#178 Longing for Love

 

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I didn’t think I had a “testimony.” I grew up in a Christian home, always believed in God’s power and love, and never had anything I saw as life-changing happen to me. I thought my story would be boring, nothing anyone would want to hear, until I heard MY story being told by someone else at my church. She had a story that was so similar to mine that I no longer felt alone and “typical,” and that my life was not as similar to others’ as I thought. I know the things I’ve gone through have shaped me, but I never imagined they could help others from feeling alone like she helped me. God’s word tells us in Revelation 12 to conquer with the word of testimony, so here’s mine.

My story began in Amarillo, Texas where I grew up. My mom married a man when I was 4 years old after a messy divorce with my biological father, and my stepdad quickly became the father figure that I knew. Eventually, his drinking became alcoholism, and his emotional and verbal abuse became physical. I’ll never forget the night when my mom called to tell me not to come home because she didn’t know what he would do to me. He found himself in jail for assaulting my mother and grandmother, and divorce quickly followed.

When I left for college, I took with me a longing to be loved. My father figure had not shown me a father’s love, and he had not shown my sister and I how a woman should be treated by her husband; he had betrayed my trust and love. During my first semester in college, I began drinking, partying and looking for love in the wrong places. Friends and men treated me poorly and I became involved in a relationship my freshman year that looked functional from the outside, lasted 3 years, but was unhealthy and abusive – first emotionally, then physically. After living together for two years, one day I realized I shouldn’t have to wear long sleeves to cover the bruises on my arms. I packed up, bit the pride bullet and moved back in with my parents.

In the midst of this, in my sophomore or junior year, I started going back to church because I knew something was missing from my life. The first time I went back to my church I attended in high school, I felt a rush of emotions and began to cry because I knew I was home. It took some time, but I started getting involved, serving in guest services and other volunteer opportunities. At this point in my life, I felt like I was living two separate lives. My church life was filled with joy and supportive friends, and my day-to-day life was darkened by sin, fear, and pain. After moving back in with my parents, I never fully felt the joy God intends for us through contentment. I jumped from fling to fling looking for the love I needed, not realizing I already had it.

Before my last semester of college, I moved to Kentucky to live with my sister and help around the farm while she was pregnant. Her husband was a truck driver, so he wasn’t home much, and it gave me some time with my best friend. I started going to a church in Lexington. At the end of the summer, I returned home to Texas to finish my degree, and I realized the path God had intended for me. After graduation, I moved back to Kentucky to live near my sister and niece, and to get a fresh start.

I decided my fresh start would be centered around Christ, the only rock I had in life, the only true example of agape I had known. I needed to make friends and thought church would be the best place to do that. After a short email to the church I had attended over the summer, I got involved in a dinner group that met every other Thursday for fellowship and food. The first time I went, I had to force myself to go and talk to people, but the people I met were so welcoming and made me feel right at home. I found true friendships, encouragement and accountability in this community of young people who loved Jesus. This helped me realize that not all people take advantage of you – there are good people who truly care and can be trusted.

Now I lead a Bible Study for 8-10 women from the dinner group every week in my home. We talk about where we struggle and how God can help. I am so thankful that God provided a new community for me; there is always someone to talk to and to hold me accountable. Before, I never felt I could talk to my friends about God. Now I have a group of friends that shares my love for God.

When I talk about God to others, I always call Him my Rock. He was there for me when times were ugly and painful, and never threatened to run out or hurt me. He is the same God for me now that He was in Texas during those times I never thought would end. He provides unconditional love to those who feel unlovable, forgiveness to those who have burned bridges here on Earth, and is a father to those whose fathers have betrayed them. Growing up, when approaching my step-dad, I always wondered, “Is he having a good day?” before I even considered asking a favor or starting a conversation. This is never the case with God our Father. We can approach Him anytime and always trust Him to listen. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, constant, unchanging, loving, and always with us; “Immanuel.”

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.

#162 God Like A Safety Belt

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Two days before college, I was driving way too fast! I wasn’t under the influence but I was a little anxious to get down the road. I had stolen the car.

In a curve, I’d always crossed the line but this time, I hit another driver. Head-on, 65 miles an hour and my dash board was in my lap and my pelvis, fractured. I didn’t have a safety belt on. I broke my right arm in eight places and my fresh young face hit the windshield.

