Changed Lives

Changed Lives: Tina

A few years ago, God brought along a new friend who became such an encouragement to me since I’ve known her. Her uplifting words and passion to share the Gospel have been inspiring. As we got to know one another, I started hearing about her life and how the Lord saved her. A few months ago, I asked her if she’d be willing to share her story here. I believe you will be much encouraged by what she shares. God is so faithful. And He changes lives!

Here is Tina’s story–

As I reflect back through the years of my testimony, I am amazed at the work the Lord has and continues to do in my life. Nothing of what I share has anything to do with my efforts or doing, it is all Him, Our Lord. He has redeemed me and changed my life.

I was born in Toronto, Ontario, the city where my parents went to elope. My birth dad was known as a drug addict and an alcoholic. Due to his addictions, he was abusive to my mother. When I was five years old, my mother took my younger brother and me and returned to the states.

She did divorce my birth dad. We lived for a short period of time with her oldest brother and his wife. It wasn’t too long before she met another man and, within the year, they were married.

Four days after their wedding, we were traveling home from the grocery store when an oncoming car, holding four drunk ladies who had just left a bar, collided with our vehicle. I was thrown from the car and Frank (my mom’s new husband) was badly injured but my mom and younger brother were both killed in that accident.

I was unconscious for days with a head injury. Perhaps some might have said it was a miracle that I survived and I have oftentimes looked back and wondered why God spared my life. I have questioned at times why my mom and brother died and I was spared. If there is one thing that probably has been in the back of my mind it is this question: Were they saved? I have come to a place of peace in my understanding that these answers will remain unanswered until I am with the Lord. But, through it all, God has shown me that He is good in and through it all.

I awoke in the hospital with my aunt by my bedside. Naturally, as a child would, I cried out for my mom and it was my aunt who had to share with me that my mom had died. I then cried out for my brother and she told me that he had also died. I remember it so clearly that day–my aunt holding me as I just cried.

My mom, Darlene, was 26 years old and 3 months pregnant and my brother, Stephen, was 5. I was 6 years old at this time. I went home days later with my Aunt and Uncle. I remember her telling me later in life how many people were praying for me. No one knew the effects this would have on a young girl. How does a young child who just lost her family cope?

I can reflect back and remember vividly that I adjusted quickly. I took to my aunt and uncle fondly, but especially my aunt as she was very loving and tender with me. After a short time of living with them, I remember running out to the kitchen and asking her if I could call her Mom. God was already at work in my heart, and, yes, I would surely say He was answering prayers.

The first time I ever heard about Jesus was through my aunt. I remember her sharing John 3:16 with me:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in Him, will not perish but have everlasting life.

That verse resonated deeply within me as a young child who so desperately wanted to be loved. I would often think about God’s love. Little did I understand then the full extent of what that love meant but I understood that God loved me. I started attending church and would continue hearing more about Jesus and how He died on the cross for my sins. I then started to understand that I was a sinner. That Jesus had to die for my sins. It was something I so easily understood and believed. I wanted Jesus in my life.

At the age of 7, I was in my bedroom playing but kept thinking about John 3:16. I understood I was a sinner and that Jesus had to die for my sins. He died for me. I believed He died on the cross, was buried and rose again. I ran out to my aunt and excitedly told her I want Jesus to live within me.

A few years later my aunt and uncle adopted me. God had taken this little girl and given her a new family. I will always remember my birth mom, Darlene, and am very thankful for her. As I will always remember my birth dad, Doug. Much of what I struggled with throughout growing up are my questions of why my birth dad did not love me as a father should. I will share more about where God has brought me to with my relationship with Doug. But I am truly thankful for the family God had placed me in.

Moving ahead to my teenage years, I look back and can reflect much. My friendships where not always the best influences for my life. I made some really bad decisions and choices. If you were to know me then, I was very much living in the world and much like the world. My life did not resemble Christ. It pains me to see and know the person I was. Oh, I believed In Jesus. I went to church, was a part of youth group and active in it. I would even talk to my friends about God and share with them about what Jesus had done. But I lived two different lives. I wanted the world and I wanted Christ. But, as I later learned, you cannot serve two masters. Matthew 6:24 says—

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

As I continued down the path I was on, which include drinking and vulgar language, I hit one of the lowest points in my life. When I was 15, I was raped by a 21 year old man. I held onto guilt and blamed myself for what had happened. This led me to make another poor choice which was an eating disorder.

As I can look back and realize now, I really was struggling with a sense of control. I had no control of what took place with my birth dad being abusive to my mom. I had no control of the accident that led to the death of my mom and brother. I had no control of why my birth dad did not make any effort to be involved in my life. And I had no control of what took place in my life when I was raped. Instead of turning to God and repenting of pride and surrendering my life to Him; instead of allowing God to take all of what I was holding onto, I turned further into despair. I wanted to be able to control one aspect in my life that no one could take from me. Oh, how foolish I was as I gave into sin and lived in it.

At the age of 19, I attended Bob Jones University which is where I met my future husband. I don’t remember exactly the year or day, but there was a sermon that was preached on hell. I listened to that sermon and was terrified. I went back to my dorm that evening and was examining where I was before God. I realized the depravity of where my sin led me, which was death, a total separation from God. I realized that not only would I be separated from God, but that I would take the wrath of God for my sins for eternity. I questioned: Was I truly saved?

The next day I had shared with Bruce, my future husband, what I had been thinking through. I wanted to surrender my life to Christ. I knew I needed to repent of my ways. It was only through faith of believing what Christ had done for me on that cross. I truly wanted Christ and nothing more. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast.

I was then baptized a few weeks after, as I wanted to make a profession of my faith. God started to chip away and He was pruning me to be more like Christ.

The years that followed led me to marriage and starting a family of our own. I was growing in my walk with the Lord but there was still a hidden sin in my life that I was holding onto. It was my eating disorder and an unforgiving heart towards Doug. I carried the weight of the eating disorder for 17 years. At the age of 32, God broke me and opened my eyes to the sin I had been holding onto. I felt such shame and guilt. I realized I needed to repent of this very sin. I repented of it and it was only through God, who took that sinful desire from me. When temptation came, He gave me the strength to turn from it. There is not a day that I look back and desire to go back into that. My freedom is in Christ. Oh, how I am so thankful for the freedom I have from the bondage of sin. If there has been a verse that has been so profound to me now it is Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Tina and her husband, Bruce

I can honestly say now that I desire nothing more than to surrender this life to the one who gave His life for me. I want to be the salt and light of Christ. I want to be a reflection of His love.

In the years moving forward God has brought much healing and growth to my life. One of the amazing things He has done in me is in opening my eyes and softening my heart towards my birth dad.

Doug was now living in a nursing home. I knew that I needed to see him. I was nervous as I did not know what to say. I prayed on that entire drive up to where he was, asking the Lord to help me to love and to forgive. When I saw Doug, my heart changed and, instead of anger, I looked at this man with compassion and forgiveness. It was the first time I could face Doug with love and not hate. In talking with him, I had the opportunity to share the Gospel with him. I left that day with a peace that only could come from God.

God is continuing to chip away areas in my life. He continues to prune and to refine. Every day I realize more and more of my dependency upon Him. I am so thankful for the freedom in Christ alone from sin that held me in bondage that led me to death. Oh, what joy, oh, what peace there is in our Lord.

 

Changed Lives: Becky

About a year and a half ago, my dear friend, Becky, messaged me that she had been taken to the ER with stomach pain. By the time all the tests were run, she was given the news that she had stage 4 colon cancer. There was no cure. They would simply be working to prolong her life. As you can imagine–this rocked her world. This was not the only thing going on in her life and was simply added to another heavy, heavy burden that she was already bearing.

And, yet, every time I would stop for a visit to cheer her up…well, she’d end up cheering me up! Here she was–going through all of these things– and she was not only smiling (anyone can fake a smile) but she was full of that deep, abiding joy and amazing peace that is a true gift of God to those who have surrendered and submitted their lives to His holy will.

Becky could write a whole book about her life (in fact, I told her she should and that I’ll help her!). It is full of fascinating and interesting adventures. It is also full of the love and care of her Heavenly Father. She has spent a lifetime loving and serving God and He has been there for her time and time again. But a stage 4 cancer diagnosis will tend to test all you have said that you believe, and Becky was no different.

The last couple of times I was there to visit, I asked her how she could have so much joy amidst such dark times? I told her that if she’d ever want to write about it to encourage others, I’d love to post it here on the blog. Smiling, she’d be noncommital but did say she’d think about it.

And then one day, there it was in my email box. She couldn’t sleep the night before so she had written a bit about her cancer and her journey to joy.

I know you will appreciate this and that it will encourage you greatly as you seek to find joy in your own circumstances. Now here are Becky’s own words about her experience–

___________________________________________________________

It is easy to be happy and have joy when things in life are falling into place the way we want them to. But what happens when things go “wrong” in our perspective? Can we still have joy? What do we do with the verse in Philippians 4:4 that says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; and again I say, Rejoice.” When I say joy, I am talking about the deep joy in our hearts that is there, no matter what comes our way.

So often we like to think that we can handle the turmoils of life when they come our way; but when it does happen, we find out otherwise. What happens when we are going through the major throes of life finding out we have cancer, a child has rejected what you have taught him/her and walked away from the faith, you are having major financial difficulty, or you have lost some one dear to your heart?

That time came for me when I had to do some intense soul searching a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The doctors said that there wasn’t much they could do except try to prolong my life some. This really threw us into shock, and all plans and goals came to a screeching halt. I did not ask God why but how. How was I going to get through this? How was I supposed to deal with this and have the right attitude? How could I glorify the Lord and not fail Him?

Then one day while pondering all this, I started asking myself, “Do I really believe God is Who He says He is”? I grew up in a Christian home singing the hymns of the faith, hearing the Word preached, memorizing Scripture, and hearing of other fellow believers’ experiences of God working in their lives and carrying them through life’s storms. But now that I was put into this position, what was going to be my anchor? Do I really believe God about His character, His promises?

Then and there is when I made up my mind that I do believe God, and Who He claims to be in His Word. That is when I found peace, His peace the passes all our understanding! And along with that came the deep seated joy! Satan wants to steal our joy and make us ineffectual as followers of Christ. If we start concentrating on the “What if’s”, it is easy to fall into depression or get angry. God, in His perfect will and wisdom, has a plan for each one of us, and it’s up to us to accept it with the right attitudes and allow Him to work in our lives and through us, to draw us to Him and show us Who He is and what He can do! In trying to be an encouragement, many say that God will not give us more than we can handle. However, many times He does give us more than we can handle so that we can get to know Him and experience that peace and joy from Him.

Since my diagnosis, my Heavenly Father has been by my side, holding my hand and helping me to learn of Him. My days are not always perfect. There are times when I have to ask God just to hold me in His arms as a child and show me He is there. I have been learning so much and, although I wouldn’t have chosen to go through these hardships, I am thankful for the opportunities. He is my steady anchor and the reason I can have joy no matter what He deems necessary to allow into my life. A favorite verse of mine that is a great picture of our help and safety in God’s character is in Proverbs 18:10 –

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe!”

 

 

Changed Lives: Cathy

Two or three years ago, I received an email from a reader named Cathy. She introduced herself as the pastor’s wife of a small church and wondered if I would consider speaking at their upcoming ladies’ retreat. While I was among the ladies at her church, I felt like I was among family (and I guess I was, spiritually speaking!) When they asked me to come back again this past fall, I gladly accepted. As we sat around the table, Cathy starting sharing just a bit of her testimony with me. As I listened to her, I knew I had to ask her if she would share this with my readers.

