#175. The Desires Of My Heart

 

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My parents didn’t take me to church but I went with a neighbor regularly. I LOVED church growing up. I went to every camp and on every mission trip. I was really smart in high school, and by all appearances I was set for life. My parents were together and my dad had a good job as a policeman. Everything should have gone well. But a few months after I graduated high school I was raped and then as hard as I had run toward God, I began to run away. When I drank or did drugs, everything was okay. I didn’t have to think about things that were painful. I started to find my identity when I was high. All of a sudden, I could express myself and had no social awkwardness. I was the girl who would do anything, the girl who was funny. Even though I had grown up in church and loved Jesus and I knew He loved me, I didn’t connect my identity with Christ. So, what that meant was that I was always searching to find my worth in friendships, performance, and relationships. I didn’t find any worth in me apart from these things.

My moderation switch was broken. I was either going 100 miles an hour or sitting still. My drug addiction was no different. Balance was missing from my life. Anything that happened to me was either the best thing that happened or the worst. Being high leveled out my perception of extremes.

I ended up pregnant and still couldn’t quit. I started getting arrested. At one point in all of this insanity, I took my daughter to my grandparent’s house and didn’t go back to get her. I knew that I couldn’t take care of her and she would have a better life with my grandparents. I sought treatment but I didn’t think I was a true addict. I couldn’t stay clean after treatment, even after multiple treatments and multiple jail stays. My addiction got worse. It went from pain pills to heroin to meth, and then I started making meth. At this point I was living in a house without electricity and water. In October 2012, I came home and the police were waiting on me. I was charged with manufacturing meth and facing 20 years in state prison. Eventually it was dropped to a lesser charge and I ended up with a four-year sentence. I served 11 months and that was enough to keep me straight for a while.

When I got out of jail, I got back involved in church. I no longer blamed God for the rape. I had surrendered my drug addiction to God but I hadn’t surrendered any other aspect of my life. I was still seeking my identity in the wrong places. I went from horrible relationship to horrible relationship and got pregnant again.

During this time, God started working on the heart of my daughter’s father. He was very angry (and understandably so) that I had left her with my grandparents, and I thought that I would never see her again or even hear her voice. But after I got out of jail, he allowed me to see her and she started living with me again. She was 4 years old at the time. I got a good job and then had the new baby, and between all these responsibilities I stopped going to church. I thought it would be okay to start drinking. In my mind, I was a junkie and alcohol wasn’t a big deal. But just like everything else, I had no moderation and very quickly I was drinking every day. A friend sent me a message that said, “I have relapsed.” I know he was reaching out for help, but when I went to meet him, he had drugs and I asked for some. I began doing drugs again after that.

I had hoped that I had overcome my problem with addiction, but this relapse extinguished all hope. It was like someone poured a bucket of water on it. I tried to stop but couldn’t. Thankfully, my family intervened and said, “You are going to treatment, or you are on the street.” I found out about a residential treatment center and called on Monday, but they said they didn’t take my insurance. Tuesday I called and asked which insurance they accepted so I could switch, and they said they had a meeting and decided to take my insurance! Wednesday they called and asked if I could come the next day. I said yes and arrived there on Thursday, August 11, 2016. Two days later the house where I had been doing drugs was raided by police and everyone in it went to jail. Wow! Praise God for His perfect timing.

The treatment center sat at the top of a mountain and I remember the driveway up to it was so long. I was so broken. I had had such a hope that I could raise my kids and have a job to support them. I thought I was doomed to live a life of constant relapse. I knew that my older daughter’s father had taken her once and I was terrified that he would take her for good. I was afraid my family would take my younger daughter. I didn’t know if I wanted to live another day. I had NO HOPE that this place would help me. I had been to so many treatment centers that couldn’t help me … why would this place be different? The first two weeks my attitude was just to “do my time” until I could get out. I received a letter from my employer saying they would not hold my job, which meant I wouldn’t have a way to support my children when I got out. This drove me further into hopelessness.

I’m not sure how long it was before I started opening back up to God again, but slowly and without a definite starting point, it happened. I began to find my true identity as a daughter of God. I learned that I don’t have to be the best to be loved. I can be myself and be okay with myself and know that people love me. During treatment, I found out about the Peer Support Academy, an online program that I could do at the end of my treatment to get certified to help others with addictions. This was a career path—a way I could support my family. Learning about this opportunity gave me hope. After I finished treatment, I completed the training and became a peer support specialist. In May, I was hired as full-time staff at a residential center. In August, I was transferred to the corporate office where I currently work with the chief of staff. All of my strengths are being used in my job now. I get to make a difference in people’s lives because I am sharing hope and showing them that change is possible. Life is still really hard but there are so many blessings! When I look at where I was a year and half ago and where I am today—I never thought this would be possible. There were many times that I had hoped that I would OD and die, because it was the only way I saw out of the prison of addiction. But God didn’t let it happen. He had other plans and He didn’t let me go.