No one was with me. Thank God but just prior to colliding, someone entered the car.

“Hold my hand.”

What? This was totally foreign. I didn’t have spiritual encounters and I didn’t grow up with people who did. If someone had asked me about the accident, I wouldn’t have mentioned a voice but I put my right hand in the middle of the bench seat and felt a hand take mine.

I have no memory after that. I don’t recall seeing another vehicle, loosing control of the car or skidding 250 feet. I don’t recall impact. I don’t know where I was in the road.

My college plans had been arrested! My doctor said, “You’re on doctors’ orders not to go to university.” I rebutted, “I will go to school if I have to go in a wheelchair!”

Then he gave me a choice, “You can either stay in this bed for ten days or I can put you in a body cast?”

Great! I chose to stay in bed and he scheduled my surgery for the day I was to start classes. Now, I had pins in my arm and I was confined to bed. “Your recovery will be six months,” he stated.

As they wheeled me out of the hospital, my high school drama teacher stopped by. She had retired and was starting a community college in our hometown. “I know the doctor told you, you can’t go to university but you can come to my school.”

There was some hope.

Not long after I was released, I reconnected with Teeny, a widow with no children of her own. We’d connected when I was a girl and became close friends through my high school years. She’d recently moved within walking distance of the new college. I moved in with her.

The first time I walked in, I noticed it. The air in Teeny’s place was thick. It was like liquid air, heavy and loving. I never told her, it felt like liquid love. I don’t know how to describe it except to say I was weighted down in peace and felt like that most of the time.

I never said anything to her about what happened in the car. I wouldn’t have thought to but almost daily she would say, “No one would have lived through that but you. God must have a plan for your life.”

How did she know? How was she so certain God had plans for me? I grew up in a home no one wanted to be in. Everyone of us was ready to leave as soon as anyone could and now my plans to escape had been shattered. How was God on my side?

Once she looked me straight in the face and said, “I’ve been asking God why I’m not dead yet. All my friends are dead but I’m not dead cause you still need a momma.”

Teeney was 91 years old. A frail bird of a woman but her heart was big and strong. I slept in the bedroom on the left side of the hallway. Hers was on the right. At night, she’d take her hearing aids out and I’d overheard her talk. Maybe she couldn’t hear herself but I could. It’s where I learned what God is like. I remember thinking, “Everything is gonna to be just fine because Teeney is talking to God and God lives here cause she’s here.”

After I got my cast off, I quit using the walker and I could do a few things. I made Jello and cornbread or vanilla pudding. We spent days sitting in the sunlit room, watching Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. I sat on the floor and typed my papers and her chair sat low to the ground. I’d push my body as close to her as I could get. I wanted to crawl inside of her and feel. What was it like to be her?

When I think about religion, I think about complexities. Certain things you have to know or do but Teeny made things real simple. She’d say, “I talk to God like He is a friend. I talk to Him like I’m talking to you right now.” She told me, “When I wake up I ask God to take my hand and keep me from falling and He does.” I knew God was her friend and I knew she was my friend and I thought, maybe, somehow that makes God, my friend.

In January, I went to university. I was in the wrong crowd in no time. One night, the needle was just two or three people away. “If I put that needle in my arm, my life is over. These so-called friends will let me die.” Just like that, I came to my senses and walked 2-3 miles back to my dorm room.

My roommate and her boyfriend were asleep. I quietly came in and clung to my mattress, knelt on the concrete. Teeny had shown me that coming to God was not a complex matter. I quietly said, “I want to know the God Teeny knows.” In that moment, the air in my room became heavy and loving.

I’d never had a hunger to read the Bible but I began to devour it. Within a few months, I moved to an apartment off-campus with two closets. In one, I put my clothes. In the other, I put my Bible. I covered the walls with Scripture. It became my place to meet with God. This new hunger for God was supernatural. I wasn’t like that before. I didn’t want the same things. I began talking with Him like a friend, like Teeny did.

