The Violin Boys: How Four Brothers are Spreading Joy Amidst COVID-19

It feels like the world has come to a screeching halt. People are stuck inside, left to mine the tumultuous caverns of social media and the bleak news on TV. Some without a source of income. Some with an ever-present fear of the virus making its way around the globe.

It’s scary.

It’s tedious.

It’s boring.

But, for four brothers on the west side of League City, it’s been an opportunity for them to use their gifts in a way they never expected.

“I told the boys I wanted them to do some kind of community service to help encourage people with everything that is going on,” Jennifer Keown said about her conversation with her four sons: Micah (15 years old) – a freshmen at Clear Springs High School – Caleb (12), Joshua (12) – who actually plays the viola – and Andrew (9).

The proposal: play violin driveway concerts for families in the community.

“They were agreeable to it,” Jennifer said. “But with teenage boys, you know, it can be hard.”

The boys felt a little shy about getting started, thinking most people probably wouldn’t want to listen to classical violin music, especially in the current state of things. So Jennifer posted about it on Facebook to gauge interest.

It didn’t take long for the responses to start rolling in.

“They were still unsure,” Jennifer said. “But then they actually played for people, and they started getting comments of just how thankful people were… And at the various places we would go, there might be other people we didn’t know who were around. You know, some neighbors, or some guys who were out mowing lawns or whatever that would end up listening to them, too. So that was kind of fun.”

They even got to play for a family friend with a daughter who has medical needs that put her in a high risk group for COVID-19. As a bonus, she is really interested in playing the violin.

The Keowns have now played at six different homes, and say they aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

“I just think it gives people a chance to see a familiar face, and someone smiling, and doing something besides thinking about this virus for just a few minutes,” Jennifer said. “So I think it’s just a way to spread joy, and to spread God’s love to other people. And to say, Hey, you don’t have to just sit at home and be afraid all the time. We can still do things that are fun and joyful and bring a smile to people’s faces.

“I think for kids, sometimes it’s harder for them. Because, even though they are kids, if they’re going to help somebody, they don’t want to do something that’s not actually helpful. I mean even real little kids, they realize the difference between doing something that’s actually helpful and doing something somebody says is helpful, because they’re a little kid.

“So, I think it’s been cool for the boys to be able to do something that’s actually brought joy to someone else. It’s real! It’s not something other people can easily do, because not everybody has that skillset. And so it’s been a good lesson for them, to just realize, Okay, I do have the ability to serve others in this. And it doesn’t have to look a certain way. It can be the thing that I’m good at.

After a day of playing violin in people’s driveways when they would have normally been at school or chosen to relax, Micah summed it all up in his own way.

“My oldest son always says, ‘Anytime Mom says, “Hey I’ve got a great idea!” that’s when you know it’s going to be a bad idea,’” Jennifer laughs. “But, on the way home, he said, ‘But this really was a great idea!’”

Here For You: The Erin Contreras Story


“Growing up, I had a really rough childhood, the type that comes up in the news,” Erin Contreras said. “I mean, I went to 23 different elementary schools, so there was no stability or time to go to church.”

Even with so many variables in her life, Erin always felt the presence of someone there for her. She believed in God even though no one in her family was guiding her.

“[He was] who I called out to in my times of need,” Erin said.

When Erin met her husband, Eli, her thoughts of God faded into the background. Although Eli grew up with a really religious background, Erin didn’t have a foundation that stuck. In 2007, a coworker invited Erin and Eli to attend Clear Creek Community Church. Eli, with his strict traditional religious background, was skeptical upon seeing “a bunch of hippies” in jeans and flip flops, but ultimately they decided to regularly attend Sunday morning services.

“We didn’t have any community,” Erin said about their early experience at Clear Creek. “It was a very transactional relationship. We went, we punched our card, and we left.”

Just before the Conteras’ second son was born, Erin was involved in a traumatic home invasion where the intruder tried to kill her and kidnap her oldest son while she was nearly 9 months pregnant. The only reason she was able to escape at the time was because the intruder thought she was dead already.

“It just left me so broken… with such bad PTSD,” Erin said. “I had Max two weeks later and, after that incident, our marriage just fell apart.”

With the ensuing depression Erin experienced, the foundation she and Eli had as a married couple crumbled. On top of that, Eli lost his job.

