#167 The Pilgrim’s Path

Photo by Conor McWay 

“We have no idea where we are, we haven’t seen any other people for over an hour, and it feels like we’ve been wandering aimlessly through suburban Spain—but now there are factories everywhere…where are we going?!”

I was standing in the middle of a Spanish industrial park outside the city of Burgos, wearing a 20-pound backpack filled with all the belongings I would need to walk 500 miles across Northern Spain. My feet hurt, I felt lost, and I was annoyed. So, I very maturely articulated my inquiry to my husband, Conor, with complete calm—which meant I was whining and one step away from stomping my feet. How did I get here?

Conor and I had a wonderful first year of marriage; we made friends, and somehow, all of my siblings ended up moving back to the area where we grew up. It was a truly great year, but it was becoming more and more apparent that Conor was not meant to be in law school. He would often become whom I (lovingly and affectionately) called “self-deprecating Conor.” After Conor’s first year and summer of law school it was clear that he was not going to continue.

We had lost our plan before I even realized that it was one. Without realizing it, I had created the next three years (and beyond) in my mind: I would teach as long as Conor was in law school, when he graduated we would move to wherever he was offered a job, we would live in a fabulous city, he would be a lawyer, money wouldn’t be a problem, I could use our expendable income to fund my dream restaurant, all my siblings would move to live close to us, and we’d have beautiful and magical babies who wouldn’t cry and would never need their diapers changed…you get the gist.

Without law school, I didn’t know what our future would bring, how long I would have to teach, what job Conor would find, what Conor would be passionate about if not law, how we would ever afford a house—let alone my dream restaurant—and when we would have our non-magical, probably super loud, screamy children. If it wasn’t my idea of the perfect future, it would be horrible.

It was during this F-5-level worry spiral, among other moments during our first two years of marriage, that showed me two very big flaws in my thinking. One, I was thinking as an I, not a we. And two, I was thinking of my plan, instead of being open to God’s greater plan. This spiral of doubt was caused by my own insecurity, my lack of faith, and my singular thinking.

One day, while talking about how lost we both felt, my sister-in-law suggested that we go on the Camino de Santiago and it sounded so…right. It’s not that we hadn’t talked about going on the pilgrimage before, but this time it felt like a way to be found. Conor and I started talking and dreaming about going to Spain to do the Camino, then staying abroad for a while. We could live and work with family, friends, or acquaintances and spend some time adventuring, eating great food, and discerning what we are called to do next. We came to the realization that we want to be totally open to God’s call and follow where He is leading us next. We would take the year to listen, surrender, and discern.

Intellectually, it seemed crazy, but it just felt right. We quit our jobs, said goodbye to family and friends, and left on a one-way ticket to begin our year of pilgrimage and discernment. As reluctant as I was to give up the reigns, I knew life would be so much better if I stopped trying to control it.

Well, when I say I “knew,” I mean I wanted to know and I prayed for trust—but I couldn’t seem to stop trying to control. Though the beginning of our Camino was a prayerful, beautiful, and moving time, I still slipped into old habits. From memorizing the mileage to planning my next coffee stop, I was struggling to let go and follow the yellow arrows and shells that indicated the way. Less than two weeks into the Camino, I was totally doubting why we even came to Spain, let alone that we would find our way on the path into town. After trying to solve it myself, studying the map, and searching for an arrow, I shouted for a sign. Finally, I got a sign in the form of a neon bike vest and a shiny silver helmet.

“¡Buen Camino, peregrinos! ¿Estån buscando el camino?” A biker appeared, as if out of nowhere. He was simply asking if we were looking for the way, but his words touched so much deeper. I needed a sign that we were on the right track. I needed to let go and admit that I was lost. But not just lost outside this city in Spain, I had lost my faith in God’s merciful plan. I was desperately seeking the way, without asking for help. I needed to trust that the way had been prepared for me. Once I let myself be vulnerable, finding our way back to the pilgrim’s path was as simple as two turns and a bright yellow arrow. Suddenly, we were surrounded by backpacks, hiking boots, and scallop shells (all familiar Camino accessories). We had found our way, by embracing how lost we were. Each day following, instead of being worried, I was comforted with the knowledge that I am not in control. Conor and I are, and will continue to be, well taken care of.

Since the end of our Camino and our year abroad, Conor and I have continued to live “planless” as we call it, though that name is somewhat misleading. We live trusting in a much greater plan. We don’t need to know tomorrow’s walk, we just need to trust and listen during the walk today.

The Camino taught me many lessons. Well, to be honest, that Camino continues to teach me many lessons. An adage adopted by many pilgrims is “As in the Camino, so in life.” Through the Camino, I learned that sacrifice and humility are crucial to partnership and love. I not only had to sacrifice my comfort for Conor on more than one occasion, I also had to humbly admit when I needed help. This is a lesson we live constantly in our marriage. I learned that with God, and only with God, I truly have an unbelievable strength. With His help, I can achieve wonderful things. And I learned the beauty, peace, and joy that come with surrender. It is a gift to have total faith that God’s plan is better, more complete, and so filled with love. God has taken care of the big stuff and He continues to take care of the details. I just need to surrender and know He has prepared the way. 

