#248. God Called Me Into Ministry One Step at a Time

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

In the late 1990s, my wife and I had a conversation while driving home from her parents’ house. It went like this:

“I feel like God is calling me into ministry,” I said.

“What do you mean?” my wife asked. “What kind of ministry?”

“I really don’t know,” I said.

“Well,” my wife said, “I don’t want to be married to a preacher.”

And I said, “Okay.”

So, I came home and I said, “Now, Lord, you know that we’re married, and so if You call me into something, You have to call her too. So now, I’m done with this until she changes her mind.”

About 15 years later, around 2005 or 2006, I started feeling that call again. This time it was more specific, in that I felt like I was being called to seminary. So, I said, “Okay, whatever this ministry thing is, it’s going to require a seminary degree.”

I had not completed my bachelor’s degree at that point. So, I told my wife what I thought, and she said, “Go finish your bachelor’s degree.” And, so I did, I graduated from Asbury University in 2009. Then I applied and was accepted into the Church of God Theological Seminary, which is now the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, one of the larger Pentecostal seminaries in the south. 

I went for, I think, three semesters, then I started getting opportunities with my job. Because I had graduated, they kind of sat down and said, “Here’s what we see for you in your future.” I also, at the same time, was forced to make a decision about going to seminary full-time and having to actually commute on certain days because some of the classes I needed I could not take online.

This is 2009, 2010, 2011, so we’re not in the whole “virtual learning” thing at that point. So, I decided, without a whole lot of prayer or talking to anyone, that I was just going to forget about seminary and focus on my career.

So, I dropped out, thinking I’d go to seminary at some point later on.

The next semester, my boss asked me to get my MBA, paid for by my company. So, I said, “Okay.” I went to the school that they recommended I go to, which they were going to pay for. I took three or four classes before the school made the decision to shut that cohort down. It was the very first time in the history of the program that they had closed the cohort. My only option was to drive to Louisville for classes, over an hour from my house. 

I said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” 

They said, “Well, you can wait and join online, whenever the classes that you need come up.”

I said, “No, I’m not doing that.”

So, by late spring or early summer of 2015, I was miserable. I had a good job, paid good, good benefits — but I hated it. I hated going to work.

I remember distinctly — I can tell you the clothes that I was wearing as I was walking down the aisle at work, I said, “Lord, there’s got to be more to life than this. I want You to put me where You want me to be, doing what You want me to do because I want to be in the center of Your will.”

That was the prayer that I began to pray and, at the same time, I started job hunting.

I believe it was late August or early September of 2015, I got a job offer at another company. It came with a raise and more responsibilities. Basically, I’d be in charge of the daily operations of a distribution center. So, I prayed about it. I felt really good about it. And, I accepted the job.

It started out really good — best job, at that point, that I’d ever had. I was working for one of the best bosses I’d ever had. 

They had a layoff right after I got there. I was called into the office and they said, “Don’t worry about it. This has nothing to do with you. You’re too new anyway.” 

In April or May of 2016, the vice president called me into his office and said, “Look, we’ve got some things going on in the company, but I don’t want you to be worried about it.” They gave me a raise. They gave me a bonus. They gave me shares of stock in the company. They laid out a three-year plan of what they wanted me to do and assured me that I had found my forever employment. I was going to retire from there. Great! I thought.

We went on vacation, June 23 or June 24, to Glacier National Park in Montana. It turns out that my wife had a dream while we were on vacation, but I didn’t know anything about her dream. She wrote it down:

“It was the most vivid dream that I have ever experienced,” Adrena said. “In this dream, I lost my job. And, my boss had shared with me that I hadn’t really done anything. It was the finances of the company. I actually still have the dream in my phone. It was so real. I am in this dream. I physically felt the emotion. I cried. It really tore me up. 

When I woke up from this dream, I was really just stiff. You know, you’ve probably experienced a nightmare at some point. When I woke up, it was almost like I was in that nightmare, just physically tense. And, I can remember opening up my eyes first, before anything else, and I kind of just looked around and my husband wasn’t in the bed. He was in the shower. And, I thought, “Well, I’ll tell him when he gets out of the shower.” Then, I’m like, “This dream is so different from any I’ve ever experienced. I’m going to get my phone and put it in my notes. So, I wrote my dream out, you know, everything in it. And then I still thought, I’ll tell him when he gets out of the shower. And I just laid my phone down. Then, I don’t know if I just forgot. I really don’t know, but I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell him on the trip at all.” 

So now we get back home and we are both getting ready for work. I had to be there at 5:30 a.m. When I got to work, I saw my boss’s vehicle in the parking lot and immediately I knew something was wrong. I didn’t think it had anything to do with me, but I knew there was something wrong because my boss doesn’t come to work at 5:30 a.m. 

After I got in and got the coffee going, I saw the HR manager. I was like, “Oh, boy. I don’t know what has happened while I’ve been gone, but it’s not good.”

My boss said, “Hey Brian, can you step into the office for a minute.”

I was like, “Well, here we go. What have ‘they’ done?” I had a couple of problem employees, so my thought was “They have really done something bad.” 

That’s when they broke the news to me. “While you were off, the company had a downsizing. This has nothing to do with your job performance. This doesn’t have anything to do with you personally. This has everything to do with the bottom line of the company.”

They had let several folks go in the distribution center, my former boss being one of them — a guy that was the best boss that I’d had up to that point. They let him go. That left a lot of inexperience running the distribution center, but that’s what the bean counters wanted. So that’s what they got.

So, I walked out. I said goodbye to a few folks. I got in the truck and came home. 

Adrena’s still at home getting ready and preparing to leave for work, since it is still so early. She hears the garage door open and thinks, “Why is the garage door opening?” She yells, “Brian, is that you?”

“Yes,” I said.

She asks, “What are you doing home?”

“I just lost my job,” I said.

Well, as soon as I said, “I just lost my job,” Adrena immediately thought of her dream. She met me with her phone in hand. She pulled up the dream and handed me the phone. She said, “Oh, my goodness, I may go into work today and lose my job too.”

As I read the notes about Adrena’s dream, I looked at her and said, “That dream is not going to be for you. That dream was for me because this is almost verbatim what they told me.”