“The depression cut me so deep. I lost sense of reality. I lost sense of who I was,” Erin said. “We stopped going to church because… I just felt abandoned [by God].”

After the incident, Erin sought relief from her trauma and depression through medication and therapy, but she often felt alone. It seemed impossible to find other people who could identify with what she had been through.

“There weren’t any support groups for ‘Housewives of PTSD’” Erin recalled. “Either you’re a soldier [struggling with PTSD] or you don’t have it.” She had no one else in her circles who could relate to her experience. As a couple, Erin and Eli were never comfortable talking about Erin’s feelings or how her therapy was going.

“All Eli ever wanted to know was how I was doing because he just loved me so much,” Erin said. “But I could not talk about it at all. I would become too emotional, and it was too much for me… I just held it all in, and it was like a cancer.”

No longer trusting God, Erin isolated with her kids, wrapping them up in her self-protective armor. But, Eli’s response to the home invasion was the complete opposite.

“My husband, in that tragedy, found faith and I lost it,” Erin said. “He saw that somebody was there – somebody kept me alive.”

Erin and Eli continued to struggle, leading them to separate and no longer communicate with one another. They were headed towards divorce at full speed.

“We didn’t have family support. We weren’t in a small group. So that was just the path we were going down,” Erin said. “But my husband, out of desperation, started going to church again because he didn’t know what else to do.”

This time, Eli took a step in faith and joined a men’s small group. When the men would pray at the end of every group, Eli would ask for prayer for his marriage and prayer for his wife.

“At that time, I wanted nothing to do with him,” Erin said. “But Eli kept going to small group and prayed for us.” Erin freely admits that it would have been easier for Eli to just leave her completely. But Eli’s small group encouraged him to love his wife, even at her worst. Toward the end of the life cycle of the small group, Eli was ready to get baptized.

Erin finally agreed, and at Eli’s baptism, she met his small group.

“I saw that they were all married men,” Erin said. “And it broke my heart because I saw how happy all those married couples were, and I knew that they knew my story. I knew they knew what I was going through.”

Shortly after Eli’s baptism, he asked Erin, “What do you think about maybe coming to church with me on Sunday?”

Despite her fears of something happening her kids, she took a step.

About a month later the Contreras were still going to church together every Sunday. Erin and Eli had talked about moving back in together, and six months later, they were living together again. When another GroupLink happened, Eli suggested they join a small group for married couples.

“I was like, ‘I do not want to be in a married group. First of all, we’re barely married at this point. We just started living together and… the last thing I want is some hypocritical Christian telling me what I should be doing in my marriage.”

But Erin eventually agreed because she wanted to find some sort of hobby to do with her husband, though they drove separately to group each week.

“I didn’t want to go there to make friends,” Erin said. “I [didn’t] need churchy people in my life.” Within the first few meetings, the group members were already sharing their backgrounds and stories, and when it came time for Erin to speak, she was frank.

“I was like, ‘Basically, I’m not here for you guys. I don’t want any part of this. I’m just here for [Eli].”

Erin calls it “probably the worst introduction that anybody’s ever had,” but she didn’t think her life and marriage were anybody else’s business. But, she found that the group members were willing to receive her exactly where she was at.

After a while, Erin and Eli started riding to small group in a car together, which turned out to be catalytic for their marriage.

“I never thought the car ride would be the biggest thing, but it’s really where he and I became husband and wife again.”

They would talk about their thoughts on the current small group study, and it was the first chance in a long time to connect with one another about something deep. In those moments, without their kids and without distractions, Erin and Eli began to develop a friendship again.

“It just opened up a narrative… where we couldn’t before talk about how we were doing,” Erin said. “It got to the point where we’d get home, and we wouldn’t get out of the car. We’d just sit in the car and talk more for another 15 or 20 minutes. And so, I really think that those car rides were the most special time we’ve ever had.”

After going to small group for about a year-and-a-half, Erin got severely sick one summer and had to endure seven surgeries within a single summer. It was during this time that Erin’s perception of small group took a dramatic shift.

“They just really poured into my family,” Erin said about her group members. “They brought us meals. They checked on me daily. They would check in after every surgery asking, ‘Do you need help with this? Do you need us just to run to the grocery store?  What can we do for you?’”

