#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.”

#209. Becoming the Man God Created Me To Be

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I am 23 years old, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. For years I was going down a bad road, struggling with a drinking problem and a problem with narcotics. I dropped out of high school and then moved to Indiana to go to Job Corps, where I got my GED. I was doing okay at first, but then ended up getting kicked out. I had nowhere else to go and was homeless. My drug counselor recommended that I go to a ministry in Indianapolis with a homeless shelter. I eventually moved to another homeless shelter that was a better place for me. Pastors came in and they had Bible studies a couple of times a week. It was there that I began my walk with God.

One day after I had been to a Bible study, I stayed in the room and prayed. I prayed so hard, I could feel my heart beating in my hand. Then I experienced something I had never experienced before. It was amazing — kind of like being intoxicated but better. I felt lighter than I had ever felt, like a huge burden had been lifted from me. It was the most peaceful I have ever felt. I believe it was God’s Holy Spirit. For most of my life I have struggled with anxiety and depression. But I have become calmer since that day. I knew before this experience that God was real, but this really confirmed it for me.

God blessed me by sending me to another homeless shelter, where they helped me prepare for a job. I messed up and took a pill and got kicked out, but by the grace of God I got back in. No matter how much I messed up, God kept helping me. I didn’t deserve all the help He gave me. I didn’t feel condemned by God. Instead God’s love motivated me to live up to His expectations of me. He is shaping me to become the man He created me to be. 

A guy came to the homeless shelter and told us about Purposeful Design, a for-profit job creation program in Indianapolis with a focus on relationships and discipleship. I didn’t really want to go to the classes, but someone encouraged me, and something inside me told me I should go. I went and have never regretted it. I began with classes to teach me the skills to become a craftsman: how to use tools, the planning process in building and the lingo in carpentry. I participate in Bible studies, where they explained how we could apply those lessons to our daily life, to walk with God better. After I finished the course with Purposeful Design and got my certification, I asked God if it was His will that I should get a job with their company. I applied and was interviewed, not really thinking I would get the job. I had planned what I wanted to say at the interview, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I felt I needed to be completely honest and vulnerable about my story. God was like, “Let it all out.” And I did. I laid all my cards on the table. I ended up getting emotional and crying. After the interview, I thought, “This guy is going to think I’m an emotional wreck.” Usually there is a second interview, but the man told me they didn’t need a second interview. He offered me the job. There were people who were more qualified than me, but I got the job. 

God has always looked out for me. As soon as I started working there, I started going to a Bible study every day. Visitors come in and share their testimonies of how God has worked in their lives. It’s like a family. We help each other through our struggles. There is a lot of love there. I am so grateful God has me there. I love it so much. I don’t want to go anywhere else. 

God’s love is so abundant. You cannot define it. God’s love is full of grace and mercy. No matter how much we condemn ourselves — God knows we are not perfect. He knows we will fall down and struggle, but He helps us figure out what He wants for our lives. Life in Jesus is way better than anything the world can give. This world is temporary and the love the world gives is conditional. God’s love is unconditional and unfailing. Living with Jesus is the way to true joy, contentment and peace. 

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” —Matthew 11:2830 (NLT)

#189 I Shouldn’t Be Here

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#175. The Desires Of My Heart

 

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My parents didn’t take me to church but I went with a neighbor regularly. I LOVED church growing up. I went to every camp and on every mission trip. I was really smart in high school, and by all appearances I was set for life. My parents were together and my dad had a good job as a policeman. Everything should have gone well. But a few months after I graduated high school I was raped and then as hard as I had run toward God, I began to run away. When I drank or did drugs, everything was okay. I didn’t have to think about things that were painful. I started to find my identity when I was high. All of a sudden, I could express myself and had no social awkwardness. I was the girl who would do anything, the girl who was funny. Even though I had grown up in church and loved Jesus and I knew He loved me, I didn’t connect my identity with Christ. So, what that meant was that I was always searching to find my worth in friendships, performance, and relationships. I didn’t find any worth in me apart from these things.

My moderation switch was broken. I was either going 100 miles an hour or sitting still. My drug addiction was no different. Balance was missing from my life. Anything that happened to me was either the best thing that happened or the worst. Being high leveled out my perception of extremes.

