#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

#213. Praying Wives: Control Less, Pray More

Photo by Brianna Rapp

Have you ever felt, as a praying wife, that your husband is “getting it wrong” on a big decision for your family? Not in a prideful way, but genuinely you have discerned in your spirit that a decision needs to be made differently. These moments can be very hard as a wife. You may be the wife who deeply trusts and respects your husband, remaining prayerful in the midst of a life-changing decision for which you disagree. But, if you’re like I was a couple years into marriage, driven by anxiety instead of security in the relationship, you didn’t keep your mouth shut.

My husband was in the middle of a major life-changing decision. He was pursuing a job that looked perfect on paper. He is a pastor, and this opportunity was a pay raise, a great community at a large church with tons of resources. I knew it would’ve “pat his back” as an accelerated career move. However, I just had a sense — this isn’t it. 

After every interview, he would ask me what I thought. You see, he needed me to be supportive. He was agonizing with the idea that pursuing a ministry career path could be detrimental to the security of our family. His insecurities about this trajectory made this option so promising to him. He needed me to be excited. But what did I do after every interview? Let’s just say this, the sensitivities were always aggravated — tension always increased in our home. And honestly, I do believe God was speaking to me in prayer — answering our prayers for clarity. 

I went into the hiring process with him open-minded. But as I prayed, I felt more and more “off” about the entire option. To whatever end, my opinions didn’t stay prayerfully considerate of his feelings. I always made sure that by the end of the conversation that my thoughts were heard. 

What this did would take a couple years to undo — for us to find trust and safety in decision-making again. I really wounded him. I made my husband, whom I love and trust, feel like I would be controlling his life and future as long as we were married. Sure, there were absolutely two-sides to the wounding. I don’t think I was a brute, but I was strong and he was already insecure and struggling. I rubbed dirt in the open-wound though my abrasive opinions. Has any wife ever been here? Regretful of how you attempted to control, even in the name of what you believed was right? 

Ultimately, he was offered the job. Yet, being certain that I did not support the opportunity, he turned it down. I felt so guilty. You could feel the tension and bitterness building in our relationship. He could’ve had a pay raise, a great community of support, and a job that made him feel valued as a leader. Yet, I was perplexed because “If this was the Lord, shouldn’t it not be this way?” At the same time, I was relieved to know we didn’t go against the confidence I felt in prayer. But I wasn’t expecting to get a bitter, blaming husband out of the deal.

All I could do, yet again, was pray. And this time, I didn’t use my big mouth to try and walk us out of this place we found ourselves in. God knew we needed a miraculous confirmation that it was truly Him. I was desperate. I was out of control, and I needed Jesus to step in and protect me and protect our marriage.

About a month went by, I was still hearing the regret daily. He was bemoaning the decision, and had no future prospects that gave new hope. But every day, I was praying for a breakthrough.

One Sunday morning, we were attending our local congregation at the time, and there was a woman in the back of the church crying. She was encountering the Presence of God, and my husband went to the back to check on her. As he came closer, he saw it was a woman from the church that offered him the job. She was on the hiring committee that unanimously voted to extend the offer. And now, she is in the back of the church we are attending in tears. My husband approached her, reintroducing himself, and asking if she needed prayer for anything. She shared a bit about what had happened to lead her there that morning. She was going through the Starbucks drive-thru on the way to the church she regularly attends, when she sensed strongly that God told her to attend the church we were at this morning. She was having a personal encounter with God, but as they wrapped up praying together, she said, “I knew that one day God would allow us to cross paths because I needed to tell you it wasn’t the right job for you. Everyone wanted you, and I felt pressured to vote in that direction by the committee because they needed unanimity. But as I prayed about it, it would’ve stunted you and it would not have been the right fit for your flourishing. I am glad you didn’t accept it. I want you to know, I support that decision. You made the right call.” 

My husband broke down when he realized the Presence of God had chased him down to affirm His voice. It wasn’t my thought. It wasn’t my conviction. It was God. It was His love and affection for my husband, His calling and purposes. It was God’s crazy love and blessing over our marriage — to guard us and protect us. It was prayer that positioned us for restoration and confirmation. 

God hears our prayers, wives. And a prayer for unified blessing in marriage, this is a prayer he always answers. I learned many pivotal lessons through this experience. I don’t need to control. I need to pray. 

#212. Praying Wives: Something To Live For

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I married my high school sweetheart. Bob and I had known each other since first grade. I knew he had a good heart and I believed the Lord brought us together with His blessing. I was young and idealistic, full of hope and dreams for a bright future together. Fifteen years later at the age of 35, I found myself living in quiet desperation. My husband and I had good jobs. We lived on the property of a golf course where my husband was a PGA pro. Our three daughters were wonderful and a source of much joy. Yet something was wrong with our family.  Day after day, hour after hour, I was forced to deal with the fact that my husband was an alcoholic and drug addict. Oh, there were days we could hide it from the outside world. There were moments we pretended it wasn’t a fact and tried to laugh and have fun together as a family. But always in the back of my mind I was waiting for something to trigger him, to set him off and send him into erratic behavior directed toward me or the girls. We never knew when or why that would happen. Once he began to drink, his rules were the only rules in our house. He would drink all night, unable to work the next morning. Our girl’s room was the only sanctuary they had. They were afraid to invite their friends to our home because of what their daddy might say or do. Not only was his behavior awful, but his language was also worse. He didn’t care who heard what. I didn’t know how to deal with these terrible problems.

 
I remember going to a golf tournament with him. He promised me it would be a good weekend without drinking and that we would have fun together. The first night I found myself in the motel room at midnight wondering where he was. His promises had quickly been broken leaving me upset and frustrated again.  Left alone, I questioned my life, and began to talk to the Lord. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to come face to face with Jesus Christ in a way I had never experienced before. But before this happened, things went from bad to worse. My husband was arrested for public drunkenness and everyone in our little town knew it. He was the “town drunk.” I had accepted Christ as my Savior when I was ten years old. I have always had a deep love for the Lord. I was active in my church and when I married that continued. As each child was born, I made sure they were in church. Rarely could I get Bob to attend church with me. Mostly he would only go if the girls were in a program. When I asked him to attend, he got indignant, saying that Sunday was the busiest day of the week at a golf course and how could I expect him to be gone. I made sure the girls went even though they knew that Dad didn’t think it was worth it. 


I’ll tell you some of the things I did wrong. I wrote letters to people who had overcome the battle of alcohol. I called members of my husband’s family. I asked friends to talk to him. Five times I went to the pastor of our church but could never really tell him what was wrong. I could only sit there and cry. I got mad at Bob, went along with him, ignored the problem, and tried to reason with him. I reached out for any solution that sounded reasonable. In August of 1975, I began to feel ashamed of myself. I found that if I encouraged Bob to drink more, he would pass out sooner and I would have some peace and quiet.

 
One evening that August, Bob had finally passed out and I went to our back porch, a quiet haven for me. Everyone in the house was quiet. Outside everyone was gone and the peace and solitude that our old worn-out porch offered were just what I needed. I was physically and mentally exhausted from juggling three jobs, keeping the girls busy and having no answers. I had upset Bob that night. I don’t know what I did to upset him but when he drank it didn’t take much.  I sat down, soaked in the night noises, and sighed.  I hugged my knees and rested my head on my arms and the tears began to flow. I cried out loud and I thought about whether anyone could hear my sobs and if they did would they even care. I thought, “I am of no use to anyone.” I felt reduced to a scream, a tear, a cloudy mind. I was unable to function, a blob waiting to crawl into a hole and stay for a long time. Many other nights this same summer I had come here knowing there had to be a way out, wanting to help but just not sure what I should do. I can remember screaming on previous nights, “God, why is my life like this? What good am I to anyone? Why don’t you just let me die?” And then I would always feel so guilty because I couldn’t pull it together. I couldn’t find an answer.

