#253. The Sparrow’s Song

Tuesday is jail night. As a volunteer at my local county jail, I pray with and give counsel to female inmates. Most of the residents there are between twenty and forty, many have small children, some are pregnant.

We volunteers meet with the chaplain before going behind locked doors. One night, when I entered the conference room, the chaplain, usually smiling and joking around, was standing at a distance looking melancholy. I asked him if he was sad. He nodded. After a few minutes hesitation he told me he had given his daughter away in marriage on Friday. It was an emotional time for him, struggling with the finality of her leaving home. 

I tried to cheer him up with a bit of chitchat, then asked about the wedding music. He said, “Well, she had the usual songs, but at the last minute she decided to end the ceremony with ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow,’ a song her grandmother used to sing to her.” (I was thinking that was a pretty unusual choice for a young bride.)

“Hmmm I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the church,” I offered. His smile faded as he slowly turned away and sank into his chair at the end of the conference table. So much for cheering him up! I prayed the Lord would lift his spirits.

After a short devotion and prayer, we filed into the lockdown portion of the jail. For twelve weeks prior, I had been visiting the section called “Gen-1,” a dorm-like room containing eight bunk beds. I wondered how many of the beds would be occupied that day as I walked down a hall, turned right and pressed a button for access. The door slammed loudly behind me, announcing my presence, and I was welcomed with smiles and nods by several girls playing cards. One of them couldn’t wait to tell me about one of their new roommates who had a gorgeous singing voice. 

“Too bad, you won’t be able to hear her sing tonight, because she has laundry duty.” 

I expressed my disappointment; then asked if anyone would like prayer.  As usual, time flew by quickly and at eight fifty-five I checked my watch, ended the scripture reading with a prayer and said good-bye to my friends. I pushed a button and central security buzzed open the door allowing me to leave. I walked quickly to the next locked door and was buzzed out into a long corridor. Halfway down the hallway was the door to the chaplain’s office where the volunteers return bibles and check themselves out. As I reached for the doorknob I saw two girls coming my way. They were pushing laundry carts. Trailing behind them was the chaplain, still looking a little down. I decided to walk toward them, and when they were about to pass me by I spoke. “Which one of you is the singer?”

The second one raised her hand, “I am!”

“Please sing something for me!” 

She wasn’t surprised. She thought for a moment, then began to sing.

“For Jesus is my portion

 My constant Friend is He;

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.” 

I pointed to the chaplain. Our mouths dropped. 

It was the same song—the one from his daughter’s wedding! 

Acoustics in the hallway echoed, providing perfect amplification. Her voice was rich, high and clear, as she embellished the melody. Oh, yes! She really was as good as her reputation. I began singing with her in a glorious duet, following a third away from her high notes, adding some jazzy twists as she led with a Rhythm and Blues style.

“I sing because I’m happy

I sing because I’m free,

His eye is on the sparrow

And I know He watches me.”

We soared effortlessly while joyous echoes resounded throughout the jail. It was a rare happening. Were heavenly voices choosing the notes and carrying the sound?

I didn’t want the moment to end. I asked if she knew “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” and that became a duet as well. Several of the men on our team arrived just in time to breathe in the music. They later commented that we sounded like angels. “Bringing a bit of heaven to Earth,” one of them added. 

 The irony was evident. A convicted felon was singing about happiness and freedom, companionship and protection, ministering to a man whose purpose had been to bring comfort to others. The singer said she didn’t know why she had thought of that song. 

“I never sing that song,” she insisted.

Suddenly there was a loud slam from a door closing and we were jolted back to earth. A warden was coming down the hall from behind me. 

Still giddy, and not remembering where I was, I turned to him and said in excited tones, “Oh! You just missed the singing!”

He was not amused. His face was set in a disgusted frown. “NO, I did not!” he retorted, as he marched by us. I held my breath. No goodbyes from the girls. They straightened up, quickly pushed their carts down the hall and disappeared.

Back in the office, the chaplain was beside himself, grinning from ear to ear. “If I had left the men’s section at the time I usually do, I would have missed the singing. For some reason I was ten minutes early!” 

