Repent & Believe: Relying on God’s Power

This book is Book 1 to the multi-book study “Devoted: Discipleship Training for Small Groups.” You will discover key the belief and practice every disciple of Jesus needs of repenting and believing.

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An Introduction to Gospel-Centered Discipleship

This book is an introduction to the multi-book study Devoted: Discipleship Training for Small Groups. You will discover key beliefs and practices every disciple of Jesus needs. You will be introduced to the Spiritual Growth Grid and how three critical gospel storylines within it tie to our growth as disciples of Jesus. You will also learn key concepts about gospel-centered growth in order to make the most of this discipleship training series.

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Gospel-Centered Life: A Study of Galatians (Study Guide)

Surely you’ve seen it or maybe even experienced it yourself. People become followers of Jesus, immediately they get excited about God, and initially their lives experience much joy, peace, and power. But then, over time, those lives seem powerless again as they drift back into old ways of thinking and behaving. What happened? Could it be that they began to drift away from the truths about Christ and his work that are so critical in experiencing the life God desires for his people? How would a person know if that was the case? What truths about Jesus and his work must we always keep before us? In The Gospel-Centered Life: A Study of Galatians, Drs. Bruce Wesley and Yancey Arrington will guide you through the book of Galatians to help answer those questions and discover the key to a vibrant, lasting, and growing relationship with God – it’s the gospel-centered life! This small group study guide will lead participants to both study the book of Galatians and prepare them for discussion that intersects with The Gospel-Centered Life DVD. Each session is strategically structured to help develop good Bible study habits by intentionally following a three-step pattern: 1) Observation (WHAT does this passage say?) 2) Interpretation (WHAT does this passage mean?) 3) Application (HOW do I apply this passage to my life?) PLEASE NOTE: Study guide to be used with The Gospel-Centered Life: A Study of Galatians DVD and Leader Guide (each sold separately).

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Tap: Defeating the Sin That Defeats You

Some have been defeated by certain sins for so long it seems hopeless. We do our best to fight by reading the Bible, praying, and engaging in other spiritual disciplines yet still find ourselves face down on the mat more than we care to admit. In TAP, author and teacher Yancey Arrington looks to some of history’s best sin-fighters, John Owen and the Puritans, to find out why the “Just Do More” approach to the spiritual disciplines may be the wrong strategy to defeating sin. TAP exposes some of the more popular, but ultimately inept approaches and beliefs about sin, repentance and spiritual growth while coaching how to get “into the cage” with our sins and not only survive…but win! Discussion questions included with each chapter.

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Making a Man: The Ryan Thomas Story

By Ryan Thomas (as told to the Story Team)

I grew up with a view of what a man should be that can be portrayed as Men’s Health—a magazine that advocates a man should be athletic, chiseled, well-dressed, successful, just desired by women.

And at the same time, my father was man preoccupied with athletic prowess. With that influence, I wanted to be a super athlete, successful, worshipped by women, a hero, and admired by worldly standards.

As a teenager, the disdain I had for my father and his ambivalence towards me, grew. Yet, I still followed directly in his footsteps. I pursued athletic success. And really, my primary objective was to attract women, but that ultimately led me down a path of destruction.

During my junior year in college, my father passed away. He was continuing to pursue extreme sports, and he was killed doing hill intervals on his bicycle. That really kind of rocked my world, because I realized at that time, that I was trying to earn his approval and now that he was gone, I really didn’t have that opportunity. It changed the way I thought about the pursuits that I was after. And in some ways, I really wanted to pursue a life of purpose and something that I could give back to, but at the same time, I was still a pretty broken guy and was still trying to prove myself in terms of Men’s Health magazine or the way that my father raised me.

I began to formulate the idea that I could join the military, because what’s better than the ultimate man’s profession of being in Special Ops in the military? So, I joined the Army as an officer, and became a Ranger, and was deployed several times into combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That really shaped what I felt a man should be. And that was the first step, I think, in God’s journey for me—understanding it’s not just selfish pursuits, it’s now doing something for others that, in a lot of ways, is sacrificial.

One of the other surprising things that happened while I was in the military was I met my wife Tasha. We decided to get out, and got married, and had, ironically, two little girls. I never really realized how selfish I was as a man until those three relying on me and looking to me for guidance, and just how many things I’ve screwed up in the past. God has a funny way of doing that, especially when you have two little girls. I really started to realize that it’s okay… to be more vulnerable, to know that I’m not in control—God’s in control—that God is ultimately the one who is shaping my life and shaping my family’s existence, and that I don’t have it all figured out, and that I, in a lot of ways, need to lean on him.

Accomplish: The Tasha Thomas Story

By: Tasha Thomas (as told to the Story Team)

There I was in the Middle East, wearing a camouflage uniform, carrying a 9 mm handgun—a successful U.S. Army officer whose accomplishments were pinned to her uniform.

As a young child I grew up in a home that was just broken. It was filled with domestic violence, alcohol, [and] drugs. And from an early age, I decided I wasn’t going to rely on anybody else, I didn’t need anybody else, that I could just do it on my own. You know, I went to college at first, and then I joined the Army, all to show that I didn’t need anybody else.

I really had the idea of becoming a general as my ultimate goal, because once you reach that level, I felt like you had made it. And I wanted people to go “wow, you did what?” I was really looking for that approval from others, that I was accomplished and I had done well for myself.

So, as I met my husband, Ryan, and we had begun dating, I quickly realized that I was going to have some decisions to make because he wanted a family and I knew deep down that I was never going to be able to balance both. I just knew my heart, that I was going to continue to strive at my job, and that I would probably not balance that well and my family would suffer. So, for me it was going to be a decision, and how to make that work. I kind of had this idea of motherhood that it was going to be something that I was going to accomplish and I was going to be really good at, because in my past I had always done well, I was always at the top of my peers. And so, when Everly came, it was kind of earth-shattering for me because I wasn’t—I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t meeting all of these accomplishments, or these things that people said I should be doing.

I quickly was thrown into postpartum depression, not only because kids are hard, but also because no one applauds you or gives you a gold star for being a mom. So, I struggled with that. And I found myself, at times, I would meet other people, and they’d go “oh, what do you do?” And I would say, “Oh, well I stay at home now, but I used to…” and then I’d throw in an accomplishment that I had from the Army.

Looking back at that, it really makes me sad because I wasn’t identifying as a mom; I wasn’t holding value to that.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say that this is struggle that I can say that I’m done with, but it’s not. It’s something I struggle with every day. And when I see a peer get promoted on social media, or I see photos of this life I used to lead and was very accomplished in, it’s hard. I’m angry about it, I get envious that I’m not getting to do that. Instead, I have these two little blonde girls telling me what to do. You know, it’s tough. And, I think I always have to remember that I’m not called to this job, I’m not called to that job–I’m really called to be a follower of Christ.

Making the decision to stay home versus working full-time, it made me realize that one isn’t more important than the other as I had earlier thought. Staying home doesn’t mean you’re less awesome, or you’re less important. There’s not a sliding scale of who you are as a person dependent on where you are.

For me, I’ve realized that truly my identity is in Christ, and that’s what I should focus on—to look to him for my strength, and look to him for my being accepted because he’s the one that truly loves me. My identity is truly in Christ, and not in motherhood, and not in a job, and not in the day-to-day. He’s more concerned with the way I live my life than a job that I’m holding.  