The Contreras’ small group community intimately entered their lives during one of the most critical times for their family.

“I had never experienced anything like this,” she said. “Even when I had both of my kids, it was just me… alone. There was nobody who came over. There was nobody who brought meals… It was a shift. I belonged.”

Something about this love in action softened her heart. Air rushed back into her lungs. She still wouldn’t describe herself as a believer at that time but just going with the flow. Then one day, something that Eli and her Navigator had both said just clicked.

If God wasn’t there, then why are you angry at him?

“I was angry because I felt abandoned,” Erin said. “Eli had tried to tell me this many times. He would say, ‘Well, how can you feel abandoned by somebody that was never there to begin with?’

It finally made sense to Erin. You can’t be mad at somebody who isn’t there.

“I mean, if I’m angry at somebody then obviously there’s somebody in my heart that’s always been there… that’s when I really started believing.”

Erin got baptized in March 2018.

“[My baptism] was just another moment where I was like, ‘I’m still doing life with these people. These people are still pouring into me. They’re still here for my children. For my husband. And it was a really beautiful thing to have my community with me.”

Another part of her recovery has to do with her current job opportunity where she teaches music at a Classical School. She has the privilege of talking about God’s beauty every day.

“My whole job is to point out what is true, good, and beautiful in this world and how that all points back to God,” Erin said. “And not being a believer, I wouldn’t have the job that I have. I wouldn’t be able to form these little lives or these connections with these kids.”

Three months after Erin’s baptism, she took a huge next step by starting to serve in the music ministry at Clear Creek. Once someone who slipped in under the balcony and out before the end of the last song, Erin now uses her gifts to play the keyboard and sing on stage.

“You have to be so vulnerable to be on stage worshiping because you’re not just putting on a show for everybody. You’re worshipping withthem.” And each time she serves, she thinks about the people who might be sitting under the balcony.

“Music is one of those things that engages everybody,” Erin said. “So I always pray before I go on stage, Use our music to touch somebodyOpen somebody up.”

Erin found, and continues to find, places where her true passion and talent can encourage others to align their hearts in worship, no matter what their own circumstances might be.

Take Up Your Pen: The Sarah Gadsby Story




You haven’t ventured too far off Baylor campus before noticing the tiny, ramshackle building on Speight Street that you’ve driven past countless times before. This time, amid its paint-chipped screen doors and fraying cream trim you register the shack’s invitation: a “Come In, We’re Open!” sign inside the window, hanging above the stockpile of fresh bread loaves heaped on red crates. The restaurant’s derelict appearance boasts a charming appeal that compels you inside.

Resounding conversations buzz around bits of spitting frying grease, as three children spin on rusting counter stools. In between twirls, they watch the short-order cook, as he goes back and forth between deep-frying batches of French fries and pounding hamburger meat on the grill. You make your way to the only empty booth, but your shoulders tense as you witness Frank turn so quickly in the single-lane pathway between the grill and the counter that he sends his sister flying into the cash register. The diner’s only waitress seemed unphased. You take your seat as the telephone rings.

“Cupp’s Drive-In,” the cook answers, tossing fries in grease with his free hand. “Let me check,” he said, turning to face the hunched elderly woman, who is spooning raw meat with an ice cream scoop. “Mom, do we need any produce?” She shakes her head.

“Not today, Wayne,” he responds and returns to the fryer.

His other sister sits silently at the counter, delicately wrapping fork and knife sets in squares of crepe paper. You open your notebook and begin to jot down your impressions. This hole-in-the-wall experience was the perfect local attraction to feature in your creative nonfiction story assignment. You spend many hours interviewing the owner, chatting up the cook, and listening to his sister’s stories about the family-run business.

You wish you could have said that your time spent here resulted in a beautiful narrative that the Waco Tribune-Herald begged you to sell so they could advertise “Waco’s best burger” since its 1947 opening. You wish you could have seen the owner’s beauty, her faithfulness to this establishment since her first days as a waitress in 1957. You wish you could have held onto the chance to talk about her braving the weather as a carhop to take orders under the tin-roofed carport in the restaurant’s actual drive-in days. You wish you would have listened to your inner voice telling you to honor this family as they united to maintain the restaurant’s legacy when the former car hop became the owner in 1988. But, you fixated on the missing teeth. You felt the cracked vinyl. You fraternized with these people, sat in their establishment, ate their food, and then chose to call your article “Razing Cupp’s with a Farewell Toast.” You wrote the last lines, “Unfortunately for Cupp’s, property taxes are high, the coffee tastes cheap, and the Burger King across 15th Street accepts credit cards. Soon, there will be nothing left of the original burger joint in Waco except, perhaps, silence and the lingering odors of frying grease.”


