#248. God Called Me Into Ministry One Step at a Time

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

In the late 1990s, my wife and I had a conversation while driving home from her parents’ house. It went like this:

“I feel like God is calling me into ministry,” I said.

“What do you mean?” my wife asked. “What kind of ministry?”

“I really don’t know,” I said.

“Well,” my wife said, “I don’t want to be married to a preacher.”

And I said, “Okay.”

So, I came home and I said, “Now, Lord, you know that we’re married, and so if You call me into something, You have to call her too. So now, I’m done with this until she changes her mind.”

About 15 years later, around 2005 or 2006, I started feeling that call again. This time it was more specific, in that I felt like I was being called to seminary. So, I said, “Okay, whatever this ministry thing is, it’s going to require a seminary degree.”

I had not completed my bachelor’s degree at that point. So, I told my wife what I thought, and she said, “Go finish your bachelor’s degree.” And, so I did, I graduated from Asbury University in 2009. Then I applied and was accepted into the Church of God Theological Seminary, which is now the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, one of the larger Pentecostal seminaries in the south. 

I went for, I think, three semesters, then I started getting opportunities with my job. Because I had graduated, they kind of sat down and said, “Here’s what we see for you in your future.” I also, at the same time, was forced to make a decision about going to seminary full-time and having to actually commute on certain days because some of the classes I needed I could not take online.

This is 2009, 2010, 2011, so we’re not in the whole “virtual learning” thing at that point. So, I decided, without a whole lot of prayer or talking to anyone, that I was just going to forget about seminary and focus on my career.

So, I dropped out, thinking I’d go to seminary at some point later on.

The next semester, my boss asked me to get my MBA, paid for by my company. So, I said, “Okay.” I went to the school that they recommended I go to, which they were going to pay for. I took three or four classes before the school made the decision to shut that cohort down. It was the very first time in the history of the program that they had closed the cohort. My only option was to drive to Louisville for classes, over an hour from my house. 

I said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” 

They said, “Well, you can wait and join online, whenever the classes that you need come up.”

I said, “No, I’m not doing that.”

So, by late spring or early summer of 2015, I was miserable. I had a good job, paid good, good benefits — but I hated it. I hated going to work.

I remember distinctly — I can tell you the clothes that I was wearing as I was walking down the aisle at work, I said, “Lord, there’s got to be more to life than this. I want You to put me where You want me to be, doing what You want me to do because I want to be in the center of Your will.”

That was the prayer that I began to pray and, at the same time, I started job hunting.

I believe it was late August or early September of 2015, I got a job offer at another company. It came with a raise and more responsibilities. Basically, I’d be in charge of the daily operations of a distribution center. So, I prayed about it. I felt really good about it. And, I accepted the job.

It started out really good — best job, at that point, that I’d ever had. I was working for one of the best bosses I’d ever had. 

They had a layoff right after I got there. I was called into the office and they said, “Don’t worry about it. This has nothing to do with you. You’re too new anyway.” 

In April or May of 2016, the vice president called me into his office and said, “Look, we’ve got some things going on in the company, but I don’t want you to be worried about it.” They gave me a raise. They gave me a bonus. They gave me shares of stock in the company. They laid out a three-year plan of what they wanted me to do and assured me that I had found my forever employment. I was going to retire from there. Great! I thought.

We went on vacation, June 23 or June 24, to Glacier National Park in Montana. It turns out that my wife had a dream while we were on vacation, but I didn’t know anything about her dream. She wrote it down:

“It was the most vivid dream that I have ever experienced,” Adrena said. “In this dream, I lost my job. And, my boss had shared with me that I hadn’t really done anything. It was the finances of the company. I actually still have the dream in my phone. It was so real. I am in this dream. I physically felt the emotion. I cried. It really tore me up. 

When I woke up from this dream, I was really just stiff. You know, you’ve probably experienced a nightmare at some point. When I woke up, it was almost like I was in that nightmare, just physically tense. And, I can remember opening up my eyes first, before anything else, and I kind of just looked around and my husband wasn’t in the bed. He was in the shower. And, I thought, “Well, I’ll tell him when he gets out of the shower.” Then, I’m like, “This dream is so different from any I’ve ever experienced. I’m going to get my phone and put it in my notes. So, I wrote my dream out, you know, everything in it. And then I still thought, I’ll tell him when he gets out of the shower. And I just laid my phone down. Then, I don’t know if I just forgot. I really don’t know, but I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell him on the trip at all.” 

So now we get back home and we are both getting ready for work. I had to be there at 5:30 a.m. When I got to work, I saw my boss’s vehicle in the parking lot and immediately I knew something was wrong. I didn’t think it had anything to do with me, but I knew there was something wrong because my boss doesn’t come to work at 5:30 a.m. 

After I got in and got the coffee going, I saw the HR manager. I was like, “Oh, boy. I don’t know what has happened while I’ve been gone, but it’s not good.”

My boss said, “Hey Brian, can you step into the office for a minute.”

I was like, “Well, here we go. What have ‘they’ done?” I had a couple of problem employees, so my thought was “They have really done something bad.” 

That’s when they broke the news to me. “While you were off, the company had a downsizing. This has nothing to do with your job performance. This doesn’t have anything to do with you personally. This has everything to do with the bottom line of the company.”

They had let several folks go in the distribution center, my former boss being one of them — a guy that was the best boss that I’d had up to that point. They let him go. That left a lot of inexperience running the distribution center, but that’s what the bean counters wanted. So that’s what they got.

So, I walked out. I said goodbye to a few folks. I got in the truck and came home. 

Adrena’s still at home getting ready and preparing to leave for work, since it is still so early. She hears the garage door open and thinks, “Why is the garage door opening?” She yells, “Brian, is that you?”

“Yes,” I said.

She asks, “What are you doing home?”

“I just lost my job,” I said.

Well, as soon as I said, “I just lost my job,” Adrena immediately thought of her dream. She met me with her phone in hand. She pulled up the dream and handed me the phone. She said, “Oh, my goodness, I may go into work today and lose my job too.”

As I read the notes about Adrena’s dream, I looked at her and said, “That dream is not going to be for you. That dream was for me because this is almost verbatim what they told me.”

At that point, Adrena went to work and she didn’t lose her job. We went through a very challenging time. It was tough for both of us for me to be unemployed for a time. But she said that dream is what helped her empathize more, since she truly ‘felt inside’ some of what I went through losing my job. 

I do believe the Lord gave her that dream and that’s what kept our marriage together — that dream. 

I got a lead on a job not too long after that, and I thought, “It’s going to be okay.”

When I told Adrena I was one of the final three candidates, she said, “No. You’re not going to get that job because you haven’t learned your lesson.”

And, I was like, “Well, now, that’s not a very nice thing to say to me, especially with you yelling at me to get a job.”

I really was praying, and I felt God telling me: “You need to go to seminary.”

I was like, “Well, Lord, that’s all well and good, but now I don’t even have a job. And the bill collectors are still going to keep coming to see me.”

Adrena was right. I didn’t get the job. I couldn’t buy a job. I literally interviewed to be a meter reader and didn’t get the job. Here I am. I’m responsible for an entire distribution center and I can’t get a job as a meter reader. I kept suffering defeat after defeat after defeat, which was driving me to the point of depression. I even remember walking around outside in my barn saying, “Lord, I don’t want to live like this. I know I’m ready to go. So, you just go ahead and take me. I’ll go be with Jesus and she can get what little bit of life insurance and retirement I’ve got left and live happily ever after.

I just kept hearing ‘seminary.’ So, I told Adrena. And she said, “No. We’re not going into debt to go to seminary.”

So, I went back out to my special place to pray. I said, “Now, Lord, I’ve tried this, I don’t know, two or three times. And, you see the response that I get every time. I’m done. You fix my life the way it needs to be fixed or you fix my wife the way she needs to be fixed, or you fix both of us the way we need to be fixed, but somebody is wrong here, and I’m not sure who it is.”

A few days after that prayer, I remember, I was sitting beside my best friend at our home church and his phone rings. Brother Jay pulls out his phone and hands it to me because it’s my wife calling. So his assumption, without even answering the phone, was that she was trying to get a hold of me and knew that I was with him.

So, I answered his phone, “How did you get Jay’s phone?” Adrena asked.

I said, “Well, he’s sitting right here beside me. He handed it to me.”

And she said, “I’m not wanting to talk to you. I want to talk to Jay.”

I was like, “OK, it’s going to be one of those nights. So, I handed the phone back to Jay and I let it go. I never said anything. I didn’t ask about it. I came home. I got in bed. I went to sleep. And I got up the next morning and I was back at my little spot doing my Bible study and prayer and quiet time, and the phone rang. It was my wife.

I was like, “Oh boy, this early in the morning, really?”

And she said, “Go ahead and apply for seminary.” 

I said, “Are you serious?”

She said, “Yes. I’ve talked to Brother Jay and I’ve talked to my cousin.”

When Adrena had told me we weren’t going into debt for me to go to seminary, I asked her to at least pray about it. She didn’t tell me she would or wouldn’t pray, but she did start praying about it. She prayed for weeks actually, and she also asked her cousin in Louisville to pray for us. All she told her cousin was that I had lost my job, so she was just praying for me to get a job.

That morning Adrena’s at work and her cousin texts to ask “How are you all doing?”

Adrena texts back, “Pretty good. No. Brian’s not found anything yet.” She sits the phone down and continues working.

Her cousin texts again, “If Brian is dealing with a calling on his life, he needs to accept it.”

When Adrena read that text message, she knew her cousin did not know that she’d been praying about seminary for Brian. So, she knew there was more to it.

I turned my phone upside down, where I couldn’t see it anymore and I went back to work as hard as I could, trying to get it off my mind for a little bit — knowing. And when I left work that evening, I was driving around New Circle Road. That’s when I called Brother Jay and Brian answered his phone.

