#238 Hope Is Here

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

When I was 32, I had a $10 million grocery business with nearly 100 employees. Life was going well. I was getting ready to buy several other businesses. But on March 1, 1997, there was severe flood in my town. I was away at a John Maxwell conference at the time. I couldn’t get back to try to protect my business because of the weather. The next day, when I finally got back to the store, I couldn’t get near it because of the flood. There were boxes of Zesta crackers floating all over. A man near me said, “Man, somebody lost a lot of inventory.” The person who lost a lot of inventory was me. 

I called my insurance company to explain what had happened, “Hey we have a flood here,” I said. Some profanity came out of my agent’s mouth, then he said, “You have every type of insurance except flood insurance.” He said there hadn’t been a flood in my town for 89 years, and no one in my town had flood insurance. 

I found myself in $2 million of debt overnight. We were one of the largest employers in town, and I felt such a responsibility to get my employees back to work. I was unable to get to my house because of the flood. I spent the night with my sister. I was flipping channels and landed on a channel where John Maxwell was speaking. His sermon title, “Do you need a miracle?” got my attention. After that sermon I thought, “God, You can do a miracle!” 

The councilman for our district contacted our state representative. He helped to push through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) loan for my business. In a miraculous 21 days we re-opened. I used a lot of information from the John Maxwell conference I had attended to help me rebuild my business. One of the main principles I learned was, “It’s not what happens to me, it’s what happens inside me.” The next year I was recognized by the town’s Chamber of Commerce as businessperson of the year.

The next time John Maxwell came to speak near my town, I went to his conference. After he spoke, I had an opportunity to speak with him and tell him how his words and principles had helped me recover after the flood. “I just wanted to say thank you,” I told him. He looked at me and pointed across the table. He said, “Charlie, I want you to write this story for my new book, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success.” I shared my story for the book. The title of my chapter is “It’s not what happens to me, it’s what happens inside me.”

The business recovered well. Then another grocery came to town, and there wasn’t room for two groceries. I had to file for bankruptcy. I still had around $2 million in debt. I went home that night and told my wife about filing bankruptcy. She said, “I hate to add to a bad day, but I don’t love you anymore and I want a divorce.” I had to put my home up for collateral for the flood disaster loan. So, I lost my business, home and marriage within 24-hours.

I had suicidal thoughts. I was angry at God. “Lord I have loved you. I have gone to Sunday school, done Bible studies and listened to Christian radio. I’m going to find out if all this stuff in the Bible is real.” I started reading the Bible, seeing a Christian counselor, and exercising regularly. My family was wonderful. The Bible became real to me. Verses started to jump off the page and speak directly to me. 

A pastor I respected wrote me a letter in which he said, “I hurt because you hurt.” He cited Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.He wanted me to know, “I don’t know how, but God will work this out.” I saved his letter. 

While going through the divorce, I couldn’t find the key to my safe deposit box at the bank. While the locksmith was working on it, we were making small talk. He told me that his pastor had resigned. I can’t believe this came out of my mouth. “If you need someone to fill in someday, I would be happy to do that.” Here I am a divorced, bankrupt man offering to preach at his church. Two weeks later he called to tell me his church wanted to take me up on my offer to preach. 

For my first sermon in this small rural church, there were about 15 people in attendance. They asked me to come back the following week. The church started growing. It was up to 45 people. “Bring a Friend” Sunday was coming up, and I felt like God was saying, “Let’s see if we can get 100 to come on “Bring a Friend” day. I challenged each person in the congregation to bring at least one visitor to the service. On the big day just two weeks later, I pulled up to church and there were cars everywhere. I wondered if all the other churches around were having something going on. I walked in our church and it was standing-room only. We had 156 people in attendance. I immediately start to cry. I heard the Lord speak to me, “This is not about you. It’s about me. If you will surrender to me, I can take a bankrupt, divorced guy and use him for my glory.” The elders came to me and said, “It’s obvious God’s hand is on your life. We would like you to be our full-time pastor.” 

I was getting ready to accept their offer, when I received an offer from another church to become their associate pastor to lead small groups, men’s ministry, sports ministry and singles ministry. I visited this church and could feel the Holy Spirit there. I felt that was where I was supposed to be. But the salary was only $21,900, and it was a full-time job. I couldn’t live on that salary. I talked to my brother about it. He told me that it was obvious that God had his hand on my life and had opened this door for me.” I stepped out in faith and God blessed everything I did. I started in August 2003. My first office was an electrical closet with no ventilation. In the summer the circuit breakers were tripping and the sweat would roll down my back, but I loved the job. The church doubled in size and they needed an executive pastor. I became their executive pastor two years after becoming associate pastor. 

I got remarried and, on my first anniversary, we learned that the senior pastor at our church was involved in an affair. The next year was very difficult. People were hurting. In 2008 my wife said she wanted a divorce. I was shocked as I thought things had been going well. As a twice divorced man, I pressed into my faith. I got out of ministry in 2013 to take a break and do some healing. 

I started a sports radio program and did that for about three years. In August 2017 I got a call from a friend telling me a mutual friend had taken his life by suicide. I had presided over this man’s wedding. No one saw his suicide coming. I couldn’t get his little daughters out of my mind. A couple more of my friends died by suicide around the same time. All three were men of faith. I thought, “Someone has to do something about this suicide thing.” About that time, I got a call from a radio station and they said, “We have a 15-minute radio program open. Would you be interested?” I thought this could be an opportunity to share hope that might prevent suicide. This quote from Hal Lindsey is a reminder of the importance of hope, “A person can live about 40 days without food, about 3 days without water, about 8 minutes without air, but only for 1 second without hope.”

I came up with a name for the radio program: “Hope Is Here.” I asked God for His help. “I am going to step out and do this, but God you will have to help me.” I started in December 2017. We have had almost 800 programs to date. We make a podcast of the radio program, and by the end of 2020, the podcast will have had 40,000 downloads.  

I have learned life is about continuing to ‘fail forward.’ God will be with you every step of the way. What the enemy has meant for evil, God will use for good. God will restore what the locusts have eaten. I have learned that my scars become someone else’s stars. It is really about surrender, daily surrender. It’s about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Romans 8:28 was true when the flood happened in my small town 23 years ago, and it’s still true today. I believe that everyone has a purpose. My purpose is to be an agent of hope. Because of Jesus, there is always hope. 

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)  

#237 Very Good in God’s Eyes

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in Shreveport Louisiana. My mother was 16 when she gave birth to me. All my family is conservative Baptist, and when my mother became pregnant, there was a stigma. They sent her away for a period until she gave birth to me, and then my grandparents became my primary caretakers. My mother graduated high school, but my grandparents retained control of her. 

Because I was born out of wedlock, I was always treated differently, but I didn’t understand it as a young child. As a way to remove the shame, I was put in church from sunup to sundown, practically seven days a week. From K to 3rdgrade I went to a private Catholic school. My mother eventually married and lived with her husband, but I stayed with my grandparents. The private school closed and I began going to a public school near my mother’s home. My mother would take me to my grandmother’s home as soon as I was out of school, and I would stay there until the next morning when my grandmother took me to my mother’s to catch the bus to school. During this time, I was still in church all the time but it felt foreign to me. I didn’t feel a connection. The teaching at church didn’t line up with my life at home, and that was confusing for me.  

My stepfather took me as his own son and loved me. But my grandparents told my mother that she had to divorce him because he drank. I don’t remember his drinking being a problem in our home. He was good to me and had a good job and provided well for our family. My mother divorced him. He loved my mother and never married again. He began drinking excessively after she divorced him. He drank himself to death, dying of liver cirrhosis at 43 years of age. 

My mother had to move to the ghetto because she didn’t have the income from her husband, and her family didn’t help her financially. That’s when my life started to take off in a negative way. I felt like I had two lives. When I moved to the bad neighborhood, the structure was different. Because I sought to belong, when I attended school, I hung out with the children that were doing everything wrong. By this time, I was 11 or 12. I had been sheltered and now was introduced into this community of kids doing all these things I didn’t know anything about. I was just trying to fit in. Eventually this led to me to participating in gang activity. I never did anything with the gang per se. I never got involved in crime because I was still staying with my grandparents at night. This time in my life was a turning point for me because I began to become emboldened. I developed an attitude. My grandmother told my mother, “Come get him because if you don’t, I’m going to kill him.” Between 6thand 7thgrade, I moved back with my mom. My mother was never home. I had to watch my younger sister. I would pick her up from school and watch her until my mom would come home. My mother wasn’t there to tell me to go to school, so many times I didn’t.

