#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.

#11. Diamonds In The Dark

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

 We all go through difficult times. Sickness, stress, pain, financial challenges, relational difficulties, loss, sadness, loneliness, grief, heartache—the list goes on. We struggle through these difficulties, crying out to the Lord for help. Out of His great loving kindness and mercy He hears us and sends us the help we need, rescuing us from our distress.

Most of our challenges are short-lived. But there are times when the Lord allows us to go through an extended season of difficulty or suffering. We cry out to the Lord like always, but this time there are no answers, no comforting presence, no immediate rescue or joyful deliverance. God seems hidden and painfully silent. Time slows down. Doubts creep in. The Holy Spirit seems far and the Enemy seems near.

It is very dark.

Having gone through numerous seasons of debilitating anxiety and depression, I am well acquainted with times of darkness. During these seasons of crushing despair, I would often cry out to God: “What is going on? Have you completely forgotten about me? Why won’t You answer my prayer? How can good possibly come out of this intense pain? Is there purpose in this darkness?”

Recently the Lord spoke to me about this dilemma of darkness. Fond as He is of using parables, He used a story to bring the message home to me. It was my story—one about a lost diamond—that had occurred over a year ago.

I was sitting on my couch that day when I happened to glance down at my hand and see that my engagement ring was empty. After searching carefully through my entire house to no avail, I decided to google “How do I find a lost diamond in my house?” There was one suggestion that kept coming up again and again: Turn off all the lights in the house and get down on your hands and knees with a flashlight and shine the flashlight across the floor. If it shines on the diamond, it will sparkle brightly and you will easily be able to spot it.

This made sense to me, and with renewed hope, I found a flashlight, turned off all the lights and started in the laundry room. Incredulously, within one minute I was holding my diamond in my hand, after seeing it sparkle vividly from underneath the dryer.

As I pondered this amazing story, I felt the Lord speak clearly to me:

“Kelly, it was the darkness that enabled the diamond to be found.”

As I let the truth of that statement soak in, I realized that indeed, I never would have found the diamond in the daylight. It was the darkness that revealed it.

Darkness, in the life of a child of God, does have purpose. Sometimes the most valuable lessons and insights the Lord wants to teach us can only be learned in the dark. Our faith—of greater worth than gold and diamonds—is being refined and strengthened during these trying times as we are conformed into the image of Jesus. Though the process is painful, God doesn’t want us to be afraid of the dark.

There are diamonds to be found in it.

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.

Isaiah 45:3

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.

#4 Breaking Chains of Shame

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My God story happened my freshman year of college when I woke up in a fraternity house. Unclothed and unaware of thestranger sleeping next to me, I was flooded with confusion and guilt. I abruptly got up, went to my dorm, balled my eyes out, and thought: “I feel disgusting. What am I doing?” I then thought, “I feel like God probably has a purpose for my life, but I don’t think this is it. Why am I here? This is not what I was made for.”

In that moment, something in me switched. Little did I know, that little thought was really Jesus knocking at the door of my heart, saying, “Let me in. Come. Come know me. Come taste and see.” So I came. In the beginning of this journey, I started to attend our campus ministry to get my life together. I didn’t want to feel so horrible about myself anymore. What I didn’t expect was for God to transform me from the inside out. But that’s what He did.

When Christmas break came around, my Bible study leader dragged me to a conference in North Carolina where I heard Marian Jordan Ellis, founder of Redeemed Girl Ministries, speak for the first time. She was gorgeous, full of life, and she spoke with authority (and a little sass). I loved it. After her sermon, she kicked all the guys out of the room for “women’s time” where she shared her full story with us. She let it rip. She was so real and raw with us, and as she was talking, I felt as if she were speaking right at me. She was pointing out all the shame that we had felt, all the hurt, and all the heartbreak. After being rocked by the fact that our struggles were so similar, she began to talk about her love: Jesus. As she talked about Him, she got choked up and teary-eyed simply telling us how beautiful He is and how He had changed her heart forever. Hearing her speak about Him as if He were so close, I realized that this woman really knows Jesus. This woman really loves Jesus.

I thought to myself, “Okay, I don’t feel as guilty and dirty as I did before, but I feel like there’s more to this Jesus thing than I thought there was. God, I want to know you like that. I want a heart that loves you like that. A heart that loves you more than anything else in the world.”