I’m like, “What are you doing with Brother Jay and where are you?” Brian’s like, “I’m at church.” I’m like, “It’s a Monday night, what are y’all doing at church?” He’s like, “We had a fellowship meeting,” and I’m like, “What?”

And I said, “Well there are some things I need to talk more to a pastor type person about than you right now. So, I ended up talking to Brother Jay and his wife later that evening. I told them I really felt like Brian had this calling and needed to pursue it. I told them I am now willing to accept the fact that this is where we’re headed. I just felt like I needed somebody to talk to because he had been hearing it. He had asked me to pray. I didn’t really want to, but when I prayed that’s the same message I got too.

So that morning I told Brian, “I think you should go ahead and apply to seminary.”

I remember he asked, “Did this have anything to do with that phone call last night?”

I said, “It did.” 

He’s like, “Oh, okay. Adrena, it’s like three weeks before school starts. There’s no way I’m going to get in seminary now.”

I called the seminary where I was a previous student, so it wasn’t like I was starting off from scratch, but in some ways it was, since I had been out for so long. They said, “Well, we’ll do what we can sir, but a lot has got to do with you. You’ve got to have three letters of reference written, sent in, received, reviewed and accepted by the seminary. And then we’ve got to make sure that there’s a spot for you in the classes you want to take. 

And I said, “Okay.”

So, I contacted three pastor friends of mine. Told them the situation, and I left it at that. This was on Tuesday morning.

Three days later — Friday afternoon — I received a letter in the mail saying that I had been accepted, approved and enrolled, along with the start date of my classes. I barely had enough time to get my books. And, to top it all off, they cut my tuition for that semester in half and they did not make me pay it until the end of the semester, which is unheard of. 

So, that started me back to seminary. 

I was still looking for a job because I knew that unemployment was going to run out, and I got a phone call from a guy that used to work for me. 

He said, “Hey, are you still looking for a job?”

I said, “Well, yeah.”

He said, “Why don’t you come be my boss?”

I said, “Huh?”

So, I interviewed, and when I walked onto the shop floor, I knew immediately that’s where I needed to be because the Lord spoke to me. I felt the prompting that said, “You are here for that individual.” This person was a long-time friend of mine, a former pastor, who had left the church and left the faith altogether because of some things in his personal life.

But the Lord said, “You’re here to witness to him.”

And I said, “Lord, I don’t want to do that. And, I left and came back home.”

It went about a month and my wife, being the nice, loving wife that she is, let me know one morning that “Any job is better than no job” and that I should seek employment. So I called that company back and said, “Okay, I’ll come.”

I worked there for a little over a year, while going to school at the same time. So, if I needed to go to Cleveland, I worked it out to where I could be off work and go to Cleveland and come back. They knew up front that I was in seminary. I made that perfectly clear. They said, “We’ll work with you.” And they did.

Well, then things started getting rough on me. I felt that it was time for me to leave that job. But how do you quit your job and not have any other job lined up? I knew that I had to have clinical pastoral education (CPE) to graduate from seminary, and I was approaching the graduation point.

So, I came home and I told my wife, and she said, “You’re not quitting your job.” And I said, “But I’ve got to get in to CPE. “You’re not quitting your job,” she said. So, this went on. It went on till all the CPE centers were closed. They had filled up. There were no spots left anywhere.  

I felt led to contact a CPE center in Louisville, more than an hour from our home. All the ones around here were closed. I called the Louisville center and was told, “Well, you’ve really caught me at a good time because I had a full class, but I’ve got a guy that I’m pretty sure is going to drop out. And if he drops out and you want his spot, you can have it because we’re so close to starting that I don’t have time to recruit. So I’m just going to let you in if he drops out. 

A week later he called me or I called him, and he said, “Do you still want the spot?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You’re in.”

I didn’t interview for it. I didn’t apply for it. I was just in. So, after I got there, they wanted my application, so I gave it to them. And, we’re over half way through the CPE unit, when they’re ask me for some more information that I never submitted to begin with. And, they said, “Well, the way you came in, it probably got lost somewhere anyway, so don’t worry about it. So, I never did have to fill out part of the stuff that you normally have to fill out. And again, never interviewed for it, just got accepted over the phone and went in.  

So, I completed that unit of CPE. Part of that training had me serving 40 hours a week at a homeless shelter, which was a life-changing experience. It showed me a whole different world and changed my entire perspective on homelessness.

After I completed my CPE training, I came home and started looking for a job, again I couldn’t buy one. I went to these clothing stores who will hire anybody, except me. I went to Lifeway Christian Store, which was actively seeking employees. You would think that a guy who’s getting ready to have an MDiv would be a shoe-in, ‘nope,’ wouldn’t even talk to me.

So one morning my wife told me, “You go find a job and you go find a job today.” 

I said, “Okay God, you heard my wife. I need a job and I need a job today.”

I walked into Rural King in Winchester, and I didn’t give them my full resume. I was frustrated. I was aggravated. I did a copy and paste. It was the worst looking resume I have ever done in my life, and I had it in my hand and I walked in, wearing just normal everyday outdoor clothes. 

All the managers were standing around the little desk at Rural King. One of them said, “Can I help you?” And I said, “Well, I hope so. I’m looking for a job.” And he looked at me and said, “You look like you already work here, but I tell you what, I don’t usually do the hiring, let me get a hold of Shane.”

So, Shane comes over, and says, “Boy, this is a nice-looking resume.” And I thought he was being sarcastic, so I said, “Well sir, I have a professional resume.” He said, “You could have written it with crayon on cardboard and it would have been alright with me.” And he called another guy and said, “Hey, are you still looking for an inventory specialist?” And the guy said, “Yeah, I am.”

Shane asked me some questions, I passed an on-the-spot drug test and came home with a job that day. And before I left Rural King, I ended up being operations manager of the store, which meant that the next time a store opened I’d have first shot at becoming a store manager.

Once I got into seminary, although I’d given no thought to chaplaincy whatsoever, that’s where I felt God leading me, either counseling or chaplaincy. When I checked it was the same requirements, the only difference would be the word written on my diploma ‘counseling’ or ‘chaplaincy.’

So I stuck with chaplaincy, and I applied for a residency at the VA in Lexington. I also interviewed at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

Once my wife had accepted that God was calling me into chaplaincy, she told me, “You’re going to be a chaplain at the VA. And, I said from the very beginning, “It’s not possible. I can’t do it. I don’t have any qualifications to be a chaplain at the VA. It can’t happen.” So chaplaincy at the VA was never really legitimately on my radar — ever.

I get a call from the VA and they said, “We’d like to offer you a paid residency for one year at the VA in Lexington.” Well, it shocked me so much that I choked up and began to cry. I don’t cry. I’m not a crier. And my CPE educator said, “I hear emotion in your voice. What’s that about?”

I told him, “I didn’t think I was going to get this.” Turns out I beat out 14 other people for that spot. I had no idea.

“It was divine intervention,” Adrena said.

A week before I was supposed to start, I got a call from the chief of chaplain services saying, “Hey, we’ve got a program that we would like to get you trained in called Warrior to Soulmate, it’s like a marriage counseling thing. But I can’t pay you to do it because you’re not officially on the books. But if you will come this week, I will give you equivalent time off that you can use anytime you want to use it.” 

The chief of chaplain services in Cincinnati, Ohio, came to Lexington to train us. I complete the training. My official second week, but my unofficial third week at the hospital, I’m walking down the hallway from the Community Living Center (CLC) back to my office. I said, “Lord, I know where I’m at right now, but where am I going to be a year from now?”

And as clearly as anyone has ever spoken to me, the Lord said, “Don’t you worry about where you’re going to be a year from now. You learn what I need you to learn right now, and I’ll take care of next year.” 

Well, I was up in this room shortly after that, it may have even been the next day, and the enormity of my responsibility hit me like a mac truck. “We’re not playing games here. I’m actually here to help these folk. I’m not a veteran. I’m not old. I’m not disabled. I thought, “How am I going to connect with these guys?”

“How?” I’ve got nothing in common with them. My anxiety broke out like you wouldn’t believe. I thought I was going to have a stroke or a heart attack right then and there. I was like, “God you’ve got to help me, cause I don’t know what to do. I’ve got seminary training, I’ve got church training. “I ain’t got no training for these folk.” 

And the Lord spoke to me and directed my attention to the corner of that room. And in the corner in-between the bookcase and the wall, was a guitar. And the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “That is how you are going to connect. That guitar.”

I’d played the guitar and sang all my life. So I went back to the office and asked my mentor, “You guys have guitar groups or people that come in and sing and play?”

He said, “No, but we’ve been wanting someone who can play the guitar and sing because the veterans love that.” 

I said, “Well, I might be able to help you there.”

He said, “Are you kiddin’ me?”

And that was it. My guitar and my singing and all of a sudden everybody in the Community Living Center (CLC), everybody in the hospital knows who I am. “I’m the chaplain who can sing and play.” I started getting requests to go to people’s rooms. It just opened up the entire hospital to me.

Well, after six months is over, this was right as the COVID pandemic was hitting, I got transferred from the CLC to the main hospital. It shares a campus with the University of Kentucky. So, they still left me with hospice and palliative care at the main hospital, but I was no longer doing the work in the CLC. So they give you a broad range of experiences to learn different skillsets. 

I got to do some things as a resident with hospice and palliative care that other residents never got to experience. 

The first six months at the VA, I was assigned to the CLC. And the reason that he did it is because the CLC is for hospice and palliative care. Now there is some rehabilitation and some respite, but it is mostly dementia, hospice and palliative care, which is a much slower, much different approach to work and lifestyle than I was ever used to. I was used to fast-paced, snap decisions, put it in place, let’s get it done. You got time to lean, you got time to clean. The whole business mantra. 

