217. Even The Trials Are Love

Photo courtesy of Kenosha (Wis.) News, photographer Sean Krajacic

My family originates from Alabama. My father’s family had their own land, where they farmed for subsistence and food. As a child, he worked in the cornfields and peanut groves as soon as he was able to walk and talk. He said it would get so hot you could fry an egg on the red clay soil. Growing up in the south in those days was tough for any family, but especially for black people who farmed the land. You had the constant fear of white men taking whatever they wanted from your land. During this time, the religion of choice was the Baptist faith. Most of my family believed in God and prayer. Going to church was the order of the day for most black families. My dad had a strong faith in God and always expressed a need for prayer. My father was 6 foot, 2 inches tall and strong as a bull. He once caught a mule by its hind legs, as he tried to kick him. My mother was beautiful. Her intelligence always impressed me. 

My father is supposed to have fathered 26 children, but this may vary by three children. My dad had eight or nine children before he met my mom, and my mom had two before she met my dad. I was the first of the five children my mother and father had together. I was born in Waukegan, Illinois. My parents had moved there in 1958 to have a better life. I have had the pleasure to live with most of my stepbrothers and stepsisters at one time in my life. We shared the same bed and wore each other’s hand-me-downs. We shared food, like butter sandwiches and paper dog sandwiches (newspaper and a piece of meat), just to survive. My mother taught all of us to love each other in spite of our lack of necessities, which helped us become a tight-knit family. We were also taught the value of prayer and going to church as a family. My father and mother were really focused on the spiritual side and, since I can remember, God was always present in our family. My mother handled the discipline and she did a good job of putting the fear of God in us. She also stressed the value of education to us. In Waukegan, my father worked as a waiter, serving food to truckers. My mother worked cleaning for the well-to-do white folks in the suburbs. They would come home so discouraged every evening. When I was five years old, they decided to move with some of their friends to Kenosha because the jobs were supposed to be better there. 

I found out early that sports were my way to escape not being heard in my family. I excelled at basketball and other sports. When I played, I could escape the world for some time, and life didn’t seem so hard. At this time, I lived for one thing only. I wanted my father to show me that he loved me. My father loved coon hunting. I learned as much as I could about coon dogs, so my father would tell me I was the best young dog man in the racoon business. He didn’t seem to notice me at all though. And I have since found out that it is a condition that most men from the south had, in that men didn’t show love in the fashion that their children wanted. 

Because of wanting attention from the other kids, and to have the things they had, I started shoplifting at a young age. I stole and hid items from my parents. It started with shoplifting and went downhill from there. My earliest recollection of getting caught stealing was nine years old. I made some really bad choices at a young age, which I had to pay a great deal for. I spent a lot of time in jail cells, suffering for the consequences of my foolishness and lack of personal responsibility. I have been through it all, from jail, to prison, to near death. I was enslaved to my own self. I experienced how it felt to lose my soul. In 1995, after 18 years of going in and out of jails, prisons, and treatment facilities, I came to the realization that I was tired of wasting my life. The pain of prison is different only when you realize you are at the end of your rope. Then, and only then, will you fight to change your circumstances. 

At the age of 35, beaten and broken, I was sitting in a prison cell facing more time than I ever faced at in my life – 40 years. While I was waiting on my new criminal charges to be completed, I remembered the things my parents had instilled in me. I remembered the importance of getting an education and getting a job. I remembered to get on my knees and pray to God for help and guidance to deal with my soul. I started praying and asking God for forgiveness. 

One day, my daughter, and my sister came to visit me in the Racine County Correctional Institute. My 12-year-old daughter asked me a profound question, “Daddy how come you cannot take care of me?” I hadn’t seen her in four years. For the life of me, I had no answer to give her. I could only muster up a pitiful answer of “I’m sorry.” When the visit was over, I went back to my jail cell and I prayed to God to give me the answer to the problem that my daughter had just asked me about. God answered my request. 

About three weeks later, I was walking around the prison yard praying to God, “What I am I going to do with this child of mine?” This voice came to me internally and said until I learned to take care of myself, I would never be able to take care of anyone else, especially my child. That prayer made me finally surrender my life and my will to God. I knew if I didn’t change, I was going to spend the rest of my life in jail or die without reaching my full potential as a man. After that, I never used alcohol or committed any crimes. That was my spiritual awakening. At a crossroads of my life, I decided to let God’s will become the driving force behind whatever life I had left. After I had the internal conversation with God in prison, I had people help me that weren’t supposed to help me in prison, such as officers, guards, and church members. 

While I was waiting for the criminal charges and facing 40 years, I started going Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I started going to church. I was seeking a change. I got brought back in to court and went before the judge. He was familiar with me. By law, I should had gotten all the 40 years because I had been in trouble all my life. He looked at me and said, “I see something different in you.” I said, “I do plead guilty. I know that I have to do some time but I’m done. This will be the last time you see me.” I don’t know why, but he believed me. He always told me every time he saw me thereafter that he saw something different in me. God had opened his eyes to the change in me. He gave me four years and ran it concurrent with what I was doing. I got sent back to the receiving part of the prison because it was a new sentence. They sent me to a camp and I stayed there for a year. I had to do the three years of probation and had no incidents. I was going to church and finding my way spiritually. I came home, got baptized and continued to journey through church and the things I needed to do to find myself. I had been studying the Bible in jail and was familiar with the Word of God. I went to a Pentecostal church where they preach in Jesus’ name. This is where I got married and became a trustee of the church. My pastor mentored me to develop me and help me use my skills to further the kingdom. He has allowed me to teach classes and speak from the pulpit.

When I was in prison, I was assessed by the Department of Corrections’ social workers with all the assessments and evaluation tools that the Wisconsin prison system can use to measure readiness to change and career development of prison offenders. Over time, these tests helped me to see what I was capable of accomplishing. I had taken enough tests to know that I would be a good counselor if I put my mind to the task of changing my life.

When I got out of prison, I worked at a community center. In 2000, I worked at a treatment facility doing counseling. In 2005, I opened my own facility. In 2012–13 I attended college to get my bachelor’s degree. From 2013–15, I attended school to get a master’s degree in management, organization and leadership; then kept going for the next 16 months to get a master’s degree in mental health and counseling. I have opened an agency called Moore and Associates, a private outpatient clinic focused on helping substance-abuse clients from the Department of Corrections. The other organization I have started is a nonprofit agency that is a full-service facility to address the issues that affect the Kenosha community, such as parenting, maleness and manhood, and domestic violence. I also have been blessed to start a professional basketball club where the mission is for players and staff to get a chance, or a second chance, to build or rebuild their opportunities to be a part of a professional basketball organization. My hope is that I will be able to help young men and women stay positive. I have cried many nights because of the pain I have caused and because I influenced young men to believe in things that appeared to be exciting in this life. What these young men were taught by me, and others like me, was pain and a way to self-oppress, such as jails, drugs, women, and being immature. 

I now want to be a voice to motivate and inspire young people to believe in the possibility of hope and to reach for a brighter tomorrow. I want to help them reach their full potential so that they will be able to teach their children a new way of living. I pray the seed of my dreams will help to end the pain of a generation.

I am now married and have two stepchildren whom I raised. My wife has played a major part of my journey. She had been in church all her life. I am thankful for her spiritual mentorship with my daughter. I have a good relationship with my daughter, who has four of her own children now. My going to college, encouraged her to go to college, and she actually challenged me grade-wise. It pushed her to excel. 