I ended up pregnant and still couldn’t quit. I started getting arrested. At one point in all of this insanity, I took my daughter to my grandparent’s house and didn’t go back to get her. I knew that I couldn’t take care of her and she would have a better life with my grandparents. I sought treatment but I didn’t think I was a true addict. I couldn’t stay clean after treatment, even after multiple treatments and multiple jail stays. My addiction got worse. It went from pain pills to heroin to meth, and then I started making meth. At this point I was living in a house without electricity and water. In October 2012, I came home and the police were waiting on me. I was charged with manufacturing meth and facing 20 years in state prison. Eventually it was dropped to a lesser charge and I ended up with a four-year sentence. I served 11 months and that was enough to keep me straight for a while.

When I got out of jail, I got back involved in church. I no longer blamed God for the rape. I had surrendered my drug addiction to God but I hadn’t surrendered any other aspect of my life. I was still seeking my identity in the wrong places. I went from horrible relationship to horrible relationship and got pregnant again.

During this time, God started working on the heart of my daughter’s father. He was very angry (and understandably so) that I had left her with my grandparents, and I thought that I would never see her again or even hear her voice. But after I got out of jail, he allowed me to see her and she started living with me again. She was 4 years old at the time. I got a good job and then had the new baby, and between all these responsibilities I stopped going to church. I thought it would be okay to start drinking. In my mind, I was a junkie and alcohol wasn’t a big deal. But just like everything else, I had no moderation and very quickly I was drinking every day. A friend sent me a message that said, “I have relapsed.” I know he was reaching out for help, but when I went to meet him, he had drugs and I asked for some. I began doing drugs again after that.

I had hoped that I had overcome my problem with addiction, but this relapse extinguished all hope. It was like someone poured a bucket of water on it. I tried to stop but couldn’t. Thankfully, my family intervened and said, “You are going to treatment, or you are on the street.” I found out about a residential treatment center and called on Monday, but they said they didn’t take my insurance. Tuesday I called and asked which insurance they accepted so I could switch, and they said they had a meeting and decided to take my insurance! Wednesday they called and asked if I could come the next day. I said yes and arrived there on Thursday, August 11, 2016. Two days later the house where I had been doing drugs was raided by police and everyone in it went to jail. Wow! Praise God for His perfect timing.

The treatment center sat at the top of a mountain and I remember the driveway up to it was so long. I was so broken. I had had such a hope that I could raise my kids and have a job to support them. I thought I was doomed to live a life of constant relapse. I knew that my older daughter’s father had taken her once and I was terrified that he would take her for good. I was afraid my family would take my younger daughter. I didn’t know if I wanted to live another day. I had NO HOPE that this place would help me. I had been to so many treatment centers that couldn’t help me … why would this place be different? The first two weeks my attitude was just to “do my time” until I could get out. I received a letter from my employer saying they would not hold my job, which meant I wouldn’t have a way to support my children when I got out. This drove me further into hopelessness.

I’m not sure how long it was before I started opening back up to God again, but slowly and without a definite starting point, it happened. I began to find my true identity as a daughter of God. I learned that I don’t have to be the best to be loved. I can be myself and be okay with myself and know that people love me. During treatment, I found out about the Peer Support Academy, an online program that I could do at the end of my treatment to get certified to help others with addictions. This was a career path—a way I could support my family. Learning about this opportunity gave me hope. After I finished treatment, I completed the training and became a peer support specialist. In May, I was hired as full-time staff at a residential center. In August, I was transferred to the corporate office where I currently work with the chief of staff. All of my strengths are being used in my job now. I get to make a difference in people’s lives because I am sharing hope and showing them that change is possible. Life is still really hard but there are so many blessings! When I look at where I was a year and half ago and where I am today—I never thought this would be possible. There were many times that I had hoped that I would OD and die, because it was the only way I saw out of the prison of addiction. But God didn’t let it happen. He had other plans and He didn’t let me go.

Now both of my children live with me again and I’m a mom. I was just able to buy a car this year. I am renting my own house. I have never been able to do that! I feel like God is just saying, “Let me give you the desires of your heart!” When I was in high school I loved participating in mock government activities and conferences. Earlier this year I was asked to talk to state legislators about my story and advocate for treatment for addiction instead of incarceration. It isn’t mock government anymore!

