#185 Praise and Purpose in Pain, Part 2

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Does every girl grow up dreaming of reaching the stars? I sure did. From the tender age of two or three, I remember craning my head back, marveling at the night sky, and being awed by the beauty of God’s creation. As I grew I wondered about seeing His works from a new perspective, what it might be like to escape Earth’s atmosphere and explore all that vast space. Growing up I thought my path to the stars would be through NASA. As a freshman in high school, my parents took me to visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration campus where we met with people who gave us information about the steps of pursuing a career with them. My path and passion for space seemed to have a straight trajectory at that point, but what I didn’t know was that passion would be a shooting star, shining brightly, and falling quickly into darkness at the age of 15.

On June 7, 2017, Jacob, my 23-year-old brother, was in a car accident and tragically passed away. I was 15 years old at the time. The moment my brother died every desire to go to NASA dissipated. I was overcome with a deep need to fall into worship and into praise of the LORD who had created the heavens, who had given so lavishly to me, and who now had taken away. I felt myself drawn to my piano… 

So that you might fully understand the magnitude of this change, let me backup for a moment. 

Starting at age six, upon the prompting of my parents, I had unenthusiastically taken piano lessons. Learning to play was born out of duty and obligation simply because my parents wanted me to, not because of my own desire. I never sang and had no real interest in music.

In February 2017, a few months before Jacob’s death, I was in a youth group and they needed someone to play the keyboard. Because I was trained, I agreed to help. Shortly thereafter, the worship leader had an evening when she couldn’t sing and asked if I could fill in for her. I sang for the first time that evening, but again it was an act of service, not of passion. My worship was dutiful, not driven from the deep wells of my soul.

When Jacob died in June, all of that shifted. An intense need to call out to the LORD through song burst into life. Every moment of solitude after my brother’s death drew me to my piano. Worshipping God was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t play out of anger or frustration. No, I was never angry with God about losing my brother. I truly trusted Him with it. Yet, I was overcome with my need to talk to the LORD and nothing expressed it the way music did. The song that carried me away in praise during this painful time was “What a Beautiful Name” by

Hillsong. Since it was such a balm to my soul, my parents asked if I would be willing to sing it at Jacob’s funeral.

Until that point, my worship was a sacred space between only the LORD and myself. Agreeing to this request was letting those closest to me, and to Jacob, join in with the pain and the hope I was feeling. I had never sung for my extended family before, but when I sat down at the piano the day of the funeral, the Lord took all nervousness from me. He filled me with His melody and with new purpose. At that moment, I felt God’s call into a career in music. Just as my parents invited me to sing for Jacob, God was now extending His hand and inviting me to sing for Him.

Four months after Jacob’s death, with “What a Beautiful Name” still on my lips, I made a video of the song dedicated to my brother. The video reached many people, including a talent scout in Nashville who asked me to meet with him to share my story. Although unexpected, this turned out to be the first confirmation of my calling from the Lord. I went to Nashville in January of 2018 and met with a recording artist manager. I was overwhelmed with peace the day we met with him and I knew God was going to do something special, but I was only 16 years old and my family wanted to proceed cautiously.

Over the next year God gently guided me in this calling. He planted a seed in my heart the day Jacob died, and now I saw it growing slowly, delicately, and with such beauty. I was (and am) in awe of His guidance. As my family and I trusted him during this time, He faithfully showed us each step. I began working with the manager, took voice lessons, and even went to Nashville to put my thoughts and prayers to music. What an honor it was to work and praise alongside such talented Christian song writers! After that first big writing session, the LORD sent another

confirmation. Three Christian music labels contacted my manager to request meetings with me.

I met with them throughout the summer of 2019, in May, June, and July. Each time I was given the opportunity to talk with other believers, to meet with record label executives, and to explore the depths of my grief and the heights of my eternal hope through the songwriting process. In August, all three labels asked me to join their teams. After much prayer, I decided to accept the offer from Capitol records. I will be moving to Nashville in June 2020 and with their help will be releasing the songs that I have written. I look forward to the days ahead, to inviting others into that sacred space of worship. I can’t believe that the LORD has opened a way for me to lead others into praise. He is so worthy! I want God to get all of the glory in my story, in the hard parts and in the redemption.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered

a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10

After he died, we found this verse in Jacob’s apartment, written in his own handwriting. We felt like he was talking directly to us and we have clung to this verse. Jacob was my best friend and I will always be heartbroken by his loss. But somehow in the midst of all of the pain, God has taken the deep crevices of my grief and let them run over with golden praise. I find myself wanting to be like the woman with the expensive alabaster jar, breaking it over Jesus and

anointing him with the most expensive thing I own, my own heart. God has given me a purpose, and that has been a great gift to me in this sorrow. I have learned about His faithfulness. I have learned that when God promises you something, He fulfills His promise. He does not let you down. When you choose to trust God, blessings come.