I am genuinely ashamed to admit this is how I started my writing life.

* * *

I pursued my Bachelor’s in Professional Writing because I felt confident that I could succeed in a writing-related field. I knew I had an ability to manipulate words and construct sentences, and I was aware that not everyone can do that well. But during that very first story assignment, I abused the power that lies within that gift. I “made an A,” but the reward was bitter. I grew up with rule-following, people-pleasing tendencies, so this dark motive took me by surprise. I betrayed the people at Cupp’s, but I also betrayed myself. I would have never said the words I wrote in person, out loud. I never was going to show them my article. It wouldn’t be published. So, I took the liberty to exploit them. And while I am guilty, I don’t regret my choice. It exposed a new and vital understanding about being human that has shaped my character since: we all have the propensity for good or for evil, but power lies in our ability to choose. I made the choice after that assignment that if I continued to write, I wanted to use my gifts to honor people, to celebrate them, to highlight their beauty. Never again would I use my words to tear people down.

* * *

I’m not sure if I’ve always been a writer. But I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember.  In fact, it has become a long-running joke in my family that I only know how to tell a “short story long.”  

Before leaving for college, my high school youth pastor asked me what I would do if I could do anything in the world and money didn’t matter. I told him, “I would be a writer.”  

I didn’t know any writers at the time, but I really wanted to be one.  

When I didn’t have a job lined up after graduation, I tried to live into the whole “money doesn’t matter” mantra. I remember telling my dad that, after paying for four years of university, I was going to work as a barista at Starbucks and write for a living. Needless to say, he shot down my idea faster than an espresso has a chance to kick in. So, I earned my living using my technical writing skills at a local engineering firm. Soon after, I became certified to teach high school English. I thought, if I couldn’t work at Starbucks and write, at least I could teach writing. During this time, I felt called to write, but honestly, I wasn’t writing much.

When I moved back to League City after a three-year tour de Houston, I was looking to re-engage at Clear Creek Community Church by joining the East 96 campus launch team. As I explored ways I might be able to serve at this new venue, I noticed a volunteer opportunity called “Story Team.” I reached out to the director, and it was only minutes into our initial conversation that I felt connected to this mission. I would be a listening ear for people to share their vulnerable moments, facilitate self-reflection, and celebrate with them how God has redeemed their story. Because God has a history of redeeming. And every story points to Christ, the hero.   

I think we all have this innate sense that there is a tale to be told. The sense that there is this divine author with a unified plan for all of history. A story. And everyone wants to hear a good story, but writing requires a different level of commitment than storytelling. Writing takes time – time that I have to fight to find. So honestly, I write because I’m too busy to write. I write to slow down. To be still. To exhale.  

But it also hurts to be a writer. You have to empathize with the universal brokenness in the world.  You have to think deeply. Often, you have to travel back in time to your own past to channel the emotions you want to convey. And that’s not always fun. So, Story Team is no joke. The work we do, like all Kingdom work, feels weighty. It’s emotionally challenging to journey with people through their dark and tragic moments. When I write these stories, I feel I am walking on holy ground. It’s an honor and a privilege to be trusted with people’s holy experiences. Knowing I’m using my gifts to share God’s love and gospel to a broken world is the most satisfying work I do.

So, I am a believer in the power of story.  Everyone has a story. Every story matters. And when people use their voice to tell their story, they are sharing hope with the world. For me, joining Story Team, also, came at a time when I found that telling people “because the Bible says so” wasn’t always enough. Absolutely the Bible is powerful and effective in transforming lives. But in the time of history we live in, stories of real people who have been transformed by the Bible, are powerful change agents themselves. We all live within the world of God’s grand narrative. We’re all on a protagonist’s journey with tension, tragedy, milestones. Our stories inspire curiosity and draw people to God himself – the true hero in the stories we tell.  