I was baptized at Paradise Baptist Church, my grandparents church, but I began going to Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church down the street from my mom’s house. Every Sunday my mom would say, “Get dressed, get your sister dressed, and go to church.” The pastor, Rev. Hunt, wanted to know where my mother was. He took me home to meet my mother and that began a relationship between us. After school I would go to Rev. Hunt’s office and spend time with him. He became like a model father figure for me. He took me to his home and treated me like his own son. But there was still disconnect between church and my own personal life. I appreciated him and loved him, but I didn’t feel any sense of peace or belonging in church. Little did I know, all the training that I received at Paradise Church and Morning Star Church would come back to help me in a most difficult period in my life when I went to prison. 

By this time, I was about 15 ½ years old and had been kicked out of school for tardiness. I was attending what is now called an alternative school. There was a teacher, Ms. Huntington, who was kind and compassionate, and she exuded love. She always told me, “You are an intelligent young boy.” She always encouraged me. Rev. Hunt and Ms. Huntington became the two people that gave me self-worth and were positive. I didn’t want to fight and be with the guys because I had these two adults in my life encouraging me and believing in me. 

The goal at the alternative school was for the students to spend one semester and then go back to their regular school. We were to sit in a cubicle all day and do our normal school work sent over by our regular school and also do additional work. It took a lot of discipline to sit in that cubicle every day and do that work, but I was determined to get back to my school and worked hard to do everything that I was supposed to do. 

When I went back for my school board hearing to see if I could get back into my regular school, the assistant principal at my old regular high school said I was doing good where I was and I should stay there another semester. That crushed me. I had tried so hard. That day I stopped caring about everybody and everything. But I was still attending church. I can remember sitting in church saying to God, “To hell with it all. I don’t even care.” I didn’t go back to school. My mom found out and was really mad. So I ran away from home. The second night, my mom was out looking for me. When she found me, I could see she was holding my little sister. My stepdad told me to always be there for my little sister and my mom. I went home that night. 

The next night, we were at church. Rev. Hunt told my mother she worried too much and that I was going to turn out all right. He told her that I was going to be a preacher. She said, “What?” I looked up in the sky and there was a full moon. And these words stuck with me the whole 28 1/2 years I spent in prison. I said, “God, if you want me to change, you got to put me in a position to make me change.” I don’t believe that God brings bad things to people. I believe that God laid choices before me. My statement to God essentially was that I’m not changing unless something drastic causes me to change. I was rejecting doing what was right. 

I was supposed to go to school the next day, and I wanted to go to school, but I missed the school bus. I thought I could catch the city bus. I got dressed and walked to catch the city bus. I saw a gang member fixing a car and thought he could take me to school. He asked me to go with him to take two rings to the pawn shop to get money to buy a catalytic converter, and then he would take me. I saw the city bus and something inside of me said, “Get on the bus,” but I didn’t get on the bus. At the pawn shop I saw another city bus. I had a second chance to get on the bus. Again, I didn’t get on the bus. We left the pawn shop. The guy’s younger brother had joined us and this younger brother said he needed to go by his girlfriend’s house, and we began walking that way. The guy I was with at first forgot his receipt at the pawn shop and as he turned around to go back, I saw another city bus. This was my third opportunity to get on the city bus. Something again said, “Get on the bus!” I let the bus pass. We made it to the street where the younger brother said his girlfriend lived. He asked me to go knock on the door and ask for Kelly. I did but no one named Kelly lived there. We all three started to walk back up the street. And then the younger brother knocked on another door and a woman answered. They started arguing. His older brother and I walked off and when we were some distance away, we heard four shots. We walked home and about 15 minutes later, the younger brother caught up and said, “I did something.” I said, “I don’t want to hear about it.”

Later that night he was arrested for stealing a bicycle. He had a check made payable to the woman he shot. He was suspected for murder. He had shot two ladies at point-blank range in the head. One died and one was badly hurt but lived. He was 16 years old at the time. He told the police that two other people were with him and named me and his brother. They questioned his brother first and let him go. The next day they came and got me and they questioned me and I wouldn’t tell them anything. My mom came with Rev. Hunt and he said that he thought I should tell the police what happened, but my mom said no, I couldn’t talk. 

Because I wouldn’t talk, the police said they were going to hold me up to 72 hours in juvenile hall. On the third day, I stood before the judge, and he said there was probable cause to transfer me to an adult facility. But because of my age, they separated me from everybody else. I stayed there for about two to three days before I appeared in court. The court-appointed attorney said, “There is no probable cause to hold this person. You’ve got to let him go.” But then they asked me to stand in a line-up in front of the lady who survived. The police said that she said, “It looks like #3 (which was the one who shot her) but it sounds like #6 (which was me)” and that became probable cause to hold me. The indictment was first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. 

I was appointed to a different attorney and I still wouldn’t talk. Now they wanted to file the death penalty and I was moved to a high-security isolation cell. The entire cell was painted white and the light remained on 24-7 with a camera pointed directly in the cell and chicken wire over the bars. I was 16 when I went in and they kept me there almost 4 ½ years. They were telling me they were going to kill me. Everything I had learned in Paradise Church and Morning Star Church came back to me in that cell. The only thing I knew was to turn to the Bible. For 4 ½ years, my routine was that I would eat breakfast and then read the Bible from about 7:30-3:30 and then I would pray. Every day I read and prayed and read and prayed. My family slowly drifted away from me. They said I had no business being with those boys and told my mother not to go see me. I was cut off from all communication. There I was—alone, 17 years old, facing death. And I just read my Bible, prayed, and sung old Baptist hymns. 

I ended up changing lawyers because he wanted me to cop out. I got a Christian lawyer and told him everything that happened. He believed me and did everything he could to help. He ended up filing a motion to perpetuate testimony to bring the victim to the trial to testify about me, and when he did that, they took him off my case, but they had to go through with his motion. They brought the lady who survived to the court and she said, “That’s not him. Where did you get him from? I don’t know him.” After her testimony, they amended my indictment from first-degree murder to second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. The language in the law in the Louisiana Revised Statute 1424 says that all persons concerned in the commission of a felony whether present or absentare principals to the offense. A low-degree principal was engaged in the crime but disengaged. From the time I walked from pawn shop to the first house where I knocked on the door and asked for Kelly, I was engaged. I was a principal in the murder even though I was absent from the scene of the crime and had no intent and no knowledge that he was going to shoot two people. I faced life in prison because I was a principal according to this law. The guy who actually shot the two women and killed one of them got only seven years because they gave him a deal for testifying against me. His brother, the guy I initially asked to take me to school, who was with me when his brother shot the two women, served no time at all.  

So I go to Angola prison to serve a life sentence. The best way to describe how I felt is to imagine yourself in a dark room, as dark as it can be, pitch black and soundproof. And you are thrown in and the door slams behind you and you don’t know where the door is to get out. No one can hear you. How do you get out? That’s how I felt. You are just in this dark place. 

For 4 ½ years I had been praying, thinking that God knew I was innocent and was going to deliver me. Then that all went away. I didn’t want to hear about church. I didn’t care about the Bible. But there was something that kept calling me from inside myself not to lose faith. So one day, I found myself going to the chapel at Angola. Angola is unique. It is an 18,000-acre farm, and under direction of Warden Burl Cain they built chapels in each satellite campus. Inmates are allowed to go to church. The churches are for the most part led by inmates but they also allowed free people to come inside to conduct churches. There was a chapel led by a woman (Cindy) from the outside, an Episcopal deacon. I started going to this chapel and to their Bible studies. Even though I didn’t understand their liturgy, there was a song that they sang in every service that reminded me of my Baptist upbringing. It resonated with me. But eventually I stopped going. At the end of the year the Episcopal church holds a banquet for regular attendees. Even though I had stopped attending, my name was on the call-out list to attend the banquet. But I said I wasn’t going. At 5:30 they opened the doors and this guy said, “Come on and go.” But again I said, “I’m not going.” Finally, it was my third chance (just like with the buses). It was my third chance to say yes to the opportunity God was giving me to help me. This time, unlike with the buses, I finally said yes to the opportunity for God’s help. The guard said, “Last call for call-outs.” I said “Alright. I will go.” 

