#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!

#228. Love City: Saying Yes To The Life He Has Offered

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in a protected home. For whatever reason, God planted me in a family with two people who trust His love. They love God and know that God loves them. Everything they do pours out of that. I can see in their lives the way scripture plays out in truth. I am so grateful that I was in that environment. Their story started my story. 

Both of my parents grew up in homes with alcoholic fathers. My mom grew up going to church and her youth group became her family and support system. My dad also got involved in youth group. They loved youth group and loved the church. They met at Bible College. My dad graduated but mom didn’t have enough financial support to finish. They got married and started living a life in alignment with God. My dad worked as a youth minister and my mom worked cutting hair. After about seven years something happened with the leadership of the church that severely hurt my dad. My mom had been continually hurt at the church by different things. They didn’t hide these things, but they did not want to bad mouth people so I don’t know the details. They decided to leave the church and pursue vocational ministry. My mom works in the home office of a nursing home and my dad sells medical equipment. They found that they have had so much more freedom to really do ministry and show many people God’s love — even more than they did at their positions in the church. 

I got to see my parents grow. They have always been vulnerable acknowledging that they are not perfect but growing in the Lord. I never had to be perfect — just be willing to follow the Lord even if there were mistakes in that. I was never really involved in church because of the hurt my parents experienced. We hopped around and really tried to find a church but my parents wanted more freedom and less judgment. It’s a weird paradox growing up in a household of true believers and not being involved in church at all. I think God works even through people’s mess, and He worked through my parent’s hurt. Even now at 24, I am still learning to be in a church community because a corporate church community is just not the norm for me in my family. There are some drawbacks to this but what is beautiful is that the Lord is truly sovereign. God works with us wherever we are. Now, as I am learning to walk in a church community, I am a lot more open to being in a church and not suspicious of church leadership. I don’t have “church hurt” like many people do. 

I grew up in a house that understood that love is gritty and not just shiny and polished. Love meets people where they are, which is often battling through wounds and trying to believe that they are actually loved. I didn’t grow up believing that if you are a Christian you will look like “this.” Through my parents’ example and God’s guidance, I can now work in an inner-city ministry and not judge and not feel superior. My wonderful relationship with my own parents makes it very easy to call God Father, but many people have never had that. Living here reminds me how good I had it at home. 

When you really believe what Scripture says and you build your life around that, it really changes what happens through the generations. It is possible to be the person who changes the trajectory of the family from brokenness to wholeness and love. My parents shifted the course of the way their two families were headed. It is so encouraging to see that if you are faithful to Christ, it truly frees the generations that come after you. I know it wasn’t easy for my parents. They had to work to undo what had been said and done to them, but they put in the work and I am the beneficiary. I have lived in the fruit of the work God did in my parents. Scripture says He will set the generations free and God has done that in my family. 

God is the great orchestrater. He has all the pieces and parts in place. He cares about individuals and also cares about families as a whole unit. God really cares about reconciling things. He cared about reconciling us to Himself through Jesus, and He cares about our “little lives.” He cares about my little family in Oklahoma. He cares about the kids who are getting killed in the streets of the West End of Louisville, where I work at Love City. I see the same freedom coming to families right here in Portland. A 15-year-old was murdered in the streets, and we see now that God has reconciled the family. His grandmother and family have come to truly love the Lord. God has used that tragedy for good — to help his family through that pain and to walk in fullness of life. 

Life with God is simple. That doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. It’s just saying yes to everything He is offering. This can be scary. It can be scary to heal wounds, to undo coping mechanisms that you learned to help you survive hurt and brokenness. But if people had the courage to just say yes to Jesusto say yes to his will, to really mean it, and shift accordingly, there would be so much freedom, restoration, and flourishing. 

It’s the life with God we search for. It’s the age old question, from Aristotle to Aquinas to me today– what’s the good life? How can I find it? The first step is saying yes to the life that He has offered. It is a life of submission and listening to Him, discerning His will and getting rid of the things in your life that pull you away from Him. That’s what the yes is. It’s a hard yes. It’s a complete surrender yes— but on the other side of surrender is the freedom that we all want. It’s there for anyone who wants it. Jesus asked the question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:1-15). When you answer yes, freedom follows. 

#227. Love City: Completely Rebuilt in His Image

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

My biological father signed away his parental rights. My sister’s father adopted me when I was around six years old. He raised me and was my dad. My parents were together until they divorced when I was 10. After that I lived half the time with my mom and half with my dad. I was an honor roll student and played the violin. I loved school and was in talent shows for singing. Then, when I was about 17, my doctor prescribed me three narcotics for some back problems, attention deficit disorder, and anxiety. I became addicted. I got pregnant when I was 18 and had my son when I was 19. Between my first and second child I was a stay-at-home mom living in a nice condo, in a nice neighborhood. I even went to college for five years and had custody of my younger sister and took care of her. When I got pregnant with my second son, the doctors told me I had to get on the methadone program to help come off the medicine while I was pregnant. I became very addicted to the methadone. Then I got pregnant with my daughter and was again on the methadone while I was pregnant with her. I ended up losing my house and kids. I used drugs while I was pregnant with my fourth child, a daughter. The drugs just completely consumed me. 

I wound up living in an abandoned house. One night one of my friends was overdosing and there was a fire department around the corner. I knew I needed to get him to the hospital. I pressed the button at the fire department and told them we needed to take my friend to the hospital. I rode with him in the ambulance. While they took care of him, I was in the waiting room hallucinating. I had a moment of clarity and knew I needed help. I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t even recognize who I was. I was demon possessed. I stunk literally and figuratively. 