 
That night in August was different. Out loud, in sobbing tones, I said, “Lord, I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve tried all I know to try. I don’t know anything else to do. If you are listening to me, please, please help me.” And at that moment my tears and sobs ceased. That shocked me. I had been sobbing so hard I was shaking, but it just stopped. I felt very warm inside and very calm. It was not a sensation I was familiar with. For the first time in an exceedingly long time, I didn’t feel alone. The Lord spoke to my heart and said, “I am with you. You can go on. It will be alright. You are my child. And you have three children to care for. I will help you.” The Lord had been waiting for me to turn it over to Him. He probably said, “Well, finally she is going to let me handle it!” At that moment, I knew everything was going to be alright. God was listening and He cared. He could see my heart and He was there. I didn’t know how everything would be alright, but I knew He was giving me strength and love to face tomorrow.  Positive thoughts began to come into my head. “I can like myself once more. I can begin to be a better mother. Our girls need me. And Bob with all his problems needs me more than ever. With God’s guidance and wisdom, I can be a good wife, the wife Bob needs me to be.” I finally gave up my problem to God and said in effect, “Lord, take over.” And He did… in more ways than I could ever imagine! The evening breeze stirred the leaves on the huge elm tree in the back yard. I suddenly was aware of the beauty around me. I stood up slowly as not to shatter this new atmosphere. I went into the house and looked in on our three girls, my heart was so full of love for them. They looked so fragile and beautiful as they lay there sleeping soundly unaware that a miracle had just taken place, one that would deeply affect their lives forever.

 
At last, I knew I must work on myself. The Lord helped me by sending a friend who invited me to a Bible study. There I began to study God’s word in a fresh way. I made my heart vulnerable to others in the Bible Study and they began to pray with me for Bob. The more I learned about the Lord, the stronger I became. I was able to exhibit a kinder spirit in my home, my emotions were more stable, and I had a wonderful hope inside knowing the Lord himself lived within me and was helping me become more than I could dream.

 
I never thought of divorcing Bob. When I looked at him, sometimes I could see the 17-year-old boy I fell in love with. I could see the gifts and talents hidden from view. I could see the man I loved to be with, to laugh with, to share with. All those things were still there, they were just hidden. One of my greatest desires was to be a good wife to him. Taking care of him made me happy. I knew without a doubt I couldn’t abandon him. I would not give up on him. With the Lord’s help, my love for Bob and a deep sense of commitment and purpose kept me going. After I realized the Lord was in control, the thought occurred to me that I might be the only one exhibiting a Christian walk in front of Bob.

 
In November of 1975, Bob was converted at an old-fashioned revival meeting in the Laurel County High School gym. The Lord took away the desire to drink immediately with no withdrawals at all. Bob took no more drugs. He was able to fellowship with fine Christians who provided encouragement and love. It took almost 2 years to work through everything we had gone through to put our marriage back together. Our daughters had a dad again. Bob went back to college and seminary at the age of 40. He started two churches in Kentucky and became a full-time evangelist whose calling was to share this story about the grace and love of our Lord. We began traveling all around the world and Bob preached and taught. We had amazing experiences and met many wonderful people.  God even used Bob’s golfing expertise to evangelize. Bob would invite men to play a round of golf with him and while they were playing, he would share his testimony and invite them to attend revivals where he would be preaching.

 
Bob preached his last revival in 2006. He passed away in 2008. My trust in God has grown so much since my husband died. As I reflect on my life, I can see now that God was guiding me all the time. He reassured me and encouraged me in the difficult first years of our marriage. He gave me an unexplainable peace even when Bob was out of control and I had no idea what to do. When I surrendered the situation to God, He worked things out in wonderful ways that were beyond anything I could imagine. God provided years of extraordinary experiences and opportunities. He sent many people to encourage us, mentor us, pray with us, and provide for our financial needs. I am deeply grateful for the wonderful people God put in our lives and the part each person played in our story. It isn’t our story at all. This story is God’s story and the glory for every step of our journey is God’s alone! 

#211. Praying Wives: There Is Nothing God Can’t Do

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

For much of my life, I wished for that “Damascus experience” others had described . . . a sudden insight that is overwhelming and life-changing.


It seemed to me that such a transformational moment in time would be the confirmation that Christ had truly entered in, and all things past were gone. But, instead, I was blessed (now I see it as a blessing!) with the early and constant faithfulness of God that has been revealed over and over again in my life. I now understand how God began a good work in me and has refused to let me ever get too far away from His efforts to work in me to completion.


I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were married over 50 years, before my dad passed away in 1993, way too early! I had a great childhood and was surrounded by family who instilled in my brothers and me the importance of acceptance, unconditional love, and constant support. God was always a big part of our family. We weren’t wealthy, but our family sure had everything we needed, and often what we wanted as well. My parents taught us to be grateful for our blessings, particularly for our family. As a result, I am thankful for and treasure relationships. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love deeply. I’m loyal to a fault and when I care, I really care! Although this trait has blessed me immeasurably, it also has its consequences. My depth of love can be equal to depth of grief when relationships are lost or damaged. So, along this journey, I have loved and lost but, in the end, love is always greater!


I have great memories of our church as a child. We started attending when I was four years old, and it’s the only church I have ever attended. It has always been a big part of my spiritual formation. I remember a particular night at youth group, when Jesus became much more personal for me. I made a commitment to give my life to Christ and to try my best to live my life the way God prepared for me. I have not always been an obedient child of God, but my desire has always been to do things His way.


During high school, I met a guy I dated for six years, until the summer of my senior year in college when we married. We began to live the life I had always imagined . . . the house with the white picket fence, two beautiful children, a dog and a goldfish! And then, things changed — dramatically and quickly. My husband became very ill. He was diagnosed with adult-onset type 1 diabetes. He struggled with the reality of that disease, and I found myself trying to own it for him, which was impossible and did not serve either of us well.

 
Soon after his diabetes diagnosis, he began to use alcohol in excess and became a very serious alcoholic. Alcohol and diabetes don’t mix and, as his life began to deteriorate, so did our marriage. I never imagined being divorced. In fact, my faith wouldn’t let me even consider it for a long time. But the consequences of his drinking became more than I could handle. Although my family and friends were there to love and support me, it was still very overwhelming.  I soon learned that it is in our times of desperation that we are closest to God.


About two years after my marriage ended, my ex-husband died. I was 32 years old with two children, ages five and seven. I was lost and confused, but God’s faithfulness prevailed. His grace, mercy, power and love sustained me in ways I still cannot fathom. That faithfulness has been the theme of my relationship with God. It is only when we admit that we can’t do life on our own and completely surrender to God that we experience real victory. I am a bit of a control freak — I like to do things my way — I struggle with that. But I learned that my efforts to control things were really futile. Everything always works out much better when I let God do it His way.