It’s been just over a year since I shared the story of a fellow Christian as part of the Changed Lives series. This ongoing series is here to serve as a reminder that God is working! He is changing and transforming lives–even through the most tragic of circumstances. Cathy’s testimony is a shining example of God transforming a life.

It is my hope that, from this particular testimony, some of you may be encouraged to know that you can be healed from horrible abuse if you go to the true Healer. I hope that you will learn that someone’s antagonistic, hostile response when you share the Gospel is not always a reflection of what’s going on in their heart. The other thing I hope you will reflect upon as you read this is that just because a family looks perfect does not necessarily mean it is. The post-war era of the 50s was a happy time–but it wasn’t a happy time for everyone. Not even for the perfect-looking family living in the cookie-cutter house on the tree-lined street.

And, finally, I hope you will consider the Christian who caught Cathy’s eye and that you will take a moment to examine yourself in light of her witness in Cathy’s life. Are you standing out like she did? Do co-workers, store clerks, parents at your kids’ school, etc see a difference when they view you in light of their worldly counterparts? Would the way you live your life give someone pause to consider the Gospel? This really made me think and I hope it will you, too.

So without further comment from me, I present to you Cathy’s testimony–

I was born not long after the end of WWII. I was born into a prosperous America, a time of peace. My mother, father, older sister and I lived in a classic, Norman Rockwell suburban neighborhood. Tree lined streets, lots of “baby boomer” kids to play with, being able to stay outside until “the street lights” came on, a dog to “love on”, a stay at home mom, home cooked meals…it was a good time to be a child in America. My father was agnostic, and my mother was Catholic, although not very observant. God was never discussed in our home. The only time I heard His name was when it was being blasphemed.

From the outside looking in, it all looked like a “Leave It to Beaver” life. But behind closed doors, things were VERY different. My earliest memory is of being restrained by my mother while my sister was abused by my father. The abuse, emotional, physical and sexual continued until I left home at 18 to get married. God blessed me with two wonderful children, but I continued to be haunted by the events of the past.

I continued over the next decade or so to be a very angry young woman. I never felt at peace, or even remotely content. My anger would bubble over and my mood swings were extreme. I did everything to the extreme.

Sadly, that marriage ended in divorce. My children and I went on to live in a small apartment. One night a man broke in and attempted to rape me. Blessedly, he was unsuccessful and was arrested and found guilty of his crime. Still, I ran from God and my past.

I joined the early feminist movement. I left that because, even as a lost woman, I recognized that abortion was murder and they asked me to support abortion or leave. God moved me off that destructive path.

One day I realized people were coming into my life and sharing the Gospel. (At the time, I didn’t know it was the Gospel). I would laugh at them and off-handedly dismiss them and their message. I continued to be angry. I made a promise to myself that I would be the one to break the cycle of abuse with my children and because I was successful, I became very prideful over what I perceived as “being a strong woman”. I continued to define myself and excuse my sin because I was a “victim”. I held strongly onto that “victim” identity. Without it, and my anger, I didn’t know who I was.

I went to nursing school and began my career as an RN. People continued to witness to me. I still scoffed at them (now I praise God for them). One day a Christian nurse joined our team. I watched her at work because she was SO different than all the other employees, including me. She had unbelievable compassion for the patients and other workers, she had a peace and a calm that I had never seen before. She was not embarrassed or ashamed of her love for Christ. She NEVER complained, even when we had to work Christmas. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted what she had.

One day we had to go on an errand together. When we got in her car, I asked her to put on music. Her reply took me aback. She told me that all she had was “Christian music” and she didn’t think I “would like it”. That was the day that I really started to look at myself compared to her. God was beginning to humble me.

Our Lord continued to send people into my life who boldly shared what Christ had done for sinners. I remember the day like it was yesterday, I realized that I was a sinner, that I was separated from God, that I was headed for hell. I fell on my knees and sobbing, I begged God to forgive me of my sins and received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior! I couldn’t wait to tell the Christian nurse. She responded in a way that God would use many times over the years…she stated, “I have been praying that God would send a Christian nurse to work with me, I never thought it would be you!” 

Time and time again this simple statement has reminded me to pray for those who seem “very lost” and not responsive to the Gospel. It has reminded me to be bold in my faith and it has reminded me that living my faith out in front of people is one of the most important things that God has commanded me to do.

My life since my real “birthday” has been a wonderful testimony to our Lord’s grace. Immediately, my desires changed. I couldn’t learn enough or be around God’s people enough. Our home changed dramatically; the world was no longer welcomed there. My children repented and received Christ when they were pre-teens. I was blessed to be able to attend Bible college (with my Christian nurse friend who was diligent in discipling me).

Then the most amazing thing occurred, God sent a godly man into my life. He was a pastor and I found myself a pastor’s wife with four more wonderful children to love. As I grew in the Lord, I understood that God in His wonderful sovereignty allowed things in my life to prepare me to minister to other women who have experienced similar things. Over the years, my life before I was saved, my sweet friend’s words at the time of my conversion and all of the faithful who shared the Gospel with an angry, seemingly hopeless young woman have been used by God to serve the brethren and reach out to the lost.

I no longer was angry; I was able to forgive my parents and was able to have a relationship with them. My sister remained angry all her life. Praise God that I was able to share the Gospel with them. Sadly, my father, mother and sister all died lost; but I know that that too is under God’s sovereign control. I am at peace.

I pray my testimony will encourage those who read it to never give up on loved ones, co-workers, or others that may seem “too lost”, or will “never be saved”.  Live your lives boldly and totally for our Lord and Savior. Live to give Him glory and honor. Live to magnify Christ. I want to be able to say, as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7 and to the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21

Our wonderful Lord saves and uses the most broken vessels in magnificent ways for His glory. I am undeserving and blessed!

Changed Lives: Michelle

It has been quite some time since I did a Changed Life post here at Growing4Life. It isn’t because there is a lack of testimonies, that’s for sure. But it is sometimes hard to work out all the details. Many do not feel comfortable writing their stories. Some do not want to relive all that pain or would rather not share their story publicly. Many times I don’t even ask because of a variety of reasons.

However, one person I did ask awhile back was my cousin, Michelle. She kindly said yes and last week she e-mailed me what I am going to share here today.

It is hard to believe that it is coming up on nine years ago this December that her beloved dad was in a terrible car accident. For three and a half weeks, while the rest of world was celebrating the holidays, she was wondering if her Dad would survive. Michelle, her mom, Lorraine, and her sister, Melissa, put their lives on hold while they lived in a tiny church apartment far from home, traveling back and forth to an unfamiliar hospital, as the days melted into weeks.

The shock wasn’t for her family alone. Her dad, my Uncle Larry, was a much beloved member of the family by all of us. He was my mom’s brother and they were especially close. He was the kind of guy you knew you could call if you needed help. He had a great sense of humor and, as an over-the-road trucker, always had lots of stories to entertain us with! But, most importantly, he (and my aunt Lorraine) love(d) the Lord and, with God’s help, have created a wonderful Christian legacy through the lives of their daughters and families.

Michelle, a wonderful writer, is willing to share with us about this time in their lives and how the Lord used it to grow her and so, without any further words from me, I share her story–

 

O God, our Help in ages past,
Our Hope for years to come,
Our Shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal Home!*

With this hymn flowing through my mind, my eyes searched the buildings of the city that loomed before us.  I wondered how would we ever find our destination in the darkness and falling snow? We relied on a traditional map along with limited directions…and ceaseless prayer.  Then, appearing through the murkiness like a longed-for beacon, were these bold letters: E.C.M.C.  I remember feeling relief mingled with uncertainty. We had arrived at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York.

The previous day, December 21, 2009, the beloved patriarch of our family had been brought to E.C.M.C. following a tragic auto accident. We had traveled all night to get to Daddy. In the back seat, Mom and I looked pale with the stress and the wondering. The front seat held my husband along with our son and, of all things, his puppy who was too young be left behind. Togetherness gave us hope. Ultimately, we traveled with hope that centered on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

If you’ve faced a similar pathway, you know that the Lord uses life’s storms to teach and equip us. Here are some of the vital lessons we learned.

 

The Lord’s Gracious Provision

There were some provisions that came well before Daddy’s accident. Dad always spoke highly of “his boys.” My husband and brother-in-law were the sons he’d never had. He expressed more than once that he was thankful for the men who took care of his girls. Our husbands, who were both pastors at the time, kept up with those responsibilities along with supporting us, our parents, and fulfilling the role of “Mr. Mom.”

During our time in Buffalo, my husband took on various roles. He quickly became our mediator, making and returning phone calls on our behalf and driving us where we needed to be. He became our spokesman, especially when we didn’t even know the questions to ask. When he and our son had to return home, I recorded in my journal – “I feel a bit fearful of Mom and I being ‘on our own.’  Praise the Lord, [Christ] is our Rock (Capital R) and God has moved in the hearts of His people to assist us. We are not alone!”

In God’s providence, He had already prepared a place for us to stay. The day after Christmas, we moved into the guest house of a nearby Baptist church. In my journal, I wrote —“After settling in to our new ‘home-away-from-home’ and washing clothes until 12:30 am, we had a fairly good night’s sleep. What a blessing to get most of [our laundry] completed. The guest house is cozy and clean. In the morning, we attended their Sunday School. The church family received us warmly. It’s always amazing to see how Christ’s love reaches across the miles and the way we are bonded together with other believers.” Furthermore, the pastor assured Mom and I that transportation would be provided to and from the medical center. I later wrote – “We keep crying and offering thanks to the Lord as we see His provision.”

Strength and comfort came through family and friends who surrounded us with prayer, made visits, gave thoughtful gifts and words of encouragement, and sent a plethora of cards, particularly when Dad celebrated his birthday. The Lord’s faithful provision also included the medical team who skillfully cared for Dad. He had several physicians plus a nursing staff of at least 22 different women and men who tirelessly ministered to his needs.

 

The Greatness of His Sovereignty

Michelle and her Dad on her wedding day

As days blended into weeks, God clearly revealed His supreme authority. Despite how it appeared, the Lord was completely in control of our circumstances.  Although we deeply desired for Daddy to be restored to health on this earth, we eventually began to realize that this may not be a part of God’s plan. When these heart-wrenching thoughts came, God’s sovereignty gave us security. On one particular day, I found, nestled in a pamphlet, an excerpt from Amy Carmichael’s little book, If.  A moment of dread passed through me as the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart through her words–“If the burden my Lord asks me to bear be not the burden of my heart’s choice, and I fret inwardly and do not welcome His will, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” I knew, then, that I must welcome God’s will, regardless of the outcome.

The greatness of God’s sovereignty enables us to welcome His will whether or not it makes sense to us.

A truth my husband shared in a recent sermon dovetails with this beautifully– “Prayer is not getting what we want but aligning our will with God’s will.”

 

The Gift of the Ordinary

At one point, as the unknown future stretched far in front of us, I remember a longing to do ordinary, mundane chores–washing dishes in a fluffy mountain of bubbles, cleaning my kitchen floor on my hands and knees, chiding our two female dogs who always seemed to be fussing with one another. Perhaps these tasks seemed so appealing because, if they were taking place, it meant life had returned to normal. We would be living in a new rhythm of days, one flowing gently into the next and Daddy would be well and whole again. We learned that ordinary days and simple joys are meant to be cherished.