I have discovered this about God’s nature: In a word it is LOVE. Even the trials are love because they provide education that helps you to be a greater witness. It is possible to live a life of hope and change if you find the seed of God in yourself and allow it to grow. 

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.

Psalms 1:1-3a

216. Gurl Get Your Mind Right

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in Pittsburgh and raised in a middle-class family. My parents divorced when I was eight years old. My mom put me in dance classes when I was two years old. I took tap, ballet, jazz, tap solo, and baton — all at the same time. I became really good at it. My teacher told my mom I should audition for the play written by Gershwin, Porky and Bess. Out of 4,000 kids, I got the part. When I was eight, we moved to the country to live with my grandparents. I was no longer able to go to dance lessons. This was devastating to me. I loved dancing and believe that was God’s calling on my life. I was raised going to church every Sunday, but I don’t remember confessing and accepting Christ as my Savior. 

My mom remarried when I was 15. We moved back to the city. I moved from a predominately white school in the country to a predominately black school in the city. It was a culture shock. One night I went in a car with some of the guys from my high school. We ended up at a wooded park. They got out, but told me to stay in the car. I didn’t listen and when they saw me coming toward them, they grabbed my arm. They told me there were guys who were planning to rape me. They took me back to my house. God worked through those guys to save me. 

I was a thick girl. I thought I was fat. My mom was very critical. She made comments about my clothes making me look big. My mom was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. Nothing I ever did was right. If she and my stepfather got into an argument, she blamed me. He was the best stepdad a person could ever have. He tried to get my mom to be nicer to me. 

My senior year in 1976, I was a cheerleader and started dating a football player. He turned me on to weed, opium, hash, and cocaine. I started trying other drugs. I even snorted heroin once. It was God’s grace that protected me. I was promiscuous and slept with married men. 

I was excellent at typing and after graduation became a secretary in the nursing department at the University of Pittsburgh. I got my own apartment at 17, a two-room efficiency, paying $95 a month. I watched a movie of a baby being born when I worked in the nursing department and knew then I never wanted to have a baby. I was 23 when I had my first daughter, Brandi. I had seven abortions prior to that. Six with the same man who fathered my daughter and one with a boyfriend. I didn’t know any better. No one taught me. I had no self-worth. My pregnancy was a nightmare. The father told me that it wasn’t his baby and that I was fat. I had stopped doing the drugs during my pregnancy and replaced the drugs with food. I became addicted to food. In the last three months of my pregnancy, I gained 100 pounds. I was an emotional mess. 

My daughter’s father didn’t go to the hospital with me when I gave birth. He came around a few times to see Brandi, but he wasn’t really involved in our lives. I started smoking weed again. I got a job at Aetna insurance. Jim, a Christian gentleman from the Houston Aetna office, came to our Pittsburgh office and asked me to come to Houston. He said there was a position that I would be really good at. He said, “If you come to Houston, I will make you the supervisor and you will get a raise and you will get a bonus to cover your move if you show me what you showed me in Pittsburgh.” They offered me $10,000 more to do the same job in Houston. My daughter was only three when we left Pittsburgh. When we got off the plane in Houston, Jim and his wife, Tamara, met us. They drove us to our apartment complex and gave us a TV. We only had our clothes, a couple of towels and a clock radio.  My furniture was coming on a truck that was stopping in other states.  It took two weeks to get our furniture.

When you move to a new town you don’t ask people, “Who has weed?” One day as I walked through the apartment complex there was a big group of guys and one of the guys came to my door and asked, “Do you get high?” I told him I did. I sent my daughter to her room. I thought he had given me weed, but he had given me crack cocaine to smoke and I was hooked immediately. He told me where to get it. I started dating this guy and he would bring the crack over. I became more and more addicted. 

Jim did everything he promised. After one month, he made me a supervisor and gave me a $10,000 raise plus a bonus to cover my moving expenses. I was excelling at work, traveling to provide training and had been the employee of the month four times in the same year. But I didn’t have the money to afford my drug habit. So, I came up with an elaborate plan. I started forging names on checks at Aetna and cashing the checks. Eventually, I was out sick and one of the girls in my department figured out what I had been doing. My boss asked me to come into the conference room. A man with a briefcase said, “Have you ever cashed a check besides your paycheck?” I told the truth. He said, “I’m glad you told the truth.” Then he took the checks out of his briefcase and laid them across the table. He said, “We know what you did but don’t understand why you did it. Why? You had such a bright future.” I said, “I’m addicted to crack.” He said, “We thought it was drugs.” He asked me how much I had taken, and I told him I had a folder at home with all the checks. He asked me to bring it in. I brought the folder to him and he told me to go home and they would let me know what they were going to do. 

My friend John from work called me and said, “Where are you?” I was driving and said, “I’m just going to kill myself.” The devil was telling me to just let the wheel go. John said, “Just drive to my house.” Then Jim called me. He had told the leadership at work he was going to remain my friend. I believe God was intervening on my behalf through both of these men. Jim told me I needed to immediately go to treatment. I went. Jim and Tamara not only took care of Brandi for two weeks, they also went to my apartment and packed up everything and put it in storage. They sent my daughter back to Pittsburgh to my family. Aetna fired me, but because I cooperated with them, they didn’t press charges. The bank didn’t press charges either. Nobody came after me. God spared me. I should have gone to jail for what I had done. Jim came to that facility every day and brought me a Bible. I wouldn’t listen. I said, “Get that Bible away from me.” He said, “It’s the only thing that can help you.” My therapist told me I had to get to the root of why I was there. I felt like my parents had robbed me of who I should have been. I loved dancing. I should have been a choreographer. They took something from me that was near and dear to my heart. I also realized the resentment for my daughter’s father. I discovered all of those things in treatment. 

After 90 days, I got out. Aetna had kept me active on the payroll to pay for my treatment. This was another way that God provided for me. God saved me from killing myself through John and Jim. He saved me from myself. Jim and Tamara let me live with them with only two rules — stay sober and go to my meetings. They gave me a car and credit card. 

I went to church with Jim and Tamara but was still stuck. One night they were getting ready to go to Bible study and I was sitting on the couch and balling. My daughter was coming back from Pittsburgh and I knew that I was going to have to face her and make amends for all I had done,  including locking her in the house at night, while sleeping, so I could go out to get crack, putting her in danger. 

Jim and Tamara invited me to Bible study but I didn’t want to go. While they were gone, I was thinking about how to kill myself again because the thought of facing Brandi was overwhelming. When they came back, I was still crying. They got down on their knees and said, “There is only one way. You have to accept Jesus.” I asked, “Will it make this pain go away?” That night I confessed Romans 10:9 and everything changed. I started going to a Bible study group. I got an apartment. One year to the day of my sobriety, December 16, 1988, I got offered a job at Enron. This company was drug-free, and employees had to be drug-tested to work there, which was what I wanted.

Things were going well at Enron. I got promoted and got bonuses. The girl they put me with at Enron was a Christian and had me listening to a Christian radio station. I went to her house for Bible study. I was clean and sober but then I noticed people were getting things and recognition that I wanted. I figured out a way to cash travelers checks at work. They confronted me and I admitted it. They fired me but didn’t press charges. This time I couldn’t blame it on crack. I had to do self-inventory and say to myself, “Are you a thief? Do you just steal?” Even though I had accepted Jesus, I still didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. 