 
My professional life was always such a gift. I was a health and physical education teacher for 30 years and loved every minute of it. I had such incredible friends who loved and supported me throughout those first months and years of being a single mom, living on a teacher’s salary.  And, of course, like He always does, God started showing up in unbelievable ways. I began to receive unexpected income, transferred to a teaching job I had always wanted, and then — the greatest blessing happened.

 
Some good friends wanted to introduce me to a friend of theirs who they were just sure I would enjoy dating. As I began to live into my new life, I had pretty much decided that dating was out of the question. I remember they told me three things about their friend, Greg: He was a police officer (Are you kidding me?), he was pretty much committed to being a bachelor (Where can that go?), and he was almost four years younger than me (I already had two children). But they also said we had “so much in common” and insisted I meet him. I didn’t say yes or no, but they must have heard yes. A few nights later they arranged a chance meeting that changed my life forever! There he was — this tall, very handsome man in uniform. My children were with me and I remember my son ran over and said, “Man! Can I see your gun?” I thought then, “Well, this will be short-lived.” Greg laughed and didn’t seem to be scared off. Before he left, he asked if he could call me, and this time I did say yes!


Greg called me shortly after that and we started dating. We dated for a little over two years and to say it was a learning experience for both of us would be a real understatement. He had been in only two serious relationships before we met and was scared to death of commitment, especially with two children involved. I had built a secure wall around me and was at a place where I was determined to never let anyone hurt me again. That kind of gets in the way when trust is a cornerstone of any relationship! Then, God stepped in. He eased Greg’s fears, helped me tear down that very unhealthy wall (that sometimes wants to creep up again) and grew a love that has been simply amazing!


In 1985, Greg and I got married. Although neither of us had any idea how to create a new family, we began that journey together. The children had loved him from the start and within a few weeks, they asked Greg if they could call him Dad! Without hesitation he said, “Of course” and I could tell it thrilled him. They also said they didn’t like having a different last name, so we began to talk about how we could change that, too. On the Friday before Father’s Day, a precious friend of ours performed our legal adoption ceremony. The children took Greg’s name, as well as his heart, and it has been that way ever since. As I look back, I see that God was busy working, not to just repair my broken, untrusting heart, but by sending an angel to my children and me. Greg has been an incredible dad, and he is the best “Cappy” I could ever imagine to our six grandchildren.


When we met, Greg was not actively involved in the church or living out a personal relationship with Jesus but, somehow, I knew it would happen. I trusted that God would work in his life. While we were dating, he started going to church with me. We attended a Sunday school class together with people who were older than us. During that time, Greg learned a lot about prayer. I had asked for prayer for his safety and for advancement opportunities at the police department. He was uncomfortable with that because he thought God was too busy for those kinds of things. Gradually he learned just how personal God can be. Although he first went to church to please me, he soon genuinely wanted to go. Worship became an integral part of our marriage. In the midst of all that, he was searching. Without question, he believed in God and that Jesus had come for his salvation. But he hadn’t pursued a personal relationship with Christ. It was head knowledge but not a heart relationship. I prayed for that transformation and knew God would, in His time and in His way, show Greg just how much He loved him.


Around 2000, Greg went through a tough time. He was discouraged about several things and kept it to himself for a long time. I had become overly involved in leadership at church and in my career and didn’t see what I needed to see. I had not made Greg the priority I should have. There was a period when we were struggling and really had to reevaluate where we were going. During those days of difficulty, God was saying to me, “I’ve got it. I’ve got it. Just keep loving him.” And I did. During this time, my prayer was that the Lord would draw Greg to Him and that Greg would allow God to heal and comfort him. I prayed that the power of the Holy Spirit would consume him and bring him to a place of complete surrender. I also prayed to protect my heart from building walls against being hurt, to keep me in God’s arms and not to let me run ahead of where God was going with Greg. I wanted to be a partner in Greg’s journey but I also realized I couldn’t change things, only God could.

 
To no one’s surprise, God answered my prayers. One day Greg asked me what he could do that would help me. I felt like this was my opportunity to offer him the only solution I knew would work, so I asked him to go see the senior pastor at our church. He agreed and the rest is, as they say, history! They had a great conversation and prayer in the sanctuary and Greg had that “Damascus experience” I had always longed for!  He gave his life to Christ and experienced a transformation that has been remarkable to witness. (#193). This was one of those mountaintop moments in life when you realize God is so present and so faithful. When I look back to those few months of “struggling,” I see clearly what was happening. We live in the midst of a spiritual battle in this very lost and broken world. As a result, there are times when the enemy especially targets us. It’s usually when we are doing something pretty right or when we are very vulnerable. In our case this battle became real when we had allowed our relationship to become vulnerable. Satan saw our vulnerability as an opportunity to do his evil work. As we both stepped back and let God take control, He stepped in and squashed it.


I was born to be Greg’s wife. I have no doubt about that. I also know I was born to be the mother of our two amazing children, even though they came to me first. Right now, it’s hard to reconcile those two things but I know someday God will make it perfectly clear! Greg often says I am the reason he became a Christian, but that’s not exactly accurate. It was God’s pursuit and Greg’s surrender that allowed for his salvation. But I will say I sure did want him to know and trust Jesus. After Greg surrendered his life to the Lord, our journey together took off like a rocket ship. He became the spiritual leader in our family and we were real partners in marriage, parenting and everything else God put in our path. God has given us incredible empty nest years with Greg leading and teaching me. Something I really cherish is when we pray together. At first, we would simply ask one another how we could pray for the day ahead. We have continued that practice and the majority of our mornings we begin our day in prayer, thanking God for this incredible life He has given us and asking Him to use us to bring others into relationship with Him.

 
About 15 years ago we went through a health scare when Greg was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s a story of God’s powerful healing love. During that time neither of us had the first fear that things wouldn’t be okay. When he received the cancer diagnosis, the first thing we did was get on our knees and pray. Then and always, prayer has been the wind beneath our wings. We have trusted God with our lives in every way. 


Recently God has led us to prison ministry leadership roles. It has been a remarkable experience, one that neither of us could have imagined. We know that like every other “leading,” if we get out of the way, God will be faithful to do His good work in and through us for the glory of His Kingdom. It’s our privilege to watch Him work! Praise God from whom all blessing flow!


When I stand back and look at the life God has given me, it is truly incredible. His faithfulness has been the theme of my life. There is nothing God cannot do. He is so good and so big and so willing to bless us, if we are willing to receive God’s blessing. 

In my life, I have found my favorite verse of Scripture to be true:For I can do everything through Christ,who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). 

#200 Finding God at the End of Myself

 

I was born in Denver, Colorado. I am the middle of five children. My mom found out my father was cheating on her when he gave her an STD. She had five small kids and all her family was back in Ohio. She packed us up and moved back to Cleveland. Our dad pretty much walked out on our life. 

Every kid wants to know their dad. I wanted to go to Denver and live with my father. I lived with him from fourth through seventh grade. Before I moved in with him, I had this idealized image of him in my head. He was going to play catch with me and teach me about girls. I had a rude awakening when I found out my dad was a violent alcoholic and drug addict. There were times of physical abuse. I remember he smashed a plate in my older brother’s face and then on the way to the hospital he told him not to tell what had happened or he would do it again. My stepmother also was very cruel to us kids. 

My dad lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Nearly everyone was white. Whereas in Cleveland, we lived in abject poverty in the projects. I went to an inner-city school that was almost 80% African American. I struggled with identity. I didn’t fit anywhere. I grew up angry and not knowing who I was. I peed the bed until I was 12 or 13 years old because of the anxiety and the abuse. 