 

The Goodness of the Lord

God’s goodness was clearly displayed through His Word that brought comfort coupled with conviction. We were filled with confidence in the Lord’s plan as we read Romans 15:13 –“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”  I counseled my heart with verses Daddy had recently shared with me — “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  When my Uncle, Dad’s brother, came for a visit, he read Romans 8 to us. What a precious reminder that all things work together for good to those who love God and that nothing can separate us from His love! Even when our precious father went home to be with the Lord on January 15, 2010 the goodness of God remained evident. Certainly the grief was excruciating. Yet, our hearts were gently lifted up by our loving Heavenly Father Who is always and only good. A friend wrote a poem for us that she penned the day after Dad’s funeral. Below the title, When God Is Good, she included this verse – Psalm 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”   An excerpt of her poem asks,

When is God good?
Is He good when life is filled with pain,
When the dreaded phone call comes,
When your world is turned upside down,
When it seems there can be no gain?
When God is good
Do we trust Him?

Perhaps there are easier ways to learn these lessons but those were not chosen for us. Instead, the Lord took us through this difficult time and gave us precious reminders –the graciousness of His provision, the greatness of His sovereignty, the gift of the ordinary, and the abundance of His goodness. And when the next storm comes–and it will–may we find our refuge, our ONLY refuge, in Christ.

 

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

Psalm 90:1-2

 

The author, second from left, enjoys an afternoon at Sight and Sound with her family. Her husband is to her right, her son and daughter-in-law to her left. To the right of the photo is her mom and our aunt, Sarah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*A portion of the Hymn: O God Our Help in Ages Past
TEXT: Isaac Watts; based on Psalm 90
MUSIC: William Croft

 

Changed Lives: Jim and Carol

As I prepared today’s post, I realized that it has been almost a year since I last shared a “Changed Lives” testimony. This hasn’t been because I haven’t met anyone who has been changed by Jesus. In fact, I’ve met so many! It was just one of those things I kept putting off. But today is a great day to bring you a new testimony.

Today I bring you Jim and Carol’s story. Let me tell you a bit about how this came to be. Jim is often at the door as I enter church each Sunday, ready to offer all a warm handshake and a cheery greeting. But a year or so ago, I noticed that Jim just kept getting thinner and thinner and he just didn’t look well. Eventually I found out that he was fighting a fierce battle with cancer and that it was taking its toll on him. And, yet, there Jim stood at the sanctuary door every Sunday, greeting everyone cheerfully. It was this consistent cheerfulness that led me to talk with them about Jim’s cancer journey. Little did I know that there was much more to the story! Spending an afternoon with them encouraged me greatly and I know that it will encourage you, too.

This is Jim and Carol’s story–

In early 1970’s, a young girl named Carol was set up on a date with a young man named Jim. Carol, a Christian girl, knew Jim wasn’t saved but she really enjoyed that first date and, as she got to know him better, she decided to start a relationship with him anyway. Things moved along and eventually they planned to be married. Carol just naively thought everything would turn out okay. And it did–eventually. (But it’s important to remember that it doesn’t for everyone. As Carol said during our time together: It’s best to obey the Bible and marry a Christian.)

After the wedding, things got pretty difficult. They had a daughter and then two sons. During these early years, when Jim wasn’t working long hours, his passion for baseball consumed his time. After baseball games, Jim would drink with his buddies and come home drunk. When Jim got drunk he didn’t get silly like “you see on the movies” as Carol put it. Instead, Jim would come home and verbally attack his wife. The family dreaded these times.

This naturally burdened Carol’s heart greatly. She had already been praying for Jim’s salvation for years and she continued to do so during this time.

Ten or so years into their marriage, Jim started to soften and mature a bit and things got better for the family, although he remained hardened to the things of the Lord. While he never kept Carol from taking the children to church or talking with them about the Lord, he just wasn’t interested. He admits now that he wasn’t ready to surrender the “fun stuff” of life to live a legalistic, moral life that looked no fun at all. He viewed believers as living in a prison of “perfect” and he didn’t want any part of that.

Jim describes this time as having a thick wall standing between him and the Lord. The Lord was on one side and he was on the other. To remove that wall would mean giving up the world he so loved and enjoyed. And he just wasn’t ready to do that.

When they were married for almost fifteen years, an elder and his wife from their church stopped by for an unexpected visit one New Year’s Eve. As Carol opened the door to the couple her heart sank. She knew her husband’s thoughts about “stuffy Christians” trying to convert him. She hid her thoughts and welcomed them in with a smile.

That evening was the beginning of a long journey that would bring Jim to his knees in repentance before the Lord. As the couples visited together that night, the elder never brought up anything about God. Instead, he talked with Jim about hunting and other things that men talk about. God knew that Jim needed to meet someone who was willing to be his friend, despite his rebellious heart towards the things of God. He found that friendship in this elder.

At this point, Jim started going to church, playing on the church softball team, and hanging around with the church folk. During this time, he was not saved but he was watching. He found out that Christians were not perfect, after all, but have struggles and flaws just like everyone else. They just handled them differently. This gave him pause for thought and the wall between him and the Lord started to crumble just a bit.

A few years after he started attending church, Jim found an odd swelling around his eye. The doctor told him it was an insect bite and sent them home. But when it didn’t go away, it led Jim and Carol to seek further answers. It was biopsied but, even after this step, the specialist had no idea what it was. They finally ended up at a dermatologist who sent him to a plastic surgeon. This surgeon recommended that the biopsy be couriered immediately for results rather than being handled in the typical fashion. When no courier was available, Jim and Carol took the biopsy themselves to the local facility that would test it.

It was this second biopsy that finally yielded the diagnosis that no one ever wants to hear: Cancer. Jim had a form of lymphoma on his face.

With this diagnosis, Jim came face to face with his mortality as a forty-something husband and father. With two kids in college and one in high school, this was certainly not what he had wanted to hear. Frightened of the unknown, he started praying to the God whom he had never been interested in. And the wall between him and God started to crumble a bit more. Meanwhile, Carol, who was praying as well, was filled with that inexplicable peace that God gives His own. While she certainly had moments of fear, she trusted God to take care of Jim.

It was during this unsettling time that Jim and Carol went to a Sight and Sound production called “Behold the Lamb”. (For those that may not know, Sight and Sound is a Christian theater that puts on dramatic productions of stories from the Bible that rival Broadway in their professionalism.) While at this production, Jim was struck by the reality of his sin and the hope we have in Christ. While he wasn’t saved there, he would say this was when the wall between him and God started to finally give way.

About this time, Jim and Carol’s pastor moved away and they had to find a new church. This search led them back to Carol’s childhood church, where Jim developed a friendship with their new pastor. One day, Jim asked the pastor about salvation and told him he was ready to surrender his life to Christ.

Carol had prayed for twenty-five years for this day! Oh, what rejoicing was in her heart as she listened around the corner to her husband as he prayed and surrendered his life to Christ.

Through this time, Jim finished his prescribed chemo treatments and after it all was over, the oncologist pronounced him cancer-free! He even used the word “miracle”. Jim looked at him and told him that it was prayer that healed him. God had heard the prayers of many friends and family poured out for Jim and had shown mercy.

After this eventful time in their lives, things really changed. Jim stopped drinking completely upon his cancer diagnosis. He developed a passion for church and especially for the men’s ministry that began while he was there. And he began to take his role as husband and father more seriously.

Fast forward twenty years.

The kids grew up and two of them moved away. Jim and Carol decided to move near their two sons and so they started a new adventure a few hours south of what they had both always called “home”. They found a good church and became a part of the family there. Jim continued to take a yearly trip a few hours away to see his oncologist. He and Carol started talking about the possibility of stopping those visits since he had been cancer-free for so long.

And then one day, Jim got an ulcer in his mouth that wouldn’t go away. Again, there were visits to doctors and uncertain times as they tried to figure out why it wouldn’t heal. He also felt a lump around his nose and his face felt a bit numb. While Carol didn’t really think about it being cancer again, Jim admits that he was wondering if the dreaded cancer had returned.

Jim got a biopsy of the area right before Christmas in 2016 and found out that he did indeed have cancer again—this time it was a completely different type of lymphoma than the first time. It filled his sinus cavity on the left side of his face and was even in his tonsils. It had started eating away at his jaw and his nose.

A plan was put in place to save Jim’s life. It included a bone graft to preserve his jaw along with three rounds of the strongest chemo available, as well as 17 rounds of radiation. The chemo was so powerful that they had to test Jim’s heart to make sure that it would be strong enough to handle it.

Jim’s heart tests went well and so they proceeded with the chemo. He got through two rounds with flying colors. Other than the loss of hair, he really didn’t have any side effects. No nausea, no fatigue. Things looked pretty good. Jim kept smiling and started to pat himself a bit on the back. He was getting through this with God and he was doing pretty good.

And then, right before the third round of chemo, Jim found a watery lump the size of a water balloon on his shoulder at the place where his chemo port was. Thus began a dreaded time of anxious waiting as they worked to find an appointment for an emergency MRI. The soonest they could get in was the next morning. After the MRI, they headed home to wait some more. Around four o’clock that day, they discussed their fear of heading into the weekend without any answers and then walked into separate rooms. Unbeknownst to each other, they both started praying that the doctor would call. A few minutes later, the phone rang. The doctor told them to get to the emergency room immediately. Jim had a large blood clot in his shoulder.

Jim tells of this time as being very humbling. Things were going pretty well, all things considered, and this stopped him in his tracks and forced him to rely on the Lord like never before. After a night’s stay in the hospital in which his chemo port was removed, he was given a three months’ prescription of a blood thinner medication and sent home to get better.

The third round of chemo was out of the question and so they decided to increase the amount of radiation from 17 treatments to 25.

Unfortunately, the radiation could not continue until Jim’s body was strong enough to take it. It was during this time that Jim reached what he describes as his lowest point. He was so disappointed and the waiting was awful. He had to surrender his will to God’s at this point and it was not an easy thing to do.

Finally, Jim was strong enough to start the radiation treatments. But these treatments were not like the chemo. They wreaked havoc on Jim’s body, giving him mouth sores that made it hard to talk and eat, a terribly sore throat, a loss of appetite, and a fatigue so awful it would keep him on the sofa for the whole day. The side effects he had expected with chemo showed up with a vengeance during the radiation treatments.

But through most of this second cancer journey, Jim shares that he has had peace. While he had that difficult moment as he waited for the radiation treatments to start up, he recalled that his battle with surrendering to God’s sovereignty was strongest during his first bout with lymphoma.

It is this peace that gives Jim a vibrancy and cheery spirit despite his circumstances. The radiation treatments are now finished, but the side effects live on in Jim’s body. The radiation killed his salivary glands and so he has a very dry mouth. He has lost the ability to taste and he has no feeling on the one side of his face. He has difficulty swallowing. Every day Jim is reminded of his battle with cancer as he faces these challenges that will be with him for the rest of his life.

At this point, as I sat there talking with Jim and Carol in their living room, they both shared how much they have to be thankful for. They mentioned the prayers and support of fellow believers. They are grateful for Jim’s salvation that has unified them in Christ. They are so grateful God didn’t take Jim during that first battle with cancer. They are thankful for their church. And they are so blessed to celebrate their 45th anniversary this year. Jim & Carol’s three children grew up and started their own families and blessed them with five grandchildren.

Those who know Jim know his passion to share the Gospel. He loves the Lord and he loves people. You know this almost the instant you meet him. And it was through this second round of cancer that God has opened many doors for Jim to share the Gospel. I have no doubt that Jim has planted a multitude of seeds in his neighborhood, his doctors’ offices, and the hospital where he stayed. Jim wants to use this journey to point people to Jesus. This is why he was willing to share his story with you all. He also wanted to be sure that I shared his dedication to prayer during this journey. As he has prayed through his illness, his desire has always been, first and foremost, that God’s will be done. Jim continues to be dedicated to prayer and prays regularly for others.

