Testimony of The Month
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
Testimony of The Month
When I think about my childhood, and my family, I can see now that God always wanted me and loved me. I believe He gave certain people the heart to pray for me and my siblings, to direct us to a relationship with Him. I see those things now, but I didn't always. When I was about fifteen, I didn't see any hope or love, certainly not any joy. I wanted to run away, but then the Lord saved me. Actually, I asked the Lord into my heart when I was seven years old. My parents didn't go to church, but when a neighbor offered to take us they allowed us to go. So some of us went. My sister, who was sixteen, was in charge of us five younger kids. I loved the singing, but didn't like my Sunday school class because I was the only girl. I had a kind teacher named Kim, and she's the one who told me about Jesus. I had a real problem of not listening to my mom at home, and I had just broken my little brother's brand new big wheel bike ( his birthday present) after she had told me a thousand times not to ride it. So I could hardly deny I was a sinner, and I certainly didn't want to go to hell, so I took the deal, then I forgot. But as I got older, life got harder, my sister left home and we stopped going to church. I began working on the family farm with the rest of my brothers and sisters. It was a very bad time in my life, and like a few other trials I have experienced, situations and people seemed put there with the intent of destroying any joy that I had, maybe even to destroy me. But God had other plans, and what others meant for harm, He turned into an opportunity for me to see that He is so much more than the old picture that stood guard on our living room wall above the couch. The one my brother and I prayed to when my mom got the call that my older brother had been in a serious car accident and was in surgery. The one that sat on that wall my whole life, but I usually just ignored. But to go back, when I was fifteen, it had been a difficult six or seven years. There had been some beautiful times, but also many horrible days and I saw no way out, I had become an an angry, bitter person. There was so much hate in my heart that it spilled out of my mouth. I cursed constantly, and I was just a miserable person to be around. I made bad choices, but I figured I was being mistreated so I didn't really care. Finally one night I'd had enough, I came in from working and went straight to my room. I sat there by myself, crying and feeling so alone and hopeless for anything better. I put on some music so nobody could hear me crying. The song that played wasn't particularly special to me, and wasn't a Christian song, but when I heard Sad Cafe playing it brought back memories of the Jesus I asked into my heart when I was little. "Could He really still be there?" I wondered. I decided to pray. I asked Him to help me, and told Him I was sorry for the many times I had taken His name in vain, and sorry that I was so miserable. I confessed that I was really scared and messed up, and I couldn't do this by myself anymore. What I felt next was the best feeling I have ever experienced. I don't know how to explain it except that I felt peace, and I felt loved, and even though I still lived there for two more years, I was never alone again. Not in that situation, not in any situation I have faced since. My God is so faithful. He loved me and sought after me, even when I turned away from Him, forgot Him, and cursed His precious name. He's remained faithful in all the years since. Through the loss of both my parents and a very dear friend, I have come to rejoice in the love of a Heavenly Father I can never lose, and has never given up on me.
My mother sold me. It's the thing I say every time I share the work that the Lord has done in my life that gets the most reaction from other people, so I may as well say it first. I get less of a reaction from people when I tell them that I attended four years of college. I get less of a reaction when I tell them that I own two businesses. I get less of a reaction when I tell them that I wrote a novel. I get less reaction when I tell them that I have six children, have been with my husband for ten wild and incredible years, that I work part-time for the town I live in, am involved in the safe housing movement for survivors of human trafficking, that I have a dog, that I drive a minivan or that I have overdue library books. The thing that creates the largest murmur through a crowd is for me to stand up and instead of telling everyone in a room that my everyday life is a miracle of our Most High God, I tell them that when I was young and my world was small, I suffered greatly at the hands of people. Instead of me telling people about God, I think people begin to see him as the detail in the journey begins to flesh out. Our God is a God who walks beside us. The places He has led me to are amazing as much as they have been horrifying, heartbreaking as much as they have been beautiful, and always a testament to His will and desire for freedom for His people. I had a single mother when I was born who worked as an exotic dancer. She struggled with her desire to abort me. After she bravely chose life for me, she struggled with addiction and mental illness as well as codependency in a string of dysfunctional romantic relationships. This left me as the eldest child to drop out of school in fifth grade to care for my younger half-siblings, the youngest a baby of 18 months born with cystic fibrosis. My sister was a real-life baby doll who needed tube feedings and breathing treatments and regular hospitalizations. My mother would say again and again that she couldn't handle life once she realized that she couldn't cure her from home with herbal remedies. After that, her addictions spiraled out of control. It culminated in a twelve-year-old me standing in the driveway of a trailer with a thirty-four-year-old drug dealer and my mom who was saying to him "You have permission to date my daughter if you can find me some dope." Inside of that trailer, his roommate was cooking meth in their bathroom that night. This culminated in the director of the group home I lived in being the only person I had with me when I gave birth to my first child at the age of fourteen. Between the ages of fourteen and thirty four I would walk a beautiful, miserable, crying, dancing, horrible, incredible walk with our God. He would pull me through the worst of what I could do to myself and let others do to me, and