#146 Little Church by the Creek

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

When my husband and I were in the hospital getting ready to have our first baby, I was in labor but it was in the beginning and not intense yet. For some unexplainable reason my husband and I began laughing uncontrollably. This went on for a long time. The nurses even came in as my electrodes began popping off of my stomach. They asked many times, “What is going on?” We could not stop laughing and could not tell them anything. We were both in tears from laughing so long and so hard. Now, looking back on this, it had to be the Holy Spirit filling us with unexplainable joy.

Fast forward 23 years, and our son that was born that day is in the battle of his life struggling with heroin addiction. It started four years ago. Since then my husband and I have struggled from day to day with knowing what to do, how to help him. Often the situation has seemed hopeless. He would go to rehab treatment, transformation homes, get better, come home, and then relapse. We have found that there is only one answer. We have to depend on God, to pray each day, multiple times a day, to put everything in God’s hands. Through prayer, God has given us guidance about what to do next for our son.

I remember one particular day I felt God leading me to take our son to a church to participate in a men’s group. I even took off work to do it. He didn’t want to go but eventually said he would go but not in the car with me. He followed me there in his car. I thought he would ditch me on the way and was surprised when he actually followed me all the way to the church. When we arrived at the church, he didn’t want to get out of the car. It was time for the meeting to start and the other men were arriving. I told him he needed to get out of car but he didn’t move. Eventually he got out of his car but wasn’t ready to go inside. Just when I thought for sure he was going to jump back in his car and leave, the men who were getting out of their cars noticed him and came to him on either side and guided him into the church. I was going to leave but felt the Lord prompting me not to. I tried to leave several times but the Holy Spirit kept me there walking and pacing.

After approximately two to three hours, the men started trickling out of the church. Then I could see our son from a distance. He looked like a ghost. Glowing, he came to me and said, “I am overwhelmed and that was a lot to take in.” I could tell he had been crying. I hugged him, told him I loved him, and off he went with the guys from the church to begin a recovery journey with them by his side. I cried uncontrollably after he left. One of the church leaders came out and chased me down before I left and told me that our son surrendered everything that night and that he was going to be okay. Then I understood why God had prompted me to stay. It was so I could see this and hear this news. I cried loud and hard all the way home. I even kept driving past our house because I couldn’t stop crying. That night was the beginning of our son’s journey to recovery. It was also the beginning of me wanting a closer relationship with God. I discussed with my husband about getting into and belonging to a church and for our family to dig deeper, to learn and grow. He finally agreed. We went to several churches, finding the little church by the creek and making it our church home.

But there were many bumps in the road. Our son overdosed a few months ago. It was a terrifying experience for him and for us and our family and friends. We stood at his bedside as the doctor told us a few things were damaged (his hearing, his left side, etc…).  But miraculously he recovered completely. Something changed in him after this experience. He has been drug free since then and we believe he is truly seeking after Jesus. He gave up his previous “friends/community” who were into drugs, and alcohol and now the members of our church are becoming his new community. He has new family and mentors who support and encourage him. He meets with our pastor and some of our church leaders in hopes of learning to become a leader himself. Our pastor believes that our son is called to be in young adult/teenage ministry and/or possibly become a pastor and that he will change the lives of many people through his testimony and ministry. We have kept our faith and will continue to put our faith and trust in our Savior.

God gave us the precious life of our son 23 years ago and He has continually guided us as to the best ways to help him. God has not given up on our son. He miraculously saved his life from the overdose and has protected him from harm again and again. God is working in powerful ways in the life of our son, drawing him to Jesus. His life is transforming before our eyes and we believe that God will use his pain and his past to do great things in His kingdom.

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 1:6

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

#131. Every Day Is A Gift

 Artwork by Lily Murphy

I was raised in a loving Christian home and baptized as a young girl. The Lord was always part of our family. This was a great blessing, but I sometimes felt as though I didn’t really have a powerful testimony because I didn’t have a big conversion story where I could say my life changed in a moment.