Now both of my children live with me again and I’m a mom. I was just able to buy a car this year. I am renting my own house. I have never been able to do that! I feel like God is just saying, “Let me give you the desires of your heart!” When I was in high school I loved participating in mock government activities and conferences. Earlier this year I was asked to talk to state legislators about my story and advocate for treatment for addiction instead of incarceration. It isn’t mock government anymore!

When I was in treatment, I made a list of qualities that I wanted in a life partner. I had been in unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship and I made a commitment to stay single until God showed me the man that would fit all of these qualities. After many prayers asking God to show me this man that He had picked out for me, He finally brought us together. October 3, 2018 I was privileged to marry the man that I had been searching for. Not only did he have all of the qualities on my “list,” but he has qualities that I didn’t even know that I needed. I am so blessed to be able to worship God with a husband that loves Him as much, if not more than, I do. 

When I was in treatment, every day we were asked questions. One was:

“I want to be someone who__________.” My answer was “someone who my children are proud of.” Last year a regional newspaper published my story and my 9-year-old daughter cut that article out and wrote, “Good job, Mom!” and taped it above her bed. This is the child that I was never to lay eyes on again. God is a God of restoration. The Bible promises that God will restore all the devil has stolen, and He is doing that, and more, every single day of my life.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. 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.

#170 God Knows My Heart

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My parents were divorced when I was 3 years old. My mom was married nine times and we moved every two or three years. I was surrounded by drugs growing up. I was 5 years old the first time I saw cocaine being used. My dad wasn’t involved in my life in a meaningful way, and as time went on he spent less and less time with me. Many times, I can remember having my bag packed and watching for him to come and get me for the weekend and him never showing up. To fill the void, I ran to the streets. I started smoking cigarettes and hanging out with kids that huffed gas and White Out. At about 15 I met a friend who introduced me to alcohol and acid. Our moms would buy us alcohol thinking it was safer for us to drink at home. I needed money to buy a car and went to my dad. He gave me marijuana to sell. I started smoking marijuana with my mom and dad. When I was about 20 I was introduced to cocaine.

In 1998, I had a car wreck while speeding over 120 miles per hour. This is the first time I went to jail, but the charges were dropped. In 1999 I went to jail for possession of marijuana. This was the year my son was born. His mom and I had both been meth users and he had serious health issues from birth. His lungs were not producing oxygen. He was in the hospital for weeks but thankfully he responded well to treatment. We took him home and two hours later Child Protective Services came to our home. We had periodic drug tests after that. In 2000, my son and his mother were in a bad car wreck and she was killed. Miraculously, he only had a few scratches. I wanted to be numb after this. He went to live with his maternal grandmother and that gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, which was to indulge in meth.

I went to prison in 2001 and was in and out of prison for over a decade. During this time, I learned to manufacture meth, and my relationship with my son was non-existent. In 2013, I was put into solitary confinement in prison. There was no window and no interaction with people for five days. It was unbearable. I prayed, “God, if you are real, get me out of this room.” In two days, they moved me to another room with a window. But I felt this was a coincidence. Again, I prayed, “God, if you are real get me out of this jail.” Not even 36 hours later they came to get me and moved me to another jail. There I met a guy who convinced me to read the Bible. I read the Bible for about two weeks and this softened my heart. On August 18, 2013, I cried out to God and received Christ and the Holy Spirit. I had a spiritual experience that night that changed my life. The experience was like liquid love. Everything was broken off of me. I no longer had the desire for drugs after that. Everything was changed. Another inmate said to me, “I’ve never seen a change in anyone like I have seen in you. I want what you have.”

In 2014, I got out of prison in one state but I was facing a 20-year prison sentence in another state. I asked the judge to lessen my bond and he cut my bond amount by 90%—from $10,000 to $1,000. My dad and a friend posted my bond and I was able to spend time in a halfway house and spend some time with my son before going back to prison. My 20-year sentence was cut in half and I began serving my 10 years in July 2015. This was the best time I had ever spent in prison because I went back saved and I met some wonderful people. I witnessed to my roommate and prayed for him and for his release, and he was paroled. In two years, I had the opportunity for parole. Everyone was skeptical because it was so unlikely given my history, but I felt strongly that I would have favor and that they would grant me parole. When I went before the parole board I told them if I was paroled, my plan was to go back to the halfway house. They granted me parole.

