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

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#227. Love City: Completely Rebuilt in His Image

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

#185 Praise and Purpose in Pain, Part 2

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Does every girl grow up dreaming of reaching the stars? I sure did. From the tender age of two or three, I remember craning my head back, marveling at the night sky, and being awed by the beauty of God’s creation. As I grew I wondered about seeing His works from a new perspective, what it might be like to escape Earth’s atmosphere and explore all that vast space. Growing up I thought my path to the stars would be through NASA. As a freshman in high school, my parents took me to visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration campus where we met with people who gave us information about the steps of pursuing a career with them. My path and passion for space seemed to have a straight trajectory at that point, but what I didn’t know was that passion would be a shooting star, shining brightly, and falling quickly into darkness at the age of 15.

On June 7, 2017, Jacob, my 23-year-old brother, was in a car accident and tragically passed away. I was 15 years old at the time. The moment my brother died every desire to go to NASA dissipated. I was overcome with a deep need to fall into worship and into praise of the LORD who had created the heavens, who had given so lavishly to me, and who now had taken away. I felt myself drawn to my piano… 

So that you might fully understand the magnitude of this change, let me backup for a moment. 

Starting at age six, upon the prompting of my parents, I had unenthusiastically taken piano lessons. Learning to play was born out of duty and obligation simply because my parents wanted me to, not because of my own desire. I never sang and had no real interest in music.

In February 2017, a few months before Jacob’s death, I was in a youth group and they needed someone to play the keyboard. Because I was trained, I agreed to help. Shortly thereafter, the worship leader had an evening when she couldn’t sing and asked if I could fill in for her. I sang for the first time that evening, but again it was an act of service, not of passion. My worship was dutiful, not driven from the deep wells of my soul.

When Jacob died in June, all of that shifted. An intense need to call out to the LORD through song burst into life. Every moment of solitude after my brother’s death drew me to my piano. Worshipping God was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t play out of anger or frustration. No, I was never angry with God about losing my brother. I truly trusted Him with it. Yet, I was overcome with my need to talk to the LORD and nothing expressed it the way music did. The song that carried me away in praise during this painful time was “What a Beautiful Name” by

Hillsong. Since it was such a balm to my soul, my parents asked if I would be willing to sing it at Jacob’s funeral.

Until that point, my worship was a sacred space between only the LORD and myself. Agreeing to this request was letting those closest to me, and to Jacob, join in with the pain and the hope I was feeling. I had never sung for my extended family before, but when I sat down at the piano the day of the funeral, the Lord took all nervousness from me. He filled me with His melody and with new purpose. At that moment, I felt God’s call into a career in music. Just as my parents invited me to sing for Jacob, God was now extending His hand and inviting me to sing for Him.

Four months after Jacob’s death, with “What a Beautiful Name” still on my lips, I made a video of the song dedicated to my brother. The video reached many people, including a talent scout in Nashville who asked me to meet with him to share my story. Although unexpected, this turned out to be the first confirmation of my calling from the Lord. I went to Nashville in January of 2018 and met with a recording artist manager. I was overwhelmed with peace the day we met with him and I knew God was going to do something special, but I was only 16 years old and my family wanted to proceed cautiously.

Over the next year God gently guided me in this calling. He planted a seed in my heart the day Jacob died, and now I saw it growing slowly, delicately, and with such beauty. I was (and am) in awe of His guidance. As my family and I trusted him during this time, He faithfully showed us each step. I began working with the manager, took voice lessons, and even went to Nashville to put my thoughts and prayers to music. What an honor it was to work and praise alongside such talented Christian song writers! After that first big writing session, the LORD sent another

confirmation. Three Christian music labels contacted my manager to request meetings with me.