elevate me to redemption again and again through the healing light of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide my steps through the earth. He has illuminated the path through healing my spirit and sharing the road map with others who still live in darkness. My joy comes from the Lord, and it's manifest by the world that he has placed me in. Dinky Doo Petting Zoo in Wayland New York is a second home for my spirit on earth. The Lord draws people there that need strength and healing, and surrounds us with His great love through the act of caring for and socializing our animal friends. The first baby rabbit that I got to hold close taught me so much about being soft with those souls that need to learn that people aren't all bad. There is science to support what animal therapy does to heal the traumatized brain. This is one of the reasons our little zoo attracts people who need to grow in love. We can feel the change in us. Dinky Doo's slogan is 'Where You Can Be A Kid Again' and I feel that I was drawn there so that God could give me a second chance at a childhood. Cherie Carter is the owner at Dinky Doo and never stops extending her hand to people in need in our community. She has a fighting spirit and a love for the Lord and keeps going despite the difficulty in keeping over a hundred animals fed every day. I love her never say die spirit. Dinky Doo always needs volunteers to clean water dishes, pick up around the zoo, and occasionally cuddle a baby bunny or two. If anyone is interested in helping out in any capacity, please contact Cherie Carter and know that you're doing a work to keep healing my heart and the hearts of our community members who are fortunate enough to know the people who make Dinky Doo possible and the animals who are the real stars of the organization. If you're interested in reading the book that I wrote, it's titled Capital Monument written by Jessica Levinson and is available on Amazon, Walmart.com, and is also available for purchase on Kindle. Thank you for reading and for your prayers. They mean more than you know. With love, your sister in Christ, Jess.
A Love Greater Than We Could GiveHello, my name is Nik and I am a hopeless romantic. I grew up in a life of whimsy and fairytales, not knowing the great love of God but seeking the love of broken and imperfect people. My experiences as a teen and young adult left me incredibly jaded and untrusting of the world around me, so the thought of ever being in a healthy relationship seemed like just another unreachable fantasy. Before I came to know God, I started to feel loved by His people. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:35). There aren’t words that can describe how grateful I am to my (now) church family, specifically the one that never gave up on me—Kayla. As much as I pushed her away, Kayla pursued me even more. It took two years, but by her consistency (and A LOT of prayer) I finally took a literal step of faith and started to open up to the possibility that my life could look radically different. I surrendered my heart to Jesus in the Fall of 2014 and have been amazed by the goodness of God since that moment. Of course, as a 20-something year old woman, romance was still VERY much on my mind. I remember seeing a couple around my age and I’ll never forget the thought that came to my mind: “one day, I’ll be good enough like her to deserve someone like him.” One day. I’ll be. Good. Enough. I was forgiven and made new, but I still felt unworthy of the love I thought I required. Needless to say, it took a lot of mental renewal to start seeing myself in a new way; in the way God sees me. It took time in God’s presence and Word to understand that He stitched me together perfectly… that no matter what the world around me said or did, His love is radical and constant. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:21-24). After God was able to teach me more about His love for me and my own worth, my own self-image began to shift and change; I started to recognize the value that God gave me. Of course, once I was completely focused on what God was doing, my husband walked into my life. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matthew 6:33). The funny thing is… I pushed him away. Why did I resist the relationship I so badly wanted since the beginning? I could give a million reasons for my pushback, but the reality of my uncertainty was fear. I was afraid of ruining a good thing because of the track record I had built before God. I was afraid of being vulnerable again. Above all, I was afraid that deep down, I still wasn’t good enough. I still believed that even though God did a miraculous work in me, I would somehow mess it up. What was even more unbelievable was that the man that I was pushing away now was the one I saw in the very beginning. The one that was perfect with the perfect girlfriend that I would someday almost be good enough to deserve. Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). Once I realized I was NOT the same girl I used to be (This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)) and decided to give this possibility a chance, we set firm boundaries and sought the Lord like our lives depended on it. Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We understood that the friendship we had could never recover from a failed relationship, so we spent a period of time away from each other and asked God separately what His plans were for us and if they would work together. During that time, we both felt such a confirmation that has anchored us through all the trials and doubt that we’ve faced so far. Some may say that such intentional and guarded dating is the opposite of romance, but I would argue that treasuring your significant other the way that God does is the most romantic thing anyone could do. To place their eternal worth above your own temporary desires is the greatest love you can give someone. To treat each other the way that the One who loves us the most designed us to treat each other is a love greater than we alone could give. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other (1 John 4:9-11). *Marcus and Nik were married in October of 2018 and have the honor and privilege to serve side by side in ministry at their home church, His Tabernacle Family Church (Ithaca Campus)