 

I spent six months in the halfway house, and as soon as I got out I started going back into the jail to minister. I am now a part of Residents Encounter Christ (REC), an organization that has three-day weekends with inmates to teach them the Good News and bring them into a relationship with Christ. God has prepared me for the ministry I am doing now, offering hope and bringing people to Christ and discipling them. I spend time with the Lord every day. The power of the Holy Spirit is the only way I have the strength to live the life I am living now. It is an honor to bring Him glory and exalt Him.

 

God knows our heart and wants to give us the desires of our heart. He is restoring my relationship with my son. I am so thankful for the many ways God protected him over the years. I can now see all of the little and big things God did to save me and draw me to Him. I’m so thankful for God’s love that is beyond our understanding and that He answered my cries for help and changed me. I am a new creation and His power in me strengthens me every day.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

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.

#168 Walk by Faith

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I was one of seven children. I had the best mom ever; I have never seen a stronger woman. She went without so we could eat. My dad was in and out of jail and did over 20 years in state prison and federal prisons. My dad was my role model. He taught me how to con and hustle. I thought he was a gangster and that’s what being a real man was.

My grandma lived next door. We were very close, and I stayed at her house many nights. She had so much determination and was a hard worker. She loved the Lord, went to church every Sunday, and talked to me about Jesus. In 2005, she died in my arms. That was a turning point. I was 16 and had been getting in trouble before that, but I wasn’t doing drugs. I had friends that were doing drugs, and the drugs were easy to get. Some people have a slow downhill spiral, but for me it was immediately falling apart. I started with one pill and then went to IV drugs. I got suspended from school, kicked off the ball teams, and went to juvenile detention.

At 18 I was released and went right back to doing dope. I got into more trouble and was a three-time convicted felon and spent eight years in jails and prisons and detox centers. During this time, I felt I was destined to be in jail. I didn’t trust people and was ashamed. But on the outside, I wanted everyone to think I was a tough guy. In 2010, my little sister who was 18 years old overdosed and died. She had called me a few hours before she overdosed and had a bunch of pills. I was so consumed in my own addiction I did nothing to help her. I was so lost I used her funeral to make people feel sorry for me to get dope. Not long after that, the girl I was with got pregnant. After our daughter was born, my aunt and uncle took her into their home. I’m thankful to God that they took her. They provided a good, safe home for her. We named our daughter after my little sister who had just passed away. 

In 2014, I went through a substance abuse program in jail and stayed clean 19 months. I was sober but I wasn’t in recovery. I hadn’t changed anything about myself. I just wasn’t using. I started dating a girl I had known since I was a kid. We got a place and she got pregnant. I was still clean from drugs but didn’t have a job. I wasn’t free and was ashamed and miserable. I was running around with my old buddies, hustling people for money. I was not being a man to provide for my family. We were living off my girlfriend’s child support for her two children that were living with us.

Eventually I broke and started doing dope again and relapsed bad. I robbed my family’s food stamps and sold their toys and diapers. My girlfriend wasn’t into drugs. She was a good girl. It was the relationship I had always wanted, and I was throwing it away. Our son was born November 2, 2015. On Christmas Eve of 2015, I came in and threw down a rug I had stolen, and my girlfriend thought it was her Christmas present. She hit me hard and evil took over me. I was a monster. I beat her. The next morning her father was at our door with a shotgun and the law was on the way. I went to jail, and when I got out she wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t see any of my kids. They told me I had to get help if I wanted to see my kids. I went to my sister’s grave and asked God why He took her and not me.

In February 2016, I checked myself into a detox hospital. I waited for about 10 hours and wanted to leave, but something kept telling me to stay. I thought, “If you leave, you are going to die.” A month later, I checked into a residential drug treatment center. I hated everybody and hated myself. I couldn’t stand to look at myself and had no hope whatsoever but knew if I didn’t do something different I was going to die. For eleven days, I wanted to leave. I couldn’t get focused. One day I was using my phone and as I was typing “Walk by Faith Not by Sight,” I got caught with it, and you can get kicked out for that. However, the pastoral counselor at the home talked to me and said, “What if you could take all this bad and turn it into doing something good? What if you can take all that hustling and conning that you learned from your dad and use it to help people and show people hope? What was meant for evil God uses for good. You have a chance to change your family tree.” This conversation changed me. The Assistant Director spoke with me about accountability and it opened my eyes and planted a seed that changed the way I saw things and I began holding myself accountable for everything I had ever done in my life.  The Director of the program also talked to me that day and gave me hope. He said he had been through eight rehabs and now he was the Director. I said, “I wish I could be where you are.” He told me to reach higher than that. After that I got focused. I worked on the old baggage inside of me—the anger, the shame. I wanted to be free from that. I was still struggling with spirituality because of my sins. I hadn’t submitted fully to Christ yet, but God was working in my life and shaping me. I was learning patience and humility. When I graduated from the recovery program, it was the only thing I had accomplished in my life. I framed the graduation certificate, and it is now hanging in the center of the wall at my office where I work.

