#193 First Step: Surrender

 Photo by Larry Ball

I was born in 1955 and grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky. My biological mother died when I was just six years old. My father got remarried fairly quickly to a woman who was so good to my brother and me. She tried to take me to church, but my dad didn’t like that idea very much. So, I had a great childhood but didn’t go to church. My dad and stepmother were great!

My parents really couldn’t afford to send me to college but they did, and I flunked out. So, I came back to Frankfort and went to work. I decided I wanted to be a policeman. I got a job in 1977 with the Lexington Police Department. I wasn’t a Christian at the time. Really all I cared about was working. Early in my career I met the police chaplain, and he saw something in me. He took me under his wing and mentored me. It wasn’t really about being a Christian but more about how to be a compassionate policeman with integrity. I saw in him some things I really liked but it never occurred to me what a better policeman I would be if I were a Christian man. He was a great role model for being a Christian and a police officer. 

I worked at the police department in narcotics two or three different times. I was undercover, buying drugs from people by myself. It was dangerous work and I had a lot of crazy things happen to me. All aspects of being an officer, whether a detective or in uniform, has built-in dangerous situations. Looking back, I thank God for protecting me, but during that time I wasn’t a Christian and I never stopped to thank God for how He protected me.

I never really thought I would get married but, in 1983, I met a wonderful woman, Keene. We got married in 1985. She had two children and their father had died long before I met them. The children really didn’t remember much about their father, just as I didn’t remember much about my mother. As I look back, I can see what a good role model my stepmother was for me. She showed me how to step into a marriage with children and be a good, loving parent. It’s amazing how God worked that out. I adopted both Jason and Shannon after just one year of marriage. They have been wonderful children. God really knew what I needed. 

My wife was a lifelong member of a Methodist church. She asked me many times to go with her to church while we were dating, but I usually had an excuse. Occasionally, I couldn’t come up with an excuse and I would go, mostly because I loved her and she wanted me to go. I began to get involved with the church and liked the people there. The people at church liked me as well, and they began to put me on committees. After we got married, I was still really attending for my wife. I was playing church. 

Keene kept on being a role model for me and the children, but she wasn’t pushy. In 1986, I was preparing for the test to be promoted to the rank of police sergeant. It was very stressful. I was working so hard to prepare. One day Keene asked me, “Are you praying about getting promoted?” I said, “No, you can’t pray about that stuff. God doesn’t want to hear about that.” She said, “Yes, God does want you to pray about things like that.”There were 155 people who took the test, and I had the third-highest score. This taught me that I could pray about anything and that God listens to all prayers big and small. 

Keene was still chipping away at me, and I was still going to church. The police chaplain and I were still friends. But I wasn’t really committed to God. In 2001, I was having a discussion with Keene about sin. I told her that I prayed about the same things over and over again. I said, “I ask for forgiveness for two things over and over again.” She didn’t ask me what the two things were but she said, “If you ask for forgiveness once, you are forgiven. You don’t have to ask again and again.” One day after that, I was talking with my pastor about the conversation with Keene about forgiveness. It was just the two of us at church. He said, “Let’s go down here and pray about that.” We walked to the front of the church, and I knelt at the altar. The pastor said, “Quit praying about this. God forgives you but you have to surrender. You have to move what you have in your head to your heart.” He led me in prayer and after we finished that prayer, I felt totally different. I was a changed person. I had tried to read Mere Christianityby C.S. Lewis before that day, and it was like there was something that was blocking my understanding. But after that day, it just clicked with me. The same thing happened with the Bible. Before, I was reading the Bible so I could quote scriptures. I could “play” church as well as anyone. I put on the best act going. But after that day in 2001, I read the Bible for a different reason, not to impress anyone but to change me. Really everything changed for me — my marriage, my friends, being a policeman. 

Many people know Jeremiah 29:11, which says:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

But you have to read down a little further to get a more complete picture of the message. This is one of my favorite verses:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

God had a wonderful plan for my life, and He had been preparing me; but I had to surrender first before His full plan for my life could be realized.

I left the police department after 20 years to become the director of police training for the Department of Criminal Justice in Kentucky. During that time, I was really able to share my Christian faith with many people. In 2004, I was appointed to work for the governor in a statewide law enforcement job. There were a lot of Christian men and women in that organization. We prayed at meetings, and there were Bible studies that started as part of our work. I felt like I was not only doing a good job, but I was being more significant. I started to really grow in this job. In 2008, we had a new governor and I left that job. I went from making a really good salary, to making no money. But God provided for us and our way of living did not change. Still, I wanted to work. 

The County Attorney offered me a job working as a gang enforcement specialist. As a part of this job I worked to help identify criminal gang members in conjunction with the police department in the community and in jails and worked in the school system to put gang prevention initiatives into place. Working in the schools was challenging because I was older. But God provided a partner for me in this work. One of my friends got into a conversation with a man named Gerald Gibson (Geo) who worked at a local gas station. Geo told my friend that he was looking to work with young people. He was a convicted felon and while he served time in prison, he developed a program called Operation Make a Change (Story #187). The purpose of OMAC is to invest in the lives of troubled youth to promote change. My friend invited Geo to come to the police station to talk with us. I knew when I met him, he was the real deal. But he was a convicted felon and I wasn’t sure my boss, the county attorney, would permit him to work with me. When I went to my boss and told him I wanted to work with Geo, he was very reluctant. But when I told him that I would vouch for him and I would work closely with him, he agreed. The school system let me bring Geo into the schools with me, but I had to be with him in everything we did. We led the OMAC program in the school. Then we started leading the program in jail. Here you have a younger African American man working with an older white retired police captain. It was like Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte!