Thinking back to those childhood days when I had my life all planned, I can see that my desire to explore space and reach the stars was really a deep desire to grow close to the Father and to worship Him in a new way. He has provided that to me, just not on the path I expected. God took my longing for the stars and said–Look higher, child.

Look to the Creator of the stars.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one

and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

not one of them is missing.

27

Why do you complain, Jacob?

Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

29

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:26-29

This is what I have found in this journey– my God is faithful. In my own weakness, He is strong. May my lips forever praise the name of the LORD!

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.

#180 Thankful Nevertheless

 Photo by Jeff Rogers

I met Rick my freshman year of high school. We dated in high school and married young. I was saved and baptized in January of 1980, and three years later, Rick was saved. The first time I heard him share his testimony, he said he couldn’t figure out why I would go to church not just once, but twice on Sunday, because that was our only day to be together since he worked six days a week. Rick said he wanted to know more about this man called Jesus who I loved more than I did him.

My husband loved basketball and coached a little league basketball team. He coached two little boys, Todd and Earl Reed, who went to my church. Every Sunday, between Sunday School and church, those two little boys would run to the church office and call Rick and ask him if he was coming to church. The boys were in two separate Sunday School classes, so they would both make calls to Rick as soon as they got out of Sunday School. They kept calling every Sunday and didn’t give up. They knew they were waking Rick up, but they didn’t care. They just wanted him to come to church. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that God placed those two little boys in our lives.

Rick was saved during a revival service at our church in 1983. He promised the two little boys that he would come to that revival service. When he came in the door that morning, they flocked to him and wanted to sit with him. When the preacher gave the invitation to come forward and accept Christ, he asked that we bow our heads and close our eyes in prayer. Rick shared with me later that he bowed his head, but he didn’t close his eyes. During that invitation, he saw one of those little boys, Earl Reed, pointing to him and then pointing toward the altar in the front of the church. Rick told me that was Earl Reed’s way of praying that he would give his life to Christ that morning, and he did! The Bible says a little child will lead them, and those two little boys did lead him. Rick got involved in church right off the bat, mainly working with the Youth. We didn’t have children of our own, so we had the time to devote to them.

My husband was a wonderful, selfless man, always putting others before himself. He was all about helping and ministering to people. He went on two mission trips a year; one with World Changers, an organization that goes all over the United States helping people who can’t afford the needed work on their homes, and one with Joshua Land Ministries to help build churches in Kentucky. In 2011, he was working with a crew to help put a roof on a new church in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, when he fell off the roof and landed on his head. There didn’t seem to be any indication that he tried to catch himself, so we think he passed out before he fell off the roof. They flew him to the regional university hospital, and he stayed there approximately two weeks. He never regained consciousness and had two strokes during that time. After about two weeks, the doctors told me Rick’s brain was dead, and that I was going to have to make the dreaded decision to take him off life support. Immediately after the doctors telling me I was going to have to make that decision, my pastor called to check on us. I asked him, “How do you make a decision like that? I feel like I’m taking his life.” He told me, “You’re not taking his life. If it’s God’s will for him to live, even if you remove the life support, he’ll live.” God knows what we need and when we need it, and I needed to hear that. Rick’s family and I made the decision to remove the life support. The doctors explained to us that, after we took Rick off life support, it was possible he would live for a few days because, even though his brain was dead, physically he was very strong. He lived almost a week. I got to bring him home to our local hospital under Hospice care, and he passed away on July 17, 2011.

It was really hard and very lonely for me, but God was always there. You don’t know God is all you need until He’s all you’ve got. My family, Rick’s family, and my church family were wonderful, and my work family was too. They stayed with me at the hospital during Rick’s illness and for a couple of weeks after his passing. My church family came by often to see if I needed anything and tried to keep me busy. My job gave me a reason to get up every morning. But, it was during those times by myself, especially in the evenings and at night, that were my loneliest times. It was just me and God. At the end of the day, I would pray, “God, I made it through today. Tomorrow is another day, and I’m going to need you to help me through tomorrow”. In the mornings, I would say to God, “Your Word tells me that your mercies are new every morning and your grace is sufficient. I need your grace and mercy today.” I grew more spiritually during that time than I ever had. I know God was with me every minute. At night when I was lonely and sad, I would open up the Bible and it would give me comfort. I drew such strength from God’s promises.