I had already worked on moving beyond my past, but I hadn’t really found Jesus. I was still stuck on following laws. The last night I was in the recovery program, we went to church and I heard a sermon about how believing in Jesus saves us and about Jesus’ relentless love and forgiveness. I finally got it. I got saved that night and felt so free. The next day, I went home. I had come to terms that my girlfriend was not coming back, but I still wanted to be a good father to my children. I was living my life by faith. I told God, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to trust in You and have faith and stay the path.” I was trusting in something totally different than I ever had.

I started going to church, and it was around Mother’s Day. I knew all the sorrys couldn’t change what I had done, but I sent my girlfriend a Mother’s Day card and wrote Proverbs 3:5-6 in it.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I started taking my children to church and then asked if she would go to church with me. She started going to church with me and ended up getting saved too. We got married in June, just two months after I graduated the recovery program. My family was restored with custody of all children except my first daughter who is still living with my uncle and aunt. I want to do what is best for her. I want it to be God’s will and God’s timing when we get reunited. I have prayed that God would let me know the right thing to do at the right time.

After we got married, I was honest about who I was and couldn’t find a job anywhere. I went back to school to get a college degree. We moved in with my mom, but it was a hard situation. We had to take showers with a water hose outside. The only thing I owned was a car and that blew up. I had to walk everywhere I needed to go. My wife and I didn’t pray for money or things, we just prayed for our relationship with God to get stronger. But God always provided. The pastor of our church and his wife offered us a house to stay in rent-free, and the church bought us a 2009 minivan. I got certified as a peer support specialist and was hired on as a residential staff at the recovery program I went through. I was promoted to pastoral counselor in October 2017. We just had another baby April 13, a boy named Gage, which means “a deposit of good faith.”

Six days after the baby was born, my dad got hit by a car as he was leaving jail and was killed. I hadn’t talked to him in a year. I had tried to help him but he didn’t want it. I felt so bad. When I looked at him in the casket, I thought, “What if he had taken the opportunity to follow Christ? If he had known the love of Christ everything would have been different.” And I thought, that could have been me. I have so much regret about the things I have done, but God is using those experiences to allow me to help others. Today I find my joy in helping people find hope and helping them get their families back. Today I realize life is not about material things it’s about people; it’s about family! I love my beautiful wife and my 5 amazing kids. God restored all the broken pieces of my heart and today I know what true freedom is.  I never thought I could break the bond of addiction. I never thought I would be able to be a good dad, son, brother, and husband. Without Jesus, there is no way I could do what I am doing. I’m so thankful.

To me God is love, grace, and mercy. I have many days that I fall short and struggle with self- doubt, but I snap back and know that God loves me. It’s the religious stuff that turns people away from God. But His love chases you down and finds you and pulls you out of the pit of hell. Once you experience that, how could you ever go back?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 

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.

#166 My Pain, God’s Goodness

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My mom raised us in church until I was 9, and I was baptized as a young girl. We were very involved in church and I loved Sunday school. As I got older, we no longer attended church. I started smoking pot and drinking when I was 12 years old. I ended up pregnant at 16 years old. When my son was born I really hoped that I had found a pure love that wouldn’t go away. I didn’t know my birth father at that point in my life. I got pregnant on purpose because I wanted love. But I was a kid myself and never thought about how I would provide for a baby. My son’s father was 15 and neither of us knew how to do the things we needed to do to be good parents. So, when my son was 1 year old, my mom took him to raise. I grieved so much for him. I didn’t care what happened to me after that. I was sleeping in school buses and in public bathrooms. Sometimes I slept on other people’s couches, and when I did, I felt I owed something to the guys who were allowing me to stay. I allowed my body to be given away because that was the only asset I had to give. I felt I wasn’t worth any more than that.   

I wasn’t addicted to drugs at this time but I was making many bad and dangerous decisions. I remember one time the police picked me up as I was driving around with several men much older than me who were convicted felons. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I had nowhere to go. He knew how vulnerable I was in that situation, and to get me to a safe place, he paid for a hotel room for me and bought me a meal. He dropped me off and left. I know that was God showing kindness to me, protecting me.