I checked myself into the hospital. They hooked me up to an IV because I was extremely dehydrated. I was out of it for a while. The hospital had me call the Healing Place, a residential recovery program in our city. I called and they said they had one bed available and it was first come, first served. I said, “I don’t’ know how I’m going to get there because I have no money.” They sent me a taxi — an angel taxi — you could see the glory on the face of the taxi driver. He wasn’t judgmental. The ride was very peaceful. I knew for sure I was being transported by God’s people to a true healing place. I was at rock bottom. I knew I had to do something different.

When I got there, I crawled in. Sister Johanna, who has worked at the Healing Place for about 35 years, checked me in. I was there 11 months. Then I served as a peer mentor for three months, giving back to other women who are new to the program. Right before I moved out, I met Shawn and Inga, the founders of Love City, a ministry in the West End of Louisville. I didn’t have anywhere to live, and they allowed me to live with them for two years. They helped me get rid of my bench warrants, get a license, develop a budget, get my children back in my life, and get a home. When I first started living with Shawn and Inga, I worked at the Healing Place for six months. Then I started working for Love City, helping to remodel and doing janitorial work. I worked as a counselor and mentored the children coming to the community center. Now I am the manager of Love City’s restaurant, Porkland. I now have my children back in my life. God is slowly restoring things back to me — one thing at a time. My boys live with their father but they come to stay with me. I am back together with my first love, the father of my two boys. 

I have learned that God is always with me. I can see the beauty of every single thing around me now. I can see beauty in the people around me. He has given me new eyes and new ears to hear His voice. He is teaching me that I’m His daughter and I’m worthy. I am a child of the most high God. I’m most thankful for a second chance, a new beginning. I am a new creation in Christ. He has completely rebuilt me in His image. No matter how dark it gets or how far down you go, God will always reach down and pick up His children to give them beauty for ashes.

As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. — Joshua 24:15b

#226. Love City: God Changed The Narrative I Believed

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in a home that wasn’t Christian. We did go to church a couple of times, but my mom was on drugs and was an alcoholic. We didn’t have nice clothes and the church asked us not to come if we couldn’t dress appropriately.

My limited experience in church was the only place that was a contrast to the life we were living. My dad was never in my life. I never met him. The man that I was closest to as a dad died in a car accident when I was a child. Father figures weren’t really a part of my life. The narrative that I learned growing up was that I would always have to take care of myself, and that I wasn’t really important. Other things were more important than me, like drugs. I was sexually abused and this also negatively affected my identity. In every facet of my life there were negative things being spoken into my identity. 

We lived in California and my mom relapsed and picked us up and moved us to Las Vegas my senior year of high school. Life got worse with the move. My mom couldn’t find work, so I started working. Things deteriorated so my brother and sister moved back to California, then it was just me and my mom. My mom ended up moving back to California while I was a work one day. She didn’t tell me she was going to leave. I came back from work and all her stuff was gone. I called her and she told me she was moving back to California. I started working multiple jobs. 

After graduation, I started working with a woman named Molly. She was the most persistent Christian that I have ever met. She wanted to talk about God and invited me to church. I tried to shut down the conversation. I didn’t want to talk about God. One night I was going to take a public bus to get home from work, but the bus was broken down and they weren’t taking passengers. I called Molly and she didn’t answer. I started walking home. I started thinking about God. I said, “God if you are real, send someone to pick me up.” Not five seconds later a woman stopped and asked, “Do you need a ride?” I got in and noticed she had her 2-year-old daughter in the back seat. She was a young Caucasian woman. So I asked, “I know that I’m not going to hurt you, but you don’t know that. I’m a 6-foot-4-inches tall African American male. Why did you pick me up?” She said, “I’m not too sure. I just felt like God just told me to pick you up.” When I got home, I paced the floor. I was really confused about what just happened. 

At work the next day Molly asked me about missing the call. I told her what happened and she said, “God is pursuing you.” She wanted me to come to church and I said, “If I come one time will you stop bothering me?” She agreed and I went. It was unlike any church I had ever seen. The people were in shorts, drinking coffee. After church, I sat around with Molly as they talked with a group of college kids about a mission trip to Peru. The more I heard the more I had a desire to go, a desire that I couldn’t explain. At the end of the meeting I told the leader I kind of wanted to go on the trip. She said the trip was full but they had a waiting list. She called me a week later and said someone had dropped out and everyone else on the waiting list said no. I said I would love to go, but the money was a problem. I didn’t have time to fundraise the $500 deposit, so I dropped the idea of going on the trip. She called me a week later and said she felt like provision was coming that week. I was skeptical. When we got off the phone, I checked the mail. There was a check from a company I worked for when I first moved to Las Vegas. It was for $500 — exactly the amount of the deposit. I thought I was being pranked. Over the summer we fundraised for the rest of the trip money. Crazy things happened and God brought all the money needed for me to go. 

Here I am, a young man who isn’t even a Christian going with a church to third world country to bring the Gospel to their people. I still was super confused about why I was there. I just knew I wanted to go. The poverty was like nothing I had ever seen, especially in the barrios where there was just one water tank and homes were made out of mud bricks — sometimes with tarps, sometimes not. The Peruvian families would make us food, but it didn’t feel right to take anything from people who had so little. The Peruvian people just kept talking about Jesus. The older generation in the barrios knew of the faithfulness of Jesus, but the kids not so much. 