"I thought I was going to change the world" I wrote those words on a tear-stained journal page in 2009. I had just returned from an extended stay in China doing mission work with college students. What was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime and full of possibility had not turned out the way I had hoped. The 19-year old that boarded the plane was full of passion and enthusiasm, intent to set the world on fire for Jesus. The 20-year-old girl that wrote in the journal had experienced a lot in a short time and rather than change the world, she had been given a glimpse of the depths of her own heart and the picture wasn't pretty. I grew up in a Christian home, attended youth group and church, gone on missions trips and was truly blessed to have loved the Lord from a young age. I always dreamed of doing something great for Jesus. Maybe it would be in orphanages in Africa or as the head of a ministry organization; whatever it would be, I was sure that the Lord had success in store. As I spent that year in China my world was shaken; ministry was harder than I realized, relationships were harder and more complicated than I anticipated and everything I had expected the year to be fell flat. I came home with lots of emotional baggage and feeling very defeated. I hadn't changed the world, I had merely seen how small and prone to sin I was. But just like any gospel story, it doesn't end there. That tear-stained journal became like therapy for me and the floor of that bedroom became a holy place. I spent hours sitting there with my Bible open, begging the Lord to redeem what I felt was wasted time. Through His Word and great kindness, the Lord showed me my heart, the deceit, the selfishness, the pride that was hidden behind the polished 'good-girl missionary' veneer. In that bedroom, I began to understand the magnitude of God's holiness and the depth of my sin. I read words like "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6) and was blown away that the love of a gracious God could take away sin and shame. Those short months at my friend's parent's home were foundational to my future. I built a deeper understanding of who God was, I fell in love with reading Scripture and began reading books about theology. I had always loved the Lord, but as I was learning more about Him, that love was growing exponentially. As I learned and read, His Spirit began to work and over time, he sanctified me and began to put to death the pride, selfishness, and deceit that had shown itself during my time away. As the months and years went quickly by I found myself in the middle of new and unexpected adventures. Marriage, work, seeing my husband pursue seminary and become ordained (a pastors wife? Didn't see that one coming!), and motherhood to two boys all followed within 10 years. My days now include way more diaper changes and grocery lists than jet setting and passports. This "smaller world" has been one of the Lord's greatest kindnesses to me. I've been able to practice love, kindness, patience, forgiveness, and self-control with the people in my home and community. I've come to see the beauty in the day to day grind of pursuing holiness and glorifying God in the midst of paying bills and temper tantrums. He has shown me that the way he sets the world on fire is through changing the hearts of his people. My name will never be on a "Top 10 Worldchangers List" and the history books will never list my achievements. But, Praise God, I am daily "beholding the glory of the Lord, (and) being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18) and that's how HE changes the world.
From the moment Jesus was born He "had no place to lay his head." He traveled around pursuing the purpose of His heavenly father. So far, in my adult life, I feel I can slightly relate to Christ's homelessness. I so strongly desire stability for my kids, but it seems God keeps moving us through chaos. I want to settle down like everyone else does when they have a family but we keep hearing God ask, "Do you trust me?" At times, my heart has turned rebellious and hard toward God. He asks, "Do you trust me?" and my answer typically is, "But God have you thought about all these things...?" I make it very clear that I'm not sure God's got all of this in His control. Still doubting His faithfulness, my husband and I go forth in obedience. In the last five years, my husband and I have birthed four kids and moved eight times. Yes, you saw that correctly, we moved eight times in five years with kids. The most recent move we are still living in... A few moves back, God took us to Buffalo with a job change; we planned to be there for five years. The reason we felt God had brought us to Buffalo in January of 2017 was to help my cousin and his wife run their business as they transitioned into parenthood. Shortly after moving to Buffalo, we discussed this with them and they agreed. God had confirmed our purpose at this time. When we spoke with them we had no idea that they had been trying for 4.5 years to have a baby. They were pregnant within three months of that conversation. When my cousins baby was right around one year old, my cousin went out of town for business. He was gone for about six months. While he was gone my husband, Jake, ran his business in Buffalo. Around Thanksgiving 2018 my husband was offered a job in New Jersey. We weren't looking for a new job. We had just moved houses in Buffalo the past July and then had our fourth child in September. Moving was the last thing on our minds at the moment; so, we turned the offer down. A couple weeks later Jake was offered the job again. We turned it down, again. Come Christmas time 2018 he was offered the job a third time. A month had passed from the original offer and God used that time to prepare us for the upcoming changes. During the month of December God opened our eyes that it was in His plan for us to go. In conversation with my sister, mid-December, God revealed to me that we had fulfilled his plan for us in Buffalo. Then two days later God spoke to my husband. In a moment, God poured His grace anew over Jake and spoke to him. God reminded Jake that he is a child of Him and will never forsake him. Against Jake and my desire and better judgement we both knew what we had to do. God was releasing us to the next adventure. My heart still questioning if God would go with us, we reluctantly packed up and took off on move number eight... My husband started his new work February 2019 in New Jersey while the four kids and I took off for my parents' house. We have been living at a handful of places but mostly at my parents. My parents live in Rochester, New York which is approximately a six hour trip from my husband. Four months prior to arriving at my parents my maternal grandmother (who lived with my parents) passed away. We are all still grieving, but especially my mom. My mom is the type of person that wants to appear strong no matter what. I am very similar to her so I entirely understand her desire to look brave, but I've learned it sometimes makes grief linger. After living at my parents for a month, my mom lost her job. Raising the kids on my own as well as taking on my mom's stresses was overwhelming. I packed up the kids and a few things and took off for the Poconos. With the intent of seeing my husband more and allowing the kids to see their dad more the Poconos was practical. However, while we were there we had a series of events happen which added to our already chaotic life. My son's allergies landed us in urgent care twice; while visiting family my five year old daughter broke her wrist, and my husband wasn't able to make the commute nearly as frequently as we wanted. We packed up and headed back to my parents. It has been four months of nomadic living for myself and my kids. It has been four months of seeing my husband and my kids seeing their dad only a handful of weekends. These past four months have been four of the hardest of my life. But then again, I also see so much beauty in them. I still feel emotionally "in the storm." But the clouds are clearing making it easier to see that the sun has been there all along. One particular weekend I was really struggling. I was emotionally spent. My heart was in a place where I didn't care if I was honoring God through the day-to-day. After all, I was following His will in the big picture. I was so mad that this transition was so hard. I was mad that God would put me through all of this. I was boiling that my kids attitudes and behavior was struggling because they didn't have their father around to reinforce discipline. I was furious that I could never get a good night sleep. I was crying and yelling at God when He spoke to me. He said, "Just rest, Jenn." I fought Him. It's not that easy- I have so much to do! I have to do the laundry, clean the house, prep dinner. But I didn't. I felt alone as if I was doing life on my own, but I couldn't anymore. I decided to give rest a try. I sat on the couch and through the sobs picked up my Bible for the first time in a couple months. My overwhelmed and angry spirit began to fade as God refreshed my soul and whispered, "See? Just rest; I got this." He has been in control even through my attempts to do it in my own strength. As I look back I see so many blessings. God's provided so many special moments with my family. I got to be around for the birth of my niece. My kids have spent ample time with their cousins. I've gotten to spend many nights eating ice cream, talking and watching chick-flicks with my sister. I've had the ability to share my kids with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. We have spent days at new parks, new churches, and meeting new people. This time has been full of life and new adventures! God has also changed the way I pray for my kids through this process. Before the move, I prayed for stability for my children whom I believed needed it. But now I pray God uses this season to prepare my children for whatever Christ calls them to do. I pray that they will become comfortable with being uncomfortable. I desire that God uses this time to mold their hearts so they are willing to do the hard thing and answer Christ's call. And I hope that they see examples in Jake and I of what it means to truly follow Christ. I pray that my children will fully trust God has their best and His divine purpose in mind. I also see God has grown my husband and I closer. Though many miles apart, my marriage is stronger now than it has ever been. My husband and I have grown quicker to forgive and show grace to one another. I have been more intentional about taking my thoughts captive. I miss him terribly but instead of focusing entirely on the heartache I see why my heart longs for him. My heart longs to be with him because I love him, because he is sweet, kind, and compassionate. My heart aches because I want to be with the man who relentlessly serves, provides and leads my family. My husband is honoring the Lord and it is so attractive. When you have kids it feels like all your dreams are put on hold. I'm entering a place where I'm excited; a fresh season that I have purpose beyond what I have done so far. I want Jake to dream again. I have begun to believe we can achieve any and all of our dreams because He is faithful. The strength of my marriage alone has made this whole season worth it, but there is more. God has been kneading my rebellious and hard heart. So often I doubt God's faithfulness and get fed up with losing control. A life that follows Christ's lead is hard and most of the time messy. I'm beginning to realize following Christ's direction holds heavenly rewards beyond our human comprehension. Instead of losing control, I'm surrendering control to the one who is in control anyway- and it is freeing! God is gently turning my face back toward Him and I can see He's never taken His eyes off of me. Why do I ever doubt God is in control? Why do I doubt His faithfulness? He will remain faithful, He always does. I'd like to say I know the end to my story, but I don't. As I type this I am still sitting on my parents couch. All I know is through every trial God has been faithful to me. God has not let me down. He has yet to take away the chaos, but He has remained in control of it. I know He will get my family and I through- He always has, always will. I've had many highs and lows as I continue my walk with the Lord. I'm nowhere near standing on a mountaintop right now, but maybe for the first time I see the markings on the trail as evidence that God is with me trudging through the valley. My trust in Him has grown and my hard heart is beginning to soften to His will once again because I can testify that God is faithful to sustain me through it all.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.” 