At first, Geo worked as a volunteer but we ended up hiring him part-time through the county attorney’s office; then we hired him full-time. Geo was a changed man. It was his faith that had changed him. I called myself a changed man, but I still believed that people in jail deserved to be in jail. I had separated the person who committed the crime from the person God created them to be. Over time my perspective changed. I sat in the group when Geo talked to the men in jail. They loved him and hated me. But after a few weeks, the men began to see me differently and wanted to interact with me when they got out of jail. I helped them find work and find a church. During my 10 years in this job, I had many other jobs offers, but every time I turned to God for an answer, the answer was “No.” I was right where God wanted me. I can remember many incarcerated men found so many blessings in the two of us working together on their behalf.  They were quite surprised to see this unlikely duo. 

We were still working together, but my work was dwindling down. There was another transition in our governor, and I was told I would get a big job in justice with the state. However, I didn’t get the big job and was disappointed. Out of the blue one evening, a national leader for Alpha, a prison ministry, called me. Typically, I don’t answer calls at 9:30 p.m., especially if I don’t recognize the number, but that night I answered. He asked me to think about becoming the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. I was familiar with Alpha because my wife and I had taught a 14-week Alpha course in the church and had been involved in the marriage and business components of the Alpha ministry, but I didn’t know that Alpha had a prison ministry. The national director came to Lexington the next day and spent three days talking with me. He told me that all my years of work had prepared me to go into prisons and do ministry. I was open to this because I had begun to see jail as a real dark spot for many lost people. The least and the lost!

I accepted the non-paying job to be the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. We started that ministry four years ago in one jail, and over time it has expanded to other jails and prisons. This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Had I not been working with Geo in jails prior to this, I probably would not have taken this ministry job in prisons and jails. 

I have come to see people who are incarcerated in a different way. Their crime is what they didand they have to have accountability for that, but that is not who they are. I have recruited many people to help in the prison ministry. They all say they get more out of prison ministry than the inmates do. 

It has often been uncomfortable work for me. Sometimes I run into men in prison whom I arrested — sometimes for murder. This has really grown my character. I trust God and have seen God work in amazing ways. Once a man I had really connected with asked me if we could start a Bible study in his area. I said we could if he picked the people and the topic. We have been doing this Bible study now for four years. One Saturday afternoon he called me saying he had just talked by phone with a friend who said she was going to kill herself. He gave me her name and address. The police found her just as she was getting ready to take the pills to take her life. It was the anniversary of her son’s suicide, and her parents had been murdered a few years earlier. The police were able to get her help. I talked to the man later and told him that I had never known anyone who wasn’t a police officer who had saved a person’s life — but he did. He started crying. He and I would have never met if it hadn’t been for the Alpha ministry. 

A few years ago, I met a retired police officer who was dying from cancer. I started visiting him every week in the nursing home. We talked about police work and we also talked about God. I asked some of the inmates to make cards for him. This man was so touched by the love that poured out from the inmates that he left a large sum of money to be used in prison ministry when he died. He wanted to reward people who were surrendering their will to God. With his generous donation, we formed the nonprofit Kentucky Alpha Prison Ministries, which helps many people. 

Two of the most important things I have learned is that God is very forgiving, and God is very patient. I’m thankful that God accepts me as a sinner. I’m thankful that God’s Son took my sins and was crucified, died and arose from the grave. I’m so thankful to God for a great wife of 35 years. Keene has played such a big role in helping me to become the man God created me to be. 

You have to totally surrender every part of your life to God. Many people want to hold onto one corner of their life and not turn it over to God. They try to manage sin, but it is impossible to manage sin. Until you completely surrender every aspect of your life, you are always going to have problems. You will not be able to become the person God created you to be and live out the fullness of His plan for you. Complete surrender made all the difference in my life. If I can do it, anyone can. 

Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 10:25a).

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.

#189 I Shouldn’t Be Here

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born and raised on Long Island, New York. I am a twin, born on Christmas Day with Christine; the youngest of four children, along with eldest sister Janet and older brother Billy. My dad was a New York City police officer. When I was 8 years old, my father told our family he would no longer be living with us. He left my mother for another woman. That was the day our world changed. My mother was a devout Catholic and never dated or remarried. She spent her time working to provide for and take care of us. She had a really rough time, and we kids took full advantage of her having to be away from the house. I lost my virginity when I was 14 years old and really could have been raped. My brother was in the next room when it happened. I was under the influence of barbiturates. My brother tore into and hit me all the way home because of what happened. I had no self-worth or confidence because of my dad leaving us. I felt total rejection, as if he had walked out on me.

When I was 17, I dropped out of high school and started working in the women’s sportswear buying department for J.C. Penney’s corporate office in Manhattan. I was the sample size, so I was always the model to try on clothes vendors would bring to show to buyers. I received a lot of attention and found myself extremely vulnerable to the desires of the corporate executives. Lots of wining and dining back then, and I slept with a few. I drank a lot to self-medicate and deal with life. I got engaged when I was 17, then broke it off. I got married when I was 23, which didn’t last. It was abusive. All the while I was drinking, smoking weed, and snorting cocaine.

