comfortability, I began asking the Lord to speak to my heart and meet me in that place. Well, like He always does, He answered. But, like He does so often, it was in a way that was completely different than what I was anticipating. As so many times before, He showed up with an interruption rather than things going how I planned. 

After about 10 minutes of sitting in the stillness of the morning, I heard a noise next to me that took me off guard. One of the beach workers who was setting up chairs had accidentally knocked over my time-lapse set up. Selfishly, I was initially irritated because the shot I was hoping for had been ruined. Nonetheless, I set my phone back up and hit record again. As I began to walk away from my phone, I felt very clearly in my heart a thought — more of an invitation — from the Lord. “Come get in the water.” My first response was without pause, “Absolutely not. Way too cold.” As I made it back to my warm coffee, I felt it again. “Come get in the water.” Back and forth in my heart this exchange happened for the next several minutes, until finally I decided to say “yes,” instead of having to say “what if” later on. In my life, I have found that the moments where I decide to say “yes” have been the very moments that have shaped my identity, introduced me to freedom, and brought me across the globe on an adventure with Him. So again, even when I am reluctant at first, I tend to seek them out.

After taking off my hoodie and chugging the last sips of my coffee, I slowly began to make my way out into the low tide. At this point, the sun had not yet broken the horizon line. But, the Lord had pulled out his best color palette, filling the sky and the reflections off the water with His favorite pastels. With no one else on the beach and standing about knee deep in the chilled sea, I felt it again but this time different. “Take another step with Me.” I could tell the Lord was stirring something in my heart, but wasn’t completely sure what it was yet. Now, I was about waist deep in the water. “Take another step with Me.” This continued until I was about neck deep in the cold Mediterranean. Once I got to this point, something happened inside my heart that I don’t think I have completely grasped, nor do I think I will ever fully understand. 

In that moment, a sudden sense of boldness, energy and adrenaline came over my body. Without really thinking or knowing why, I took off on a dead sprint swim toward the horizon. Overcome by this flash of life in my body, I swam harder and harder off the coast toward an unplanned and unknown destination. After what seemed like, I can only guess, but about five minutes of this dead-sprint swim, I finally halted to a stop. Up out of the water, salt and hair in my eyes, I quickly gasped for air. Absolutely exhausted from that burst of a swim, each breath brought more and more attention to where I was. Treading water to catch my breath, I realized that I had swam way further off the shore than I ever thought I could go.

Without warning, a sudden sense of fear and panic began to creep into my head. I am a good swimmer (shout-out to a few years on the Hartland Swim Team), but by no means would I call myself an endurance swimmer. At this point, I had absolutely exerted all of my energy and strength during that sprint. I quickly made note of a few things. One, that I was so far off the coast that I could not touch the bottom. Two, I was not completely certain that I could make it back to the shore. Three, there was absolutely no one near me or on the beach. In a sense, I stepped out and had gotten myself into a place where I wasn’t sure if my own strength could help me. 

As I spun back around to face the horizon, I began to slowly calm myself and my breathing. Completely surrounded by the utter magnitude of the Mediterranean Sea with only the faint sight of the shore behind me, I was completely isolated in this theater of beautiful colors and potential fears. It was in this moment that I knew exactly what new revelation the Lord was trying to reveal to me. It was in this moment that I knew what this morning was all about. Once again, I heard His voice in my heart.“This is where I want you to live. This is where My love is made perfect. When you step out — into a place beyond your strength — so that you can be fully engulfed in My presence and love.” 

You see, similarly when Jesus called Peter out of the boat, this last season of life has felt like that ‘sudden boldness’ Peter was overcome with. I have felt more alive and more free than ever, which has led me time and time again to places where I am not sure if my own strength can hold, and I feel like I am beginning to sink. Like the morning I am describing, I continue to see these moments as invitations from the Lord to step out of the boat of life and walk on water with Him. I am also keenly aware of the stirring waters that must be stepped over to get there. However, one of my favorite parts of the Mark 12 passage, which is much of what the Lord was trying to tell me on this particular morning, is the simple phrase, “Jesus didn’t hesitate.” Jesus didn’t sit there while Peter drowned and scold or mock him for not having strong enough faith. He didn’t rebuke him for being afraid of where He was at because of his boldness. Instead, He didn’t hesitate to reach down and pull him up out of the water. He was right there to pick him up, to refocus his sights on Him, and to allow Peter to experience something completely impossible without Jesus.