At that point, Adrena went to work and she didn’t lose her job. We went through a very challenging time. It was tough for both of us for me to be unemployed for a time. But she said that dream is what helped her empathize more, since she truly ‘felt inside’ some of what I went through losing my job. 

I do believe the Lord gave her that dream and that’s what kept our marriage together — that dream. 

I got a lead on a job not too long after that, and I thought, “It’s going to be okay.”

When I told Adrena I was one of the final three candidates, she said, “No. You’re not going to get that job because you haven’t learned your lesson.”

And, I was like, “Well, now, that’s not a very nice thing to say to me, especially with you yelling at me to get a job.”

I really was praying, and I felt God telling me: “You need to go to seminary.”

I was like, “Well, Lord, that’s all well and good, but now I don’t even have a job. And the bill collectors are still going to keep coming to see me.”

Adrena was right. I didn’t get the job. I couldn’t buy a job. I literally interviewed to be a meter reader and didn’t get the job. Here I am. I’m responsible for an entire distribution center and I can’t get a job as a meter reader. I kept suffering defeat after defeat after defeat, which was driving me to the point of depression. I even remember walking around outside in my barn saying, “Lord, I don’t want to live like this. I know I’m ready to go. So, you just go ahead and take me. I’ll go be with Jesus and she can get what little bit of life insurance and retirement I’ve got left and live happily ever after.

I just kept hearing ‘seminary.’ So, I told Adrena. And she said, “No. We’re not going into debt to go to seminary.”

So, I went back out to my special place to pray. I said, “Now, Lord, I’ve tried this, I don’t know, two or three times. And, you see the response that I get every time. I’m done. You fix my life the way it needs to be fixed or you fix my wife the way she needs to be fixed, or you fix both of us the way we need to be fixed, but somebody is wrong here, and I’m not sure who it is.”

A few days after that prayer, I remember, I was sitting beside my best friend at our home church and his phone rings. Brother Jay pulls out his phone and hands it to me because it’s my wife calling. So his assumption, without even answering the phone, was that she was trying to get a hold of me and knew that I was with him.

So, I answered his phone, “How did you get Jay’s phone?” Adrena asked.

I said, “Well, he’s sitting right here beside me. He handed it to me.”

And she said, “I’m not wanting to talk to you. I want to talk to Jay.”

I was like, “OK, it’s going to be one of those nights. So, I handed the phone back to Jay and I let it go. I never said anything. I didn’t ask about it. I came home. I got in bed. I went to sleep. And I got up the next morning and I was back at my little spot doing my Bible study and prayer and quiet time, and the phone rang. It was my wife.

I was like, “Oh boy, this early in the morning, really?”

And she said, “Go ahead and apply for seminary.” 

I said, “Are you serious?”

She said, “Yes. I’ve talked to Brother Jay and I’ve talked to my cousin.”

When Adrena had told me we weren’t going into debt for me to go to seminary, I asked her to at least pray about it. She didn’t tell me she would or wouldn’t pray, but she did start praying about it. She prayed for weeks actually, and she also asked her cousin in Louisville to pray for us. All she told her cousin was that I had lost my job, so she was just praying for me to get a job.

That morning Adrena’s at work and her cousin texts to ask “How are you all doing?”

Adrena texts back, “Pretty good. No. Brian’s not found anything yet.” She sits the phone down and continues working.

Her cousin texts again, “If Brian is dealing with a calling on his life, he needs to accept it.”

When Adrena read that text message, she knew her cousin did not know that she’d been praying about seminary for Brian. So, she knew there was more to it.

I turned my phone upside down, where I couldn’t see it anymore and I went back to work as hard as I could, trying to get it off my mind for a little bit — knowing. And when I left work that evening, I was driving around New Circle Road. That’s when I called Brother Jay and Brian answered his phone.

I’m like, “What are you doing with Brother Jay and where are you?” Brian’s like, “I’m at church.” I’m like, “It’s a Monday night, what are y’all doing at church?” He’s like, “We had a fellowship meeting,” and I’m like, “What?”

And I said, “Well there are some things I need to talk more to a pastor type person about than you right now. So, I ended up talking to Brother Jay and his wife later that evening. I told them I really felt like Brian had this calling and needed to pursue it. I told them I am now willing to accept the fact that this is where we’re headed. I just felt like I needed somebody to talk to because he had been hearing it. He had asked me to pray. I didn’t really want to, but when I prayed that’s the same message I got too.

So that morning I told Brian, “I think you should go ahead and apply to seminary.”

I remember he asked, “Did this have anything to do with that phone call last night?”

I said, “It did.” 

He’s like, “Oh, okay. Adrena, it’s like three weeks before school starts. There’s no way I’m going to get in seminary now.”

I called the seminary where I was a previous student, so it wasn’t like I was starting off from scratch, but in some ways it was, since I had been out for so long. They said, “Well, we’ll do what we can sir, but a lot has got to do with you. You’ve got to have three letters of reference written, sent in, received, reviewed and accepted by the seminary. And then we’ve got to make sure that there’s a spot for you in the classes you want to take. 

And I said, “Okay.”

So, I contacted three pastor friends of mine. Told them the situation, and I left it at that. This was on Tuesday morning.

Three days later — Friday afternoon — I received a letter in the mail saying that I had been accepted, approved and enrolled, along with the start date of my classes. I barely had enough time to get my books. And, to top it all off, they cut my tuition for that semester in half and they did not make me pay it until the end of the semester, which is unheard of. 

So, that started me back to seminary. 

I was still looking for a job because I knew that unemployment was going to run out, and I got a phone call from a guy that used to work for me. 

He said, “Hey, are you still looking for a job?”

I said, “Well, yeah.”

He said, “Why don’t you come be my boss?”

I said, “Huh?”

So, I interviewed, and when I walked onto the shop floor, I knew immediately that’s where I needed to be because the Lord spoke to me. I felt the prompting that said, “You are here for that individual.” This person was a long-time friend of mine, a former pastor, who had left the church and left the faith altogether because of some things in his personal life.

But the Lord said, “You’re here to witness to him.”

And I said, “Lord, I don’t want to do that. And, I left and came back home.”