When I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter, Courtney, I immediately went to have an abortion. I was single, overweight, depressed and scared to death because of my pregnancy with Brandi. I went to an abortion clinic. I knew I was right at 12 weeks. They lady said, “You are 13 weeks. We can’t do it. But you can go upstairs. They do it up to 26 weeks.” So, I went upstairs. I am sitting there with a sheet over my lap and the doctor is getting ready to examine me. I prayed, “God I know this is a sin, but I can’t have this baby. I can’t even afford to raise Brandi.” The doctor examined me and said he couldn’t do it. I asked him why. He said, “I don’t know. I just feel there is a risk with you.” God intervened . . . again.

When Courtney was born you would have thought she was a crack baby. She had a hernia, a tear in her liver, a hole in her spine, her heart was on the opposite side, her intestines were in knots, her neck muscles were messed up, and her head was tilted. She was transferred to the ICU at Texas Children’s hospital, where she stayed 90 days. She went home with a feeding tube. She had a special-needs caregiver. I was working at Enron when that was going on. God preserved me — my mind — through all of that. I had no family, but I did have Jim and Tamara. They were my family.

Some of Courtney’s problems have been healed, but she still has some health issues. God gave her a brilliant mind. He preserved her and He did the same thing for Brandi. Brandi is so imaginative and creative. I truly believe God protected her mind through my drug battle.

In 1999, I began attending a non-denominational church, New Light Christian Center. Dr. I.V. Hillard was having a Spiritual Millennium Warfare conference at this church. I went down for the altar call and experienced spiritual healing. I had finally found my church home. This church taught me so many things. I was delivered from addiction in 1988, and I never went back. Crack cocaine is euphoric-demonic and is spiritual warfare. I finally got to the root of my problem. I had been self-sabotaging. For so much of my life, I didn’t have a personal relationship with God. When this happened, my life was transformed. God called me to evangelism, to minister to women with low and no self-esteem, bound by addiction like I was. 

When I was pregnant with Brandi, I developed diabetes. As a result, I’ve had five toe amputations. I have diabetic retinopathy in my right eye. I have been in stage three kidney failure for 15 years, but God is sustaining me. I have been at death’s door many times, but God has protected me. God is faithful and loving. If we just seek Him, He will never turn His back on us or leave us. God did not give up on me. He kept pursuing me. He kept helping me get on the right track. God protected me and my daughters and provided and intervened for me so many times. I am so grateful for the people God placed in my life, for the revelations He has given me, for the healing He has provided. I am grateful for my two daughters who are amazing women. 

I transferred to Mooresville, North Carolina, to work in human resources with Lowe’s. I thought that my purpose of coming to North Carolina may have something to do with my ministry GurlGetYourMindRight which God gave me 10 years ago . My lease is up in August, and I plan to go back to Pittsburgh. I believe God wants me to go back home. There are women who are there who need life spoken to them. I really believe the ministry will take off there.  

Lastly, no matter what you go through in life, always remember “it’s just temporary” because we’ve already won! The ransom that was paid for us covered all our sins but we must continue to renew our minds and not be subject to this world.  To the ladies, who are still being controlled by men and this world…….GurlGetYourMindRight!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:33 NIV

#214. Praying Wives: Only God Has Such Power

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I have mostly good memories of my childhood. We didn’t have much but we had love. However, my dad wasn’t very loving. Although our mom and dad didn’t go to church, they sent us kids to church on the bus. 

My dad cheated on my mom a lot. He would go to work, come home, dress up and go out. When I was about 16, my parents started going to church. They both were saved before they passed away. After my dad was saved, he stopped cheating on my mom. As I got older and got to know my dad, I forgave him and really grew to love him. 

It’s funny that I ended up marrying a man kind of like my dad — a man that cheated on me and who wasn’t loving. I married in 1975 when I was 18 years old. In 1976, our son was born, followed by our daughter in 1980. I wasn’t going to church and didn’t really have a relationship with God then. 

Thirteen years ago, I began going to a MISSION Church of God (Mobilizing, Ignited, Selfless, Servants, In, Obedience, Now). A friend invited me to go, and she went with me. My husband did not go with me. He had a girlfriend and had been cheating on me for years. He drank a lot. He was mean to me and I was afraid of him, very afraid. I prayed and prayed for my husband. I prayed that the Lord would touch him and that he would get saved. I prayed that God would stop him from cheating and being mean.

Even members of my family told me to divorce him. But I felt strongly that God didn’t want me to do that. I never gave up on him. I never gave up on God’s ability to change him. 

I asked the people of the church to pray for him and I could see it working. My husband had a lot of booze at the house. One day I poured it down the drain. He was going to a party but came home to make shots before he left for the party. He yelled for me and I thought “I’m in trouble now.” We were on the steps and he pulled his fist back to hit me. I sensed a shield of protection came in front of me. I stood there and wasn’t afraid at all. I had no fear. He just dropped his hand. I know God protected me. If he had hit me, he would have killed me.

I prayed for my husband for a couple of years before I saw a breakthrough. The preacher’s mother told me that I wasn’t laying the situation down to the Lord. It was true. I wasn’t completely surrendering the situation to God, trusting that God would change him. But, finally, I did. I gave it to the Lord completely and that’s when things started happening. 

My husband got more and more miserable with his lifestyle. I could see that he was not happy. He was staying home more and not going out. Occasionally, he would even go to church with me. Finally, he tried to kill himself. Thank God he didn’t. When he came back from his attempt, he said, “Let’s go to church.” (See story #210) He stopped drinking and stopped seeing his girlfriend after that. For about a month, he would cry and cry in church. I know he was under conviction. Finally, he surrendered to God and was saved. 

Life now is totally different. We’ve been married 45 years this year. I feel like I have a new husband. He is a completely changed person. My husband is a man of God now. I don’t worry about him cheating on me now. I trust him wholeheartedly. I tell him, “If I had to go through that again to have you where you are today, I would go through it again.” He has become a minister. He preaches every Sunday in the jails. He preaches at our church sometimes and sometimes he preaches at his sister’s church. 

I am so thankful to God for giving me the husband that I wanted all my life. Only God has the power to make such a change in a person. I have seen that God is faithful. Everything is in His time not our time. There are times when you might wonder if God is really there, but I think that is the evil one causing us to question. God is there all the time. When I began to trust God completely to handle the situation, that’s when things began to change. I have learned that God can be trusted completely. 

I want people to know that with God you can do anything. If you trust Him and believe in Him there is nothing that He cannot do . . . nothing. I want people to know that God is there for you. Just believe and reach out to Him. He is waiting for you to reach out to Him.

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)

#213. Praying Wives: Control Less, Pray More

Photo by Brianna Rapp

Have you ever felt, as a praying wife, that your husband is “getting it wrong” on a big decision for your family? Not in a prideful way, but genuinely you have discerned in your spirit that a decision needs to be made differently. These moments can be very hard as a wife. You may be the wife who deeply trusts and respects your husband, remaining prayerful in the midst of a life-changing decision for which you disagree. But, if you’re like I was a couple years into marriage, driven by anxiety instead of security in the relationship, you didn’t keep your mouth shut.

My husband was in the middle of a major life-changing decision. He was pursuing a job that looked perfect on paper. He is a pastor, and this opportunity was a pay raise, a great community at a large church with tons of resources. I knew it would’ve “pat his back” as an accelerated career move. However, I just had a sense — this isn’t it. 