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.

#164 Every Moment is a God Moment



Photo by Brianna Rapp

Several years ago at Thanksgiving our pastor asked our congregation what we were thankful for. Growing up, I had good parents and grandparents. I come from a big family, with four brother and four sisters. We grew up in a loving home and we were very close. I remember many times we prayed together as a family. All my siblings are still living and both my parents are living. When my pastor asked this question, I thought about how blessed I have been to have such a good family and felt so thankful to God for this blessing.

On another day at church, our pastor challenged each of us in the congregation to start reading the Bible daily. On January 1, 2007, I started doing this—reading the Daily Walk Bible early every morning. My wife and I live out in the country. The end of that same January, as I was going to church on a very icy Sunday, my truck slid off the narrow bridge and fell upside down into the creek. Thankfully, it landed on the passenger side and I was unharmed. God protected me. I went back into the house, warmed up, and picked up my Bible to read. Nearly every morning since then I have read the Bible. Now it feels like my day is not started off right if I don’t read the Bible.

Both our son and daughter have been into drugs. Our daughter got pregnant and we raised her son for five years. Without being in God’s Word and knowing how forgiving God is, I don’t know that I could have forgiven or made it through these situations. Because of our kid’s addiction, they stole from my wife and me—guns, tools, cash, even my wedding band. Each time it happened it was harder to forgive them. My wife and I both work hard at our jobs and we don’t have a lot compared to what many people have. That made it even harder when our kids stole from us and we had to replace things. But when I read the Bible I learn how many times that Jesus has forgiven me—too many to count. This realization has helped me forgive them.

But we did have to do hard things. We turned both of them into the authorities and they both went to jail. After our daughter got out of jail, her life began to change for the better.  She and her husband now come to church and have jobs. Our grandson has gone back to live with them.

After you start reading God’s Word, it changes everything. Many days I have had things going on in my life and I could pick up the Bible and hit on just what I needed to hear for that day to help me get through it. Since I have been reading the Bible each day, I find myself being more grateful, seeing things each day that I am thankful for. God is a giving God. When I try to think of a particular “God moment,” well … everything is a God moment. He put air in my lungs this moment and gave me this day. I don’t care what we do, we could never thank Him enough.

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.

#153 Mission Focused

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I grew up in a conservative home and decided to attend a small Christian college because of its conservative values rather than its faith-based mission. I was accepted to law school after college, but before I began, I learned that my mother had terminal lung cancer. My mother insisted that I not delay my law education and I complied with her wishes. My mother died the week of my second semester law school final exams. I was 23 years old and not ready to lose her. I coped by drinking too much, and this became a way of life for me. I graduated law school, passed the bar exam, and became a prosecuting attorney, all while drinking excessively. I was an alcoholic, drinking my paycheck each week and sometimes missing work because of drinking binges. 

On December 11, 2006, the court bailiff came into my office, shared the gospel of Christ, and led me to the Lord at my desk. Everything changed after that. I have been sober since that day. The gentleman who led me to Christ was also a pastor, and I began attending his church. He had been an alcoholic too and knew what it was like. He was a tremendous support to me and carried me through. A few months later I met the woman who would become my wife.

In 2008, I resigned as county prosecutor and started a non-profit organization to help other people with drug and alcohol addictions. I began by simply connecting those who needed help with treatment programs. This was a needed service in our region, as we live in one of the worst areas of the country for drug abuse. I felt God was calling me to do more, specifically to open a Christian addiction recovery center. There were some major roadblocks to overcome before this could happen. Our biggest problem was finding a suitable place for the recovery center. We had worked on several buildings to get them ready to become the center but couldn’t get any approved because none met the requirements for a residential treatment facility. We had been working for almost two years to open a center with no traction, and finally I realized that there was a house that I had previously leased that might be the building. I had leased the house with a purchase option because of something I had experienced in prayer. I had felt God telling me the building was to become a house of prayer. So, I leased it thinking someday it might become a place for prayer retreats. I never anticipated it might become our recovery center. I asked the fire marshal to do the inspection on the house and he said, “Finally, you are going to open your center!” The house had been a bed and breakfast and had been grandfathered into the building code. Within two months we were open as a Christian residential drug treatment center. And today the house is definitely a house of prayer. 

There was another big hurdle. Money. I had no income and we had a new baby. It had become difficult to even buy diapers. We just couldn’t keep it up with no money coming in. Then I met a Christian businessman and he told me that God would provide if this was His will. One morning in 2011, I woke up at 5 a.m. and went to pray. What I heard in my prayer was that I was approaching things the wrong way. I was approaching drug treatment like a church would, but instead I needed to learn from secular addiction treatment programs. I researched different secular drug treatment programs around the country for a place that most resembled the people and problems in our area, and then with a leap of faith, I spent all our money to hire someone from the addiction treatment industry in Florida as a consultant. Very quickly she showed us that we could be reimbursed from insurance and Medicaid for the care we were providing. This was a game changer and provided the income that we needed to not only continue providing care but to expand.