It went about a month and my wife, being the nice, loving wife that she is, let me know one morning that “Any job is better than no job” and that I should seek employment. So I called that company back and said, “Okay, I’ll come.”

I worked there for a little over a year, while going to school at the same time. So, if I needed to go to Cleveland, I worked it out to where I could be off work and go to Cleveland and come back. They knew up front that I was in seminary. I made that perfectly clear. They said, “We’ll work with you.” And they did.

Well, then things started getting rough on me. I felt that it was time for me to leave that job. But how do you quit your job and not have any other job lined up? I knew that I had to have clinical pastoral education (CPE) to graduate from seminary, and I was approaching the graduation point.

So, I came home and I told my wife, and she said, “You’re not quitting your job.” And I said, “But I’ve got to get in to CPE. “You’re not quitting your job,” she said. So, this went on. It went on till all the CPE centers were closed. They had filled up. There were no spots left anywhere.  

I felt led to contact a CPE center in Louisville, more than an hour from our home. All the ones around here were closed. I called the Louisville center and was told, “Well, you’ve really caught me at a good time because I had a full class, but I’ve got a guy that I’m pretty sure is going to drop out. And if he drops out and you want his spot, you can have it because we’re so close to starting that I don’t have time to recruit. So I’m just going to let you in if he drops out. 

A week later he called me or I called him, and he said, “Do you still want the spot?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You’re in.”

I didn’t interview for it. I didn’t apply for it. I was just in. So, after I got there, they wanted my application, so I gave it to them. And, we’re over half way through the CPE unit, when they’re ask me for some more information that I never submitted to begin with. And, they said, “Well, the way you came in, it probably got lost somewhere anyway, so don’t worry about it. So, I never did have to fill out part of the stuff that you normally have to fill out. And again, never interviewed for it, just got accepted over the phone and went in.  

So, I completed that unit of CPE. Part of that training had me serving 40 hours a week at a homeless shelter, which was a life-changing experience. It showed me a whole different world and changed my entire perspective on homelessness.

After I completed my CPE training, I came home and started looking for a job, again I couldn’t buy one. I went to these clothing stores who will hire anybody, except me. I went to Lifeway Christian Store, which was actively seeking employees. You would think that a guy who’s getting ready to have an MDiv would be a shoe-in, ‘nope,’ wouldn’t even talk to me.

So one morning my wife told me, “You go find a job and you go find a job today.” 

I said, “Okay God, you heard my wife. I need a job and I need a job today.”

I walked into Rural King in Winchester, and I didn’t give them my full resume. I was frustrated. I was aggravated. I did a copy and paste. It was the worst looking resume I have ever done in my life, and I had it in my hand and I walked in, wearing just normal everyday outdoor clothes. 

All the managers were standing around the little desk at Rural King. One of them said, “Can I help you?” And I said, “Well, I hope so. I’m looking for a job.” And he looked at me and said, “You look like you already work here, but I tell you what, I don’t usually do the hiring, let me get a hold of Shane.”

So, Shane comes over, and says, “Boy, this is a nice-looking resume.” And I thought he was being sarcastic, so I said, “Well sir, I have a professional resume.” He said, “You could have written it with crayon on cardboard and it would have been alright with me.” And he called another guy and said, “Hey, are you still looking for an inventory specialist?” And the guy said, “Yeah, I am.”

Shane asked me some questions, I passed an on-the-spot drug test and came home with a job that day. And before I left Rural King, I ended up being operations manager of the store, which meant that the next time a store opened I’d have first shot at becoming a store manager.

Once I got into seminary, although I’d given no thought to chaplaincy whatsoever, that’s where I felt God leading me, either counseling or chaplaincy. When I checked it was the same requirements, the only difference would be the word written on my diploma ‘counseling’ or ‘chaplaincy.’

So I stuck with chaplaincy, and I applied for a residency at the VA in Lexington. I also interviewed at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

Once my wife had accepted that God was calling me into chaplaincy, she told me, “You’re going to be a chaplain at the VA. And, I said from the very beginning, “It’s not possible. I can’t do it. I don’t have any qualifications to be a chaplain at the VA. It can’t happen.” So chaplaincy at the VA was never really legitimately on my radar — ever.

I get a call from the VA and they said, “We’d like to offer you a paid residency for one year at the VA in Lexington.” Well, it shocked me so much that I choked up and began to cry. I don’t cry. I’m not a crier. And my CPE educator said, “I hear emotion in your voice. What’s that about?”

I told him, “I didn’t think I was going to get this.” Turns out I beat out 14 other people for that spot. I had no idea.

“It was divine intervention,” Adrena said.

A week before I was supposed to start, I got a call from the chief of chaplain services saying, “Hey, we’ve got a program that we would like to get you trained in called Warrior to Soulmate, it’s like a marriage counseling thing. But I can’t pay you to do it because you’re not officially on the books. But if you will come this week, I will give you equivalent time off that you can use anytime you want to use it.” 

The chief of chaplain services in Cincinnati, Ohio, came to Lexington to train us. I complete the training. My official second week, but my unofficial third week at the hospital, I’m walking down the hallway from the Community Living Center (CLC) back to my office. I said, “Lord, I know where I’m at right now, but where am I going to be a year from now?”

And as clearly as anyone has ever spoken to me, the Lord said, “Don’t you worry about where you’re going to be a year from now. You learn what I need you to learn right now, and I’ll take care of next year.” 

Well, I was up in this room shortly after that, it may have even been the next day, and the enormity of my responsibility hit me like a mac truck. “We’re not playing games here. I’m actually here to help these folk. I’m not a veteran. I’m not old. I’m not disabled. I thought, “How am I going to connect with these guys?”

“How?” I’ve got nothing in common with them. My anxiety broke out like you wouldn’t believe. I thought I was going to have a stroke or a heart attack right then and there. I was like, “God you’ve got to help me, cause I don’t know what to do. I’ve got seminary training, I’ve got church training. “I ain’t got no training for these folk.” 

And the Lord spoke to me and directed my attention to the corner of that room. And in the corner in-between the bookcase and the wall, was a guitar. And the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “That is how you are going to connect. That guitar.”

I’d played the guitar and sang all my life. So I went back to the office and asked my mentor, “You guys have guitar groups or people that come in and sing and play?”