A few years later, I joined a discipleship team. Now, I was studying the Bible day and night. Two days before our first missions trip, God told me to go home and tell Teeny goodbye. At this time, Teeny was 95 years old and in a nursing home. I peeked into her room and she leaned towards me, “Are you an angel or are you the real thing?” I giggled. “I’m the real thing Teeny!”

Teeny was sharp as a tack till she died! She knew exactly what she was saying! Obviously, she was hosting angels. I don’t have a theology for that. I just know I had to walk over and assure her I was the real thing. There was room in her bed for us both. We just hung out for the weekend and shared such joy I forgot why I’d come. On my way out God reminded me, “I told you to tell her goodbye.” I turned around and forced the words out, “Teeny, I want you to know, if you die now; I’m going to be okay. I love you and good-bye.”

Teeny died two weeks later, the day I left on my first missions trip.

I learned a lot about evangelism on the mission field but I learned about Christ in a two-bedroom apartment on Old Lair Road in Cynthiana, Kentucky with a widow on a walker.

Teeney taught me to have a deep confidence and trust in God’s ability to do what He does best: Redeem His Children. 

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

#92 A Life of Kindness

 Photo by Erin E. Photography

This is my friend Joanie. She carries the kindness of God with such depth that one encounter with her will leave you changed. When I was about 10 years old, Joanie came into my life as a friend of my mom. Their friendship is a story for another day. For the first few years of their friendship, I would see Joanie periodically, but I did not know her well. Joanie was a single mom of four children, a student at Asbury, and had a full-time job. As you can imagine, she was a busy woman. But, she was never too busy. Never too busy to love. Never to busy serve. Never too busy for an encounter with God or His people.

When I was around 12, there was a day that I stayed home from school because of strep throat. This is certainly very common, and not something that I would expect anyone to think twice about. This particular case of strep throat taught me an important lesson about caring for others. Joanie showed up at our door that day with tea and limes and honey, a Haitian remedy for a sore throat. The way that she served me that day made me feel so cared for, even though I really didn’t believe my little case of strep throat was worth stopping for.

Fast forward a few years. I am 20, and I am sitting across the breakfast table from Joanie, chatting about life. I ask her to tell me a story, and she begins to tell me about a young girl named Holly. When Joanie was around 12, living in Haiti where she grew up, a young girl named Holly captured her attention. Holly was younger than Joanie, and was always dirty with torn clothes. Over the years, Joanie and Holly began to talk, and Joanie decided to start sharing her food with Holly. Joanie didn’t have much, but she did have a mom and a dad and she felt privileged. Holly had no mom and no dad, but she did have plenty of chores and responsibilities. Joanie thought it was too much for a young girl, and she continued to give her food or spare coins whenever she could. In Joanie’s words, “It’s just what you do. You have food and you share.” Eventually, Joanie went to college and got married and moved on. She didn’t see Holly again. Many years later, Joanie had moved to America and was at a thrift store in Florida. Another woman in the store recognized Joanie and asked if she knew her. It was Holly! It was only after they exchanged numbers and talked on the phone that Joanie realized who it was, and began to remember how she had helped her back in Haiti. Holly had found a way to the United States and to college! All these years, Holly had thought of Joanie as someone she couldn’t have made it without. Joanie was so moved by seeing Holly and hearing how her life had turned out. She couldn’t believe that her kindness to her so many years ago had such an impact! In her words, seeing Holly “reminded me of my real story. It was a teaching moment. That’s how God works, people to people.”

As I sit across the table listening to Joanie tell of this story, I can’t help but think of my own story about Joanie bringing me tea. I ask her if she remembers it. She doesn’t really. I am like Holly. Joanie’s kindness to me burns in my memory and continues to inspire me. But to Joanie, these moments are just her life. According to her, it’s just what you do.

“Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.” Ephesians 5:2

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.

#90 Lifted Out of Darkness

 

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

In January of 2016, I was diagnosed with bipolar depression after being admitted to the Behavioral Health Unit at a local hospital for an almost-suicide attempt. After being diagnosed and put on medication, my moods started to level out and I began to feel “okay” again. 

Fast-forward to mid-June of last year: My moods suddenly shifted again, darkness surrounded my mind and heart, and I was having a lot of suicidal thoughts and had even planned my death and had begun to write a few letters that I was going to mail before I killed myself. I didn’t tell anyone that I was struggling again (though I’m sure my mood change might have been obvious to some friends) because I had been doing so well and was ashamed that I had fallen again. 