At the banquet, there was Deacon Cindy. She walked up to me smiling and said, “How have you been doing? We love you and miss you and hope you come back.” I said, “I will come next Saturday.” I was there the next Saturday and have never left the Episcopal church. Deacon Cindy is such a kind and loving person and is a mother to me. She never asked anyone why they were in prison. She never criticized anybody. She never told me what to believe. She let me figure it out. This was foreign to me because I came from a background that was dogmatic. One day she pointed out the Genesis 1:31 passage: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Then she said to me, “You are very good in God’s eyes.” It blew me away and I started looking at Scripture differently. I was never able to be me. I was always trying to fit somebody else’s mold, and when Cindy showed me that, I realized that I am good despite all else and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says. I am good. Period. It changed my whole perspective and woke up a new person inside of me.

I stopped thinking about my case and getting out. After this, I knew that I would get out. Because of all of the inmates with life sentences in Angola, 85% of the inmates in Angola will die in Angola. But I knew I would get out, and I had a sense of peace about it. I came to the conclusion that if I just do what is right and listen to the voice of God, everything would work out. For 12 years I went to church faithfully and ended up becoming a Eucharistic minister in Episcopal church. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary had an extension center at Angola where inmates could attend classes. Through this program, I got an associate’s degree in Christian Ministry and then a bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry. When you graduate they say you have to get a job. They gave the inmates the authority to be peer ministers and now they send inmates to other prisons to be ministers in other prisons. There was only one job in ministry available when I graduated. It was to deliver death messages (tell inmates when loved ones had died). I also helped inmates who couldn’t read and write to write letters. I sat with inmates when they were sick and dying and did funerals. The prison staff called me when people were suicidal. The process humbled me and I actually began to see God. When I was sitting with people who were dying, I was looking at them but it was like I was seeing through them to God. God was molding me through their suffering. I met inmates at very vulnerable times in their lives, and because of the experiences we shared they protected me. I didn’t have problems in prison that most people have—God kept me from that. I watched people get stabbed and beaten. I didn’t experience any of that. Thank God.

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal to give a juvenile a life sentence for non-homicide, and inmates who were in put in prison for life as a juvenile were let out if they didn’t commit a homicide. But because I was considered a principal in a homicide, that ruling didn’t apply to me. Then there was a new case from Arkansas, and the Supreme Court said the ruling about juveniles DID apply in homicide cases. But that still didn’t help me because Louisiana said the ruling wasn’t retroactive. In 2018, the Supreme Court said the ruling was to be retroactively applied. 

So this is when I had the opportunity to go before the parole board. Cindy got so many people from the church to speak on my behalf. The district attorney had written an opposition letter, which he read. He said I was a cold-blooded murder and should never be let out. At that point, my lawyer went point by point through the transcript from my trial to show that everything that the district attorney had said was not true. My lawyer did a phenomenal job. Then the parole board stepped out to take a vote. They stayed out about 20 minutes. The warden looked at me and said, “Man, you have a lot of people standing up for you. I think you got a shot.” I had also gotten a paralegal degree and horticulture degree while I was in prison, and I was enrolled in the master’s degree program at the seminary. I had stayed out of trouble and hadn’t had a write-up in almost 20 years. The parole board came back in with their decision. “So you didn’t kill anybody. You have a lot of support. I better not ever see you in here again.” Three days later on October 5, 2018, I walked out of Angola. 

I have reconnected with my family. I chose to forgive my mom. I told Cindy when I got out that I needed a church home, and she found a church home for me in an Episcopal Church in New Orleans. I have had so much support from my church family. They have helped me every step of the way with reentry. God has blessed me greatly through them. I have started my own landscaping business. I reapplied to finish my master’s of divinity. I am in a training program in the Episcopal church to be able to visit people in hospitals—to be a lay Eucharistic visitor. 

I often go back the Bible stories of Daniel in the lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. In both stories, it was all about whether they would choose to serve God or not. The moral of both stories was that serving God has nothing to do what I get out of God. It is about everything that God has done for me, and the essential thing that He has done for me is give me salvation. I am very grateful to be out of prison, but even if I had not gotten out of prison, I had committed myself to serving God while I was there, and that’s why I took the jobs that I did. I still have that approach. Even if God doesn’t grant my desires, I will still serve Him because that is what life is about, and that has brought me so much peace. One of my seminary professors said, “It’s not about you.” But it is all about perspective. Change of perspective. Change of life. 

I would like to thank God for patience. God gave me patience because in those trying moments something inside of me kept me in peace and kept me patient. I never got so discouraged to think about killing myself. I had a peaceful patience that came from God. I kept my eyes fixed on Him and knew everything would work out. 

We often deceive ourselves into thinking that God doesn’t exist and that He doesn’t care about us. Don’t be deceived. He does exist and He does care about us. God is real. Belief in the Bible is based on pure trust. But faith is different than belief. Faith is based upon some tangible experience. Look though the course of your life and identify those moments of doubt, frustration, and insecurity and try to discover how did you feel. You may have felt hopeless but also hopeful. Those moments of hope are the moments you have to hold on to. Your faith can build from that. You don’t have to know the end. You just need to know the present. God will take care of the end. 

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. James 1:12-13

fabianeharper@gmail.com

#236. A New Heart, A New Spirit, A New Life

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in Southern California. My mom and dad were Los Angeles police officers. My father never knew his biological father. His mom and dad got married after he got her pregnant and right after he was born, his dad left. My dad’s goal was to be the father to me he never had. And we had a very good relationship. But what he missed in being a good father was being a good husband to my mom. They divorced when I was about 7 years old. But even still he was very committed to me and very available to me. But then he died of a massive coronary when I was 14 years old. At the time, I would have told you it didn’t affect me, but it did. I no longer had the respect and fear of my father that would have kept me in line, and my mother had a hard time containing me. I gravitated to kids that did drugs, and it was like a rabbit hole. I was the first kid to get a tattoo, I was smoking at 15, and I was always getting in fights. That’s who I thought I was—this bad guy. I dropped out of high school. At about 20 years old, I was working in construction. It was the mid-1980s, and I was partying hard and had a serious cocaine habit. My only purpose in working was to get drug money. 

During that time, I had a girlfriend who got pregnant. That had happened many times before with me and girls, and there was the mindset with the people I was hanging around with that if you got pregnant you just got an abortion. I remember it was such an annoying inconvenience to take this girl to this place and she would be all emotional. We didn’t think of it as killing babies—just as eliminating a problem. One girl I got pregnant said she didn’t believe in abortion, and she wasn’t going to have one. I was surprised by that and really impressed by it. So, she had my daughter. We were both 21 and my cocaine habit was really taking root. Not long after that, my son was born. We were together 12 years—on welfare and food stamps. I was a terrible father and mate. I loved my kids and wanted to be there for them, but I had a burning desire to feed my addiction. I tried some 12-step programs but just didn’t have the strength to do it. 

I got involved in crystal meth. It would keep you high for much longer and keep you awake for hours at a time. To me, it was much more economical. I was staying up all night and partying and then I’d go to work the next day. I was so twisted in my thinking that I didn’t think it affected me. About this time, I got into trouble and went to the county jail, and the mother of my children took our four children. She moved in with her mother and got a restraining order against me. She moved a couple of counties away which made it inconvenient for me to see the children. She did what was best for her and the kids. At some point, I gave up. “I’m a terrible person, a terrible father,” and I surrendered that they were better off without me. That gave me new freedom and I didn’t have to worry about it. This was in the late 90s and I was in San Bernardino, California, which at one time had been a very nice place, but at this time there was a lot of homelessness and drug problems. I navigated that very comfortably. I had no problem living off the grid. I didn’t have a driver’s license for about 10 years. I just drove other people’s cars and stole cars. 

I met this girl who had family that lived in Texas and we did drugs together. She wanted me to get her and her son to Texas. She told me, “You have such great potential. If you could just get away from these drugs, you could really make something of yourself. I have some family in Texas, and if you could take me there, they could help you find a job.” I said, “I don’t have a way to get us there, but it sounds good.” The next day I got a day labor job and the guy filled up the tank of his truck and gave me the keys with about a $1,000 worth of tools in the trunk to take to the job. We pawned the tools and headed to Texas. I remember thinking sarcastically, “The Lord must want me to go to Texas.” We ended up in Palestine, Texas, and I got a construction job. I got off the meth and it was the most normal life I had lived. 