2 Timothy 1:8-12 “You’re All God-God, No Offense.” I grew up in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt, the center of what is considered to be the highest region of church attendance in the United States. People who didn’t even believe in God attended church every Sunday, just to show others in the community what good citizens they were. Politicians especially would rave about their holiness, in order to garner the public vote. As such, from a very young age I was proselytized. I attended Vacation Bible School starting at age 4. I remember the older kids lining up my class along the altar at the front of the church’s sanctuary, doling out strict instructions to bow our heads, close our eyes, and wait for them to whisper something in our ear. I remember threats of “No looking!” being called out as the middle schoolers given charge moved silently among us. The breathy question in my ear was, “Have you been saved?” I responded, “What do you mean, saved? Like from a shark attack?” My merely four-year-old brain couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of needing salvation from sin, but that day I prayed a prayer and was told I was a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, my Savior. The whole experience felt, and still feels, creepy. The illustration is simple, though, that Christ-followers are won often and early in this super-evangelized area of our country. Evangelism was excellent! Discipleship was… almost a foreign language. At age 13, I reaffirmed my faith and became baptized. I consider this my “coming to Jesus”, the moment of salvation from certain death. Still, I lingered on the cusp of what it meant to truly love God and desire a closer relationship with Him. I was eager to learn, eager to make my parents and my community proud. However, I don’t know how often I was eager to love God. Throughout childhood, and especially in high school, I was labeled as a “goody-goody”. “Untouchable”, the boys who sought to date me would chuckle among each other. I wore these labels as a badge of pride, along with my True Love Waits sterling silver ring. I led prayer groups at lunch. I spent summers at Christian leadership camps. I went through a church dedication ceremony where I publicly surrendered my life to overseas missions while still a teenager. I was the All-American Cream-of-the-Crop Christian goody-goody gal, and I loved that identity. I don’t fault the culture I was raised in. I adore it. I miss it. But I still feel as though I am missing the mark when it comes to seeking God and what it means to be a true believer and follower of Christ, 29 years after my first encounter of being saved from a spiritual “shark attack”. My motivations were self-centered and attention-seeking, instead of Christ-centered and God-glorifying. It led me through a period as a young adult where I became spiritually devastated when I was divorced from my first husband at age 21. Overnight, I was ostracized by my church family, and my dreams of doing missionary work for the Southern Baptist Convention were irrevocably shattered. I wallowed in years of pain and suffering, angry at God that I had done everything by His Book, so-to-speak, and still my life took such an unexpected twist. Christians aren’t supposed to get divorced, you know, so how could this have happened to me? My wildest dream and desire of serving an orphan care ministry in some remote African village died with that divorce. You see, the Southern Baptist Convention on which I so strongly built my identity, doesn’t allow divorced people to serve in leadership positions within the Church, from Nursery Teacher to Overseas Missionary. I rebuilt myself as a more guarded Christ-enthusiast, no longer seeking Him as I once did. I would still point others to God from time to time, but I lost all emotion behind it. God gives, and He certainly takes away, I reminded myself. What happened to me must have been His will, to knock me off my high horse of pride, I thought. I no longer had the motivation of a golden public appearance to guide me through my days. I met and mingled and coupled myself with people from darker corners, and I suffered many more heartbreaks, all while questioning God, “Why did you allow this to happen to me?” I slowly but surely became convinced that there was something so unlovable about me, that I was destined to be alone and without a purpose. I was a fool. Silly. Deceived. Duped by Satan. God did not do anything to me but love me, from the moment I was conceived in my mother’s womb, and call me to a specific purpose for my life. He has always pursued me, always seen my beauty, my tiny mustard seed faith, and the deepest desires of my heart. He planted me firmly on His foundation, and though this goody-two-shoes’ life struggled through storms, He never left my side. I am now married to my husband of seven years, with nine children who came to us through a mix of birth, foster, and soon, adoption. I am learning to fall more deeply in love with God and to trust each day to Him. I am truly diving into what it means to let God increase, while I decrease; to abide in Him and seek Him first, while allowing all other motivations, however goody-goody, to subside. Recently, a relative of mine commented, “You’re all God-God, no offense.” I’ll take that over “goody-goody” any day.
As I reflect back on my life, although I knew who Jesus was my whole life, I don’t feel like I ever had a personal, intimate, and real relationship with Him until the summer after my sophomore year of college. In high school I got into a bad cycle of making really poor choices, feeling guilty about them, and then going back out and making the same mistakes over and over. Looking back I realize my identity and worth was not placed in Christ but in what others thought of me, said of me, how they viewed and labeled me. My freshman year of college the cycle of bad choices and mistakes continued as did the fact that I placed my identity and worth in what others thought of me. Because of both of these things I found myself in a place of loneliness, confusion, and I honestly just felt lost. I didn’t know who I was, who I was going to be, or why everything that was happening, was happening. That Spring I went on my first sports ministry trip to Brazil. It was awesome! We spent a lot of time playing soccer, worshiping the Lord, sharing the Gospel, and serving alongside local churches. At the end of the trip, I remember one of trip leaders sharing a message about who God was and the hope that was found in Him. Through everything, I knew God was still there for me, waiting for me to turn to him. I knew there was hope. That night on the beach in Rio I rededicated my life to Christ and I made a promise to both God and myself that I’ve held true to, by the strength of the Lord, to this day. But after the trip the “spiritual high” slowly wore off and I found myself feeling the same as before. I was making better choices and living a better life but I still felt lost and confused. The summer of 2012 I decided to move out to Chicago and play for the Chicago