When I was in treatment, I made a list of qualities that I wanted in a life partner. I had been in unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship and I made a commitment to stay single until God showed me the man that would fit all of these qualities. After many prayers asking God to show me this man that He had picked out for me, He finally brought us together. October 3, 2018 I was privileged to marry the man that I had been searching for. Not only did he have all of the qualities on my “list,” but he has qualities that I didn’t even know that I needed. I am so blessed to be able to worship God with a husband that loves Him as much, if not more than, I do. 

When I was in treatment, every day we were asked questions. One was:

“I want to be someone who__________.” My answer was “someone who my children are proud of.” Last year a regional newspaper published my story and my 9-year-old daughter cut that article out and wrote, “Good job, Mom!” and taped it above her bed. This is the child that I was never to lay eyes on again. God is a God of restoration. The Bible promises that God will restore all the devil has stolen, and He is doing that, and more, every single day of my life.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#174 When God Steps In

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I grew up in a very small town. I had wonderful parents and one brother. My childhood was happy and uneventful. I was close to my father and he suggested that I consider taking care of people for a living since I had been a caretaker for several people in our family when they were sick. I decided to take his advice and pursued becoming a nurse. From 1994–2001 I worked as a nurse in a hospital. Life was pretty uneventful at that time.

Then three things happened that I couldn’t deal with. My brother was killed by a friend, my mother was dying with breast cancer, and I had a hysterectomy.

I was so angry with the man who killed my brother. I fought in court trying to send him to prison. Not long after that I got hurt on the job and started using the pills I had been prescribed for an injury to help my emotional pain. I never thought addiction would happen to me, but I became addicted to the pills that took away my pain.

After my mom died in 2004, I got in trouble, lost my nurse’s license, and went to jail. The board said I would never get my license back. The judge wanted me to have treatment for drug abuse and I spent three months in jail waiting for a bed to open up in an addiction program. I was able go to a faith-based residential treatment center where I spent 180 days in treatment. The people were so loving there. They tried to show me beauty where I saw none. They started talking about things my mom had tried to talk with me about—about Jesus. 

While I was in treatment I had terrible insomnia. Someone suggested that I pray when I woke up during the night. I took their advice and I prayed that God would reveal Himself to me and give me peace. It was gradual, but the Lord did reveal Himself to me and give me peace. When I got out of treatment I found my mom’s Bible and it was like a love letter to me. She had written all sorts of things in the margins. These were the same things I had heard in treatment. 

The treatment center was named after a young woman who had been killed by a teenager over a $30 drug debt. One night I heard her father speak. He talked about forgiving the teenager who had killed his daughter. He said that he had given the teen a Bible and asked for mercy on him with the authorities. At this point I was still harboring so much anger toward the man who had killed my brother. When I heard this man speak, it was the first time I thought I might be able to forgive the man who killed my brother. I thought if this man could forgive the person who killed his daughter, why couldn’t I forgive the man who killed my brother?

The state nursing board said I would never get my license back. But the staff at the treatment center encouraged me to try to get my license back, and eventually I began working toward that. After I graduated the treatment program, I went to work at the treatment center as residential staff, taking care of clients and their needs. One of our clients was the niece of the man who killed my brother. Her mother (the sister of the man who killed my brother) came to visit her, and when she came through the door she cried and I cried. At that exact moment, I could see how everyone was a victim in circumstances of my brother’s death. I could see not only what it had done to my life but what it had done to the lives of his family. This experience was so healing for me. This was the event of forgiveness I needed. 

I continued working at the treatment center and continued pursuing reinstatement of my nursing license. It took me three years to meet the requirements. One year ago today I got my license back. Now I work as a nurse at the very treatment center where I did my rehab. Most of the time we have 20 people in treatment at the center at one time. It is a wonderful thing to see all 20 people get their worth back and see the glow back in their faces. Most have been abused, and when they come in they are hopeless and sick and don’t think they can beat the addiction. They feel it is bigger than them. And then God steps in and they go from being a victim to being victorious. By taking the hand of the next person, they develop muscles and get stronger. By helping others, they get stronger themselves. This has been true for me as well. 