And, I asked my mentor one day, “Did you assign me to the CLC to slow me down?”

And, he said, “Yes, I did. It was strategic. I wanted you here on this campus. I wanted you to learn this skillset, and I wanted you to slow down because I think you’re going to make a great chaplain.” 

In my last three months at the VA, they assigned me to the intensive care units. While I was in the ICUs I was asked to bring my guitar and play and sing for veterans there. 

I’ve had doctors tell me that my appearance in the room with my guitar was actually a turning point in the care of some of those individuals.

My last month at the VA, I’m starting to get a little concerned. I’m starting to try and figure out what am I going to do next? Well, the Army called me and said, “We’re looking for men like you.” I participated in the big speech they gave, the meeting they had. He said, “Get me your stuff. We can get you in. You’ll be fine. We will make a chaplain out of you. And if you still want to serve your full 20 years, you’re young enough that you can do it.” At the time I was only 44 years old. 

My wife said, “No, absolutely not.”

“Okay God, so military’s not in it and the VA’s not in it, what am I going to do?”

She’s still saying VA, I’m saying ain’t no way. I went and talked to my boss and he said there’s no way. I don’t have spot first of all, but secondly you don’t have the qualifications. 

What happened was there was this policy thing called “Hybrid Title 38” circulating up in Washington, but it didn’t get pushed through until after I was supposed to leave Lexington.

I got a job offer from Central Baptist in Lexington as a part-time and PRN chaplain. The lady called me in for the interview. She said, “I looked at your resume and I want to hire you because you’re going to be here when there is no other leadership here, and I’m going to trust you to take care of all the chaplain issues in the hospital when there’s no leadership here. I need someone I can trust.”

I said, “Okay, give me a couple days.”

The next day, the Lord had laid a gentleman on my heart that I knew from seminary. I knew he had gotten moved to Cincinnati. He was pastoring a church up there. He was originally from Georgia, but he was a bishop and overseer of Fiji and New Zealand. Because of COVID they kicked him out and he was back in the U.S.

So my seminary friend, Daniel, had to find something to do. He was assigned to a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Overseers typically don’t serve as a pastor and an overseer. It doesn’t happen. He was a Marine with a master’s of divinity, a master’s in mental health counseling and a doctorate in ministry.

I told him, “Daniel, while you are waiting to get back into Fiji, why don’t you go do a residency at the VA and if you ever want to work for the VA, you’re a shoe-in. You have everything they want — everything, the only thing that you’re missing is a residency.”

The Lord laid on my heart to call the Cincinnati VA, where my CPE trainer worked. They called me back the next day and said, “This guy sounds really impressive, but what are you doing?”

“I’m getting ready to go to work at Central Baptist,” I said.

“Would you be interested in coming to Cincinnati and doing a second year of residency or a fellowship?

I said, “Well, I really hadn’t given that a whole lot of thought, but I’ll think about it.” That’s what I said, but I was actually thinking, “I don’t even have to pray about this. I just tell my wife. She’s going to say, ‘No.’ That’s it. We’re done.”

So, we’re on the way home from work and I said, “Oh, by the way, they called me from Cincinnati and they’re interested in Daniel, but they’re also interested in me. And my wife looked at me and shocked me. You could have knocked me over, at that point, with a feather.” 

She said, “Well, I think you should go ahead and do it, and if they take you, we’ll figure it out.”

In my mind I was thinking, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife — cause this ain’t her. “

So, I said, “Lord, I know this is You, cause that ain’t my wife. So that had to be You speaking through her.” 

I didn’t say anything, but the next day I called him back and said, “Well, Chaplain McKinney, I guess, if you’re interested, I’m interested. He said, “Well, I want to meet you in person, can you drive up?”

So, I said, “Well, how am I going to pull this off? So, I told my chief of chaplain services in Lexington and he said, “Yeah, go on up and meet with him and see what he says. Then when you get done, come on back to work.”

“Are you kiddin’ me?” You’re going to pay me to go interview … “Yes, sir.” 

So I did.

When I got up there, I found out that the chief of chaplain services was no longer there. They had brought in a new guy, but he was temporary, and it seemed like they were getting ready to lose another chaplain. 

So the only person that I met that day was Chaplain McKinney. I was thinking to myself, now this real great. There’s no stability. I don’t know what’s going to happen and it is 105 miles one way from my house to the VA. 

And, I knew, by the way the interview up there went, that it was mine. And he told me, “Welcome aboard.” 

So, I came home and I told my wife, I said, “I got it.” And she said, “Okay.”

So the third week that I was up there. They had what was called the Fisher House, where veterans and family of veterans can stay if they live more than 50 miles away and they need to be there overnight. 

So, I asked my boss. I said, “Hey, how about I work four tens. I’ll work Sunday and Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. You let me stay overnight at the Fisher House and I’ll be on call. So I will be here at the hospital and if they need a chaplain I’m right here.”

He said, “Let me run it by the Fisher House.” 

They said, “Okay.”

“I am the very first non-veteran employee that was allowed to stay at the Fisher House six months.” Up until that point they had never allowed it.

The second week that I’m at the VA up there. I tell them that I would really like to have some experience with mental health. I’ve done the CLC, I know it like the back of my hand. I know all the protocols. I know all the rules and regulations that COVID has brought. I know all of it. I’ve got experience with the ICUs, cause I’ve don’t that – but I’ve never worked with mental health.

So he said, CPE is a chance for you to learn a skillset. The second week that I was there that they were scheduled to hand out assignments, the chaplain that was assigned to the CLC retired. 

The chief of chaplain services told my educator that I was going to the CLC because I already knew it. In fact, I’m going to give him the office that the staff chaplain had for the CLC. That will just be his office. 

Now there’s three residents. I get an office. I get assigned to the CLC. 

It was six or eight weeks after I got there, the director of the CLC sent a letter to my boss that said, “Hey, we feel like God has sent Brian to the CLC. We appreciate what he’s doing, and we look forward to working with him going forward.”  

So my boss walks in and says, “Guess we have found your assignment while you are here.”

So about six months in, my boss has a meeting with us and says, “I have tried to post the CLC job three times. It has never posted. I’ve had HR try to post it. They can’t figure out why it’s not posting. We don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to try again. 

Well, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Go tell him that you’d like to have the job.”

“Okay.” So, after the meeting was over, I went into his office and I said, “Hey chief, can I talk to you a minute.” He said, “Sure, come on in.”

I said, “I’d like to have the job.” 

He said, “Are you serious?” 

I said, “Yeah, I’m here and I’ve been doing it. I’ll take it.”

He said, “Well, I guess that’s why I couldn’t post it. Alright. You can have it.”

“That was literally it.” They gave me a start date before I ever applied for the job. I was already there.

Now that’s where this Title 38 comes in because Hybrid Title 38 says, you can hire a resident or fellow who has completed at least one year of residency without competition. So they didn’t have to post the job. They just hired me and that was it. 

So that is how I went from being a manager in manufacturing, logistics and retail to becoming a full-time staff chaplain at the VA in Cincinnati, 105 miles from home.

I don’t think my story is finished yet, but there’s been a whole lot happen to put me where I am right now. 

So, I can say without any reservations, shadow of doubts, without questioning: I am in God’s will, doing what God wants me to do, where God wants me to do it. Because I would have never in my wildest dreams or imagination or fantasy put myself as a staff chaplain in Cincinnati, Ohio — ever. It wasn’t even anything I was thinking about. 

It’s been one “God moment” after another – a lot of ups and downs, a lot of questions, a lot of ‘What in the world is going on?’ ‘Why is this happening?’ Of course looking back, I see how each step built on the next step.

I grew up in this little country church and I don’t ever remember not playing the guitar, though I never had a lesson. I did not grow up in a musical family, but my 88-year-old grandmother remembers watching me pick up a guitar at church and start strumming it. I was probably three or four years old at the time. She said she watched me go from just strumming to changing chords when everybody else changed chords. 

That was the night I learned to play the guitar.  

They talk about having ‘perfect pitch,’ that’s when you can hear a note and know what key that note is in. And, I have had that for most of my life. I can hear a song on the radio and know what key that song is being sung in. 

God’s ways are truly above our ways.

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

A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. — Proverbs 16:9c

#246. God’s Blessing of Multiplication

Photo by Rob Collins

My name is Adeboye Taiwo and I was born into a Christian family in Nigeria. We attended the Anglican Church. I served in children’s ministry all the while, taking care of children in the church, teaching them the ways of God. 

I met my wife, Ajibola, at church. We met as children’s teachers. She was born into a Muslim home and converted to Christianity. She had a calling into children’s ministry too. We started a relationship and got married in the year 2000.

In Nigeria, when somebody gets married, immediately a few months after that, the wife is expected to be expecting a baby. So, after a year or two, if there is no sign of pregnancy, pressure starts coming in.

It was not too easy for us when we started waiting for five, six, eight, nine, ten years. In our culture, if it takes such a long time, you might be asked to divorce the person you are married to and get another wife because there was no child.

Even if no child is coming, provided we are living happily, I think ‘I’m okay,’ though it was not easy.    

“Even socially in our culture,” my wife said, “people don’t reckon with you if you’re having issue of having a child. They look down on you. We prayed. We sought the face of God but nothing was coming.

“But, to the glory of God — after 17 years — God decided to answer us. And He gave us … a set of sextuplets.”

“It was an assisted pregnancy through in vitro. We had four eggs transferred,” Ajibola said.

We were prepared that from the four, maybe two or one would survive, but to our surprise two eggs split, creating six viable embryos.

“When we confirmed the pregnancy in Nigeria,” Ajibola said, “the ultrasound did not reveal six. The first one revealed three.” Because of the joy, we made plans to visit Adeboye’s family in Northern Virginia for two or three weeks.