“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

In September 2013, more sorrow began. My middle sister was diagnosed with cancer. She went through various treatments and surgeries, and we had to watch her suffer terribly. She passed away in February 2015.

Then God, in His infinite wisdom and perfect timing, sent someone to me. I had bought a new car and someone hit it in the parking lot of Food City right after I bought it. I called my current husband, who owned the body shop and had repaired cars for me before, to repair my car. We were married in January of 2018. He’s a wonderful man. God has blessed me doubly – with a whole family! My husband has two children, a daughter and a son, who are both married, and we have two grandchildren and one on the way.

I have so many things to be thankful for. First and foremost, I am thankful for my salvation. I’m thankful for the time I had with my first husband and for my new husband and new family. I’m thankful for the closeness I have with my mother, father and my sisters; for Rick’s family with whom I am still close today; for my church family; and for my job and my work family. God has given me many people to love, and who love, support and encourage me. He is so good!

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.

#176 Finding Safety in Vulnerability

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Several years ago, one of my best friends died from cancer. I still go regularly to his family business and take care of the orchids in the reception area. A few weeks ago, I was there watering the orchids, and the receptionist asked me if I had enjoyed my vacation to Florida. I knew going down this road of conversation could be difficult, but I also knew that God would want me to be honest.

“We didn’t go on vacation,” I said. 

“Oh . . . why not?” she asked.

“We had a family tragedy.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“My grandson . . . . We aren’t sure what happened, but we believe he committed suicide.”

The next Sunday I was teaching the young couple’s class in Sunday school. A new couple joined our class. I knew the man, as he had attended a Sunday school class I taught several years ago. He introduced me to his wife and said they had just recently gotten married. We began our lesson by talking about the scripture verse, and then I felt God leading me to share the conversation I had about my grandson. When I shared with the group what I had told the receptionist, the young bride of the new couple burst into tears. She finally composed herself and asked if she could speak. She shared with the group that she had attempted to kill herself three days ago. The other couples came to her, showing their concern and care. They prayed for her and encouraged her. It was very powerful . . . I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room.

God knew this young woman’s pain. He knew she needed healing and support from others. God led me to a moment of honesty and vulnerability with the class, and that opened the door for her to feel safe to share her own pain. Now she has been brought out of isolation and has a community of friends who can love and encourage her. It is amazing the way God works.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

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.

#133 Blessing with Zinnias

 

Photo by Trevor Rapp

For years, my dad grew zinnias for me every summer at our family farm. Dad and I would go to the farm nearly every week throughout the summer and harvest the zinnias. I had bouquets of these colorful flowers in my house and in my office. The flowers made me smile. When I looked at the zinnias, I was reminded of my dad and also of my heavenly Father and His beautiful creation. My dad passed away the last week in October in 2016. It was the last week of the zinnia harvest. We cut a final bunch of zinnias to be displayed at the church at his funeral. He would have loved that.

My dad and I were very close. We were both dentists and practiced together for years. I have missed him terribly since the day he died, but as summer approached, my grief rose to a new level. The family farm was sold in June. My dad was gone, the farm was gone, and there would be no zinnias this year. But then our church announced the need for volunteers in the community garden. I asked if I might have a row in the garden to plant some zinnias and was permitted to do so. Two months later, hundreds of beautiful zinnias were blooming in the garden.  

There were so many flowers! We wanted to share! The church gave me permission to cut the zinnias to share with residents at a local nursing home. At first, I just made flower arrangements for the dining room and common spaces. But then I found out from our church care team that there were a few residents in local nursing homes that had requested visitors. The care team suggested that I take some of the zinnias to these residents.

My children went with me to take the flowers to the first nursing home resident on our list to visit. We walked down the long corridor of the nursing home with a beautiful bouquet of zinnias, looking for her room. We finally located her room and peeked inside. Sitting beside her bed was a woman I had known for many years. She was a dear friend of my father’s! She and her sister, who was the resident we were delivering the flowers to, grew up in the same small community with my dad. She was thrilled to see us! She introduced all of us to her sister. “This is Bobby’s daughter and grandchildren!” Her older sister smiled. She had suffered a stroke and was not able to communicate, but her twinkling eyes said it all. I put the flowers on her bedside table and held her hand. She smiled at me with a knowing smile. Her eyes locked on mine, and then with a frail hand, she reached up to touch my hair.