I also want to acknowledge Carol’s steady and loving support during all of this. I could see that she provides a quiet strength and stability that is the perfect complement to Jim’s passion and zeal.

As I walked out of that home late that afternoon, I walked away blessed. Here was a couple who loves the Lord deeply. God has used cancer to not only bring Jim to saving faith, to plant seeds for the Gospel, and to spiritually grow Jim and Carol, but also to uplift and encourage other believers as they face their own battles and trials.

The questions, the waiting, the fear, and the anxiety that naturally spring from our trials can take a hold and leave us helpless and terrified. It is my hope that through Jim and Carol’s testimony you are encouraged today to trust in God’s sovereignty and to use whatever trial you are facing, whether big or small, as an opportunity to give God the glory and to plant seeds for the Gospel.

Changed Lives: Adrienne

Changed Lives

This testimony is quite a bit more personal than any I have shared before. That is because today I bring you my daughter’s story. A few years ago, we started to see a remarkable change in the life of this child. A few months ago, I asked her if she would be willing to share what God has done in her life. She said she would and this is what I present today. But, first, I want to share a bit of my own testimony as background.

As you may already know, we have four children. Two were fairly easy to raise, as they were saved at a young age and quickly grew to be full of conviction regarding spiritual matters. While we certainly had our difficult moments with them, we were mostly encouraged as we watched these two grow in their faith during their childhoods and teen years. The other two, also supposedly “saved” as little children, actually probably weren’t. Of course, only God knows the heart but if they had stood before a judge the evidence would have been against them, for they had rebellious hearts, a passion for worldly things, an apathy toward their sin, and ungodly lifestyles (I John 2:15; I Samuel 15:23; John 15:14; Galatians 5:16-24).

Acknowledging this was most definitely one of the hardest things my husband and I have ever had to do. Because in doing so, we had to also acknowledge our own failure in communicating our faith to them and we also had to face the devastating fact that should a tragedy suddenly take their lives, we were fairly certain about where they would spend eternity.

We felt disheartened and powerless as we watched these two kids during this time. And then we did the only two things we knew to do. First, we tried to let go of the battles that were not biblical, while holding firm and staying faithful to biblical boundaries, using the Word of God as our authority. This meant lots of communication and discussion and, yes, some punishments, as well, all taking place beneath the umbrella of our unwavering and unconditional love for them. And, second, we prayed A LOT. Many others prayed with us. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Friends. And one lady–a dear lady from our church–prayed so faithfully for us all. It was so encouraging! I specifically prayed for three things—1) That these children would come to love God with all of their hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30) and 2) That God would protect and keep them from making any wrong choices that would yield burdensome, lifelong consequences and 3) That He would spare their lives at least until such a time that they would come to know Him.

These were dark days for our family. We felt so helpless as we watched our precious children make wrong choices. I would like to add here that, thankfully, neither child did anything super bad. So, in that sense, maybe we had it good. But we recognized that the root of rebellion that is within any child who rebels is EVIL—no matter how it exhibits itself.

We traveled those days one step at a time, supported by our ever-present faithful God and by the prayers of those who lovingly and faithfully prayed for us. We found hope in the little things and God–in the way He often does–would give us just the tiniest bit of encouragement just at the moment we would need it. And, looking back now, we can see God’s kind hand of protection upon both of them throughout this time and we are both humbled and amazed.

This difficult time lasted for several years and then it started gradually to improve when first one and then both of these kids came to know the Lord personally. We are so humbled and incredibly grateful that, all due to God’s amazing grace and His generous mercy, He saw fit to bring both of these children to Himself in their late teens.

But even as I write these words, I do feel compelled to remind you that my family and I are wicked sinners just like everybody else (Romans 3:10). Life didn’t suddenly become perfect when these kids turned a corner. And this isn’t about perfection (or anything close to it!) but rather it is about how God continues to work in and through this imperfect family, daily shaping us into His image through the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I also wanted to make a note here that salvation is not simply a prayer or a moment. Some of us can look back on a moment when we surrendered all to Jesus and some of us can’t, instead experiencing a growing love for– and submission and obedience to –God’s Word, giving evidence of a changed heart. I say this because we have been taught to look for a “moment”. But sometimes, as you can see from this testimony, that moment is not genuine. We parents dare not hang on to assurance of salvation simply because a child (or anyone) said a prayer. Scripture makes it very clear: True belief yields a changed life (Matthew 7:16).

And so, now that I have shared a bit of my own testimony in seeing God work, I want to share the testimony of my daughter. I stand amazed—in complete awe– at how the Lord has answered my prayers regarding her life. Adrienne has become passionate for God and His Word. And she and I have rebuilt our relationship and it is stronger and closer than I ever dreamed possible! It is unbelievable that this is the same child that I had sadly resigned myself to the probable fact that we would never be close. This goes to show that we should never underestimate God!

I hope that Adrienne’s story will encourage any parent (or grandparent) of a rebel. The sentences she writes here hold so much emotion that cannot really be expressed with mere words. She writes in one simple sentence some of the struggles she faced, but what the reader cannot see or comprehend are the depths of sorrow and the utter hopelessness that undergird her words. Life is not easy. We all have our burdens to bear. But may we never forget that God, through His grace, His mercy, and His Word can change a life. And we know this because we have seen it in our own family!

 

ADRIENNE’S TESTIMONY

I grew up in a Christian home and would have told people for most of my life that I got saved when I was 6. Looking back on it now, I recognize that I didn’t really get it. Salvation is understanding that I am a hopeless sinner and that God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to save me from my sins (John 3:16). At age 6, did I truly understand what that meant? Did I realize that I needed to change my lifestyle and try to do all things to glorify God? I can’t say that I did.

Now at 6 years old I had heard all about Jesus and how He died on the cross to save me from my sins so, of course, I had somewhat of a grasp of what it meant to be a Christian. But reflecting on it now, I can see that my life at that age revolved around staying out of trouble and doing the right things to please my parents and I wasn’t necessarily interested in pleasing God. And, while there are definitely some circumstances where kids grasp salvation at a young age and continue to show fruit in their lives as they continue to grow in the Lord, I can see now that I was not one of them.

Around age 13 I started to really struggle with wanting what the world had to offer me. When I compared it with what I wrongly thought the Lord had to offer (rules and boredom), the world looked much more appealing. I became disrespectful to my parents and elders around me, I struggled with an eating disorder–always trying to be pretty enough, and I desired secular music and movies.

I would say at this point I knew what was right and wrong because of what I had been taught but I was simply not willing to give 100% to the Lord. And, so, overall I would say I was in a pretty rough spot in life. Thankfully by the grace of God, the love of my parents, and lots of prayers for me by my parents, grandparents, and others who loved me, I never got myself into too much trouble!

During this time my parents never gave up on trying to direct me in a Godly path and pull me from the worldly path I was on. 1 John 2:15-16 says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” My parents were consistent with discipline and did all they could to protect me and I am beyond thankful for that. I had good times and bad times all throughout high school. I would say I really battled a lot with truly wanting to please God but I just wasn’t ready to give up worldly things.

I went off to college and there I became involved in the wrong group of friends. Nothing super-terrible but I still found myself longing for what the world had to offer and, therefore, was failing to give 100% to God. This kept me half-hearted in my faith and also made me very ineffective for Christ and the Gospel. I did feel conviction, so I do believe I was saved at this time. I just didn’t really care about growing in the Lord for the most part. I seemed to be at a standstill.

One specific night in college I was with all my friends and I remember sitting there thinking, “Nothing about this conversation is honoring to the Lord. I know there is a God, I know God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and I know for a fact that I am not living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.” From that moment forward I would say I really started to change who I was and started to really strive to please the Lord.

Since that time, I have grown a lot closer to the Lord for two reasons: First, I have moved 3 times since I’ve been married, all of them being far away from my family which has been hard–to say the least. During those hard times, though, I have truly had to rely on God and He has always shown Himself even in the smallest circumstances. This time of my life has also provided me with the opportunity and time to study the Word more than ever before. This has been life-changing for my spiritual growth.

Second, I have finally fought my temptation– with the Lord’s help—of listening to worldly music and I also have changed the kind of TV and movies I watch. Let me encourage you to do the same, as this has changed my life completely. I feel closer to the Lord and, the less I partake in the worldy things and focus on The Word, the less is my desire for them and I find I can’t even stand the evil that is in most secular music, shows, and movies.

I am grateful for the way God has changed my heart in this area of life. Don’t get me wrong– there are many things I still struggle with but worldly entertainment seems to be a sin among many Christians that gets ignored. I promise you: Practicing discernment in this area of your life will make a difference in your walk with God—just like it has in mine.

Looking back I am so grateful for all the prayer and Godly examples I have had throughout my life and continue to have. One thing I cannot IMG_1965revexpress enough is how grateful I am for my mom and dad and the fact that they never took the easy way out and just gave in to what I wanted. They never gave in to me and I wouldn’t be where I am without either of them. Also–a little side note–my mom was a parent growing up but not always a friend. I say this because I am sure my mom wanted to just be a friend and give in to what I wanted, especially on those days where I wouldn’t even talk to her because I was so upset with her. But she never caved into that desire and continued to push me to do what was right. As I write this I can truly say my mom is my best friend. So all the moms out there going through a tough time with their daughters, I want to encourage you to not give up or give in– because your daughter will one day be so grateful that you didn’t!

I would also like to encourage parents to not just assume that, when your daughter or son says the salvation prayer at a young age, this necessarily means that they personally know the Lord. Continue to look for fruit and growth in their walk with the Lord, as that will show if they are truly livGoodFamily2016-34ing for the Lord. Personally, I can see now that I wasn’t truly saved until my late teens, as God started to work on my heart.

Looking back through my 22 years of life, I can see how God protected me and continued to lead me toward Him. I am truly blessed to be a part of God’s family.

 

 

 

The Little Things

grand-canyon-2110095_1920

American Idol premiered in 2002. That show single-handedly launched the careers of dozens of obscure, wannabe rock stars, country singers, and crooners during its 14-year-run. I think it also helped to shape and solidify the way we Americans think about change. Instead of viewing change as something that is brought about by consistent and diligent hard work (the way it had been viewed forever), we now longed for that magic day when we would win a contest and life would change forever!

You may have no desire for fame, but I do wonder if this show, along with dozens of other shows, magazines, and radio talk shows haven’t left us believing that that magical, happy time of having our dreams fulfilled will come if we will just be patient and hang on long enough. Meanwhile, we kind of sit back and just wait for it.

This is true in the work world, where there is an expectation for promotions and raises to be given without corresponding work and effort. And it is true on the sports fields and on the dance stage, where there is this longing to be the star of the show–the one that stands out and is picked for that college scholarship or that special award that will jumpstart a career. We are just waiting for that magic moment when people will recognize our gifts and talents.

But, for most, that moment never comes.

The statistics will show that few people reach success, fame, or fortune without a lot of hard work and discipline.

As believers, our ultimate goal has little to do with success, fame, or fortune, but is, instead, centered on living holy, godly lives and growing to look more like Jesus. But, even in this area, we can be conditioned to believe that this happens by a special anointing of the Spirit or by receiving a special message from “Jesus”. We are being conditioned to believe that it is some magical experience that will take us to the next level of spiritual growth.