We now have nine residential Christian addiction treatment centers and four outpatient centers throughout the state. We recently opened an addiction treatment center for pregnant women. Our board wasn’t sure if the time was right to do this, but I felt strongly God leading us to move forward. There was a home for sale in our community that seemed the right size and layout for the maternity center. I had a good feeling about it when we arrived to look at it. The former owners had moved out and nothing remained except a plaster statue of Jesus holding a child in His arms on the front porch. We purchased the home and it now serves as a beautiful place of community where pregnant women and their newborn babies can receive the love and help they need. After purchasing, we learned the home had belonged to a Christian obstetrician. We kept the statue of Jesus holding the child and it is now in the entryway of the home as a reminder to all who enter of Jesus’ love and care for His children.

We have been mission focused from the beginning, and this is still a big part of what we do. We provide pastoral counselors and chaplains and help those going through our program to discover God’s love and grace. The chaplain at the first center we opened is the gentleman who led me to Christ in my office in 2006. The faith-based part of our program doesn’t replace clinical treatment. It comes alongside it. Our model of care is a holistic approach, including spiritual (soul), clinical (mind), medical (body), and vocational (purpose).

Our model is to combine job training and residential treatment in a faith-based environment, and this has been very successful. Every person who completes our recovery program has the opportunity to participate in our staff internship program in which they are guaranteed a job with us at their one-year clean mark. We now employ 200 people at an average pay of $37,500 with benefits, and 70 of those employees are graduates of our own treatment programs!

Each day I continue to seek God’s guidance, wisdom, and provision. I pray often and write down prayers and what I sense as God’s leading throughout the day. When our steering committee meets, we begin with praise and worship music, prayer, and a short message. After this, I share ​what God has given me in prayer. Often, we step out in faith and make business decisions simply because we believe that God is leading us to do something and we trust that He will provide. And He has. God has held us together in difficult financial times. The Lord always comes through just in time. 

One day a month we close the doors at every office at the company. We gather for Convocation, which is a time the whole company, including residents in our treatment programs, comes together to worship corporately. The residents sing and share testimonies. It is very powerful . . . the best day of our month. No business is conducted on that day. It’s when we ge​t out of the way so that God can go behind us to fix our messes. God has the whole company to Himself that day. God is definitely at the stern of this ship. He continues to lead us, provide for us, restore us, and love us.

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.

#97 Never too Old

Photo by Erin E. Photography

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, raised by Christian parents and regularly attending church. I accepted the faith of my parents and was baptized in middle school. As an adult, I needed to know more. I needed to make my faith my own. I wanted to learn as much as possible about God, Jesus, and the Bible. I had many questions..

Over the years, I’m sure I wore out many pastors with my questions. I read lots of books on Christianity and apologetics and read the Bible nearly every night for over three decades. Over and over I prayed for wisdom and understanding—and for someone to help me deeply study the Bible.

I was diligently seeking God and God sent someone to help me.  I had a new job working at a nursing home.  One of the residents, an older gentleman, was often in his wheelchair sitting in the hallways reading his Bible. From time to time I would stop to talk with him about the Bible. He was articulate and intelligent and his blue eyes sparkled when he talked about the Scriptures.  I can’t remember whose idea it was, but he started a Bible study. I was the only one who came. Every Wednesday evening at the nursing home, I was his only student. He was disappointed that it was just me, but said that I wanted to learn so badly he just had to teach me.

Each session, I sat across from him in his room with the rolling hospital dinner tray table between us, and his well worn New Jerusalem Bible laid open for the teaching, and my NIV Student Bible, taped together on the binding, right beside it. Covering nearly all the white space in his Bible were his own personal notes, as neat as if typewritten and nearly as small. I had never seen anything like it. Each week he prepared a lesson plan of what we were to cover, with Scripture verses  on small slips of white paper, handwritten in the same tiny script as in his Bible.

I found out that he attended seminary in the 1940s and 1950s and taught literature at a university, including a study of Psalms—my favorite book of the Bible. What unfolded in the next year during our Bible study was remarkable. He taught me historical perspective and context, drawing Bible maps and timelines. He explained the Hebrew and Greek meaning of biblical words and why that mattered. He related passages in the New Testament back to passages in the Old Testament, revealing new insights. He explained unsettling discrepancies. He used the Socratic method to teach me, asking me many, many questions.

At times it was exhausting, but he forced me to think more deeply than I ever had about the Holy Scriptures. He even had me write a  paper based on my answer to the question Jesus asked of  His disciples in John 1:38: “What are you seeking?” We completed a study of Mark and then John, but as we began Psalms, he was too sick to continue. Instead he asked me to read to him from the Psalms. I read to him Psalms of God’s love, goodness, and forgiveness, and of praise for God’s creation. When I finished, he could barely talk but his brief points were clear: Notice God. Thank God. Love God.

My friend is gone now but I will always remember the lessons God revealed to me through him—profound lessons and simple ones. I had asked God to send someone to help me learn and understand, someone to help me deeply study the Bible and God responded with an unexpected but incredible answer!  I am so grateful for what God taught me through my friend. God loves us. God sees us and knows what we need, when we need it and how we need it delivered. Praise God for his personal way with each of us!

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God and he will give it to you. James 1:5

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13