Then one day, a guy who had been driving a tractor near where we were working, walked across our worksite and I just knew that this guy knew where to get crystal meth. It wasn’t a logical decision to talk to him. I was just drawn to him. Sure enough, he had crystal meth and we start doing it together. I asked him where I could get it and found out he was making it. I started being his helper and learned how to cook crystal meth. It occurred to me that I had a way to make more money than I knew what to do with and all the drugs I could ever want. So, I broke away from him and started making meth and selling it to the people of the town. I watched a community of simple country folks get addicted to crystal meth and watched them lose jobs and their relationships break up—and I was at the ground level of that. I was making so much money, but I was so spun out. I was cooking meth in the woods of East Texas, and when I wasn’t cooking I was rounding up ingredients. I’ll never forget realizing that I had everything I ever wanted, yet I had never been more miserable. I hadn’t seen my kids for five years. I had failed and there was no undoing that. I had failed at ever being a good father. I had failed at ever being a good son. I had failed at being a good husband. I had friends but not really. They were friendly to me but they hated me because they had to pay me to get drugs. It just started wearing me down. One night I was out in the woods at one of my cook spots. One of the guys helping me had stolen all my chemicals. I was furious and tried to reach him on a prepaid cell phone, and the battery was dying. I went into a rage. In the midst of that rage I thought, “God, if you are real, you did not create me to do this.” I was challenging God to take my mess and fix it. And then it was as if the veil was torn and I could see all the failure around me. It was an ugly place to be. I could see who I really was at that point. Before that, I had no real vision of myself and my reality. I cried out to the Lord, “Take me out of this. I can’t stop.” 

God answered my prayer. An interesting thing happened not long after that. In February 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia was supposed to travel from Dallas to Florida, and the shuttle’s path was right over Palestine, Texas. But it blew up. The debris field went all the way to our town in Palestine, Texas. I remember the day it happened. It was February 1st and I had been up cooking meth to get ready for welfare check day, and I was at a farmhouse. I heard an explosion then went outside and there was something different in the air. The birds were making different sounds. I turned on the radio and heard that the space shuttle had exploded and parts were spread all over our small town. They sent federal agents to comb through the woods with a fine-tooth comb to find shuttle pieces. They were uncovering meth cook spots all over the place. I couldn’t cook meth in the woods for months. Then the county police department launched a Drug Task Force. Everyone was telling on everyone else. Everyone I knew was getting busted. The little drug culture in our community was coming to an end. 

The day I got busted, I was hiding under a pile of dirty laundry in a house. I was trying to make myself smaller but it wasn’t working. I could hear the cops in the house looking for me. I heard them call for a canine unit and knew that wasn’t good. The head of the Drug Task Force found me. He said, “Today your picture comes off of my wall. You have been on my hit list for months.” 

I was charged with transport of illegal chemicals with intent to make crystal meth. The judge told me that I was a cancer to his community and cancer has to be cut out. He gave me the full 10 years. I knew that this was the Lord responding to me to get me out. 

When I was in prison, I went to a Bible study. There were pages torn out of the Bibles to wrap cigarettes in to sneak them in. I said, “Do you guys have any more Bibles because my Bible doesn’t even start until Leviticus.” There was a local church member coming into the jail to minister to us. He took out all the place markers in his own personal Bible and gave it to me. It was marked up with all of the notes he had written in it over the years, but he still gave it to me. I still have his Bible. 

I was reading the Bible but not living it out. I remember these guys in the church area singing in a loud voice, “This is the day that the Lord hath made.” I sat up from my bed annoyed and thought, “This is the day that the Lord has made? Are you kidding? You are in prison.” That was my introduction to the concept that you could be free in prison. Those men were free in prison. I learned more about freedom in prison when a man conducting a Christian class for us said he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but he would keep volunteering his time to teach our class. He said, “Your attitude can change the outcome of your life. You can look at being in prison as a terrible thing that happened to you and be mad at the world, or you can look at this as an opportunity to grow and get healthy. You can learn your Bible and get an education. This could be the best thing that ever happens to you.” Because he had Alzheimer’s, the next week he repeated the same things. And the next week he repeated the same things. I am the kind of person who needs redundancy to make it stick. Could it have been the Lord’s divine wisdom to put a guy as my teacher who repeats himself? 

I got to see an example of this when I was moved to a new work squad where they took us to a farm to work. I was complaining and had a poor attitude. This guy I was working with said, “This is the best job.” I looked at him like he had two heads. I said, “How?” He said, “We are outside of the gates of the prison, out in mother nature, telling jokes with the guys, and we get to go back and get a shower and have the rest of the day off.” After this my attitude changed and it made a big difference.

Several ministers came to the prison and preached to us. All these things were solidifying that this was God’s response to deliver me from the life I was in. One of the ministers asked me what my parole plan was, and I told them I had a plan to go back and live in Palestine where I had sold drugs. They said the only people I knew there were the police and drug dealers and suggested that I go to a mission in Houston instead. I had enough wisdom to take their advice. 

After I got out of prison, while I was at the mission, I started attending classes at The WorkFaith Connection and then got a job there. In my job, I had the opportunity to pour into other people and help them turn their lives around. Being in that environment helped me to continue to grow and learn and deepen my relationship with God. 

But still I struggled with thinking about my past. I kept thinking, “I’ll never be able to fix what I did to my mom or what I did to my children and the mother of my children.” Before I went to prison, I didn’t have a strategy to do bad things. I was just being who the enemy wanted me to be. This led me to do things I really regretted. I remember one time my mom asked if some of my friends knew where to get pep pills and I gave her pills with crystal meth. While she was spun out on crystal meth, I stole her debit card and emptied out her bank accounts. She lost the house she lived in and went through a series of financial hardships because of what I did.

I was planning on being single for the rest of my life. I had been working at WorkFaith Connection for seven years when I met a volunteer. I knew by the end of our first conversation that I wanted to marry her. We were both running steadfastly toward the Lord alongside each other. We had these common goals. I thought she was way too beautiful and way too young for me. The more I got to know her, the more I realized how important sexual purity was to her. We got engaged and spent two years of relationship in sexual purity. We got married and a couple of years into marriage we had a son who is now a little over a year old, and we are expecting our second child. I get to be completely present in my son’s life, and I get to be a father to my teenage stepdaughter, the father she prayed for for years.

I have gone back to California to visit my grown children many times since I have gotten out of prison. I also visited my mother who was living in an assisted living facility on a police officer’s pension. She was really deteriorating, and my wife said, “We need to find a place for her to live in Texas.” My mom agreed and she moved here in 2016 about 10 minutes from where I live. She is in an assisted living community that is so much less money, that she has all this money now she never had before. I go see her every week and meet with her doctor. This is where I really see that the Lord is restoring what the locusts have eaten. My mom said to me recently, “You’re such a good son. You’re such a good father and such a good husband.” Those were the things that I thought I could never be. 

I now work for a big commercial construction company. I love my job. We bought a house and I have a nice truck. The Lord provides for us. I didn’t finish high school. I got my GED in prison. I started off making $11.50 per hour and this year I made almost $90,000. God provides for me more than I could ask for—materially, spiritually, and with my relationships. I get to be so much more than I dreamed I could ever be. I can’t do what I am doing without the Lord’s strength. The Lord’s strength in you helps you turn away from temptation. When you ask God to show up, He shows up. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will take away your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh and put a new spirit in your body.” This makes sense to me because now I don’t long for the things I longed for before. The Lord gave me a heart transplant and a new spirit.

When I was doing drugs, I had holes and infection all over my arms. I had to use my hands and feet and even my neck to inject drugs. I wore long sleeves shirts and Band-Aids on my hands.  Some days I felt so poked full of holes. One day I was listening to a Christian song, “Rain Down” by Roger Cullins, and it just hit me. I had been like a baby lamb stuck in a thorny brier, all poked full of holes, and the Lord gently pulled me out with His Shepherd’s hook. He lifted me out of the pit and gave me a new heart, a new spirit, a new life.