The Road: The Jay Ellis Story

By Jay Ellis (as told to the Story Team)

I had an amazing childhood. My dad was a pilot and a good provider, and my parents were always there for me, especially when I developed diabetes at the age of eight. That was my big growing-up moment, because it stole away part of my childhood. I had to learn how to give myself shots and take blood tests five times a day at a young age. I was the only one at school with diabetes, so I was the oddball, which put a little strain on me. But despite that, my childhood was awesome.

My family did go to church, but we never stayed at one place long enough to really grow in anything. But my parents always tried to keep me focused on who Jesus really was even though we didn’t go to church regularly. 

Basically, I had a pretty normal childhood, until seventh grade.

My friend Chad grew up three houses down from us, and his dad ran off when Chad was four. His mom passed away when we were pretty young, so my parents kind of took him in. One day, in seventh grade, Chad—along with another friend of mine—handed me a piece of acid.

They said, “Here, put this under your tongue. It will make you see crazy things.” I thought they were just trying to pull my leg but I did it just to see what they were talking about. I thought it was all a joke.

It ended up being really scary, but really freeing at the same time. And I dove into that stuff real fast. I started doing acid every weekend, with those guys and some other friends.

That was the beginning of a downward spiral. I was already behind a grade in school because of my diabetes, and after I started using drugs, I started failing. Most of my friends had moved on and I was falling further behind.

 That’s the lifestyle I lived from junior high until I was 29 years old—a complete party lifestyle. All the people I knew experimented with drugs at one point, and then just went to normal drinking or something. I couldn’t get enough. And at the age of 14, my diabetes doctor told me, “If you keep living this way, you’re not going to live to see 21.” In my mind, I wasn’t going to see 21 anyway, so I was like, Well I’ll just party hard and die young,you know?

When I first started using drugs, I realized it was going to be an expensive habit.

I graduated at 19, and three months later I was doing runs to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, picking up a bunch of pills and coming back here. I did that for about two years until I got caught and went to Mexican prison in Nuevo Laredo.  

My arrest in Mexico was the first time I’d been in trouble with the with law, and I got a federal offense of trafficking across federal lines on my record. I was on probation and being drug tested three times a week. There are no drugs you can do that are out of your system within three days. I was like, What am I gonna do?So I started drinking like a fish and piling on the DWI’s. I got four DWI’s in three years, despite the fact that I didn’t have a driver’s license.

By the time I turned 29, I’d been working for an organization for 10 years collecting money; large amounts of money—like $500,000 or more. It’s an ugly world where nobody plays nice, and that’s the life I lived to support my habit.

Even in all that ugliness, I never once asked God for help. I’d been run over twice, stabbed seven times, had my face crushed with a baseball bat, and I lost count of how many times I got shot at. I was even thrown out of a moving car on I-45. That one hurt. That hurt bad. But I never asked God, “God, would you just help me get through this?” I never had those prayers. I still thought it was all me getting through all this, and that I could make it happen.


During my DWI spree, I got a call from a buddy who lived in Freer, Texas, which is right on the Mexican border. He wanted me and several friends to come visit. He said, “Just come out for my birthday, man.” And I was like, “Listen, if I make it out there, we’re not going to Mexico because I ain’t ever steppin’ foot back in Mexico. And I’m not drinking tequila, because I go to jail every time I drink tequila.”

But after a bottle of tequila, we ended up in Mexico in a truck. My buddy Anthony was riding on top of the truck, shooting an assault rifle, and the next thing I knew I saw him rolling down the road.

I thought to myself, I’ll be danged, Anthony fell out of the truck. And then I looked around and realized Iwas lying in the middle of the road. And then I thought, Well I’ll be danged, Ifell out of the truck, too.  

When we got home from that, I was out on a boat one day, in the middle of the bay. I told God, “God, if you’re really there – if you’re really real – fix me or kill me. One of the two. Because I hate being me right now.”

The next day I got my fourth DWI, dressed in a hula skirt and holding two pistols in my lap – drinking and driving like a rock star. I knew I was going to prison then. I was on the Top 5 Most Watched list in Texas, and they had me. I had seven felony accounts on that pullover alone, so they had everything they needed. And I never did call anybody to come get me out.

That was when my dad showed up. He’d found out.

He was crying when I came out of the jail, and I’d never before seen my dad cry.

On the ride home, he asked what was wrong with me. And the first truthful thing I’d ever said was, “I don’t know… I really don’t.”

He said, “Do you need help?”

And that’s when I laid out my addictions. My parents knew I was an alcoholic because I couldn’t drink and drive worth a poo. But they had no idea about the drug addiction. For a long time, I’d used my diabetes as a cover for things like weight loss and other side effects of the drugs. 

My dad asked, “Well, can you give me a week, and let me find a really good place to send you?”

And I said, “Dad, if you give me more than 24 hours, you’re never going to see me again.”

So my dad woke me up early the next morning, and took me to Pathway to Recovery in Angleton, Texas.

I remember feeling petrified on the ride there because I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to go. And all I was trying to think about was, How bad did it hurt when I got thrown out of that car? Can I make it if I just jump out and run for it? That’s how twisted an addict’s mind is whenever they’re at those crossroads.

But I held out. I got there.

I remember having 12 Valium in my hand, because I thought the program was 30 days. But my struggle was, How am I gonna space this out over 30 days, so I can stay calm throughout this thing?

When I realized it was a 90-day program, I downed all the pills. I was like, All right, I’m gonna feel good this first day.

***

My very first day there, before I knew the rules and everything else, I was reading about God on all these steps in the program and I thought I got tricked into some church thing.

I was mad.

I said “G-D” and this kid walks up, and he’s all, “God doesn’t need a dam, he can walk on water.” And I’m not good with comebacks, so I just hit him. I got in trouble for that, and I was like, “You need to tell people to keep their mouth shut.”

I ended up being grateful the treatment program was 90 days, because I remember very little about the first 30 days. Detoxing was bad for me. I pretty much just laid on the bathroom floor for three weeks. It was rough. But I finally got coherent enough to start attending meetings and start really digging into the steps—the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. And that’s where I found a relationship with God.

It was easy for me to admit to Step One, that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol, and that my life had become unmanageable. But it was hard for me to grasp Steps Two and Three.

Step Two was admitting my life was unmanageable and that God would have to restore me to sanity. Despite my situation and current condition, it was hard for me to grasp that I couldn’t pull myself together, that God would have to do it.

Step Three was to turn your will and your life over to the care of God. That one was really rough for me. When we did go to church when I was little, we went to a Southern Baptist church, and I remember the pastor saying once, “God’s got a path for everybody.” That ran through my mind all the time, and my question was, Why does my path suck so bad?So turning my will and my life over to God scared me, because I was like, If I don’t have any control over it, if this is the path God already has me on, how am I to trust that?

***

While I was in treatment, there was an old country guy named Bubba who came in and taught Sunday School. I’d always just stand around the corner and listen because I didn’t want to be part of it, but I wanted to hear what he was saying. One Sunday he did a lesson on forgiveness, and I stepped in because I wanted to hear about this. I was about two months sober at that time, so I had a littlebit of clarity. Bubba asked everybody, “Do y’all forgive those that have harmed you?”

I spoke up and said, “Yeah, I forgive everybody that’s harmed me.” And he said, “Well, you say that with hesitance. Who do you not forgive?”

“I don’t forgive myself,” I said.

“Well, why don’t you forgive yourself?” he asked.

“I’ve tortured people for the past 10 years. That’s a hard one for me to swallow and forgive myself for.”

“Well, do you believe in God, son?”

“I’m starting to,” I said.