I told him we were probably going to get written up, and maybe even kicked out. He said he wouldn’t care. “This was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the many years I’ve been coming to the jail!”

Minutes later I drove home in silence, but the song lingered on. “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

A week later, Amy, another jail volunteer, told me more about the singing inmate. Amy had been sitting in an open recreation area at a time when half the incarcerated women in that ward were in their cells; the other half were exercising, playing cards or watching TV. One was sitting alone with a bad attitude, frowning when the volunteer approached her. Amy  did her best to break down that wall of stubbornness. After a few short exchanges, she had an idea. She presented a challenge: A suggestion that singing might be a way of chasing the demons and taking charge of her drug recovery. 

Not wanting to comply at first, the girl was incredulous. 

“Sing? Here? Right now?”


Amy continued her story: “Much to my surprise, the inmate took up the challenge and began to sing. Immediately, ladies in the recreation area stopped in their tracks. Those in cells peered out their windows. Jaws dropped. Time stood still while they listened to the soaring phrases of a gospel message more powerful than any preacher. When her song ended, there was a loud burst of applause and cheers!”

In days that followed, I learned the singer’s voice often echoed throughout the entire maze of hallways, reaching the ears of other inmates, both men and women. The once disgruntled, sour-faced inmate, was now a gifted woman, boldly facing her demons—a songbird bringing light into darkness.

“And the beat goes on” as we say in jazz (meaning there is more to this story). Three weeks after our memorable duet, I visited the jail and there was the singer, sitting at a table with two other young women in “Gen-1.” She greeted me, waved me over, and we wasted no time to begin singing. 

At one point we stopped to pray. After prayer, the singer and I shared the story of our hallway duet. We told the two girls about the chaplain’s surprise and we explained the meaning of the song, “His eye is on the sparrow.” At that, the girl to my left broke into a huge, mischievous grin. I said to her, “You look like you have something up your sleeve. What’s up?”

 I was blown away when she said, “We both have sparrow tattoos!” 

What! She bared her left arm to reveal a large bird tattoo. I asked what was the significance, and she said the sparrow stood for strength and endurance. The other girl pulled her shirt aside to show a bird on her left upper chest. She said she had chosen it simply because she thought it would look good opposite the flowers on the right side. 

I was thrilled. With new energy, I pointed out how fortunate they were to have reminders that go with them everywhere—sparrows reminding them of how much God loves and values them.

Weeks later, I received a card from the chaplain’s daughter, who I had been told was an artist. It was a thank-you note for the wedding gift I sent her. While I was reading, something fell to the floor. Another surprise! It was a mini-sized, unframed artwork of a bird sitting on a tree branch. An arc over the bird’s head said “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” The bride’s painting now sits on my dresser—my own daily reminder of God’s abundant love for me!

I have read that sparrow tattoos have a place in prison culture where the birds symbolize freedom. I have also read that sparrows mate for life and so for some, sparrow tattoos symbolize love and loyalty. I have not read that sparrows are known for their singing. Yet, I happen to know of a county jail where a sparrow soars and sings a song of freedom. 

   Update:     2023

The songbird is no longer singing in jail. I’m thrilled to see her daily God messages posted on Facebook. According to her own words, she has been sober for five years and is enjoying her life of freedom with purpose. God is using her extraordinary gifts to uplift others and to glorify Him.

#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.” 

#237 Very Good in God’s Eyes

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

#154 Steve the Cat

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I had the honor of sharing the devotional last week at a local Emmaus board meeting. It was not my turn, but God laid on my heart the burdens we see each week at our local Mission. Because of this, I am reminded of Steve the cat and his horrific journey to us and to his glorious and miraculous recovery.

I shared from Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn…” We had been alerted through our weekly prayer walks that some of our old friends from our days of church ministry had resurfaced in the neighborhood and perhaps as many as 20 are living in one location. By observation, it is obvious that they have fallen victim to those old demons. If we are reading what we are seeing correctly, its heroin, and they are all knee deep in it and it’s heartbreaking.