Prior to my divorce, I left J.C. Penney in 1983 and started working for American Airlines in New York. I went to Dallas for five weeks training, where I had an affair. I brought home a letter from the man with whom I’d had the affair. My husband found the letter, then filed for divorce. I transferred to Los Angeles thinking maybe things would change for the better. My first six months in LA, I got arrested for drunk driving. Whenever I found myself feeling guilty about bad choices and having low self-esteem, I would go to church, and sit and talk to God. I had three abortions. I couldn’t even think of having a child after having the abortions. I was young and selfish. Over the years the guilt weighed heavily. In LA, I felt the need to go back to the Catholic church where I grew up on Long Island and confess my sins. I flew back to New York, went to confession and unloaded on the priest. I will never forget the impact of what he said to me. It did not make me feel absolved of my sins or forgiven. It drove me deeper into despair. He made me feel worthless and condemned. I got on the plane back to LA and drank so much I passed out. I remember waking up in the galley in the back of the aircraft. They had an ambulance meet me plane-side to take me to the hospital when we landed.

I met my second husband in LA, who also worked for American. We got married in 1988. In 1990, we transferred to Nashville, Tennessee. I was his fourth wife. He was older with two grown kids, so we were not going to have children. When his second grandchild was born, I had a yearning for a child and that brought back the guilt and grief of what I had done. I felt I was being punished by God. My second husband was not affectionate and often showed no compassion. That was appealing in the beginning, as it made him appear to be strong and manly, but after time that didn’t work. I was extremely unhappy in this marriage and really wanted to just die. I didn’t even want to go home after work. I would pull into the garage and just wanted to leave the car running. It was yet another dark time in my life. I wound up having another affair. I was scared to death when my husband almost caught me with the other man in our own home. I was still intoxicated from the night before. I was scared and couldn’t face him or myself. I knew where he kept his gun and wanted to kill myself. I was about to take the gun, but my husband took it from me. I went outside to smoke, pacing, wondering what was I going to do. I went back inside, and my husband had just hung up with Baptist Hospital about rehab. I was really remorseful, stopped the affair, and went to rehab. Yet, I still knew I needed to do something about my marriage. After rehab I became a dry drunk. I was sober but miserable and, after three years, I started drinking again and the cycle continued.

On July 11, 2001, we were at a float party with friends. People were jumping off a cliff into the water all afternoon. I wasn’t drunk but had been drinking. I decided to jump off the cliff for the thrill of it. I closed my eyes as I jumped, and as my back-side hit the water I knew something bad had happened. My L1 vertebrae was crushed on impact. I couldn’t move. Thank God there were people there to get me to our boat. There was a young man on our boat studying to be a paramedic. He told them not to lift me, but to get the chaise lounge and put it under me to get me out of the water. If they had lifted me under my arms, I would have been paralyzed. I was airlifted to a trauma hospital. The next day, I had a seven-hour surgery and spinal fusion. While I was recuperating, 9/11 hit. Nine days later, I lost my job. I had been with the airline for 19 years.

In 2004 I asked my husband for a divorce. I moved into an apartment in the complex where my mom was living in Nashville. I had been seeing another man who was also married. This man’s wife called my husband and told him I was having an affair. It was not good. She and my ex-husband ended up together later. I was at wits end and again in a very dark place. I truly didn’t want to live anymore. I drank a lot of bourbon and took about half a bottle of the prescription meds I had for my back. I laid down to let death take me. I woke up around 3:30 in the morning and thought, “Wait…I’m not supposed to be here.” I stumbled into the living room and I called the suicide hotline. They wanted me to go to the hospital, but I told them I was okay. I went to work that morning, called my mom and asked if she could meet at the Cathedral so we could talk. I wanted to confess to her what I had done. We cried. I said, “Mom, there is a reason God didn’t take me. I don’t know what it is, but I shouldn’t be alive.”

A month later, I met Steve. He became a part of my life and started me on a journey out of darkness. He was unlike anybody I had ever met. He was a complete gentleman. God placed him in my life. I always felt it was divine intervention. I started to feel more secure about myself with him. I still had a drinking problem, but he never said anything about my drinking. My best friend, Karen, said, “Doesn’t it bother it you that Steve doesn’t accept invitations anymore because of your drinking?” That was the brick that hit me over the head. I had my last drink that night. My first day of sobriety was October 30, 2007. I didn’t realize my drinking was hurting him. I got sober and he was with me every step of the way. I regularly attended AA meetings. I had been hired back with American and got my old job back in the Admirals Club. I had really wanted my job back. It was all God. Things were going well with Steve, I had stopped drinking, I was attending AA and my relationship with God was growing.

God was always with me. God was always on my mind. But I didn’t feel worthy of Him because of all of the bad things I had done. God put people in my life help me, to speak life and truth to me. Steve believed in God. He said I needed that “deep water, foot-washing, believing kind of faith.” I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. My AA sponsor said, “You just have to trust in God.” Then the light went on and I knew what Steve meant. That was the kind of deep trust I needed in God. But I needed more. I needed forgiveness.

In 2009, I went to a three-day retreat with the church. The first night was confessing our sins to God. Dying to self. I wrote down all my sins and nailed them to the cross. It was a very powerful night. It did something to me. God was working in me, drawing me to Him. That started my journey of wanting more of God. I found myself going to daily mass. I had community but longed to have that deep intimate love and relationship with God. It was still the fear of God that held me back. It could also be that I never forgave myself for all the wrong I’d done.

In 2012, my twin sister, Christine, suffered a massive heart attack. She was on life support and Steve and I were able to get the last two seats on a plane to New York. When I was with her, I had an overwhelming sense of peace. I knew she was going to be okay. I knew she was safe and was going to be in the arms of Jesus. I was with her when she took her last breath. I had my head nestled next to her ear. We came into the world together and we were together at her death. As sad as it was, it was beautiful and I was at peace.