“When we came, a few days after, I found that I wasn’t feeling good and I was taken to an emergency room and it revealed six,” Ajibola said.

She’s laughing because when they first mentioned six, I was so excited, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t because she knew the implication of what she was carrying. 

When the complications set in and we saw this, we realized that going back would be like endangering our life. We had to find out how to get a hospital. It was not an easy thing and we — I was praying anyway. Then one day I made up my mind that, well, we have to go back to Nigeria. We cannot sit down here without having a doctor, without getting treatment that is expected. So while I was doing that, our host family called. They now said that a hospital had accepted us.

It was like, wow, is it possible? They said the hospital is VCU in Richmond and the doctor said we can come, they will take up the treatment in order to save our life. At the time my wife was admitted, and for the whole two months we were together in the hospital.

It was the most fearful period of our lifetime.

“It was tough,” Ajibola said. “It got to a time that I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I carried the pregnancy for 30 weeks and two days. I was on hospital bed for eight weeks for bedrest.” 

She was so tiny and oh, she has gone through a lot for me and for our babies.

At birth the babies’ weight ranged from 1.5 pounds to 3 pounds, so they were in the neonatal intensive care unit for some time.

“All of them did well,” Ajibola said.

So while we were in the hospital for these 60 days, a lady — a nurse — in the hospital, just approached us asking if we were Nigerians. She said there is a Nigerian who has worked in the hospital, but she is no longer there, she is now in another place. The nurse asked if she could tell her about us.

Well, we said, good. At least let’s be able to see somebody. And, when Mrs. Christiannah came in, she spoke our dialect. Oh, we were happy. She accepted us like as if she knew us long before then. 

When the babies were to be discharged, they were not all discharged together. Because of their medical appointments, we cannot go back to Northern Virginia. We needed somewhere very close. Mrs. Christiannah said, “No, I have a big house! You are free to come in.”

She’s a wonderful lady.

While in the hospital we also connected with Mrs. Judy, a volunteer in the NICU who met our babies when they were there. Mrs. Judy used to come every week and she’s like a mom to us. We call her our white grandma. She has shown the Christ light in her. We said we’d like to join her church – First Presbyterian Church of Richmond.

Everybody in the church accepted us immediately. They made us feel that we belong to a family, a church community. It gives me more courage and assurance to tell anybody who is trusting God or believing God for anything that no matter what, God can do it. No matter how difficult the situation is, God can turn it around.

The sextuplets were given names that honor and glorify God:  

Morayo (I have found joy in the Lord, Morayoninuoluwa)
Sindara (God still performs wonders, Oluwasindara)
Jubeelo (God is not quantifiable, Oluwajubeelo)
Funbi (God gave me a child, Oluwafunbi)
Setemi (God has perfected my own, Oluwasetemi)
Semiloore (God has favored me, Oluwasemiloore)

When it was that 17 years, I had made up my mind that no child was coming and there was no longer to be anything, but at the same time I had concluded there was not going to be anything, that was when God said, “I will do a new thing, now will it spring forth.” (Isaiah 43:19)

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

– Genesis 18:14 

Video by Rob Collins

In a recent letter to the entire church family, Adeboye and Ajibola expressed their sincere gratitude for the hospitality, love and concern they have received since joining FPC-Richmond in 2018. This is an excerpt:

You gave us hope when we thought all hope was gone. We lost count of how many times you drove your cars to our house … fit car seats into them, carefully buckled our children to their seats, and drove us to and from church.

You got me a job by which I am able to put food on the table and a roof over my family. My children are not left out as you always plan and guide us in making good decisions about their education, including plans for their summer school to ensure they have a better future.

All our grandmas and grandpas have been so wonderful. They have always been there at all times to help and assist us whenever we needed them.

Special thanks to Adeboye and Ajibola Taiwo, the Rev. Mary Kay Collins and Rob Collins at First Presbyterian Church of Richmond and Paul Seebeck, Presbyterian News Service, for sharing this God story with us.

#243. School Bus Baby, Part 2

Photo by Billy June Richardson

I remember her. That little girl in pink and pearls. I remember reaching tiny fingers up to touch those gritty pearls and wondering if I could eat them later if I got hungry. 

I remember. I always remember. At least I want to always remember… because, “Who knows when something or someone will leave, and all you’ll have left are your memories.”

When I look at this photo of a younger me, I see the pain. I wonder if a lost childhood is like the phantom pain of a lost limb. I still secretly grieve. I see the confusion that still haunts my heart to this day. I see a little girl wondering if she is cute enough to be allowed to stay. I see her pale little face, full of questions about who she is and why God would allow her to suffer. I see her yearning to be loved and to belong. I ask God, “Why?” 

For nearly three decades I have roamed the dark hallways of my mind, calling my own name over and over, reaching out for answers. I have battled demons of depression, anger, anxiety and bitterness. I have survived the reoccurring trauma of my memories on a daily basis. My flashbacks are like bits and pieces of an old movie flickering with intermittent static on a black and white TV. 

Some of my childhood memories leave me shaking. “What kind of parents try to drown their own baby?” 

There I am again — in an empty bathtub at six years old — determined to be a lifeguard as soon as I turn 16. 

Some of my memories are sad. The blurry face of my birth mother screaming beside my hospital crib still leaves a ringing in my ears today. Memories of being unwanted and unloved will haunt me to the day I leave this world. 

I haven’t battled alone though. 

Through it all, even when I didn’t know He was there, I had a Friend. A Friend who is gentle and meek, but also stronger than the demons and darkness I battle. A Friend whose arms are always wrapped around me, shielding me. A Friend who is never sleeping when I need help. 

When my biological father and mother tried to drown me, God gave me the breath of Life. When they tried to starve and poison me, He sustained me. And when my birth mother turned her back on me, condemning me to a lifetime of mental and emotional anguish, God held me fast. 

When I thought I had no one, He was always there.

My God is a Provider. He took the shell of a little girl that I was, and filled my cup to overflowing. I met my forever family about a year after my rescue. Three years later I was adopted by my second pair of foster parents. They opened their arms, hearts, and home to me. They promised to never leave. They promised to always love. When my broken little mind doubted, they stayed faithful. When I tested boundaries to determine if they could be trusted, they withstood the test with patience and understanding. They taught me about Jesus. The One who brought me from the brink of death into a beautiful new life. 

I’m now married to a wonderful man and together we are raising our daughter to know and love Jesus. We are raising her to love, and together we are repainting my life’s canvas. 

My God is a healer. He has taken the broken pieces of my spirit and made me whole. He has walked with me through every dark valley and shadow of death. He has been the key in my dungeon of despair. He is my Almighty Fortress. He is still restoring my soul day by day. 

God has blessed me beyond anything I could have dreamed up myself (Ephesians 3:20–21). He has raised me from my pile of ashes, like Job, scraping away at the sores in my soul. He has been my rock. 

No one could have known the joy that was coming to me, and I cannot wait to see where God will lead me next. I know it will be beautiful though, simply because I am walking with Him. 

“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.” — Psalm 18:28 (ESV)

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” — Exodus 14:14

#242. School Bus Baby, Part 1

Photo by Billy June Richardson

I love these big beautiful mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, but I almost didn’t get to experience the beauty of them. I almost lost the chance to dance on their peaks. I almost lost the chance to grow up in these hollers and see the glory of God in their beauty. But, by the grace of God, I blossomed like an evening primrose in the dark shadows of a coal mine.

There is an ugly poison in our beautiful mountains. Its name is addiction. It has poisoned generations and — no matter what form it takes — its clutches are visible and heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for those in its grasp and for those like me, who have felt the generational curse and consequences of addiction’s reach. 

My story is not one of a Phoenix rising from the ashes reborn. Mine is a Joseph story (Genesis 37–50). A story of victory over all the demons in hell and forces of sin and darkness. Mine is a story of angels of mercy and hope. Mine is a story of redemption.

Addiction is an expression of despair, a slough of despondency. My birth parents wallowed in it — blind to the beauty of the eternal paradise before them, and enslaved to the god of alcohol. As they worshiped at its altar, I drowned in the consequences. 

I couldn’t find the steps to get myself out; then God sent an angel!

Billy June came on wings of hope with a food basket from her church. (My birth mother had somehow reached a point of despair and contacted Billy June’s church, asking for food for herself.) 

This was the kind of despair that spent the food money on alcohol and cigarettes, a despair that caused a mother to attempt to drown her own baby in a bucket of water. It was a despair that nearly ended my life. 

Several food baskets later, Billy June was even allowed inside the rusty school bus we called home. That’s when she saw me for the first time. My birth mother had been trying to conceal me and had tried to “get rid of me,” so she could leave Kentucky and go back to my father in Georgia.

“There’s a baby on that bus,” Billy June told a social worker, who agreed to come along on the next food delivery to see for herself and to evaluate the situation for social services. 

On that next visit, they were met with ugliness and carbon monoxide fumes so strong the social worker had to leave the bus to vomit outside. They found a baby living on that bus — a baby so pale — with her eyes rolled back in her head. This baby (me) was dying from starvation, multi-organ failure and carbon monoxide poisoning. I had a blood count of 2.4 and had stopped crying and expressing my needs, realizing it was fruitless.

For many months I had lain in a pit of darkness until the doors of death opened to receive me. What a glorious salvation it was the day those doors were slammed shut by the God of all creation! 

After I was taken by social services and placed in a loving home, doctors said I wouldn’t last a week. I spent a year recovering physically. However, if I’m honest, every day is a new victory mentally and emotionally. Every day is a testament to God’s mercy. Every day is a day that I can glorify God as a walking billboard of His mercy. 