Steve the cat came to us on a recent Thanksgiving night while we were in New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our cat wrangler and sitter Mike realized that he had gained a new face and that little Steve was in trouble. You see, Steve had a raging infection in his body leaving him blind, emaciated, and in cardiac distress. He was dehydrated, had lost his ability to stand, and somehow found his way onto our deck through the cat door and found one of our pillowed cat cubbies where he prepared to die. However, like so many times in life, our God is in the little details, nudging us along and allowing us to see where He needs us to be.

When we returned, we scooped little Steve up—all three pounds of him—and headed to the local animal clinic, trying to decide if Steve would make it or if it would become just comfort measures for his last few and sad days. The veterinarian went to work giving Steve liquids and antibiotics and sending us home with a grocery list of do’s and don’ts to try to save our little gift from death. She told us that the outcome and his condition was grim.

This is where God stepped in, because Michael my best friend from grade school mailed a huge box of high fiber, high protein cat food to us after the loss of his cat Buddy, arriving the same week we began Steve’s rehabilitation. Slowly, through the shots, treatments, and food, Steve began to improve. I think we can honestly say that it took six to seven months before my wife and I ever said aloud, “I think Steve is going to make it.”

Isn’t Steve’s story just so God? The metaphor of how it is that we must come to Him broken, dehydrated, emaciated, and preparing to die so that the God of the universe will step in and begin our own journey of restoration, hope, and redemption. That choice is ours because He is waiting, praying that our face will turn to Him. We have a saying around our ministry: “You have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and we have seen God meet person after person right in the midst of their death march when they finally become sick and tired.

I closed our devotion time with the first line of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” So for us, our season and our time is now, intentionally Jericho-prayer-walking the house of our 20 old friends and verbalizing the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good news that He is there with us, just waiting for these young kids caught up in the demons of Satan to be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We celebrated our second anniversary this past Thanksgiving with Steve the cat. He is healthy and vibrant, and although he will never regain his sight, he is just one of the guys around the house. He has been known to chase his sisters through every room and across the entire length of the house. Steve gets into swatting matches with his brothers and thankfully allows us to sleep on one side of the bed as long as we do not bother him in his position lying sideways in the middle.

God is in the details, indeed.

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.

#149 Little Church by the Creek

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff 

God blessed me with a good foundation. I grew up in the church. My grandmother lived with us and we shared a bedroom. She knelt by her bed every night and prayed in a whisper. I could hear her as she prayed for the less fortunate and missionaries. I heard her pray in her prayer language. It was such a blessing, a real learning experience that I didn’t realize I was getting at the time. Mamaw would always help in any way she could. She stayed in the background but taught us how to help and what to do and how to do it. She was not only an example in prayer but also an example in her life. She never preached but her life preached.  

Growing up we went to church every Sunday. I gave my life to Christ at a holiness camp meeting when I was seven years old. Our family attended a very evangelistic church. I remember during church Mamaw waving her hanky and praying with tears streaming down her face. I would say, “Mamaw,” and tap her on the hand and she would say, “Shhh, you will break the Spirit.” 

God taught me many lessons through my grandmother—to be a servant without words. All those years ago in church, she cautioned me not to break the Spirit, and indeed God showed me the fruits of His Spirit working in her life. She was a woman of patience, kindness, and gentleness. She showed love to many people and showed remarkable peace and faith when she faced hardships. When her husband died, she had a graceful, calming presence in that storm. God also showed me the importance of perseverance and faithfulness through her life. If you continue your walk, your faith grows and God gives you the ability to serve in humility. 

Music is in our family. My mom was a singer and sang at almost every funeral, wedding, and revival in our county. My grandmother and I often attended. I am now the worship leader at our church for the first service. I play piano, lead the choir, and pick out the songs. Both of my daughters sing in the choir. I try to impress upon the choir that we aren’t just singing. I encourage them to see what the song means and to convey that message to the people in the congregation and bring them to a place of worshipping God. My favorite hymn is “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” as I think that is the original praise and worship song.