When I moved back to Cleveland, I started getting into fights. I was angrier than ever and headed down a road of stealing and juvenile delinquent behavior. I had no direction or guidance, and no role models. I gravitated to the older kids in the neighborhood, and they were involved in gangs. I was constantly getting picked up by the police. At 15, I got picked up for stealing cars. They sent me away to a juvenile boot camp, but I escaped. It got worse. I got involved in selling drugs and doing drugs. I overdosed on LSD and two days later I was doing it again. I was hell-bent on destruction. I got involved in selling narcotics. I was taking customers from grown men who wanted to kill me. They would drive past our house with guns. It was insanity but when you live in insanity long enough, it seems normal. I was working with a man who would give me drugs to sell; then I would give him money after I sold the drugs. Once I received a large amount of crack cocaine from him, but the drugs somehow disappeared. I frantically searched for the drugs because I had to pay this guy. Three weeks go by and the guy is looking for me. He ran me off the road and I got slammed into the window. A week later he was threatening me with assault rifles. I didn’t know any way out. I was 16 years old. I thought I would have to either shoot him or he was going to shoot me. My only solution was to rob someone to get a bus ticket to get out of town. I robbed a guy who was coming out to his car. But he didn’t have any money, so we ended up going back into his house. There were other people there. The police were called, and I was arrested. I was taken to the county jail for juveniles to face five counts of kidnapping and aggravated robbery with a gun. I had a prior record and had escaped from juvenile boot camp. It was bad. I was facing 45 years in adult prison for the crimes. I was supposed to be arraigned for five felony level 1 charges. The odds were, I would be charged as an adult and receive close to a life sentence. 

I spent seven months in the juvenile detention jail awaiting trial. After about three months, a corrections officer took me to the hallway. He told me my older brother, Larry, was murdered the night before. Larry was the only father figure I had. He had never been in trouble — ever. He was my hero. He had been at a club and was stabbed to death. The guilt of this overwhelmed me. Here I am involved in criminal behavior, stealing and in jail, and he is the one who got killed. Because of the severity of my crime, I couldn’t go to the funeral. There was no closure. I immediately freaked out, tried to fight everybody, smashed chairs. They stripped me down naked and put me in the box — solitary confinement — for six months. 

There are different stages of grief, but being in that environment didn’t lend itself to going through these stages. I kept telling my mom I needed something that was my brother’s. Shoes are one of the few things you can bring of your own possessions to jail. My mom said the only thing they would let her bring to me was my brother’s shoes. But she said, “You don’t want his shoes. His blood is on them.” I told her I didn’t care. I cried so much there were no more tears in my tear ducts. I would fall asleep from exhaustion, then wake up thinking it was a dream. 

God began to soften my heart through a 16-year-old kid who was in jail for dealing drugs. We had become friends. We talked, hung out and played cards before my brother died. When I was put in that solitary cell, he would come and lay down at the bottom of the door. He would talk to me under the door and say, “I’m so sorry about what happened to your brother. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I haven’t forgotten you. I’m praying for you.” He flicked pieces of candy under the door for me. He did that day after day, week after week, until I had a big pile of candy. You don’t typically experience kindness like that in a juvenile detention center. Through his consistent random acts of kindness, he was showing me the love of Jesus. 

I didn’t go to church growing up. I had no sense of who God was until solitary confinement. I came to the end of myself in that cell and reached the point of suicide ideation. I thought there was nothing left to live for. But then I thought about what that would do to my mom. She had already lost one son. God used that to bring about conviction about all the terrible things I had been a part of. I finally felt the full weight of everything I had done. It was a spiritual awakening. I was like Jacob wrestling with God. I didn’t want to be the person I was anymore. But I didn’t know how to be different. 

The first prayer I ever said was laced with profanity. I used every foul cuss word you can imagine, but it was holy because it was raw and honest. “God where were You? Why him and not me?” There was no filter. I finally moved through the anger and then I had an encounter with Jesus. I didn’t have much knowledge of the Bible, but in that moment, I knew that Jesus was real. I said, “Jesus, I know you are real. I know you died and arose from the dead. I need You. I cannot do this on my own.” I confessed with my mouth and believed in my heart without even knowing that’s what the Bible says to do. Jesus meets people where they are. I was kneeling and the floor was cold. It was like someone came into the room with a heated blanket and put it around me. It was that supernatural. And this is coming from someone who at that point in their life had no reference point for any of this. It was so real, it startled me, and I jumped up. This completely changed me from the inside out.

Before I went before the judge, I read 1 John 2:1, where it says we have an advocate and the word advocateis used as a legal term, like a lawyer. I prayed, “Lord, I know what You have done in my heart and my mind is real. I could never deny You. Even if they give me 45 years, I will never turn my back on You.” I knew it was going to be okay. It wasn’t like Jesus was telling me I was going home, but instead that He was going to be with me whatever the outcome. I went before one of the strictest judges. She said, “I don’t know why I am doing this, but I am going to keep you in the juvenile system.” I was sentenced to “juvenile life,” which meant I was sentenced until I was 21 years old. I did the four years in the juvenile system and that was my Bible school. I went to school and got my GED and completed barber training. I started writing music and poetry. 

As a part of my release, I was not allowed to go back to Cleveland. I went to Colorado to live with my dad. It was still a horrible situation, but I got to reinvent myself. Many of the friends I had made in Colorado didn’t know about the crimes I had committed. They knew me before the criminal activity began. I connected with a great church out there, and they really discipled me. They affirmed and embraced me. They didn’t judge me. They brought me up on stage in church to play my music, even though it was hip hop and not considered “religious” music at the time. 

They invested in me going into a recording studio. The music I created was inspired by Jesus. The music was redemptive, and they saw the value of that. At the time, it wasn’t common at all for that kind of music to be accepted in churches. Our church was two blocks away from Columbine High School. I played my first concert there two weeks before the mass shooting. Being able to share my testimony and play my music for the kids at Columbine was very affirming for me. I felt like music was a calling I needed to pursue. 

Now I am back in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area. My wife and I planted a church, The Fringe, almost two years ago. We had come across a lot of people who wouldn’t fit into a typical church environment. Instead of complaining, we said, “Let’s do something about it.” We have a heart for people who haven’t connected with God for whatever reason. We have a heart for people on the outside of the church — whatever their story, whatever they look like. It has been amazing to see what God has done. We were not part of any church organization because no church really understood what we wanted to do. Our church was self-sustaining within four months. We are getting ready to launch a coffee shop that will hire people who are re-entering society and will pay a fair wage. The coffee shop will be part of a re-entry program. The program will help people get their GED and provide parenting programs. There will be free tattoo removal and a recording studio for at-risk youth in the community. It will be a holistic hub to help empower and rebuild the lives of people who have been thrown away. 

In the story of Jacob wrestling with God, he was also wrestling with himself. The name Jacob meant deceiver. He was always scheming and always trying to find an angle to manipulate the situation because he believed the world was an inherently bad place. I don’t think Jacob believed that God is really good. What I have learned from my experience is that God is not like my biological father. He is good. One of my favorite verses is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35 (NIV) Jesus was comforting the sister of one of his friends who had just died. 

God is not a detached deity but a Father who weeps with us when we weep. He cares about us.

I’ve also learned that I am enough. I don’t have to earn God’s approval or love. He is not going to abandon me like my biological father did. He is a good Father. 