“Do you believe that God forgave you?”

“Yeah,” I said.

At that point he got right up in my face, nose to nose, and he said, “What makes you bigger than God? Why can’t you forgive yourself then?”

It was like a gut punch. That really got me thinking. Bubba sent me off with a Life Recovery Bible and reading assignments. That exchange made me understand God’s forgiveness in a completely different way than I’d ever known.

***

Four months into my sobriety, I went completely blind. Blood vessels in my eyes had burst and caused my retinas to detach during the detox process.

But, even though I couldn’t see and my life had quickly become more complicated, I was committed to staying sober. I endured 25 surgeries in one year to repair my eyesight, and did so without any medication before, after, or during the procedures. They just strapped me down and gave me something to bite on. I had to sign a waiver for my doctor, and had to explain that the short amount of pain I would feel during surgery would be nothing compared to the amount of pain I would feel as a result of a relapse.

During this time, a friend of mine said, “I want to go to this church down on Egret Bay called Clear Creek Community Church. Do you want to go?” I said, “Sure, let’s go.”

Through everything that was happening in my life, one thing I’d really been struggling with was the concept of God’s will. In AA you’re told to “align your will with God’s will,” but I had trouble figuring that out. I’d been asking people, “What’s God’s will?” But nobody had an answer. Some people told me, “Whatever you’re thinking ain’t God’s will, so don’t do that.” And I was like, “Well, that’s obvious, but what is his will so I know how to align mine with it?” But nobody ever had an answer.

The first day I stepped into Clear Creek Community Church, the very first words out of Bruce Wesley’s mouth were, “If you want to know God’s will, you’ve got to know God’s Word.”

I thought to myself, Oh man! Here we go! I’m never leaving this place! I got the answer I’ve been looking for. And that started a relationship with Clear Creek for me because I heard truth I hadn’t heard before. I heard about a relationship I had never heard about before. What I heard at Clear Creek made my recovery make sense—it connected the dots for me.  

But, I wasn’t taking responsibility for learning God’s word and his will. I was a big-time consumer of church. I would show up each week dressed up in a suit, and it wasn’t until I recovered my eyesight that I realized I was the only one. I wanted to come and get fed and play the part, but I was still fighting outside. I still had my anger. I tell people I have 14 years of sobriety but I haven’t put my hands on anyone in six years. It took me a long time to grasp that there’s a new way to solve things without using your fists. 

Coming to Clear Creek and hearing the sermons started a change in me, and led to other significant changes in my life.

I exchanged some messages with a woman named Jennifer, who I’d met previously through a mutual friend, and we discovered we both attended Clear Creek. At the time I didn’t have many friends at the church and usually sat by myself. So I said to Jenn, “Come sit with me, please.”

As it turns out, we were both already going to the 10:30 a.m. service at the Egret Bay campus, so we started meeting up and just going to church together. One Sunday we went out to lunch at Chuy’s, and as Jenn tells it, “We were there for four hours because he laid out his life.” I didn’t watch the time, but that last part is true. I wanted her to know everything so she could either run or stick around.           

She stuck around and we started hanging out for a while, always meeting at church. After about four months, Jenn asked, “Are we dating?” I said, “I don’t know, are we?” (I honestly hadn’t thought about it.) She said, “I think we’re dating.” And I said, “Hey, that works for me. You’re beautiful, you know? I can handle this.”

(Jay and his wife, Jennifer)

We ended up getting married, and by then she and I were each already serving at the church. She volunteered with the junior high ministry, and I started greeting. I wanted to work with junior high students but was sure they did background checks and knew there was no way I would pass that test.

One Sunday morning, I was at the doors and a woman I knew walked up, along with a guy I also happened to know but hadn’t seen in a long time. The man jumped back when he saw me. “Oh my God! Jay Ellis?!”

I said, “What’s up Eugene?”

He looked at the girl he was with and said, “You’re friends with this dude?” She answered, “Yeah.”

“This dude stabbed me in the neck! And he chased me around the neighborhood with a frickin’ knife!”

By this time Eugene is yelling it at the front door of the church. I looked around and everyone nearby had pretty much stopped and stared at me.  I just smiled and tried to continue greeting.

***

As Jenn got more settled into the junior high ministry, people started learning more about our story. Student ministry leaders, Angie Thomas and Lance Lawson, asked me to sit down with them and tell them mywhole story, and after I did they both said they wanted me to be serving in junior high ministry.

I filled out the necessary paperwork but told Lance, “Dude, the background check is pretty extensive.”

Lance said, “Is there anything with kids?”

“No.”

“Then I’ve got a shot,” he said. “I might be able to make it work.”

It took about a month, but I was finally approved to serve in junior high ministry, which I ended up doing for five years.

That was a huge growing experience for me – just leading in student ministry, learning how to be compassionate to a student instead of wanting to slap him upside the head, which is what I wanted to do a lot of times. And I learned so much from those kids—particularly Thatcher Arrington. I was so new to the Bible that anytime we looked up Scripture, I would fumble through, trying to find the right book. Thatcher would grab my Bible and say, “Let me get it for you.” I don’t think he realizes how much he helped me through that first year. 

During this time I was attending the Celebrate Recovery class at Clear Creek but wasn’t getting too much out of it—I wasn’t finding recovery in it. Four months after we got married I was laid off from my $12-an-hour job, which was the most I’d ever made in sobriety.

As I wrestled with what to do, Jenn asked me, “Well, what do you want to do?”

I said, “I don’t know. I don’t have any skills. All I know how to do is sell dope and go collect money. That’s it. I don’t know anything else.”

She came back with, “Well, why don’t you go to school and figure out what you want to do?”

So I got an associate degree in occupational safety and health and started applying for jobs. Jenn sat down beside me one day and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Applying for jobs.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” she asked.

At this point I was completely confused. I’d never gone to college or applied for jobs. I was just trying to play out the process.

“Well, aren’t you supposed to start applying for jobs once you graduate from school?” I asked her. “Isn’t that how it works?” 

“I feel like God’s building you to do something different. I feel like he wants you to do something more than safety.”

“Well, what are you talking about?” I was still confused.

“What about ministry?” she said. “I feel like he’s building you to do ministry work from the way that you’ve been learning and going.”

I trusted Jenn but felt this was a decision too big to make on my own, so I reached out to Lance from student ministry. I’d spent several years learning from, and serving beside, Lance in ministry. I’d come to consider him one of my greatest friends because he was able to present himself and present the gospel in a loving way, but willing to call me out when I needed it. He had become “that guy” for me.

After my conversation with Jenn, I went to Lance and said, “You know, I think I want to get into ministry.”

“Okay. What kind?” he asked.

“I have no idea.”

“Well, student? Campus pastor? What kind of vision do you have here?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I like them all. I kind of like each of the duties that everybody does.”

“Well, I’ve got to tell you something,” he said. “I see you do really well in front of groups of people. I always see you do your best, in your environment. Think about this Jay: God allowed you to go through everything you went through—every single drug, every single drink, he allowed you to hurt as many people as you needed to hurt, and get hurt as many times as you needed to get hurt—in order to reach the people that you can reach; people God needs you to reach, that I can’t reach because I’ve never walked that walk.”

He added, “God allowed you to go through that so that your story can reach the people he needs you to reach. So my recommendation would be for you to start a ministry that involves that.”

And that sounded very pleasing to me.

“All right,” I said.

So Lance set up a meeting with me, and campus pastors Greg Poore and Karl Garcia. They asked me, “If you could change one thing about Celebrate Recovery, what would it be?” And I said, “Everything.”

