#120 Undeserved Kindness

 

Photo by Trevor Rapp

Growing up I didn’t have a good example of living a life of true faith. My mentality was, “God’s up there and He’s hard to please.” And I continued this way of believing into adulthood. I didn’t feel like I could count on anyone. I felt like I could do it myself, on my own. I didn’t know I had Jesus to go to.

When my second child was born, I started to really put pressure on myself to provide for my family. I felt a new sense of urgency and commitment to “do my best for my family,” and to me that meant I needed to work more. I am a very competitive person by nature, and although I knew some people were more talented than me, I felt my strength was my ability to outwork others.

But working more resulting in being away from my family more and this was NOT a good thing. I put all the responsibility on my wife to take care of the children. We spent less and less time together as a couple. Our roles as parents supplanted our roles as husband and wife. My family history included a lot of divorce. My parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles were divorced. I went into marriage thinking, “If this doesn’t work out, we can just get a divorce.” My wife’s parents were happily married and they were very involved in their church. They were great models for me.

Someone at work began to pursue me. I think about the story of Joseph and how Potiphar’s wife pursued him but he resisted. I wish I could have been like Joseph. I wish I would have resisted. But I didn’t, and because I didn’t, my wife and I went through a very difficult time. I hurt my wife so badly. Fortunately, because of my wife’s family, she did not give up on me. I went to talk to her father about what I had done. I was ashamed and embarrassed. He came out to my car, sat with me and showed me love that I didn’t deserve. I will never forget the unconditional love he showed me. It still moves me greatly to think of the grace and undeserved kindness he showed me.

It was a tough five to six years after that. I didn’t know if I would ever get back the confidence and trust of my wife. During this season, I met the man who led me to Christ. We met through a work project. I remember the first time I walked into his studio. There was so much peace there. He invited me to coffee to talk. I thought, “What does he want from me?” But he just listened as I poured my heart out. He asked if he could pray for me. We were still in the coffee shop and I was worried someone would see us. It just felt awkward, like everyone was looking at us. But I said “yes” and he prayed a beautiful, powerful prayer for me. This coffee shop meeting was a turning point in my life. I thank God for this man because he helped me to understand who God is and what it looks like to live a life in relationship with Jesus.  

Over time, my relationship was restored with my wife and family. But there were other changes I needed to make. I had fallen into the trap of defining myself by my job. I needed a change in how I viewed myself at work and a new understanding of my true identity and worth. For years, I had been working for the same company and I really wanted to leave and start my own business, but the time wasn’t right financially. I asked the Lord to show me how He could use me in my current work situation. God provided opportunities for me to be a light to others at my work. I began to understand why I was at work, that it was about serving God and people and letting God use my talents for Him. My desire became to glorify God in what I was doing professionally. Eventually, the time was right and I started my own business. Although it has been really hard at times, I know God will use it all for something better than I can imagine. God has brought clients to my business who pray with me—we even pray together about our work. This has been such a blessing to me. I am trying to offer every part of my work day to God. Before I go into a meeting, I will often pray, “Lord, I don’t know what this meeting is about, but let me be what You want me to be.”

Throughout this journey, God has brought many people to love me and help me. I have a wonderful church, where there is excellent teaching and many tools and support. I joined a Saturday morning men’s group at our church where I found a community of men who encourage me and help me grow. For the last six years, I have been in a Bible Study Fellowship group where I have continued to learn. I am so thankful for the blessing of community that God has provided. I still struggle and there is much more to be written of my story, but this I know: I have a Father who loves me unconditionally, who restores my brokenness, and who provides for me and guides me. He is available to me every moment of every day. I don’t have to do life on my own. 

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.

#24 God Never Gave Up On Me

Photo by Erin E. Photography

I grew up in the Bible Belt in a dry town in Appalachia. My parents never drank and I lived a pretty sheltered life. I’m very grateful for the foundation my parents provided and the church we attended, where there was a passionate love for the Lord. I knew who God was and I knew what Christ did, but there was not much emphasis on a relationship with God. Instead, God was to be feared, just waiting to punish me.