After every interview, he would ask me what I thought. You see, he needed me to be supportive. He was agonizing with the idea that pursuing a ministry career path could be detrimental to the security of our family. His insecurities about this trajectory made this option so promising to him. He needed me to be excited. But what did I do after every interview? Let’s just say this, the sensitivities were always aggravated — tension always increased in our home. And honestly, I do believe God was speaking to me in prayer — answering our prayers for clarity. 

I went into the hiring process with him open-minded. But as I prayed, I felt more and more “off” about the entire option. To whatever end, my opinions didn’t stay prayerfully considerate of his feelings. I always made sure that by the end of the conversation that my thoughts were heard. 

What this did would take a couple years to undo — for us to find trust and safety in decision-making again. I really wounded him. I made my husband, whom I love and trust, feel like I would be controlling his life and future as long as we were married. Sure, there were absolutely two-sides to the wounding. I don’t think I was a brute, but I was strong and he was already insecure and struggling. I rubbed dirt in the open-wound though my abrasive opinions. Has any wife ever been here? Regretful of how you attempted to control, even in the name of what you believed was right? 

Ultimately, he was offered the job. Yet, being certain that I did not support the opportunity, he turned it down. I felt so guilty. You could feel the tension and bitterness building in our relationship. He could’ve had a pay raise, a great community of support, and a job that made him feel valued as a leader. Yet, I was perplexed because “If this was the Lord, shouldn’t it not be this way?” At the same time, I was relieved to know we didn’t go against the confidence I felt in prayer. But I wasn’t expecting to get a bitter, blaming husband out of the deal.

All I could do, yet again, was pray. And this time, I didn’t use my big mouth to try and walk us out of this place we found ourselves in. God knew we needed a miraculous confirmation that it was truly Him. I was desperate. I was out of control, and I needed Jesus to step in and protect me and protect our marriage.

About a month went by, I was still hearing the regret daily. He was bemoaning the decision, and had no future prospects that gave new hope. But every day, I was praying for a breakthrough.

One Sunday morning, we were attending our local congregation at the time, and there was a woman in the back of the church crying. She was encountering the Presence of God, and my husband went to the back to check on her. As he came closer, he saw it was a woman from the church that offered him the job. She was on the hiring committee that unanimously voted to extend the offer. And now, she is in the back of the church we are attending in tears. My husband approached her, reintroducing himself, and asking if she needed prayer for anything. She shared a bit about what had happened to lead her there that morning. She was going through the Starbucks drive-thru on the way to the church she regularly attends, when she sensed strongly that God told her to attend the church we were at this morning. She was having a personal encounter with God, but as they wrapped up praying together, she said, “I knew that one day God would allow us to cross paths because I needed to tell you it wasn’t the right job for you. Everyone wanted you, and I felt pressured to vote in that direction by the committee because they needed unanimity. But as I prayed about it, it would’ve stunted you and it would not have been the right fit for your flourishing. I am glad you didn’t accept it. I want you to know, I support that decision. You made the right call.” 

My husband broke down when he realized the Presence of God had chased him down to affirm His voice. It wasn’t my thought. It wasn’t my conviction. It was God. It was His love and affection for my husband, His calling and purposes. It was God’s crazy love and blessing over our marriage — to guard us and protect us. It was prayer that positioned us for restoration and confirmation. 

God hears our prayers, wives. And a prayer for unified blessing in marriage, this is a prayer he always answers. I learned many pivotal lessons through this experience. I don’t need to control. I need to pray. 

#212. Praying Wives: Something To Live For

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I married my high school sweetheart. Bob and I had known each other since first grade. I knew he had a good heart and I believed the Lord brought us together with His blessing. I was young and idealistic, full of hope and dreams for a bright future together. Fifteen years later at the age of 35, I found myself living in quiet desperation. My husband and I had good jobs. We lived on the property of a golf course where my husband was a PGA pro. Our three daughters were wonderful and a source of much joy. Yet something was wrong with our family.  Day after day, hour after hour, I was forced to deal with the fact that my husband was an alcoholic and drug addict. Oh, there were days we could hide it from the outside world. There were moments we pretended it wasn’t a fact and tried to laugh and have fun together as a family. But always in the back of my mind I was waiting for something to trigger him, to set him off and send him into erratic behavior directed toward me or the girls. We never knew when or why that would happen. Once he began to drink, his rules were the only rules in our house. He would drink all night, unable to work the next morning. Our girl’s room was the only sanctuary they had. They were afraid to invite their friends to our home because of what their daddy might say or do. Not only was his behavior awful, but his language was also worse. He didn’t care who heard what. I didn’t know how to deal with these terrible problems.

I remember going to a golf tournament with him. He promised me it would be a good weekend without drinking and that we would have fun together. The first night I found myself in the motel room at midnight wondering where he was. His promises had quickly been broken leaving me upset and frustrated again.  Left alone, I questioned my life, and began to talk to the Lord. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to come face to face with Jesus Christ in a way I had never experienced before. But before this happened, things went from bad to worse. My husband was arrested for public drunkenness and everyone in our little town knew it. He was the “town drunk.” I had accepted Christ as my Savior when I was ten years old. I have always had a deep love for the Lord. I was active in my church and when I married that continued. As each child was born, I made sure they were in church. Rarely could I get Bob to attend church with me. Mostly he would only go if the girls were in a program. When I asked him to attend, he got indignant, saying that Sunday was the busiest day of the week at a golf course and how could I expect him to be gone. I made sure the girls went even though they knew that Dad didn’t think it was worth it. 

I’ll tell you some of the things I did wrong. I wrote letters to people who had overcome the battle of alcohol. I called members of my husband’s family. I asked friends to talk to him. Five times I went to the pastor of our church but could never really tell him what was wrong. I could only sit there and cry. I got mad at Bob, went along with him, ignored the problem, and tried to reason with him. I reached out for any solution that sounded reasonable. In August of 1975, I began to feel ashamed of myself. I found that if I encouraged Bob to drink more, he would pass out sooner and I would have some peace and quiet.

One evening that August, Bob had finally passed out and I went to our back porch, a quiet haven for me. Everyone in the house was quiet. Outside everyone was gone and the peace and solitude that our old worn-out porch offered were just what I needed. I was physically and mentally exhausted from juggling three jobs, keeping the girls busy and having no answers. I had upset Bob that night. I don’t know what I did to upset him but when he drank it didn’t take much.  I sat down, soaked in the night noises, and sighed.  I hugged my knees and rested my head on my arms and the tears began to flow. I cried out loud and I thought about whether anyone could hear my sobs and if they did would they even care. I thought, “I am of no use to anyone.” I felt reduced to a scream, a tear, a cloudy mind. I was unable to function, a blob waiting to crawl into a hole and stay for a long time. Many other nights this same summer I had come here knowing there had to be a way out, wanting to help but just not sure what I should do. I can remember screaming on previous nights, “God, why is my life like this? What good am I to anyone? Why don’t you just let me die?” And then I would always feel so guilty because I couldn’t pull it together. I couldn’t find an answer.