I still suffer from the lasting consequences of addiction’s reach. Mental turmoil and emotional scars from the abuse and abandonment I went through are still potent today. But, through it all, one truth remains: All the forces of evil and darkness cannot compete with my Champion in heaven. What the devil and this fallen world meant for evil, God has transformed into good. Those doors of death have been refined and reformed into beautiful gates of heaven awaiting me one glorious happy day. The chains of addiction haven’t just been broken. In my redemption, the forge where they were created has been razed to the ground and, in doing so, I have been raised to a new life, full of hope. 

What a beautiful privilege it is to give my life and place my trust in my Champion! May the rest of my life reflect His glory, redemption, and the hope and comfort that can be found in Him. 

Some people say I should have been aborted or left to die. That my suffering should never have happened. That the emotional and mental turmoil I still experience to this day could have been prevented by abortion or death. But I defy them to ignore the immense blessings my God continues to rain down upon me. 

Nobody knew the joy that was coming! May my every day be a hallelujah!

You Light a lamp for me.
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
Psalm 18:28 (NLT)

For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.
Psalm 32:7 (NLT)

Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close.
Psalm 27:10 (NLT)

#216. Gurl Get Your Mind Right

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in Pittsburgh and raised in a middle-class family. My parents divorced when I was eight years old. My mom put me in dance classes when I was two years old. I took tap, ballet, jazz, tap solo, and baton — all at the same time. I became really good at it. My teacher told my mom I should audition for the play written by Gershwin, Porky and Bess. Out of 4,000 kids, I got the part. When I was eight, we moved to the country to live with my grandparents. I was no longer able to go to dance lessons. This was devastating to me. I loved dancing and believe that was God’s calling on my life. I was raised going to church every Sunday, but I don’t remember confessing and accepting Christ as my Savior. 

My mom remarried when I was 15. We moved back to the city. I moved from a predominately white school in the country to a predominately black school in the city. It was a culture shock. One night I went in a car with some of the guys from my high school. We ended up at a wooded park. They got out, but told me to stay in the car. I didn’t listen and when they saw me coming toward them, they grabbed my arm. They told me there were guys who were planning to rape me. They took me back to my house. God worked through those guys to save me. 

I was a thick girl. I thought I was fat. My mom was very critical. She made comments about my clothes making me look big. My mom was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. Nothing I ever did was right. If she and my stepfather got into an argument, she blamed me. He was the best stepdad a person could ever have. He tried to get my mom to be nicer to me. 

My senior year in 1976, I was a cheerleader and started dating a football player. He turned me on to weed, opium, hash, and cocaine. I started trying other drugs. I even snorted heroin once. It was God’s grace that protected me. I was promiscuous and slept with married men. 

I was excellent at typing and after graduation became a secretary in the nursing department at the University of Pittsburgh. I got my own apartment at 17, a two-room efficiency, paying $95 a month. I watched a movie of a baby being born when I worked in the nursing department and knew then I never wanted to have a baby. I was 23 when I had my first daughter, Brandi. I had seven abortions prior to that. Six with the same man who fathered my daughter and one with a boyfriend. I didn’t know any better. No one taught me. I had no self-worth. My pregnancy was a nightmare. The father told me that it wasn’t his baby and that I was fat. I had stopped doing the drugs during my pregnancy and replaced the drugs with food. I became addicted to food. In the last three months of my pregnancy, I gained 100 pounds. I was an emotional mess. 

My daughter’s father didn’t go to the hospital with me when I gave birth. He came around a few times to see Brandi, but he wasn’t really involved in our lives. I started smoking weed again. I got a job at Aetna insurance. Jim, a Christian gentleman from the Houston Aetna office, came to our Pittsburgh office and asked me to come to Houston. He said there was a position that I would be really good at. He said, “If you come to Houston, I will make you the supervisor and you will get a raise and you will get a bonus to cover your move if you show me what you showed me in Pittsburgh.” They offered me $10,000 more to do the same job in Houston. My daughter was only three when we left Pittsburgh. When we got off the plane in Houston, Jim and his wife, Tamara, met us. They drove us to our apartment complex and gave us a TV. We only had our clothes, a couple of towels and a clock radio.  My furniture was coming on a truck that was stopping in other states.  It took two weeks to get our furniture.

When you move to a new town you don’t ask people, “Who has weed?” One day as I walked through the apartment complex there was a big group of guys and one of the guys came to my door and asked, “Do you get high?” I told him I did. I sent my daughter to her room. I thought he had given me weed, but he had given me crack cocaine to smoke and I was hooked immediately. He told me where to get it. I started dating this guy and he would bring the crack over. I became more and more addicted. 

Jim did everything he promised. After one month, he made me a supervisor and gave me a $10,000 raise plus a bonus to cover my moving expenses. I was excelling at work, traveling to provide training and had been the employee of the month four times in the same year. But I didn’t have the money to afford my drug habit. So, I came up with an elaborate plan. I started forging names on checks at Aetna and cashing the checks. Eventually, I was out sick and one of the girls in my department figured out what I had been doing. My boss asked me to come into the conference room. A man with a briefcase said, “Have you ever cashed a check besides your paycheck?” I told the truth. He said, “I’m glad you told the truth.” Then he took the checks out of his briefcase and laid them across the table. He said, “We know what you did but don’t understand why you did it. Why? You had such a bright future.” I said, “I’m addicted to crack.” He said, “We thought it was drugs.” He asked me how much I had taken, and I told him I had a folder at home with all the checks. He asked me to bring it in. I brought the folder to him and he told me to go home and they would let me know what they were going to do. 

My friend John from work called me and said, “Where are you?” I was driving and said, “I’m just going to kill myself.” The devil was telling me to just let the wheel go. John said, “Just drive to my house.” Then Jim called me. He had told the leadership at work he was going to remain my friend. I believe God was intervening on my behalf through both of these men. Jim told me I needed to immediately go to treatment. I went. Jim and Tamara not only took care of Brandi for two weeks, they also went to my apartment and packed up everything and put it in storage. They sent my daughter back to Pittsburgh to my family. Aetna fired me, but because I cooperated with them, they didn’t press charges. The bank didn’t press charges either. Nobody came after me. God spared me. I should have gone to jail for what I had done. Jim came to that facility every day and brought me a Bible. I wouldn’t listen. I said, “Get that Bible away from me.” He said, “It’s the only thing that can help you.” My therapist told me I had to get to the root of why I was there. I felt like my parents had robbed me of who I should have been. I loved dancing. I should have been a choreographer. They took something from me that was near and dear to my heart. I also realized the resentment for my daughter’s father. I discovered all of those things in treatment. 

After 90 days, I got out. Aetna had kept me active on the payroll to pay for my treatment. This was another way that God provided for me. God saved me from killing myself through John and Jim. He saved me from myself. Jim and Tamara let me live with them with only two rules — stay sober and go to my meetings. They gave me a car and credit card. 

I went to church with Jim and Tamara but was still stuck. One night they were getting ready to go to Bible study and I was sitting on the couch and balling. My daughter was coming back from Pittsburgh and I knew that I was going to have to face her and make amends for all I had done,  including locking her in the house at night, while sleeping, so I could go out to get crack, putting her in danger. 

Jim and Tamara invited me to Bible study but I didn’t want to go. While they were gone, I was thinking about how to kill myself again because the thought of facing Brandi was overwhelming. When they came back, I was still crying. They got down on their knees and said, “There is only one way. You have to accept Jesus.” I asked, “Will it make this pain go away?” That night I confessed Romans 10:9 and everything changed. I started going to a Bible study group. I got an apartment. One year to the day of my sobriety, December 16, 1988, I got offered a job at Enron. This company was drug-free, and employees had to be drug-tested to work there, which was what I wanted.


Things were going well at Enron. I got promoted and got bonuses. The girl they put me with at Enron was a Christian and had me listening to a Christian radio station. I went to her house for Bible study. I was clean and sober but then I noticed people were getting things and recognition that I wanted. I figured out a way to cash travelers checks at work. They confronted me and I admitted it. They fired me but didn’t press charges. This time I couldn’t blame it on crack. I had to do self-inventory and say to myself, “Are you a thief? Do you just steal?” Even though I had accepted Jesus, I still didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. 

When I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter, Courtney, I immediately went to have an abortion. I was single, overweight, depressed and scared to death because of my pregnancy with Brandi. I went to an abortion clinic. I knew I was right at 12 weeks. They lady said, “You are 13 weeks. We can’t do it. But you can go upstairs. They do it up to 26 weeks.” So, I went upstairs. I am sitting there with a sheet over my lap and the doctor is getting ready to examine me. I prayed, “God I know this is a sin, but I can’t have this baby. I can’t even afford to raise Brandi.” The doctor examined me and said he couldn’t do it. I asked him why. He said, “I don’t know. I just feel there is a risk with you.” God intervened . . . again.

When Courtney was born you would have thought she was a crack baby. She had a hernia, a tear in her liver, a hole in her spine, her heart was on the opposite side, her intestines were in knots, her neck muscles were messed up, and her head was tilted. She was transferred to the ICU at Texas Children’s hospital, where she stayed 90 days. She went home with a feeding tube. She had a special-needs caregiver. I was working at Enron when that was going on. God preserved me — my mind — through all of that. I had no family, but I did have Jim and Tamara. They were my family.

Some of Courtney’s problems have been healed, but she still has some health issues. God gave her a brilliant mind. He preserved her and He did the same thing for Brandi. Brandi is so imaginative and creative. I truly believe God protected her mind through my drug battle.

In 1999, I began attending a non-denominational church, New Light Christian Center. Dr. I.V. Hillard was having a Spiritual Millennium Warfare conference at this church. I went down for the altar call and experienced spiritual healing. I had finally found my church home. This church taught me so many things. I was delivered from addiction in 1988, and I never went back. Crack cocaine is euphoric-demonic and is spiritual warfare. I finally got to the root of my problem. I had been self-sabotaging. For so much of my life, I didn’t have a personal relationship with God. When this happened, my life was transformed. God called me to evangelism, to minister to women with low and no self-esteem, bound by addiction like I was. 