God is good and God doesn’t put things on you to be harsh. He is there to help you get through things if you will let him. Now I pray before everything, and that helps me. God knows just what you need. God knew I needed to forgive to be healthy and whole again, and He helped me to do that by speaking to me through the father of the girl who was killed and by softening my heart through the tears of the sister of the man who killed my brother. God responded to my prayers for peace. I have a peace now that I never had in my life. Things that used to bother me don’t bother me anymore. God answered my prayers to reveal Himself to me. He put people in my life to point out His beauty and lead me to Him—my mother, the staff at the treatment center, even finding my mom’s Bible. God made a way for my nursing license to be restored even though they said it would never happen, and He has given me an even more meaningful and fulfilling nursing career than I had before. Over and over God has been faithful and given me what I have needed. 

The way I feel about Jesus now is different than the way I felt as a child. He is not harsh and judgmental. He is a heavenly Father that is there to help you deal with life. Even when you fall, He still wants to hold your hand. 

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

#164 Every Moment is a God Moment

 

 

Photo by Brianna Rapp

Several years ago at Thanksgiving our pastor asked our congregation what we were thankful for. Growing up, I had good parents and grandparents. I come from a big family, with four brother and four sisters. We grew up in a loving home and we were very close. I remember many times we prayed together as a family. All my siblings are still living and both my parents are living. When my pastor asked this question, I thought about how blessed I have been to have such a good family and felt so thankful to God for this blessing.

On another day at church, our pastor challenged each of us in the congregation to start reading the Bible daily. On January 1, 2007, I started doing this—reading the Daily Walk Bible early every morning. My wife and I live out in the country. The end of that same January, as I was going to church on a very icy Sunday, my truck slid off the narrow bridge and fell upside down into the creek. Thankfully, it landed on the passenger side and I was unharmed. God protected me. I went back into the house, warmed up, and picked up my Bible to read. Nearly every morning since then I have read the Bible. Now it feels like my day is not started off right if I don’t read the Bible.

Both our son and daughter have been into drugs. Our daughter got pregnant and we raised her son for five years. Without being in God’s Word and knowing how forgiving God is, I don’t know that I could have forgiven or made it through these situations. Because of our kid’s addiction, they stole from my wife and me—guns, tools, cash, even my wedding band. Each time it happened it was harder to forgive them. My wife and I both work hard at our jobs and we don’t have a lot compared to what many people have. That made it even harder when our kids stole from us and we had to replace things. But when I read the Bible I learn how many times that Jesus has forgiven me—too many to count. This realization has helped me forgive them.

But we did have to do hard things. We turned both of them into the authorities and they both went to jail. After our daughter got out of jail, her life began to change for the better.  She and her husband now come to church and have jobs. Our grandson has gone back to live with them.

After you start reading God’s Word, it changes everything. Many days I have had things going on in my life and I could pick up the Bible and hit on just what I needed to hear for that day to help me get through it. Since I have been reading the Bible each day, I find myself being more grateful, seeing things each day that I am thankful for. God is a giving God. When I try to think of a particular “God moment,” well … everything is a God moment. He put air in my lungs this moment and gave me this day. I don’t care what we do, we could never thank Him enough.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#160 Completely Forgiven

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

As a young child, I went to church regularly and my parents were very active in church. But I felt like I couldn’t live up to the expectations of God because I was not going to be able to be perfect. I felt I needed to earn God’s love. I continued to go to church until my teens, and then my grandmother passed away and my family stopped going to church.

I remember taking my first drink in high school. I didn’t like the taste. I had to hold my nose to get it down, but I loved the way it felt, the freedom it gave me. It was the only coping skill I had developed to deal with problems in life. I became a weekend drinker in college and then began drinking more heavily. Around this time, my parents divorced. I ended up getting pregnant. Even though I wasn’t going to church at this time, and I was walking away from God, I know that God never left me.