Continually choosing to risk and live in a place where only His power could make things happen, and being bold in all aspects of my life, was exactly what the Lord was wanting to show me. It was through this morning swim that He was trying to invite me to step further out into the depths of His love, beyond my own strength and engulfed in His presence. As all of this was passing through my head, immediately the sun broke the sea’s horizon line, and I was welcomed to one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. It was as if He was confirming everything I was feeling in that moment. Floating in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, I was completely surrounded by overwhelming colors of His beauty and love. 

The experience I had on that morning is one I will never forget. Thankfully, I did slowly but surely make my way back to shore. As the Lord continues to invite me deeper into the unknown with Him, I will continue to give Him my “yes” and not focus on the churning waves around me. Even if those invitations mean being on the other side of the globe away from my friends and family for the holidays. Even if those invitations mean having to wait nine months to meet my new niece. Even if those invitations lead me out onto choppy waters. 

And when I do begin to feel the waves around me and start to sink, I know He will not hesitate to reach out His hand to pick me up. To continually step out of the boat and onto the water with Him is a life worth living. And to that kind of life, I say, “yes.”

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.

#191 Formed in the “Suddenly’s” Part 2

Photo by Aly Badinger/1558 Visuals

“ ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You’re almost there, right on the borderof the Kingdom of God’ ” (Mark 12:32–34).

My home in Mijas, Spain, is in a quaint Pueblo village, nestled in the mountains on the border of southern Spain. The Melting Pot, a hostel that hosted my friends and me this last weekend, breathes life through the winding streets of Tangier, Morocco, on the border of northern Africa. As I write this, I am sitting on, as my brother, Jonathan, would say, a “big ole water bus” (boat), floating across the Mediterranean Sea in between the borders of two continents. On the border.

Coming to G42, a nine-month leadership training academy (Generation 42), I told myself I didn’t have any expectations of what this journey would look like. On the surface that seemed to be truthful, due to the fact that I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what class, community, practicum or this growing process would entail. However, I failed to realize that I buried one giant expectation in my heart. The expectation that through these life-changing experiences and incredible teachings, I would, “transform and build myself into everything I was designed to be.” Now I know that might seem like a pretty solid expectation going into such a crazy life change. I am not naïve enough to believe that I would have taken this leap of faith, had I not thought it would change my life for the better. But, as I’ve been unpacking much of my life over the last two weeks, I’ve been wrestling with where this stirring in my spirit was coming from. Slowly and methodically the answer has begun to bubble to the surface, and with each day was becoming more and more clear. I began to see that it was not the idea or the expectation of being changed that was the issue wrestling inside me. Rather, it was my idea of how that dream and transformation was going to happen

You see, for the last 22 years, I have been living life on my own strength. Sure, the Lord has, without question, given me gifts and abilities to have a solid work ethic and push myself in my life. However, the reality is that most of my existence has been me trying to use my own gifts to foster a relationship with the very One who gave me those gifts. All my life I believed that if I used my hard-working mindset, my own intellect, or my insatiable desire for something more — I would get there. I believed that if I used, “all MY heart, all MY understanding, and all MY strength” to relentlessly love God and others, then I would fill the void and quiet that stirring in my heart. I thought it was to be through MY strength that would I get there.

I came across Mark 12 at some point in the last few weeks, but it wasn’t until these last few days that Holy Spirit showed me why I seemed to stumble on that passage. Much like the man in the scripture, I came to the Lord with my own answers of what it means to be in the Kingdom of God. I believed that in my own understanding I knew the right answers and how to do it: 1) Love God and 2) Love others. I then poured all my strength into tirelessly seeking to love the Lord and those surrounding my life. Striving, out of my own desire to feel love, I took these instructions in my own strength and have been struggling to fill that void in my spirit. Much like the man talking to Jesus, I was close but not there. I was “on the border.”

The first time I read that Mark 12 passage, I believed that Jesus was telling the man that he was close to the Kingdom of God as a compliment and reassurance that he was doing the right things. But the more I began to sit with the scripture, Holy Spirit began to show me that it was not a reaffirming thing for this man, but rather a helpful lesson. Jesus was trying to show him that there was still something missing in his understanding of what it truly means to be living presently in the Kingdom of God. Much like the Israelites wandering close to the Promised Land, the Lord doesn’t want us to live on the borderof our promised inheritance. Rather, He invites us to live fully and truly into His design for us on this earth. Not on the border looking in. 