When I was 21, my birth father got married and his wife heard about me from a mutual friend. She contacted me and asked if I would want to come live with them. I stayed with them for six to twelve months. They bought me a car and new clothes. His wife was so kind and she really tried to help me. I started nursing assistant school and did very well. I was third in my class and was ready to graduate, but then they wouldn’t let me because I didn’t have my GED. That was another hard hit and I went back on a downward spiral.

I left my father’s house and got into a relationship with another man. We had two children together. We were very poor and lived way out in the country with no indoor toilet. My sister took us in at one point. We split up after about four years when our youngest child was 3 years old.

In 2003, my children and I moved into an apartment, and not long after that my sister died. I began to lose my mind after that. The enemy just came in and consumed me mentally and physically. I lost custody of my children because of multiple suicide attempts. I was in and out of the psychiatric unit several times. They put me on many medications. Some made the cutting worse and some made me numb and emotionless. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know how to find God, and my life had no meaning without Him.

In 2007, I was in a horrible car accident. My pelvis was broken in half. I was in the hospital for a month. I was in so much pain. For the first year after the accident, I was prescribed pain medication. I remember the day I knew I was addicted. I ran out of pain pills and my whole body was shaking and trembling. I was so sick. I began using IV drugs and that took control of everything in my life. Even just an hour after doing drugs, I would get sick and need more. I prostituted myself to get drug money. It was no longer about getting high. It was about trying not to be sick. The mental obsession was insanity. It was all I could think of. Life became all about who I could rob, con, or sleep with to get my next drug. I knew addiction was of the devil. The moment you prepare to change your life is the moment people come out of the woodwork to give you free drugs. I saw this happen in my own life.

The day came when I was tired of it all. I cried out to God for help. Shortly after, a local drug enforcement agent caught me on tape selling drugs. God was answering my cry for help and intervening to save me. They put me in jail and then released me to drug court, which is an outpatient accountability program with drug testing and meetings with drug counselors. I talked to God a lot at this point. I asked God to let me serve Him and His people. While I was still in the drug court program, I discovered that I had leadership ability. I began facilitating faith-based recovery meetings through Lifeline. I continued to work with Lifeline after graduating drug court. I got custody of my kids back and we had four great years.

But then I relapsed. I got on heroin and it was worse than the first time. I remember my arms and chest being covered with needle holes. Social services were going to take my children, and I tried to stay clean so I could keep them, but I failed a drug test. I don’t know why I relapsed. It was a big surprise to everyone, including me. I had become the poster child in my town for overcoming substance abuse. God had changed me completely and then I relapsed. I talked to God again and said, “I have made a mess of this. I don’t want this anymore.” I went through detox and as soon as drugs were out of my system, I began to ask God for deliverance from drug addiction. I knew I couldn’t go on without God. I began to seek the Holy Spirit with everything in me. I started working at the church doing anything they would let me do, cleaning toilets…anything.

When my children were taken away because of my relapse in 2015, I thought my life had ended. But it was just the beginning. That was the last day I got high on anything. I have custody again, and I’m a productive parent to three great kids. The Lord answered my prayer and has delivered me from addiction. I am still very careful. If I feel any trigger, I talk to my pastor. I stay really close to God. When I wake up, the first thing I think about is Jesus. My relationship with Jesus is the only thing that has worked to help me. I can’t do this alone—not even for one day. Every day I ask God to help me and He does. I don’t function well without God…I can’t lose Him. Everything is at stake.

I now work as the Director of ReWired, a faith-based addition recovery program. A local church has taken ReWired on as one of their ministries. We have a church service on Saturdays and each time we meet there is a revival spirit. The pastor and I let the Holy Spirit lead and we worship and sing for God. Through ReWired, I also work as a coach with 10 people who have additions. The most important thing we do is provide spiritual guidance. We share our stories to help others know there is hope and that God can break the bondage of addiction.

I never thought I would be qualified to serve God or make it to heaven, but my pastor taught me that it is about a relationship, not perfect rule-following. God is love and it isn’t about requirements. The right lifestyle is acquired through the relationship with Him.

I am a miracle, because without God I would be dead or in a crack house at 90 pounds doing dope. I never expected that there would be a greater purpose to come out of the pain of my life. But God is using it all for good. I look at my “before” pictures—my mug shot—and cry because of how good God is and how real He is. He has loved me, forgiven me, and transformed me. I want everybody to know.  

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

(Proverbs 31:25) 

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.