“Really?”

“I really don’t like any part about it, but that’s just me. Celebrate Recovery works great for some people, but it didn’t work great for me.”

“Well, what would you do different? Can you come up with a plan for what you would want?”

(Jay, Lexi, and Jenn)

Over the next year, I went to 15 different recovery ministries in the greater Houston area and found one curriculum I really, really loved called SteppingInto Freedom. It’s the same 12 steps as Alcoholics Anonymous, but every single step points to Christ. The three fundamentals of their step work are growing a foundation in Christ, learning how to walk in Christ, and maturing in Christ. And I loved that! I thought, This is what people need to hear, right here.

I presented the curriculum to Greg Poore, then took him through it.  Following his approval, it took a year to get our new ministry, Pathway to Peace, ready and going. We launched Pathway to Peace with four in the group and went through the 12 steps. But then we started getting new people coming in who had never heard of one of the steps, and we heard things like, “Well, what’s steps one through six, if y’all are on seven? I don’t get it.”

Jason Wilson, who was leading the group for me, suggested doing topics at each meeting rather than going sequentially through the steps. “That way,” Jason said, “anyone can relate no matter how far along they are” 

I took the suggestion back to Greg—with my sales pitch all prepared—and Greg looked at me and said, “Well, really, my opinion doesn’t amount to crap for you, because I feel like I’ve got the right man for the job for this, because I don’t know about recovery. I don’t know how it runs. I feel like you do, and you’re in a good position to lead these people. So I trust your opinion. If you think this is what y’all need to do, run with it.”

We made the change, and Pathway to Peace attendance has multiplied ever since. We had about 40 people show up at a recent meeting, and we’re an established ministry at Clear Creek Community Church.

A year into the life of Pathway to Peace, we realized that on top of ministering to recovering addicts, we also wanted to minister to the families and friends of addicts. Jenn now leads the Concerned Persons group that does exactly that, while I continue to lead the Into Freedom group within Pathway to Peace that is solely for those battling their addiction.

I get one or two phone calls from somebody new every single day, from either the website or a referral from somebody at one of the campuses. We hear so many stories of people who had zero relationship with God, and are now serving at the church, and in small group, and, even leading groups. People now having a relationship with God. Three people who have gone through Pathway to Peace have been baptized.

It’s beautiful to sit back and watch when we see the light go on for someone, and they’re finally understanding grace and the relationship aspect of God. That true surrender finally happens and it changes their life. 

***

You should know, my life isn’t easy. It’s tempting to read all of this and think, Oh, I guess it all worked out.In reality, I continue to battle constant health issues because of my past. But for all the bad, and all the hurt and pain I’ve caused and endured, God continues to use my experience for his good.

We all have a story, and we all need to use it to reach the people that God needs us to reach. Our story is our platform, it’s our poster, it’s what we need to go show the world so that we can say, “Thisis what I was, but thisis who I am in Christ.”


Forgive

Physically, I’ve been somebody who, since I was in high school worked out every day. I was a college athlete. Played sports my entire life.

I stopped working out, I stopped training. Things didn’t get to me. I could really feel my heart hardening to a lot of things that would previously affect me, and that was when my wife really knew that something was wrong.

When people are going through depression for whatever reason, they don’t necessarily recognize it at that time. And I didn’t either.

So, my brother had a child with my sister-in-law, my wife’s sister. And he just up and left. He abandoned the family, took off. And whenever all of that happened, because of how tight-knit both of our families are, it created a lot of animosity and thrust me into that middle man role. With that came a lot of expectation and things – the way other people wanted me to handle the situation. And it created a lot of tension within my marriage. And we were still a very young marriage, at that point we hadn’t even been married a year.

When I would come home from work, I would eat dinner and go to bed because the last thing I wanted to do was have a conversation with my wife.

I was a coward to the point where I was going to try to push her away.

In my mind at that time, that was the only way I was go get the resolution that I wanted, which was to get everybody away from me so I could get a fresh start, and I could go out and be alleviated of this situation, because I didn’t want to live that way for the rest of my life.

Everything I was doing was dictated around trying to get rid of that sense of stress in my life to the point where it actually pushed me to commit adultery. That was the lowest I’d ever sunk in my life. I didn’t know how to come back from that.

At that point, I fully anticipated coming home, her having my stuff waiting outside. I could pick it up and hit the road.

And I was wrong.

When I got home… Well, I didn’t go home. She met me at a church. And, she sat there and I expected her to chew me out and to want to know why, and to hate me, to just throw me out. And she didn’t. She sat there and she looked me in the eyes, with tears coming down her face and she told me that she’s not giving up on me, she’s not quitting on me. And it made me so angry. I was so mad at her! How can you respond that way? That makes no sense to me.

So initially, I just fell deeper into that depression and started struggling even more, and tried to push her away even more. Then it was just a slow battle of redemption.

It wasn’t me.

Because at that point, there was nothing that I wanted to do that was going to bring me out of that. I wanted to get away from it, and that’s what was going to bring me out of the depression in my mind. It was God working in certain ways. Everybody thinks about the way that God’s going to work within them. But what you don’t understand, and you don’t anticipate, is the way that God works in people around you.

That was the thing that I guess affected me more than anything, was I got to see it in my wife. I got to see the people who I expected to be the angriest, and the most disappointed in me, not be so. I got to experience things that were total God moments, where people that, for no other reason than God being in that place at that time, were pouring very specific messages that I needed to hear during that journey into my heart. That was kind of how it happened. It was gradual, it wasn’t just overnight I flipped a switch, but there was that moment of clarity for me where I realized I do love my wife, and God brought her into my life for a reason. And she’s the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.

For a lot of that entire process I didn’t want to know necessarily the answer for forgiveness because I didn’t feel like I was forgivable. I felt like what I did was the most heinous thing that anybody could ever do. For me, there was no excuse why my wife should stay with me. I didn’t deserve to be with her. Just kind of painting this pity party, so to speak, of why I didn’t deserve to be forgiven. All the while, I’ve got people who are showing me the entire time what it means to forgive, what it looks like to forgive. I didn’t understand that God is a forgiving God, that he is a redeeming God, and he forgives us and allows us to be able to have these opportunities at redemption.

So, understanding that, and learning exactly what the gospel teaches us about forgiveness. Because in our world, when people do things as heinous as what I did, you don’t forgive them. You don’t ever lose that sense of being angry toward that person, that just doesn’t happen. You don’t see that happen unless God is truly working in somebody. So, learning what that looked like, and seeing it firsthand from my wife, that was the lesson that I learned. It wasn’t a particular verse, but it was seeing the lesson of forgiveness being lived out through the people around me. You know, the way that she was handling things with sending me prayers, and sitting there and actually seeing her go through and revert back to Scripture to pull her through the situation, because, obviously, she was struggling as well. And so, she’s finding Scripture to pull herself through it, she’s finding Scripture to pull me through it. And then from there, it was just, you know, we had a very intentional sense that the Gospel has to be at the forefront of our lives.

So, we got plugged in at Clear Creek [Community Church], and really started to grow, and continued to push each other.

I mean, obviously, since I got baptized last year, there are things that I still struggle with.

When you get baptized and you come to faith in Christ, it’s not easy. I tell people oftentimes, it’s a lot harder. Walking this way and living your life by faith is a lot harder than not. But there’s no better way to live it

This is Ginger

 

Meet Ginger.