We stayed a bit and visited. As we left, I thought about what had just happened. The first person to receive the zinnias we grew in memory of dad was someone who grew up with him in his small community many miles away. Because she couldn’t communicate, I would have never known that she knew Dad if her sister, my dad’s dear friend, hadn’t been visiting her at the moment we arrived with the flowers. God was in that moment.

Since then the flower ministry has blossomed and God is blessing many nursing home residents with beautiful bouquets of flowers. But I will never forget the first resident that we visited and the connection to my dad. What a gift it was to me to give the flowers to someone who knew and loved my father. He would be so happy that this dear woman was the first recipient of the zinnias we grew because of him!

I am so thankful to God for providing the opportunity at our church community garden to grow the flowers and share with others as this has provided much healing for my grieving heart. I am also so thankful to my Heavenly Father for the gift of my earthly father and the hope through Christ of someday being with him again. 

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.

#9. God Used The Pain For Good

Photo Nicole Tarpoff

I am a sophomore in college and just spent my summer working in Texas—1,600 miles away from home—as a camp counselor. We didn’t have access to our phones most of the time, and I truly missed my friends and family. But I learned so much about how to sacrificially love others. We were trained to put the campers first in everything and to sacrifice ourselves for our campers. I was with my campers 24/7 for weeks, and with God’s help my goal was to pour out His love to each one with all that I could. By the end of camp, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

But there was a friend back home, who was like a brother to me, who I wanted to be with as soon as I could. His grandfather had died the week before. I had missed the visitation and funeral because I couldn’t leave the camp early. I loved my friend and wanted to be there for him in his grief, just as he had been with me so many times before—especially when my dad died when I was 11 years old. I called my friend before I left camp and promised him that I would walk with him in the days ahead as he dealt with the grief of losing his granddad that he loved so dearly.

And then before I boarded the plane to come home, my mom told me that another good friend’s dad had just had a heart attack and died. My heart broke for my friend, as I knew that he had a very close relationship with his dad. He was with him when he died. Thankfully, this time I was able to go to the visitation and funeral. Less than 48 hours after I landed, I was on my way to this visitation and funeral. 

The morning of my friend’s dad’s funeral, yet a third friend sent a text to me saying that his dad had just died. Again, my heart broke, and I wanted to go to my friend and be with him. And so the day after I returned from one funeral, I left home to attend another and comfort another friend in his grief.

It seemed like one death after another . . . one heartbreak after another. Tragedy upon tragedy. In those moments, it’s easy to question God and lose hope. But I knew from my own experiences that God is never closer than when we are feeling most hopeless and heartbroken (see Psalm 34:18). Having lost my own father, there is a special bond, a special understanding, but also a special pain that comes with being in these situations at funerals and visitations. The memories that come back are difficult.

However, God uses this pain for good (see Genesis 50:20). My tragedy eight years ago, when I lost my own dad, helped me understand the pain and grief of my friends in a way that many could not. I believe that God used that experience to help me comfort others (see 2 Corinthians 1:3–4). Ultimately, I cannot provide healing and true comfort that the heart needs. But what is special about sharing in deep tragedy and sorrow, is that it gives us the opportunity to speak about real hope and ultimate healing of the heart that only God can provide.

In the midst of this week of death and grief and sorrow, when my heart broke for my friends and my main goal was to love and comfort them, God found a way to love and comfort me. I was looking for something in my car the day I arrived home from camp and found a note that I had received at my high school graduation. It was written by a wonderful family friend about the man God had molded me into in light of the trials I had been through in my own life. I had forgotten about the note, but God had not forgotten and knew exactly when to put this message before my eyes. Here is what it said:   

      Like a lighthouse, you are a strong and steady presence of hope at the very place where the waves of life crash onto the rocky land. You are a light bearer for those who are storm-tossed. Christ is the light within you. He shines through you with compassion for the lonely, strength for the weak, love for those lost at sea. Be not afraid. That light within you can overcome any darkness.        

       

Only God, in His perfect timing, knew how much I needed this reassurance in that moment with such trying times up ahead. He knew my anxious and inadequate feelings as I prepared to offer whatever comfort I could to friends who needed it so dearly, and who were especially looking to me with anticipation, as they knew I had been through a similar tragedy. I would be lying if I said that my soul did not feel the burden of this. However, just as only God can, in my time of need, He was there to give that gentle yet so powerful reassurance that indeed I should not fear. He would be my strength. My friends did not need me in this time; they needed the Lord and the comfort, hope, and light in darkness only He offers. He reminded me that it was the light and hope of Christ that He had shown me in my life that could overcome any darkness. 

God knows our deepest needs and He always provides.

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.