I don’t tell a single story that doesn’t first change me. Victor and Ginger challenged me to love deeper and without walls. Cathy and Tricia showed me the power of presence. Tia convicted me to search the scriptures for wisdom and understanding that can only come from through God’s inspired word. Nate Fisher reassured me that there is no silver bullet to eliminate our struggles, but that it’s okay to still struggle. And the Sutherlands modeled for me how to choose joy through the excruciating and enduring pain of loss and to let your village share that burden with you. 

No matter how many times I change jobs, or move, or shift directions in my life, I will always be writing. This is my life’s work and the way that I want to contribute to my small part of the world. 

So, I’m a storyteller.  

I’m a writer. 

And when I write, I help give voice to the inspiring stories that people are living. Back when I made that promise to myself about the kind of stories I would write moving forward, I could have never imagined the opportunity I would have to hear people share their stories of their humanity and their faith.

As it turns out, even the story of Cupp’s Drive-in had an interesting plot twist and redemptive ending—believe it or not, they are still in business today despite what I wrote about them 11 years ago. Recently, they’ve even been showcased on the weekly television show “Texas Bucket List” as the best burger in Waco. Who knew?

So, even though every story reels with a messy, dark, or broken start, they all have the potential to end with hope—and somehow I have been given a front row seat.

Worth It: The Amanda Milski Story

Dear Amanda, I hope you receive this holy Bible with all of my love. And that in yourfuture you study it, understand it, and grow to love the words and the wisdom andcompassion they will bring into your heart.

Amanda Milski’s father penned these words in the front pages of Amanda’s Bible when she was a girl. Love from God, within her home, and through her church, was a primary theme throughout her youngest years.

Amanda grew up in Bacliff as one of eight children in a blended family. They attended a small church in San Leon where her dad’s faith in God grew as a result of a close-knit relationship with the people of the church, specifically the pastor. 

“We used to go very religiously — every Sunday the whole family would go,” said Amanda. One Sunday the church hired a photographer to take family portraits, and they all dressed nicely and smiled big for the camera —  the girls dolled up in “adorable little dresses.” All smiling. All together. That was her childhood.

“One of my earliest memories was when my dad got baptized,” said Amanda. “It was one of the most incredible days of my life.” 

She felt a wave of warmth as she watched her dad go under the baptismal waters. That day, she told her dad she wanted to be baptized. 

“He thought I was too young and didn’t fully understand,” she said. He had her explain to him what baptism was, and she recited a version of what her dad had previously told her. Ultimately, her dad decided she should wait. There was no rush. 

Shortly after her father’s baptism, their pastor was hit and killed in a motorcycle accident. 

“Our church changed after he was gone,” she said. Their family eventually stopped attending, and her dad grew distant. 

“My life was completely different after our pastor died,” Amanda said. “My dad stopped praying with us as much and stopped reading the Bible with us as much.” 

A few years after the incident, Amanda’s mother abruptly left the family. 

“When she left I took it pretty hard,” Amanda recalled. “I felt a lot of abandonment and unworthiness. I was so unworthy that my mom couldn’t even love me, so she left.”

That happy family portrait was the only picture of the entire family together, and Amanda could no longer find it.

Amanda buried her conflicting emotions — a trust and belief in God and a feeling of unworthiness — deep in her heart and struggled with them throughout her growing up years. 

In middle school, Amanda again asked if she could be baptized. She had been attending a different church in her neighborhood whose student pastors had a great influence on her growth as a Christian. Her stepmom asked her to write an essay explaining what baptism meant to her, but, for reasons she did not understand, her request was again denied.

“She rejected my essay, and so I started feeling really defeated,” Amanda said. “I started doing a lot of research and started reading the Bible as much as I could because I felt like I didn’t know enough. I felt like I had to know everything.”

Then in high school, the incredible pastors of her youth group moved away, and the church changed yet again. Amanda stopped attending altogether midway through high school.  

She joined the Army National Guard right after graduating and quickly became lonely and isolated, enduring two years of depression and severe anxiety.

“I just lived my life as if God wasn’t in it — kind of meaningless.”

“When I was close to graduating from job training [in the National Guard], one of my friends asked if I wanted to go check out some churches on base,” Amanda said. “I was like, sure, why not.” 