It was three years ago that God pressed a very particular mission on the heart of Ginger Sprouse.  Having recently opened up her own cooking school in Nassau Bay, Texas, she passed one particular intersection on her way to and from Art of the Meal multiple times a day.  And every day, she would see the same African American man standing at the corner of El Camino Real and Nasa Road 1.  He was always in the same spot, pacing or dancing, waving to those passing by, or sometimes just staring.  Presumably homeless, she couldn’t help but wonder: What was his story?  Who was he?  Why was he always standing at the same location?  But for Ginger, this tug of compassion had not always been a familiar feeling.

Hearing about God’s love was routine for Ginger, having grown up in church, but witnessing His love in action was much more foreign.  Her judgmental family upbringing critically impacted her outlook on both life and Christianity.  She spent most of her life pointing her finger at everyone else and never at herself, and she carried this self-righteous disposition into adulthood.  Nevertheless, Ginger succeeded in creating her own beautiful family.  She and her husband lived a peaceful farm life where she spent her time gardening and homeschooling her two children.  Until the day she threw it all away.

Ginger embraced a sinful lifestyle, left her family, and threw God away as a byproduct.  It was at this time that she was told, “You are the least compassionate person I’ve ever met.  You don’t have a shred of compassion in you that you can throw your family and life away.”  It was time to face the ugly truth about herself—she lacked the very compassion of Christ that she had learned about all those years growing up.

“You know, my prayer for a long time was, ‘Lord make me want to want you because I don’t have that,” Ginger admitted.  Having divorced her husband and strained her relationships with her children, she eventually came to a place in life when she determined to “grow up,” spiritually, and her focus began to shift from herself to Christ and Christ alone.  It was around this time that she discovered Clear Creek Community Church and eventually met her now husband, Dean, who also attended Creek.

Her prayer ever since the Lord brought her back became, “You have to show me how to be compassionate like Christ because I don’t have it in me; it’s not natural to me.”

The funny thing about asking is… you typically shall receive.

Although she was certainly feeling compelled to stop and talk to the man on the corner, she initially resisted the strength of the pull.  Instead, in Jonah-esque fashion, Ginger drove out of her way to work for an entire month so she wouldn’t have to pass by and reconcile the insistent feeling in her gut that she was supposed to stop.

“I didn’t want to stop.  But finally one day, I was driving by and I saw him again, and I called out loud to the Lord, ‘Fine! But you’re going to have to do something because I got nothing!’ and so I pulled over, and that was the first time I ever talked to him.”

Meet Victor.

“I remember it like yesterday,” the thirty-two-year-old autistic street resident recalls about the first time he met Ginger.  He has nothing but positive things to say about the woman who befriended him at his corner.

Ginger recollects a mentally ill man who was in a pretty bad state: unmedicated, unbathed, and not very lucid.  “It was kind of scary… but I looked in his face and there was such pain there; it was like he was trapped.”  And he was—it has been told that Victor Hubbard’s mother dropped him off on the corner years ago and told him to wait there for her to come back.

Victor was still waiting.

“How could I walk away?” Ginger reconciled.  “It was then that I realized: this was compassion. And I started praying for the Lord to heal him and give him enough lucidity that I could have a conversation with him.”

Thus began her regular visits with a man she now describes as sweet, gentle, and eternally optimistic.  “I would take my coffee and we would sometimes just sit there and sometimes chat and sometimes just watch the cars drive by.”

“I would always wait for Ginger to come around the corner,” Victor reminisced, “so we could go do something together and forget about everything else. ”

And then, suddenly, Victor disappeared for two weeks.  While Ginger’s husband, Dean, encouraged her that she was doing everything that she could do—hanging out with him, bringing him sandwiches, bringing him clothes—she struggled with the idea of just leaving him on the corner.  Ginger felt compelled to do more.

“I said you know what? He has 15 sandwiches; he’s got tons of coats; people are bringing him sleeping bags; he has all this stuff, which is good.  But this stuff is not going to get him out of this situation.” And that’s really what the Lord put on Ginger’s heart—what could she do to help transform his circumstances?

“I kept saying, ‘Lord, you have to break my heart for what breaks your heart.’  And the Lord has such a heart for the people who are helpless, and I just said, ‘Okay I have got to get out of my bubble and not be so consumed with myself that I don’t have time.’”  She spent many sleepless nights worrying about him until, finally, her husband agreed she could bring him to their home.

When the weather got cold in December, Ginger began asking Victor how he would feel about coming to her house to get out of the cold.  It was a day neither of them will likely ever forget, and not because of the ice-cold December rain.  As Ginger pulled up to the corner and got out of her car, she voiced six life-changing words: “Do you want to go home?”

To which Victor replied, ‘Yea, I want to go home.’”

Ginger, Dean, and their two teenage children welcomed Victor into their home to bathe, put on clean clothes, eat their food, and sleep—which he did for twelve hours straight that first night.  But Victor wasn’t just invited into their house, he was invited into their family.

Meet the community.

Ginger began making phone calls to rally the community to come together and find Victor the mental health help he needed.  Eventually, she create the Facebook page, This is Victor, as a way to advocate for resources and create a community of people to care for him.  Ginger believed in faith that at least 200 people in the community would recognize Victor as the man from our community, who they also drove past, and rise up to help.

The response from the community was overwhelming.

Today, the Facebook page boasts over 8,000 followers and Victor has received medical attention, meal gift cards, clothing, bicycle transportation, and nearly $15,000 in a gofundme account to go towards finding him a more permanent living situation.  He has become quite the public figure in the community over the past few months, and more recently, has even garnered national attention. After being featured on TV via KHOU, both CBS News and Fox News have also run his story as well as other major news avenues.

However, Ginger says the most popular response to the Facebook page has been people sharing how they have been praying for Victor for years every time they drive by the corner.  “Many people have seen Victor over the years, but not known what else they could do to help except to pray.  And that is what I love about God, that so many people were praying, and all the while the Lord was equipping me to stop.  I feel like I didn’t do much but just show people what they can do.”
Anyone who gets the chance to talk to Victor will tell you that he is an eloquent speaker who so effortlessly paints pictures with his words.  In fact, he is a writer and a musician, and now that he is officially off the streets and temporarily staying in a local hotel, he has his own space to write again.  When asked how he feels about how his life has changed, Victor says he feels like an eagle, “because they symbolize justice, equality, and freedom, and that’s how I feel; I feel like a bird that has been freed.”

And this eagle doesn’t stay inside all day, in fact, he sometimes goes back to visit the corner.  “I go back to the corner just to remind myself where I came from… I was in a war zone and I’ve been through the worst, but I never let it destroy me.  I let my friendships take over, instead,” he says. “You overcome something so it won’t overcome you. You stand over something so it won’t stand over you. I always remember that things can change, and I remember that they did change, so I can still look at the corner like he is my friend.”

Victor isn’t the only one who looks to his past to make sense of his life moving forward.  “It still breaks my heart when I consider the pain and disruption that I caused everyone else in my life,” Ginger admits without a single flippant note in her confession. “But he could never have transformed me if I was still sitting in the middle of my judgmental happy little self.  I feel so sad that I was so hardened that the only way God could transform me was that other people had to be hurt in the process, but I also know that he can use that hurt in their lives to bring them to himself as well.  So I’ve asked the Lord to never let me forget it.”

Ginger has recently given Victor a job at Art of the Meal and admits that they are, “going to be in each other’s lives forever.”  She hopes that one day she and Victor will see someone who needs help and then, together, they can bring someone else into their “circle of overcoming.”