Alcohol and the enemy take you to a place where you can’t differentiate between right and wrong. Life becomes a gray area. I decided to stop drinking while I was pregnant but I wasn’t excited about having the baby. In fact, the only thing I could think about while I was pregnant was not being able to drink. After a year, my family stepped in and took my daughter. It’s not that I didn’t love my daughter, but I knew I wasn’t able to care for her and willingly gave her up. My family wanted me to go to treatment and I agreed to go to get them off my back. I went to treatment for 30 days but afterwards continued drinking. I became pregnant again and made a choice not to continue that pregnancy. Afterwards, I felt I had committed the ultimate sin, that in a moment of selfishness and addiction, I had stooped to the lowest point. This just made the drinking worse. Then came two suicide attempts. I was so emotionally bankrupt that I felt death was the only way out.

I remember one night I was in an empty apartment that I had been evicted from. I had no electricity and no running water. It was just me and four walls. I cried out to God, “You’ve kept me alive when I wanted to die. I am completely broken down. It’s up to You to do what You want with me. I can’t keep fighting alone.” The next morning, I went to treatment, but this time I wanted it for myself. I wanted a genuine life change. My moment of desperation met a window of opportunity and I had a moment of clarity. I thought, “Maybe there is something different for me.” I know this was God. I was in treatment for about a month and found out I was pregnant again. The facility was not designed for pregnant women, and they told me I had to leave because I was a “liability.” By the grace of God, a spot opened up in a facility in my state that accepts pregnant women, and I got a place there. I remained there for a year in treatment. I remained sober for the entire pregnancy, and during that pregnancy I didn’t think about drinking. I thought about my son, and for once I thought that I could be a good mom.

I had asked God to show me if I should stay in that city after completing the program, and I felt God leading me to stay. One morning I woke up and felt God calling me to go home and get the baby that I had left behind. I applied for a job in my hometown to do drug prevention in the school. The job required a college degree, but I applied even though I didn’t have a degree and ended up getting the job because of my experience! I got custody of my daughter and had a stable job. But then, funding ran out for my job and I applied for a job with an addiction recovery organization. Again, I didn’t meet the requirements, but I was hired anyway. I continued to be promoted and eventually I was involved in a discussion with the CEO about programming. I felt God was getting ready to act on my dream that an addiction center for pregnant women would be opened in our area. I told him about my experience of being a “liability” and my dream that no one else would ever be in that situation. I had been praying that God would open a place for pregnant women in my area, and when I talked to the CEO I found out that he had also been praying about this! God took over after this. A year ago, I saw my dream fulfilled and the organization I work for opened a residential addiction treatment center for pregnant women just miles from here.

In the meantime, I felt called to do something in my hometown jail. If you want to carry the message of God’s love, the jail is the place to go. That is where you will find the broken but also God’s presence. I asked the jailer if I could do a ministry in the jail, and he said yes. Fast forward three years and I am now married to the jailer and we have a seven-month-old son with our own home. For the first time, I feel stability. My husband and I work together to help people in jail. We believe they need skills and resources and need to know about the goodness of God—that He is not a condemning God looking for perfection. He is a God that wants to love you. My husband also advocates with the state jailer’s association for giving inmates the opportunity to change their lives through rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

I thought I was a terrible person that made extremely bad choices and was going to burn in hell for what I had done. I now know I am forgiven completely and made new through Christ. He continuously loved me even when I didn’t love myself and saw no worth in myself. I am so thankful for the abundance of God’s love and the abundance of grace He has shown me. 

I share this story of honesty to reach the next person that may feel they are all alone. My past does not define me. My past does not dictate my future. God defines my path and my purpose. I am forever grateful for the life I live today. To get to show up and watch God show out.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#152 Getting Kicked Out Saved My Life

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I came from a good home. My dad was a coal miner and my mom worked in the school system. I was in church every time it was open. My experience with religion was one of rigidity, based on the list of things you do and don’t do. My understanding of God was that He was nothing more than a task master who was recording my rights and wrongs and keeping score, expecting perfection. I’m not sure I was taught this, but that is the way I interpreted it. The people in that religious system weren’t malicious, they were just doing what they thought was right.

In high school I played basketball, made good grades, and was valedictorian of my senior class.  I am inquisitive by nature and asked a ton of questions about religion—questions my parents and my church were not comfortable hearing and answering. The gist of their answers was “You just need to believe.” Because questions were not welcomed, I developed a level of skepticism. I was also bullied in school which created a sense of not being sure of my identity and self-worth. I started using marijuana my junior year of high school for two reasons, really—to fill a void because a relationship with God wasn’t a part of my life, and also because it impressed a certain crowd and I wanted to fit in. 