We had a “camp” for the kids. I asked a lot of questions of the Peruvian people and the people I went with about Jesus. They discipled me about who Jesus is. On the last day of the camp we had a bonfire. One of the Peruvian leaders was sharing his testimony. He had a translator. Then he started praying in English. I had tried to talk to him multiple times in English while were there and he couldn’t speak English, so I said to someone on our team, “I didn’t know that he spoke English.” They said, “He doesn’t.” But I understood what he was saying in his prayer even though it was in Spanish and I didn’t speak Spanish. Here is what he said in his prayer: “I just feel like the Lord is saying that He has been pursuing some of you for a while, and now would be the moment to come and surrender.” 

At that point I stood up and started walking. The next thing I know, I am at the front surrounded by my team. We are all crying. The leader started to explain to me about the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I had a freeze frame moment about the woman that had picked me up, and everything that had happened that summer. It was like the narrative I had told myself all my life was being broken. This God that I didn’t know and couldn’t see went out of His way to pursue me and tell me that I am important. 

Having that realization, I decided to give my life to Christ. I got saved that night and got baptized in the Pacific Ocean the next day. The rest is a journey of obedience and the places that the Lord led me to. The Lord has allowed me to travel the world and work in different churches and organizations. I have learned to understand His heart for people and His heart for me. And now, He has me in a place to speak to young people who, just like me, only understood one narrative, one version of their story that seems hard to get out of. The reality is that God’s love transcends it all, and that brings hope. God has a plan for their lives beyond what the world would tell them. I can be an example with my life and my words — because I was that kid. 

God pulled me out of the lifestyle I was accustomed to, the lifestyle that would set a person up for failure. God pulled me out of that and put me in communities with people who loved the Lord and who were patient with me as I grew in my faith. I hope to be a person like that to someone else. I want to use my story to bring God glory and bring His children back into the kingdom. That’s what my yes is now. 

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. — Colossians 1:19-22 (ESV)

#225. Love City: 13 College Rejections, Then The YES

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I spent my early growing-up years in Georgia, then we moved to a small town in Missouri when I was 12. I didn’t grow up in the church, but my grandmother was a spiritual giant. She always talked to us about how much God loved us. I got baptized at a Vacation Bible School that my grandmother took me to when I was eight, but didn’t really interact with the church until I was around 13 years old. I went to church with my best friend in middle school. Her parents were youth pastors. As I was getting older, I started doing mission trips. We built houses and cleaned up communities. I am one of seven children. I was really the only person in my immediate family who went to church. 

In high school I was very school-oriented and involved in church. I went to a tiny midwestern farm town high school. I was class president for a couple of years. I did theater, show choir, academic team. I graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. Everyone told me I would be able to continue my education anywhere I wanted and would get scholarship. I applied to 13 schools and got into none! I was even rejected by the community college. It was so disappointing. I had spent so much time working hard in school. 

I graduated in 2016 and went on a mission trip in Colorado that summer. During that trip, I was praying a lot about what to do because I didn’t get into school. There was a speaker from iGo Global. The speaker said some people are called to go and some people are called to stay. I felt a distinct calling to go on mission. Everything in my life had led to that. I knew I wanted to do whatever the Lord wanted me to do with my life. 

When I got home from Colorado, I talked to my youth pastor, and she said to look into Ozark Bible College. I applied and was immediately accepted. I started in January after I graduated high school. My family didn’t help with the money, and it is a pretty expensive school, so I worked to earn money toward my tuition. Two days before school started, I was going to turn my paperwork in and the academic dean randomly stopped by the secretary’s desk. When he saw my paperwork, he offered me a scholarship that paid half my tuition for four years. 

My third year at Ozark Bible College, I came on a service trip with a team of college students to Love City in Louisville, Kentucky, during spring break. The founders of Love City offered me a three-month summer internship, which I accepted. Four weeks into the internship, they offered me a full-time position. After graduating with a mission degree in intercultural studies in May 2020, I moved to Louisville to be on full time staff at Love City. 

The Lord is patient. I am a big planner and the most important way the Lord has worked in my life is uprooting my plans and showing me the way (His way). The 13 college rejections were disappointing (and surprising), but God had a better plan for me, a plan that He is revealing to me even now. Going to Bible College helped me fulfill my dream of becoming a missionary, and God connected me with the founders of Love City, a place where I now live and love to serve. 

I am most thankful that the Lord just keeps showing up, even when I don’t know what He is doing! Over and over, His hand has provided for me and guided me. Even the big changes in my life, have all worked out very well. I have learned that God may uproot your plans, but He will never disappoint you. 

I therefore, a prisoner for theLord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).

#224. Love City: Believing It But Not Living It

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up attending a nondenominational evangelical church from birth to fifth grade. But, I basically lost interest after elementary school. My parents could tell I was drifting. They are wonderful, observant, good parents in every way possible, and they saw that I was not into the church we were attending. They thought if we changed churches, and went where one of my friends was going, I would get more into it there.

So, that’s what we did. We moved to a mega church where I knew one person. I was glad because I was thinking I’d just blend in with the crowd. A lot of people at that time intentionally poured into me. In that season, I got this misconception of what I thought ministry/life lived for God looked like. I thought I wanted to be a youth pastor, or something like that, until I was a sophomore in high school. 