In September 2014, I retired from American and Steve and I moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, where he was originally from. I took a new job as a travel agent. On November 21st, I came home from work to find Steve slumped over in his truck at our house. He’d had a heart attack. They pronounced him dead at the hospital. Then my mom got sick. I lost her five weeks to the day after I lost Steve, and two years to the day after I lost my twin sister. But in all this sadness and grief, I remained sober and had peace. I was still on my journey, learning to know God and reading His word. I would pray the AA Third Step Prayer over and over again. This prayer spoke to me the first time I read it, and it still does:

God, I offer myself to You, to build with me and to do with me as You will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Your will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life. May I do Your will always!  

After my mom died, I left the Catholic church and started going to a non-denominational church. I felt totally connected at the new church. After Steve died, I still needed to clean out our home in Nashville and move it all to Kingsport. To say the least, it was mentally overwhelming and more than I could handle.  There was a guy I had worked with at American in Nashville who is a Christian, very service-oriented. He offered to help me. Frank was really good company and I couldn’t have done it without him. I invited him to go to church with me. His godliness really attracted me to him. His love for God is a beautiful thing. After a year of being friends, we became really good friends! I moved back to Nashville and Frank and I were married in March 2017. God is number one in my life, and I’m the happiest I have ever been. We go to Cornerstone Nashville church and are part of the PrimeLife senior care ministry.  

I have learned that God is all-forgiving and merciful. He is love and just wants us to love Him. I love to love and I love to be loved. All my life I had been looking for love in the wrong places as the song goes. I didn’t know what true love was until I met Jesus Christ. I have learned, as painful as it is, you must get real with yourself, confess your sins and surrender your heart to God’s will in total obedience. You will be amazed at how your life will change when you fully surrender to the King. You must give up all your secret sins. When I nailed my sins to the cross that was a turning point for me. There is nothing quite like the peace that comes from Christ, and I know that is the power of God. Now I stretch out my hands to Him in prayer and give thanks to Him in all circumstances. My main focus now is on eternity and not on the things of this world. There is so much freedom in that.

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV).

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.

#174 When God Steps In

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I grew up in a very small town. I had wonderful parents and one brother. My childhood was happy and uneventful. I was close to my father and he suggested that I consider taking care of people for a living since I had been a caretaker for several people in our family when they were sick. I decided to take his advice and pursued becoming a nurse. From 1994–2001 I worked as a nurse in a hospital. Life was pretty uneventful at that time.

Then three things happened that I couldn’t deal with. My brother was killed by a friend, my mother was dying with breast cancer, and I had a hysterectomy.

I was so angry with the man who killed my brother. I fought in court trying to send him to prison. Not long after that I got hurt on the job and started using the pills I had been prescribed for an injury to help my emotional pain. I never thought addiction would happen to me, but I became addicted to the pills that took away my pain.

After my mom died in 2004, I got in trouble, lost my nurse’s license, and went to jail. The board said I would never get my license back. The judge wanted me to have treatment for drug abuse and I spent three months in jail waiting for a bed to open up in an addiction program. I was able go to a faith-based residential treatment center where I spent 180 days in treatment. The people were so loving there. They tried to show me beauty where I saw none. They started talking about things my mom had tried to talk with me about—about Jesus. 

While I was in treatment I had terrible insomnia. Someone suggested that I pray when I woke up during the night. I took their advice and I prayed that God would reveal Himself to me and give me peace. It was gradual, but the Lord did reveal Himself to me and give me peace. When I got out of treatment I found my mom’s Bible and it was like a love letter to me. She had written all sorts of things in the margins. These were the same things I had heard in treatment. 

The treatment center was named after a young woman who had been killed by a teenager over a $30 drug debt. One night I heard her father speak. He talked about forgiving the teenager who had killed his daughter. He said that he had given the teen a Bible and asked for mercy on him with the authorities. At this point I was still harboring so much anger toward the man who had killed my brother. When I heard this man speak, it was the first time I thought I might be able to forgive the man who killed my brother. I thought if this man could forgive the person who killed his daughter, why couldn’t I forgive the man who killed my brother?

The state nursing board said I would never get my license back. But the staff at the treatment center encouraged me to try to get my license back, and eventually I began working toward that. After I graduated the treatment program, I went to work at the treatment center as residential staff, taking care of clients and their needs. One of our clients was the niece of the man who killed my brother. Her mother (the sister of the man who killed my brother) came to visit her, and when she came through the door she cried and I cried. At that exact moment, I could see how everyone was a victim in circumstances of my brother’s death. I could see not only what it had done to my life but what it had done to the lives of his family. This experience was so healing for me. This was the event of forgiveness I needed. 

I continued working at the treatment center and continued pursuing reinstatement of my nursing license. It took me three years to meet the requirements. One year ago today I got my license back. Now I work as a nurse at the very treatment center where I did my rehab. Most of the time we have 20 people in treatment at the center at one time. It is a wonderful thing to see all 20 people get their worth back and see the glow back in their faces. Most have been abused, and when they come in they are hopeless and sick and don’t think they can beat the addiction. They feel it is bigger than them. And then God steps in and they go from being a victim to being victorious. By taking the hand of the next person, they develop muscles and get stronger. By helping others, they get stronger themselves. This has been true for me as well. 