You can see how Christians are so susceptible to this type of thinking since–

Magic moments are IN and consistent hard work is OUT.

The other day, I had a knock on my door. When I opened it I saw a man standing there that I didn’t recognize. He reached his hand out kindly to me and told me his name. Here he was an employee of ours from over 20 years ago! What a fun time to chat with him and to see how he had grown and changed. I called my in-laws down (they live next door to us), for they had known him, as well, and we all stood in the front lawn for several minutes talking and reminiscing. At one point, the man looked at my father-in-law and said that he had given him a book about being a godly man that had really impacted him. He still had it and planned to have his sons read it.

As I listened to that exchange, I was again reminded that this is how change and growth usually occur. It is the gift of a book. Or a seemingly insignificant phone conversation. Or a heartfelt text. It’s in the conversations in the break rooms and the church hallways. Or the words of a hymn or song. But, most importantly, it is through the Word of God. Like the Grand Canyon carved by a stream of water, so we, too, are changed by the little things.

Perhaps we need to relinquish this insatiable desire for sensational, supernatural experiences in our lives. While this can and does happen to some of us (as we read in Larry’s Changed Life testimony) it does not happen to most of us. But if we keep consistently growing and changing through lots of prayer, through the Word of God, and through a humble and teachable spirit. If we realize this and put it into practice then, whether or not that “magical moment” of change we are longing for ever transpires, we will confidently know we are going the right direction instead of sitting around waiting for a miracle to propel us to change.

I would also like to add one more important note here. It is regarding this obsession that is currently sweeping through Christendom for personal messages from God and encouraging whispers from Jesus. I won’t go too deeply into it here today, but the need for sensational experiences in order to grow spiritually not only isn’t scriptural, it leads to arrogance and pride and to chaotic confusion. It has created a Christian culture that is basing its maturity on experiences rather than on the Word of God. If you would like to know more about this, I suggest you read the book Is That You, Lord? by Gary Gilley. This gives an extremely helpful, biblical perspective on this new phenomenon of “hearing from the Lord”. I know it will be immensely beneficial to any of you who are wondering about this. (Notice I am using adverbs like “extremely” and “immensely” because I am trying to get across the idea of just how much this book has helped me!!)

Real life change happens through prayer and through the Word of God–where we not only find encouragement for our thirsty souls, but we find the commands and principles for living that bring true peace and joy when we choose to submit and obey. The Bible is the power for the Christian life. And true change generally happens by reading, studying, and putting it into practice–tiresome day after tiresome day. True and lasting change takes consistent work.

But it IS possible! Sometimes we will be tempted to think that no one ever changes. And yet, we know that through the power of God and His Word, true change is not only possible but should be expected. Hopefully, your own life is a testimony to how God can change a life.

So don’t give up! It is most often the little things that bring about the changes we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Changed Lives: Larry

Changed Lives

Once in awhile I “meet” a reader who really blesses me. Larry is one of those readers. He encourages me often with his kind words and has become a main prayer supporter in my ministry here at Growing4Life. A year or so ago, he shared his amazing testimony with me. I told him that some day I would love to share it with my readers. Well, that “some day” is today! He wrote it down and I am so pleased to share it with you.

Addictions are a tricky thing, are they not? And God deals with them in all different ways. Sometimes it will take months or years to overcome an addiction through the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. But, other times–more infrequently–God will remove the sinful desire instantly. Miraculously even. This is what happened to Larry. Read and be encouraged! Pray that this will happen for you or the one you love and don’t give up hope. No matter how God chooses to work in the life of the addicted believer, know that His ways are perfect and His plans are for His glory and for the best in the life of the one who is struggling.

Here is Larry’s story–

I grew up in a place down south called Jug Fork. I was so excited when we got a TV and a rotary phone. The best I can remember is that we were on an 8-party line (for those of you who are too young to remember, this means that eight homes shared the same phone line!) The luxurious school I attended had outdoor toilets and one drinking fountain right in the middle of the school yard.

Just to give a bit of background about my childhood–I don’t remember using any curse words. In fact, I didn’t even know any. I never remember my mother and dad using curse words and so they were completely unfamiliar to me.

When I was 12 years old, a family member offered to take me on vacation with him and his wife, I had never been on a vacation. After stopping at a store in the mountains, some beer was purchased. I had never tasted beer and I really did not like the smell of it at all. It had a “you need to roll down the window” kind of a smell. After a bit of harassment, I tasted it. I recognized the taste– like water out of a rotten stump in the woods! I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, you paid for this?!” I was told to drink some more of it and it will start tasting better. Very reluctantly, I did, and it did start to taste better.

Long story short, I became a full-blooded alcoholic. My addiction became an obsession–to the point that the person who introduced me to this horrible drug said, “I can’t believe how you are acting.”

I did and said unspeakable things under the influence of this number one drug in America. I hear people say that social drinking is okay. But may I share this with you: Social drinking is the number one cause of alcoholism in the world. Before you get involved in anything, ask yourself this question: Has this activity ever harmed or enslaved anyone before? If it has, stay away from it.

I was told that I would always be a recovering alcoholic. That I will always be one drink away from alcoholism as long as I live. (By the way, that is a lie from the pit of Hell.)

One day I went to a church. I had already tried everything else and so I decided to try church. I sat in the parking lot, drinking a few beers before I went in (yeah, I did that). When I worked up the courage to go in, I found that the old preacher just kept preaching one thing (or at least that is all I heard): John 6:37.

It was Jesus speaking, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and him that cometh to me; I will in no wise cast out.” The preacher just kept saying that this means any him. These words were for anyone! It does not matter where you come from or what you have done! ANY HIM (or her)!

That day, the social drinker that became a habitual drunk took Him up on His Word. My long eloquent salvation prayer was, “Help me, Jesus.”

It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. This is true. At that time, it was hot July in Mississippi and all my friends were drinking friends. They encouraged me by saying things like—

You will never make it.

and

You want to be with us; we know you want to drink.

And I did! But I knew it was wrong. Oh, I prayed and prayed. The struggle was almost unbearable after the Lord saved me. I would still sit in the church parking lot and drink before church.

But the Holy Spirit kept working on me. Until I just could not stand it anymore! I prayed, “Lord, if this horrible thing that has got me is so bad, please help me! Please make even the smell of it make me throw up!”

Be careful what you ask for!

The next day I got in a car with one of my friends and the car smelled strongly of alcohol. Have you ever been in a car or any other place like that in which people drink? No sooner did I smell it, when extreme nausea hit me and I had an impulse to vomit. I had to get out of that car. I didn’t know what they thought, nor did I care.

Later on, I found that when I went into a restaurant where alcohol was being served, I would have to leave. As the Lord is my witness–and this has been many, many years ago now–I have had no desire to even be around that stuff.

Maybe this all means nothing to you, but I know that most people are struggling with something. We all have battles, whether it be alcoholism or something else. I did not need a 12 step program. I needed Jesus.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a program but the Lord can remove even the desire for what you know is hurting you–no matter what it is. Whether it is over-eating or wrong sexual attraction or anything else.

The key to overcoming anxiety is found only in the God of the Bible. Our God is a radical God, going to the root or origin of the problem. He will use extreme measures to correct a problem. Would you be brave enough to ask Him to make a radical difference in you? To ask Him to change your current situation–whatever it is?!

I am not saying He promises roses without thorns in life, but He does promise His abiding presence in all situations. I still learn new things about Him every day and I have learned to pray as Jesus did, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Remember the Goliath you are looking up at is the one that God is looking down on right now.

I leave you with these life-changing words that Jesus said:

Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

John 6:37

 

Photo2Unworthy but FORGIVEN,

Larry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Dennis

Changed Lives

Homosexuality. This word brings up strong feelings in almost all of us. It is most certainly not a neutral word. And, with all of the changes over the past twenty or so years, this word–this subject–now affects almost all of us in one way or another.

Years ago, I had a youth group leader named Dennis. He was a wonderful, super-talented guy that everybody loved. Little did I know of his secret struggle with homosexuality. A few months ago, I found out not only about this struggle but about his victory over it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I listened to his testimony, I was compelled to ask him if I could share his story here and he kindly said yes! I believe this is the perfect time to share it. What better way is there to contemplate the Lord’s sacrifice and victory over death than to hear the victorious story of what God has done, through the cross and resurrection, in a man who had little hope for ever experiencing victory? Because of God’s gift of salvation, Denny has experienced victory over sin in an incredible and powerful way. I am so thankful that he is willing to share his story at a time when it is increasingly unpopular to do so. Please pray for Denny as he strives to bring hope to others caught up in this sin.

Here is his story–

It’s one of the more familiar scenes in scripture. A crowd gathered around a tomb as Jesus calls out –

LAZARUS COME OUT! You can almost feel the crowd holding their breath watching. Some are excited.  Some are fearful. Many are skeptical. Many of the religious leaders were frankly angry. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, so the last thing they needed was a major miracle. Jesus’s words echo off the stone.

We don’t know how long they waited in silence, but you can bet that when Lazarus appeared from the darkness of his tomb, there was noise. First a collective gasp. Screams of shock turning to cries of joy.  This was one major party. There was such a commotion that Jesus had to remind them to unwrap the man. Let him loose! Unwrap the grave cloths. Jesus had given Lazarus new life….but the remnants of death were making it difficult for him to move. He needed help.

Hang on to that image of Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb wrapped in grave cloths, and jump ahead to the Church in Corinth where there was a major problem. There were lots of walking dead folk. Lawsuits, incest, gossip, you name it. Things were a mess.

So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:8-10–

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

There were LOTS of problems with the Church in Corinth.  And smack in the middle of Paul’s letter of warning is the word: Homosexuals. (Okay, there I’ve said THE WORD, let’s all take a deep breath!)

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without getting bombarded with that particular word?

Let me continue reading from First Corinthians 6:9-11 because I didn’t finish Paul’s thought.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

I love that past tense: WERE.

My journey begins mid-way through the last Century. My parents were extremely young when I was born, the first of six kids. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home that included Sunday school, church, and mid-week prayer meetings. At the feet of my grandmother, I heard stories about my great-Uncle’s missionary work in China. She’d also tell me about her prayers for me. She firmly believed that God had a ministry for me. In high school, my friends were all part of Youth for Christ. I worshipped frequently at my girlfriend’s church as well as my own. Following graduation from high school, I attended the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. The course of my life was set. Nice Christian family. Check. High school diploma. Check. College degree–then marry my high school sweetheart—then have two kids– and a dog.

Let’s back up. That’s only part of the story. While I may have been called to new life in Christ, I was still wearing grave cloths.

During my early formative years with Dad away at work, I was primarily raised by my grandma, my mom, and my female aunts. I don’t remember EVER having a male friend prior to entering first grade. Simple fact, there were no boys my age living nearby. (Hey, this was the 1950’s where, for entertainment, my cousins and I used to spend summer evenings counting cars going back and forth from Lititz to Lancaster! True story. We are talking way rural.)

But, as a young boy, my battle with homosexuality began. As I grew into a young teenager, things worsened as I discovered gay porn magazines and from there it went downhill. At one point I went to a youth pastor and told him about my sexuality. (I think it is safe to say that most Bible colleges weren’t teaching students how to counsel homosexuals at that time.) He blanched, blushed, and suggested prayer. I went to the Billy Graham exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965 and talked to a counselor. His advice? That I take a nice girl to the prom and all would work itself out!

My sexual encounters continued even in the heart of the Bible Belt, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college. Indeed, they escalated.

The winter of my senior year I left Bob Jones – disillusioned–and returned to Lancaster. I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do next. The little game plan that I thought I had was clearly not happening.