That night in August was different. Out loud, in sobbing tones, I said, “Lord, I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve tried all I know to try. I don’t know anything else to do. If you are listening to me, please, please help me.” And at that moment my tears and sobs ceased. That shocked me. I had been sobbing so hard I was shaking, but it just stopped. I felt very warm inside and very calm. It was not a sensation I was familiar with. For the first time in an exceedingly long time, I didn’t feel alone. The Lord spoke to my heart and said, “I am with you. You can go on. It will be alright. You are my child. And you have three children to care for. I will help you.” The Lord had been waiting for me to turn it over to Him. He probably said, “Well, finally she is going to let me handle it!” At that moment, I knew everything was going to be alright. God was listening and He cared. He could see my heart and He was there. I didn’t know how everything would be alright, but I knew He was giving me strength and love to face tomorrow.  Positive thoughts began to come into my head. “I can like myself once more. I can begin to be a better mother. Our girls need me. And Bob with all his problems needs me more than ever. With God’s guidance and wisdom, I can be a good wife, the wife Bob needs me to be.” I finally gave up my problem to God and said in effect, “Lord, take over.” And He did… in more ways than I could ever imagine! The evening breeze stirred the leaves on the huge elm tree in the back yard. I suddenly was aware of the beauty around me. I stood up slowly as not to shatter this new atmosphere. I went into the house and looked in on our three girls, my heart was so full of love for them. They looked so fragile and beautiful as they lay there sleeping soundly unaware that a miracle had just taken place, one that would deeply affect their lives forever.

At last, I knew I must work on myself. The Lord helped me by sending a friend who invited me to a Bible study. There I began to study God’s word in a fresh way. I made my heart vulnerable to others in the Bible Study and they began to pray with me for Bob. The more I learned about the Lord, the stronger I became. I was able to exhibit a kinder spirit in my home, my emotions were more stable, and I had a wonderful hope inside knowing the Lord himself lived within me and was helping me become more than I could dream.

I never thought of divorcing Bob. When I looked at him, sometimes I could see the 17-year-old boy I fell in love with. I could see the gifts and talents hidden from view. I could see the man I loved to be with, to laugh with, to share with. All those things were still there, they were just hidden. One of my greatest desires was to be a good wife to him. Taking care of him made me happy. I knew without a doubt I couldn’t abandon him. I would not give up on him. With the Lord’s help, my love for Bob and a deep sense of commitment and purpose kept me going. After I realized the Lord was in control, the thought occurred to me that I might be the only one exhibiting a Christian walk in front of Bob.

In November of 1975, Bob was converted at an old-fashioned revival meeting in the Laurel County High School gym. The Lord took away the desire to drink immediately with no withdrawals at all. Bob took no more drugs. He was able to fellowship with fine Christians who provided encouragement and love. It took almost 2 years to work through everything we had gone through to put our marriage back together. Our daughters had a dad again. Bob went back to college and seminary at the age of 40. He started two churches in Kentucky and became a full-time evangelist whose calling was to share this story about the grace and love of our Lord. We began traveling all around the world and Bob preached and taught. We had amazing experiences and met many wonderful people.  God even used Bob’s golfing expertise to evangelize. Bob would invite men to play a round of golf with him and while they were playing, he would share his testimony and invite them to attend revivals where he would be preaching.

Bob preached his last revival in 2006. He passed away in 2008. My trust in God has grown so much since my husband died. As I reflect on my life, I can see now that God was guiding me all the time. He reassured me and encouraged me in the difficult first years of our marriage. He gave me an unexplainable peace even when Bob was out of control and I had no idea what to do. When I surrendered the situation to God, He worked things out in wonderful ways that were beyond anything I could imagine. God provided years of extraordinary experiences and opportunities. He sent many people to encourage us, mentor us, pray with us, and provide for our financial needs. I am deeply grateful for the wonderful people God put in our lives and the part each person played in our story. It isn’t our story at all. This story is God’s story and the glory for every step of our journey is God’s alone! 

#211. Praying Wives: There Is Nothing God Can’t Do

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

For much of my life, I wished for that “Damascus experience” others had described . . . a sudden insight that is overwhelming and life-changing.

It seemed to me that such a transformational moment in time would be the confirmation that Christ had truly entered in, and all things past were gone. But, instead, I was blessed (now I see it as a blessing!) with the early and constant faithfulness of God that has been revealed over and over again in my life. I now understand how God began a good work in me and has refused to let me ever get too far away from His efforts to work in me to completion.

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were married over 50 years, before my dad passed away in 1993, way too early! I had a great childhood and was surrounded by family who instilled in my brothers and me the importance of acceptance, unconditional love, and constant support. God was always a big part of our family. We weren’t wealthy, but our family sure had everything we needed, and often what we wanted as well. My parents taught us to be grateful for our blessings, particularly for our family. As a result, I am thankful for and treasure relationships. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love deeply. I’m loyal to a fault and when I care, I really care! Although this trait has blessed me immeasurably, it also has its consequences. My depth of love can be equal to depth of grief when relationships are lost or damaged. So, along this journey, I have loved and lost but, in the end, love is always greater!

I have great memories of our church as a child. We started attending when I was four years old, and it’s the only church I have ever attended. It has always been a big part of my spiritual formation. I remember a particular night at youth group, when Jesus became much more personal for me. I made a commitment to give my life to Christ and to try my best to live my life the way God prepared for me. I have not always been an obedient child of God, but my desire has always been to do things His way.

During high school, I met a guy I dated for six years, until the summer of my senior year in college when we married. We began to live the life I had always imagined . . . the house with the white picket fence, two beautiful children, a dog and a goldfish! And then, things changed — dramatically and quickly. My husband became very ill. He was diagnosed with adult-onset type 1 diabetes. He struggled with the reality of that disease, and I found myself trying to own it for him, which was impossible and did not serve either of us well.

Soon after his diabetes diagnosis, he began to use alcohol in excess and became a very serious alcoholic. Alcohol and diabetes don’t mix and, as his life began to deteriorate, so did our marriage. I never imagined being divorced. In fact, my faith wouldn’t let me even consider it for a long time. But the consequences of his drinking became more than I could handle. Although my family and friends were there to love and support me, it was still very overwhelming.  I soon learned that it is in our times of desperation that we are closest to God.

About two years after my marriage ended, my ex-husband died. I was 32 years old with two children, ages five and seven. I was lost and confused, but God’s faithfulness prevailed. His grace, mercy, power and love sustained me in ways I still cannot fathom. That faithfulness has been the theme of my relationship with God. It is only when we admit that we can’t do life on our own and completely surrender to God that we experience real victory. I am a bit of a control freak — I like to do things my way — I struggle with that. But I learned that my efforts to control things were really futile. Everything always works out much better when I let God do it His way.

My professional life was always such a gift. I was a health and physical education teacher for 30 years and loved every minute of it. I had such incredible friends who loved and supported me throughout those first months and years of being a single mom, living on a teacher’s salary.  And, of course, like He always does, God started showing up in unbelievable ways. I began to receive unexpected income, transferred to a teaching job I had always wanted, and then — the greatest blessing happened.

Some good friends wanted to introduce me to a friend of theirs who they were just sure I would enjoy dating. As I began to live into my new life, I had pretty much decided that dating was out of the question. I remember they told me three things about their friend, Greg: He was a police officer (Are you kidding me?), he was pretty much committed to being a bachelor (Where can that go?), and he was almost four years younger than me (I already had two children). But they also said we had “so much in common” and insisted I meet him. I didn’t say yes or no, but they must have heard yes. A few nights later they arranged a chance meeting that changed my life forever! There he was — this tall, very handsome man in uniform. My children were with me and I remember my son ran over and said, “Man! Can I see your gun?” I thought then, “Well, this will be short-lived.” Greg laughed and didn’t seem to be scared off. Before he left, he asked if he could call me, and this time I did say yes!