The first time I smoked marijuana, a switch flipped and I was immediately psychologically obsessed with getting high and changing my mental state. I wasn’t physically addicted yet, but psychologically the addiction was unleashed the first time I tried it. I do have a history of addiction in my extended family, so I may have been genetically predisposed for addiction. 

I had a scholarship to go to college. The only career options that I understood for my life in 1997 were to become a doctor or lawyer. I was only the second person from my family to go to college and I didn’t perceive a big buffet of options. I didn’t like history, so that seemed to eliminate law. I decided to go the pre-med route.

My first night on campus I tried alcohol for the first time. I loved it just as much as marijuana from the first drink.  By the end of the semester, I had experimented and fallen in love with every drug available in the area. Somehow, I was still making good grades. A friend from my hometown that grew up going to the same church as I did was at college with me and he also had a lot of questions about God and religion. He had a philosophy class and we started meeting with the professor. He was the first person who had an educated and non-confrontational conversation with us about our questions about God and religion. He identified as atheist/agnostic and I began to identify that way as well. Things started changing in my life. I continued to fill the void with drugs, alcohol, and women, and at some point, I began using prescription medication daily. I began to use OxyContin, as this was a new drug introduced in our area.

It became apparent that I would have to stop my lifestyle in order to pass organic chemistry, so I decided to choose a career that didn’t require organic chemistry. Medical school required organic chemistry but physical therapy did not. I got accepted into physical therapy school. While I was there I was a full-blown prescription medication addict and alcoholic. I graduated from physical therapy school in the top 25% of my class. I moved back home to start working as a physical therapist. I was making good money and the addiction went into overdrive because I had more money. I got married in 2005–2006 but it didn’t last long. In less than three years we were divorced. I lost my house to foreclosure and lost two cars. I was living in a house with no running water, no electricity, and five to six people staying the night—it was a drug den. But I continued to work as a physical therapist.  Eventually, I was living in my car, making $107,000 a year with barely enough money to get gas to get to work. I ended up moving home with my parents to try to get some stability. They didn’t fully understand what was going on with me but knew there was a problem. 

During this time, I met the woman who is my wife today. We married in 2011. I didn’t tell her about my past and she didn’t know about my drug problem. She just knew I used to be wild. About two years into the marriage, I stopped caring about everything. Anything that wasn’t nailed down would be at the pawn shop for drug money. Finally, my wife said, “I love you but you’ve got to go. You can’t stay here. I can’t help you anymore.” This was the day that she showed me the most love. I was sick and tired of living the life I was living. I constantly thought about killing myself. When my wife said, “You’ve got to leave,” I was actually relieved because it freed me to go get help. I went to my parents and they got me connected to a Christian addiction recovery residential home and when I walked in (still an atheist/agnostic) the people who were Christians weren’t judging my mistakes. They told me they loved me and they were glad I was there and that God had a purpose for my life. This was a new way of thinking about God for me. One of the pastors at the home taught us what prayer was. Up until then I understood prayer to be not much more than a list to Santa Claus. The day he taught me that prayer was two-way communication between the one praying and God, I was immediately frustrated that no one had ever told me this. I was baptized two to three weeks into treatment. My wife began to visit me at the treatment facility. The first Sunday I was in treatment she went to church and asked God for guidance about how to handle it—specifically if she should she stay married to me. In the message that Sunday the preacher talked only about forgiveness, especially about forgiving people who do not deserve it. She decided to give me a chance.

Even though I had my license to practice physical therapy, I decided that God was calling me to stay at the addiction recovery center and be on staff. After I successfully completed the treatment program, I followed God’s calling, and left a six-figure income to become an intern with the addiction recovery center for $75 per week. My pay for two weeks after taxes was $137. I brought the first check home and gave it to my wife and said, “I don’t care what we do with this, but $15 of this is going to a tithe!”