There is a mindset that if I do this, this, and this, THEN the Lord will work in my life—compared to knowing He is ALREADY at work. When you start to understand grace and mercy and that He doesn’t love me because I got sober, He loved me the whole time—it is an incredible new way to look at God. I finally realized that I never had to earn His grace and mercy; it was there for the taking. I might have been breaking His heart, but He loved me the whole time. 

 For if a man belongs to Christ, he is a new person. The old life is gone. New life has begun.

2 Corinthians 5:17

#235. My Ronnie

Photo by Anna Carroll

I will begin at the end, which for me was the beginning of an unexpected walk of faith. 

Late in the evening on Oct. 26, 1989, there was a knock at the door. It was my parents who lived about 45 minutes away. They had come to tell me that my sweet son, Ronald Lawrence Cole III, had been killed by a drunk driver, while riding his 10-speed bike.

My world turned upside down that night, and it has been difficult ever since. I was sent down a path no parent expects to take, a lonely road of losing a child. My parents consoled me as I cried, and my two stepsons woke up to my cries, “No, no, no.” It was a very sad night.

I put on the Florida Gators T-shirt Ronnie had given me for Christmas, and as I fell into a slumber in the wee hours of the morning, I felt a little closer to him. The next morning, I awoke to the realization that I needed to tell my sweet 12-year-old daughter, Natasha, that her dear brother had been killed. I was so very afraid, God was going to have to give me the words, and I dreaded telling her. As the words came forth like an ugly monster, I could hear her heart crack as her tears fell all over me. She and I clung to one another as if we would surely die ourselves. How would we ever survive this day?

There is nothing like Christian parents and a family of Christian friends. My parents and best friend were over first thing the next morning. We talked about Ronnie, his memories flooded the room, I think we may have even laughed some. Those first days are so full of denial that I know my memories are altered. I remember it was like being in a daze; I had to be told each step to take. I still remember my dad saying, “We need to go to the funeral home,” and, I realized, “Oh yeah, I have to go pick out a casket don’t I.” We continued on the mission that no parent wants to take, I screamed in my head over and over, “Why me God, why, why, why?” It was a question I would ask God for months. I picked out a casket, when I should have been helping Ronnie pick out a class ring. He was only six weeks into his senior year. I had spent a small fortune on braces as a single mom. All those growing-up years, where were the fruits to enjoy. Instead of planning his senior prom, I was planning his funeral. It was so unfair. I remember telling God, “You have no idea how I feel.” I had never felt so alone in my whole life, and yet I was surrounded by loving family and friends. 

In the months to come I questioned God over and over and over, why didn’t He intervene? It seemed so wrong. It was so wrong. I struggled with the meaning of my life. Being a secretary was no longer fulfilling, life had to be more than that for me. I went back to college to become a nurse, a dream I’d had for years, one I had shared with Ronnie. As we sat on the front porch during his visit that summer, I told him I wanted to be a nurse. He asked me what kind of nurse? I said a pediatric nurse, but that I didn’t think I could handle the death of a child. Imprinted in my brain like a brand is Ronnie’s response. As he turned and held my hands and looked into my eyes with those beautiful baby blues of his, they sparkled, “Mom, you are so strong in the Lord, you could handle that.” Many, many times those words rang in my ears, he believed in me, he believed I could handle it, he believed in my faith. Yes, “faith,” what a struggle that was these days. What did I believe? At times I believed that God didn’t really care about the hairs on my head. If He did, He would have intervened, isn’t that what God does for Christians, His special people. I struggled so with free will, consequences, faith and grace. One minute I would pray and talk to God, the next I would cry and blame Him. Yes, after the shock and denial wear off, there is such anger and sadness. You feel all alone as you walk through the malls at Christmastime. It seems everyone is laughing, as you feel your shattered world will never be the same. Will there ever be true joy again? Does joy really come in the morning? I could not see God’s hand in my everyday life, but I look back now and see that He truly carried me through the nightmare of grief. 

I recall many rough moments. I cried at a friend’s daughter’s wedding, knowing I would never see my son standing at the end of the aisle, waiting for his bride. What would she have been like? What would he have become? How many grandchildren did satan rob from me? Yes, I had started realizing it was satan who had come to steal, kill and destroy. In my grief I did not always go to the Word for comfort, I would sometimes play right into satan’s hand and not even go to church if I felt down. At other times I used the Bible for comfort. I found I could only listen to Christian radio songs. The rock music station could not give me the rock that my Jesus was. I bought Russ Taff’s song, “I Still Believe,” and I would play it and play it and play it. It was my spiritual warfare song, because it was clear satan had stolen my son, and now he was after my heart. At times I wondered how “saved” was Ronnie? He had gone on a youth trip that summer with the church and had recommitted his life to Jesus, so satan said to me often, ‘You don’t know if he stayed saved do you?’ It was a horrible recurring, haunting thought, right out of the pit of hell. I so needed peace. Where was my Prince of Peace? Anger, oh how angry I was at God, at life, at the drunk driver who crashed into my baby boy. Yes, life is not fair! I went to a full-gospel meeting about five months after Ronnie’s death. Spring was in the air, birds were singing, and I felt like the world was coming back to life, but not my Ronnie.

The speaker that night talked about anger and forgiveness. I had forgiven. I had said so in my heart, “God, forgive this enemy of mine who killed my Ronnie.” Yet, when the alter call came, my feet took me up front, to a man I will never forget. He was of American Indian background. He knew much about spiritual warfare, and he (about my dad’s age) and his son (about my age) asked me what my prayer was. I told him my son had been killed by a drunk driver, and I wasn’t sure I had forgiven him, or even could. He then asked me if I prayed for him, I said “yes,” every night. He asked if I prayed out loud and reminded me whatsoever the mouth speaks is made known in my heart. He asked me to repeat after him, which I obediently did. “By the grace of God, I forgive (what’s his name, honey?)” I bolted, threw my hands down, and this angry voice I did not recognize said, “I can’t do this!” He got in my face and said “That’s right, you can’t; only Jesus in you can!” 

Then he asked me if God had forgiven me of anything. Wow, did I see my life and former sins flash before my eyes. I was broken. My God and His grace had forgiven me of so much. He told me if I wanted God’s continued forgiveness I, too, must forgive him, in Jesus’ name. He could see I was ready, so again, he said, repeat after me, honey:

“By the grace of God.” 

I said, “By the grace of God.”
He said, “I forgive.” 
I said, “I forgive.” 
He said, “What’s his name?” 
I said, “SCA.” 


At that moment I bawled like a baby, I felt 50 pounds lighter as I cried and cried and cried. It was so freeing. He reminded me the thief would come time and time again to steal my joy. He said, I needed to pray out loud daily for SCA. I do, and I still do, and I always will, till the day I die. 

The following Sunday was amazing. I was at church and the pastor told us to look up a scripture. I misunderstood him and wound up on a page with a subtitle standing out to me like a lighthouse beacon: “Forgiveness for the sinner” (2 Corinthians 2:5). Yes, God was calling me to do more than I could have imagined. I have learned this is His trademark. He’s the “More than I Can Imagine God.” 

On the six-month anniversary of Ronnie’s death, the first sad milestone, I sat down and wrote a letter to SCA. God put it on my heart from that scripture, and I was afraid not to be obedient. My heels were dug in the ground, and God was pulling me forward to a new level. I was quite resistant. I wrote the letter and shared my experience with him. I was ordered by God to also mail a Bible to him. “Wow, God, what’s next?” So, in my half obedience, I bought a paperback student study Bible. I mailed it to the prison, and several days later it came back to me, water damaged. It looked like it had been dropped into a puddle of water and then dried. It looked awful. 

I called the prison to find out why it came back to me. They explained a security procedure that required much red tape: If the name ends in these letters of the alphabet, you have to do this, and on and on. I finally said in a very exasperated, tearful voice, “Lady, please, I just want to mail a Bible to the drunk driver who killed my son.” You could have heard a pin drop, to put it mildly. She paused for some time to no doubt recuperate from the shock of my statement. Then she spoke to me in a totally different tone of voice, one of compassion. She told me I could mail it to him through the prison chaplain’s office. So, once again, I set out on a mission to a Christian bookstore for a new Bible, a study Bible for the man who killed my son. 