I met with them throughout the summer of 2019, in May, June, and July. Each time I was given the opportunity to talk with other believers, to meet with record label executives, and to explore the depths of my grief and the heights of my eternal hope through the songwriting process. In August, all three labels asked me to join their teams. After much prayer, I decided to accept the offer from Capitol records. I will be moving to Nashville in June 2020 and with their help will be releasing the songs that I have written. I look forward to the days ahead, to inviting others into that sacred space of worship. I can’t believe that the LORD has opened a way for me to lead others into praise. He is so worthy! I want God to get all of the glory in my story, in the hard parts and in the redemption.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered

a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10

After he died, we found this verse in Jacob’s apartment, written in his own handwriting. We felt like he was talking directly to us and we have clung to this verse. Jacob was my best friend and I will always be heartbroken by his loss. But somehow in the midst of all of the pain, God has taken the deep crevices of my grief and let them run over with golden praise. I find myself wanting to be like the woman with the expensive alabaster jar, breaking it over Jesus and

anointing him with the most expensive thing I own, my own heart. God has given me a purpose, and that has been a great gift to me in this sorrow. I have learned about His faithfulness. I have learned that when God promises you something, He fulfills His promise. He does not let you down. When you choose to trust God, blessings come.

Thinking back to those childhood days when I had my life all planned, I can see that my desire to explore space and reach the stars was really a deep desire to grow close to the Father and to worship Him in a new way. He has provided that to me, just not on the path I expected. God took my longing for the stars and said–Look higher, child.

Look to the Creator of the stars.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one

and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

not one of them is missing.

27

Why do you complain, Jacob?

Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

29

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:26-29

This is what I have found in this journey– my God is faithful. In my own weakness, He is strong. May my lips forever praise the name of the LORD!

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.

#184 Praise and Purpose in Pain, Part 1

 Photo by Erin E Photography

During the summer of 2017, with Father’s Day approaching, I purchased matching journals for my husband and for my 23-year-old son, Jacob. As an English major, Jacob loved taking detailed notes and ruminating on concepts presented during the worship service. Embossed on this new journal cover was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

On June 6th, Jacob visited our house and I gave him my gift. We talked about the Scripture on the front—that God so loved the world—and Jacob said, “Mom, where would we be if we didn’t know Jesus? I can’t imagine. We would be hopeless.”

Looking back, everything about that visit seemed golden. Jacob appreciated his gift. He spoke with us in-depth about God’s word. As he turned to leave, I said, “Hey Jacob. Can I have one more hug?” He said, “Sure, Mom! You can have all the hugs you want!” That was our last conversation with Jacob. Despite his willingness to give me all the hugs I ever wanted, that would be our last one.

Around midnight the very next day, Tuesday, June 7, Jacob was killed in a car accident. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, we awoke to an insistent pounding on our door. The sight of police lights and the uniformed officers made us assume that something was going on in our neighborhood. When we opened the door though, dread came over me. As they told us the news, I immediately went into emotional shock and verbal denial “No, that can’t be. No. No. No.” I kept thinking they must be wrong. It couldn’t be real. This was my son that I just saw the day before. He was fine. He was healthy. He was happy. He was not dead.

As our two daughters came down the stairs, my husband told them about Jacob’s accident. Devastation upon devastation. We had just lost one child and now we were faced with crushing the other two with such painful news. The girls adored their older brother. They, too, could not believe that this was real.

Frankly, that night it felt like our insides were being ripped out. It was devastating. There are no words to really describe it. Questions surged through my mind about where Jacob was. I knew he loved the Lord and he gave his heart to Jesus in a treehouse when he was four. I had no doubt that he was in heaven. When he was in sixth grade, he rededicated his life to Jesus and was baptized. He loved God and was so intentional about his relationship with Jesus.

While this knowledge gave me comfort from the very beginning and still carries me through, the first two days we were simply overcome with our grief. At this point we were just going through the motions of living. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even drink water. Nothing would go down. We were trying to survive, but I was convinced I was not going to make it. The grief was suffocating.  As people flooded our home with their concern during those first days, there was no time or space to be alone with the Lord. Truthfully, we didn’t even know how to talk to God about what had happened. Even though we deeply loved the LORD and relied on Him for all things, we could not reconcile this tragedy with our understanding. It did not make sense that our son who was so good, patient, forgiving, and deeply kind could be taken so quickly and without warning.