God is good and God doesn’t put things on you to be harsh. He is there to help you get through things if you will let him. Now I pray before everything, and that helps me. God knows just what you need. God knew I needed to forgive to be healthy and whole again, and He helped me to do that by speaking to me through the father of the girl who was killed and by softening my heart through the tears of the sister of the man who killed my brother. God responded to my prayers for peace. I have a peace now that I never had in my life. Things that used to bother me don’t bother me anymore. God answered my prayers to reveal Himself to me. He put people in my life to point out His beauty and lead me to Him—my mother, the staff at the treatment center, even finding my mom’s Bible. God made a way for my nursing license to be restored even though they said it would never happen, and He has given me an even more meaningful and fulfilling nursing career than I had before. Over and over God has been faithful and given me what I have needed. 

The way I feel about Jesus now is different than the way I felt as a child. He is not harsh and judgmental. He is a heavenly Father that is there to help you deal with life. Even when you fall, He still wants to hold your hand. 

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

#164 Every Moment is a God Moment

 

 

Photo by Brianna Rapp

Several years ago at Thanksgiving our pastor asked our congregation what we were thankful for. Growing up, I had good parents and grandparents. I come from a big family, with four brother and four sisters. We grew up in a loving home and we were very close. I remember many times we prayed together as a family. All my siblings are still living and both my parents are living. When my pastor asked this question, I thought about how blessed I have been to have such a good family and felt so thankful to God for this blessing.

On another day at church, our pastor challenged each of us in the congregation to start reading the Bible daily. On January 1, 2007, I started doing this—reading the Daily Walk Bible early every morning. My wife and I live out in the country. The end of that same January, as I was going to church on a very icy Sunday, my truck slid off the narrow bridge and fell upside down into the creek. Thankfully, it landed on the passenger side and I was unharmed. God protected me. I went back into the house, warmed up, and picked up my Bible to read. Nearly every morning since then I have read the Bible. Now it feels like my day is not started off right if I don’t read the Bible.

Both our son and daughter have been into drugs. Our daughter got pregnant and we raised her son for five years. Without being in God’s Word and knowing how forgiving God is, I don’t know that I could have forgiven or made it through these situations. Because of our kid’s addiction, they stole from my wife and me—guns, tools, cash, even my wedding band. Each time it happened it was harder to forgive them. My wife and I both work hard at our jobs and we don’t have a lot compared to what many people have. That made it even harder when our kids stole from us and we had to replace things. But when I read the Bible I learn how many times that Jesus has forgiven me—too many to count. This realization has helped me forgive them.

But we did have to do hard things. We turned both of them into the authorities and they both went to jail. After our daughter got out of jail, her life began to change for the better.  She and her husband now come to church and have jobs. Our grandson has gone back to live with them.

After you start reading God’s Word, it changes everything. Many days I have had things going on in my life and I could pick up the Bible and hit on just what I needed to hear for that day to help me get through it. Since I have been reading the Bible each day, I find myself being more grateful, seeing things each day that I am thankful for. God is a giving God. When I try to think of a particular “God moment,” well … everything is a God moment. He put air in my lungs this moment and gave me this day. I don’t care what we do, we could never thank Him enough.

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.

#160 Completely Forgiven

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

As a young child, I went to church regularly and my parents were very active in church. But I felt like I couldn’t live up to the expectations of God because I was not going to be able to be perfect. I felt I needed to earn God’s love. I continued to go to church until my teens, and then my grandmother passed away and my family stopped going to church.

I remember taking my first drink in high school. I didn’t like the taste. I had to hold my nose to get it down, but I loved the way it felt, the freedom it gave me. It was the only coping skill I had developed to deal with problems in life. I became a weekend drinker in college and then began drinking more heavily. Around this time, my parents divorced. I ended up getting pregnant. Even though I wasn’t going to church at this time, and I was walking away from God, I know that God never left me.

Alcohol and the enemy take you to a place where you can’t differentiate between right and wrong. Life becomes a gray area. I decided to stop drinking while I was pregnant but I wasn’t excited about having the baby. In fact, the only thing I could think about while I was pregnant was not being able to drink. After a year, my family stepped in and took my daughter. It’s not that I didn’t love my daughter, but I knew I wasn’t able to care for her and willingly gave her up. My family wanted me to go to treatment and I agreed to go to get them off my back. I went to treatment for 30 days but afterwards continued drinking. I became pregnant again and made a choice not to continue that pregnancy. Afterwards, I felt I had committed the ultimate sin, that in a moment of selfishness and addiction, I had stooped to the lowest point. This just made the drinking worse. Then came two suicide attempts. I was so emotionally bankrupt that I felt death was the only way out.

I remember one night I was in an empty apartment that I had been evicted from. I had no electricity and no running water. It was just me and four walls. I cried out to God, “You’ve kept me alive when I wanted to die. I am completely broken down. It’s up to You to do what You want with me. I can’t keep fighting alone.” The next morning, I went to treatment, but this time I wanted it for myself. I wanted a genuine life change. My moment of desperation met a window of opportunity and I had a moment of clarity. I thought, “Maybe there is something different for me.” I know this was God. I was in treatment for about a month and found out I was pregnant again. The facility was not designed for pregnant women, and they told me I had to leave because I was a “liability.” By the grace of God, a spot opened up in a facility in my state that accepts pregnant women, and I got a place there. I remained there for a year in treatment. I remained sober for the entire pregnancy, and during that pregnancy I didn’t think about drinking. I thought about my son, and for once I thought that I could be a good mom.