He said, “No, but we’ve been wanting someone who can play the guitar and sing because the veterans love that.” 

I said, “Well, I might be able to help you there.”

He said, “Are you kiddin’ me?”

And that was it. My guitar and my singing and all of a sudden everybody in the Community Living Center (CLC), everybody in the hospital knows who I am. “I’m the chaplain who can sing and play.” I started getting requests to go to people’s rooms. It just opened up the entire hospital to me.

Well, after six months is over, this was right as the COVID pandemic was hitting, I got transferred from the CLC to the main hospital. It shares a campus with the University of Kentucky. So, they still left me with hospice and palliative care at the main hospital, but I was no longer doing the work in the CLC. So they give you a broad range of experiences to learn different skillsets. 

I got to do some things as a resident with hospice and palliative care that other residents never got to experience. 

The first six months at the VA, I was assigned to the CLC. And the reason that he did it is because the CLC is for hospice and palliative care. Now there is some rehabilitation and some respite, but it is mostly dementia, hospice and palliative care, which is a much slower, much different approach to work and lifestyle than I was ever used to. I was used to fast-paced, snap decisions, put it in place, let’s get it done. You got time to lean, you got time to clean. The whole business mantra. 

And, I asked my mentor one day, “Did you assign me to the CLC to slow me down?”

And, he said, “Yes, I did. It was strategic. I wanted you here on this campus. I wanted you to learn this skillset, and I wanted you to slow down because I think you’re going to make a great chaplain.” 

In my last three months at the VA, they assigned me to the intensive care units. While I was in the ICUs I was asked to bring my guitar and play and sing for veterans there. 

I’ve had doctors tell me that my appearance in the room with my guitar was actually a turning point in the care of some of those individuals.

My last month at the VA, I’m starting to get a little concerned. I’m starting to try and figure out what am I going to do next? Well, the Army called me and said, “We’re looking for men like you.” I participated in the big speech they gave, the meeting they had. He said, “Get me your stuff. We can get you in. You’ll be fine. We will make a chaplain out of you. And if you still want to serve your full 20 years, you’re young enough that you can do it.” At the time I was only 44 years old. 

My wife said, “No, absolutely not.”

“Okay God, so military’s not in it and the VA’s not in it, what am I going to do?”

She’s still saying VA, I’m saying ain’t no way. I went and talked to my boss and he said there’s no way. I don’t have spot first of all, but secondly you don’t have the qualifications. 

What happened was there was this policy thing called “Hybrid Title 38” circulating up in Washington, but it didn’t get pushed through until after I was supposed to leave Lexington.

I got a job offer from Central Baptist in Lexington as a part-time and PRN chaplain. The lady called me in for the interview. She said, “I looked at your resume and I want to hire you because you’re going to be here when there is no other leadership here, and I’m going to trust you to take care of all the chaplain issues in the hospital when there’s no leadership here. I need someone I can trust.”

I said, “Okay, give me a couple days.”

The next day, the Lord had laid a gentleman on my heart that I knew from seminary. I knew he had gotten moved to Cincinnati. He was pastoring a church up there. He was originally from Georgia, but he was a bishop and overseer of Fiji and New Zealand. Because of COVID they kicked him out and he was back in the U.S.

So my seminary friend, Daniel, had to find something to do. He was assigned to a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Overseers typically don’t serve as a pastor and an overseer. It doesn’t happen. He was a Marine with a master’s of divinity, a master’s in mental health counseling and a doctorate in ministry.

I told him, “Daniel, while you are waiting to get back into Fiji, why don’t you go do a residency at the VA and if you ever want to work for the VA, you’re a shoe-in. You have everything they want — everything, the only thing that you’re missing is a residency.”

The Lord laid on my heart to call the Cincinnati VA, where my CPE trainer worked. They called me back the next day and said, “This guy sounds really impressive, but what are you doing?”

“I’m getting ready to go to work at Central Baptist,” I said.

“Would you be interested in coming to Cincinnati and doing a second year of residency or a fellowship?

I said, “Well, I really hadn’t given that a whole lot of thought, but I’ll think about it.” That’s what I said, but I was actually thinking, “I don’t even have to pray about this. I just tell my wife. She’s going to say, ‘No.’ That’s it. We’re done.”

So, we’re on the way home from work and I said, “Oh, by the way, they called me from Cincinnati and they’re interested in Daniel, but they’re also interested in me. And my wife looked at me and shocked me. You could have knocked me over, at that point, with a feather.” 

She said, “Well, I think you should go ahead and do it, and if they take you, we’ll figure it out.”

In my mind I was thinking, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife — cause this ain’t her. “

So, I said, “Lord, I know this is You, cause that ain’t my wife. So that had to be You speaking through her.” 

I didn’t say anything, but the next day I called him back and said, “Well, Chaplain McKinney, I guess, if you’re interested, I’m interested. He said, “Well, I want to meet you in person, can you drive up?”

So, I said, “Well, how am I going to pull this off? So, I told my chief of chaplain services in Lexington and he said, “Yeah, go on up and meet with him and see what he says. Then when you get done, come on back to work.”

“Are you kiddin’ me?” You’re going to pay me to go interview … “Yes, sir.” 

So I did.

When I got up there, I found out that the chief of chaplain services was no longer there. They had brought in a new guy, but he was temporary, and it seemed like they were getting ready to lose another chaplain. 

So the only person that I met that day was Chaplain McKinney. I was thinking to myself, now this real great. There’s no stability. I don’t know what’s going to happen and it is 105 miles one way from my house to the VA. 

And, I knew, by the way the interview up there went, that it was mine. And he told me, “Welcome aboard.” 

So, I came home and I told my wife, I said, “I got it.” And she said, “Okay.”

So the third week that I was up there. They had what was called the Fisher House, where veterans and family of veterans can stay if they live more than 50 miles away and they need to be there overnight. 

So, I asked my boss. I said, “Hey, how about I work four tens. I’ll work Sunday and Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. You let me stay overnight at the Fisher House and I’ll be on call. So I will be here at the hospital and if they need a chaplain I’m right here.”

He said, “Let me run it by the Fisher House.” 

They said, “Okay.”

“I am the very first non-veteran employee that was allowed to stay at the Fisher House six months.” Up until that point they had never allowed it.