Victor claims he isn’t going anywhere either, “Nobody has a friendship like we have and it’s a long lasting thing because once you become a friend you’re always a friend.” And with a big toothy smile on his face, Victor added, “Other people are already invited to the party, they just gotta come get their invitation.”  To which Ginger laughs, acknowledging she was invited all along.  She just had to show up.

The Well

The sand crunched on the path beneath the woman’s sandals as she walked. She kept her head tilted down to shield her eyes from the sun burning brightly overhead as she went. She needed water for her family, and that was where her journey was taking her.

She shifted the position of her empty water jar, and held it against her stomach with both arms, crinkling the fabric of her tunic. The road was empty. She had timed this trip well. There would likely be no one at the well where she was headed; no one to look at her with judgmental glances, or whisper to each other as she passed by.

This is the life she had earned and she knew it, but that didn’t mean she wanted the reminders from everyone else if she could avoid them.

 

* * *

Chanda McKinney was eight years old when her family moved from Colorado to the Houston area. John McKinney, her dad, had worked for the Coors Brewing Company in Colorado, and had taken a job in distributing with the Miller Brewing Company in Texas to take advantage of a better economy.

John had been a Christian for just a few short years and was doing his best to lead and provide for his wife, Sherry, and three daughters. Chanda’s family went to church every Sunday in the morning and the evening. They were there on Wednesday’s as well, and Chanda and her sister’s attended summer church camp every year. But at home, Chanda’s parents were constantly at odds, and frequently lashed out at each other in front of their kids.

“He was teaching the kids and heavily involved in the church,” Chanda says about her father. “The children loved my dad – we loved my dad. Yet, I heard my mom just constantly talking very poorly about my dad – a disdain that was extremely disheartening to hear her say about him.”

As an added benefit of living in Houston, Chanda’s family lived close to her mom’s family. And as a result, Chanda spent many of her childhood Saturdays shopping with her mom, aunt, and grandmother.

Sitting in the backseat of the car as they would drive, Chanda heard her mom vent about the difficulties of marriage and parenting. It colored the way Chanda saw relationships and, because she rarely heard things from his side of the story, the way she viewed her father.

As the months went on Chanda overheard more and more from her mother about how her father was dropping the ball as a family man, spending all of his time either at work or church.

On one of those Saturdays, Chanda’s aunt and mom were discussing the importance of talking to kids about inappropriate touching after hearing the idea stressed by Dr. Phil. Chanda doesn’t remember much from that conversation, except when her mom made a passing remark about the possibility of Chanda’s father committing such an act. It didn’t come to light for Chanda until many years down the road, that a grandfather whom she never knew, had been abusive towards her dad’s sisters. Chanda’s mom was merely commenting on a dark fragment of family history. But for an elementary school-aged Chanda, the damage was done. Chanda was haunted by the comment.

“In that moment, it changed my entire relationship with my father because I lived in fear that he would abuse me,” Chanda said. “I felt powerless, and fearful, and just frozen with paranoia that my dad would do something like that to me. And so from that point, I just learned from watching my parents. My mom had gained a lot of weight. She would probably be what doctors would consider to be obese… I never heard my dad say this about her, but I heard her say things like, ‘He doesn’t even touch me or talk to me because of my weight.’ What I learned was that if I could get fat then I could protect myself.”

Over the next few years, Chanda lived in a state of imbalance. She intentionally binged on sugar and sweets at every opportunity, but heard her mom complain about being overweight at the same time. Chanda tried to keep up with the pace, but couldn’t fully comprehend the issues that she saw her mom facing.

Seeing his oldest daughter becoming more distraught, but not knowing the extent of what was happening to her, Chanda’s dad chalked it all up to the hormones of a preadolescent daughter.

“My dad became passive in the hopes that my mom would do better with me,” Chanda said. “I took that as rejection… I felt abandoned by him even though we were in the same home.”

 

* * *

 

Beads of sweat formed and rolled down the woman’s temples as she walked. Her face was positioned to look at the ground beneath her feet to keep her eyes from straining in the sunlight. She knew the well wasn’t too far away and so she lifted her head just enough to see the distance she still had to travel.

She stopped.

A man was sitting on the lip of the well, watching her from only a short distance away.

She continued slowly and approached the well, trying not to make eye contact. She hadn’t seen him before, and knew he must passing through. She wondered why he would be alone, and what he might want.

“Give me a drink,” he said, startling her and interrupting her thoughts.

She starred at him for a moment, meeting his gaze for the first time. There was a strange gleam in his eyes, as if he knew her.

But how would he? It was obvious to her now that he was a Jew. And her being a Samaritan, had met only a very few number of Jewish men before. This was not one of them, and out of habit she became uncomfortable that he was speaking to her.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” she questioned brashly, intending to warn him off of any ill intent.

He smiled softly, leaned forward and looked down towards his hands.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” As he finished this phrase he looked up again and his eyes pierced her own.

They starred at each other in silence for a moment, as a soft breeze blew a few strands of hair across her face.

“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us this well and drank from it himself. As did his sons and his livestock.”

The man continued to look her in the eye as he spoke.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman was stunned. She’d never heard anyone speak this way. Unconsciously, she leaned in and took a small step forward.

All of her life, she had searched for something to make her feel fulfilled. To feel like she was worth something. To feel hope for her future.

What this man offered was more than water, but she knew not the words to say what it was.

“Sir, give me this living water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

 

* * *

 

Chanda was starting to crave attention.

She had started to take an interest in the boys at school and sought out their attention. There was rarely a time that she was not involved in some sort of a dating relationship after starting intermediate school.

As she started to taste the small amount of freedom that came with junior high, Chanda began to feel like her parents were trying to squelch her social life. She quickly began finding ways to be around them as little as possible. Nearly every weekend she went to a friends’ house – most of whom did not have church-going parents – and Chanda discovered more freedom to do whatever she wanted.

“We didn’t have a curfew,” Chanda says. “We would sneak out. There was alcohol and drugs. We’d sneak boys in; we’d sneak out to see guys. I mean, that was the lifestyle and I wasn’t even in high school yet.”

Chanda’s secret life was starting to spiral out of control.

As they began to realize that there was something going on with their daughter, Chanda’s parents sought out professional help and set up regular meetings with a counselor.

But as her counselor and parents begged Chanda to talk, to open up, the more she didn’t want to speak. She liked the attention. She liked the control. And so she said just enough to keep them at bay.

“They talked to me about sex – how important it is to save yourself for marriage. That was all very important. But when they were talking to me about this, what I heard was, ‘Your only value is your virginity.’ And so I figured if I gave that away, then someone would love me. And so I just kept giving it away, giving it away, giving it away. And nobody stayed. The rejection, the abandonment, the hurt, the pain, and all the soul-ties, and hurt and havoc, and now a reputation and isolation, and drugs and alcohol – I was just dying to escape what was going on inside, but I couldn’t even begin to talk about it. So that just led to more.”

Internally, she was starting to feel hollow, like a deep sense of emptiness that she couldn’t fill, no matter how hard she tried.

During her freshman year of high school, when Chanda was just 14 years old, her already overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt took a tragic turn. She spent the night at a friends’ house and was molested by her friend’s stepfather. Chanda’s friend found out about the incident and went to a counselor where she explained the incident involving Chanda, and then confessed that her stepfather had been molesting her for several years.

The friend moved away to live with her biological father.

The stepfather went to jail.

Chanda fell into a state of despair.