When I was pregnant with Brandi, I developed diabetes. As a result, I’ve had five toe amputations. I have diabetic retinopathy in my right eye. I have been in stage three kidney failure for 15 years, but God is sustaining me. I have been at death’s door many times, but God has protected me. God is faithful and loving. If we just seek Him, He will never turn His back on us or leave us. God did not give up on me. He kept pursuing me. He kept helping me get on the right track. God protected me and my daughters and provided and intervened for me so many times. I am so grateful for the people God placed in my life, for the revelations He has given me, for the healing He has provided. I am grateful for my two daughters who are amazing women. 

I transferred to Mooresville, North Carolina, to work in human resources with Lowe’s. I thought that my purpose of coming to North Carolina may have something to do with my ministry GurlGetYourMindRight which God gave me 10 years ago . My lease is up in August, and I plan to go back to Pittsburgh. I believe God wants me to go back home. There are women who are there who need life spoken to them. I really believe the ministry will take off there.  

Lastly, no matter what you go through in life, always remember “it’s just temporary” because we’ve already won! The ransom that was paid for us covered all our sins but we must continue to renew our minds and not be subject to this world.  To the ladies, who are still being controlled by men and this world…….GurlGetYourMindRight!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:33 NIV

#208. Purposeful Design

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Years ago, God gave me the opportunity to be on the board at Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis. I was also involved in discipling men. For about 15 years, I led Bible studies at Wheeler. Often when I was there, I would ask the men how they were doing. Over and over the answer was “I’m looking for a job.” I must have heard that a hundred times. I had sorrow about this and wished I could do something to give them a job. I decided to ask God about this. I prayed, “What do you say about this God?” Some other men friends of mine began to join in that prayer also. 

One day I was doing something on the internet and I ran into the idea of taking shipping pallets and turning them into furniture. I wondered if we could sell the furniture and create a revenue stream to cover the cost of wages. So we did an experiment and started small. We used shipping pallets and started making beverage carts. Pretty quickly we figured out shipping pallets weren’t the way to go. A local business donated lumber and we began making furniture and selling it to friends and family. That’s how it started.

We hire men and train them to make beautiful handcrafted furniture. Now over 90% of our operating expenses are covered by things the men make themselves. Everything is custom made. We sell to a lot of commercial enterprises. We make a lot of conference tables and shelves. We make tables for restaurants, school cafeterias and some residential furniture. The first year we had $37,000 in sales, which was a great blessing and beyond our expectations. Last year we sold $1.4 million in furniture. While the finances are important and we are very grateful for the business, our primary mission is to hire and train craftsman and see lives changed. Our organization, Purposeful Design, has two components. 

One part is a training program called the School of Woodworking and Discipleship and the other part is the business where we hire people to work making furniture. Even if we don’t hire people to work for Purposeful Design coming out of the school, we have a network of other employers who offer job opportunities. All the those we serve come from places where they struggle with addiction, incarceration or homelessness and otherwise would have difficulty finding a job. 

We have partnerships with ministries and relief organization that send people to our school. The trainees are exposed to woodworking, job readiness and discipleship training. We start each day with prayer and have weekly Bible studies. We have about 40 volunteers from the community who do the instructing. They come in to teach and add their own stories. They are loving and build relationships. One of our partnerships is with Purdue University. They helped us launch the training program and sent us two professors to teach the trainees how to work with wood. This whole ministry is really a walk of faith. A lot of people who serve have a background in business. My own background is in business.  But I had no experience with woodworking or running a nonprofit. Our business is a registered 501c3. God has provided so much for us. We depend on Him to show us our next steps and to provide the resources, people to help us, and customers. It has been amazing how the Lord has helped us and provided. 

The second part of our organization is the Purposeful Design furniture business. We have 16 full-time craftsmen. It is a delight to see them grow. They are not all believers. But we expose everyone to the Word of God and flood our place with love and encouragement. We strive to strengthen everyone and help them succeed. We are like a family. We want to keep it a walk of faith. It has been a joy to see where God has brought us. We didn’t plan any of this, and now we find ourselves in a niche that sells to many large institutions like big hospitals, universities and banks. All of these organizations have their own mandate to do good for the community. They desire to do good for society, and they also need furniture, which makes our products a perfect fit for them. 

As long as the Lord keeps opening doors, we will keep running as hard and fast as we can to help more people. We provide on-the-job discipleship, beginning each morning by circling up and praying together and sharing a bit from the Word. We have a lunch Bible study every Monday. 

We are getting ready to launch a campaign, “Turning the Tables on Poverty.” To prepare, we have run some statistics and have found that in our six years, we have saved the taxpayers $2.3 million in what it would have cost to take care of those who were homeless who are now employed. In addition, our employees have paid about $350,000 in taxes. These folks have changed from being totally supported by taxpayers to now contributing their own taxes to our city. We also see our neighborhood changing for the good before our very eyes. Healthy people make healthy neighborhoods. Most of us live about a quarter of a mile from Purposeful Design. We are available to help each other and encourage each other. We see marriages restored and kids reunited with their fathers. God is truly amazing. 

As we have seen God at work, there are three things we have learned: 1. It is good to pray. Purposeful Design is the result of prayer. 2. We have all tried life our own way, and it didn’t work out. God’s way is better. 3. Jesus really, really does set people free. We have absolutely seen the transformative power of God at work. We have seen a 17-year heroin addict set free. Another guy told me he hadn’t been sober a day in his life since he was 14. Now he is sober and can be spotted walking his children to the park. He is loving his wife, and he is one of our most loyal and trustworthy employees. 

My own heart tends toward prideful thinking. In our early days I would think, “Haven’t we done well!” The Lord has now shown me my need for humility. Now, I go down on my knees and thank the Lord right then and there when something good happens. Our success is not from me. God’s hand is at work here and our success is from Him.  

#202 Yet, I Will Rejoice: Part 2

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

So, I became a young single mother and have raised my almost 11-years-old son alone, since he was about four months old. I went back to finish my master’s degree that I had started in Kenya years back. I got support from my family and I went back to church. However, I still felt like a failure. I felt like I had failed God, my family, and myself. None of my relationships worked because I brought a lot of trauma that I had not dealt with into them. I thought my career would make me feel better. I did have a relationship with God, but I focused more on work than letting God work in me to heal me. I got very good jobs that were well-paying and was able to take care of my bills and my son, but I still felt empty.

After finally graduating with my master’s degree in Kenya, I enrolled for a PhD course in Public Health. My sister wanted me to come back to the US, but I didn’t want to leave because my career was going so well. I told my sister, “I’m not coming as a student. I will only come if I get a green card so that I can work.” I applied mostly not to disappoint her. I knew chances of me getting it were slim, but on my seventh try, my application was successful! I still did not want to leave Kenya, but people I trusted told me this was the second time God had opened a door for me to go to the US, and I should ask myself why God opened the same door twice. They advised me to walk through the open door by faith.

I resigned from my job and came to the US with my little boy, a plane ticket, a $50 bill and two suitcases. I was very afraid. I cried all the way in the plane and kept telling God I hope I made the right decision. I had worked so hard to get to where I was career-wise, but left all that (my well-paying job, my friends, my relationship, my consultancy firm, my PhD, family, church). I left everything to come to the US and start over.

I thought it would be easy to jump back to my career. I knew there were a lot more opportunities for me to advance my career in the US and to make my life better than back home. What I did not know was that it would take years. It took me a year to get my transcripts sent from my former college in Kenya to the Board of Social Work in Kentucky, so I could get certified as a social worker. It also took much time and moneyfor me to get my transcripts accredited. By the time I finally got certified, available jobopportunities were for people who had prior experience working in the US and/or had a master’s in social work. My master’s was in medical sociology, so the only option I had was to use my high school certificate to get a job.

So, I started working at Amazon. I went from an office job to standing 10 hours a day. All the money was going to daycare and rent. I could barely pay my bills, and I got frequent eviction notices. When I put my son to sleep, I would cry to God, “Just take me. Why did you bring me here?” I was in this job close to a year until I finally got a job at the state psychiatric hospital as a mental health associate. I led groups and also provided direct care. It was tough. Patients wanted to fight, but I still had a heart to work with people with mental illness. I did this for two and half years.

After I got the job at the state hospital, I got accepted into the university. I tried to continue my PhD in public health, but I had to start at post baccalaureate, then four semesters of a master’s program before being accepted into the doctorate program. But social work was still my passion. When I was near completion of my doctorate, I still felt empty and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I also faced many challenges in the program. My professor-mentor prayed a lot and felt his work was to shepherd students. He realized that public health wasn’t my passion and was probably not a good fit for me so he prayed with me. I believe that was God’s favor. My professor said, “Why don’t you transfer and get a PhD in social work. If you push yourself, you can finish your PhD in three years.” God brought me back to His original plan I believe. I had already practiced in the field of social work and I had a desire to work with vulnerable populations. I hope to defend my final project in August and graduate in December. God gave me the grace to work and do my best in school. People would say, “How did you do that?” Even I don’t understand. It was definitely God’s grace.

Lately God has been dealing with the inside of me, releasing me from the trauma of my childhood. I have been praying about it and letting it go. I feel like I am experiencing healing in this area. God is my counselor. I breakdown and cry, and He leads me to Scripture.