All my life I wanted to be a wife and mom. My husband and I were blessed with two daughters. On my 30th birthday, I found out I was pregnant with our third child. We were very excited about it. When we had our 20-week ultrasound, I immediately could tell there was something wrong because the technician kept going over the heart of the baby. Then the doctor came in and told us the baby had something wrong with his heart. We were whisked to a high-risk OB who confirmed the diagnosis of the heart problem. Up to this point in my life, I had never experienced the anticipation and fear of the unknown. From the beginning of our son’s diagnosis, the Lord was teaching me—drawing me to Him in a way I had never been drawn. I had never really had to rely on the Lord before—never really experienced a tragedy or serious illness. I can remember thinking it would be easier to miscarry . . . then I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain of the baby being born with the heart problem. I shared this with my dad, and told him that I wished I could be the child and didn’t have to deal with the situation. I wished that I could climb into my dad’s arms and he would take care of it for me. I have come to realize that my heavenly Father WAS taking care of it for me—providing comfort, strength, and perspective all along the difficult journey.

The very next Sunday after we found out about our baby’s condition, we sang the song “He Knows My Name” at church.

I have a Maker

He formed my heart

Before even time began

My life was in his hands (by Tommy Walker)

God gave me this song at just this time to comfort and reassure me. It was almost as if my son was saying this to me. It gave me a great peace.

The doctors gave us three options for our son: compassionate care, heart transplant, or surgeries to repair. We chose the surgeries, all the while praying for a miracle. We knew that God could heal him if He would choose to. One of my friends gave me great perspective when she said, “No matter what, God will heal him—either on this earth or he will be in heaven where he will be completely healed.” I just had to trust God with him.

Our son, Jacob, was born September 5, 2004. He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces and looked totally healthy—perfect. As the doctor had predicted, he did not have a left ventricle in his heart and some of the arteries that supplied his heart were much smaller than normal. His surgery kept being put off because they thought he had an infection. It was delayed and delayed—which gave us more time with him—and finally it was decided he would have the surgery on September 14. He was wide awake when they took him back. He looked right into our eyes before they took him, and it was like he was saying, “It’s going to be okay.” I believe he died during surgery. After surgery, he was attached to machines on life support—his heart and lungs weren’t working.

The next morning the cardiologist explained that our son’s heart was dead. After much information and prayer, my husband and I decided we would let him go. We called all of our family in, we surrounded him and held him, and we prayed and sang. The family left and my husband and I stayed. Jacob’s little hand was wrapped around my husband’s finger and they turned off life support. The decision to take him off life support was difficult—it was and yet it wasn’t—because of how we felt about his quality of life and because we weren’t afraid of letting him die. There is a mural at our church with the image of big hands with little children’s hands in them and the words, “Given to you, to be brought back to me.” In other words, our children are not our own. They are given to us by God who has entrusted us with their care. God gave us the gift of peace to release Jacob and not be afraid of his future. We knew he was safe. Nothing that this world has to offer can bring the kind of hope that God has given us.

It was a very empty feeling leaving the hospital knowing you should be leaving with a baby but you are leaving that little body there. You feel like life has just stopped and yet it keeps going for everybody else. Time just stood still. It felt like everyone should pause with us, but it was our grief, our pain—and life went on around us. I don’t remember those next few days very well. The choir sang “You Raise Me Up” at the funeral which had become the anthem of my heart. My husband wrote a song for Jacob and sang it at the service. I spoke and our dads prayed.

The comfort that came from the Holy Spirit and from fellow believers that He placed in our life was such a blessing. And eventually we were able to comfort others. About a year later, I shared my testimony about our son at church. There was a man who was visiting who came up afterwards and said his wife was pregnant and that their son had same the same heart defect our son had (what are the chances he would visit our church the day I shared about Jacob!). I gave him our phone number and said if his wife ever wanted to talk, to call. A few months later the man called and said their little fellow had been born and was not doing well. He asked if I had any words to help? Out of nowhere, I felt the Holy Spirit say, “You need to go see them.” In all of my life, I have never heard a clearer message from God. I called my husband and told him and we went. We talked with them and prayed with them and prayed over their son and then we left. We didn’t hear from them for a while—but then when their baby was 39 days old he died. They called and asked if my husband would do the funeral and a 12-year friendship began. The Lord connected us through loss—not expected, but a blessing. It was helpful for us to see a purpose in our pain.