At that point, I was one of the more organized kids in my youth group, so I was tasked with finding a place for 80 kids to volunteer (that is what a “small group” at a mega church looked like in 2016). Love City, in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, was the only ministry willing to accept a group of youth volunteers that large.

I met Shawn and Inga (founders of Love City) at age 15. They have been mentors and have provided me with lots of opportunities. So my involvement with Love City has changed over the years. Throughout high school, I used to help with their weekly fish fry and hang out with Shawn. We got to know each other pretty well. He kept pouring into me as I worked with the ministry.

During high school, I was also a soccer player and had put a lot of my identity into that. Soccer was the main reason I went to the high school I did. It was preparation, as I intended to play soccer in college, but I got burned out on it — to the point that I would see a soccer field and get sick to my stomach. Once that happened, I lost part of my identity, so I tried to fill it with other things. 

I started using recreational drugs of any type. I regularly used them sophomore to senior year of high school, even while I was in church or working at Love City. Two very distinct lives very well hidden from one another.

My drug life was hidden from church. But, church life was not hidden from drugs. I remember being high and telling people about Jesus! My senior year, I decided to go to Johnson University, a private Christian school in Knoxville, Tennessee. Two weeks before leaving for college, a friend had invited me to a big music event in Chicago. I thought “one last blowout” — then I will leave all that behind and go to Bible college.

While in Chicago, I ended up overdosing on acid and woke up in the hospital — no phone, no idea where I was, hallucinating — I was so confused. My parents came to pick me up from the hospital around 1 a.m., and they just came in with the most world class parenting approach of grace and forgiveness. Then when we got home, my parents, Shawn and Inga (who were my spiritual parents), and I met together. That was another huge blanket of love around and for me!

I decided to go ahead and go to Bible college in Knoxville. In that first year away from home, I did a lot of thinking and had a lot of revelations: If I say I believe this stuff — even to the point I am saying it when I’m intoxicated, yet if I am not living it — it doesn’t matter. Kind of like the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28–32.

This is an ‘all in’ or ‘nothing’ type of thing — this is a lifestyle thing. That year away, I realized I do believe these things. It felt like I needed to reconstruct everything. So I dug into prayer and scripture, I asked tough questions to people I trusted, and I started rebuilding my faith. At the end of that year, I had a faith that I owned and was actually mine.

I came home that summer to do an internship at Love City. I started getting to know the kids in the Portland neighborhood and enjoyed working with them. My plans of returning to Knoxville quickly changed when, two weeks before I was supposed to go back to Johnson, one of the youth role models in the community, a 15-year-old boy, was shot and killed. It was then that I knew I didn’t want to be someone rotating in and out of their lives — I wanted to be here year-round and constantly. So, I decided to continue my studies online rather than on campus, so I could be at Love City.

The COVID pandemic has changed the way we do things at Love City. I was moved into a role of teaching interns and apprentices what it looks like to love God and love people.

Personally, I have been learning a lot about nature — and about the Father — through creation. We are meant to be at peace. To look up at the sky and see its beauty; then look around at human beings and see the same beauty in them as well!

A significant scripture for me is Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lordestablishes their steps.”

#223. Love City: Radically Transformed

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was raised in the church for first 12 years of my life. When I was born, there was no dad in the picture for the first five years. A guy got my mom pregnant but was not a part of my life. I grew up in my grandparent’s house with four of my cousins, two uncles, aunt, mother, and grandparents. I loved family — family was my life. I didn’t really have other friends, just my family. 

At age five, my mom met a man at Southeast Christian Retreat Center and they got married. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but there was a falling out between my mom and my grandparents, so we got kicked out. I can’t remember — either we left or got kicked out, but it tore me up. It devastated me. It was such a transition going from living in community with family to living in complete isolation. The man my mom married adopted me at age five, as soon as they got married. So I had a new last name, a new man I’m supposed to call “Dad,” a new school, and a new family. I had a new life.

That’s when I started to act out and rebel. We call it the Bible, but I’ve come to find out that it is a 66-book love letter from God to me. Scripture uses the metaphor of a wild animal to describe how I was acting. If a wild animal gets angry, it will devour  people and things around it/tear them apart.

In the same way, when I couldn’t express my feelings, it would come out as rage. I was feeling something but couldn’t express it or understand it, so I would act out. I never found healing because I could never identify the problem or release it. So, I ended up living for other people’s acceptance. I knew who I was in community with family, but after losing that I didn’t know who I was. I kept going to Sunday school and all my friends got baptized. I wanted to also, so I began doing what everyone else was doing. I believed who Jesus was and what He did, but what I didn’t understand was what comes after deciding to follow Jesus.

So, when I started to live for other people’s acceptance, I also started to die from their rejection. In middle school I got bullied, so in high school I was chomping at the bit to fit in with the cool kid crowd. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to fit in, but there was always something in me that was tugging at me not to do “that thing.”

At 17 years old, I got kicked out of my parent’s house for being disrespectful and rebellious. I graduated high school and was glad I got kicked out. I wanted to take on the world. My selfish ambition started a ripple effect, not just in my life but also in the lives of other people.

I had a girlfriend for about three years, but I also had this pain inside that I didn’t know how to deal with. So I turned to money, sex, and drugs to turn off my mind, because I had to numb the pain that was in my heart.

I got a theft charge for stealing from UPS and got fired from Ford for failing a drug test. I would spend all my money on drugs, then my girlfriend would get me a meal at the end of the day — even though she knew I was doing drugs. I would repay her by punching holes in the wall when I was mad. I felt like a piece of trash — God didn’t make me to be a monster. My girlfriend would cry and I felt like trash.