I have experienced God’s faithfulness throughout my life. One particular time comes to mind. I had been working with a ministry and I would hear women give such emotionally gripping testimonies. I thought, “Oh Lord, please don’t make me do that.” But I was asked to give my testimony. I was scared to death. It was last minute—another speaker quit just before and they asked me to share. I turned it over to God and He was faithful. I can’t tell you what I said but He gave me the words. This and many other occasions have shown me that God is always faithful. 

I am thankful for my family, especially for my grandmother who was such an example and inspiration to me. I am thankful for the church of my childhood and the church I now attend, for the fellowship and encouragement of believers and for the opportunity to serve Him through music. God has been good to me and I am so grateful. 

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.

#142. Little Church by the Creek: Righteous, Redeemed and Restored


​Photo by Anna Carroll

In 2007 I was arrested for possession of methamphetamine. I had been married eight years at the time and we had two children. My wife knew I had an addiction problem before my arrest. She just didn’t know it was meth. I was never home and she was ready to leave me. Before my arrest, it was a dark time in our lives and I was very lost. This little church by the creek was on the way to my drug dealer’s house and I would look at it and think, “I need God.” I would go out of my way not to see the church. God was calling me and I was saying, “NO!”

When I went to court, the guy I got arrested with came in with his parents and his pastor. I was upset with the pastor and told him I needed to talk to him. He agreed and I met him at his office. I asked the pastor why he was supporting this guy who didn’t go to church. He said, “My life was messed up before I met Jesus. I am supporting your friend because I was given a second chance and I believe your friend deserves a second chance, and I believe YOU deserve a second chance. If you will come to church and you will listen, I will walk this out with you, and if you fall, I will be there to help.” It felt like he believed in me. He gave me hope. This man was the pastor of the little church by the creek that I had passed on the way to the drug dealer’s. God had drawn me all those years before as I passed by, and now He was drawing me through the pastor. This time I said, “YES!”

I started going to church right after that talk. I sat in the back row. My wife told me that she had also driven past the church for years and she had felt drawn to the church as well. She began going to church with me. I was amazed by everything I was receiving at church. I thought, “I have to get a Bible.” I remember going into my little girl’s bedroom with my new Bible and thinking, “I know there’s something here. But this has just been a book to me. I want it to come alive.” I opened it up and turned to Acts and I couldn’t put it down. It became a light, a mirror, a hammer. I saw my sin, and things began to change in our home. Reading God’s Word changed my life. Two weeks before I was to serve my time, I committed my life to the Lord. 

In jail, I participated in a 12-step Christ-centered program led by the jail chaplain called Stepping into Freedom. When I got out of jail, I was required to go to narcotics anonymous (NA) three times a week for two years. I saw that people weren’t getting better. I felt such a need to bring Christ to them. I asked the chaplain, who led the Stepping into Freedom program at the jail, if I could take that curriculum and teach it at our church one night a week. He agreed and I told people at NA and AA about our new ministry and invited them to come. But we needed to become an “approved” program because it is a probation requirement to go to meetings at an “approved” program, and you must get your card signed to prove you have attended these sessions. There was no incentive to attend our program until we had this designation. For one year, I tried to tell the probation officers that I had started the ministry and tried to get them to approve it. Initially, they threw away my fliers, but I kept going back. Finally, they approved our program. Today, my probation office runs the substance abuse coalition and I am partnering with him in this coalition. This coalition now provides grant funding for our ministry.  