Eagles. God used this summer to transform my life. I will always look back and remember my first summer with the Eagles and I will always be able to point to the moment when God totally transformed my heart. We had a devotional one night given by two players about identity. It was that night that the Lord freed me from the sin, heartache, and confusion that entangled me. He spoke so clearly to me, I was CHOSEN by HIM. I was HIS daughter. I was LOVED by the King of Kings. The One True God wanted ME…that summer God became real and that summer the power of prayer became real. God used that summer to forever change the rest of my life. I was a new creation, the old was gone and the new had come. I was a daughter of the One True King and regardless of what life or the enemy tried to throw at me, I would remain rooted in Him. The following summer I was baptized in Chicago as an outward expression of my inward decision to surrender my life to Jesus Christ and receive new life in Him. He is the only one that fully satisfies, He is the only one that fully fills us, and He is the only source of true and lasting love and joy. Life was great, not because every day was easy but because every day I was strengthened, renewed, and filled with the Holy Spirit. However, the enemy is real and he loves to deceive us. A verse I always cling to is 1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be alert and of sober mind, your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” However, I learned after college that sometimes things that look and seem good are not of God and essentially, not good. I learned that the enemy can use what looks good to deceive us if we are not careful and that it is easy, if we lose focus, to be deceived. We need to have discernment so that we are not fooled which is why it is important to stay rooted and established in the Word of God and to be alert and of sober mind. I got involved in a relationship that seemed good and seemed like God brought us together. It wasn’t long before I knew, in my heart, this relationship was not of God. However, I tried to make myself believe it was fine and that things weren’t that bad. I was constantly telling myself that he was trying and that he wanted to be a man of God. I tried to convince myself that things would get better, that I would be able to trust him someday, that I was the reason for all the problems and arguments. However, I was at a point where I was questioning myself and my worth and I just accepted that this pain and belittlement was the “norm” for relationships. I was willing to settle for something way less than God’s best for me because I believed this to be a “serious relationship” and in the eyes of the world, it was normal to feel this way in a relationship. I’m so thankful that the Lord saved me from my own self and ended this destructive relationship. At the time I was so confused and felt lost and lonely as bad as things were I didn’t want to be back to square one in my love life. It didn’t take long for me to recognize how far from God I had drifted. I knew I needed to get back into the Word, to focus my heart and mind on my King, and I knew I needed to be free from worldly distractions. I was able to learn a lot from this relationship (it’s funny how the Lord can use everything for our good). I had a very Godly woman in my life at the time who became a true mentor for me and really helped shed light on the importance of having a true, Spirit filled man to spend my life with and she reminded me to not waste my time on dating men who would never be a Godly husband. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. God is faithful. When we are truly obedient, seek Him, and wait on Him he pours out His blessings on us. His timing is so perfect. Never late, never early, just perfect. Of this I am confident. It wasn’t until I focused my heart, mind, and soul on Him and Him alone and put my full trust in my Creator that I ended up at my dream job and with an amazing man of God. Now, where I am, I’m so thankful that I trusted God and His timing and didn’t allow myself to settle for a career that wasn’t the best God had for me or for a man who wasn’t the best God had for me. I know as a young, single woman (or man) it can be challenging wondering if you’ll ever find the right person, it can be easy to allow yourself to settle but let me tell you, it is worth the wait! The man (or woman) God has for you will far exceed your expectations and make you a better person and stronger in your faith. Don’t be afraid to wait for God’s timing because it is PERFECT and our God is always faithful. I wanted to share a couple of songs that the Lord has really spoken to me through.They have been good reminders that I am free from my old life and those chains are broken. They remind me that everything I've been through the Lord has used to teach and direct me.
Break Every Chain Jesus Culture
Great ThingsElevation Worship
Hansel said to Gretel "Let us drop these breadcrumbs ... so that together we find our way home; Because losing our way would be the most cruel of things." H.G. Wells continued; "Losing your way on a journey is unfortunate, but losing your reason for the journey is a fate far more cruel." The winter of 1985 brought a terrible blizzard and a single mother who was embarking on one scary journey. My mother had 23 hours of hard labor and because I was skipping heartbeats the doctor insisted on a c-section. It is safe to say I kicked my way into this world, and I have been doing it ever since. Growing up with a single mother was hard in that time frame, because all of the churches focused on my mother's sin and attributed it to myself. I was often told by those calling themselves Christians that I was going to hell for just about everything. I was called many outrageous things that I can't repeat in church. My father not only abandoned me but rejected the very idea I was his to begin with. This left something to be ashamed of from the second I was born. I had to go through a paternity test as a baby, and it was determined that I was indeed his child. This didn't matter to him, because he would abandon and reject me over and over again growing up. He never showed up to court, sent a Christmas card, or even bothered to acknowledged my existence. I had been born with a wound I couldn't heal. It would start to form how I saw the world, and fathers, and men in general. When I was 17 years old he finally showed up to court, and I was able to talk with him. He appeared to show interest in me at that time, and