You are more than the worst thing you’ve ever done. No matter what you’ve done, God is not ashamed of you. His love has been running after you your whole life. It’s time to stop running from Him. 

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 Cholee Moran

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.

#196 Living on Assignment

 Photo by Sophie Goforth

God saved me from death eight years ago but, more importantly; He gave me a new beginning when, by all rights, there should only have been a tragic ending. 

My name is Melissa and I’m a recovering addict, but much more, I’m a redeemed child of God. I am a writer by trade, and have done well in this career; although I have failed miserably as the author of my own story. The story I tried to write of my life was one I insisted on filling with excitement, money, power, control, and all the love and adoration I could stand. I wanted the perfect modern-day fairytale, and I wanted things to go my way, on my terms. However, the sad story I strung together for four decades was pretty on the outside but a total mess on the inside. It was completely empty, yet filled with selfishness, shame, regret, loneliness, unresolved anger, addiction, and despair. My tragic tale included bad choices, bad characters, and a very bad outcome. 

On January 29, 2012, God got tired of the way I was writing Melissa’s story, and closed the book on it. 

Prior to this, I was the hero of my own story. I appeared to be an empowered, single mom who was in control of every career move. I had worked as a reporter and had worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. I have met astronauts and had my accomplishments recognized on the floor of Mission Control. I have the only Hello Kitty doll that’s traveled to space! I was a successful woman on the outside and a total train wreck on the inside. I struggled with excess for a long time — excessive need for attention, excessive need for stimulation, and excessive need for alcohol to dull and/or enhance every situation in life. I was horrible at relationships, constantly thinking I needed the attention of men, and unable to control my drinking to the point of not remembering the night and, eventually, the days before. The character Melissa, whom I didn’t want people to know on a deep level, was not a nice, pretty person. She caused so much hurt with her drunken words. She didn’t care for her precious daughter like she should have, and she found herself being in trouble with the law around every corner. She even spent the night in jail after passing out in her running truck in a parking lot one afternoon. 

You would think after all that mess, and so much more, it would have prompted a change of heart. But even a weeklong stay in the hospital with pneumonia, brought on by a weakened, alcohol-induced state, didn’t change my heart. Destroying essentially every valuable relationship as a drunk didn’t change my heart either. Even threats from my parents to take my daughter from me because I was an unfit mother didn’t change my heart. In all my despair and shame, I was still prideful and stubborn. I was unwilling to do the work I needed to get my life on track. I wanted help but I wouldn’t budge. I still wanted to control my own story. I couldn’t get on top of my addiction, so I would pray and pray to God asking Him to save me from my every mess, which He did over and over again. But was I grateful, was I remorseful? Did it change my heart? NO! I just made bigger messes. It was the pattern in my life that kept me away from God. Even worse, I was a master at hiding my true self and making life look perfect to those who barely knew me. I kept those who knew the truth about me shut out as much as possible. 

I kept all my lies, deceit, and charades in motion until a dreary Sunday afternoon on January 29, 2012. That’s the day my world fell apart. My sodium level bottomed out and my body was depleted of all the nutrients it needed to live. 

I had essentially drank myself to death. 

In front of my four-year daughter and elderly father, I collapsed face-first and started convulsing. I don’t have a memory of it, but my dad told me later that I began throwing up and had blood coming out of my mouth. My dad called 911. My daughter was crying and the ambulance came and took me away. They didn’t have time to get me to the trauma center at the university hospital because they said I would have been dead on arrival, so they took me to a local hospital. When they wheeled me in, I was frothing at the mouth. My friend Gabe, whom I call my angel Gabriel, happened to be the nurse on duty. He was stunned to see me like that. They had already done CPR, and they couldn’t get me to breathe. 

I was dying. 

Gabe, who now calls me Miracle Melissa, told me he was so worried I wasn’t going to make it. Another nurse walked in and bluntly said “Oh, she’s going to die.” He could tell I was fading fast so he prayed over my body. He prayed for God to intercede and for me to live. It was out of medical hands at that point. In the two days that followed I was unconscious and on a ventilator. But, in that time, my entire life was transformed. 

While I appeared nearly dead to the world, I was on the other side and had an experience that was so profound it altered the course of my remaining life on earth. I was alive in this world physically but in every other way I was living on the other side. It’s funny, I didn’t believe in near-death experiences until I had one. I don’t want to be the crazy near-death lady, but it is what it is. There really are no words to describe what I experienced, but I will try my best. 

It was the “realest” experience I have ever had. I went through a life review, vividly experiencing my life from birth until the moment I collapsed. Not just seeing it, but truly experiencing it with all my senses, including smells. It was wonderous and upsetting all in one. I relived a lot of joyous times but also saw how my negativity had overwhelmed my life. I saw how I had taken for granted all the blessings — and third and fourth chances God had given me. My time on the other side was filled with Jesus, full of grace, advocating for me. I pleaded with God to return me to my daughter Sophie. I didn’t read the Bible, so I didn’t know that it says Jesus is my Advocate (1 John 2:1). God had mercy on me, allowing me to come back to life. I woke up knowing that the most important thing in life is the love we give and the love we allow other people to pour into us. When I was allowed to return to life, I was given two assignments, clear as day. Number one, “get my life right.” Number two, “tell my story.” I have spent every day since then trying my best to do both. Even though I’m not perfect, God still gives me grace. He knows I am trying this time. I wasn’t trying before. The first person I shared my story with was my nurse, and she just sat down and wept. She said she had been praying for God to show her He is real.

Miraculously, I experienced no health issues after my brush with death. But the spiritual experience radically changed my life. I have more than 3,000 days of sobriety. I was the one who couldn’t go more than three hours without using alcohol or drugs. I know now without a doubt that God and Jesus are real and that our time on earth is just part of a much, much bigger picture. This knowledge has not only convicted me to live better, but it has freed me mentally and emotionally to live a bolder and more vibrant life for the Lord. I now let my life shine bright for Him, which is something I never did before. Before, my life seemed well put together, but it was depleted in every sense of the word. Without a personal relationship with Jesus to depend on at that time, I was crumbling quickly under the stress, sadness, and emptiness. My collapse represented where I was with life in all aspects, physically, emotionally, mentally and, above all, spiritually. 

Now fast forward to this moment, and for me to be walking bolding in the light and standing strong is nothing short of a miracle. Any one that knows me can point to that collapse and say the experience changed me forever. My life was still a mess when I woke up. It wasn’t perfectly put back together instantly. But I learned that I had to let go and give my problems to God. And He has pieced my world back together in incredible ways. 

I was baptized in my early 20s. I believed in God but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. But God didn’t give up on me. I knew God wasn’t punishing me. The life review was so important because it showed me all the chances God had given me. I have to push myself to share my story because I don’t want to be labeled crazy. I never knew that telling my story would set me free and point others to Christ. My story is not Melissa’s story. It’s God’s story told through Melissa’s life. I now serve people in active addiction and recovery, using my story. God has turned my mess into my message. Every day I get to use what was my shame to help pull people out their own personal hell. I know where to look for them in that darkness because I’ve tried to hide there too. 