#156. He Has Been Waiting For You

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I grew up in Cuba where I earned my doctorate degree in veterinary science in 1997. For four years, I had a very successful, busy practice specializing in surgery. But I felt something was missing. I had an emptiness in my life. I was not a Christian but did know that the spiritual world existed. I decided to go to a Methodist church in my city for a revival. There were several hundred people there but the pastor pointed me out and said, “God has a plan for your life. He wants to use you and He has been waiting for you.” I didn’t believe in Christ so I moved to the back of the church. The pastor started praying for people and they started falling on the ground. I didn’t know what was going on. I am a naturally curious person and this intrigued me.

The next day I went back to the revival and the pastor said the same thing to me. I still wasn’t picking up on this message. I just really wanted to see what he was doing and was there only as an observer. When he did an altar call I ran to the front to see what he was doing. There was a long line of people waiting. The pastor was praying and saying “Holy Spirit come!” and people would fall on the ground when he prayed for them. I was in line for him to pray for me and prepared myself not to fall. When he prayed over me, I fell to the floor laughing and crying. A couple of my friends tried to help me up but I couldn’t get up. Finally, I got up and left the church wondering, “What was that?”  During the months that followed, I continued to reflect on what had happened and I continued to feel that same emptiness that took me to church in the first place.

After six months, I went back to the same church and received Christ. Finally, the emptiness was gone. When I came to Christ, all of my passion and drive were channeled for Christ. I became a tsunami, sharing the Gospel and bringing people to the church.  A month after I became a Christian, I left Cuba to move to the United States. Shortly before I left, in December of 2001, the church leadership called me in and told me that I would become a pastor. I didn’t believe it and laughed at them. But two months later, in February of 2002, I was a pastor at a church.

I came to U.S. chasing the American dream. I had my own plan but God challenged me to take His dreams and not mine. I moved to a city in the Midwest where my sister lived. I sought out a Methodist church to learn English and when I got there I knew more English than the teacher did. So, they asked me to teach the English class. Then the church asked me to teach a Bible Study. Then they asked me to give a sermon. I had only been a believer 6 months and I was preaching! People were coming to church and getting baptized. The Bishop in the Methodist church felt I needed training because I didn’t have the credentials to baptize people. He asked me to go to school to become licensed to baptize and preach which I did. I was still working as a veterinarian at this point.

My wife had come to the U.S. with me and she helped me plant a church in the Midwestern city where we were living.  After this, the Methodist church sent me to a rural area in Kentucky where my wife and I planted a second church. The Holy Spirit told me that the church would be for people coming from different places. I had a dream that the church was packed with people and the very next Sunday people started coming from all different places and the church was full. There were many baptisms. I was 29 years old and had given up my career in veterinary medicine for full time ministry. It was an exciting time. The church was growing and my wife and I had a vision for our future together. But then one day we were coming from a pastoral meeting and I had a car accident and my wife was killed. I was injured as well. I passed out or was dead – I’m not sure – but while this occurred I remember that my wife and I were together, lifted up above the scene of the accident and together we were walking toward the light. But I let go of her hand and she kept walking. She looked back and smiled at me and kept walking away from me into the light.

I didn’t blame God for the death of my wife. I had spent much time with Christ beforehand in prayer, fasting and reading the Bible and this helped prepare me for what happened. When dark moments of life come, your relationship with Christ is what really defines what you are going to do.  Still there was much grief and pain. I loved my wife. We had many plans together and then she was gone. It was difficult to imagine my life without her. I left the church where I was pastoring and went to my sister’s house. There I went into a room, locked the door and began fasting, praying and reading the Bible. Eventually I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “Stop looking for your wife in the past. She is not in your past. She is in your future. Keep walking forward and you will see her again.” I remembered the day of the accident seeing my wife walking into the light. I just needed to keep walking with Jesus and I would see her again in heaven.

This message from the Holy Spirit lit a fire under me. I was ready to preach again but this time with more urgency. I went to my sister and told her I needed a pulpit and that same day three churches called me and wanted me to plant a church for them. I met with each of the pastors at these churches to see which I felt called to work with.  I had felt the Holy Spirit calling me to preach the gospel in the Dominican Republic so when I went to stay at one of the three pastor’s homes and saw a photo of two pastors from the Dominican Republic on his refrigerator, I knew that he was the one. The other two pastors offered health insurance and a parsonage, neither of which this pastor could offer me, but I didn’t care. I knew that God wanted me to go to the Dominican Republic and this pastor had the connection there. I started a church plant for this pastor and people started coming to Christ. It grew so much that the parent church became enveloped into the planted church.  A year later, in 2004, I was in Dominican Republic planting a church. I have been back in the U.S. since 2005 pastoring a church and providing leadership training and coaching for pastors.