I look back and see God’s hand working behind the scenes. In the past, He seemed far away and I felt like He had forgotten me, but He was always there. Looking back, I have come this far because of His grace. Every day he provides healing and delivery from my past trauma. I am still a work in progress, but I have come a long way. I am amazed at God’s unconditional love. He loves us as we are and though at times we see ‘broken,’ He sees ‘precious.’ In His due time, He will elevate us. Our lives are in His hands, and He has good plans for us. We may not understand the mountains and valleys that we go through, but His love will keep us. He will always be our victory. He will embrace us in our trying moments and give us the grace to sing even in our most painful times. His love sustained me, and I know He embraced me when I felt broken and lost. He embraced me when I was giving up on life. He did it for me, and He will do it for whoever might be going through a similar experience and is feeling lost or forgotten. The Lord surely does give beauty for ashes. He is able to fix our brokenness into a precious vessel — a work of art — that is so valuable. He is able to bring out the best from even the most painful moments.

Jeremiah 29:11–14 (NIV) speaks hope to me because I know that in every season, whether good or bad, God has a good plan for us. He is a God who restores and brings us back to His purpose when we deviate from His plan. He loves us unconditionally and never gives up on us. At times we may not understand the pain that we go through, but He is still God, a good God who has good plans. Whatever the season, it does not change who God is!

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me. I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:11–14 (NIV)

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

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.

#201 Yet, I Will Rejoice: Part 1

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in Kenya in 1980, the last child in a family of three siblings. When I was six years old, I woke up late in the night and was looking for my mum. I asked my dad where she was. He told me she had left, and he did not know where she went. I was confused because to me, my family was perfect. I kept asking my dad where my mum went and would she ever come back? He kept telling me he did not know. My questions bothered him and at times made him very angry, so I stopped asking. But silently, I suffered deeply inside. I kept wondering why my mum had left me?I was so young. Why did she reject me? 

The next time I saw her was in court three years later. She had filed for divorce. She and I never really had a connection and, much later, I asked her why she rejected us? Why she left us? She told me that she had to leave because they were fighting a lot. She said she loved us and tried to look for us all those years, but my dad would not allow her to see us. I tried to accept her version of the story and worked very hard to establish a relationship with her, but it was so difficult. My relationship with my dad was so close. He was my hero and I loved him. I think I chose to believe his version of the story. 

My dadraised my siblings and me after my mother left. Growing up was tough without a mother’s love. I think dad was pushing himself too hard. I think he was afraid he would lose us. One time he mentioned his fear that the court could take us away from him. You could see that the thought of not having his children broke his heart. He provided everything we needed. However, he was very angry, bitter, and tired. So we grew up afraid. As loving and protective as he was, he would say some mean things out of anger. We learned perfection from him. Everything had to be perfect. From elementary to middle school (known as primary School in Kenya)we topped the class, and my dad pushed us even harder. Our grades had to be perfect. We were not even allowed to date. We were very involved in church, sports, extracurricular activities such as music and drama, but he monitored all that closely. By the time I was in sixth grade I could cook and clean for the whole family, and I could comfortably stay home by myself after school. He had taught us to be independent.

 

During college I visited my mother. We would bake, take walks, and try to do mother-daughter bonding activities to make up for the lost years. I was really starting to connect with her, but after a few months, she fell ill and died. It broke my heart. I was very involved in church and had a group of girls that I met with to pray and that got me through. Yes, losing her still hurt but the prayers and encouragement from my small prayer group gave me courage to keep moving forward. God gave me the peace and grace to continue focusing on school. I could trust Him despite the situation. I cannot explain the strength I had going through that situation, but I know it was only with God’s help. 

Both my siblings went to the US to build their careers, but I remained in Kenya and was among the first cohort in Kenya to train as a social worker. When I graduated, I got an internship at the United Nations in Nairobi. My first formal employment was in a research study for HIV prevention among high-risk women. I did not have much experience. It was a miracle that I got the job. I enrolled for a master’s degree in medical sociology. 

Having gone through a broken family and trauma, I was drawn to working with the kids from similar backgrounds and those going through abuse. While I was doing well in my career and working on my master’s degree, my father became ill. My dad began getting sick around fall of 2007, which was an election year in Kenya. When the election results were announced, violence broke out. This escalated cases of abuse and violence and kept me very busy at the violence recovery center. I could not go visit my dad because of the post-election violence. Tribes were fighting against tribes and political parties against each other and it was risky to travel.

 

Unfortunately, my father also could not travel to see his physician for medical care in another city. Instead, he went to a local hospital in a rural town in Kenya, but he did not make it. I remember the last time I spoke with him. I had left work at around 4 p.m. I talked to him and his phone went off. I remember him telling me to take care of myself and to tell my siblings the same. I asked him what he was talking about? I told him the violence would end, and he would get out of hospital, and I would go see him. I was told that the last thing he mentioned was that he wanted to take a short nap and rest, but when he slept, he never woke up. The next morning when I heard my dad had passed; I thought my life was going to end! I did not see how I would live without my dad because I loved him so much. He was my hero, my best friend. I was truly daddy’s girl. I felt like a part of me died when he died.

 

I didn’t date until I was an adult and got in my first serious relationship when I was 25 years old. I wasn’t experienced in relationships and I didn’t know about normal relationships because I came from a broken home. When my dad was sick, I met the man who would become my husband. He was there with me when I got the news about my dad’s passing. He saw how crushed I was and decided he would take me to the country to attend the burial/funeral. We were both risking our lives because there was still tension, due to post-election violence. I cried all the way from the city to the country. The seven-hour drive was very scary. You could sense the tension. We knew anything could happen, and we could get killed. This really brought me and my boyfriend close.

When I returned, it was very hard to get back to work and to finish my master’s degree. I felt empty. I wanted to die and I prayed to God to take my life. I drank a bottle of wine or sometimes two, to wash away the pain. My boyfriend was there for me during this time, and I was still involved in the church, but instead of turning to God, I turned to this relationship. After a few months of dating, we decided to get married. We really didn’t know each other very well. My whole family was against it. They thought I was still going through trauma of my dad passing and thought I should wait, but I did not care. I went ahead with the wedding plans. My siblings could not make it to my wedding. Only a few of my family showed up. I smiled during my wedding ceremony, but I was breaking inside. I had no dad to walk me down the aisle, as I pictured all through my life, I was getting married to someone I didn’t know well, and my family didn’t support me. 

The morning after my wedding, I looked at my ring and I remember thinking, “What have I done?” We went for our honeymoon in Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, but I was unwell and unhappy. One night we decided to go out to one of the clubs. When we were heading back, we were stopped and surrounded by a group of about 10 men. We actually thought they were police, but they were not. It may have been an initiation into a local militia group because they didn’t steal anything. They started cutting us with machetes. A man was cutting me again and again. I faced death. I had two deep cuts in my head, and blood was flowing like tap water. I was silently whispering, while holding my blood with both my hands, “Lord Jesus, forgive me. Please remember mercy. Save me!” 

 

I cannot believe I survived this ordeal! I had said my last prayer at the time because I knew I was going to die. Miraculously, they left us (probably for dead). People heard our cries for help and came to help us. A man offered to take us to the hospital in his car. I believe God intervened to save us. I really don’t know how I survived. From a beautiful bride a few days before, I lost all my hair. They had to cut all my hair with a razor so that they could stich my head. I almost lost my eye as well. I still have a scar. The next day we informed our family back in the city. They arranged for us to be flown back to Nairobi. That is basically how we started out marriage. With a traumatic experience and nursing wounds from our near-death experience!

 

My husband was drinking a lot and at times not coming home. I was also drinking my wine. I was depressed and felt stuck in the marriage. I did not know who to talk to because my family was against the marriage in the first place. I was too embarrassed to reach out for help. My siblings were far away in the US; I had no dad to talk to. My spiritual life was a mess. I felt very far from God.

 

We decided to go for counseling from our pastor, but we still had problems. We also went to talk to his family, and the aunts advised us to have a baby. They said having a child sometimes solidifies a marriage and makes a couple bond. I was scared and excited at the same time. I had stopped my master’s program; I did not graduate, taking a three-year break from school. I got pregnant but I had no one to take care of me emotionally. I felt alone. I spoke to my sister and explained how sad I was, and we decided it was best to go to the US. I applied for a scholarship and got accepted to pursue a master’s degree in public administration in Louisiana. My husband seemed okay with it. My plan was to go to Louisiana then transfer to Kentucky to be close to my family. I was only a few months pregnant. My husband and I agreed that we would try and apply for an F-2 visa for him as a dependent spouse. I traveled to the US and applied three times, but we were not successful. I also tried to transfer to Kentucky and was unsuccessful. I took a semester off from school and had my son. When I held my son, I felt blessed and happy. At the same time, I was scared because I did not know if I would be a good mother. I fell in love with my little boy immediately. He lit up some part of me that was broken inside. I decided that it was best to go back to Kenya, so my son could be close to his father. I did not want to go through a divorce like my parents did because I know the pain it caused me then, and I did not want my son to go through the same. 

When I went back to Kenya, my husband continued with his old ways, drinking, partying, and sleeping around. There was infidelity and neglect, and we reached a point where it was best to end the marriage. We ended up separating and later divorcing. It was so hard for me to divorce despite infidelity. I thought about repeating my parent’s history. All this time I kept crying to God. I felt unworthy because my walk wasn’t always right. I wondered if God really accepted me. But I realize now God loves me unconditionally. We are the ones focused on other things — focused on the pain or the lack, but He is always there.

Habakkuk 3:17–19 is one of my favorite verses and reflects how I was feeling at this time and what I still believe today. Through it all we should give thanks and Praise the Lord. It might be difficult to do that when going through pain, when the road is all foggy, and we are unsure of where we are going. Even when it hurts, we should put our trust in the Lord and rejoice because He gives us grace and strength to go through these seasons, whether good or bad. He is there behind the scenes. He is there carrying us, even though we do not “see” Him or “feel” His presence, He is there, putting every piece of the puzzle in place, where it belongs, and ordering our steps. 