If you grew up in this era (late 60s and 70s), you probably weren’t aware that any of this was going on. Did you know that in the 1970s homosexuals were persecuted just for being homosexuals? They were called names, attacked on the streets, and even arrested just by having this label. But in 1969, that all started to change with the riot of homosexual men and women against the NYC police at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Times were changing and I realized that I was not the only disillusioned young man in America.

This movement eventually made its way to Lancaster county and made me more comfortable with my label of “homosexual”. Fueled by alcohol and any number of drugs, anonymous sex became routine.  I was running around with Lancaster’s movers and shakers.

By the time I was 21, I was totally disenchanted with anything that had to do with the Church. I was designing interiors and window displays for Watt & Shand and other major department stores. I was running around with the theater crowd from a local college. If you were part of the cool straight crowd, you had to have token black and/or gay friends. For nearly seven years, my life was one long party waking up next to nameless people, sometimes wondering how I’d even gotten there.

One night one of my best friends asked me: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget the things we were taught from the Bible when we were kids?” His family were pioneers at Calvary Church and I can tell you point blank, that even then–while high on drugs and alcohol — I KNEW without a doubt that God was still there. I can also tell you that I knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me regularly – even if they didn’t know the depths to which I had fallen.

One Memorial Day after a day of drinking and drugs, I fell apart–mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Late that night I called my Dad. It’s the first time in my life I ever remember asking him for help. He told me that he was coming to get me. He picked me up at my apartment on West King Street, but instead of taking me home, I discovered that he was taking me to the hospital. When we got to the parking lot, I got out of the car and started running. My dad took after me. Grabbed me, knocking me to the ground.  I remember his words as vividly as if he were standing here now:  “YOU ARE MY SON, AND I’M NOT LETTING GO.”

He wasn’t the only FATHER not letting me go.

During my few weeks in the psych ward, I met Jerry Young, a young pastor who had just started a church in Lititz. He gave me an invitation to visit his church and left. Nothing came of it until two years later, the last Sunday evening, October 1974, while I was on my way to work. I had been serving drinks part-time at a mixed gay/straight private club and I simply pulled my car to the side of the road.

“Jesus, I am so tired of this. You know my life is a mess. Please change my life.”

If repent means to turn around, in this case, it was quite literal. I turned my car around and went to that little church in Lititz.

If this were Bethany, the crowd would start roaring because Foreman was stumbling out of the grave much like Lazarus! Stumbling being the key word. There were years and years of addictive grave clothes in the way.

Slowly I began to see God at work in my life. Through the ministry of that church I began to grow. God also provided a way for me to return to college and get my degree. Thank you, Grace College!

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I received some of the worst counsel I’ve ever had. A trusted leader told me: “Do NOT share your same-sex struggles with anyone in the church because they won’t understand.” (And, you should know that when word got out that I was starting to share my life story at various churches, I’ve had similar counsel!) Week after week I would hear testimonies from men healed from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I’d hear about a marriage that was healed after major infidelity. I heard testimonies from men who had spent time in prison. All the while white-knuckling my temptations and usually failing, all the while hearing the prevailing message of the time: ONCE GAY, ALWAYS GAY. Gay is different. It is abhorrent to God. It’s the end of the downward spiral. You cannot change.

This is important: Jesus had breathed NEW life into me, but I was deeply entangled in grave clothes, and I didn’t know how to extricate myself. I wanted freedom to dance. I believed God’s Word–I just wasn’t sure of how to get free from my addictive lifestyle! And – remember – I had been told I shouldn’t ask anyone for help.

I finally decided to try a Christian counselor. After 6 months, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about homosexuality. What?!!! It took 6 months to figure that out?! I went to another Christian counselor and after several months realized that he was hitting on me!!!!

How do you handle that?

You know, it’s fairly easy for someone to say, “Just stop what you are doing!” But when we think about other struggles and addictions—whether they be food, gossip, or shopping; alcohol, cigarettes, or prescription drugs—we know it just isn’t that simple.

Here was the dilemma: I had asked Jesus to save me. And He had! But I still had very strong sexual urges and I didn’t know what to do with them. Plus, I’d been told not to discuss my sexuality with anyone in the Church. And So I opted to live two very distinct lifestyles. One in complete secrecy.

So take a deep breath, everyone….here we go….

In my mid-30’s I began working at a local church and became a licensed pastor. In 1993, I received a Youth Sponsor of the Year Award. At the same time, I was living completely in sin in my secret life. In August 1999, I was one of two individuals nominated for National Youth Pastor of the Year by my denomination. I am NOT saying this to brag, but because, less than 4 months later, on December 9 of the same year, I was arrested in a sting operation for trying to pick up an undercover policeman.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

I came face to face with the fact that what I had sowed, I was now reaping.

In a moment, I lost everything. My career. My friends. My church family. My NAME. My integrity.

Breathing was difficult. I didn’t want to live. One evening while driving home, I began to see each telephone pole as a target. I wanted to die and yet something—the Holy Spirit?–urged me to pull the car over. Storm clouds were gathering as I pulled into a parking lot along the road. Slowly as I got out of my car, I saw a rainbow and God’s Word wrapped around my heart, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

Call it what you will– you are entitled to be skeptical– but I don’t think I’d be here were it not for that experience.

Under Church Discipline and given oversight by a three-man ‘restoration’ team, I was reminded from Hebrews 12:5 and 6–

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

I went into hiding mode.

It took one little girl from my former youth group named Ashley to help me begin again. She placed a tape of Christian music in my mailbox. “Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is Your Name…bearing my sin, my cross, my shame…Jesus, YOU are my all in all.” I played that tape written by Dennis Jernigan constantly as I drove to the only job I could find– working the 3-11 shift at a local mini-market. For nearly two years, I just existed.

Earlier I stated that on December 9, I lost everything. Not true. I discovered just how incredibly much God loves me. Even though I was a hot mess of raw nerves, God’s Spirit was there. Jesus was so near, He was palpable. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t trade that dark time for anything because I was beginning to understand how deeply God loves His fallen children.

Another job opened at a bank about a thirty minute drive from my home. One Sunday afternoon, one of the clients stopped by and said, “Denny, I don’t know you other than from banking here, but I just sense that you need prayer. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” Yeah. Right in the middle of a grocery store! Candid Camera time?! It wasn’t too much longer before he began to disciple/mentor me. Jesus was beginning to use people I barely knew to start unwrapping the grave clothes.

Steve admitted that he never struggled with homosexuality, but he pointed me to a counseling ministry, DaySeven, in Lancaster. Through that organization, I was encouraged to attend a conference for men and women coming out of the gay lifestyle. I went kicking and screaming to that conference.

The very first night, the worship leader opened with “Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name….bearing my sin…”  Would you believe it? Dennis Jernigan, the writer of many of the most popular worship songs of the time, had come out of the gay lifestyle! (His testimony is available online and I highly recommend it!)

Jesus said I AM the resurrection and life. It is one thing to trust God for our salvation. I’d done that, but I was still struggling with this huge addictive sin nature.

About five years ago, I realized that it was essential that I become part of a church family again. I’d stayed at my former church thinking that it was important for those from my former youth group to witness God’s restoration. But after a while it became quite clear that if I stayed I would be a spectator.  And so I began to search for a new church. God faithfully led me to a church where I can serve Him.

So, here I am: One who identified as being gay for most of my life. There is something ironic about the fact that I ‘came out’ as a gay man at a time when you could get beat up, arrested, or killed if anyone thought you were a homosexual and at a time when you didn’t mention homosexuality in churches.  Now here I am ‘coming out as EX-gay’ at a time when the tide has turned. It is now politically incorrect to even hint that the gay lifestyle is wrong. Counselors who teach that homosexuality is a sin and point to the way out can lose their credentials. Church after church is using terms like “affirming” when discussing same-sex relationships. The gay community has flexed its muscle and they would not be happy to see me here. Within the past month, I was the target of a Facebook/Twitter hate campaign because of my stance. Some would say that my testimony can be equated with hate crimes.

But guess what? The religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t just want to see Jesus dead, they also wanted Lazarus silenced. In John 12:9 we read—

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Two years ago, I was asked by a young pastor (one of the men from my former youth group) to come speak at his church. At that time, I stated:

“I’m not here this morning to get into the politics of gay marriage. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Little did any of us realize how quickly the Supreme Court would move to legalize same sex weddings.

And so I am here to offer HOPE to anyone here who is struggling with same-sex feelings. To offer hope to men or women who may be involved in same-sex relationships or to those of you who have friends or family members caught up in the lifestyle. And it is a lifestyle. It is a community.”

So, now you know my story. Dead in sin, and when finally recognizing Jesus voice calling, “FOREMAN, COME OUT of that tomb,” struggling with the remnants of the grave, entangled in grave cloths and told to be silent. BUT here I stand, not the FACE of Gay men…but the face of ONE sinner saved by God’s Grace and still in the process of untangling.

So what have I learned in the journey that has led to sharing my story in churches? I have one simple premise:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUE.

The Bible is a love story.

A loving Father God creates man and woman in his image according to Genesis 1. A loving Father God creates man and woman uniquely designed to complement each other and form a perfect union.

You know the story. A perfect garden and a horrific fall. SIN enters the picture and we are left with the heart-wrenching picture of Father God calling out: “Where are you, Adam?!”

The proponents of Homosexual Rights would like ME to believe I was born gay. Okay, I’ll go this far. I was born into a fallen world. Hey, gang, I have some news for you: We are ALL born with sin NATURES.  David reminds us in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

How many of you had to teach your kids how to be disobedient? After learning the words Mama and DaDa, isn’t one of their first words NO? Their disobedience usually followed by the word “MINE,” as they discover the sin of being self-centered!

So, yeah, we are all born with sin-natures. We are also born with the need to be LOVED.  Andy Comisky writes:  “Our longings for love become sinful when we take them into our own hands and say, ‘this is how I’m going to meet my own needs; they are mine and I am going to meet them any way that I can and want.”

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that stated: “Silence is Golden.” But I beg to differ! Silence is a prison that can cripple. The church that is appalled over what is happening with the Gay Movement was completely silent about it when it mattered and, because of this, I—and many like me—were led to believe we were hopeless and beyond redemption.

We need to re-look at ROMANS 1:16a

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

I needed to know that I could be saved, too! That my sins had not taken me beyond salvation! The irony in all of this is that many of these same churches were using the Book of Romans or the Romans Road in reaching the lost. Hey, I was one of the LOST! I needed to hear the rest of that book. Romans is priceless because it offers HOPE! I needed to hear that God’s kindness leads to repentance!

I want to share two important things to consider if this subject is one you, a family member, or a friend are battling–

1. The Bible is God’s Word. It is TRUTH. I grew up believing that. I still believe that. That belief, that FAITH – sometimes buried in the darkness of my tomb-like existence – was still there. I couldn’t shake it.

Listen carefully, because I believe this is absolutely necessary for healing from ANY sin: God’s Word is True. When I hear gay activists say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that loving relationships between two men or two women is a sin,” I get very nervous. It sounds remarkably similar to the line the serpent gave to Eve when he was tempting her to eat the fruit: “Did God really say you can’t eat…”  Does God really say that homosexuality is a sin? YES. So, for me, the first step toward healing was that I BELIEVED WHAT GOD SAYS. For the sake of the souls of men and women bound by the sin of homosexuality, we dare not let go of the truth of God’s Word.