I remember that I had a glass prism with Jesus in it and, in a rage, I threw it through a glass table. I had a Bible that was gifted me when I was baptized but, one day we argued and I threw it in the garbage. I never got it back out.

Finally, I ended up on painkillers and cocaine because nothing else would numb the pain. I got in a fight with a good friend, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. No words were exchanged — we just got up and started brawling. My parents let me move back in when I was 19 but then I got in a fistfight with my dad, so I got kicked out again. It was a never-ending cycle of self-destruction. But it was not just destroying me. I was inflicting pain on other people.

I wanted to change, but knew I would have to get away. One day I called my cousin and told him what was going on. He was about to move to Mississippi. He said if I wanted to clean up my life, I could go with him. So that is what I did. I developed a work ethic and got my driver’s license back (which I had lost because of a DUI charge). It was good timing to get away from the toxic environment I had been in.

Unfortunately, my cousin and I had a falling out, so my girlfriend came to Mississippi to get me and took me back to Kentucky.

The Lord has reminded me of Matthew 23:27 where Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, telling them that they are like whitewashed tombs. There was this beautiful picture on the outside, which gives you the impression that what is on the inside is even better. But Jesus said that what is inside is actually rotten, decaying, and dying. When I came back, I “looked good” on the outside, but on the inside I was still the same monster. I had never sought healing for the pain that was on the inside.

I was still a monster to my girlfriend. I talked badly to her and I was disrespectful. She kicked me out one day, so I moved in with a friend. I got a job at Planet Fitness, but the background check came back and I got fired. I had another interview, but that fell through. 

I found myself overcome with such a burden of shame. I called my mom and apologized, and she accepted my apology. I didn’t deserve her grace but she forgave me. My dad was still bitter and wasn’t ready to reconcile. So I ended up meeting my mom and little sister at McDonald’s to grab breakfast after three years of not seeing them. My little sister had become a young woman, and it tore me apart.

At this point the last resort was the military. I went to enlist and they said as long as I didn’t have a murder charge or drug trafficking charge, I could apply. Twice before the military had not worked out, so this was the third time going to enlist. I wanted to be a Marine but ended up with the Army recruiter. They said they would let me know in a month. 

While I waited, I stayed in contact with mom and my little sister. One day I was running laps with my mom and told her that I would love to have a relationship with my family before I deployed. She was OK, but she said I had to ask my father. I was genuine with my dad and expressed how sorry I was and that though I couldn’t take away the pain I had caused, if he was open, I wanted a relationship. I ended up moving in with them while I waited to hear back from military. My dad suggested I get with one of his friends and see if he could use help roofing. A couple days later I was working again.

The military option fell through, but in the midst of the waiting, I had to praise God. I had a Bible app on my phone and was reading a devotional plan called the “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer. Every day was about the Holy Spirit cutting off all the junk I was carrying.

I could tell at this point I was just tired of it. Enough. I saw the wake of destruction which spurred the realization to not just “desire change” but to “need change.” There comes that point when you stop crying out just when you need Him. Instead you just genuinely want Him.

There is a difference between desiring and yearning. I had always desired change, but now I knew I needed God for change. I was yearning for Him. There is a supernatural God who loves me in a supernatural way. I knew transformation would come if I believed in Him.

If what He says in His Word is real, I’m going to know it, because that is how deeply I am going to seek Him. So I got a notebook and started writing — prayers, thoughts, and hopes.

One of the first incredible things God did in my life was that in my weakness I was able to look down at this notebook and read between the lines. There were words that were an exact depiction of what I was feeling in my heart. I was finally learning to express what I was feeling. God just did it all. That began the healing process! It also began to bring joy! I began to find out who I am because I was learning whose I am.

My dad started to see me change. I was seriously seeking. He showed me a book and I started reading it, though I can’t even remember the title. I was reading and just started weeping — the floodgates opened. I was compelled to get on my knees and I just started talking to God. There are three things I remember about that moment:

  1. I told God I was tired of hating.
  2. I told God I was tired of being ashamed.
  3. I told God, I’ve got to find out who You created me to be — because it is not this monster that I have been my whole life.

I got up from the floor and I knew something was going to change. I can’t even explain it. God was telling me: You’re going to change because I am with you!

I’ve heard this quote: “The cross beckons the man who is sick of himself.” That was me! The cycle of shame had formed an anchor in my life.

Scripture says in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” I accepted His freedom that day.

After that experience, I asked my boss, who was also a member of our church, to get me plugged in to a group at the church. I got into a men’s group and the first question they asked was “How is your personal relationship with Jesus?” That made me ask if I have a personal relationship, and if I do, what is it like? It was a small group where we could be genuine and authentic.

They were also big on obedience discipleship. Jesus said, if you love me you will follow my commands. He says loving me empowers you to obey me, just like a child.

In their song, What if I Stumble, DC TALK makes this statement: 

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.

That was me! So I recommitted my life to Jesus in February 2019 and was rebaptized in April 2019.

This joy (fruit of the spirit) that started to come to life brought freedom! Now I want everybody to want that! Jesus is about mercy and selflessness. And that realization drove me to the frontlines to see others set free! My whole life I sought meaning and purpose without ever including God. In less than one year, I didn’t care about anything but knowing that I am His. It is hard to fully explain the change that has occurred in me. My parents told me recently that they always anticipated getting a call asking them to identify my body. That’s the path I was headed down, that the kind of life I had chosen to live. Understanding God’s love and grace radically transformed my life.