As I reflect back on my journey with Christ, I think about what the pastor said the first time I went to church in 2001, “God has a plan for your life. He wants to use you. He has been waiting for you.” I resisted at first, even bracing myself against the power of the Holy Spirit. But God was patient with me. He didn’t give up on me. He pursued me until I came to Him and gave my life to Christ. And once I surrendered my life and my plan, God’s power was unleashed in my life. God has shown me that life with Him is the only way to true joy, peace and contentment. His plans are better than my plans…much better. God has been so faithful to me in every part of my life, guiding me to the right places and right people not only for my own good but to be used by Him for the good of others. He provided comfort and encouragement when I lost my wife and restored more than what was lost. I have married again to a wonderful wife and we have a beautiful seven-year-old daughter named Sulam, which is a Hebrew name meaning open heavens.  I know that God is with me, working everything out for 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.

#155 Celebrating the Milestones

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My parents were young and there were some problems at home. ​I moved out when I was 16 years old. I got pregnant when I was 17 and then got married. I got pregnant again when I was 18. The marriage ended in divorce when I was 22. After my divorce, I thought it would be best to move back with my children to my hometown where I had family and friends. My ex-husband hired an attorney who told the judge many bad things about my home county. The judge said he couldn’t prove I was an unfit mother but that my home county was such a bad place to raise children that he had to award residential custody of the children to their father. 

This was a turning point for me. I started not caring about anything after losing my children. I went to see a doctor and was prescribed a nerve pill.  I started taking massive amounts of these daily. This became a lifestyle and because of multiple arrests and drug charges I was unable to get a job. I felt trapped into selling drugs to make a living. For 16 years, this was my life.  I was locked up for many years. I lost so much time with my children and my mom. My mom had always been there for me and had continued to be a support to me. But she passed away while I was still in addiction. 

I never stopped believing in God, and one night in the jail cell I asked God to help me. Sometime later, I was offered drug treatment at a residential center instead of incarceration. About that time, I was allowed to leave jail to attend my uncle’s funeral. While I was there I told my dad about the offer to go to treatment. I told him I wasn’t going to go, that I planned to cut my ankle bracelet and run again. He tried to talk me out of it. I really was tired of running so I agreed to get treatment. But once I was there I wanted to leave. I was going to run away, but there was a massive snowstorm and I couldn’t. I know that was God keeping me there!

I could see the women at the home laughing and having a good time and wanted to know why they were joyful. I started to become more open to the idea of a life without drugs. The CEO came around for a tour of our home and I heard him talking about a job opportunity if we would complete the program and stay clean a year. I asked him afterwards, “I have 17 felonies but you would hire me?” He said, “Absolutely.” That was the turning point. Then I started taking treatment seriously. But I hadn’t had any hope of any kind of decent life for 16 years. I knew God had to help me—and He did.

While I was in treatment, we went to church and I started getting it. I heard a sermon from Luke on building a good foundation. I knew that l needed a good foundation moving forward. After I completed my treatment, I became an intern with the addiction program, but that didn’t work out so I worked as a volunteer in return for my rent as a part of a church program. During those three months, I was really soul searching. God was really working on me.  It felt so good to have my life back. I knew that I wanted use the rest of my life to help people. I got a new job as an intern in a different department, with the same addiction program I had been with before. I truly believe God put me in this department because it is such a good fit for me. My supervisor is a woman. She is the same type of person I am and God placed her in my life as a mentor.

During my internship, I made a mistake and got into a relationship with a recovering addict. I felt like God was telling me the relationship wasn’t healthy and that it would be easy to slip back into addiction. I stayed clean and stepped away from that relationship, but I was already pregnant when I left. I had no idea how I was going to provide for the baby. But God provided people in my life to help me. The organization I was interning with provided an apartment for me during the internship. After one year, I was hired full-time as the Intake Coordinator in the program and one year later I was promoted to Assistant Director of Intake. These opportunities provided the income for me to take care of myself and the baby. God also gave me a family at work. The intake team has really been my family. The pastors that work with our company and the leadership of the company have all supported me.

After I was hired full-time I needed to find my own apartment. I prayed, “God please let us find a decent place to live and be able to make it financially.” One day I looked at Craigslist for a place to live, and the first place was so pretty and I thought, “That is so nice, but with my background there is no way they will let me rent there.” My boss went to look at it with me and because the landlord knew him I was able to rent it. This was the first place I had ever lived on my own and I found out that my landlord’s mother had the same first and last name as my mother! Not only did I get to live there but all utilities are paid, making it affordable. My landlords are Christians and it has been such a blessing. 