God gave me the chance to get my life right, but I had to let Him take over as the Author of my story. I am still in awe of the way He has transformed me from life as an addicted, twice-divorced, single mom — stumbling through deep, dark despair — to someone living as a sober, devoted mom, grateful friend, and active church member who loves life. I have watched my daughter grow, rebuilt relationships with my parents, reconnected with friends and now I have a great Godly man in my life who loves me AND my redemption story! I’ve been transformed by the Lord into something beautiful. He has allowed me to connect with hurting hearts in my job — there is nothing that compares. 

The story God has written for me is beyond what I thought I deserved or would ever receive from Him. Honestly, all I had to do was to hand Jesus the broken pieces of the mess I had created over the years and let Him rebuild my shattered world. From there, Jesus took control, and I have never looked back. 

Don’t give up until your miracle happens. God is there. You just have to reach out and be willing to do what He calls you to do. 

“…. 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 (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.

#193 First Step: Surrender

 Photo by Larry Ball

I was born in 1955 and grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky. My biological mother died when I was just six years old. My father got remarried fairly quickly to a woman who was so good to my brother and me. She tried to take me to church, but my dad didn’t like that idea very much. So, I had a great childhood but didn’t go to church. My dad and stepmother were great!

My parents really couldn’t afford to send me to college but they did, and I flunked out. So, I came back to Frankfort and went to work. I decided I wanted to be a policeman. I got a job in 1977 with the Lexington Police Department. I wasn’t a Christian at the time. Really all I cared about was working. Early in my career I met the police chaplain, and he saw something in me. He took me under his wing and mentored me. It wasn’t really about being a Christian but more about how to be a compassionate policeman with integrity. I saw in him some things I really liked but it never occurred to me what a better policeman I would be if I were a Christian man. He was a great role model for being a Christian and a police officer. 

I worked at the police department in narcotics two or three different times. I was undercover, buying drugs from people by myself. It was dangerous work and I had a lot of crazy things happen to me. All aspects of being an officer, whether a detective or in uniform, has built-in dangerous situations. Looking back, I thank God for protecting me, but during that time I wasn’t a Christian and I never stopped to thank God for how He protected me.

I never really thought I would get married but, in 1983, I met a wonderful woman, Keene. We got married in 1985. She had two children and their father had died long before I met them. The children really didn’t remember much about their father, just as I didn’t remember much about my mother. As I look back, I can see what a good role model my stepmother was for me. She showed me how to step into a marriage with children and be a good, loving parent. It’s amazing how God worked that out. I adopted both Jason and Shannon after just one year of marriage. They have been wonderful children. God really knew what I needed. 

My wife was a lifelong member of a Methodist church. She asked me many times to go with her to church while we were dating, but I usually had an excuse. Occasionally, I couldn’t come up with an excuse and I would go, mostly because I loved her and she wanted me to go. I began to get involved with the church and liked the people there. The people at church liked me as well, and they began to put me on committees. After we got married, I was still really attending for my wife. I was playing church. 

Keene kept on being a role model for me and the children, but she wasn’t pushy. In 1986, I was preparing for the test to be promoted to the rank of police sergeant. It was very stressful. I was working so hard to prepare. One day Keene asked me, “Are you praying about getting promoted?” I said, “No, you can’t pray about that stuff. God doesn’t want to hear about that.” She said, “Yes, God does want you to pray about things like that.”There were 155 people who took the test, and I had the third-highest score. This taught me that I could pray about anything and that God listens to all prayers big and small. 

Keene was still chipping away at me, and I was still going to church. The police chaplain and I were still friends. But I wasn’t really committed to God. In 2001, I was having a discussion with Keene about sin. I told her that I prayed about the same things over and over again. I said, “I ask for forgiveness for two things over and over again.” She didn’t ask me what the two things were but she said, “If you ask for forgiveness once, you are forgiven. You don’t have to ask again and again.” One day after that, I was talking with my pastor about the conversation with Keene about forgiveness. It was just the two of us at church. He said, “Let’s go down here and pray about that.” We walked to the front of the church, and I knelt at the altar. The pastor said, “Quit praying about this. God forgives you but you have to surrender. You have to move what you have in your head to your heart.” He led me in prayer and after we finished that prayer, I felt totally different. I was a changed person. I had tried to read Mere Christianityby C.S. Lewis before that day, and it was like there was something that was blocking my understanding. But after that day, it just clicked with me. The same thing happened with the Bible. Before, I was reading the Bible so I could quote scriptures. I could “play” church as well as anyone. I put on the best act going. But after that day in 2001, I read the Bible for a different reason, not to impress anyone but to change me. Really everything changed for me — my marriage, my friends, being a policeman. 

Many people know Jeremiah 29:11, which says:

“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.” 

But you have to read down a little further to get a more complete picture of the message. This is one of my favorite verses:

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

God had a wonderful plan for my life, and He had been preparing me; but I had to surrender first before His full plan for my life could be realized.

I left the police department after 20 years to become the director of police training for the Department of Criminal Justice in Kentucky. During that time, I was really able to share my Christian faith with many people. In 2004, I was appointed to work for the governor in a statewide law enforcement job. There were a lot of Christian men and women in that organization. We prayed at meetings, and there were Bible studies that started as part of our work. I felt like I was not only doing a good job, but I was being more significant. I started to really grow in this job. In 2008, we had a new governor and I left that job. I went from making a really good salary, to making no money. But God provided for us and our way of living did not change. Still, I wanted to work. 

The County Attorney offered me a job working as a gang enforcement specialist. As a part of this job I worked to help identify criminal gang members in conjunction with the police department in the community and in jails and worked in the school system to put gang prevention initiatives into place. Working in the schools was challenging because I was older. But God provided a partner for me in this work. One of my friends got into a conversation with a man named Gerald Gibson (Geo) who worked at a local gas station. Geo told my friend that he was looking to work with young people. He was a convicted felon and while he served time in prison, he developed a program called Operation Make a Change (Story #187). The purpose of OMAC is to invest in the lives of troubled youth to promote change. My friend invited Geo to come to the police station to talk with us. I knew when I met him, he was the real deal. But he was a convicted felon and I wasn’t sure my boss, the county attorney, would permit him to work with me. When I went to my boss and told him I wanted to work with Geo, he was very reluctant. But when I told him that I would vouch for him and I would work closely with him, he agreed. The school system let me bring Geo into the schools with me, but I had to be with him in everything we did. We led the OMAC program in the school. Then we started leading the program in jail. Here you have a younger African American man working with an older white retired police captain. It was like Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte!

At first, Geo worked as a volunteer but we ended up hiring him part-time through the county attorney’s office; then we hired him full-time. Geo was a changed man. It was his faith that had changed him. I called myself a changed man, but I still believed that people in jail deserved to be in jail. I had separated the person who committed the crime from the person God created them to be. Over time my perspective changed. I sat in the group when Geo talked to the men in jail. They loved him and hated me. But after a few weeks, the men began to see me differently and wanted to interact with me when they got out of jail. I helped them find work and find a church. During my 10 years in this job, I had many other jobs offers, but every time I turned to God for an answer, the answer was “No.” I was right where God wanted me. I can remember many incarcerated men found so many blessings in the two of us working together on their behalf.  They were quite surprised to see this unlikely duo. 