As I arrived at the store I was shown the leather-bound Bibles that were on sale, Wow, talk about pretty and the price was not much more than the paperback. In my heart, I did not want to buy a pretty Bible for him, yet my betraying legs walked me to the checkout counter. The sales clerk asked me if it was a “gift.” My mind did not like that word at all. This man did not deserve a gift, and certainly not my Holy God’s Word, “Oh no, not at all I thought.” Yet, my betraying mouth said, “Yes mam, it is a gift.” She then explained that it is store policy to engrave the receiver’s name on the Bible at no additional cost, and it would only take about 10 minutes, would I like that?

My mind, screamed “No, no, no — not “his” name on my precious Lord’s Word. Once again, my mouth betrayed me, as the words flowed from my lips, “Yes mam, that would be very nice.” I was a bit angry with God, wasn’t he pushing this obedience thing a bit too far? My flesh and my spirit were having one really big battle. “God,” I prayed, “please help me have the spirit of love and grace that you have for me.” I went home, wrapped the Bible, and quickly shipped it to the prison chaplain. Engraved in beautiful gold letters read “SCA.” It seemed so very odd, seeing his name on the Bible and my son’s on a tombstone. Yes, it was very odd indeed. 

About three days later as we were eating breakfast, we received a phone call. My husband, Bill, answered the phone and anxiously shared, “It’s the prison in Florida. It’s the pastor you mailed the Bible to SCA through.” As we spoke, the chaplain said words so amazing, I will never forget. He informed me that he had received the Bible with the letter, explaining to give it to SCA. He had never met SCA before, as he did not attend prison church services, so he called him into the office. He told me SCA opened the Bible and read: “To: SCA, From: Ruth Whittinghill; In memory of Ronald Lawrence Cole III. He broke down into sobbing, heaving tears for a very, very long time. Finally, when he could utter some words through his continued sobbing, he said, “No one, and I do mean no one has ever given me a Bible as a gift in my life, and of all people — “her.”

The chaplain said he had seen a lot of people in his lifetime talk the talk, but “Lady you are truly walking the walk.” I told him it was only Jesus in me, not me. I said that I was struggling with the obedience to do what God had put on my heart. It was only through the grace of God that I could do this. 

The chaplain assured me that it was still a choice of obedience and that I was to be commended for following through with God’s will. It felt good to have done the right thing. It felt good to know, as the pastor had put it, “Today you made a difference in this young man’s life, I don’t know about his tomorrows, but today, you have made a difference.” SCA responded with a letter that was full of surprises, I learned he’d had a very rough life. He lost his biological mom to acute alcoholism when he was only three years old. He lost his stepmom to cancer when he was 23. His father was in a nursing home, unaware he had a son in jail. He said he couldn’t write to him and break his heart. He had a sister that he had cared for who had been in an alcohol-related wreck, leaving her a paraplegic, only in her case, she had been the drunk driver. She was now in a nursing home. He had an LPN degree and had been working in a nursing home himself before the accident. 

His letter said these were only the facts and by no means were they any justification for what he had done. SCA’s letter started out with these words, “I never expected to hear from anyone while I was in here, especially you. I can’t even begin to understand why you have written to me, nor why you sent me the Bible.” It dawned on me that he felt very undeserving of this act of grace Jesus had done through me. I continued to write throughout his jail term, sharing Jesus with him. I prayed for guidance, for the right scriptures. You see, he had shared that he had come to realize that if I, the mother of the young man he had killed, could forgive him, he somehow knew that God could forgive him, too. It gave him back his faith. 

We are all sinners saved by grace. None of us deserves what God gives us. I also had to believe that my son, so dear to my heart, had made a difference in this man’s life. It would be such a waste if Ronnie’s death had made no difference. Then satan would have won. Time and time again, God has given me a peace that surpasses all my understanding. How could I not pass that love on? Yes, that is the way Ronnie would have wanted it. God has rewarded my obedience tenfold. In countless ways, His love is forever, as is His sweet grace. 

My first Mother’s Day was one I deeply dreaded. How would I make it through such a special day without my sweet little boy? He was always so good to me on Mother’s Day, and I knew the void would feel like a deep vacuum. I went with the women at church to a conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I felt extra lonely, but I was trying to act happy. I didn’t want to bring down anyone’s special time. I walked along the shops ahead of the others, ducking into a shop that called my name. Oh, Mickey Mouse, he was everywhere, my son’s childhood hero, I felt so sad, I missed him so very much, and the memories were everywhere, pervading my soul. I walked out with tears filling my eyes, praying to God to get me through this weekend and back home where I could cry and be held by those who somewhat knew my pain. I looked up and the next shop was “God’s Corner.” “Oh yes, that is where I needed to be, in God’s Corner. 

As I entered this quaint little shop, I was awestruck by the most amazing picture, in sundry sizes all over the wall, this stunning picture of Jesus and my Ronnie. It was not red hair, not blonde, not curly, but my baby’s brown longish straight hair. It was his physique. Ronnie was 6 feet tall, slim, same uncanny profile, same hair color and hairstyle. It was God holding my Ronnie, as if he had waited a lifetime to hold him. “That’s my child with my Father!” What a gift from God! “Wow,” I thought. “It’s a miracle.” My son is alive and well in the arms of Jesus and Jesus loves me soooooo much. How many people can say they have a personal picture of their child and Jesus? He truly loves me, more than I can imagine. This picture was my defense when satan slapped me in the face each day, taunting me, “Remember, your son’s dead. Remember your son’s dead.” 

Yes, God truly cares about the hairs on my head, no doubt about it. Do I believe I was rewarded for my obedience? Yes, I do indeed! So, if you have anyone you are holding anger against, I can tell you, you will be richly rewarded to follow your Father’s example, to forgive and to love your enemies, the reward is abounding joy, peace beyond measure, and an afterlife that is out of this world. 

So, pray for His strength to do the right thing. I promise you will be so glad you did. Thank you for allowing me to share God’s grace and love, and my Ronnie, with you. 

This is the special photo that looks just like “My Ronnie” with Jesus. Ronnie was 6 feet tall, slim, same uncanny profile, same hair color and hairstyle. That’s my child with my Father! What a gift from God. What peace this picture has given me. God truly knows the number of hairs on our head. Just look at my Ronnie! 

#234. God Covered Me Through Cancer

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

At the age of 37, I went to the doctor because I was concerned about my right breast. My doctor told me not to worry because when she did the breast exam she didn’t feel anything suspicious. 

On April 3, 2016, at age 40, there was something about my breast that didn’t look right to me. While doing my breast self-exam, I noticed something like a hole, an indentation, in my right breast.  I contacted my doctor. She ordered bloodwork and got me scheduled for a mammogram. I kept seeing commercials on TV for breast cancer — even if I turned the channel. I knew in my heart this was God’s way of confirming I had cancer and preparing me. 

My mammogram was followed up with an ultrasound and biopsy.

When I went in to have the ultrasound and biopsy, beautiful angels were on the ceiling above the table where I was lying. I felt this was God confirming He was with me, sending angels to comfort me. As my doctor began the ultrasound procedure, I started praying. She seemed perplexed because she couldn’t find the cancer. She went over and over my breast during the ultrasound. Finally, she left the room to get other doctors. I told God, “I thank you for the comfort and for the angels in the building. This room that You have me in confirms that You are with me. They can’t find anything, Father God, because You are already working.” 

The doctors said, “It is incredible, we can’t find anything.” I knew that God was shrinking my tumor. They did a biopsy in the area they were concerned about. 

When I went in to the doctor’s office to hear the results of the biopsy, my cousin went along to support me. The room seemed so cold. The doctor came in, then a nurse, then a radiologist — a whole team of people. 

I knew it couldn’t be good. 

The doctor said, “I have bad news and good news. The bad news is you have cancer.” He rubbed my hand and said, “The good news is you are going to live a long time.” I started crying and praising God because the doctors found it when they did. 

“It could have been worse, Father God. Even though it is cancer, I know You are going to bring me out of this.” 

I felt His Holy Spirit come over me. I continued to praise God. The doctors were looking at me like, “What is going on here?” My cousin was crying and breaking down. I tried to comfort and console her by rubbing her back and telling her everything would be okay. I called my mom and told her what the doctor said. My Pop got on the phone and told me my mom passed out. I called my pastor and told him about my results, but I said, “I already knew God was going to heal me.” He said, “You have so much faith.” I knew it would be a journey, but God had me. I had the genetic testing to see if my breast cancer was genetic or hormonal. I have three daughters and that had me worried. I had an aunt who died of breast cancer. I kept on praying. I found out I am not a carrier. My cancer was hormonal, not genetic. God answered my prayer. 