Jacob was a young man full of so much potential and so much goodness. Honestly, you truly don’t understand how much you love your son or daughter until they are gone. No person could ever fill that void. If I bore a hundred more children, they could never fill the hole left by Jacob.  This must be how God sees us, as His unique, precious children, each with our own blueprint, each irreplaceable. This must be why He pursues us so lovingly and consistently, so that none may be lost.

God did continue to pursue me and He met me in my grief 48 hours later, again in the dark of night. I wasn’t able to sleep. As I lumbered down the stairs, the Holy Spirit reminded me that we are to give thanks in all things. I couldn’t do it though. “LORD, how do I give thanks in THIS?” I opened my Bible to a random place and began to read. It just so happened that in my sorrow, He opened His word and His heart to me through the book of Psalms. The words poured out, speaking to me about praising God, the very verses that I needed to believe, the very verses that I needed for my next step with Him. I read the word desperately and longingly, like a soul starving for nourishment, and then I said, “God, as bad as this tragedy is right now, I know I am supposed to be thankful. You will have to give me the strength to do that. I love You so much. I praise You and praise Your name. Thank You for the time we had with Jacob.”

I surrendered everything to the Lord. I had been trying to handle Jacob’s death on my own strength. I was unintentionally closing God out, not including Him in my pain and sorrow. That night I gave Him both my sadness and my praise, and everything changed. I knew I was going to be okay, that I was going to live. It truly felt like a great healing took place. Whereas before I had no strength, suddenly I was given supernatural power and my soul was upheld by His own mighty hand. I have never experienced anything like that moment, like the change that washed

over me in His presence. A few moments later, my husband came downstairs to check on me. I told him, “I can’t believe what just happened.” He prayed the most precious prayer for me and all of a sudden I felt physically hungry for the first time in days. Total surrender to the Lord altered everything. As people came the next day, I couldn’t wait to tell them about it. “Please tell anyone who is suffering they have to surrender to the Lord. They have to look to the Father.”

As we moved forward and prepared for the funeral, we longed for someone special to sing at Jacob’s service. Since we have family members who regularly perform, I thought finding a singer would be simple. After asking multiple people that were close to us, we realized that it was not so simple after all. How can a person sing when their grief is so utterly overwhelming? I wanted someone to sing for Jacob to honor him, but our extended family was overwhelmed with their own sadness. I was disheartened, but my husband said, “Let’s just pray.” We cried out to

the Lord, “We are trusting that You will either give us a peace that no one is going to sing for Jacob or send us someone to sing.”

The answer was quite unexpected. Since the night of Jacob’s death, our youngest daughter Anne had found solace in playing the piano and singing almost continually about Jesus. The song on her lips and in her heart was “What a Beautiful Name.” It occurred to us to ask her to sing that very song in honor of Jesus and in honor of Jacob. When we asked her, she did not say no. Instead she took time to seek the LORD in prayer and then she returned with a yes and with a group of friends willing to stand beside her and play during the song. When they came over to practice, I could do nothing but stand outside and weep.

The day of the funeral was beautiful… the weather, the service, our daughter’s song. About 1,000 people were at the funeral that day and until this point, no one knew that Anne could sing.  Even when we told the family before the funeral, they asked us in surprise and disbelief, “Anne is going to sing?!?” When the moment came, you could feel the Holy Spirit in that place. It felt like all of heaven was with us. I felt like Jacob was with us. In hindsight, I’m so thankful we went through with having the funeral even though it was difficult. I’m so glad Anne chose to lift her voice in a song of praise despite her grief. Once again, the LORD’s strength carried us through.