2. Coming Out is a BIG deal for gays. For those of you who don’t know what that term means, Coming Out means that I’m basically announcing to the world and my family that I am a homosexual. Every gay organization encourages men and women to come out. The feeling is that when people recognize their brothers, sisters, and friends are gay and NORMAL, it will open up other doors. And if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention during the past 50 years. Good grief, if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention the past Two YEARS! I have lived long enough to see a world where homosexuality wasn’t discussed in polite society, to a world where you can rarely see a newspaper or TV show where gay issues are not presented on a regular basis. On a recent Today show, the cast of Will and Grace were interviewed and they stated bluntly that they were proud that they had introduced gay men to American households, making homosexuality acceptable to millions. And even within the past year those that believe that homosexuality is a sin are not only in the minority but are ostracized and called names.

You are witnessing a continuation of my healing. There was a time when being OUT was important to me. As a Believer, I’m NOT going back in the closet, I AM COMING OUT of the bondage of homosexuality. And being separate. I am coming out of sin and living in the Light of Truth. I can no longer be silent! Returning to the Book of Romans I’m learning the importance of speaking out! Scripture says—

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. IT IS WITH YOUR MOUTH THAT YOU CONFESS AND ARE SAVED!

As I started to heal, I also came face to face with the truth that my sin had affected others. My sins – and your sins – are never without impact upon the greater body around us. No sin is only personal.

I have been forgiven by a loving, merciful Heavenly Father, but the fact remains that when my homosexuality was exposed in a very public way in 1999, my sin was no longer personal. It had a HUGE negative effect on a congregation.

From that moment, it was absolutely clear to me that my repentance and restoration had to be played out in full view of that congregation, particularly the kids in my youth group. I had to take responsibility for the God-designed boundaries I had broken. It is one of the reasons I am eager to share my story whenever I can.

CS Lewis makes a strong statement when he says: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sins. Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters, we desperately need each other. James reminds us—

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

And now I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ of my healing.

I’ve always loved the stories of the Exodus and God’s dealing with the Nation of Israel. I remember reading and scratching my head, baffled by the way Israel would see God do monumentally amazing things–like parting the Red Sea, for example, and then watch as the people built a golden calf to worship! What?! Id’ read that God would provide manna, and then, after a few days, the people would complain, “It was better in Egypt. At least there we had onions and garlic.”  And time after time, there was the issue of IDOLATRY.

It’s a term we rarely use today. We don’t use it, because for most of us, when we say ‘IDOL’ we immediately think of statues made of stone or wood. Objects. But the reality is that IDOLATRY is divinizing what is not God. And here is where I must return to Romans 1:25—

…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

And as a result: perversion and death–the due penalty for our idolatry.

In I Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.”

When I identified myself as gay, my life was devoted to sensuality. It had become my idol.

Let me re-read that I Samuel passage: Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and ARROGANCE like the evil of idolatry.

I was worshipping the wrong thing. While at the same time growing more and more frustrated with God because He didn’t seem to be healing me. And then one day it dawned on me! The greatest idol in my life wasn’t sensuality or homosexuality—it was ME!

I had spent so much time focusing on the sin of homosexuality, that it had become the end all be all.  Subconsciously I had started to believe that if I could stop being a homosexual, I would be perfect. Did you get that? I was so focused on homosexuality, I truly thought that if that were gone, everything else would be resolved. Saying that out loud only underscores how ludicrous that is!

In essence, I was saying, if it weren’t for the homosexuality and pornography, I wouldn’t need God. I had forgotten other areas of my life like negativity, gossip, over-eating and not taking care of my physical body, lying, cheating, coveting the latest car, driving through an upscale local development and wishing one of those homes would be mine, and the list goes on.

In other words, without homosexuality in my life, I thought I didn’t need JESUS.

And that leads me to my conclusion and my salvation. JESUS.

Don’t be deceived by all the hype out there. We ALL need Jesus.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

 But I was washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

There is love that came for us, humbled to a sinner’s cross.
You broke my shame and sinfulness.  You rose again victorious
Faithfulness none can deny!
Through the storm and through the fire,
there is truth that sets me free: Jesus Christ who lives in me!
Jesus, You are stronger, You are stronger. 
Sin is broken, You have saved me. 
It is written, Christ is risen! 
Jesus You are Lord of all
No beginning and no end – You are my hope and my defense.
You came to seek and save the lost. 
You paid it all upon the cross
You are stronger, You are stronger,
Sin is broken! You have saved me!!
So let Your name be lifted higher, JESUS, YOU are Lord of all!

 

DForemanDennis L. Foreman (chaplain, teacher) is available to share his story.

 

 

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Jan

Changed Lives

Last year I started a series called Changed Lives. The goal of this series is to show how Jesus Christ is changing lives one life at a time. He is radically saving us and then transforming us into His likeness and using our trials for His glory and to further His kingdom. It is my greatest hope that this series will remind you that Jesus is still changing people! Several months have gone by since I brought you the last testimony but today I finally have another one to share. This one is by my dear friend, Jan. This story is a bit different than the others, as you will see. You may want to grab a tissue.

I met Jan around ten years ago when her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter were on a travel soccer team together. We quickly connected due to our like-minded faith in Christ. A year or so later, they started coming to our church and we became friends with the whole family. A few years ago, the unthinkable happened to this family. I have watched Jan face this unforeseen and unexpected hardship with strength and fortitude that could only come from God. I remember having a conversation with her sometime in the middle of all of this. She told me how she was continuing to listen to John MacArthur sermons on rides to and from work. She kept feeding herself good spiritual food through it all. This made an impact on me. So often our human tendency is to withdraw from solid spiritual food when bad things happen.

Even though, in many ways, Jan continues to travel in dark, unknown territory, I see her continue to trust God through it all. Please pray for Jan and her daughters as they continue their journey of getting used to a new normal. I believe her story will not only inspire you but will also challenge your faith. I know it is her greatest desire that God use this for His glory and I believe that He will do so.

Here is Jan’s story–

July 2016

The morning sky is a beautiful blue and the air is crisp and refreshing. It is a joy to experience such a day in the middle of July. We look up from where we are standing to see a peaceful field, swaying trees in the horizon, and orange lilies in full bloom. But the tears blur our vision and as we stand there with our arms around each other, we wonder if we will ever heal. I recall Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in the tears, and You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear…You’re teaching us to trust”.  I wonder if Lydia, 17, and Naomi, 13, are trusting more. Or do they, like me, only feel the pain? I’m not sure. There is only a grave marker there; the tombstone is not in yet. Some things are just not that important and I figure it can wait.

November 2011

Family Photo from 2013

Walt Disney World. The “vacation of a lifetime” so we have been told. My husband, Doug, and I had never experienced Disney but, for some reason, we wanted to make sure our family would experience it at least one time. We were in a transition period in our lives and it felt like a vacation to Disney would complete one item we had on our bucket list.

I had worked at The Hershey Company for 20 years and had resigned just nine months earlier.  Doug had completed his training and certification in Massage Therapy and was starting a business with another massage therapist while also working for a Chiropractor. Since Lydia, our oldest, was born Doug had been the stay-at-home dad and I was the working mom. (Maybe a better explanation is that I was the bread-winner, since all moms work). It was a good plan for us as Doug was a wonderful dad. He was a typical Type B personality and nothing seemed to bother him. He enjoyed his time with the girls at home, even home-schooling both girls (which was my preference, not his). We had an easy marriage, always supporting each other’s goals and dreams.

Our transition period was the plan for me to stay at home with the girls in their junior high and senior high school years while Doug went back into the workforce. We were all set for that change. Hershey had eliminated my position so I took advantage of a severance package. I felt like God had given me the gift of an extra and early year at home! Honestly, this was a huge step of faith for me as Doug had not yet graduated from massage school at that time. But I truly believed that this was what God was calling me to do. “Do you trust me?” seemed to be what He was asking. There were three specific happenings that led us to make the confident decision that it was time to come home. I would even classify them as “miracles”.

Miracle #1 At a 48th birthday dinner for Doug he announced that he knows what he wants to do in life. I am stunned. After being together for a little over 30 years, Doug finally knows what he wants to do? To give you a little more insight into this, you should know that we started dating when I was in 10th grade and Doug was a senior. He never went to school beyond 12th grade because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. The topic came up no less than 50 times in our years together but the answer was always the same: “I don’t know.” So this truly was a miracle.

Miracle #2 As we explored several schools for him to attend, it didn’t occur to me until later that Doug had not been in school for 30 years. He would need to take an entrance exam to get into the school. Since he was a quarterback and point guard and not an academic scholar, this would prove to be a challenge. He took the test and came close to passing, but, unfortunately, he didn’t pass. But since the economy was tight, admissions were low, and he was studying to be a massage therapist, they told us that they would “wave the entrance exam and see how he does”.  Miracle #2 complete.

Miracle #3 If this is not a miracle then I will classify it as a strong sign from God that this was the direction we were to take. After working for Hershey for almost 20 years, there was only one position that I had interviewed for. Every other move, promotion, or change was a tap on the shoulder. If they asked me to do something, I said yes. That included a move half-way across the country to Arkansas for 3 years. And then another yes when they wanted me to head up a project in the home office and another move 1,200 miles back. I always said yes and there was always a position ahead. But this time was different. As I walked into my boss’s office the human resources person was present. He began to tell me that the position I was in was being eliminated but that they created another job that I could apply for. Actually, the job description was what I was already doing. It was a simple choice, really: Just interview for the other job and continue with my Hershey career. Or was it a gift from God to trust where He was leading me? After all, I was planning to resign in one year, anyway, when Doug was done with school and had started his business.

Again, God seemed to be asking me: “Do you trust Me?”  I responded to this by resigning with a one-year severance package, trusting that Doug would graduate and begin his career. For just a short while, life was perfect. We were both so excited! Doug was thrilled about pursuing his newfound passion in life and I was thrilled to finally be home with our girls. We couldn’t wait to get started with this new plan for our lives.

Shortly after our Disney vacation I received a phone call from Doug’s sister. Doug had recently been in his hometown for a wedding and had stayed with his sister. While there, he had confided in her that something wasn’t right but he didn’t know how to explain it. I also was starting to feel uneasy about our situation but I brushed it off to a newness for all of us. Me being home and Doug being out in the working world was a really big change for us.

Doug’s sister insisted that I set up a doctor’s appointment just to make sure things were okay with him. I immediately agreed and we went in to see the doctor right before Christmas. The doctor explained that his slowness or sluggishness was probably caused by depression. But this didn’t explain another puzzling symptom: He was not able to write his name. He couldn’t connect the cursive letters together. Printing was fine.

We were in the midst of one of the most exciting times in our lives and the doctor was diagnosing Doug with depression? Neither of us believed him and so we proceeded with blood work and a follow-up appointment. Over the holidays I received a call from the doctor and he genuinely seemed giddy. He said he had found out what was making Doug feel different: His thyroid levels were very high and the appropriate medication should ease the symptoms. Of course, that was the answer! Since I had quit work we were in the process of switching insurances and had neglected to get his thyroid medication filled. It was as simple as that.

But three months later, Doug was still not better and his thyroid tested fine. This was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. No jobs, no idea what was happening with Doug’s health, and the girls were being home-schooled. What would we do with them? What did this mean for my dream to be at home? My plan to stay home with the girls was disappearing. I felt sick to my stomach.

At the time, I was teaching an evening class at a local college as an adjunct professor. I began to realize that I needed to find another job very quickly. Just the thought of having to do this was tearing me up inside. “But God”, I cried, “I trusted you!”  My dream of staying home with the girls was being taken away while, at the same time, my husband of 26 years was so different. At this point I would have described him as mentally retarded. He was acting so odd. For example, he’d walk through a door and let it close on us. Or he’d lean over the girls in church to shake someone’s hand and make them almost fall without even reacting. It was definitely a strange place to be.