The one who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). I have found this to be true in my life, when I finally understood God’s grace. Jesus on the cross was God telling me that He loves me. If I was worth dying for, He’s worth living for! 

I started visiting the residents of a halfway house and one of the guys invited me to a Bible study at a place called Victory House. I would go with a friend named Tom, and he invited me to live my life on mission. I remember we were leaving one night and I told Tom, “As long as my heart is beating, I’ll see you tomorrow.” That seemed like such a random comment I couldn’t even explain why I said it, but the next morning I found myself dying to play a song I used to listen to as a child. And one of the verses says “As long as my heart is beating, where You lead me I will follow, where You lead me I give my life away” That was it! I was sold out to Jesus and as long as my heart is beating, I will follow!

#222. Jesus, My Best Friend

Howdy, it’s an honor and privilege to get to tell my story. This is the story of how I met my best friend. 

I was raised morally right. I was taught not to steal or lie and to be good to other people. But I wasn’t raised in church. One morning I got up to go to school and kissed my mom goodbye, as I always did. I was 15 years old. I remember it just like it was yesterday. When I came home from school my dad was waiting for me. I could tell there was something wrong. He told me my mom had gotten sick during the day. He took her to the hospital and she died. Losing my mom just devastated me, and my whole world changed. 

It wasn’t too much longer, just a few months, and my dad passed away. I had just turned 16. I was out in the world and on my own. I didn’t know anything about all the things of the world but there I was. It wasn’t too long after that I started hanging around the wrong kind of people and crowd, started smoking pot, drinking and taking pills. I just got on the wrong road. By the time I was 19, I had wrecked my life. I didn’t care about anything. I wound up in trouble. I stood before the judge, and he took that little hammer and he gave me a year and a half. I thought “Ahhh, that wouldn’t be no problem.”  And just to be honest, I didn’t really care if the sun came up or not. I’d had all of life I wanted. But after I was in there a while, I got to see what it’s like to be told when you can eat, what you can eat. I didn’t have freedom. I didn’t understand what it meant to be free, until my freedom was taken away. I went from being the baddest to the saddest fella in there. 

One day in February, a fella came by to visit and started talking about a man called Jesus. He told me that Jesus died for my sins, and He would forgive me of all the wrong I had done. He said Jesus would be the best friend I’d ever had. I thought, “Man, I don’t have any friends.” I heard a voice say, “Try me.” I thought about that. About that time I heard it again, “Try me.” I thought, “What have I got to lose?” I knew I had done wrong. I bowed my head and asked Jesus to forgive me. And it was just like that, like the snap of a finger, the weight of the world lifted off me. I could have run five miles if they had opened the door. 

I didn’t know anything about church or nothing like that, but I did remember my mommy telling me about Jesus when I was a little boy. She described it as he lived up in the sky, what was a little 5 or 6 year old boy gonna think, if he lived up there he’d probably fall down. (Chuckled) By her telling me that, it gave me the faith to believe what the man was saying about Jesus. Then I heard the voice saying, “Try me.” And I did. I haven’t been the same since. I’ve got a reason to live. I love working with young people because I almost didn’t make it as a young person. I guess that’s what motivates me, plus I believe that’s what the Lord wants me to do. 

Being saved over 35 years ago is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m still saved and happier now than I’ve ever been. I’m on my way to heaven. I’ve got the greatest gift ever offered, and all I had to do was ask. I’ve heard preachers, preach about how King David said, “Taste and see that the Lordis good” (Psalm 34:8). Just try Jesus. You don’t know what you are missing. I have tried for over 30 years to explain how good salvation is. I once heard an old preacher say that if the whole world could comprehend and realize what it is like to be saved, there would be no cars on the road, no airplanes in the sky, nothing would be going on because everyone would be on their knees getting saved.  Now that’s how great it is to be saved!

If you don’t believe me, give Jesus a try and I love you guys.

#221. A Second Chance

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

After dealing with a spirit of rejection all my life, I made the worst decision I could have possibly made. It was Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. My wife and I had been divorced for three years, and I had been dating another woman for about seven months. Everything was going well in our relationship. We had even talked about getting married, but that night she called to tell me she wanted to break up. Once again, the rejection hit me — this time full force. I just couldn’t take it any more.

I hung up the phone and immediately began to plan my suicide. I called my mom but never said what I was going to do. Then I went to bed. The next morning (Thursday, Sept. 15) I got up and wrote a note for whomever. Then I dialed 911 and told the guy on the other end what I was going to do. He tried to talk me out of it, but I said that I’ve had enough and hung up.

I then went outside and sat on a stump with my pistol and waited. When I heard the police pull up, I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Lying on the ground I was still conscious and could hear everything being said around me. One officer said it was a bad angle, and I probably wouldn’t make it. Then they picked me up and carried me to the ambulance. They laid me on my side and put my head on something hard. As they drove me to the hospital, I began to choke on the blood collecting in my throat. I tried to lift my head to cough but the attendant shoved my head down.

While going to the hospital the male attendant was telling jokes and laughing with a female attendant. He told her I was losing too much blood and wouldn’t live. When we arrived at the hospital, I lost consciousness.

I don’t know how many days I was unconscious, but when I began to wake up, I could see faces, though somewhat blurry, and hear voices, but I was unable to talk.  Eventually my vision cleared up and I could talk again. My mother and sister were there, along with some friends from the church I attended.  