About a year after we started offering Stepping into Freedom at church, we went on a prayer walk and felt God calling us to something more. Mercy Street was born. Mercy Street is a recovery intervention/restoration ministry that provides worship, a meal, and fellowship. My wife and I are co-directors. We started small with peanut butter sandwiches and a man with an acoustic guitar leading worship. We only had about 10 people coming. Prominent people left the church because of the program, but Mercy Street grew, expanding from 15 to 30 people. I was still working full-time at my day job and I began to get exhausted. First the addiction took me away, and now the ministry was taking me away from my family. The Lord started exposing the junk my wife and I had buried. I didn’t want to deal with it but God led us through it to the other side. The leadership of the church pulled me from ministry for three months to focus on my family. I felt God leading me to dive more into His word and pray more. Our pastor taught us that God comes first, marriage second, then kids, then ministry. We renewed our marriage covenant and the Lord honored that. When I returned to ministry, other churches who had not wanted to partner with us initially, said they wanted to start a Mercy Street program. We are now starting our fifth Mercy Street ministry plant. 

God has used my past for good in other ways. I was asked to be part of a meth intercessory prayer team. We were shown a map of areas in the county where there were drug arrests and we would pray that God would begin to take authority over the ground. Because of my past experiences, I knew where the drug deals occurred and we could pray specifically for those areas. One of the biggest dope dealers in a town near here was on a particular street and a pastor invited him to Mercy Street. He then led others to Mercy Street, and now this whole street is cleaned up! God has drawn many people and we have baptized many in the creek by the church. We have felt the Holy Spirit powerfully during these baptisms.

We have also felt the Lord calling us to prevention efforts. We go into middle and high schools and show a documentary on heroin called “Hit of Hell.” We are starting a prevention program with the YMCA. When young people complete the program, the Y gives them a free membership which gives them a place to go and an outlet. We want the kids to not only reject drugs but to become leaders and lead others out of that culture. 

At times life has been very difficult. I have put my wife through so much and she has shown me undeserved grace and forgiveness. Sometimes it is difficult for her to juggle her responsibilities co-directing Mercy Street with me while working and raising our children and taking care of our home. This is made more difficult because she has MS. Words can’t express how grateful I am for her and how much I love and admire her.

God is so faithful. Our marriage was in such trouble and God faithfully walked through that with us. I have experienced God as a Restorer and Redeemer. I am right with God because of the cross, not because of anything I have done. So many times, I want to be right on my own merit. But knowing I am righteous because of Him takes the pressure off of me. This is a messy ministry. Often, I am the first responder—the person a teenager calls when they are high and contemplating suicide. I am dependent on God, relying on prayer and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It is too difficult and complex and dangerous to figure this out on my own. So many things have happened since that day in 2007 and it’s all been the Lord. God has opened good doors and closed the doors that should be closed to protect us. He brought me through the darkness into light. He drew me to Him at the little church by the creek, and there He has done amazing things. 

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21

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.

#115 Gaining Confidence

Photo by Erin E Photography

Ten years ago my son died by suicide. He shot himself and I found him. There really are no words to describe the pain, trauma and sadness of this. It was truly horrible. 

Within the year, my husband wanted to sell our house – the house where our children grew up. He wanted to build a big new house. I didn’t want to do this, but we did it anyway and it added to my stress. In fact, I was so stressed that I lost all my hair. The big new house did not heal our sorrow or make us happy. After two years, my husband and I were talking less. And then one day, after not speaking to me for two weeks, my husband told me that he thought I should move out. We had been married for 30 years and this was very hurtful and shocking to me. I learned later that he had found another woman that he wanted to make a new life with and that she had moved into our new house with him. 

I moved into an apartment and one evening I was crying uncontrollably in my room. So much had happened. I was devastated, broken and lost. I was crying so hard I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But then I felt a warmth, like hands hugging my heart. It was a very a physical presence. I had never experienced anything like it before. A tremendous sense of peace came over me. Someone explained to me later that this was the Holy Spirit comforting me. There was a shift in my attitude after this. Whenever I encountered a problem, I felt like I could handle it. 

Not long after this experience, a leader in my church told me about a new shelter for the homeless.  He suggested that I volunteer there. So I began volunteering at the Center and from the start, it felt right. 

After about a year at the Center, I knew in my soul deep down that I was supposed to buy a house and make it into a home for men in recovery from addictions. That was the first time I ever really felt God speaking to me. I was obedient to what I felt God wanted me to do. I bought a house and made it into a recovery home for men with addictions. After I did this, God always provided. There was always enough income to pay the bills. This was confirmation to me that I had done the right thing.