I was able to get a better-paying job with benefits in April of that year. But it meant a commute of 45 minutes to work (compared to the 5 minutes that I had previously) and I was making $40k less and also had fewer holidays and vacation days than my original job at Hershey. And this new job gave me even less time with my girls. Around this time, my trust in God was wavering. I questioned Him many times; I really did not understand.

Through the rest of that summer and fall, Doug progressively got worse and we still didn’t have any diagnosis from doctors. The girls started at a Christian school and I kept working. It just didn’t make sense to me. I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was giving up my career to allow my husband to be the one bringing home the paycheck. I thought God was clearing the way for me to homeschool and enjoy my girls. I had trusted that this was what God was calling me to do. Nothing made sense to me. But I had no choice but to keep working and taking care of my husband and the girls. It wasn’t easy. Did I trust God? I said I did. Again, I didn’t understand. God had provided a job for me that allowed us to send the girls to a Christian school and, for that, I was grateful.

In early winter we got a diagnosis of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I had to research it since I had no idea what it was. We found out that it was a terminal disease with a life expectancy of anywhere from two to twenty years. I didn’t find that helpful. What would I do with a 49-year- old husband who has two to twenty years left to live? How do two young girls walk that journey along with me? I didn’t know how to navigate it myself, much less help them.

Of course, with this diagnosis it meant that we had some financial decisions to make. Again, the unknowns made this so difficult to make decisions and the experts in the industries were not really “expert” regarding our specific situation. I felt so very alone. I cried out to God to direct my decisions – it was only me making these huge decisions as Doug wasn’t able to really help me by this time. I needed to trust that God was guiding my decisions and looking over us.

As the disease progressed, life became more of “just getting through each day”. There was no time to really consider what this meant to our family or to consider what we would have done differently once he was gone. Would there be any regrets? Who knew? God had me in a place that was very unfamiliar. Caring for a husband who could no longer communicate, the majority of my time was spent cleaning up pee from accidents, waiting on him, arranging rides for the girls, trying to make their lives as normal as possible while the unthinkable was happening to our family, working full time, all the time trying to pretend that nothing was going on. Who was I kidding? Life for us would never be normal again – at least it wouldn’t be what we had once considered normal.

About this time, Doug started to take a huge decline every three months. We would adjust to the current condition and then he would make a huge decline again. We were never ready for each step downward. After he suffered a stroke on his 50th birthday, his needs increased dramatically.  He needed help to get dressed, to eat meals, to go to the bathroom, and checked on multiple times during the day.

The next decline scared me more than the first. The disease was characterized by a backward fall. One day when I was home with him I watched him get out of a chair, take one step forward, and then four backwards before falling. He was bruised more than I would like to admit from all the falls he had sustained over the prior months. I had a new goal: No more bruises. He needed someone to walk him everywhere, since he could no longer navigate on his own. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How were we possibly going to do that?  I had to arrange for someone to walk him everywhere, help him in the bathroom, and feed him while I was working and the girls were in school.

While we were dealing with all of this, we had another hurdle around that time. Doug had a condition that made him go to the bathroom every 1-2 hours, including the night time hours. I told my oldest daughter that between us, we could alternate nights staying up with him. She was off school for the summer, and for me, I figured how much different could this possibly be than having a newborn? I could do this. I took the first night and didn’t sleep at all. My daughter had the next night. I told her she could sleep as long as she wanted the next day, after his caretaker came at 7 am. I took the next night, and again, didn’t sleep at all. I obviously would not be able to do this and work full time. I was exhausted. After we talked, she agreed to take the night shift every night. What a blessing she was during that time. There was no way that I could do this by myself.

My oldest daughter went to two different week-long camps that summer. This meant that I had to care for Doug during the nights. I remember being at work on a Thursday during one of those weeks. I was sitting in a meeting when it hit me– I hadn’t slept since Saturday. How was I surviving this? God must have been sustaining me. We were continuing to trust Him in everything. We certainly didn’t know why He was allowing this, but we chose to trust in Him and what He was doing.

When the girls started back to school in late August, I was forced to get help. I hired a college student to take the night shift. Free room and board and a wage, too – seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I remember the day she moved in. I went for a walk and felt like I was walking on air. Just the thought of having another adult to take on some of the load and responsibility was freeing to me! This turned out to be only somewhat helpful. She often needed help with him during the night and I’d hear her quietly tiptoe into my room to wake me. We had given Doug a bell to ring when he need help but, unfortunately, once we passed the 3am time frame she wouldn’t even hear it go off. I would hear it, get up to help him, and let her sleep.

The next milestone came in October of 2013. I was getting him ready on a Saturday morning and could no longer get him up the steps. We were in the middle of the stairway when he fell backwards onto me. I’m not even sure how I got out of that dilemma. I do remember getting him upstairs and crying out to God for help. I truly did not know what to do at that moment. I came face to face with the fact that I could no longer take care of him in our home the way it was. I needed two people to assist him at all times and it was difficult enough getting one person. There weren’t any care facilities that would take him because of his age. I was not sure what the next steps would be and found myself completely and totally at God’s will. There was nothing I could do on my own. I was lost and saw no way out.

I cannot recall how we navigated those two desperate weeks. But what I do remember is God putting a name in my mind near the end of those weeks: A neighbor who worked for hospice.  I had no idea what her role was at hospice or if Doug would qualify for hospice or even if the insurance would cover it. In fact, I really had no idea what hospice was. But I had nowhere else to turn. At the end of my rope, I called Amy.

I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sister when I called Amy. Within three hours, I had a hospital bed, a lift for Doug, other equipment, and a hospice nurse coming in five days a week. I was overwhelmed. I went from one of the deepest pits of despair to having a solution in place in three hours. God had answered my prayers. I also clearly remember a return phone call I received from Amy an hour later. She said that they had a bed at their hospice facility in Harrisburg and that I qualified for a week of respite care for Doug. They would come and get him in an ambulance, transport him to the facility, and take care of him for a week. I was overwhelmed with relief, grief, and confusion. I said no, thinking how could I send him away?  It didn’t seem right. I hung up from Amy and looked at my sister. She had been there for several days, if not weeks, trying to help me. I was sobbing when I looked at her. My next thought was I need to do this not only for me, but for her. I had so many thoughts going through my head.  Amy called back. “Yes”, I said, “that would be a blessing”. I desperately needed some respite and my sister needed to go home.

I talked to Doug about this. As much as I could understand him, he seemed ok with the idea. I would follow the ambulance to the facility, make sure everything was fine, and then go home without him. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday, the girls and I headed to the hospice home to see him after church. I wanted them to know that he was being taken care of – probably better than we could care for him here. We went to lunch afterwards and tears once again stained our cheeks.

Doug came home a week later and he was confined to his bed. Hospice would come every day and give him a bed-bath and his daytime caregiver would prepare meals and feed him. It was easier to care for him at this point. No more getting up in the middle of the night to help him to the bathroom. He was bedbound and would be until he went to be with his Savior.

He had a palliative care doctor who came to the house every month. She was a blessing to us. In October, she said that Doug probably had until ‘summer’. Another month she said the beginning of the summer, and at another point she said the end of the summer. I know it was a guess but that put a timeline on his remaining time with us. This was a difficult discussion with the girls.  When it was ‘two to twenty’ years or six months, it doesn’t seem as final. It’s almost like the ‘tomorrow’ statement – tomorrow never comes. But the summer of 2014 does come, and it was painful to hear. At that point, we knew that Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2013 would most likely be his last. We also realized that his birthday in February would also probably be his last.  But what should we do differently? I didn’t know.

When my youngest turned 11 that January, it was extremely difficult for me. Instead of rejoicing with her for turning 11, my mind only went to one thought: For the rest of her life, when she talks about her dad or about her life, she will say that she was 11 when her dad died. That’s all I could think about. I knew this because my mother’s father died when she was 12 and I remember her many stories over the years– “I was 12 when…”

We continued to watch Doug deteriorate. He was getting thinner and thinner. It was very difficult to watch the changes. Bed sores didn’t come until near the end. He didn’t have many as we cared for him as best we could. He was also becoming very stiff and his hands and feet were starting to look like they had severe arthritis. The hands that had so gently massaged other people’s muscles were now deformed and motionless. What he loved most were the foot and hand massages that many of his caretakers would give him.

It was on May 19 that the hospice worker recognized that fluids and food were going into his lungs. He was now unable to swallow correctly. We had known to expect this as it was a symptom of the disease. So it was on this day that the decision was made to stop all fluids and food, since he would asphyxiate which, I was told, would be worse than starving to death. And those were our choices at this point. We “celebrated” our 28th wedding anniversary on May 17th. I knew it would be our last.

For anyone who has watched a loved one slowly pass on my heart goes out to you. Difficult does not describe what that is like. Morphine becomes a gift. Each day you think is the last and then it turns into tomorrow. There is no quality time– only waiting and tears. But God sustains and helps you get from one day to the next. And as you kiss your loved one on the gurney as he is being taken out of your home for the last time, you know you will miss him, but that you also know that –if they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have the hope that someday you will see him again in Heaven.

December 2016

As I look back and reflect on the past five years, I can see God in every decision. I know that He was with me. He didn’t take away the pain, but He let me know He was always there. On May 30, 2014 I said good-bye to my husband of 28 years. At this point, two and a half years later, I still have no idea what God wants me to do with this. But I still trust in His leading. He has never left me.

“The worldly things have become a little dimmer, and the things of Heaven have become a little brighter”.  I heard that from a pastor’s wife who lost her husband in a terrible car accident after church one Sunday as they were traveling back to their home. She did not seem bitter but, instead, said it with a sweetness that could only come from God. I now know what she meant.

John 14:2

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

As James 4:14 says

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

God has been faithful to us throughout the past five years. Although we don’t understand, we trust that He knows what is best for us. The girls and I prayed faithfully that God be glorified through our trial. Whatever happened, we wanted God’s glory to shine through us. This was our verse:

I Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

One of Doug’s care-takers responded to a gift and note that I left for her one morning:

Jan:

For some reason I just now turned the page in Doug’s book. I opened your card and tears just poured from my eyes. Not out of sorrow or pain but because I am so thankful for everything I had to go thru that has led me to be with you and your family.

 I learned the true Grace of God thru you. Though I love Doug as though he were my child it is your actions that I saw day to day that renewed my faith in God. To love someone is to love someone like Jesus loved us. Sick, poor, meek ….

 I know you are grateful for my care of Doug without you ever saying a word. God brought you and your family to me so I could see. It is I who is most grateful. I have recently had an experience with God that is indescribable. It has made me committed to do His will and taught me that without him I have no life. You and Doug and your family contributed greatly to my salvation. I love you and I love Doug.

 Thank you for the birthday present. But mostly thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

 When I asked her if I could use this text at his memorial service, this was her response: “Oh I would love that….I am going to be glorifying God for sending him and your family into my life…  For I came into a home where my Father was the center so that I would come to see the Light of Christ Jesus, My savior, family-fall-2016-v2through a family that witnessed the love my Lord has for all His children without uttering a single word. Doug was sent to me as a silent messenger and a righteous man. At my baptism you will all be mentioned for the selfless love you have shown me as Jesus asked you to do. Words aren’t enough”.

If all of this was for one soul to spend eternity in Heaven, it was worth it.

 


 

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