I had asked God to show me if I should stay in that city after completing the program, and I felt God leading me to stay. One morning I woke up and felt God calling me to go home and get the baby that I had left behind. I applied for a job in my hometown to do drug prevention in the school. The job required a college degree, but I applied even though I didn’t have a degree and ended up getting the job because of my experience! I got custody of my daughter and had a stable job. But then, funding ran out for my job and I applied for a job with an addiction recovery organization. Again, I didn’t meet the requirements, but I was hired anyway. I continued to be promoted and eventually I was involved in a discussion with the CEO about programming. I felt God was getting ready to act on my dream that an addiction center for pregnant women would be opened in our area. I told him about my experience of being a “liability” and my dream that no one else would ever be in that situation. I had been praying that God would open a place for pregnant women in my area, and when I talked to the CEO I found out that he had also been praying about this! God took over after this. A year ago, I saw my dream fulfilled and the organization I work for opened a residential addiction treatment center for pregnant women just miles from here.

In the meantime, I felt called to do something in my hometown jail. If you want to carry the message of God’s love, the jail is the place to go. That is where you will find the broken but also God’s presence. I asked the jailer if I could do a ministry in the jail, and he said yes. Fast forward three years and I am now married to the jailer and we have a seven-month-old son with our own home. For the first time, I feel stability. My husband and I work together to help people in jail. We believe they need skills and resources and need to know about the goodness of God—that He is not a condemning God looking for perfection. He is a God that wants to love you. My husband also advocates with the state jailer’s association for giving inmates the opportunity to change their lives through rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

I thought I was a terrible person that made extremely bad choices and was going to burn in hell for what I had done. I now know I am forgiven completely and made new through Christ. He continuously loved me even when I didn’t love myself and saw no worth in myself. I am so thankful for the abundance of God’s love and the abundance of grace He has shown me. 

I share this story of honesty to reach the next person that may feel they are all alone. My past does not define me. My past does not dictate my future. God defines my path and my purpose. I am forever grateful for the life I live today. To get to show up and watch God show out.

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.

#152 Getting Kicked Out Saved My Life

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I came from a good home. My dad was a coal miner and my mom worked in the school system. I was in church every time it was open. My experience with religion was one of rigidity, based on the list of things you do and don’t do. My understanding of God was that He was nothing more than a task master who was recording my rights and wrongs and keeping score, expecting perfection. I’m not sure I was taught this, but that is the way I interpreted it. The people in that religious system weren’t malicious, they were just doing what they thought was right.

In high school I played basketball, made good grades, and was valedictorian of my senior class.  I am inquisitive by nature and asked a ton of questions about religion—questions my parents and my church were not comfortable hearing and answering. The gist of their answers was “You just need to believe.” Because questions were not welcomed, I developed a level of skepticism. I was also bullied in school which created a sense of not being sure of my identity and self-worth. I started using marijuana my junior year of high school for two reasons, really—to fill a void because a relationship with God wasn’t a part of my life, and also because it impressed a certain crowd and I wanted to fit in. 

The first time I smoked marijuana, a switch flipped and I was immediately psychologically obsessed with getting high and changing my mental state. I wasn’t physically addicted yet, but psychologically the addiction was unleashed the first time I tried it. I do have a history of addiction in my extended family, so I may have been genetically predisposed for addiction. 

I had a scholarship to go to college. The only career options that I understood for my life in 1997 were to become a doctor or lawyer. I was only the second person from my family to go to college and I didn’t perceive a big buffet of options. I didn’t like history, so that seemed to eliminate law. I decided to go the pre-med route.

My first night on campus I tried alcohol for the first time. I loved it just as much as marijuana from the first drink.  By the end of the semester, I had experimented and fallen in love with every drug available in the area. Somehow, I was still making good grades. A friend from my hometown that grew up going to the same church as I did was at college with me and he also had a lot of questions about God and religion. He had a philosophy class and we started meeting with the professor. He was the first person who had an educated and non-confrontational conversation with us about our questions about God and religion. He identified as atheist/agnostic and I began to identify that way as well. Things started changing in my life. I continued to fill the void with drugs, alcohol, and women, and at some point, I began using prescription medication daily. I began to use OxyContin, as this was a new drug introduced in our area.

It became apparent that I would have to stop my lifestyle in order to pass organic chemistry, so I decided to choose a career that didn’t require organic chemistry. Medical school required organic chemistry but physical therapy did not. I got accepted into physical therapy school. While I was there I was a full-blown prescription medication addict and alcoholic. I graduated from physical therapy school in the top 25% of my class. I moved back home to start working as a physical therapist. I was making good money and the addiction went into overdrive because I had more money. I got married in 2005–2006 but it didn’t last long. In less than three years we were divorced. I lost my house to foreclosure and lost two cars. I was living in a house with no running water, no electricity, and five to six people staying the night—it was a drug den. But I continued to work as a physical therapist.  Eventually, I was living in my car, making $107,000 a year with barely enough money to get gas to get to work. I ended up moving home with my parents to try to get some stability. They didn’t fully understand what was going on with me but knew there was a problem. 