She continued to search for worth and meaning in her relationships with guys at school. But the search continued in vain.

When she was 16 years old, tragedy struck again.

“Another time was when I was with another best friend at her house, her mom was gone. There was alcohol there, and I was completely inebriated. Just drunk. Didn’t even realize I couldn’t stand up. I didn’t know until I stood up. I kind of fought my way to the bathroom because I believed that if you needed to sober up you’re supposed to shower. That’s what they do in the movies. And so I made my way to the bathroom, and started kind of undressing to get into the shower, and kind of passed out, and came to with just one guy after another having sex with me.”

By law, it was rape.

The next morning, the friend’s mother approached Chanda, explaining that people at the party had seen what had happened. She was holding Chanda responsible for what had happened, and told her that she wouldn’t tell anyone if Chanda would agree to get on birth control.

“I just didn’t want my parents to know,” Chanda says. “And I didn’t want to lose another friend. I just believed her mom.”

Chanda was filled with an even deeper sense of shame and guilt than before. And she continued to bury these feelings deep down where no one could see how much heartache and emptiness she was dealing with. She held out her reasoning that if she just found the right person to be with, she would feel valued and loved and her problems would disappear. And if she couldn’t find that then she would numb the pain with enough drugs and alcohol that she simply wouldn’t care anymore.

Chanda’s parents had reconciled their marriage by the time she finished high school. A few years prior they realized their need for help and started seeing a marriage counselor. As a couple and individuals, they were starting to turn their lives around. They had a healthy marriage. They attended church regularly. But they were minimally aware of what was happening in Chanda’s life.

Chanda started attending San Jacinto College to study cosmetology after high school. It was something she was interested in, and showed potential, but her social life was continuing just as it had in high school.

At the age of 18, Chanda got pregnant.

“I met another guy, and we dated,” Chanda says. “I though we were like together. Anyway, I got pregnant. Couldn’t get ahold of him. He ignored my calls. I just thought for sure, that he was going to come around. I mean, I’m pregnant. But I never heard from him.”

Three months into her pregnancy, Chanda knew she was in over her head, but didn’t know where to turn for help.

“I had no other choice, I thought, and had an abortion,” Chanda says. “It was the worst experience of my life… The shame was just, I mean, overwhelming.”

Desperate to shed the pain and guilt, Chanda went right back to doing what she always did.

Over the next few years, Chanda would find herself in several more unhealthy relationships. She was violently abused. She fell deeper into the usage dependence of drugs, alcohol, and sex. She was left empty, time and time again. But she couldn’t break the cycle.

One night, she was arrested and taken to jail after the police caught her and a couple of friends using cocaine outside of a club.

Chanda wound up with five years of deferred adjudication (a type of probation), which meant she would have to meet routinely with a probation officer and pass a regular drug test.

Chanda was still going to clubs regularly, but had figured out a way to pass her urine analysis when she had to meet with the probation officer without slowing down her lifestyle. She was settling into somewhat of a routine to try to make it through the next few years.

“I moved in with my boyfriend, who lived with his mother – a strong believer,” Chanda says. “She would pray for me, and my heart would just break. We would go to church with her every now and then, and I’d just cry. I knew I wanted to come back to Christ.”

Chanda considered herself a Christian from the time that she had prayed to receive Christ and was baptized as an 11-year-old. She was still going to church somewhat regularly into her late teens and early twenties, but she continually felt like church and the rest of her life didn’t fit together.

“I would be there, like, ‘Oh, please let it be a long prayer, so I can close my eyes, because I’ve been up all night and I’m hungover.”

It was a couple of years into probation that Chanda got pregnant for the second time.

Chanda’s boyfriend took her to the clinic where she would undergo the procedure to have her second abortion.

“There was no way I could live with that shame. It was the worst thing I think I’ve ever done. Out of all the victimization things, this was my choice. I couldn’t live with it. I was so depressed. More drugs. More alcohol.”

 

* * *

 

The man looked at her deeply.

The sun was hot overhead, and he wiped the sweat from his temples before he leaned forward as if he was about to tell her something of utmost importance. The woman was eager with anticipation and felt her pulse quicken as she shifted the water jar in her arms.

“Go, call your husband, and come here,” the man said.

She felt her heart stagger.

“I have no husband,” she said breathlessly.

His expression remained calm and sincere. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

The woman took a small step back and she looked down to the ground between her and the man sitting on the edge of the well as she felt her eyes begin to fill with tears.

How did he know? Was he from here? Was this all some kind of a cruel trick?

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” She said, quickly wiping her eyes dry, and trying to change the focus as they spoke. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father,” he said with a sort of gentle sternness in his words. It felt as though he knew exactly what she was trying to do, but went along with it anyway. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is here now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

She had never heard anything like this before. She wondered what was this man might be trying to do to her? Was he attempting to confuse her, only to talk more about her promiscuity?

She knew how to end the exchange. He couldn’t argue with prophecy, could he?

“I know that Messiah is coming; he who is called ‘Christ.’ When he comes, he will tell us all things.” She was starting to back away, readying herself to turn and leave.

He stood now, rising to his full height. Firmly he said, “I who speak to you am he.”

She stopped.

 

* * *

 

Chanda was on vacation with her parents when she got the call from her probation officer.

The results of her final probationary drug test had come back, and they weren’t good. He was calling to inform her of the legal ramifications – 30 days in a rehab facility and 60 days in a halfway house.

Chanda was devastated.

It was around this time, Chanda had started to feel a desire to try to get right with God. She felt like a legal punishment such as this was a slap in the face.

Maybe I’m here to fix somebody else,” Chanda says she thought before going to the rehab center. “Why God, do you have me here? I was just about to get off… Why am I here? I thought it was a punishment. And I remember having a conversation, actually with my mom, and she said – and this was her turning point too – she said, ‘Maybe you’re there for you.’”

Chanda started praying that night.

As she entered into rehab and began to realize that she had no boyfriend with her to distract her, no drugs or drinks to take her focus off of her problems, and no job to take up her time, Chanda came to a realization.

“I had a choice,” Chanda says. “It was the line in the sand.”

So Chanda picked up her Bible and started to read.

She read Isaiah 40:29-31 that says: “He gives power to the faint, and to him and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

She read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

And she read Romans 8 where it says: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

She read of God’s love and that Jesus died for her sins, and she felt her heart begin to change.

“So many things changed for me,” Chanda says of those 90 days. “For one, my perspective of others. Here’s me; self-righteous, judgmental, looking down on others, never relating. And yet I’m sitting now in a room full of people where I am them. I am the one that needs a savior – a rescuer… I really came to the end of my ‘self’ in there.”

After the 90 days were over, Chanda saw life in a new way. She started regularly going to church, recommitted her life to Christ, got baptized a second time and stayed sober. She was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and even started trying to eat better and exercise to take care of her body in a way that she never had before. Her relationship with her parents was healing as they talked through her past, and she began to feel the weight, from the approval and attention she so desperately craved as a child, began to wane.

“So four years after that, I’m 27, 28 and I felt very strongly that I had done everything to do inside my company,” Chanda said. “What was the next step? I prayed about it and felt very strongly God was like, ‘go to New York.’”

So Chanda packed up her life and moved to New York City, searching for a fresh start; a way to begin again in life.

Chanda did well for herself in the world of cosmetology, building a regular clientele that helped her gain a good reputation in the area. Eventually she even got to take on more high-profile clients like New York Yankees players and a few other local celebrities.