One day before I had planned to commit suicide, I was texting a friend. Almost out of nowhere, she responds to a text that I sent and says, “Look, I JUST got back from a funeral and I really don’t want to have to go to yours.” I hadn’t even hinted to her (at least I don’t think I did) that I was planning on taking my life the next day; and needless to say, I didn’t. 

Several weeks later, I asked her why she said what she did and her response was that God had told her to say it right then. She doesn’t know it, nor does anyone else for that matter, but her obedience to God in that moment saved my life. God used her words to break through deepest darkness that I had ever found myself trapped in and set me free. It’s clear as day that God placed her in my life for that moment so that He could bring glory to Himself through her obedience to Him and faithfulness to me as a friend. If He hadn’t shown Himself in that moment, I wouldn’t be alive to tell you how high, deep, wide, and strong His love is for us. 

Life has not been easy since then and, admittedly, I’ve still occasionally had suicidal thoughts. Instead of allowing the darkness to consume me, I think back to that moment and remember that there are people here on earth that love me deeply and that I have a Father that loves me immeasurably more than that. Thanks to a friend who showed friendship and obedience to that same Father, that moment, those words, that feeling of the deepest love has made all the difference in my life. 

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.

#60. Bible Study Friends

Photo by Ashley Brown, Shining Light Photography 

Some people have a large group of close friends. I had one girlfriend. One. She had been my best friend for my entire adult life, which was no easy task. Being a wife, mother, teacher, and volunteering in my community and church—all while suffering from a chronic illness—had taken a toll on “girlfriend time.” Catherine had been my friend for 25 years, and while we often went months at a time without seeing each other, we spent hours on the phone at every opportunity. She knew my struggles and health issues, and she loved me anyway.

Although I had been a Christian since I was 10, I had spent little time on my own in the Word. I was busy and exhausted, but I suddenly had a strong desire to read the entire Bible. My mother encouraged me to do so by buying me a special Bible that was marked with a passage to read each day, starting at the beginning. Halfway through Leviticus, I was ready to quit. The book of Numbers sealed the deal, but God wasn’t finished drawing me closer to Him. I was invited to a Bible study during lunch at work. The leader, Faith, used a Bible reading plan called Life Journal, which included passages from both Old and New Testaments in the daily reading. The plan included journaling. I was to write down one verse each day, make an observation, and record how I would apply it to my life, and end with a prayer. By the end of the year, I had read the entire Bible once and the New Testament twice. God had begun to weave his Word into my heart, and I still continue to use that method daily.

Oh, how my relationship with the Lord changed from that time spent daily with Him! I felt Him speak to me through the passage each day. The reading was so closely related to my situation or needs each day—it was like He wrote it just for me. I felt like I finally grasped His love for me, and appreciated what a wonderful God He is! I wanted to be more like Him. I wanted everyone to know Him better. Why had I gone so long without caring to read this wonderful book and spend time with Him?! I wanted everyone to read it!

I felt God nudging me to start a Bible study in my home using this plan. “Lord, are you serious? You know how tired I am. I don’t have room for company. Why didn’t you want me to do this last year before we moved and downsized? I haven’t even painted here yet. What do I even really know about the Bible? I just started reading it.”

But quickly, my shock turned to submission. “Okay, Lord. Today, I will lay down my pride and be obedient. I am going to call my friend Catherine and get on Facebook and invite all my Facebook friends to come to my house to a Bible study. Please blind their eyes to the dog fur tumbleweeds in the corners. Please give me the strength to clean the toilet.”

I began to pray and prepare, and I invited everyone I knew to Bible study. A few weeks prior, a group of high school classmates was planning to get together for dinner and a movie. The morning of our outing, I was so convicted about the movie choice, I decided I would leave after dinner and not see the movie. Sabrina had made the same decision, and during dinner we bonded over not seeing the movie. A horrible storm knocked out the power to the mall, and no one else was able to see the movie either, which still to this day gives us the giggles. When I posted the Bible study invitation on Facebook, Sabrina heard God tell her, “You need to do this.” After some protest of her own about going to a Bible study at my house, where there would probably be “a bunch of cheerleaders from high school,” she obediently messaged me for details. Isn’t it funny how the devil constantly whispers insecurities into our ears?