Just like this man, I had left out the most important part of the equation: that I was to understand and live in the knowledge that I was designed to be fully and overwhelmingly loved by the Father. You see that’s what the man was missing in his answer. He knew that he was to love God. He knew he was to love people. He was almost stepping fully into God’s plan for us. But what caused Jesus to respond with, “You’re almost there, right on the borderof the Kingdom of God,” was that He was missing the biggest piece. His answer needed to include understanding that he was designed to be loved by the Father.


That stirring in my heart and that restlessness in my spirit was coming from the fact that I hadn’t come to truly and fully comprehend that there is nothing I can do to be more loved by the Father. There is nothing in my own strength that is going to make Him love me more. There is no accomplishment that will bring me more of His affirmation of my value. There is nothing in my past that will hold Him back from loving me today. There is no version of myself that I have to become for Him to fill me up with His love. Exactly who I am today is exactly where He wants me to be, and He loves me fully in that place. He has plans and dreams for me, but His love is not dependent on my execution and completion of those things. He is a potter and I am His clay. He doesn’t just want the finished result of a beautiful product; but rather, He cherishes the process of molding and shaping me with each day. And that’s where I am at right now. Sometimes I feel like I am spinning around and around aimlessly on His pottery wheel called life. But it only takes a quick second to look around and see that His hands are cupped around me crafting and forming me with each day to understand that it’s His plan and He’s got it! 

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.

#190 Formed in the “Suddenly’s” Part 1


Photo by Aly Badinger/1558 Visuals

“If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12–14 NIV).

June 2, 2019

One of the biggest things that the Lord has taught me over the last few months is intimacy. Intimacy with Him. Intimacy with my own heart. And intimacy in the relationship I have found with the Father. For those who know me, it will come as no surprise that I am pretty much an open book when it comes to my personality and the details of my life. Despite this, the Lord has been showing me the beauty found in keeping the intricacies of our relationship between just us. However, this is one of those intimate details I feel like the Lord has been leading me to share, so that His glory and goodness may be seen. 

A few months prior to graduating from college, I felt the Lord pulling on my heart to step out in faith and pursue Him in ways that I never had before. This was a weird sensation for me because over the last few years, my faith had been pretty much nonexistent. I was in a place of doubt and was living in intentional denial of the Lord. Still, God never wavered in His pursuit of my life. Despite this dark season, I was unable to shake this feeling, so I finally decided to meet God in the middle and to take a leap of faith. This led me to signing up for a monthlong mission trip to Nepal through an organization called World Race. The result of this leap of faith? A radical change of my life, my plans, my identity, and my future. But, how did I get to that point?

As I prepared for Nepal, I had this kind of “picture perfect” idea of what my trip might look like. I figured in my head that I would go on this mission trip, and it would lookreally goodto those surrounding my life. Growing up in a small, private, Christian school, I always felt an expectation to create this outward image of what my relationship with the Lord looked like. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my experiences throughout high school, and I’m even more thankful for the incredible friends, families, and mentors that it brought into my life. However, whether it was my own expectations or just a product of the environment I was in, I always felt like I had to put on an outward appearance of being in this amazing walk with the Lord. 

And the biggest problem? I was good at it. I mean really, really good at it. I could talk the talk, craft eloquent prayers in front of groups and overall just create a persona that made it look like I was on fire for the Lord. However, the reality of my heart could not have been more drastically different from the image I was portraying.

So when I arrived in tiny Gainesville, Georgia, for my weeklong training camp before leaving the country for Nepal, I was not really thrilled about it because it wasn’t exactly the start to the “beautiful” mission trip I had envisioned. However, those days in Gainesville changed my life forever. My faint prayer before leaving Lexington for Nepal was that the Lord would make Himself known to me in ways I had never experienced. And from the moment I touched down in Georgia, He did just that. From the shuttle ride to training camp to the first of many worship sessions to gathering around a picnic table eating meals with complete strangers, the Lord showed me His love and presence. It was the first time in my life that I had been surrounded by a group of people who were uniquely and genuinely on fire for the Lord with no motives other than living recklessly for Him. 