We were still working together, but my work was dwindling down. There was another transition in our governor, and I was told I would get a big job in justice with the state. However, I didn’t get the big job and was disappointed. Out of the blue one evening, a national leader for Alpha, a prison ministry, called me. Typically, I don’t answer calls at 9:30 p.m., especially if I don’t recognize the number, but that night I answered. He asked me to think about becoming the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. I was familiar with Alpha because my wife and I had taught a 14-week Alpha course in the church and had been involved in the marriage and business components of the Alpha ministry, but I didn’t know that Alpha had a prison ministry. The national director came to Lexington the next day and spent three days talking with me. He told me that all my years of work had prepared me to go into prisons and do ministry. I was open to this because I had begun to see jail as a real dark spot for many lost people. The least and the lost!

I accepted the non-paying job to be the Kentucky director for Alpha prison ministry. We started that ministry four years ago in one jail, and over time it has expanded to other jails and prisons. This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Had I not been working with Geo in jails prior to this, I probably would not have taken this ministry job in prisons and jails. 

I have come to see people who are incarcerated in a different way. Their crime is what they didand they have to have accountability for that, but that is not who they are. I have recruited many people to help in the prison ministry. They all say they get more out of prison ministry than the inmates do. 

It has often been uncomfortable work for me. Sometimes I run into men in prison whom I arrested — sometimes for murder. This has really grown my character. I trust God and have seen God work in amazing ways. Once a man I had really connected with asked me if we could start a Bible study in his area. I said we could if he picked the people and the topic. We have been doing this Bible study now for four years. One Saturday afternoon he called me saying he had just talked by phone with a friend who said she was going to kill herself. He gave me her name and address. The police found her just as she was getting ready to take the pills to take her life. It was the anniversary of her son’s suicide, and her parents had been murdered a few years earlier. The police were able to get her help. I talked to the man later and told him that I had never known anyone who wasn’t a police officer who had saved a person’s life — but he did. He started crying. He and I would have never met if it hadn’t been for the Alpha ministry. 

A few years ago, I met a retired police officer who was dying from cancer. I started visiting him every week in the nursing home. We talked about police work and we also talked about God. I asked some of the inmates to make cards for him. This man was so touched by the love that poured out from the inmates that he left a large sum of money to be used in prison ministry when he died. He wanted to reward people who were surrendering their will to God. With his generous donation, we formed the nonprofit Kentucky Alpha Prison Ministries, which helps many people. 

Two of the most important things I have learned is that God is very forgiving, and God is very patient. I’m thankful that God accepts me as a sinner. I’m thankful that God’s Son took my sins and was crucified, died and arose from the grave. I’m so thankful to God for a great wife of 35 years. Keene has played such a big role in helping me to become the man God created me to be. 

You have to totally surrender every part of your life to God. Many people want to hold onto one corner of their life and not turn it over to God. They try to manage sin, but it is impossible to manage sin. Until you completely surrender every aspect of your life, you are always going to have problems. You will not be able to become the person God created you to be and live out the fullness of His plan for you. Complete surrender made all the difference in my life. If I can do it, anyone can. 

Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 10:25a).

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.

#192 Formed in the “Suddenly’s” Part 3

 Photo by Andrew Schacht

“Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, why did you doubt?” The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! Truly, you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 14:28–33).

About two months ago, I had a morning in Spain that is still having a ripple effect on my life. And it started with me breaking away from my normal routine to get a closer look at one of the many beautiful gifts the Lord has given us. Spontaneity is not really a new thing for me. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. I believe that when you are walking with the Lord, the beauty of life is found in those spontaneous moments with Him. So, I tend to seek them out. From experience, I do submit to the idea that living a disciplined lifestyle creates more freedom. However, the day that I want to share about was one of those where I chose spontaneity over structure. And the Lord radically met me in that place. 

5:30 a.m. wake up. 6:06 a.m. pick-up in the mini-van. 6:20 a.m. at the gym. That was my routine, along with six of my brothers, each morning of the week during my first three months in Mijas. I was incredibly blessed that the Lord surrounded me with a group of men who loved deeply and were willing to walk, battle, and pour into one another’s lives daily. That routine and group of men quickly turned into one of the most life-giving forms of church I have ever experienced. I was pulled closer to the Father’s heart more consistently in that 30-minute van ride than most Sunday morning services I have sat through. But on this particular day, a day that has been one of the most influential and prophetic days of my life, I decided to break away from my normal routine in hope of finding something different. Instead, I decided to head down to the Mediterranean Sea in the complete darkness of the morning to watch the sunrise from the beach. 

As I walked out onto the beach, the chilled breeze off the waves swirled about, waking me up and almost welcoming me into its tranquil space. I watched from the shore as one of my good friends, who I had gotten a ride down to the beach with, paddled off into the distance toward the horizon line. I sat contently by myself in the silence of the morning with only the smell of the coffee in my hands and the sound of the early waves to accompany me. As the stars and moon began to slowly drift away, I set up my phone to capture a time-lapse of that shift from darkness to light. I was at peace. In my comfortability, I began asking the Lord to speak to my heart and meet me in that place. Well, like He always does, He answered. But, like He does so often, it was in a way that was completely different than what I was anticipating. As so many times before, He showed up with an interruption rather than things going how I planned. 

After about 10 minutes of sitting in the stillness of the morning, I heard a noise next to me that took me off guard. One of the beach workers who was setting up chairs had accidentally knocked over my time-lapse set up. Selfishly, I was initially irritated because the shot I was hoping for had been ruined. Nonetheless, I set my phone back up and hit record again. As I began to walk away from my phone, I felt very clearly in my heart a thought — more of an invitation — from the Lord. “Come get in the water.” My first response was without pause, “Absolutely not. Way too cold.” As I made it back to my warm coffee, I felt it again. “Come get in the water.” Back and forth in my heart this exchange happened for the next several minutes, until finally I decided to say “yes,” instead of having to say “what if” later on. In my life, I have found that the moments where I decide to say “yes” have been the very moments that have shaped my identity, introduced me to freedom, and brought me across the globe on an adventure with Him. So again, even when I am reluctant at first, I tend to seek them out.

After taking off my hoodie and chugging the last sips of my coffee, I slowly began to make my way out into the low tide. At this point, the sun had not yet broken the horizon line. But, the Lord had pulled out his best color palette, filling the sky and the reflections off the water with His favorite pastels. With no one else on the beach and standing about knee deep in the chilled sea, I felt it again but this time different. “Take another step with Me.” I could tell the Lord was stirring something in my heart, but wasn’t completely sure what it was yet. Now, I was about waist deep in the water. “Take another step with Me.” This continued until I was about neck deep in the cold Mediterranean. Once I got to this point, something happened inside my heart that I don’t think I have completely grasped, nor do I think I will ever fully understand. 

In that moment, a sudden sense of boldness, energy and adrenaline came over my body. Without really thinking or knowing why, I took off on a dead sprint swim toward the horizon. Overcome by this flash of life in my body, I swam harder and harder off the coast toward an unplanned and unknown destination. After what seemed like, I can only guess, but about five minutes of this dead-sprint swim, I finally halted to a stop. Up out of the water, salt and hair in my eyes, I quickly gasped for air. Absolutely exhausted from that burst of a swim, each breath brought more and more attention to where I was. Treading water to catch my breath, I realized that I had swam way further off the shore than I ever thought I could go.

Without warning, a sudden sense of fear and panic began to creep into my head. I am a good swimmer (shout-out to a few years on the Hartland Swim Team), but by no means would I call myself an endurance swimmer. At this point, I had absolutely exerted all of my energy and strength during that sprint. I quickly made note of a few things. One, that I was so far off the coast that I could not touch the bottom. Two, I was not completely certain that I could make it back to the shore. Three, there was absolutely no one near me or on the beach. In a sense, I stepped out and had gotten myself into a place where I wasn’t sure if my own strength could help me. 