The second week that I’m at the VA up there. I tell them that I would really like to have some experience with mental health. I’ve done the CLC, I know it like the back of my hand. I know all the protocols. I know all the rules and regulations that COVID has brought. I know all of it. I’ve got experience with the ICUs, cause I’ve don’t that – but I’ve never worked with mental health.

So he said, CPE is a chance for you to learn a skillset. The second week that I was there that they were scheduled to hand out assignments, the chaplain that was assigned to the CLC retired. 

The chief of chaplain services told my educator that I was going to the CLC because I already knew it. In fact, I’m going to give him the office that the staff chaplain had for the CLC. That will just be his office. 

Now there’s three residents. I get an office. I get assigned to the CLC. 

It was six or eight weeks after I got there, the director of the CLC sent a letter to my boss that said, “Hey, we feel like God has sent Brian to the CLC. We appreciate what he’s doing, and we look forward to working with him going forward.”  

So my boss walks in and says, “Guess we have found your assignment while you are here.”

So about six months in, my boss has a meeting with us and says, “I have tried to post the CLC job three times. It has never posted. I’ve had HR try to post it. They can’t figure out why it’s not posting. We don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to try again. 

Well, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Go tell him that you’d like to have the job.”

“Okay.” So, after the meeting was over, I went into his office and I said, “Hey chief, can I talk to you a minute.” He said, “Sure, come on in.”

I said, “I’d like to have the job.” 

He said, “Are you serious?” 

I said, “Yeah, I’m here and I’ve been doing it. I’ll take it.”

He said, “Well, I guess that’s why I couldn’t post it. Alright. You can have it.”

“That was literally it.” They gave me a start date before I ever applied for the job. I was already there.

Now that’s where this Title 38 comes in because Hybrid Title 38 says, you can hire a resident or fellow who has completed at least one year of residency without competition. So they didn’t have to post the job. They just hired me and that was it. 

So that is how I went from being a manager in manufacturing, logistics and retail to becoming a full-time staff chaplain at the VA in Cincinnati, 105 miles from home.

I don’t think my story is finished yet, but there’s been a whole lot happen to put me where I am right now. 

So, I can say without any reservations, shadow of doubts, without questioning: I am in God’s will, doing what God wants me to do, where God wants me to do it. Because I would have never in my wildest dreams or imagination or fantasy put myself as a staff chaplain in Cincinnati, Ohio — ever. It wasn’t even anything I was thinking about. 

It’s been one “God moment” after another – a lot of ups and downs, a lot of questions, a lot of ‘What in the world is going on?’ ‘Why is this happening?’ Of course looking back, I see how each step built on the next step.

I grew up in this little country church and I don’t ever remember not playing the guitar, though I never had a lesson. I did not grow up in a musical family, but my 88-year-old grandmother remembers watching me pick up a guitar at church and start strumming it. I was probably three or four years old at the time. She said she watched me go from just strumming to changing chords when everybody else changed chords. 

That was the night I learned to play the guitar.  

They talk about having ‘perfect pitch,’ that’s when you can hear a note and know what key that note is in. And, I have had that for most of my life. I can hear a song on the radio and know what key that song is being sung in. 

God’s ways are truly above our ways.

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

A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. — Proverbs 16:9c

#246. God’s Blessing of Multiplication

Photo by Rob Collins

My name is Adeboye Taiwo and I was born into a Christian family in Nigeria. We attended the Anglican Church. I served in children’s ministry all the while, taking care of children in the church, teaching them the ways of God. 

I met my wife, Ajibola, at church. We met as children’s teachers. She was born into a Muslim home and converted to Christianity. She had a calling into children’s ministry too. We started a relationship and got married in the year 2000.

In Nigeria, when somebody gets married, immediately a few months after that, the wife is expected to be expecting a baby. So, after a year or two, if there is no sign of pregnancy, pressure starts coming in.

It was not too easy for us when we started waiting for five, six, eight, nine, ten years. In our culture, if it takes such a long time, you might be asked to divorce the person you are married to and get another wife because there was no child.

Even if no child is coming, provided we are living happily, I think ‘I’m okay,’ though it was not easy.    

“Even socially in our culture,” my wife said, “people don’t reckon with you if you’re having issue of having a child. They look down on you. We prayed. We sought the face of God but nothing was coming.

“But, to the glory of God — after 17 years — God decided to answer us. And He gave us … a set of sextuplets.”

“It was an assisted pregnancy through in vitro. We had four eggs transferred,” Ajibola said.

We were prepared that from the four, maybe two or one would survive, but to our surprise two eggs split, creating six viable embryos.

“When we confirmed the pregnancy in Nigeria,” Ajibola said, “the ultrasound did not reveal six. The first one revealed three.” Because of the joy, we made plans to visit Adeboye’s family in Northern Virginia for two or three weeks.

“When we came, a few days after, I found that I wasn’t feeling good and I was taken to an emergency room and it revealed six,” Ajibola said.

She’s laughing because when they first mentioned six, I was so excited, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t because she knew the implication of what she was carrying. 

When the complications set in and we saw this, we realized that going back would be like endangering our life. We had to find out how to get a hospital. It was not an easy thing and we — I was praying anyway. Then one day I made up my mind that, well, we have to go back to Nigeria. We cannot sit down here without having a doctor, without getting treatment that is expected. So while I was doing that, our host family called. They now said that a hospital had accepted us.

It was like, wow, is it possible? They said the hospital is VCU in Richmond and the doctor said we can come, they will take up the treatment in order to save our life. At the time my wife was admitted, and for the whole two months we were together in the hospital.

It was the most fearful period of our lifetime.

“It was tough,” Ajibola said. “It got to a time that I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I carried the pregnancy for 30 weeks and two days. I was on hospital bed for eight weeks for bedrest.” 

She was so tiny and oh, she has gone through a lot for me and for our babies.

At birth the babies’ weight ranged from 1.5 pounds to 3 pounds, so they were in the neonatal intensive care unit for some time.

“All of them did well,” Ajibola said.

So while we were in the hospital for these 60 days, a lady — a nurse — in the hospital, just approached us asking if we were Nigerians. She said there is a Nigerian who has worked in the hospital, but she is no longer there, she is now in another place. The nurse asked if she could tell her about us.