I went to another doctor for a second opinion and that doctor confirmed that it was cancer, nearly stage 4, and much bigger than the first doctor had said. I was told that I needed radiation and chemo to shrink the tumor, and then possibly surgery. But I told those doctors, “God has assured me that He is going to take care of this without chemo and radiation.” They said, “I know you have faith, but this is something serious.” I was getting upset. I asked them what part they didn’t understand. I told them that God had already assured me that He was going to take care of me. I told them I would not have chemo and radiation, but I wanted to talk about surgery. The doctor said, “I can’t assure you that your cancer won’t come back if we do the surgery without chemo and radiation.” 

I asked the doctor what my chances were with the chemo and radiation. She said she didn’t know. I said, “Okay, what are my chances without the chemo and radiation?” She said she didn’t know. I said that is my confirmation. I am going to do this without chemo and radiation.

Then she brought in a team of doctors. They told me I didn’t have very long to live. I told them I knew I was going to live a long time. We moved forward with scheduling my surgery, but at that point I wasn’t sure about getting the surgery. I was afraid the surgery might spread my cancer. I went back to God and told Him I didn’t know about the surgery either. I felt Him tell me to continue to follow Him and he would show me the way. After that I had peace and joy. God gave me knowledge by helping me find natural ways to shrink tumors. He gave me wisdom to help me understand things I didn’t know. He gave me understanding. After that, I was ready to move forward with the surgery. Before I had the surgery, I changed the way I was eating. I used to eat a lot of fried food and sweets and restaurant foods. I also drank a lot of milk. I stopped dairy, sugar, fried foods, and restaurant foods. I started eating broth, broccoli and turmeric every day, along with other healthy foods. 

I had a lumpectomy in June 2016 — with no chemo, no radiation and no pills. I was fine for three years. 

I had another mammogram in June 2019, and they told me they needed to see me immediately. I already knew. I said, “Lord, I’m not ready for a second round.” I felt God tell me, “I covered you the first time, and I will cover you this time.” 

In September 2019, I was driving with my mom and cousin. I was in the back seat. It was raining. I was telling my mom and my cousin not to worry about me because God was going to take care of me. It stopped raining and the sun came out. I looked up at the clouds in the sky, then I saw the form. I saw Jesus’ face. I told my mom that I could see Jesus. I was overjoyed and crying. I felt the Holy Spirit. It was a warm feeling in my heart, just a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). He was comforting me, telling me everything would be okay. I was having so many emotions. I knew that God was getting ready to bring me through and bring me out. 

I went back to the same doctor who did my lumpectomy. She was upset that I had waited to see her. But she found the cancer had not gotten bigger from the June mammogram, and it had not spread. The cancer was contained in a sack. I knew again that I would not take chemo and radiation. 

I ended up having a mastectomy, then on Feb. 27, 2020, I had reconstructive surgery. I asked God to give me a wonderful, compassionate surgeon, and He did. The surgeon said, “If you wake up and have two breasts, you don’t have to do any chemo and radiation. If you wake up with one breast, you are going to have to do the chemo and radiation.” But I had already made up my mind that I was not going to have the chemo and radiation. I looked down after surgery and had both breasts. I was so happy I cried. At my two-week checkup after the reconstructive surgery, the doctor said I was doing better than any patient he had ever had. 

God is using me in ways I never realized He could. I have lost one of my best friends to breast cancer and another friend to cancer. On the days that they didn’t have strength, I could talk to them and encourage them about not losing their faith. A lot of people are going through hard things now, and I try to keep people encouraged. I make prayer and encouragement videos. I read as much as I can about research on cancer and other diseases and the impact of nutrition on health. I ask God to show me things that would benefit the health of other people, and I share what I have learned with them. Whatever I do, I ask God to guide me. 

I prayed that God would keep me alive to see my children and grandchildren. I continually praise Him for answering my prayers. This December my first grandbaby is due. God is faithful. I always try to keep my promises to God. If you still have breath in your body, you should thank God. We can’t do anything without God, without God’s guidance. I ask people all the time, “How many of you would give your only son for us?” Not one person. But God did. He gave the only Son He had. It is so amazing what He did. We need to start giving Him all the glory, all the praise. 

To me, God is peace and understanding. He is great in everything He does. His word is true. Sometimes we need to get away, in complete silence, and listen to what God would have us do. We must keep praying and keep trusting. He will show us the way to go if we listen and follow Him.

#233. Life Changer, Bondage Breaker

Photograph by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was raised in an abusive family. We talked about Jesus but didn’t obey and follow Him. I remember thinking that if I did something bad, He would bring damnation upon me. I was scared to death of God. My dad was an alcoholic and my mom abused me with words. I never thought anyone loved me. I didn’t think God loved me. I was told no man would ever love me, and no man would ever want to live with me. I wasn’t very pretty in high school. I had bad acne and was overweight. I had a bad attitude and hated life. No one asked me out on dates. 

I worked a job in high school and my parents got that money. Right after high school I got a job at a McDonald’s, and my parents took every bit of my money. Every check my dad would say, “Next month I won’t need your money,” but it went on for two years. I don’t know what he did with the money. My mom thanked me for feeding her, so I guess some of the money went for food. I went to vocational school and then started going to college. I have dyslexia and never was a good student. I met my first husband at college and began living with him. We got married and moved to another county. No sooner than we moved, he left me. I had a job working at the cookie factory. One day I had two flat tires. I didn’t have the money to get the tires fixed, so thought I was going to have to walk to work, which was a long way. My landlords weren’t Christians, but they were so kind to me. They got my car fixed for me and bought me lunch, too. That was God showing me love through them. I didn’t realize at the time, but that was the Father helping me.

I met a man that worked at the cookie factory, and I moved him in with me. Every man from my father to my first husband to this man — they all needed me. The way this man treated me was horrible. I wanted love so bad, I put up with it. We ended up getting married and had two children. He was physically and emotionally abusive to me and to the children. He finally admitted that he cheated on me, and I ended up leaving him and taking the children with me. 

I moved to another town and I worked at Walmart. I always needed a man. I met another man who worked at Walmart with me. He didn’t have a car, was living with his mom, and wanted out. It was the same pattern. He needed me. I moved him in with me right off the bat, just like the other two. We got along at first, but there was a big age difference. He did help provide for our household. We bought a house together. He ended up getting a good job at a factory. We were together about five years. He was always trying to find a way out of our marriage. He met someone at the factory and had an affair. He moved out. I went crazy with jealousy, ran after him, even went to his work. I was devastated that he had left me for another woman. 

I had a friend at work who was on a dating website. She helped me get a profile, and I started getting likes from men who wanted to meet me. I met a man and he went to church, had a good job, and played in the church band. I thought I’d hit the man lottery. Our first date, we talked about God and church. I thought it was wonderful. At the time I was going to church. I had asked God to use my life. The second time we were together, this man asked me to come over to his house. I heard God say, “You are a child of God.” I knew God didn’t want me to go, but I didn’t listen. I went to his house and I did something I regret. After this, everything changed. He kept asking me for money. I gave him so much money. That relationship finally ended. Then I met another man who literally spit on me. I let him use me and degrade me, but I was crazy for him. I was an unstable human being. I texted him so much that he finally blocked me.

I met another man on the dating website. He texted me and called me and told me I was beautiful. I thought I had found true love. He lived in another state. He asked me to move in with him. I quit my job, walked away from my furniture and townhouse, and I moved to another state to move in with him. This was almost two years ago. At first it was beautiful. Then he told me to give him my money, my tax refund, and he would pay the bills, but he didn’t. I got a job and gave him almost all I was making. Everything was good as long as he got the money. Monday through Friday was good but the weekends he got drunk and he would kick me out. I had to beg him to come back. Then I realized he was an alcoholic. I begged to stay. He started getting on dating websites. One day I came home and my stuff was thrown down the steps. When I left him, I realized things had to change. I looked up at God on the way back home and said to God, “Okay, you have got my attention.” That was a pivotal moment. I was coming home just like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). I was still angry but realized that I had to remove people from my life who were toxic and not good for me.