Greg called me shortly after that and we started dating. We dated for a little over two years and to say it was a learning experience for both of us would be a real understatement. He had been in only two serious relationships before we met and was scared to death of commitment, especially with two children involved. I had built a secure wall around me and was at a place where I was determined to never let anyone hurt me again. That kind of gets in the way when trust is a cornerstone of any relationship! Then, God stepped in. He eased Greg’s fears, helped me tear down that very unhealthy wall (that sometimes wants to creep up again) and grew a love that has been simply amazing!

In 1985, Greg and I got married. Although neither of us had any idea how to create a new family, we began that journey together. The children had loved him from the start and within a few weeks, they asked Greg if they could call him Dad! Without hesitation he said, “Of course” and I could tell it thrilled him. They also said they didn’t like having a different last name, so we began to talk about how we could change that, too. On the Friday before Father’s Day, a precious friend of ours performed our legal adoption ceremony. The children took Greg’s name, as well as his heart, and it has been that way ever since. As I look back, I see that God was busy working, not to just repair my broken, untrusting heart, but by sending an angel to my children and me. Greg has been an incredible dad, and he is the best “Cappy” I could ever imagine to our six grandchildren.

When we met, Greg was not actively involved in the church or living out a personal relationship with Jesus but, somehow, I knew it would happen. I trusted that God would work in his life. While we were dating, he started going to church with me. We attended a Sunday school class together with people who were older than us. During that time, Greg learned a lot about prayer. I had asked for prayer for his safety and for advancement opportunities at the police department. He was uncomfortable with that because he thought God was too busy for those kinds of things. Gradually he learned just how personal God can be. Although he first went to church to please me, he soon genuinely wanted to go. Worship became an integral part of our marriage. In the midst of all that, he was searching. Without question, he believed in God and that Jesus had come for his salvation. But he hadn’t pursued a personal relationship with Christ. It was head knowledge but not a heart relationship. I prayed for that transformation and knew God would, in His time and in His way, show Greg just how much He loved him.

Around 2000, Greg went through a tough time. He was discouraged about several things and kept it to himself for a long time. I had become overly involved in leadership at church and in my career and didn’t see what I needed to see. I had not made Greg the priority I should have. There was a period when we were struggling and really had to reevaluate where we were going. During those days of difficulty, God was saying to me, “I’ve got it. I’ve got it. Just keep loving him.” And I did. During this time, my prayer was that the Lord would draw Greg to Him and that Greg would allow God to heal and comfort him. I prayed that the power of the Holy Spirit would consume him and bring him to a place of complete surrender. I also prayed to protect my heart from building walls against being hurt, to keep me in God’s arms and not to let me run ahead of where God was going with Greg. I wanted to be a partner in Greg’s journey but I also realized I couldn’t change things, only God could.

To no one’s surprise, God answered my prayers. One day Greg asked me what he could do that would help me. I felt like this was my opportunity to offer him the only solution I knew would work, so I asked him to go see the senior pastor at our church. He agreed and the rest is, as they say, history! They had a great conversation and prayer in the sanctuary and Greg had that “Damascus experience” I had always longed for!  He gave his life to Christ and experienced a transformation that has been remarkable to witness. (#193). This was one of those mountaintop moments in life when you realize God is so present and so faithful. When I look back to those few months of “struggling,” I see clearly what was happening. We live in the midst of a spiritual battle in this very lost and broken world. As a result, there are times when the enemy especially targets us. It’s usually when we are doing something pretty right or when we are very vulnerable. In our case this battle became real when we had allowed our relationship to become vulnerable. Satan saw our vulnerability as an opportunity to do his evil work. As we both stepped back and let God take control, He stepped in and squashed it.

I was born to be Greg’s wife. I have no doubt about that. I also know I was born to be the mother of our two amazing children, even though they came to me first. Right now, it’s hard to reconcile those two things but I know someday God will make it perfectly clear! Greg often says I am the reason he became a Christian, but that’s not exactly accurate. It was God’s pursuit and Greg’s surrender that allowed for his salvation. But I will say I sure did want him to know and trust Jesus. After Greg surrendered his life to the Lord, our journey together took off like a rocket ship. He became the spiritual leader in our family and we were real partners in marriage, parenting and everything else God put in our path. God has given us incredible empty nest years with Greg leading and teaching me. Something I really cherish is when we pray together. At first, we would simply ask one another how we could pray for the day ahead. We have continued that practice and the majority of our mornings we begin our day in prayer, thanking God for this incredible life He has given us and asking Him to use us to bring others into relationship with Him.

About 15 years ago we went through a health scare when Greg was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s a story of God’s powerful healing love. During that time neither of us had the first fear that things wouldn’t be okay. When he received the cancer diagnosis, the first thing we did was get on our knees and pray. Then and always, prayer has been the wind beneath our wings. We have trusted God with our lives in every way. 

Recently God has led us to prison ministry leadership roles. It has been a remarkable experience, one that neither of us could have imagined. We know that like every other “leading,” if we get out of the way, God will be faithful to do His good work in and through us for the glory of His Kingdom. It’s our privilege to watch Him work! Praise God from whom all blessing flow!

When I stand back and look at the life God has given me, it is truly incredible. His faithfulness has been the theme of my life. There is nothing God cannot do. He is so good and so big and so willing to bless us, if we are willing to receive God’s blessing. 

In my life, I have found my favorite verse of Scripture to be true:For I can do everything through Christ,who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). 

#210. The Son Has Set Me Free

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was number seven of a ten-kid family. I started life out asking myself why everybody else had more than I did. What did I do to deserve this kind of life? My life of crime started. By the time I was 11 years old, I was sentenced to a place called Glenview School for Troubled Boys. Now it’s a golf course. We needed the golf course more I guess. I was there for six months and then they sent me back home. There was no change in me. I was back in and out of different facilities for years. One time I came home to find my family had moved away. At 11 years old, I picked up alcohol to ease the pain. Then came porn and drugs and older women, much older, which at the time I thought was cool. I was just a kid and having sexual fantasies with 35-year-old females. I didn’t know at the time that they were abusing me. 

I would rob homes to fill my addictions. In that time, a lot of people left their doors unlocked, and the homes I would break into would have plenty of what I had need of. It consumed me. Years would pass without much change. More alcohol, porn, and women. I had alcohol poisoning twice. I married—one, two, three times—and had two beautiful children, a son and a daughter. But I continued to fill my life with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Satan gave me everything that I thought I needed. I had a girlfriend 18 years younger than me when I was 55 years old. That gave me an ego boost. I would sleep in her bed six nights a week and go bar hopping every night. Sometimes I got on a plane and would go to another state to party. I had a job and money in the bank to support my lifestyle. One year alone I spent $80K partying. 

A wife and a girlfriend was not enough. I would visit streetwalkers. I found out later that I did not have girl problems, I had sin problems. 

I still felt it wasn’t enough. Things started to get way out of control. I would try anything to satisfy the hunger in me. 