As the Lord began to move in my heart over the first few days, I felt like He was calling me to completely surrender my life to Him. Sitting in one of our last worship sessions of camp, I had this immense feeling in my heart that I wanted to start my life over again and that the Lord was calling me to baptism. Little did I know this would be the beginning of not only new life, but also of my God story, which would lead me to quit my job to go to Spain for training at a Christian leadership academy (G42). However, I still had a propensity to want to create this ideal picture of my transformation. I sat in that worship session fighting against that feeling right then and there. Instead, in my head I figured I would wait until I got to Nepal, where I could have my baptism somewhere beautiful, like under a waterfall or in one of the serene rivers tucked on top of the mountains we summited. Well, once again the Lord stepped in with His blueprint instead. 

Not being able to shake this feeling, I sat there amongst my disbelief and skepticism. Feeling like I could escape the Lord’s timing for my own timing, I prayed, “Lord, if this is what you want for my life and this truly is you right now, give me any sign of water.”It’s almost comical that I believed that this, something so small as a sign, would be too much for the Creator of the heavens and earth to manage. Yet still, I sat there almost proud of myself, believing I had escaped His alter call then and there, for something I believed would be more a beautiful act in Nepal. 

Sidebar. Let me be the first to say that in many ways I have had a faith like Thomas in the Bible (John 20:25). Meaning, I always figuratively felt like I needed to really feel the holes in Jesus’ wrists to truly believe in Him. Essentially, I was extremely skeptical and doubting of the Lord. Healings, signs, prophecy, all of it I thought was a big load of bologna. Well, the Lord humbled me and changed my skeptical heart over and over again throughout my trip, especially during this moment. 

About 10 minutes of worship had passed since I prayed that skeptical prayer when, all of sudden, a girl unknown to me from another group walked up on stage and asked for the microphone.

“Hey, I’m Kirby. Over the last few days I have been really praying that the Lord would speak to me. I had originally thought the Lord was going to speak to me, but I feel like He right now is wanting to speak through me. During the last few minutes of worship, the Lord really laid this image on my heart of this strong and beautiful cactus in the middle of the desert. The cactus had all of these big thorns all over it. And as I got closer to this cactus, the thorns one by one started falling off, until there were none left. Once the last thorn had fallen to the ground, the top of the cactus came off, and there was just this overflow of water pouring out of the top. I don’t know what that really means, but I just feel like the Lord meant that for someone tonight.”

Woah. I sat there in disbelief. I mean real disbelief. The kind when you have just seen a crazy magic trick or a car crash right in front of you. And again, I sat there and tried to rationalize in my head that surely this was just a coincidence. But, it wasn’t. Feeling that the Lord was giving me yet another opportunity to take a leap of faith for Him, the same way He did by putting Nepal on my heart, I decided I had to answer that call once again. 

Still a little in disbelief, I found one of my trip team leaders and told her that I felt the Lord was calling me to get baptized. Fast forward 24 hours and I was on the verge of giving my life over to the Lord: In tiny Gainesville, Georgia, in a kiddie pool, in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of strangers around me. And it couldn’t have been more beautiful. Whatever idea I had in my head of Nepali mountains or waterfalls to be baptized in, none of it could have measured up to the peace and freedom I found in that lukewarm, kiddie pool water. 

The beauty of this part of my story is that it’s simply the beginning of many moments and experiences the Lord has orchestrated in my life over the last few months. However, despite the reasons for the different experiences that have led me on this journey, the Lord has kept one theme throughout each moment. A lesson that is both terrifying and freeing. In each part of my story, the Lord has shown me that to surrender to Him is to trust Him with a leap of faith. And when I take that opportunity and jump into the unknown for Him, He blesses my life immensely and then opens the next door for me to step through.

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.

#189 I Shouldn’t Be Here


Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born and raised on Long Island, New York. I am a twin, born on Christmas Day with Christine; the youngest of four children, along with eldest sister Janet and older brother Billy. My dad was a New York City police officer. When I was 8 years old, my father told our family he would no longer be living with us. He left my mother for another woman. That was the day our world changed. My mother was a devout Catholic and never dated or remarried. She spent her time working to provide for and take care of us. She had a really rough time, and we kids took full advantage of her having to be away from the house. I lost my virginity when I was 14 years old and really could have been raped. My brother was in the next room when it happened. I was under the influence of barbiturates. My brother tore into and hit me all the way home because of what happened. I had no self-worth or confidence because of my dad leaving us. I felt total rejection, as if he had walked out on me.