At about this same time, I was feeling led to invite another former classmate, Kathy, through private message. She had just moved back to town and her girls and mine were very close in age. I could tell by her posts on Facebook that she loved the Lord. Her husband is a pastor, so I invited her with a few insecurities of my own. Who am I to ask the pastor’s wife to a Bible study? Will she be offended by that? I hadn’t seen or talked to her in years, but she came also, as did my friend Catherine.

Over the next few months, I was hit with several incredibly difficult challenges and life changes. I became more ill and had to take a medical leave of absence from my job. Then, tragically, Catherine was killed in a horrible accident. She was only 42 years old. I can’t tell you how many ways God worked tangibly in my life during this difficult time. I feel like I could write a million God stories of my own if only I could recall the many details. The most profound way He worked was providing through that Bible study, two godly, precious girlfriends that bless my life in countless ways. I often think about what I would be missing had I not put away my pride and fully relied on God to give me the strength to have the Bible study. What He asked me to do to “serve Him” was really for MY benefit!

During the dark times that followed the beginning of that Bible study, I was blessed with friends who would hold me up and pray with me and for me even when I was unable to pray for myself. He blessed me with the responsibility of a group meeting in my house that kept me committed to spending that precious time with Him. God provided every need I didn’t even know I had, and He continues to bless my life with the friendship of these beautiful, God-fearing women. While He brought one friend Home to be with Him (praise the Lord, hallelujah, thank you, Jesus!), He already had worked a plan to bring two friends into my home to minister to my broken heart. What an awesome God He is!

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.

#34 “Give Her Your Bible”

 Photo by Erin E. Photography

There’s something about a Bible that’s been worn down over the years that speaks to my heart. Church bulletins stuck between the pages, corners folded down to keep your place, notes scribbled in the margins—it’s all beautiful to me. A lovingly worn Bible is, to me, a visual representation of an intimate history with God.

As you can imagine, I was very attached to my own Bible. It was a thick, leather Bible that was a light purple color. I never would have picked purple for myself, but my mom had chosen it for me, and I learned to love it. I often scribbled prayers and commentary in the margins of my Bible, and sometimes I stuck pictures of people I wanted to pray for between the pages.

I carried my Bible with me everywhere my first semester of college, which was an intense season of growth in my life. To me, that Bible represented a new intimacy with the Lord that I had never experienced before. Meanwhile, I was becoming friends with a very sweet, quiet girl in one of my classes. Neither of us missed class often, and we would talk every class period as we worked on projects.

Around Thanksgiving, she stopped coming to class. Two whole weeks went by, and she was never there. I became concerned, and so I asked the teacher if she had heard anything. She hadn’t. I didn’t have any way to contact her, so I just prayed for her. And, the next week, there she was when I entered the classroom. She told me about some personal things that had been going on, but there was no reason she should’ve been in class that day. Due to some health issues, she missed so much of her classwork that she could no longer get credit for her classes. So, there was no benefit to her even showing up for class that day.

I know that God is the reason she was there. That day, through the courage and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I invited her to coffee. A few days later, at the end of finals week, we met for coffee. We talked for a few hours about our lives, and although she was not an active Christian, God told me it was okay to talk to her about Him. He made it clear to me that her heart was ready to receive what He had to give through me. So, I talked to her like I would any other friend. I told her stories of God’s handiwork in my life, and dreams He was putting in my heart. She was eager to listen and share her own ideas and opinions.

As our conversation wrapped up, God made it clear to me that I was to give her my Bible—my beautiful, worn-in Bible that I loved so dearly. Surprisingly, it wasn’t at all hard to give it away. God whispered to me that seeing all my notes and underlines and pictures would help make her eager to dig into His Word. Rather than being sad that I had to part with my memento of a special season of intimacy with God, I prayed that God would impart that same season onto her.

Giving her this gift was one of the most joyful experiences of my life, and I know that God had planned it far in advance. When I handed her the Bible across the table, her eyes lit up as she said, “Purple is my favorite color!”

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.