As I spun back around to face the horizon, I began to slowly calm myself and my breathing. Completely surrounded by the utter magnitude of the Mediterranean Sea with only the faint sight of the shore behind me, I was completely isolated in this theater of beautiful colors and potential fears. It was in this moment that I knew exactly what new revelation the Lord was trying to reveal to me. It was in this moment that I knew what this morning was all about. Once again, I heard His voice in my heart.“This is where I want you to live. This is where My love is made perfect. When you step out — into a place beyond your strength — so that you can be fully engulfed in My presence and love.” 

You see, similarly when Jesus called Peter out of the boat, this last season of life has felt like that ‘sudden boldness’ Peter was overcome with. I have felt more alive and more free than ever, which has led me time and time again to places where I am not sure if my own strength can hold, and I feel like I am beginning to sink. Like the morning I am describing, I continue to see these moments as invitations from the Lord to step out of the boat of life and walk on water with Him. I am also keenly aware of the stirring waters that must be stepped over to get there. However, one of my favorite parts of the Mark 12 passage, which is much of what the Lord was trying to tell me on this particular morning, is the simple phrase, “Jesus didn’t hesitate.” Jesus didn’t sit there while Peter drowned and scold or mock him for not having strong enough faith. He didn’t rebuke him for being afraid of where He was at because of his boldness. Instead, He didn’t hesitate to reach down and pull him up out of the water. He was right there to pick him up, to refocus his sights on Him, and to allow Peter to experience something completely impossible without Jesus.

Continually choosing to risk and live in a place where only His power could make things happen, and being bold in all aspects of my life, was exactly what the Lord was wanting to show me. It was through this morning swim that He was trying to invite me to step further out into the depths of His love, beyond my own strength and engulfed in His presence. As all of this was passing through my head, immediately the sun broke the sea’s horizon line, and I was welcomed to one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. It was as if He was confirming everything I was feeling in that moment. Floating in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, I was completely surrounded by overwhelming colors of His beauty and love. 

The experience I had on that morning is one I will never forget. Thankfully, I did slowly but surely make my way back to shore. As the Lord continues to invite me deeper into the unknown with Him, I will continue to give Him my “yes” and not focus on the churning waves around me. Even if those invitations mean being on the other side of the globe away from my friends and family for the holidays. Even if those invitations mean having to wait nine months to meet my new niece. Even if those invitations lead me out onto choppy waters. 

And when I do begin to feel the waves around me and start to sink, I know He will not hesitate to reach out His hand to pick me up. To continually step out of the boat and onto the water with Him is a life worth living. And to that kind of life, I say, “yes.”

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.

#191 Formed in the “Suddenly’s” Part 2

Photo by Aly Badinger/1558 Visuals

“ ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You’re almost there, right on the borderof the Kingdom of God’ ” (Mark 12:32–34).

My home in Mijas, Spain, is in a quaint Pueblo village, nestled in the mountains on the border of southern Spain. The Melting Pot, a hostel that hosted my friends and me this last weekend, breathes life through the winding streets of Tangier, Morocco, on the border of northern Africa. As I write this, I am sitting on, as my brother, Jonathan, would say, a “big ole water bus” (boat), floating across the Mediterranean Sea in between the borders of two continents. On the border.

Coming to G42, a nine-month leadership training academy (Generation 42), I told myself I didn’t have any expectations of what this journey would look like. On the surface that seemed to be truthful, due to the fact that I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what class, community, practicum or this growing process would entail. However, I failed to realize that I buried one giant expectation in my heart. The expectation that through these life-changing experiences and incredible teachings, I would, “transform and build myself into everything I was designed to be.” Now I know that might seem like a pretty solid expectation going into such a crazy life change. I am not naïve enough to believe that I would have taken this leap of faith, had I not thought it would change my life for the better. But, as I’ve been unpacking much of my life over the last two weeks, I’ve been wrestling with where this stirring in my spirit was coming from. Slowly and methodically the answer has begun to bubble to the surface, and with each day was becoming more and more clear. I began to see that it was not the idea or the expectation of being changed that was the issue wrestling inside me. Rather, it was my idea of how that dream and transformation was going to happen

You see, for the last 22 years, I have been living life on my own strength. Sure, the Lord has, without question, given me gifts and abilities to have a solid work ethic and push myself in my life. However, the reality is that most of my existence has been me trying to use my own gifts to foster a relationship with the very One who gave me those gifts. All my life I believed that if I used my hard-working mindset, my own intellect, or my insatiable desire for something more — I would get there. I believed that if I used, “all MY heart, all MY understanding, and all MY strength” to relentlessly love God and others, then I would fill the void and quiet that stirring in my heart. I thought it was to be through MY strength that would I get there.

I came across Mark 12 at some point in the last few weeks, but it wasn’t until these last few days that Holy Spirit showed me why I seemed to stumble on that passage. Much like the man in the scripture, I came to the Lord with my own answers of what it means to be in the Kingdom of God. I believed that in my own understanding I knew the right answers and how to do it: 1) Love God and 2) Love others. I then poured all my strength into tirelessly seeking to love the Lord and those surrounding my life. Striving, out of my own desire to feel love, I took these instructions in my own strength and have been struggling to fill that void in my spirit. Much like the man talking to Jesus, I was close but not there. I was “on the border.”

The first time I read that Mark 12 passage, I believed that Jesus was telling the man that he was close to the Kingdom of God as a compliment and reassurance that he was doing the right things. But the more I began to sit with the scripture, Holy Spirit began to show me that it was not a reaffirming thing for this man, but rather a helpful lesson. Jesus was trying to show him that there was still something missing in his understanding of what it truly means to be living presently in the Kingdom of God. Much like the Israelites wandering close to the Promised Land, the Lord doesn’t want us to live on the borderof our promised inheritance. Rather, He invites us to live fully and truly into His design for us on this earth. Not on the border looking in. 

Just like this man, I had left out the most important part of the equation: that I was to understand and live in the knowledge that I was designed to be fully and overwhelmingly loved by the Father. You see that’s what the man was missing in his answer. He knew that he was to love God. He knew he was to love people. He was almost stepping fully into God’s plan for us. But what caused Jesus to respond with, “You’re almost there, right on the borderof the Kingdom of God,” was that He was missing the biggest piece. His answer needed to include understanding that he was designed to be loved by the Father.

 

That stirring in my heart and that restlessness in my spirit was coming from the fact that I hadn’t come to truly and fully comprehend that there is nothing I can do to be more loved by the Father. There is nothing in my own strength that is going to make Him love me more. There is no accomplishment that will bring me more of His affirmation of my value. There is nothing in my past that will hold Him back from loving me today. There is no version of myself that I have to become for Him to fill me up with His love. Exactly who I am today is exactly where He wants me to be, and He loves me fully in that place. He has plans and dreams for me, but His love is not dependent on my execution and completion of those things. He is a potter and I am His clay. He doesn’t just want the finished result of a beautiful product; but rather, He cherishes the process of molding and shaping me with each day. And that’s where I am at right now. Sometimes I feel like I am spinning around and around aimlessly on His pottery wheel called life. But it only takes a quick second to look around and see that His hands are cupped around me crafting and forming me with each day to understand that it’s His plan and He’s got it! 

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.