Three weeks to the day that I arrived, I went home, though very weak, as they did not allow me to eat anything.  Not even a drink of water.  

When I started dating that woman, early on I remember saying to myself, “If this woman breaks up with me, I’ll kill myself.” I did not realize that what I had done was make an inner vow, which opened the door for the enemy to come in. I had never heard of an inner vow until I was home and recovering. I heard a man on TV explaining what it was.

The same year I tried to end my life, my ex-wife and I were remarried on Christmas Eve. My miraculous, full recovery and marriage has given me a new appreciation for life. I also have experienced God’s love for me in ways I had never experienced before. 

I understand now that God was not rejecting me. It was the enemy rejecting me by using other people. This spiritual warfare had me convinced that I was not wanted and not loved by anyone. Those were lies and I bought into them.  

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.(Ephesians 6:12)

#220. He Gives Strength to the Weariest of Souls

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

As a child, we never went to church. My parents were born and raised in a coal mining community of West Virginia. They were both the product of poverty and religion gone mad. The foundation of their lives was built on a belief that true “religion” was about who could not get bitten when the rattlesnake was passed their way. Sometimes, I imagine that my parents viewed their entire life as a church service, just waiting to see which one of them would survive the poison.

I am the youngest of three substantially older siblings who were on their way “out the door” as I was “on my way in.” My parents were the owners of a donut shop, which meant they both worked from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m., so my siblings were burdened with the responsibility of caring for me and seeing that I was fed and entertained. I am certain that between my two sisters, this was not a responsibility they were happy about! So, from early on, I was left alone to entertain myself while my parents worked, slept or went out.

For my mother, daily drinking was a true way of life. A diagnosis of diabetes led her to become sober when I was about 12. Funny thing is that with that one decision to make her life “better,” it seemed as if ours became worse. Our house was never one that had a pattern. I lived in total chaos, not knowing what to expect on a daily basis, but that chaos was the only thing that I knew, and the comfort level of the craziness was, at times, the only normalcy I could hold on to. We went from weekly drinking binges to weekly AA meeting splurges, only to find that she was never ever satisfied with any of the outcomes. She was self-consumed. Eventually, I was the only one left at home, left behind to deal with her misery and anger. She had nothing of herself to give and she demanded so much from me.

When it came into my life, I’m not certain, but God gifted me with a keen sense and a creative mind, making it easy for me to be a leader. In the past, like my mother did, I have used that gift to my advantage. Not to glorify God as He intended, but to glorify myself and my behaviors. If I would have allowed God to open my eyes, I would have seen that satan had been invited into my life through the portal of nonchalance and unawareness.

Looking back over my life, I see how God protected me. Many times, in my childhood, I was in vulnerable and dangerous situations. For many years, I didn’t realize that God was my Protector, Provider and Defender. I had no clue until I heard about the Gospel. So, back then, I said it was “luck” that protected me.  I spent so many years running from everything that I knew to be “normal.” 

All of that came to a complete halt when I became an incarcerated convict in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. It was then that I was able to stop running long enough to let God get a firm grasp on me. I had the opportunity to complete a Christian program based on Bible principles in prison. We were trained in scripture so that we could apply it to our lives when were released. The program was designed to be inmate-led. All of the participants in this program lived in one dorm, and there were two female inmates who predominantly taught our classes (character and scripture memorization). This program opened my eyes to the love that God offered me. I felt acceptance from God, acceptance of who I was becoming through His word. 

God took the time that I spent behind bars to mold my soul, to create in me a love that was unfailing, unbelievable and undeniable. He opened my eyes to peace and a firm foundation of trust and calmness. So much for “jailhouse Jesus,” huh? It is real and true and I am a living testimony of His grace. But, as I received the knowledge of God, I never received His grace through salvation before I came from behind the walls. There was great wisdom within the walls. I learned so much and gleaned so much of that knowledge, but I just never accepted Christ as my Savior. Instead, my time in prison was a time of building trust in Him. Since I had never had anyone to lean on in my life, it was difficult for me to develop trust, but I was learning.

Upon my release from prison, I was quickly thrown into the reality of life. The husband that I thought would be there with open arms had since found someone else. My household full of furniture that I thought I would have available to me had been given away months before to anyone who would come and get it. And, any thought of a past life that may have waited on me while I was away was just that, a thought. Visibly there was nothing left of my former life, and as I tell the ladies that I minister to today when I speak to them, “God will remove all hindrances from you when He changes you.” He knew that if anything from my past would have been waiting on me outside the gates, my heart would immediately run back to the place that He had just delivered me out of. Not the life I would have chosen, but with separation and knowledge, I could not have asked for a better blessing. With the hard reality of being alone and still not having committed my life to Christ, I turned back to the bottle. 

My mother passed away in 2000 and my father died in 2007, so loss was not a stranger to me. After I was released from prison in 2011, my sister, whom I had not had time to make amends with, died of a massive heart attack eight months after I was released. The loss of my beloved sister was the final blow to an otherwise broken soul. Then, the only reason that I lived was to drink until I died. Days turned into weeks, and each and every day for three months, I drank myself into unconsciousness. Secluded from life, I wasted everything that I had on the bottle. I would drink until I passed out, wake up again, curse God for keeping me alive, and drink again. I knew that the Master existed, I even led my own mother to Christ hours before she died, having the faith that He existed, but not accepting His love for me personally. Not yet.