BOOM!! Depression set in. My wife of 35 years or so started going to church and got saved. She started praying with the church for me. It got to the point where some people stopped praying for me. They told my wife to give up on me. They told her, “It’s not working. He’s not coming in. He is too far gone. Divorce him and move on.” My wife reminded them of God’s promise to her, “Your husband is coming in.” She would not quit. My depression got worse. I would be in a club, elbow to elbow with people, bouncing off of them, and I felt all alone. 

One day I made up my mind to take my life. I went to everyone I loved (a very short list) and told them what I was about to do. I didn’t want them to hear about it on the news. I wanted to give them a chance to say goodbye. I have a two-drawer file cabinet, and while I was sitting in my chair, I placed my feet on top of it. I leaned back in my chair and placed a .44 Magnum deep in my mouth. I didn’t want to relive another day like so many days I had lived before. I tried hard to pull the trigger, but I could not. I couldn’t do it not knowing God or His plan for me. 

I used to think harshly of people who took their lives. I thought of them as weak, sissies, punks. I found out that taking my life was one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do. 

I called out to God.

He heard me.

I started going to church just to get my wife off my back but fell in love with Jesus. I invited Him to visit me in my dreams. I gave Him full control of my life. I trust Him in all things. Because of Him, I can face tomorrow. Because of Him, I have been set free. 

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.(John 8:36)

Through Him I preach His gospel in jail every Sunday. I have contact with inmates almost every day. It has been nine years and counting. I have had no depression, no drugs, no porn, no alcohol, and only one woman (my wife). I have no desires of this world. Thank you, Jesus Christ.

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.(Philippians 4:13)

#209. Becoming the Man God Created Me To Be

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#208. Purposeful Design

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Years ago, God gave me the opportunity to be on the board at Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis. I was also involved in discipling men. For about 15 years, I led Bible studies at Wheeler. Often when I was there, I would ask the men how they were doing. Over and over the answer was “I’m looking for a job.” I must have heard that a hundred times. I had sorrow about this and wished I could do something to give them a job. I decided to ask God about this. I prayed, “What do you say about this God?” Some other men friends of mine began to join in that prayer also. 

One day I was doing something on the internet and I ran into the idea of taking shipping pallets and turning them into furniture. I wondered if we could sell the furniture and create a revenue stream to cover the cost of wages. So we did an experiment and started small. We used shipping pallets and started making beverage carts. Pretty quickly we figured out shipping pallets weren’t the way to go. A local business donated lumber and we began making furniture and selling it to friends and family. That’s how it started.

We hire men and train them to make beautiful handcrafted furniture. Now over 90% of our operating expenses are covered by things the men make themselves. Everything is custom made. We sell to a lot of commercial enterprises. We make a lot of conference tables and shelves. We make tables for restaurants, school cafeterias and some residential furniture. The first year we had $37,000 in sales, which was a great blessing and beyond our expectations. Last year we sold $1.4 million in furniture. While the finances are important and we are very grateful for the business, our primary mission is to hire and train craftsman and see lives changed. Our organization, Purposeful Design, has two components. 

One part is a training program called the School of Woodworking and Discipleship and the other part is the business where we hire people to work making furniture. Even if we don’t hire people to work for Purposeful Design coming out of the school, we have a network of other employers who offer job opportunities. All the those we serve come from places where they struggle with addiction, incarceration or homelessness and otherwise would have difficulty finding a job. 

We have partnerships with ministries and relief organization that send people to our school. The trainees are exposed to woodworking, job readiness and discipleship training. We start each day with prayer and have weekly Bible studies. We have about 40 volunteers from the community who do the instructing. They come in to teach and add their own stories. They are loving and build relationships. One of our partnerships is with Purdue University. They helped us launch the training program and sent us two professors to teach the trainees how to work with wood. This whole ministry is really a walk of faith. A lot of people who serve have a background in business. My own background is in business.  But I had no experience with woodworking or running a nonprofit. Our business is a registered 501c3. God has provided so much for us. We depend on Him to show us our next steps and to provide the resources, people to help us, and customers. It has been amazing how the Lord has helped us and provided. 

The second part of our organization is the Purposeful Design furniture business. We have 16 full-time craftsmen. It is a delight to see them grow. They are not all believers. But we expose everyone to the Word of God and flood our place with love and encouragement. We strive to strengthen everyone and help them succeed. We are like a family. We want to keep it a walk of faith. It has been a joy to see where God has brought us. We didn’t plan any of this, and now we find ourselves in a niche that sells to many large institutions like big hospitals, universities and banks. All of these organizations have their own mandate to do good for the community. They desire to do good for society, and they also need furniture, which makes our products a perfect fit for them. 

As long as the Lord keeps opening doors, we will keep running as hard and fast as we can to help more people. We provide on-the-job discipleship, beginning each morning by circling up and praying together and sharing a bit from the Word. We have a lunch Bible study every Monday. 

We are getting ready to launch a campaign, “Turning the Tables on Poverty.” To prepare, we have run some statistics and have found that in our six years, we have saved the taxpayers $2.3 million in what it would have cost to take care of those who were homeless who are now employed. In addition, our employees have paid about $350,000 in taxes. These folks have changed from being totally supported by taxpayers to now contributing their own taxes to our city. We also see our neighborhood changing for the good before our very eyes. Healthy people make healthy neighborhoods. Most of us live about a quarter of a mile from Purposeful Design. We are available to help each other and encourage each other. We see marriages restored and kids reunited with their fathers. God is truly amazing. 

As we have seen God at work, there are three things we have learned: 1. It is good to pray. Purposeful Design is the result of prayer. 2. We have all tried life our own way, and it didn’t work out. God’s way is better. 3. Jesus really, really does set people free. We have absolutely seen the transformative power of God at work. We have seen a 17-year heroin addict set free. Another guy told me he hadn’t been sober a day in his life since he was 14. Now he is sober and can be spotted walking his children to the park. He is loving his wife, and he is one of our most loyal and trustworthy employees. 

My own heart tends toward prideful thinking. In our early days I would think, “Haven’t we done well!” The Lord has now shown me my need for humility. Now, I go down on my knees and thank the Lord right then and there when something good happens. Our success is not from me. God’s hand is at work here and our success is from Him.  

#200 Finding God at the End of Myself


I was born in Denver, Colorado. I am the middle of five children. My mom found out my father was cheating on her when he gave her an STD. She had five small kids and all her family was back in Ohio. She packed us up and moved back to Cleveland. Our dad pretty much walked out on our life. 

Every kid wants to know their dad. I wanted to go to Denver and live with my father. I lived with him from fourth through seventh grade. Before I moved in with him, I had this idealized image of him in my head. He was going to play catch with me and teach me about girls. I had a rude awakening when I found out my dad was a violent alcoholic and drug addict. There were times of physical abuse. I remember he smashed a plate in my older brother’s face and then on the way to the hospital he told him not to tell what had happened or he would do it again. My stepmother also was very cruel to us kids. 

My dad lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Nearly everyone was white. Whereas in Cleveland, we lived in abject poverty in the projects. I went to an inner-city school that was almost 80% African American. I struggled with identity. I didn’t fit anywhere. I grew up angry and not knowing who I was. I peed the bed until I was 12 or 13 years old because of the anxiety and the abuse. 