When I was 17, I dropped out of high school and started working in the women’s sportswear buying department for J.C. Penney’s corporate office in Manhattan. I was the sample size, so I was always the model to try on clothes vendors would bring to show to buyers. I received a lot of attention and found myself extremely vulnerable to the desires of the corporate executives. Lots of wining and dining back then, and I slept with a few. I drank a lot to self-medicate and deal with life. I got engaged when I was 17, then broke it off. I got married when I was 23, which didn’t last. It was abusive. All the while I was drinking, smoking weed, and snorting cocaine.

Prior to my divorce, I left J.C. Penney in 1983 and started working for American Airlines in New York. I went to Dallas for five weeks training, where I had an affair. I brought home a letter from the man with whom I’d had the affair. My husband found the letter, then filed for divorce. I transferred to Los Angeles thinking maybe things would change for the better. My first six months in LA, I got arrested for drunk driving. Whenever I found myself feeling guilty about bad choices and having low self-esteem, I would go to church, and sit and talk to God. I had three abortions. I couldn’t even think of having a child after having the abortions. I was young and selfish. Over the years the guilt weighed heavily. In LA, I felt the need to go back to the Catholic church where I grew up on Long Island and confess my sins. I flew back to New York, went to confession and unloaded on the priest. I will never forget the impact of what he said to me. It did not make me feel absolved of my sins or forgiven. It drove me deeper into despair. He made me feel worthless and condemned. I got on the plane back to LA and drank so much I passed out. I remember waking up in the galley in the back of the aircraft. They had an ambulance meet me plane-side to take me to the hospital when we landed.

I met my second husband in LA, who also worked for American. We got married in 1988. In 1990, we transferred to Nashville, Tennessee. I was his fourth wife. He was older with two grown kids, so we were not going to have children. When his second grandchild was born, I had a yearning for a child and that brought back the guilt and grief of what I had done. I felt I was being punished by God. My second husband was not affectionate and often showed no compassion. That was appealing in the beginning, as it made him appear to be strong and manly, but after time that didn’t work. I was extremely unhappy in this marriage and really wanted to just die. I didn’t even want to go home after work. I would pull into the garage and just wanted to leave the car running. It was yet another dark time in my life. I wound up having another affair. I was scared to death when my husband almost caught me with the other man in our own home. I was still intoxicated from the night before. I was scared and couldn’t face him or myself. I knew where he kept his gun and wanted to kill myself. I was about to take the gun, but my husband took it from me. I went outside to smoke, pacing, wondering what was I going to do. I went back inside, and my husband had just hung up with Baptist Hospital about rehab. I was really remorseful, stopped the affair, and went to rehab. Yet, I still knew I needed to do something about my marriage. After rehab I became a dry drunk. I was sober but miserable and, after three years, I started drinking again and the cycle continued.

On July 11, 2001, we were at a float party with friends. People were jumping off a cliff into the water all afternoon. I wasn’t drunk but had been drinking. I decided to jump off the cliff for the thrill of it. I closed my eyes as I jumped, and as my back-side hit the water I knew something bad had happened. My L1 vertebrae was crushed on impact. I couldn’t move. Thank God there were people there to get me to our boat. There was a young man on our boat studying to be a paramedic. He told them not to lift me, but to get the chaise lounge and put it under me to get me out of the water. If they had lifted me under my arms, I would have been paralyzed. I was airlifted to a trauma hospital. The next day, I had a seven-hour surgery and spinal fusion. While I was recuperating, 9/11 hit. Nine days later, I lost my job. I had been with the airline for 19 years.

In 2004 I asked my husband for a divorce. I moved into an apartment in the complex where my mom was living in Nashville. I had been seeing another man who was also married. This man’s wife called my husband and told him I was having an affair. It was not good. She and my ex-husband ended up together later. I was at wits end and again in a very dark place. I truly didn’t want to live anymore. I drank a lot of bourbon and took about half a bottle of the prescription meds I had for my back. I laid down to let death take me. I woke up around 3:30 in the morning and thought, “Wait…I’m not supposed to be here.” I stumbled into the living room and I called the suicide hotline. They wanted me to go to the hospital, but I told them I was okay. I went to work that morning, called my mom and asked if she could meet at the Cathedral so we could talk. I wanted to confess to her what I had done. We cried. I said, “Mom, there is a reason God didn’t take me. I don’t know what it is, but I shouldn’t be alive.”