People were so kind and gracious to us in the aftermath of Jacob’s death. They showered us with love and prayers, some so powerful that we could only drop to our knees in surrender. I could honestly feel the prayers of people. They were grieving alongside us and the Holy Spirit kept giving them words that we needed to hear. During those days when I felt constantly drenched from my own weeping, God kept comforting me with verses about tears. You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8. I felt His love in a way that I have never felt before.

Even though His presence was near and prayers of our friends uplifted us, the next six months presented problem after problem. Our roof caved in, our daughter fell out of bed and severely fractured her arm requiring surgery, and I experienced a horribly painful case of shingles. When my husband lost his job during this same time frame, we wondered how any of this could be working for our good. But God. Always God.

The Lord took our tragedies and wove goodness into them in such miraculous ways. While singing at the funeral, our daughter Anne felt the Lord calling her to a career of worshipping Him in music. Since we didn’t have a good recording of her singing at the funeral, we decided to make a YouTube video of her rendition of “What a Beautiful Name.” Not long after that, we were contacted by a talent scout. He invited us to Nashville and we decided to step out in faith and go. We met with a recording artist manager who was very interested in working with Anne. Seeing that she was only 16 years old, and we didn’t have the funds to proceed with the manager’s fees, voice lessons, and an apartment in Nashville, we slowed down the process and began to pray. We knew that God had called Anne into worship, but we didn’t know the exact route or path.

Meanwhile, our middle child, Elizabeth, was busy with her own business. She started designing clothing and sewing years earlier when she was 13 or 14. When she opened her designs up to the public through Etsy and Instagram, her business boomed and she could not keep up with the sales demand. The LORD was giving her favor in her business and eventually she had so many orders that she needed to hire additional help. She found a factory willing to produce her designs and again her company grew.

The LORD was truly weaving together the plans He had for all of us. Because the Lord blessed Elizabeth’s design company, she volunteered to finance her sister’s Nashville career. Anne was able to hire the manager, take voice lessons, and get a Nashville apartment. She has now signed with Capitol records and will be releasing her first songs in 2021. She will spend her time writing Christian music and lifting her voice to praise the beautiful name of Jesus.

And the loss of my husband’s job? Well, that too has been a providential work of the LORD. God lovingly gifted my husband Kent with an intentional time of mentorship and service to our girls who were in the midst of such profound change. Kent has been able to spend a lot of time with Elizabeth, giving her advice, guiding her with finances, and helping her to grow her business. This would have been impossible with his previous job. He also has been a companion and mentor to our youngest daughter as she has traveled back and forth from Nashville. Now he is able to walk alongside both his daughters as they follow the path God has set out for them. Working with our girls has ministered to his heart in a way that his previous job never could have.

I can honestly say that losing Jacob changed our perspective. The things we worried about before were things that were so insignificant. Now our priority is to give to others and love others. We care for people on a deeper level and feel the pain of others in a way that we didn’t before. A lot of things have changed for the better, but I would love to have Jacob back. I wish I could be the person I have become and still have my son. I think for all of us, experiencing that depth of pain led to switching gears in our lives. You won’t really know God as your Comforter, Provider, and Father until you really need Him in those ways and lean into Him and surrender to Him in those desperate times. Gratitude and praising Him, even in the sorrow, changed everything. Perhaps that is why He instructs us to give thanks in all things. Gratitude changes us. The Lord has been so faithful to us; it is hard to put it into words. He has provided for us in miraculous ways. It’s so beautiful to see how God can pick you up and put you back together,

even when your heart seems broken beyond repair. In a time of such loss for our family, God gave Kent such gain through deep relationship with his girls. He gave Elizabeth incredible openness to minister to her family through generosity and service. He gave Anne vision and opportunity to lead others into worship of Him. And He has given me the gift of Himself, over and over again in my grief. I am thankful.

Through all things, may the name of the LORD be praised.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the

God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in

any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share

abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Corinthians 1:3-5

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.