When I moved back to Cleveland, I started getting into fights. I was angrier than ever and headed down a road of stealing and juvenile delinquent behavior. I had no direction or guidance, and no role models. I gravitated to the older kids in the neighborhood, and they were involved in gangs. I was constantly getting picked up by the police. At 15, I got picked up for stealing cars. They sent me away to a juvenile boot camp, but I escaped. It got worse. I got involved in selling drugs and doing drugs. I overdosed on LSD and two days later I was doing it again. I was hell-bent on destruction. I got involved in selling narcotics. I was taking customers from grown men who wanted to kill me. They would drive past our house with guns. It was insanity but when you live in insanity long enough, it seems normal. I was working with a man who would give me drugs to sell; then I would give him money after I sold the drugs. Once I received a large amount of crack cocaine from him, but the drugs somehow disappeared. I frantically searched for the drugs because I had to pay this guy. Three weeks go by and the guy is looking for me. He ran me off the road and I got slammed into the window. A week later he was threatening me with assault rifles. I didn’t know any way out. I was 16 years old. I thought I would have to either shoot him or he was going to shoot me. My only solution was to rob someone to get a bus ticket to get out of town. I robbed a guy who was coming out to his car. But he didn’t have any money, so we ended up going back into his house. There were other people there. The police were called, and I was arrested. I was taken to the county jail for juveniles to face five counts of kidnapping and aggravated robbery with a gun. I had a prior record and had escaped from juvenile boot camp. It was bad. I was facing 45 years in adult prison for the crimes. I was supposed to be arraigned for five felony level 1 charges. The odds were, I would be charged as an adult and receive close to a life sentence. 

I spent seven months in the juvenile detention jail awaiting trial. After about three months, a corrections officer took me to the hallway. He told me my older brother, Larry, was murdered the night before. Larry was the only father figure I had. He had never been in trouble — ever. He was my hero. He had been at a club and was stabbed to death. The guilt of this overwhelmed me. Here I am involved in criminal behavior, stealing and in jail, and he is the one who got killed. Because of the severity of my crime, I couldn’t go to the funeral. There was no closure. I immediately freaked out, tried to fight everybody, smashed chairs. They stripped me down naked and put me in the box — solitary confinement — for six months. 

There are different stages of grief, but being in that environment didn’t lend itself to going through these stages. I kept telling my mom I needed something that was my brother’s. Shoes are one of the few things you can bring of your own possessions to jail. My mom said the only thing they would let her bring to me was my brother’s shoes. But she said, “You don’t want his shoes. His blood is on them.” I told her I didn’t care. I cried so much there were no more tears in my tear ducts. I would fall asleep from exhaustion, then wake up thinking it was a dream. 

God began to soften my heart through a 16-year-old kid who was in jail for dealing drugs. We had become friends. We talked, hung out and played cards before my brother died. When I was put in that solitary cell, he would come and lay down at the bottom of the door. He would talk to me under the door and say, “I’m so sorry about what happened to your brother. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I haven’t forgotten you. I’m praying for you.” He flicked pieces of candy under the door for me. He did that day after day, week after week, until I had a big pile of candy. You don’t typically experience kindness like that in a juvenile detention center. Through his consistent random acts of kindness, he was showing me the love of Jesus. 

I didn’t go to church growing up. I had no sense of who God was until solitary confinement. I came to the end of myself in that cell and reached the point of suicide ideation. I thought there was nothing left to live for. But then I thought about what that would do to my mom. She had already lost one son. God used that to bring about conviction about all the terrible things I had been a part of. I finally felt the full weight of everything I had done. It was a spiritual awakening. I was like Jacob wrestling with God. I didn’t want to be the person I was anymore. But I didn’t know how to be different. 

The first prayer I ever said was laced with profanity. I used every foul cuss word you can imagine, but it was holy because it was raw and honest. “God where were You? Why him and not me?” There was no filter. I finally moved through the anger and then I had an encounter with Jesus. I didn’t have much knowledge of the Bible, but in that moment, I knew that Jesus was real. I said, “Jesus, I know you are real. I know you died and arose from the dead. I need You. I cannot do this on my own.” I confessed with my mouth and believed in my heart without even knowing that’s what the Bible says to do. Jesus meets people where they are. I was kneeling and the floor was cold. It was like someone came into the room with a heated blanket and put it around me. It was that supernatural. And this is coming from someone who at that point in their life had no reference point for any of this. It was so real, it startled me, and I jumped up. This completely changed me from the inside out.

Before I went before the judge, I read 1 John 2:1, where it says we have an advocate and the word advocateis used as a legal term, like a lawyer. I prayed, “Lord, I know what You have done in my heart and my mind is real. I could never deny You. Even if they give me 45 years, I will never turn my back on You.” I knew it was going to be okay. It wasn’t like Jesus was telling me I was going home, but instead that He was going to be with me whatever the outcome. I went before one of the strictest judges. She said, “I don’t know why I am doing this, but I am going to keep you in the juvenile system.” I was sentenced to “juvenile life,” which meant I was sentenced until I was 21 years old. I did the four years in the juvenile system and that was my Bible school. I went to school and got my GED and completed barber training. I started writing music and poetry. 

As a part of my release, I was not allowed to go back to Cleveland. I went to Colorado to live with my dad. It was still a horrible situation, but I got to reinvent myself. Many of the friends I had made in Colorado didn’t know about the crimes I had committed. They knew me before the criminal activity began. I connected with a great church out there, and they really discipled me. They affirmed and embraced me. They didn’t judge me. They brought me up on stage in church to play my music, even though it was hip hop and not considered “religious” music at the time. 

They invested in me going into a recording studio. The music I created was inspired by Jesus. The music was redemptive, and they saw the value of that. At the time, it wasn’t common at all for that kind of music to be accepted in churches. Our church was two blocks away from Columbine High School. I played my first concert there two weeks before the mass shooting. Being able to share my testimony and play my music for the kids at Columbine was very affirming for me. I felt like music was a calling I needed to pursue. 

Now I am back in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area. My wife and I planted a church, The Fringe, almost two years ago. We had come across a lot of people who wouldn’t fit into a typical church environment. Instead of complaining, we said, “Let’s do something about it.” We have a heart for people who haven’t connected with God for whatever reason. We have a heart for people on the outside of the church — whatever their story, whatever they look like. It has been amazing to see what God has done. We were not part of any church organization because no church really understood what we wanted to do. Our church was self-sustaining within four months. We are getting ready to launch a coffee shop that will hire people who are re-entering society and will pay a fair wage. The coffee shop will be part of a re-entry program. The program will help people get their GED and provide parenting programs. There will be free tattoo removal and a recording studio for at-risk youth in the community. It will be a holistic hub to help empower and rebuild the lives of people who have been thrown away. 

In the story of Jacob wrestling with God, he was also wrestling with himself. The name Jacob meant deceiver. He was always scheming and always trying to find an angle to manipulate the situation because he believed the world was an inherently bad place. I don’t think Jacob believed that God is really good. What I have learned from my experience is that God is not like my biological father. He is good. One of my favorite verses is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35 (NIV) Jesus was comforting the sister of one of his friends who had just died. 

God is not a detached deity but a Father who weeps with us when we weep. He cares about us.

I’ve also learned that I am enough. I don’t have to earn God’s approval or love. He is not going to abandon me like my biological father did. He is a good Father. 

You are more than the worst thing you’ve ever done. No matter what you’ve done, God is not ashamed of you. His love has been running after you your whole life. It’s time to stop running from Him. 

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