A month later, I met Steve. He became a part of my life and started me on a journey out of darkness. He was unlike anybody I had ever met. He was a complete gentleman. God placed him in my life. I always felt it was divine intervention. I started to feel more secure about myself with him. I still had a drinking problem, but he never said anything about my drinking. My best friend, Karen, said, “Doesn’t it bother it you that Steve doesn’t accept invitations anymore because of your drinking?” That was the brick that hit me over the head. I had my last drink that night. My first day of sobriety was October 30, 2007. I didn’t realize my drinking was hurting him. I got sober and he was with me every step of the way. I regularly attended AA meetings. I had been hired back with American and got my old job back in the Admirals Club. I had really wanted my job back. It was all God. Things were going well with Steve, I had stopped drinking, I was attending AA and my relationship with God was growing.

God was always with me. God was always on my mind. But I didn’t feel worthy of Him because of all of the bad things I had done. God put people in my life help me, to speak life and truth to me. Steve believed in God. He said I needed that “deep water, foot-washing, believing kind of faith.” I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. My AA sponsor said, “You just have to trust in God.” Then the light went on and I knew what Steve meant. That was the kind of deep trust I needed in God. But I needed more. I needed forgiveness.

In 2009, I went to a three-day retreat with the church. The first night was confessing our sins to God. Dying to self. I wrote down all my sins and nailed them to the cross. It was a very powerful night. It did something to me. God was working in me, drawing me to Him. That started my journey of wanting more of God. I found myself going to daily mass. I had community but longed to have that deep intimate love and relationship with God. It was still the fear of God that held me back. It could also be that I never forgave myself for all the wrong I’d done.

In 2012, my twin sister, Christine, suffered a massive heart attack. She was on life support and Steve and I were able to get the last two seats on a plane to New York. When I was with her, I had an overwhelming sense of peace. I knew she was going to be okay. I knew she was safe and was going to be in the arms of Jesus. I was with her when she took her last breath. I had my head nestled next to her ear. We came into the world together and we were together at her death. As sad as it was, it was beautiful and I was at peace.

In September 2014, I retired from American and Steve and I moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, where he was originally from. I took a new job as a travel agent. On November 21st, I came home from work to find Steve slumped over in his truck at our house. He’d had a heart attack. They pronounced him dead at the hospital. Then my mom got sick. I lost her five weeks to the day after I lost Steve, and two years to the day after I lost my twin sister. But in all this sadness and grief, I remained sober and had peace. I was still on my journey, learning to know God and reading His word. I would pray the AA Third Step Prayer over and over again. This prayer spoke to me the first time I read it, and it still does:

God, I offer myself to You, to build with me and to do with me as You will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Your will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life. May I do Your will always!  

After my mom died, I left the Catholic church and started going to a non-denominational church. I felt totally connected at the new church. After Steve died, I still needed to clean out our home in Nashville and move it all to Kingsport. To say the least, it was mentally overwhelming and more than I could handle.  There was a guy I had worked with at American in Nashville who is a Christian, very service-oriented. He offered to help me. Frank was really good company and I couldn’t have done it without him. I invited him to go to church with me. His godliness really attracted me to him. His love for God is a beautiful thing. After a year of being friends, we became really good friends! I moved back to Nashville and Frank and I were married in March 2017. God is number one in my life, and I’m the happiest I have ever been. We go to Cornerstone Nashville church and are part of the PrimeLife senior care ministry.  

I have learned that God is all-forgiving and merciful. He is love and just wants us to love Him. I love to love and I love to be loved. All my life I had been looking for love in the wrong places as the song goes. I didn’t know what true love was until I met Jesus Christ. I have learned, as painful as it is, you must get real with yourself, confess your sins and surrender your heart to God’s will in total obedience. You will be amazed at how your life will change when you fully surrender to the King. You must give up all your secret sins. When I nailed my sins to the cross that was a turning point for me. There is nothing quite like the peace that comes from Christ, and I know that is the power of God. Now I stretch out my hands to Him in prayer and give thanks to Him in all circumstances. My main focus now is on eternity and not on the things of this world. There is so much freedom in that.

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV).

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.