Well, we said, good. At least let’s be able to see somebody. And, when Mrs. Christiannah came in, she spoke our dialect. Oh, we were happy. She accepted us like as if she knew us long before then. 

When the babies were to be discharged, they were not all discharged together. Because of their medical appointments, we cannot go back to Northern Virginia. We needed somewhere very close. Mrs. Christiannah said, “No, I have a big house! You are free to come in.”

She’s a wonderful lady.

While in the hospital we also connected with Mrs. Judy, a volunteer in the NICU who met our babies when they were there. Mrs. Judy used to come every week and she’s like a mom to us. We call her our white grandma. She has shown the Christ light in her. We said we’d like to join her church – First Presbyterian Church of Richmond.

Everybody in the church accepted us immediately. They made us feel that we belong to a family, a church community. It gives me more courage and assurance to tell anybody who is trusting God or believing God for anything that no matter what, God can do it. No matter how difficult the situation is, God can turn it around.

The sextuplets were given names that honor and glorify God:  

Morayo (I have found joy in the Lord, Morayoninuoluwa)
Sindara (God still performs wonders, Oluwasindara)
Jubeelo (God is not quantifiable, Oluwajubeelo)
Funbi (God gave me a child, Oluwafunbi)
Setemi (God has perfected my own, Oluwasetemi)
Semiloore (God has favored me, Oluwasemiloore)

When it was that 17 years, I had made up my mind that no child was coming and there was no longer to be anything, but at the same time I had concluded there was not going to be anything, that was when God said, “I will do a new thing, now will it spring forth.” (Isaiah 43:19)

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

– Genesis 18:14 

Video by Rob Collins

In a recent letter to the entire church family, Adeboye and Ajibola expressed their sincere gratitude for the hospitality, love and concern they have received since joining FPC-Richmond in 2018. This is an excerpt:

You gave us hope when we thought all hope was gone. We lost count of how many times you drove your cars to our house … fit car seats into them, carefully buckled our children to their seats, and drove us to and from church.

You got me a job by which I am able to put food on the table and a roof over my family. My children are not left out as you always plan and guide us in making good decisions about their education, including plans for their summer school to ensure they have a better future.

All our grandmas and grandpas have been so wonderful. They have always been there at all times to help and assist us whenever we needed them.

Special thanks to Adeboye and Ajibola Taiwo, the Rev. Mary Kay Collins and Rob Collins at First Presbyterian Church of Richmond and Paul Seebeck, Presbyterian News Service, for sharing this God story with us.

#245. COVID Lessons About the Faithfulness of God

Photo by Tammy Warren

My wife Dee Dee and I will never forget Christmas Day 2020. That’s when we believe we were both exposed to coronavirus, while visiting with family. 

We developed symptoms that led us to be tested on Dec. 27, and within 24 hours we learned we were both positive for COVID-19. While Dee Dee had a milder case of the virus, I had the full gamut. I was sick to my stomach and had fever, aches, pains — everything a person could have, I had it.

Dee Dee drove me to the emergency room on Dec. 28 or 29, I am unclear about the date. I was advised to go home and take over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers, like Tylenol or Advil. It was suggested we purchase a pulse oximeter to keep check of my oxygen level. 

I just kept getting sicker and my oxygen level kept plummeting, so within days we were back at the emergency room. This time, they gave me fluids and called in some prescription meds for me. They told me to go directly to the facility across the street to have an infusion of monoclonal antibodies. They said they’d set it up for us.

“All you have to do is walk across the street,” they said. “They’re waiting on you, and they’re going to give you the antibodies. You should feel better in three or four days.”

They told us the antibody infusion would take a couple hours, but that Dee Dee would not be able to go in the facility with me. So, she dropped me off at the entrance and then headed to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions the ER doctor had called in for me.

I walked into the facility with my mask on, noticing it was a cancer care facility.

“What are you here for?” they asked me. I explained that the emergency room staff set me up to receive antibodies. They didn’t know what I was talking about.

I explained again: “I just left the emergency room. They said for me to come over here to receive antibodies.”

“Do you have COVID?” they asked me.

“Yes, I do, that’s why I’m here to get the antibody thing,” I said.

They replied, “You’ve got to get out of the building immediately.”

So, I left the building. It was very cold outside. I sat on a bench as I called Dee Dee to come back and get me. “They didn’t know anything about this stuff I’m supposed to get,” I told her. “They said I have to make an appointment and that it could be a week or two.”

As I waited for Dee Dee to return, someone came out of the facility to tell me that I couldn’t even sit on the bench.

“You’ve got to get off our property,” they said.

Dee Dee returned to pick me up. She somehow got an appointment for me to return to this facility in three days for an antibody infusion. In the meantime, the ER doctor prescribed oxygen around the clock at home.

Three days later we showed up for the antibody infusion appointment. I walked in all hooked up to my portable oxygen. They took one look at me and stated the obvious, “You’re on oxygen.” 

“Well, yes, I am,” I said. 

“We can’t give you antibodies if you’re on oxygen,” they told me.

At this point, I was so sick, a lot sicker than I was three days prior. Dee Dee was waiting in the car. They brought me back out, nothing accomplished.

Dee Dee immediately took me back across the street to the emergency room. On that short trip, I was crying out, “God, why? Why me? Why all of these roadblocks? Why? Why? Why?”

As a pastor, I tell people, “You don’t know how you’re going to react to anything until you are in that situation.”

We were both upset and discouraged. Once we got back over to the emergency room we couldn’t even find a parking spot. The emergency room was full, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do now?”

Dee Dee said, “We’re going in.”

So, Dee Dee wheeled me and my oxygen tank into the emergency room waiting area. A nurse spotted us and asked, “Does he have COVID?”

“Yes, he does,” Dee Dee said. This nurse wasted no time and took me back immediately. In my crying out to the Lord between the two buildings, I believe that God ordained this direct route to the emergency room physician through this nurse. 

I remember being in the emergency room with Dee Dee waiting in the car. My oxygen level was low and they told me they would have to intubate me right now. I texted Dee Dee these words: “I’m scared.” 

The next thing I knew, I was out — and I was out until March.