In March of 2006, we were blessed with another son. He has been such a joy to us and I can’t image life without him. If Jacob had lived we might not have had him. I’m thankful that I was blessed to have them both.

I am a nurse and often my patients ask how many kids I have. I say “Three here and one in heaven.” This opens up conversations and allows me to witness and share our story. You just never know how your story will impact others. Because of Jacob, I now have a connection with people who have suffered loss. We can relate to one another and offer hope and encouragement to one another.

God got us through, and even though His plan was hard, there was goodness in it. I have come to know a loving heavenly Father who in our times of trouble wants to comfort us and let us know we are not alone. He doesn’t delight in seeing us in pain but he sees a purpose behind it that sometimes we don’t. He sees the whole picture and we don’t. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8). 

Sometimes even now I will just be hit with grief and I will be so sad but at the same time so thankful. It is true that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I would never want to have that time with Jacob taken away even though it was painful. I have learned every single day is a gift. Knowing that not a single one of us is guaranteed tomorrow, helps me appreciate all the beauty, love, and joy that each day brings. 

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.

#80 Trying To Take God’s Job From Him

 

Photo by Erin E. Photography

It’s about two in the morning. I’m sound asleep, and my phone rings. Tired and confused, I look at my phone and see that my older brother is calling me. I pick up the phone and he frantically says, “I need you to go check on Dad; I don’t think he’s okay.” So I spring out of bed and run downstairs to find that the door to my dad’s workshop is locked with hard rock music blasting from the inside. I bang on the door, preparing to knock it down, when he opens it and is intoxicated to the point he can’t stand by himself or hold a conversation. I immediately rush my dad to the hospital, where I sit with him for six hours as he cries and begs the doctors to let him die. They were able to save him and kept him for an extra two days to ensure he wouldn’t try it again.

In the wake of this disaster, I was left depressed, confused, filled with anxiety, and unable to sleep—for every time I closed my eyes, all I could hear was my father crying. I tried drowning my problems with food, with counseling, and even with staying so busy I had no time to think. Not even blasting music through my headphones at night helped me to escape. The worst part of all of it is that I couldn’t drive past my parents’ neighborhood, let alone hug my own mother, without having a panic attack. I also blamed myself for all the madness my little brother had to witness, because I was no longer there to shelter him from it.

After months of depression, I started to forget who I was and what my purpose in life was, and I found myself sitting in my car late at night, questioning whether or not anyone would notice if I was gone, and thinking to myself about how easy it would be to simply leave the car on, fall asleep, and never wake up. Instead of deciding to go through with it, I called one of my friends, Keith, who offered to let me stay on his couch for a few days to help me get past it. He helped me to get over my depression and taught me how to rely on God more than I ever thought I could. He taught me how to give my depression over to Him.

But no matter how hard I tried, the anxiety that came from seeing or talking to my parents just wouldn’t go away. I was so torn. I tried giving my parents more and more tries by spending time with them, hopefully convincing them that their drinking was a problem, but they would only get offended and continue drinking. The worst part of it was that I still felt anxious being around them, so I felt guilty for not wanting to help or see them. My other option was to just avoid them entirely and pray for them, but this seemed to only do harm because they would constantly call me to tell me they were angry at me for avoiding them.

For months I went back and forth between these two options, only to discover that neither would work. I eventually had a conversation with my mentor who told me that a lot of my anxiety was coming from the fact that I was not fully trusting in the power of the Gospel to move in my parents’ lives and that I was taking their salvation in my own hands, not realizing that all I can do is preach the Gospel to them when they are willing to listen, knowing that salvation rests in God’s hands. He also told me that I was being the parent, when God is calling me to be the child. I prayed to God, asking for forgiveness for trying to take His job from Him, and I asked Him to take it back. I prayed that God would work a miracle in my family and that He would bring us together again.

I got a call from my dad not too long afterwards, telling me that he and my mother were waking up early every morning to read the Bible together, and that he threw all of the alcohol out of his house to get over his addiction. Finally, I no longer get anxious at the sight or thought of my parents, and I no longer daydream about what it would be like to no longer be alive. God has healed my family and He has healed me.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.