I thank God every day for even the little things—the water in the shower, the electricity in our house, the sunshine, and my job. I love my job as an intake coordinator. I talk to a lot of people every day. Sometimes it is a person’s lawyer or family member,but sometimes the person calls themselves about getting placed in one of our residential treatment programs. I get their information over the phone and help get them out of jail and into treatment. I understand where they have been and can communicate hope to them. Each month we celebrate milestones in recovery for the residents, and when their names are read each month I think how special it is that God let me be a part of their recovery. 

God is a loving God. He cares about the smallest things. He knows us personally. He knows what we need. He has much grace for the mistakes that we make. I am so thankful for my recovery. I was one of those people that people would say would never be clean. It’s true that after you mess up your life, you just feel like there is no way out. But God saved my life and He changed me. I am so thankful that He gave me the opportunity to be a mom again. 

​My daughter is now 6 months old and has been​ an amazing gift. At first I had a hard time accepting the​ gift of a new baby​. But my neighbor said, “Children are a gift from God, and He is not going to give you this gift if He isn’t going to provide a way to take care of her.” This changed how I felt about it. My neighbor was right—God has provided for our every need. 

God restores what has been taken from you. I now have a relationship with my older ​children. My daughter is 20 and my son is 19. It is not a perfect relationship, but God is working this out too. When I took my daughter out recently to eat she said, “I am so glad, Mom, that I get to be here with you.” She has a daughter now, my granddaughter, and she lets me see her and now I get to be a good influence and a good part of her life. When she comes to visit, I take her to church. It is funny how God brings things around. I loved my grandmother. I felt safe around her and found comfort with her. Maybe now I can be that person to my granddaughter.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning .  Lamentations 3:22 – 23 

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.

#154 Steve the Cat

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I had the honor of sharing the devotional last week at a local Emmaus board meeting. It was not my turn, but God laid on my heart the burdens we see each week at our local Mission. Because of this, I am reminded of Steve the cat and his horrific journey to us and to his glorious and miraculous recovery.

I shared from Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn…” We had been alerted through our weekly prayer walks that some of our old friends from our days of church ministry had resurfaced in the neighborhood and perhaps as many as 20 are living in one location. By observation, it is obvious that they have fallen victim to those old demons. If we are reading what we are seeing correctly, its heroin, and they are all knee deep in it and it’s heartbreaking.

Steve the cat came to us on a recent Thanksgiving night while we were in New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our cat wrangler and sitter Mike realized that he had gained a new face and that little Steve was in trouble. You see, Steve had a raging infection in his body leaving him blind, emaciated, and in cardiac distress. He was dehydrated, had lost his ability to stand, and somehow found his way onto our deck through the cat door and found one of our pillowed cat cubbies where he prepared to die. However, like so many times in life, our God is in the little details, nudging us along and allowing us to see where He needs us to be.

When we returned, we scooped little Steve up—all three pounds of him—and headed to the local animal clinic, trying to decide if Steve would make it or if it would become just comfort measures for his last few and sad days. The veterinarian went to work giving Steve liquids and antibiotics and sending us home with a grocery list of do’s and don’ts to try to save our little gift from death. She told us that the outcome and his condition was grim.

This is where God stepped in, because Michael my best friend from grade school mailed a huge box of high fiber, high protein cat food to us after the loss of his cat Buddy, arriving the same week we began Steve’s rehabilitation. Slowly, through the shots, treatments, and food, Steve began to improve. I think we can honestly say that it took six to seven months before my wife and I ever said aloud, “I think Steve is going to make it.”

Isn’t Steve’s story just so God? The metaphor of how it is that we must come to Him broken, dehydrated, emaciated, and preparing to die so that the God of the universe will step in and begin our own journey of restoration, hope, and redemption. That choice is ours because He is waiting, praying that our face will turn to Him. We have a saying around our ministry: “You have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and we have seen God meet person after person right in the midst of their death march when they finally become sick and tired.

I closed our devotion time with the first line of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” So for us, our season and our time is now, intentionally Jericho-prayer-walking the house of our 20 old friends and verbalizing the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good news that He is there with us, just waiting for these young kids caught up in the demons of Satan to be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We celebrated our second anniversary this past Thanksgiving with Steve the cat. He is healthy and vibrant, and although he will never regain his sight, he is just one of the guys around the house. He has been known to chase his sisters through every room and across the entire length of the house. Steve gets into swatting matches with his brothers and thankfully allows us to sleep on one side of the bed as long as we do not bother him in his position lying sideways in the middle.

God is in the details, indeed.

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.

#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

#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.