“I’m sitting there and sitting there,” Dee Dee remembered. “Friends came by to check on me, since they know I’m sitting in the parking lot. Then Steve texts me, “I’m scared.” I was like, “I am too.”

“I was thinking he’d go into the emergency room and they would do something, fix him and send him back out, but after I dropped him off, I didn’t get to see him again until sometime the middle of January.

“I knew God had Steve in His hands, I believed and didn’t believe at the same time. I was just so scared. We’ve been together since I was 13 years old, married when I was 18. The thought came to me that I may never get to see him and talk to him again. It was terrifying.”

Dee Dee’s mom came to stay with her while Steve was hospitalized. Their youngest son also flew in from Texas. Pastor Barry, his wife, Gay, as well as other church friends, provided ongoing support and encouragement. One friend, Marilyn, began texting an encouraging scripture to Dee Dee every day, and she continues doing so to this very day. 

Everyone kept telling Dee Dee, “When you get to see him, it will be so much better.”

“That was the worst moment of my life,” recalled Dee Dee of seeing Steve in the hospital for the first time. “His kidneys had shut down two days after he was hospitalized, and he had to go on full-time dialysis. His blood pressure, which had always been high, was now low. Just to watch COVID destroy his body was so fearful to me. I knew God was in control, but I had to be reminded of that every single day.”

As the weeks and months passed, Dee Dee became so upset that she could no longer listen to online sermons or Christian music. “It wasn’t that I lost faith,” she said. “I was just so scared to live my life without him. I never in my wildest dreams thought there would be a time when I would not be able to listen to Christian music or Pastor Barry’s sermons, but that was my experience. It seemed the words hurt me instead of helping me at the time.”

Even though Dee Dee didn’t see any improvement in Steve’s condition, he was moved from the hospital to the intensive care unit of a rehab facility, where he was gradually taken off sedation and the three paralytic medications that he’d been given to prevent movement.

“When I began to wake up, it was a scary time for me,” Steve remembered. “It was also a scary time for Dee Dee and my family. If you haven’t, you will at some point, come face to face with death. If there’s any source of encouragement that I could say to you, it’s okay to be frightened — but hopeful — if you belong to the Lord.”

When Steve was able to text, he texted Pastor Barry, “Man, I am struggling. Just struggling.” 

“In what way?” Pastor Barry asked.

“In every way, in every way,” Steve replied.

Looking back, Steve can see his battle was both physical and spiritual. “No matter how physically, emotionally or spiritually strong you think you are, you are still vulnerable. There’s nobody who is exempt from spiritual warfare. And, I believe a lot of what I experienced was spiritual,” Steve said.

“There was a turning point in my recovery — a time when things moved from hopeless to hopeful. Pastor Barry visited and asked me if I had been in the Word. At that point I couldn’t even lift a Bible. So, we figured out a way and got people to prop up the Bible for me.

“Physical therapy began before I could feel my legs. I was able to sit on the side of the bed and, after a few days was able to semi stand, not straightening up. They worked with me diligently, and I had strong determination.

“I got a firm talking-to by my pastor. I kept thinking, ‘Man, why is he so hard on me?’”

Pastor Barry wanted me to get better, telling me, “I don’t care what they tell you. If they tell you to sit there and wiggle your finger for two or three minutes a day — you wiggle that finger.”

“As much as we can talk about everything that we went through, and how frightening and horrible it was — the entire time we weren’t alone,” Steve recalled. “God was with us every step of the way, even when we thought He wasn’t.

“If God had chosen not to heal me, it would not have made Him any lesser God. He would have still been glorified as a result, but I do believe that for whatever reason God chose to reveal himself again as a miracle worker through my life.

“I think I told Pastor Barry as soon as I could talk, ‘I’m a miracle.’ I don’t say that in a boastful way, but I truly believe that I’m a miracle. I even coded once. Things looked bleak. I have had so many conversations, you know, when my doctor said, “You should have died five or six times and you’re still here.”

The director of the respiratory department said, “When they bring someone in on a ventilator, my job is to assess whether that person will come off the ventilator. I told them you would not come off it.”

She, the director, walked into my room nearly every morning and just cry, saying, “I just can’t believe it.”

“And I’d reply, ‘I can’t believe it either, but to God be the glory.’”

After 101 days in the hospital recovering from COVID-19, Steve was discharged on April 15, 2021. He came home in a wheelchair, then moved to a walker, then to a cane, then to a sort of a little limp every now and again. “I can’t stand on my feet very long, but I’m standing,” he said. “Thanks be to God.” 

#239 Nothing is Impossible through God

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in Missouri in a strong Christian family active in the Assembly of God church. As an 8- year-old, I prayed for Christ to come into my life in the back seat of our car after worship one day. I have trusted God with my life since. I can’t remember a time when I have doubted His power or existence. 

My parents got divorced when I was 10 or 11, which was a very difficult time. We lived on a small farm on the outskirts of Springfield, Missouri. My grandparents lived on the farm as well, and I leaned on them quite a bit. Within a year of the divorce, my grandfather broke his back and was in the hospital. While he was in the hospital, my grandmother had a stroke. The doctor said she shouldn’t have survived. She lost the ability to speak, but she lived for another eight or nine years and was independent in many ways. She was very inspiring to me. A few months after Grandma’s stroke, we found out my grandfather had cancer and he passed away within a year.

About the same time, my sister started arguing with our mother. My sister left home when she was 17 and they didn’t speak at all for three years. I prayed every day that they would be reconciled. I remember when I was 16 hearing my mom talking on the phone with my sister. Based on what I could hear of the conversation, I went to my bedroom and prayed a prayer of gratefulness. I believed God answered my prayers in restoring their relationship as a way of showing me that He had been with me and would continue to be with me. 

In the midst of all that, I was exposed to pornography at age 13. It became more prevalent in my life and affected the way I viewed and treated girls in high school. I was loved by God and was pursuing a relationship with God, but I learned to compartmentalize. I remember praying many times that God would break the hold that sin had on my life. I soon headed to Palm Beach Atlantic University as God had miraculously opened some doors for it to be paid for in full.