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine, even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren, even though the flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.” Habakkuk 3: 17-19 (NIV)

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

#199 A Mustard Seed of Faith

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in a single parent home, living with my mom and younger sister after my parents divorced when I was young. My parent’s marriage was plagued by domestic violence, so my earliest memories are of my parents fighting. My home situation and my parents fighting made me feel very insecure, though we did have lots of extended family, which provided safe places to spend time. My mom became a Christian when I was seven. I remember going to church with her and to Vacation Bible School, but I didn’t understand what was going on in church. 

When I was 11, my mom got remarried to a man who lived in Indianapolis. He was a godsend. He was a great guy and didn’t have any children, so he took me and my younger sister on as his own. He was a Lutheran and put us in a Lutheran school. That is really where I learned about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We had religion class and learned the books of the Bible. But this was head knowledge and had not made it to my heart. There was no relationship with Jesus. As a result, I always felt like something wasn’t fulfilled within me. 

In high school, I could see I had two choices, two groups of friends to choose from. I could pursue my education and do the right thing, or I could take another path. I chose the other path and started smoking weed. I became pregnant at 16 years old and had my son the first week of my senior year in high school. Out of fear, I didn’t tell my mom and dad until I was seven months pregnant. To their credit, they didn’t put any pressure on me to choose — either put the baby up for adoption or to keep the baby. That was another God moment for me. I lived with them and they helped take care of the baby. My mom helped care for my son, and my dad took care of us financially. I was enrolled in night school and finished high school mid-year. Our family dentist then hired me to be his dental assistant when I was 18. 

I had second child, a little girl, when I was 19 years old, with a man who became my husband several years later. I was still working for the dentist, though I moved out into a place with the father of my child. We did the best we could, but we weren’t very equipped to raise two small children. At around 20 years old, I got introduced to crack cocaine. The first time I used it, it changed my life. I became addicted immediately and, by age 21, I was arrested for the first time for drinking and driving. 

I was in and out of incarceration from 2000–2011 for drug-related issues. My life just spiraled out of control for several years, but I believe the Lord was working in my life during this time. In 2005, God awakened my soul! I had to go to prison when I was seven months pregnant and that finally got my attention. I was imprisoned in March, my daughter was born in April, and I was released in September 2005. My mom was her caregiver while I was in prison. My other two children were living with my mother-in-law. I moved in with my mom when I was released. God provided a good job for me, which was a true blessing. I worked in that job for a few years and things went pretty well.

For me, it wasn’t one moment, but many moments over the years that really changed me. Each time I was incarcerated, there were volunteers who would come in and minister to us. They told their stories, brought Bibles, led recovery groups and Bible studies. They were so consistent in sharing God’s Word and God’s love with us. It made such a big impact on me. There was a mustard seed of faith that was growing inside of me into a tree. The Bible studies, recovery meetings, and programs available while I was incarcerated, were the biggest blessing to me. 

I remember one man named Ralph who came weekly to pass out Gideon Bibles and to share the Good News. He was probably 80 years old and had emphysema. It was really hard for him to breathe, but he came faithfully. I asked him if he would visit my grandparents and share the Good News with them. He ended up going to my grandpa’s house to share the Good News and my grandpa accepted Christ. About a week or two later, my grandpa passed away from a heart attack. I’ll never forget that moment — that is when awakening began!

I did well for several years, but in 2008, I got into another relationship and got pregnant with my last son. The relationship with his dad was very hard. It was a rebound relationship for me, we didn’t know each other very well, and there was a lot of emotional instability on my part. I was just in a bad situation. By March 2010, my life was out of control, so I gave my two-year-old son to his father and my five-year-old daughter went to live with my sister. I got arrested in September of 2010 and was incarcerated for four months. 

In 2011, I had gotten back together with the man who fathered my second child when we were 19. We were staying in hotels using drugs every day. I was exhausted and just couldn’t take it anymore. On November 5, 2011, I cried out to God from a hotel room. I prayed, “God, if you don’t save me from myself, I’m going to kill myself doing this. I need you to help me.” God answered my prayer. I prayed that prayer around 6 a.m. and around 6 p.m., we were pulled over by the police because we had tinted windows. I was arrested, but I believe my arrest was divine intervention. Actually, each of my arrests was divine intervention. I feel like each arrest came at a time when I was going to die. God was saving me from myself by using the judicial system to stop me. Nothing else could stop me. It was like being possessed — something I couldn’t control. My addiction was such a tug of war for my soul. 

On November 5, 2011, the day I cried out to God, I was arrested for the final time. I went from jail to prison, jail to prison — four different facilities in one year. At that point, I was really engaged and applying myself in pursuing God. I was attending Bible studies and using all the resources available to me. I took a recovery course and went to classes. I worked a recovery program for a whole year while I was incarcerated, which really set the foundation. In January of 2012, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in jail. My spiritual eyes were opened and each day after that I grew more and more in my understanding of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. One night a scripture verse (just the book and verse number) came into my mind during a dream. It was Galatians 6:9. I looked up this verse when I woke up and read it, I realized these were just the perfect words to encourage me. This was a real game-changer for me.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

I was due to be released on November 7, 2012, and before I was released, my mother-in-law sent me information about Wheeler Mission Ministries: Higher Ground Addiction Recovery Program. It is a God-centered program and I thought it sounded perfect for me, so when I was released, I went directly to the Wheeler Mission Higher Ground program. One of things that makes recovery challenging, is that often, when people get released from prison, they go back to the same community, same friends they left. Then they end up back in a bad situation. It’s important to look for a supportive program or another place to go. There are re-entry programs and resources available, you just have to find the courage to do something different. 

The initial commitment at Higher Ground Addiction Recovery is eight months but you can stay as a servant leader in training to serve your program after this eight months. I chose to stay and became an assistant in the recovery program. In 2014, I became an employee. My personal relationship with Jesus has been growing since God’s intervention in 2011 and I am still actively pursuing God. I am now a case manager for Higher Ground. By the looks of it on paper, I wasn’t qualified for the case manager position, but God made a way. God provided me with this position. I love my job. I love being able to encourage and strengthen women and their relationship with God and be a person they can count on. I love being able to share about Jesus. 

When I got to Wheeler Mission, I saw the Bible lived out in the way the people loved God and loved others without condition. That is another reason I’m so grateful for the position I have now. I can share the love given to me and encourage other women to reach their full potential, to be good mothers and family members. 

When I look back, I see God’s protection all through my life. Sometimes I was in dangerous situations and He had His loving arms around me. I can see it completely now. God is patient and consistent and unconditional in His love. He does correct us though and that is an important piece of His character. But His correction is as a loving Father and is done to help and protect us. His correction saved me. I can’t put into words how loving and caring He has been to show me so much favor my whole life. I got my daughter back from my sister in 2015, which was a miracle, and I became a homeowner in 2018. The biggest gift that God has given me is my children, my relationships with my children and the grandchild I have on the way. 

All God wants is a relationship with His children and He doesn’t give up on them. Even when people don’t know Him, He still wants the relationship. He pursues us, but he is a gentleman, and He doesn’t force Himself on us. 

I am often reminded of this verse that is on the wall at Wheeler Mission: 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

When I read that verse, I see a Father with his arms open to His children. Don’t wait to pursue your relationship with God and grow as a person. Start today! Pick up a Bible and read it. Let God change your life!

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

#197 Improbable Survival, Part 1

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

It is Thanksgiving, around 5 a.m. I am less than two weeks out from quadruple bypass surgery. I actually feel pretty well and have clients scheduled for next week, so not too much disruption from having your chest opened and your heart stopped for four hours, while it g

 

ets a plumbing job of rerouting arteries around blockages. I really have not paid attention to the details of the surgery, but my surgeon told me if I did not have the open-heart surgery I would be dead, again, within a month. There were precious few physical symptoms to indicate that I had such serious coronary heart disease. I take care of myself physically and I go to the doctor for annual physicals.

That’s right, dead again. Those words do not even look real. I had no idea I died Friday November 15 around 4 p.m. I just remember collapsing on the trail and waking up as I was being transported down the trail. I had a sudden cardiac arrest while backpacking up a steep slope. I was participating in a church (Crossroads) retreat for men called Man Camp. There were approximately 1,000 men attending a weekend camping retreat near the Kentucky River in Richmond, Kentucky. 

I had experienced what is called “ventricular fibrillation” (VF) in the lower left chamber of my heart. This causes the heart to vibrate so rapidly that it can’t pump blood. It was not a heart attack per se, but rather an electrical malfunction, where the heart loses normal rhythm and there is no pulse. Only around 10 percent of people survive VF, and most of those survivors are already hospitalized or in health care settings.

I would not have survived if I were not hiking with two men (Eric Curvin and Shane Porter) who knew what to do and immediately jumped into action performing CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation. Eric is a nurse anesthetist and Shane is an Iraq veteran. They kept my heart and brain alive for at least 15 minutes, until the camp medics, volunteer medical personnel serving at Man Camp, arrived with a defibrillator to shock my heart back into rhythm. I was then transported to a hospital.

I would not have survived but for the grace of God. I am told that men immediately surrounded me and began praying out loud, calling on the name of Jesus. One of my best friends, Lynn Buckles, tells me my skin was ashen and my eyes were open, staring, like a dead man. I was a dead man — and he pleaded with God to raise me from the dead, as did others. Another friend, Bryan Carter said, “I have seen dead people before,” so he knew what a lifeless body looked liked. I can’t imagine what that was like for them, but it had to be traumatic; both of them have their own stories of dealing with death and near death.

So I am thankful I get to spend this Thanksgiving with my wife, Carolyn, our children, Seth, Danielle, and Isaac, and my brother, Trip, who flew from North Carolina to be with us during surgery. The gift of my life, to survive this, is a mystery. I could have just as easily died, as most do. I will die, someday … but why God allowed my healing is something to prayerfully and respectfully consider. There is more to this story, so many connections that cannot be explained as happenstance, and the telling of it will continue.

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.