this got my hopes up. I thought I would finally have a much desired relationship with my father. It is worth noting my father is full-blooded Native American, so I have always identified myself as one. I have searched to feel some sort of connection to a side of me that was always void. I even took a Native American class in college. My father would find more and more ways to let me down and break my heart. Until one day he just cut off all communication and that was that. Ontop of the rejection wound my trust had also been shattered from a very young age. I had been tormented by occultists as a small child. I had been molested and burned with cigarettes as a child. To this day I can't stand the smell of cigarettes. This created a very strong and sturdy wall to keep what was left of me alive, and I became my own protector. I had to survive, and the only way I knew how to do that was to keep building that wall, and to not allow anyone in. This caused me to be very depressed and suicidal, and I spent most of my life in that darkness. I ever so often claw, dig, scratch, and fight my way out of that darkness, and the freedom in those moments are sweet. For the briefest of moments there is light before I am thrust back into the darkness. What hope is there in this story? Hope comes in the breadcrumbs I was leaving along the way to find my way back to the light, because having lost my way several times in the dark was far more cruel. Hope came when I was approached by the Lighthouse Wesleyan Church Pastors Cheryl and Rob about coming to the church. I really liked the message of the light guiding people home, and that they accepted you as you are here. There appeared to be no judgment in their hearts. This too made me feel safe, and little by little I could try to let someone in again. I reached out for a baptism and felt safe for the first time in my life to do that. I found Hope in a Heavenly Father once more, the very father I thought had given up on me ages ago. The baptism helped me feel free even if it was for a moment. A moment can hover and become much much more than a moment, and than it is gone. But the feeling of that moment remains. I got into Bible Study again, and that is something I have wanted to do for years. I often felt like I wasn't welcome at other churches, but this allowed me to open up some about my story. As I started to open up about my story at Bible Study Nick and Leah felt led to ask me to be part of their beautiful ministry. I have wanted to share my voice and witness for many years, but was always muted. They gave me a gift and I am honored to be part of their journey. God chased that little lamb all over the valley and even though she would fight him and feel like she wasn't enough he never gave up his chase. God wanted that little lamb the most, because she had suffered the world, and she had a heart full of compassion and strength. God could see inside of that little lamb's soul and he knew that she was worth saving. God loves the broken sinners best because our fire burns bright bright bright. No doubt losing your way on the journey is unfortunate, but finding your way on the journey is glorious.
Hi! My name is Emily Bowers. Leah and Nick asked me to share my story so here it is. Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in coincidences. I truly believe that God had His hand in every situation I tell about.
When I was a little girl, my mother taught me how to crochet. I crocheted hats, blankets, purses, scarves, etc. for years. I sold many from my Etsy store and at local shows and shops. In February, 2017, God planted the notion that I should crochet some jewelry. I bought some thread and beads and brought it with me to North Carolina while we were on our school break. I made a necklace, a bracelet, then another and another. Before I knew it, I had crocheted a lot of jewelry and I was able to sell it. Suddenly I was in the jewelry business!
In May of that year, I ran into a friend of my daughter. She “just happened” to know a person who has a store in Virginia Beach and was looking for things to sell. I contacted her and made arrangements to deliver several pieces to her store. On the way, I stopped to see my first friend, Cindy. As a child, I watched Cindy and her family live and love in Christ. She led me to Him as a teen. For her 60th birthday, Cindy had set a goal to give away 60 butterfly pins. She wanted to share her love of butterflies and their importance in her life. At that moment, I decided to make her a butterfly necklace.
Back on the road the next morning, I was doing a lot of thinking about how the Lord was working in my life. I knew that my new little jewelry business was a gift from God and as such, I knew that I was supposed to use it to glorify Him. But how? Little did I know, the answer was about to be revealed to me. As I drove in stop and go traffic, I frequently glanced at my phone. One of those times I clicked on Facebook and there it was! A webinar was to be aired soon called How to Create and Sell Your Art to Glorify God by a man named Matt Tommey, a basket artist from Asheville, NC. Ok, I may have butchered the title but that was the message. Guess what! It was starting at noon and it was then 11:58. I registered (of course, still not moving in traffic) and began listening. Matt was an engaging speaker and I took notes as best I could. His bottom line message is that it’s all about the connections we make with people.
When the webinar was over I had to make a desperately needed pitstop. I pulled over at the very next exit in Stafford, Virginia. I grabbed a quick lunch and back out to my car I noticed a Michaels store. If you know me, you know I don’t need anything from Michaels but I stopped because I felt compelled. Straight to the bead department I walked. There was one woman there looking at beads, Teresa Dennis. I started talking to her and for the next hour or more we talked. She makes jewelry for a recording artist! She listened to my story and told me hers. She told me the name of her business is Khakuun (pronounced cocoon) and her logo is a butterfly. Huh, that’s funny, another butterfly lover. For over an hour we stood in that aisle talking. We talked about our mutual love for Jesus and she suddenly said, “You know the Holy Spirit brought us together and He’s here with us right now. If he wants us together we have to figure out why and what He wants us to do”. She also pointed out that no one else had come in that aisle since we started talking. Teresa and I left with a promise to reconnect soon.
