#185 Praise and Purpose in Pain, Part 2

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look to the Creator of the stars.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one

and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

not one of them is missing.

27

Why do you complain, Jacob?

Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

29

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:26-29

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

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

#131. Every Day Is A Gift

 Artwork by Lily Murphy

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

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

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

I have a Maker

He formed my heart

Before even time began

My life was in his hands (by Tommy Walker)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#110 Let’s Go Get Em’ Champ

Photo by Lang Thomas Photography

Eight years ago I left the corporate world having served as the President of Kentucky Fried Chicken for five years and as a Senior Executive for Yum! Brands, operating Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut. When I left corporate I was coming out of a very dry season – emotionally, physically and spiritually. I didn’t know if my marriage was going to make it.  Thankfully, the Lord led my wife and I to a counselor who helped restore our marriage by teaching us how to pursue one another and rekindle an emotional connection and intimate relationship. Not only is our marriage restored, but we now coach other married couples who are struggling.

But there was also the question of what would I do with the rest of my life after leaving corporate? I wasn’t quite 50 years old, I couldn’t sit still very long and didn’t play golf. I had served as the Executive Pastor for my church but I didn’t want to go back into “ministry” at the church and I didn’t want to go back into business. I prayed “Lord, help me know what to do.”

Around this time the Lord began to show me that I was half-hearted in my love for him. My faith had become more about a set of “guidelines and guardrails”. I had book knowledge and head knowledge of God, but I didn’t really KNOW Him. I didn’t have experiential knowledge of God. Because if I really knew God I couldn’t help but love him.

A turning point occurred when I attended a Faith in the Marketplace workshop and witnessed a man praying an adoration prayer. I had never seen anything like it before. It felt like I was listening in on an intimate conversation with his spouse. It reminded me of some of the ways our marriage was restored. I knew I wanted that kind of love for God, that kind of intimacy. I started praying adoration prayers, prayers about the nature of God, that God is good and faithful, that God is my advocate and my defender, that God has a plan for my life.

My wife and I felt the Lord call us to start adoration prayer and worship nights in our home. The first night we had 22 people. We held these worship nights quarterly and more people started coming – around 60-70 people– so many that we needed to move our furniture out to accommodate the people. The Lord led us to buy a barn, Iron Bell, and we began to host worship nights there every month, gathering together to adore God in a time of extended worship and prayer.

The Lord continued to teach us out of intimacy and love. We were learning not only more about God but were also learning about who WE are. The Lord taught me about covenant love and not having to perform, that intimacy requires not only the right view of Him, but also the right view of myself.  You won’t grow intimate unless you know there is no guilt or shame; that we are sons and daughters. We learned to operate FROM value not FOR value. (Romans 8:14-17 “for those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The spirit you received does not make you slaves so that you live in fear again, rather, the spirit you received brought about your adoption to Sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are His children then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”)

As time progressed my wife and I realized that these truths needed to be shared, specifically how to fulfill the first commandment “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all you mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and that as sons and daughters we work from value, not for value. Also we felt led to teach about how to fulfill our Ephesians 2:10 purpose in life; that His Kingdom can be expressed by partnering with Him in everyday work, everyday life. As God was doing a work “in us”, he then began to do a work “through us”.  A ministry, Iron Bell Ministries, was born out of that journey.

As you partner with God to work out your purposes in life I think this final story can give you great perspective. I used to think that God gave me a game plan and then said, “Go get em champ!” Now, I know that instead God holds my hand and says “Let’s go get em champ!” 

#41God Did A MIRACLE In My Life

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Going into sophomore year at the University of Kentucky, I never could have imagined the struggles that would soon flood my life. I began going to frat parties that typically ended with me being boozed, sick in a bathroom with strangers. I was searching for my identity, and in doing so, I began to get into a relationship with a guy who I believed was amazing and genuinely cared for me.

However, it turned out that I was not the only girl he was in a relationship with and I began to compare myself to the other girls he was seeing, never seeing myself as good as them—not skinny enough, smart enough, involved enough. I started to feel so worthless, that I let these attacks in my mind begin to take a hold of my actions. I suffered from bulimia for three months—the three LONGEST months of my life.

It was such a mind-trapping and soul-gripping time, that one night I finally broke and cried out for God to come rescue me. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but the enemy continually told me it was right, and that I was trapped for good. But little did I know, God was beginning to do miraculous works in my life the very next day. An old friend of mine that I hadn’t seen since elementary school reached out to me, inviting me to this thing called Passion. Passion is a conference that takes place in Atlanta, that hosts thousands of college students facing the same struggles, trials, and everyday life issues that I was facing. I found God redeeming, restoring, and loving my soul just in that short time, where His love shined through all the darkness I was facing. He assured me that truly He had never left me, and that despite my past, nothing could hold me back from Him.

Jesus stands with open arms; all we have to do is run to Him and He will make all things new. I went back to campus and became involved with the local campus ministry CSF. I found a home with a group of spectacular girls who opened their arms to me, loved on me, prayed for me, and lifted me in ways that they didn’t even realize.

Now, God is pouring into my heart more than ever. I’m hearing from Him daily, and feeling a stir in my heart that I’m meant for an unimaginable purpose to pursue Him and help others along the way. God did a MIRACLE in my life, and I want others to know that He still is the God who performs miracles, every day, for ordinary people, with an extraordinary plan. Through the pain, there is purpose, and Jesus is there the entire time, just watching and waiting, saying, “You should see the plans I have for her, and she doesn’t even know it yet. Just you wait.”

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.