During this time, I met the woman who is my wife today. We married in 2011. I didn’t tell her about my past and she didn’t know about my drug problem. She just knew I used to be wild. About two years into the marriage, I stopped caring about everything. Anything that wasn’t nailed down would be at the pawn shop for drug money. Finally, my wife said, “I love you but you’ve got to go. You can’t stay here. I can’t help you anymore.” This was the day that she showed me the most love. I was sick and tired of living the life I was living. I constantly thought about killing myself. When my wife said, “You’ve got to leave,” I was actually relieved because it freed me to go get help. I went to my parents and they got me connected to a Christian addiction recovery residential home and when I walked in (still an atheist/agnostic) the people who were Christians weren’t judging my mistakes. They told me they loved me and they were glad I was there and that God had a purpose for my life. This was a new way of thinking about God for me. One of the pastors at the home taught us what prayer was. Up until then I understood prayer to be not much more than a list to Santa Claus. The day he taught me that prayer was two-way communication between the one praying and God, I was immediately frustrated that no one had ever told me this. I was baptized two to three weeks into treatment. My wife began to visit me at the treatment facility. The first Sunday I was in treatment she went to church and asked God for guidance about how to handle it—specifically if she should she stay married to me. In the message that Sunday the preacher talked only about forgiveness, especially about forgiving people who do not deserve it. She decided to give me a chance.

Even though I had my license to practice physical therapy, I decided that God was calling me to stay at the addiction recovery center and be on staff. After I successfully completed the treatment program, I followed God’s calling, and left a six-figure income to become an intern with the addiction recovery center for $75 per week. My pay for two weeks after taxes was $137. I brought the first check home and gave it to my wife and said, “I don’t care what we do with this, but $15 of this is going to a tithe!”

Miracle after miracle occurred to get us through the nine-month internship financially. Every random dollar that came, I attributed to God. When I reached the one-year clean and sober mark, I met with the CEO of the treatment program and he offered me a position at the corporate office. My wife and I prayed about it and I accepted that position as his deputy chief of staff. His chief of staff had had some health problems and wanted to spend more time at home. Within six months, through a series of supernatural events that I can’t really explain, I became the chief of staff of an organization with over 200 employees. I still serve in this positon and just celebrated three and half years of being clean and sober. 

Recently, my wife and I felt called to leave our home church, even though there was no problem. We told our pastor and asked him to pray for us. I felt like I was called to lead a new church but resisted it. My wife and I met with some families who also felt they were to do something different regarding church. We continued to meet each week just that small group of people, then opened to the public as a new church a few months ago. We are trying to let the love of God flow through us onto others. Public speaking was one of my greatest fears. In the past I would have been terrified and paralyzed in front of a crowd, but now God has helped me to get comfortable with speaking. We meet at a locally owned coffee shop downtown. We purchased a baptismal trough and have already had some baptisms which have occurred in the trough on the sidewalk in our little town. We are seeing God work in wonderful ways in the new church.

My wife is a fifth-grade teacher and she has children in class that have difficulties because of the drugs in their families. She uses what she has experienced with my addiction to help her students. She speaks from a place of deep understanding, empathy, and compassion, and students respond positively to her when they don’t respond well to others. 

I have hurt a lot of people and made a lot of bad decisions, but God is using it for good. I have learned about who God really is—that He is not the task master that I thought He was. I have discovered that He is a loving Father who sees us as His sons and daughters and He has a purpose and a plan for our lives. I am thankful for my wife and my family and for second, third, and fourth chances. I am thankful that God led me to a Christian addiction recovery center, a place that allowed me to encounter His true nature. I am most thankful that God is good and that He forgives. He has wiped away my shame and regret.

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.

#147 Little Church by the Creek

 

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Several years ago, a lady spoke in our church about a project to help orphans in Russia. She talked about the opportunity to go to Russia to visit the orphanages and help. My husband and I had never been on a mission trip. We both clearly felt the Lord calling us to go to Russia, which is interesting because I am really not that fond of working with kids! It was December and the trip was in May. The cost was $3,000 per person, so we needed $6,000 for the two of us to go. We were struggling financially and were in a lot of debt at the time. In fact, just ten days before we heard about the Russian trip, we had filed for bankruptcy. We didn’t have a dime and thought, “How do we do this?” But we felt called us to go so we moved forward and applied for passports, trusting God to provide everything we needed.

In March, we attended a meeting with people from different states who were also planning to go on the trip. All donations toward our trip had to go to the organization, so before this meeting we didn’t know how much had been donated toward our trip. I felt going into the meeting that the amount was $740. When we found out at the meeting that the amount donated toward our trip was $740, I was so happy I jumped up and down. Even though this wasn’t close to what we needed, it was confirmation and we were more confident about our call to go. 

The day the money was due we found out only half the money we needed had been donated. We didn’t understand. I called a friend who was the pastor in another town (at the little church by the creek) and told him we didn’t have enough money to go but that the organization had given us ten more days. He asked who else we could ask to donate. Our regular pastor really hadn’t been that supportive of our going on the trip and I didn’t understand it because it was through his church that we learned of the opportunity to go. Our pastor friend at the other church asked if we could talk to our pastor about it. But I didn’t want to do that. I just kept asking other people for donations. I felt God calling me to talk our pastor and during church I felt God telling me that I was harboring bitterness toward the pastor and that I should ask for forgiveness. The message that day was from Philemon and was all about forgiveness. During communion there were different stations set up and the pastor stood up front. I walked up to him and said, “I need to confess. We don’t have all our money for the mission trip and I have kind of held it against you.” He said, “You jumped the gun. We are getting ready to bring out the bucket of love.” At the end of the service we had all the money we needed for our trip. Had I chosen to stay hurt and not gone to him and asked for forgiveness, I don’t believe God would have provided the money. 

My husband and I went on the mission trip. I now have a real heart for missions and have been on multiple mission trips since then. But I believe the first mission trip experience wasn’t about the mission itself. Instead it was for me to see God in a new way and to see myself as a forgiven person. I am finally able to trust God completely and no longer be led by fear.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

Jeremiah 33:3

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

#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.