But for all the success she had found in her profession, Chanda still found herself struggling in the social sphere. She waded into the world of online dating, and quickly felt the desire to be valued creep back into her mind. She gave herself away again, and even began to dabble with smoking marijuana in an effort to keep one guy around. It didn’t work. But the door had been re-opened.

Chanda was continuing to attend church every Sunday, but felt her double-life starting to return, lurking beneath the surface. She tried to get control before things got out of hand like before.

She met another guy online and they began dating. He had a history with drugs and hadn’t yet given his life to Christ, even though he expressed a desire to do so. Chanda wanted nothing more than to help him. Immediately she began to focus her efforts on “saving” him. She thought of it as a project with mutual benefits. He would be saved and she would prevent a backslide in her own life. So Chanda started taking him to church with her on the weekends. She saw promise in him, but began to fear that he wouldn’t stick around and see it all through. She compromised.

Less than a month after her 30th birthday, Chanda found out that she was pregnant again. She was wrecked by the discovery.

But she saw it as a wake-up call. She stopped smoking and drinking, and started praying, asking God for direction and help.

Chanda’s parents were receptive and gracious with the news. They knew their daughter was struggling and, though they hadn’t walked alongside her for everything before, they wanted to help her now.

After fasting and praying about his daughter’s hurt and pain Chanda’s dad knew what needed to happen. The man who had been at a loss as to what to do with a hormonal teenage daughter was willfully stepping back into her mess.

“He was just like ‘Come back. I’m fasting and I’m praying for you. I’m here for you. Little girl, come back.’ I’m like 30, and I’m still his little girl. No conditions, no questions. Just, ‘Come back.’”

When they spoke again they all agreed – Chanda was going to move back in with her parents.

Chanda packed her things, and headed back to Texas.

“I went from buying $400 shoes in New York, to pregnant, not married and having to start over.”

Despite the humbling nature of it all, Chanda says moving back to Houston was the best decision she could have made at the time.

Her parents helped her through the remainder of her pregnancy and reconciled their relationship with their eldest daughter.

Chanda, John (Father), Marissa (Sister).

Chanda gave birth to her son, Caleb, in 2004.

Several years later, Chanda and Caleb moved to League City even though she had sworn that she would never move back to the burbs. She began looking for churches in the area that would allow Caleb to go to school with the same kids that he saw on Sundays. She settled on Clear Creek Community Church and shortly after she started attending, got involved in a small group.

“By the grace of God, my small group leader was single and shared very graciously, authentically and transparently about her same-sex attraction,” Chanda said. “And I was like, ‘thank God, there’s normal people here.’”

“I remember one of the first conversations I had with her on the phone,” Krissy Jones, Chanda’s first small group leader at CCCC, said. “We talked for like an hour and a half. Neither one of us really like small talk and so we just cut to the chase. And I remember thinking, this girl is really cool and I’m really glad that she’s in my group… She had this kind of hard exterior like, ‘I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you,’ you know, ‘I’m sarcastic, and I’m going to use humor to sort of deflect people from getting to know me.’ But I think it was just because she hadn’t been around people that she could trust in a long time. She said that she was praying for a safe friend.”

Krissy proved to be the safe friend that Chanda needed.

Together they started to speak openly about their own sin and struggles, and held each other accountable – something Chanda had never really experienced.

“Believe me, I tried to push her away,” Chanda says about Krissy. “It was the first time that I had friends that I could go to church with and have a good beer with at Boondoggles. It was so nice. I didn’t’ have to pretend.”

Chanda and Krissy.

* * *

The woman used the edge of her tunic to wipe away the tears that were welling up in her eyes.

She knew that this man spoke the truth. He was the Messiah.

His smile broke her train of thought. She hadn’t even realized that she had turned back around and was staring at him. He looked almost as if he was used to doing this kind of thing to people – as if this wasn’t the first time he’d shocked someone in this manner.

He turned his head, as if he’d heard a noise, and she turned to see what drew his attention. On the path leading to the well was a group of men, maybe a dozen or so, that looked a little disheveled from days of traveling. One of them lifted a hand to waive to the man at the well. They were with him.

As the group of men drew nearer, the woman set her water jar on the ground near the well and softly smiled at the Messiah again before turning and hurrying down the path back towards the small town she had come from.

She quickly strode past the approaching group of men, and she saw now that they were carrying food they had apparently gone to get. They all stopped and starred at her as she passed. They looked very confused.

Her pace quickened as she continued down the path. She felt as though she couldn’t move fast enough. She had to tell someone what had happened to her. She had to tell them about man at the well. I have to tell them. They have to meet him too, she thought.

She felt the joy surge in her veins and broke into a run.

Everyone must know.

 

* * *

 

A few years after Chanda started attending Clear Creek Community Church, she was identified as someone with potential to lead a small group and, under Krissy and several other women’s tutelage, eventually began leading a small group of her own.

Since that time, Chanda has grown even more in her relationship with Christ, realizing that many more people have had experiences that echo her own and that she can help.

“I serve at Anchor Point. I get to help a ton of fatherless children there. And it’s a crisis pregnancy center, so I get to give back to what was so graciously given to me… Where I could have been and where I am now is just so awesome.”

Chanda serves in Creek Kids (Clear Creek Community Church’s K-5 ministry) teaching Kindergarteners-3rd graders about the Bible and the love of Jesus Christ. She also serves the community by mentoring kids through Generation One. She has now been the mentor to a young girl from the Third Ward of Houston for the past nine years.

Currently, Chanda is working to start her own mentoring program that will partner with CCISD to pair mentors with high-risk children in the community.

Chanda continues to work as a hair stylist in the Houston area, and is still finding a lot of success in that career. She has a good relationship with her parents and sees them regularly.

As for dating, Chanda says she’s still open to the idea but that it no longer feels like the burden that it used to.

“I’m completely convinced that my picker is broken,” Chanda says chuckling. “And so I now know that if I’m supposed to date God knows where I live. I do what I’m supposed to do – what He’s called me to do.”

Krissy and Chanda are still great friends and meet for lunch nearly every week.

“She’s my ride-or-die,” Krissy says of Chanda. “From a personal standpoint, with my testimony and stuff, I was so scared to open up, specifically with women, about it… But she was not threatened by it at all. She was not judgmental. I mean she was just like a true, loyal, solid friend. When Creek talks about 2am friends, I know like, ‘Yup, that’s her.’ That’s her.”

Most importantly, Chanda is striving to be the best mother she can be. As a single mom, she’s raising Caleb to know the love of Christ.

Chanda and Caleb.

 

“Religion was what I grew up with,” Chanda says. “It was a very all-or-nothing mentality. Understanding that I didn’t have to clean myself up, like, running back to him when I did mess up was okay. That’s what he wanted. And I didn’t really get that until I had my own child. And that was huge, and very impactful. I’ve learned tremendously through parenting my own son, and just the grace involved in that.”

Chanda will be the first to tell you that she still has her fair share of struggles. Her life isn’t perfect and she is still working through the issues that have haunted her throughout her journey. But her heart and outlook on life are completely changed.

“You know, there’s no more shame that keeps me just locked in a pattern of sinful habits,” Chanda says. “I’m no longer looking inward. My hope is anchored in who He is. Without Him I’m like filthy rags. I was always fully aware that I was a wretch. But you know what? Jesus knew everything that you were going to do, or not do, and he died for you anyway. He died for you knowing all of that… When God views me, he sees Christ.”

John (Father), Sherry (Mother), Chanda, Caleb.

 

* * *

 

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” – John 4:39-42 (ESV)