It was the love of my dear friend (story #219) who would ask me to go to church for a revival service. It was her love for me that kept bringing her to my doorstep to check on me, often afraid of what she might find. It was her commitment to not letting me die alone that urged her to consistently reach out, as all the others had given up hope. In one moment of strength that, at that time, I saw as weakness, I allowed her to take me to church. In one moment of time, I surrendered to the call of the Master. At that altar, I prayed that He would take my life and He, in His audible voice told me this: “I have heard your prayers and I will answer them. If you take one more drink you will die, but you will not live with Me in Heaven.” Only God knew that I would leave that altar saved unto His Kingdom and delivered completely from the horror of alcohol.

So many things I needed to tell my loved ones. My children, still angry and wounded from my incarceration, were not even speaking to me. I had spent many nights on my knees asking God to change me into the woman that He wanted me to be and that He would reunite me with the boys. Two years of praying and crying, praying and crying. “Please bring about a change in me that is pleasing to my sons,” I would beg. After two years, God granted that request with my older son. He was the hard-headed military son who had originally demanded that I seek help. He is the one who found me after a two-week drunk and had to call the ambulance. He was the one who uttered the words “Mom, the ambulance is here and the whole neighborhood is watching. Now, am I going to have to carry you out like a drunk or are you going to walk out of here like a woman?” Those were some of the last words he said to me before I went to prison. He is the one who asked to see me first when I came home two years later. I can’t explain the conversation that we had at dinner. I can’t remember the words that I used to ask his forgiveness. But I do remember this phrase, “You’re my mom, and I will always love you.”

His brother, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as forgiving. He was not ready to see me, notbecause he was angry or hurt, he just didn’t need me in his life. He had a great career, a wonderful wife-to-be and a fulfilling relationship with God. I had never been there for him, so he went on about life as if I were not involved, and I wasn’t. But each week I would message him, just to tell him that I was thinking of him, that I was praying for him and that I loved him. Three years of prayer and petition and one day, a response. At 4 a.m. on a Monday morning in July 2014, I sent the usual message. “Son, I love you and I pray for you always.” And at 4:17 a.m., the reply, “Mom, it’s time we get together for dinner. Would you let me take you out Friday?” God hears a praying mom. He would take no apology or reasoning. He only wanted to start a relationship with his mother. He wanted nothing of the past and could only focus on our future together and his upcoming marriage in August. To my amazement, he and his bride-to-be handed me an invitation. The wedding was a few weeks away, and they both graciously involved me in some decisions of food and pictures on their big day. As I left my house on the wedding day and during the entire two-hour drive, I could only weep to God, thanking Him and asking Him to allow me to sit in the back so I could watch from a distance. I asked Him to honor one more request, that I just be able to see my son’s face as he took on the responsibility of leading his new household as a Godly husband to his wife. “Just let me sit in the back. Please do not let me get in the way,” I prayed out loud as I drove. But my God saw things differently. As the pictures were finished and the wedding was about to begin, I started to find a seat in the back row. “Mom, where are you going?” I heard. “Honey, I’m going to grab a seat so I can see you.” The next words were priceless…“Mom, you have to sit up front today. That’s where the moms go.” So, my oldest son took me by the arm and escorted me to the front row. So I could see. So I could feel what it was like to be forgiven. So I could be a part of this new life. So my faith in a loving God could be reaffirmed and I could share this story with those who need hope of answered prayers.

Wrecked by Grace . . . The Adult Child of a Demanding Mother. The Adult Child of an Alcoholic. The Adult Child. Convict. Convicted. Transformed. From a family tree of addicts to the aftermath of a life of bad decisions, the season of my life has to equate with fall. From the most hardened love demands of a mother to a love that is tender and forgiving that I have with my Heavenly Father, the leaves of my life have fallen in due time. Bits and pieces of me have been scattered throughout my life. Pieces of the real me. Pieces of joy and pain, laughter and tears. Pieces that seem to have the most majestic colors in the latest season of my life. Not the soft colors of spring, nor the stunning colors of summer. My life reflects the majestic warm colors of autumn, pleasant to gaze upon and sometimes a mere wonder that the leaves survived the harshest heat of past days.

One month after God delivered and saved me, my calling to correctional ministry began. I met a woman from our church who had a ministry team that went inside the Pine Bluff Area Office of the Arkansas Community Correction facility once a month to speak words of hope and testimony to the residents. At that time, the facility was open to all ex-offenders released at least 60 days who had been given permission from their parole office to travel outside the county.

From the moment that I went into the compound, I knew that God had opened a doorway for me to minister. I felt the pull of the Spirit and heard the words “This is the reason that you have lived behind the walls — so that you can be an image of hope to these ladies.” In the coming back, I knew that my life was coming full circle. I knew that God had allowed every bad decision, wrong turn and misguided step to place me in prison. He knew I would have faith enough in Him to tell my story to those who were still battling. I was taken out of the war and now, with God’s help, I am walking back into the battle to lend a hand to others.

I am thankful that I have the opportunity to go back into prisons and tell people that God is for them and not against them. His love reaches far, further than they have ever been. As strong as any addiction or stronghold that has them unable to move, He is more powerful and can give strength to even the weariest of souls.

God’s character is fully merciful and compassionately just. He does not waiver and He cannot be manipulated. That is the best part of the Grace of God. In reality, justice sets us free. Justice is the blend of the strong hand of the Lord because He loves us, the repentance that draws us closer to Him and the ability to forgive ourselves of the past through His strength.

And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. — Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NKJV