#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.

#108 Undeserved Grace

 

Photo by Lucas Wiman Photography

I was raised in a middle class, church-going family. My dad was a deacon at the church and we were in church three times a week. I was very involved in youth group and loved going to church. I was very involved in sports in high school and lived a clean life. I didn’t get in trouble. When I was 16 a friend offered me a prescription pain pill. I was scared to break the rules—I had never even drank. But for some reason, I took the drug and for the next five years, that was my life. All it took was one time. I went from using every weekend, to every day, to eventually injecting drugs. 

I had made my confession of faith at 10 years old in the church, but from 16–21 I decided God was not for me. I wanted to do my own thing. I was reckless and carefree. When I got to college things got worse. My life was out of control. I was stealing and selling drugs to support my habit. I had no morality. I was obsessed with filling myself with whatever I wanted, not thinking about the consequences. 

My family knew something was wrong but they had no idea it was drugs. They encouraged me to move in with my aunt in another town, and I did. Everyone thought I was still going to college, but every day I was driving to another town to get drugs. One day when I was on the highway, my radio had no reception so I turned it to the AM radio and hit “scan.” It stopped on a gospel station with a man giving a sermon. He said, “If you are addicted to prescription pain pills, there is a way out. It’s Jesus.” It felt like he was right in front of me slamming his fist down and saying “Stop right now!” I kept driving and several miles later a police pulled me over. I had been going 100 mph. I didn’t have drugs with me but I had a suspended license for two previous tickets for not wearing a seat belt. Because I was driving (and speeding!) on a suspended license, I was arrested and thrown in jail. I called my sister and lied about what happened. She got me out of jail. My court date was the next day and they told me NOT to miss it or I would be arrested. I had no intention of making the court date. I got my car and went back on my way to buy the drugs, except this time I decided I would buy a LOT of drugs because it was my birthday weekend. I bought $500–$600 worth of oxycodone and oxycotin. The next day I was going to meet a friend to do drugs and I was stopped at a traffic light. I hit the car in front of me so hard that my roof buckled. A little old lady got out of the car and came back to see if I was okay. I had drugs in my car and knew that if the police came this would be very bad, so I told her we needed to get out of the traffic and to pull into the bank parking lot across the street. She did and I drove right onto the interstate, leaving her there. 

Two days later my mom called and said the insurance company had called her and said I was in a hit and run. I lied to her and told her I was in school. But I knew I was caught. I decided to drive out of state, but as I was driving something in me said, “Turn around. You have to face this.” I drove to the hospital where my aunt worked as a physician’s assistant. She was getting ready to go into surgery but she came out. I said, “I’m a severe drug addict and I’m in a whole lot of trouble.” She said, “Obey the traffic laws and go to my house and wait until someone comes to get you.” 

My mom and dad were so faithful in their prayers for me and their love for me. Two days before I was arrested, my mom had gotten down on her face to pray for me. She asked God to reveal whatever I was doing, to have it come into the open. Two days later I was arrested. Shortly after, I confessed.

My family got me into a hospital where I went through medical detox for six days. After this, I went to a Christian rehab facility. Here I got my relationship back with Christ. Many older homeless men in the rehab center took me under their wing and told me I could overcome it. The first time I was allowed to call home, I found out one of the friends I did drugs with killed himself, the guy who introduced me to drugs when I was 16 had overdosed and had to be brought to life, and then this….

The woman I rear-ended and then tricked and abandoned was a preacher’s wife, and she didn’t want to press charges. Her forgiveness and compassion for me…it was so undeserved, so unexpected. I get emotional even now thinking of it. 

When I think of all the things that happened, I know they could not have been coincidences. God was in it all… saving me. 

I graduated the rehab program in nine months and then felt God call me to ministry. But I didn’t want to do it. I got a job at an electronics store and someone there offered me a pain pill. I took it and got back into using drugs, but only for a short time. I did what I had learned in rehab…I called my mom and dad and told them and they took me into their home so I could detox. I haven’t used drugs since then and that was eight years ago. 

I still felt the call to go into the ministry but I still didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t willing to give up my lifestyle. I was being selfish. I fought this calling for several years and then called my preacher and told him about it. He prayed with me and said, “If God is calling you to go into ministry, then you have to do it.”

Shortly after this meeting, my mom texted me, telling me about an opportunity to volunteer in a Christian homeless shelter. I was working at Cracker Barrel but began volunteering at the shelter once a week. When I began volunteering, the executive director of the shelter was a Harvard educated, Christ-centered man who became a great mentor to me. After a couple of months, he asked me to join the shelter as a full-time employee, and I agreed. For three years, he taught me communication skills, how to manage resources, how to deal with conflict, and many other skills. In 2015 I took over the Executive Director position.

I met my wife at the shelter. She was a nursing student and was assigned to do her clinical course work at the shelter. My wife has a strong faith. She inspires me and challenges me in my relationship with Christ every day. I was on the right path but she helps me be stronger. We now have a small farm together. 

How could I have ever gone from where I was to this?! Only God! God is loving and loves in a way that is beyond our comprehension. God knows everything I did—the worst of it—things no one else knows…but I am blameless before Him because of Christ. God has so much grace. Even though I resisted, God brought me into the ministry. Working at the shelter, I get to tell people who feel hopeless about true hope in Christ. I get to tell them about the peace and joy that God promises, the peace and joy that I experience that comes from my relationship with Jesus. Jesus died to redeem me and transform me; He has done this and He is doing this still today. He saved and transformed me and He can do this for others too!

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.