As I have became more confident in my ability, I have been able to connect in deeper, more meaningful ways with those I serve at the Center.  On a practical level, I register new clients and see what services we can connect them with. I help manage a grant that helps homeless clients get into housing. But a lot of what I do is to just LISTEN and care. Many of the homeless clients  I work with are divorced, some have experienced the tragic death of loved ones and many have experienced deep rejection, trauma, and brokenness. All of the tough parts of my life have prepared me for relating, understanding and empathizing. I can connect with clients in a special way because I have experienced some of the same difficulties they have. God put me in a place where I could use the painful experiences of my life to help and encourage others – a place that would also be a great blessing to me.

Throughout this journey there’s been a lot of heartache, but I’ve also learned to trust God. I know that He is always there with me even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. But when I stop and breathe…. I just know God is there and that gives me peace.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

2 Corinthians 1:4

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.

#98 Four Hours Alone with God

 Photo by Laura Wilkerson Photography

I was 23 years old and I had “known” God my whole life but I hadn’t really committed or surrendered my life to Him. I went on a prayer retreat with 20 guys at Land Between the Lakes. My pastor told us to go out for four hours and pray by ourselves. I was thinking to myself, “What am I going to do for four hours? How am I going to pray for that long?” For the first hour I was just trying to get into prayer and trying to get the distractions of the world out of my head. I was still thinking about what I needed to do at home and all the things I could be doing. I was trying to break away from the world, but I was just in my head. I spent the second hour just feeling a little conflicted. I was both embarrassed and convicted that I had been thinking about myself and my life only for the past hour. I hadn’t been thinking about anyone else; I was just thinking about me. Then, in the third hour, I walked to the water and began to pray. During this time, God moved in a powerful way and gave me a Bible verse, 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” When I thought about this verse, I realized that anxiety had been killing me.

This verse resonated with me so much because there are no other verses in the Bible that directly say, “He cares for you.” I remember saying it out loud over and over. I was walking around the lake yelling that verse—shouting it! After saying it several times, the verse changed to something much more personal. I could hear in my spirit God saying to me, “Matthew, cast your anxiety on me because I care for you right now, because I love you right now.” I began to really understand all these different attributes of God—that He loved me and cared about me.

I began to walk around the lake taking in the beauty of everything. I was looking at the lake and suddenly realized that there were so many waves in the water. There was no wind and no reason that the water should’ve been so rough and restless. As I watched the waves, I thought to myself, “That restless water is like my spirit.” I saw that there was a rock by the water that never got covered by the waves coming in and out. It should’ve been covered, but somehow it was the only rock that wasn’t getting wet or getting swept away. Finally, a wave came and water covered the rock. At that moment, I knew I needed to be baptized. I wanted to be covered in water just like that rock, so I ran to my pastor and told him I wanted to get baptized.


The other guys on the trip gathered around me and prayed for me and I felt the overwhelming presence to bow down before the Lord and pray. After we prayed, we ate lunch and all went down to the shoreline and I was baptized at the lake. It was the perfect moment.

A few hours later we had dinner by the lake where I was baptized. I felt such a peace in that time, and there are two events that happened then that I will always cherish. One man said to me, “It was great having those six guys praying over you.” When he said that, the only thing on my mind was that I had felt seven hands when they were praying over me. I had six guys huddled around me and I could feel everyone’s hands on me, but ten to fifteen seconds into the prayer, a hand came from nowhere on my back—a hand that was so powerful and strong. It was warm and firm, yet soft and tender at the same time. And the placement of the hand was right in the center of my back. I honestly believe that extra hand I felt was the hand of God.

The second thing that happened that I will cherish forever is looking out at the lake and seeing that the once restless lake full of choppy waves was now the stillest, most peaceful lake I have ever seen. I felt like the stillness of the lake reflected my renewed and peaceful spirit after being baptized. I kept thinking, “God, I love you.” From that moment, I have been dedicating every day of my life to 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.