That lack of relationship made me more vulnerable when I moved away to college where the university motto was “question everything,” and there were lots of opportunities to get in trouble. When I started, I didn’t have one friend. I joined a fraternity but didn’t really fit in. I drank a lot and there was a lot of promiscuous behavior. I lost sight of what I knew was right. I didn’t go to church and my spiritual life seriously declined. My prayers became a list of wants and needs, no gratitude. I prayed from a place of entitlement, where there were no “thank yous” but lots of “why me?”

But God did not abandon me. When I graduated, I moved in with three guys: an atheist, an agnostic, and the other, I just don’t know. I got a job and one of the guys I worked with had a resounding joy… in fact, I thought it couldn’t be real. He was being sued and had recently suffered serious problems but he was still so joyful. I didn’t understand it.

He tried to get me to go to church with him time and time and again. Finally, I agreed—mostly because I thought it would help my chances with the girl I liked. Wrong motives, but God made good of it. This was a different kind of church; the preacher’s messages really resonated with me and there was a real emphasis on our individual relationships with Christ.

So, I joined a small group at church and became great friends with the leader. He eventually started these dinners on Thursday nights where there are now about 80-100 people in attendance on any given night. My Christian community went from one person to a huge community of light. In this community, I experienced the grace and love of Jesus. I then became involved with a ministry to help inner city children. This has made a huge difference in my perspective and taken my relationship with God much deeper. In working with these children, I have experienced God’s presence in a way that I never had. Before, I always felt like I had to do something for God in order to earn His love. Now I have a relationship with a God that doesn’t want to slap me on the wrist, but with a Father that just wants to spend time with me.

God intervened for me. I truly believe that God put that joyful guy at work in my life to begin turning me around. He didn’t work there long and really had no real reason to be there. God put my small group leader in my life and gave me a community of light. He led me to a group of children that allowed me to experience true joy and taught me how to be generous, grateful, and humble. He used these kids to show me that there is never anything I can do to earn His approval, praise and His love. The fact that I am His son is enough. God never gave up on me. After four years of wandering in a wasteland I came away with nothing, but by God’s grace I was led to another place. A place overflowing with hope. To God be the glory for all He has done for me.

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.

#17. Learning Not To Hide Hardships

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

 Last night at the Bible study I lead, our group of girls sat in a circle and went around calling out wonderful qualities and spiritual gifts we saw in each other. It was a night of laughter and encouragement, and our hearts were full by the end of it. For me, the 20-year-old women told me they were encouraged by my positive and giggly personality and my peaceful presence. My eyes brimmed with tears at their kind words and also at the path I realized God has rescued me from.

Sometimes Christians will talk about what they think their life would’ve looked like had they not given their life to Christ. For me, I am certain I would be dead from suicide. I grew up in a stable Christian family and had a wonderful childhood, but at the time, I did not see it this way. I believed that no one in my family loved me. I felt invisible and unwanted. I was always too much and not enough. The first time I cut myself was in fifth grade and the first time I made myself throw up was in ninth grade. I thought seriously about suicide at different points in fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and again during my sophomore year of college.

I became a Christian in seventh grade, but unfortunately, my struggles continued. I knew Christians were supposed to “struggle” with sin just like everyone else, but I never saw any Christians who really were. Everyone was doing what they were supposed to, and I was dying inside. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I didn’t want anyone else to find out, so I kept my fears to myself.

The Lord grew His love in me throughout high school and college and I slowly began giving my whole heart to Him in new ways. But when I lost my grandmother my sophomore year of college, suddenly all the hurt and loneliness I’d struggled with came back. I wanted to die. I was hurt that no one around me was noticing my struggle and, at the same time, I was desperately trying to hide the severity of my depression. I knew Christians weren’t supposed to want to end their life, so I hid my shame.

Breakthrough began when I started telling people—people who loved Jesus more than they loved me. First my roommate, then my mother, then slowly the people around me. God loves to use His people to love us better, and that’s exactly what He did once I stopped hiding.

Sometimes I still feel indifferent to everything, unmotivated, and down, but I don’t need to hide this from anyone, least of all my Father. I am freer than I have ever been. Once God convinced me to let go of my desire that no one would ever know this part of me, I began to see the fruit of not hiding sin and hardships.

The girls in my Bible study know pain, discouragement, grief, and hopelessness, and God uses me to provide the community and empathy that I longed for during those dark times. We are all better together. God has used us to encourage each other and usher in His peace and love.

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.