I contacted my former landlord and told him I needed a place to live, but I couldn’t pay immediately because I didn’t have a job. He let me live in the same place I had walked away from for two months without paying rent. The only things of my belongings that remained in my old townhouse were my box springs and mattress and my Bible. I had a little stool and would sit on my stool and read my Bible every morning and every night. I chose to believe what I was reading in the Bible. I finally realized that I am loved and wanted, even though I am not with a man. I believed Jesus loved me, and I fell in love with Jesus. I got very angry with myself for letting people hurt me and use me. I read what the Bible says about idolatry, about not making God our first love. I knew that I had made men an idol in my life. I read about God leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one sheep who had strayed away. I read Ezekiel 36:26–27, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” It was like God was talking directly to me. 

My life was transforming and things began to fall into place.I started going to church. I got a good job in four days. I ran into a friend and asked her if she knew anyone who had any furniture. She had a friend who brought me all kinds of furniture, kitchenware and a washer and dryer. All that furniture came and I knew . . . that was the hand of God providing for me. I kept reading the Bible morning and night and kept going to church. 

God is restoring my relationship with my mother and sister. God has completely restored my relationship with my children. My relationship with my son was so bad. I prayed and prayed about my son and recently my son asked if he could come home. I told him I would come and get him right then. He moved in with me. He said, “Mom, I never thought that this could happen.” I told him it was all God. God has provided a good job that I enjoy with good benefits. My friends even comment how far I have come, but I correct them and say, “No, this is where God has brought me. If you can’t see God’s hand in this, then you are blind.” 

I choose to stay away from drama, gossip, and unhealthy relationships. For years I thought I had to have a man to love me, that I had to make a man love me because I believed no man would ever love me. I believed what I had been told as a child. But God is the bondage breaker. He will change you. I have seen it happen in my own life. 

I have learned to believe what God says in the Bible. He loves you even when you don’t feel it. He is protecting you even when you don’t see it. When you believe what He says: You are loved, forgiven, and a child of God — that changes everything. But it takes surrender. You can’t go down a road and go both ways. You have to choose one direction. God will show us things about our life that aren’t right. We have a choice to be like King David and say, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13), or we can buckle down and say, “I’m going to do it my way.” I believe that until you submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, there is no way out. I’m stronger only because of Him. I have opportunities now to go back to the life I was living with men, but I am no longer tempted by men. This is only because of the strength of God working through me. 

I am most thankful for the cross. I know if I didn’t go to the foot of the cross, I wouldn’t be a changed person. I’m thankful for God bringing me out of bondage. He is the only way. 

You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! Jeremiah 2:19

#232. Go International: Serving Those Who Persecute Him

These stories are from Go International, a missions organization that seeks to fulfill the Great Commission by partnering with indigenous leaders across the world. This leads to sustainable, long-lasting change as the love of Christ is shared.

Our partner in South Asia has been facing persecution. As he tries to share the Word of God through social media, police have entered his home to stop him.

Last week, several police officers were standing outside his house. He began to talk with them and learned that even they and their families were out of food due to the country’s lockdown.

Matthew 5:44 says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Our partner acted on these words and invited ten police officers to share a meal together. While gathered around the table, he was able to show the love of Christ to those who have been persecuting him.

“Many times police bother us and our church services but love of God does not have boundaries,” our partner said. “It is all about Jesus and His love for all.”

#231. Go International: He Knew God Was With Him

These stories are from Go International, a missions organization that seeks to fulfill the Great Commission by partnering with indigenous leaders across the world. This leads to sustainable, long-lasting change as the love of Christ is shared.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to evangelize while distributing bags of food. We knocked on the door of a house and nobody opened it. We only heard a noise like someone dragging a chair. We were about to leave when a man opened the door. He told us that he was alone and that his wife had left. He was slow to open the door because he was dragging the chair. 

He said that he had lost a leg and lost his eye while working. He told us that he was chipping stones, and a fragment of stone fell into his right eye and completely emptied it. He told us that he felt lonely but that he knew that God was with him. 

He had cried out for help for several days, especially for food. We ministered to him, shared the love of God, and prayed for his life. A few days ago, we returned with more food bags, as well as coat and a pair of glasses to improve his vision. We were also able to bring him a wheelchair so that he feels more comfortable and can move better. Praise God for providing just what he needed, just in time.

#230 Go International: God Uses Police Stop to Bless Woman in Peru

These stories are from Go International, a missions organization that seeks to fulfill the Great Commission by partnering with indigenous leaders across the world. This leads to sustainable, long-lasting change as the love of Christ is shared.

Wilma, our partner in Lima, Peru has been burdened for those in the poor area of Lima where she ministers. They are going without food during the COVID crisis and lockdown.

So, in typical Wilma fashion, she set out to do something about it. Despite the challenges there, she was able to acquire enough food supplies to distribute to 30 of the neediest families each Saturday.

One Saturday as she and her son were returning from distributing the food, they were stopped by the police and told that anyone caught on the roads who was not on official business would be fined $2000.

They were in despair because they knew how these families were depending on these resources. Where would these families be able to get food? And how could Wilma help if she could not get to where they were?

Wilma is a woman of strong faith, and she knew God would supply. And He did in an amazing way! When the police major heard what they were doing, he offered his own car and his help so they could continue the work. He even gave a $200 donation to help buy more food.

What an amazing God we serve, and what an amazing woman of faith partnering with Go International!

#229. Love City: God Is My All-In-One

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Today is my mom’s birthday — she has been gone three years.

I will never forget. I got a phone call, and they told me my mom was dying; but, by the time I got to her, I learned she had already died. The police wouldn’t let me in, so I didn’t get to see her for the last time. I remember begging the police — “Let me in, let me see my mom!” One of the officers said, “I’m not going to let you see her like that — you need to remember all the good times.” I was so upset, that I lost consciousness and fell/passed out. I remember seeing an angel standing over me. But no one saw the angel but me. I asked the people around me if they saw the angel praying over me, but no one saw her but me. It made me feel crazy but I know what I saw!

I went back to my home, and thought to myself there isn’t a God. If there is a God, why didn’t He send His angels down to protect my mom? If there is a God, He would have known that I needed my mother. I asked the God that I didn’t believe existed, “Why would You take her?” My family tried to console me. I told them, don’t come around here with that God stuff. He took everything He could take from me.

They still kept praying and talking and not listening to me . . .

After I got the call that my mom was passing away, I was in my car, driving as fast as I could to get to her apartment, I was saying stuff like “God, please don’t do this to me. Please God, I don’t want my mom to suffer,” not knowing then that by Him taking her, He had answered my prayer for her not to suffer. I didn’t look at it that way, when I said there wasn’t a God. I just thought He was being mean, trying to hurt me. So I asked Him — “Is this You punishing me by taking my mom?” 

But despite my feelings, God was providing. My mom died January 10, 2017, and it cost a lot to bury her. I didn’t want the city to bury her, so it cost a lot. I struggled to get the money to bury her, which meant that when school started that year, my kids weren’t going to have what they needed for school.

But, despite everything I said that was so mean to God, He provided for my kids — school supplies, clothes, backpacks — and so much more! 

God did not stop believing in me! I might have wanted to get rid of Him, but He was there the whole time. My faith was shaky for over a year, and I wouldn’t step foot in a church. But, despite how I was feeling about Him, God was still right there! He didn’t give up on me! He didn’t leave!

Even when we turn our back on Him, God doesn’t turn His back on us. He remains. It is hard to learn and understand, but it is true. 

I don’t understand my mom’s death to this day, but God has helped me see life from different aspects and angles, so who He is and what He is capable of is becoming clearer to me. 

I am learning who God is: He is your all-in-one! Joshua 1:5 says God will never leave you or forsake you. That’s what all-in-one is! Even though He had to do what He had to do by taking my mom, God didn’t leave me hanging! He was still providing! My kids were still doing well in school. We had what we needed. The rent got paid. He got me a house. God is my all-in-one!

My mom always wanted me to have a daughter, and now I am pregnant with a girl! I have three sons. The oldest is 12. My middle son is eight and the youngest is five. Then, I mysteriously come up pregnant — and it is a girl! She is due Sept. 8, 2020, as another sign of God’s ongoing provision! 

My only request to God was that I would have a girl, so that I could love her the way my mom had loved me! And here she is!

God is your all-in-one!