WOW. Never underestimate the power of prayer. I soon realized that God will never say “no” to a prayer that asks to know Him more. This revelation caused transformation in my life. As I sought Him, He showed up. He opened my eyes to see, and He started blowing my mind. So I prayed for more. “God, I can’t really understand the Bible without you. Please give me understanding.” Prayer answered. More and more, God broke off my chains of guilt and shame, awakened me to His love, gave me understanding of His word, put a fire in my heart, immersed me in amazing communities, gave me true joy, showed me that He SPEAKS to us (WHAT?!), let me see Him miraculously heal my friend’s broken foot right before my eyes (WHAT?!), and brought LIFE to my dry soul. A once depressed, shameful freshmen girl became a new creation—a set free, redeemed, and cherished daughter of God. My life went from complete darkness to light in one year of college.

But He didn’t stop there. As I was reminiscing on that powerful memory of hearing Marian Jordan Ellis, I stopped by her website to see more about her ministry. I noticed that she hosts events all around the nation that gathers college women to hear her story, and it said to contact the “redeemed girl” email. I sent an email, never expecting a reply. Shocked, I read her response: she would be able to come in January 2016.

Following this email, God did all the work. He provided funds to host the event, the venue, and a team of 25 college women from all over campus to lead, plan, and pray for this event. Believe me, I am not administrative. God did all of this. After a semester of prayer, growing in confidence and leadership, and getting the word out, Redeemed Girl Ministries arrived in Lexington, Kentucky all the way from San Antonio. At 7 p.m., we opened the doors of our classroom building to almost 400 college women who showed up for this “Girl’s Night Out” with Marian Jordan Ellis. Boy, they didn’t know what they were stepping in to. After her fun and energetic introduction to these sorority women, Marian, once again, let it rip. Her testimony brought this room to tears, and the Spirit of God encountered these girls. Light hit darkness. Desert souls tasted living water. Jesus walked into these girls’ lives, and hearts were opened. People realized—many for the first time—that they are worth dying for. Over 100 University of Kentucky girls accepted Christ for the first time that night.

God has been bringing waves of revival to Lexington this year, and this was one of them. And it all started with one lost girl whom God gave eyes to see. Thank you Jesus. You’re not finished with us yet, and this God story is not even close to finished. “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing upon your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.This one will say ‘I am the LORD’s…’ and another will write on his hand ‘The LORD’s…” (Isaiah 44:3-5).

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.

#3 Love In Any Language

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I was formerly an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church (in Florida, in the 1970s). In 1989, I was part of another network of churches and I traveled with a group of pastors from various states to Warsaw, Poland to attend the United Methodist Annual Conference.

We had been invited to speak on John Wesley and the Holy Spirit. At the end of the conference, our group divided up and went to different places in Poland. I went to Auschwitz where I spoke at a small Pentecostal church. At the end of my message, I invited congregants to come forward for prayer. Five people came forward and I prayed for each.

Then a man approached from the side of the church. The man was massive, about six foot two and 260 pounds. He wore a rumpled suit and had a strong odor of alcohol and tobacco. His shoulders were slumped, his head down. He made no eye contact and said nothing. His countenance was one of defeat. I put one hand on his back and the other on his chest.

And then something happened that I had never experienced. This man felt like a cold, concrete pillar, and everything inside of me shut down. I had nothing to pray or say to this man. I knew enough not to just make something up that sounded religious, but instead I stepped back and just looked at him. Tears began squirting out of my eyes. I felt as if this man in front of me was the only person in the world and God was pouring His love through me into this man. I had an overwhelming and heartbreaking sense of love and mercy for him.

I placed my hands on his chest and began praying out loud. I was crying, and my words and tears were mixed together such that I sounded incoherent to myself. About 15 seconds elapsed and the man jerked upright and fell backwards onto the stage. The church members attended to him and the wife of the pastor at this Pentecostal church told me that she knew this man well and assured me that he would be okay. I left the church with the pastor and his wife and did not see the man again.

As we ate dinner that evening, the pastor’s wife asked me, “How much Russian do you know?”

I answered, “None, why?”

She had a very puzzled look on her face and told me that I had spoken to the man who had fallen back on the stage in Russian. She told me what I said in Russian to the man when I prayed for him: “Those who stole your heart and your life are smaller than I am. I, the Lord and your Savior, have come to restore your heart so that you may have a new life.”

I asked her why God would have used Russian words to speak to this man . . . we were in Poland. Why not Polish? She answered that the Soviet system forced all Polish people to learn Russian and that the Russians had removed this man from teaching—a job that he loved—and forced him to work in a factory—a job he hated. His hate of the Russians led him to alcoholism and depression. She said, “I think the Lord chose to speak to him in Russian, words of life and love, so he could forgive the Russians and trust God to be greater than they.”  

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.