Since that day, my ministry and I have been blessed in so many ways. While I have known Nick and Leah for years (they graduated from high school with my daughter), they have become good friends. Nick has been helping me with my website. Teresa and I have become good friends and she is one of my business mentors. My business is growing and I am connecting with people daily. I have met some of the greatest people and made many new friends on this journey. Last week, while on my way to a show, I met Matt Tommey at his studio in Asheville! My message to you is that God works in and through us. God provides for us and takes care of us. He created us and He wants us to succeed. Keep your mind and heart open and you will experience God’s awesome works in your life, as well.
If you would like to see my jewelry please check it out at www.skipnstitches.com!
God told a man named Jeremiah to buy a field.
Seems innocent enough, unless you take a step back and see the bigger picture. Jeremiah was a prophet, the Babylonians were coming to take the rebellious and hard-hearted Jews into captivity, and he knew the devastation and destruction that was coming to his people. It would be many, many years before the Lord would restore the land back to them.
So, what was the point of buying a field in a land he might never see again?
Faith. Trust. Obedience.
It’s easy enough to walk a path that’s well lit and clearly marked. It’s another thing to follow God’s voice in the darkness and the unknown, hands outstretched in front of you and fear trying to steal your faith.
The past few years of my life, I’ve been buying fields.
Not literally, of course. But as each seemingly impossible circumstance has presented itself, I’ve been hearing the same instruction over and over; move forward. Don’t be afraid. And the gentle, still voice, “Do you trust Me?”
Cancer isn’t an easy word to hear from your doctors. Or to read on a test result. It’s life-altering, culturally filled with dread and fear, and changes the way you think about God and His sovereignty. When I received my first oral squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis in 2015, I was floored and devastated. As the worship director at my church at the time, a female, non-smoker who hardly drank and was completely negative for any known cause of this type of cancer, I couldn’t believe that God would want this for my life...that I would lose half of my tongue and go through the pain and loss of reconstruction with muscle from my arm and a radical neck dissection that took 41 lymph nodes from the right side. How would I sing again? Play guitar again?
How would I be myself ever again?
After surgery and 10 days of recovering in the ICU, my oncologist told me the cancer was actually a stage IV, they had found it in my lymph nodes, and I needed to start intense radiation right away or else I would be dead in six months.
At the age of 27, hearing an expiration date stamped on my life was enough to stop anyone in their tracks and take the route they were offering me -- a possibility of saving my life if I did it the doctors’ way. Didn’t I still have so much more life to live? What about all the hopes and dreams I had? Would this be my only option?
But God had other plans.
After a lot of prayer and seeking, when I refused radiation and decided to heal naturally from then on, I purchased my first faith field. Six months later, when the PET scan came back completely clear, it shocked the doctors and blew my mind. I felt victorious and stronger than ever, even with all of the therapy I had to go through to relearn how to speak, chew, and swallow all over again -- let alone how to sing again! But my faith was strengthened and my heart was sure of God’s faithfulness.
Little did I know there was still so much more coming.
April 2018, almost three years into remission,I felt another strange, painful spot in my mouth. After a biopsy, MRI, and PET scan, doctors determined the cancer was back and I needed to immediately schedule surgery again -- this time, to remove my entire tongue and have intensive radiation and possible chemotherapy. When I asked if there were other options we could consider (because let’s be honest, I wasn’t about to let them cut out my entire tongue!), I was quickly and curtly shut down. I was told by six other oncologists who specialize in this type of cancer that this was fatal if I didn’t do it “their way” and it was “impossible” to heal or cure.
“Do you trust Me?” I heard that still voice again. Not knowing where to turn or what I would actual do, I refused the treatment plan being offered -- and purchased faith field number two.
Five months have gone by, and it has been a roller coaster. Healing naturally/alternatively and trusting the Lord every single step of the way has not been easy, and the opposition my family and I have faced in our choices has been real. But so has the overwhelming support, prayer warriors who have stepped up and surrounded us, and letting God lead. I’ve been connected to amazing medical professionals who believe in the power of working with the body to heal, and incredible testimonies of God’s miraculous, healing power in my friends’ lives that further deepens my trust and hope in Christ.
This past June (around the same time I would have had the surgery), I was invited to lead worship in Carlsbad, California, at Still Waters Cancer Retreat. Young adult cancer survivors came from all over the United States for a time of worship, teaching, and connection. It was a powerful weekend, filled with God’s anointing.
And I almost missed it because of fear.
I almost didn’t get on that plane because I was afraid of what I would sound like to everyone with a tumor in my mouth again. That I would be in pain the entire time. That flying wouldn’t be good for my lymph nodes. That I couldn’t take that much time away from treatment. The Enemy gave me every “logical” cop out, and I almost missed an opportunity for obedience.
But then GOD...I love starting sentences with those three words. Last minute, my plane ticket was purchased for me by a generous donor, and I made the decision to go ahead anyway. And it was the best step I could have taken in faith and trust.
I still have a long way to go in the healing process (unless God has other plans!). I continue to do my IVs, consult with doctors who are open to alternative healing and progressive medicine, and share my story as it unfolds. Because when we purchase a field in faith that God is going to bring us back to our Promised Land, we are also displaying God’s power and miraculous works to a watching world. It’s never been about us at all -- it’s about Him, and how He makes the “impossible” things mind-blowingly possible.