Miracle after miracle occurred to get us through the nine-month internship financially. Every random dollar that came, I attributed to God. When I reached the one-year clean and sober mark, I met with the CEO of the treatment program and he offered me a position at the corporate office. My wife and I prayed about it and I accepted that position as his deputy chief of staff. His chief of staff had had some health problems and wanted to spend more time at home. Within six months, through a series of supernatural events that I can’t really explain, I became the chief of staff of an organization with over 200 employees. I still serve in this positon and just celebrated three and half years of being clean and sober. 

Recently, my wife and I felt called to leave our home church, even though there was no problem. We told our pastor and asked him to pray for us. I felt like I was called to lead a new church but resisted it. My wife and I met with some families who also felt they were to do something different regarding church. We continued to meet each week just that small group of people, then opened to the public as a new church a few months ago. We are trying to let the love of God flow through us onto others. Public speaking was one of my greatest fears. In the past I would have been terrified and paralyzed in front of a crowd, but now God has helped me to get comfortable with speaking. We meet at a locally owned coffee shop downtown. We purchased a baptismal trough and have already had some baptisms which have occurred in the trough on the sidewalk in our little town. We are seeing God work in wonderful ways in the new church.

My wife is a fifth-grade teacher and she has children in class that have difficulties because of the drugs in their families. She uses what she has experienced with my addiction to help her students. She speaks from a place of deep understanding, empathy, and compassion, and students respond positively to her when they don’t respond well to others. 

I have hurt a lot of people and made a lot of bad decisions, but God is using it for good. I have learned about who God really is—that He is not the task master that I thought He was. I have discovered that He is a loving Father who sees us as His sons and daughters and He has a purpose and a plan for our lives. I am thankful for my wife and my family and for second, third, and fourth chances. I am thankful that God led me to a Christian addiction recovery center, a place that allowed me to encounter His true nature. I am most thankful that God is good and that He forgives. He has wiped away my shame and regret.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#147 Little Church by the Creek

 

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Several years ago, a lady spoke in our church about a project to help orphans in Russia. She talked about the opportunity to go to Russia to visit the orphanages and help. My husband and I had never been on a mission trip. We both clearly felt the Lord calling us to go to Russia, which is interesting because I am really not that fond of working with kids! It was December and the trip was in May. The cost was $3,000 per person, so we needed $6,000 for the two of us to go. We were struggling financially and were in a lot of debt at the time. In fact, just ten days before we heard about the Russian trip, we had filed for bankruptcy. We didn’t have a dime and thought, “How do we do this?” But we felt called us to go so we moved forward and applied for passports, trusting God to provide everything we needed.

In March, we attended a meeting with people from different states who were also planning to go on the trip. All donations toward our trip had to go to the organization, so before this meeting we didn’t know how much had been donated toward our trip. I felt going into the meeting that the amount was $740. When we found out at the meeting that the amount donated toward our trip was $740, I was so happy I jumped up and down. Even though this wasn’t close to what we needed, it was confirmation and we were more confident about our call to go. 

The day the money was due we found out only half the money we needed had been donated. We didn’t understand. I called a friend who was the pastor in another town (at the little church by the creek) and told him we didn’t have enough money to go but that the organization had given us ten more days. He asked who else we could ask to donate. Our regular pastor really hadn’t been that supportive of our going on the trip and I didn’t understand it because it was through his church that we learned of the opportunity to go. Our pastor friend at the other church asked if we could talk to our pastor about it. But I didn’t want to do that. I just kept asking other people for donations. I felt God calling me to talk our pastor and during church I felt God telling me that I was harboring bitterness toward the pastor and that I should ask for forgiveness. The message that day was from Philemon and was all about forgiveness. During communion there were different stations set up and the pastor stood up front. I walked up to him and said, “I need to confess. We don’t have all our money for the mission trip and I have kind of held it against you.” He said, “You jumped the gun. We are getting ready to bring out the bucket of love.” At the end of the service we had all the money we needed for our trip. Had I chosen to stay hurt and not gone to him and asked for forgiveness, I don’t believe God would have provided the money. 

My husband and I went on the mission trip. I now have a real heart for missions and have been on multiple mission trips since then. But I believe the first mission trip experience wasn’t about the mission itself. Instead it was for me to see God in a new way and to see myself as a forgiven person. I am finally able to trust God completely and no longer be led by fear.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

Jeremiah 33:3

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person