I met my wife, Katie, at college. We started dating our freshman year and got married right after college. I was honest with her about the struggles in my life, but I still felt my struggles were things every guy struggles with. We had Christian friends in college with strong accountability that helped to shape our faith. Our school took multiple mission trips each year internationally. God gave me a broader world view through those trips. My love for sports and business developed. I began working at a Christian sports camp my junior year of college. This job changed the trajectory of my career. I felt called to ministry, specifically Christian sports camps. I began to educate myself and deepen my understanding of the possibility and the need. I wanted to start a camp with two friends, but it didn’t work out at the time. 

In the summer of 1997, I was getting ready to get married and didn’t have a job. I started really praying and began to have some opportunities for sports ministry jobs. I interviewed in several different states. I got an offer from a Methodist church in Lexington, Kentucky. When I began, my job was to lead a basketball league with about 70 kids playing basketball and a few adult sports. That first winter, we named the basketball league “I am Third,” to represent that God is first, other people are second and I am third. 

At 22 years old, I didn’t completely know what I was doing in my new job, but I loved God and loved kids. It was all about servant leadership and customer service and every year the sports ministry grew. In 2001, there were around 400 kids playing basketball, and someone offered to provide land for us to start a soccer league. Our first season we had 300 kids in the soccer league, and it continued to grow. One of the biggest things I noticed was the personal relationships formed through sports. There were some strong believers on each team to reach their friends for Christ. We saw coaches building relationships with players and families. At the same time, I was doing children’s ministry as the associate children’s pastor at the church, which created a unique connection between sports and children’s ministry. As a result, our children’s ministry also really grew. Through the relationships we established with the children, we saw people start coming to our church and giving their lives to Christ. Parishioners and church leaders started seeing sports as a way to evangelize.

When I was 25, I went to a Christian conference and heard pastor and author John Ortberg speak. He shared pro-football Hall of Famer Mike Singletary’s testimony about being a man of integrity. Singletary had an affair before his marriage but didn’t tell his wife until after they were married. At that moment, I remember asking God to break everything off of me. I prayed, “I will do anything it takes to reconcile relationships and heal,” and God healed me. I knew all the lust and pornography addiction had been healed. I came home and shared what had happened with my wife, which was devastating to her. She was not aware that I had a pornography addiction, but I knew it had affected our marriage terribly. The first years of our marriage were horrible because of how pornography played into my heart and marriage. After that confession to my wife, it was difficult for a few months, but it has led to 20 years of wonderful marriage. Part of that journey was meeting with my pastor and confessing. A few of his advisors had told him to let me go but my pastor said, “I am not going to fire you, but I am going to hold you to the fire. I am going to hold you to accountability and counseling.” I was all-in. I knew that I had been healed and whatever it looked like living that out and showing that to other people, I was in. 

I had a conversation with my mom and learned more about the divorce and the cause of it. Hearing some of the things that went on in my parent’s marriage was difficult but freeing because I saw how some of those things were in my own life. Being able to name those things gave me more power over those things in the Holy Spirit. Once I could name it, I had authority over it instead of the other way around. God fully got a hold of my heart during this time and did significant work.

In 2005, I began the role of youth pastor at our church. We did youth camps and mission trips. As our kids were getting older, I realized that I wanted to transition out of the youth pastor role. Through different roles at the church and leadership opportunities, God continued to teach me and help me to clearly define my identity and calling. My life call is motivating, coaching and encouraging people into lifelong vigorous faith for the Kingdom of God. 

About this time, one of our youth moved to Costa Rica and started a ministry. Over the last seven years, I have traveled to the Costa Rica ministry over a dozen times with family and friends. What I experience there is the closest thing to the Acts 2 model of discipleship and the church family that I have ever seen. I now even serve on their board. Being a part of their ministry has been an awakening for me and an important part of my spiritual journey.

God has used all of these events, healings and ministries in my life in powerful ways. We have seen friends come to Christ through relationships formed on I am 3rdsports teams. We have seen God transform people through cross-cultural mission trips around the world. We have seen God heal others in supernatural ways. As we have experienced these things with God, He has worked through us in relationships we’ve formed over the past 23 years in Lexington.

Through these three events: becoming an associate pastor, experiencing the Spirit in new ways through ministry, and getting involved with the Costa Rica ministry, I have felt God moving in a new way in my life. I began to wonder what it would look like to do something different in a different place. Our church had planned to start a second campus that I would lead. When the pandemic hit, the brakes were put on the second campus. In late April, I felt that leading at the second campus wasn’t God’s plan for me. I believed my time in full-time vocational ministry was coming to an end, and I had unbelievable peace about it. 

Over the next month after I felt this peace, God brought new opportunities to do some life coaching and church consulting. I love meeting people one-on-one to dream and pray with them and help them see these dreams come about. As we moved into June, God made it clear that my time at my home church was coming to an end sooner than I thought. I started brainstorming and praying, “If you want me coaching and consulting and working in the marketplace, you will have to open some doors.” In July, we went to dinner with some friends to share what God was doing in our lives. Seemingly out of nowhere, I was offered a job with their construction business. They created a new job for me, a business development position, which is about building relationships with current and potential customers. 

As only God can do, He showed us an opportunity for our next church home that resonated with our heart for the local church. Our family became a part of a network of house churches in October. There are currently five house churches in the network, each using the Acts 2 model for what a church looks like. 

Even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, we have left our church of 23 years and I have left my job of 23 years, I still feel God’s peace and blessing. God is clearly leading us through this journey. There has been so much change, but I sit in awe because it is obvious that God is right in the middle of this. We are ready to see what God is going to do with this new chapter in our lives. 

What have I learned about the nature of God? One of the biggest things is that God really is the God of impossible. What humans see as impossible is just a mountain that can be moved by God. I have experienced Him both personally, in my family, and physically, as a healer. Nothing is impossible for God through the power of His Spirit. He has healed me from the grip of pornography and used that witness to encourage and free others in His Spirit.

Acts 4:27–32 ESV

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.

#235. My Ronnie

Photo by Anna Carroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By the grace of God.” 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#234. God Covered Me Through Cancer

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

My mammogram was followed up with an ultrasound and biopsy.

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

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

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

I knew it couldn’t be good. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#233. Life Changer, Bondage Breaker

Photograph by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is your all-in-one!

#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.