They visited several different types of churches, none of them a good fit. But those visits did ignite in Amanda a desire to start a conversation with God again. 

Not long after this, she met a guy on an online dating site. They talked for about two months before they met, and after their first date he asked Amanda to go to church with him. 

The guy — Jordan Milski — went to Clear Creek Community Church. Amanda was hesitant at first to attend such a big church, but the service — from the music to the message — struck her in a deeply emotional way. 

“I went home and asked God to forgive me for not sticking by him and trying to take control of my own life,” said Amanda. 

Amanda saw how God began putting people in her life to bring her back to him. Two of those people were Jordan’s friends from Clear Creek. But since they were “church people,” Amanda thought they would judge her. 

“They terrified me at first,” she recalled with a laugh. “They’re gonna see how crappy I am,” she remembered thinking. “But they were amazing, and they still are.”

Amanda began to live her life more purposefully. She worked to build a relationship with her mother and began to pray regularly for her dad, hoping to bring him back into the church. 

Amanda and Jordan started attending Clear Creek regularly and eventually married. Not long after they married, the Coffeys asked Amanda and Jordan to join their small group. It was in small group that Amanda finally began to deal with her feelings of unworthiness and considered the idea of baptism again.

The group read through Missional Community, a study that explains the mission of Clear Creek and essential beliefs of the Christian faith. Through this study and the encouragement of her small group, Amanda learned what it takes to get baptized. 

“The reason I hadn’t been baptized was that I still had my feelings of unworthiness, like I didn’t know enough,” she said. “Now I know I don’t know enough, and it doesn’t matter how much I know. It just matters that I know God sent Jesus to die on a cross for me and that my sins are forgiven as long as I believe. Outside of that, I have a lifetime to learn about God.”

Amanda was baptized by her husband on October 6, 2019, at Clear Creek’s Egret Bay Campus with her mother, father, many of her family members, and her small group in attendance.

Giving Up: A Bold Love Story

“Oh, great! Another fundraising campaign.” 

That was Geovani Mejia’s initial thought when Clear Creek Community Church first announced the Bold Love campaign. 

“I was very upset, annoyed, and angry,” Geo said. “I couldn’t believe they were trying to raise this much money.”

Geo had been a Christian for many years and he and his wife, Portia, had always given a portion of their income to their local church. But changes in his life had caused his heart to become “indifferent” toward his relationship with God, and that disconnect became more obvious to him as he heard the church’s plan for the campaign. 

“Honestly, I hated the idea of giving more money to the church,” he said. 

Geo and Portia moved to the League City area from Houston when Geo was hired by the League City Police Department. That was a huge career shift for him—from banking to law enforcement—and it came alongside other big changes. The Mejias were still adjusting to life with a new baby, and they had left the comforts of friends, family, and their beloved home church. 

At their church in Houston, Portia and Geo had invested heavily in serving, specifically with the youth and in Sunday worship services. They felt the church really needed their time, but it was apparent to the Mejias that it also needed a lot of financial help. 

“That church needed every dollar they could get to survive,” Geo recalled. 

After the Mejias moved to League City and began attending Clear Creek, they settled into a routine of ease and anonymity, choosing to take a break from serving and struggling to continue giving. Indifference toward God began to creep into their hearts.

“I was giving only out of obedience but not out of love,” said Geo. “It was a struggle to give the church my money.” 

“It looked like the church was fine and didn’t need our money,” Portia added. “We [had] served nonstop for five years. We were tired.” 

By the time the Bold Love campaign began, the Mejias had adjusted to life in League City and were becoming invested in Clear Creek. Portia had begun serving on the worship team at the Egret Bay campus, and they joined a small group together. Geo realized that his relationship with God was beginning to grow again through small group.

Eventually, it was their small group leader, Curtis, who questioned Geo about why he felt such anger toward the campaign.

“It was Curtis who said ‘You need to check your heart to see why you’re so angry about this.’ So that’s what I did,” said Geo. That’s when he realized his anger wasn’t about money. “It was a heart thing… selfishness.” 

The church had encouraged the congregation to look at their personal finances to see what each individual and family could give. Portia and Geo had always kept a budget, but Geo decided to dig a little deeper. 

“That’s when I listed out all our debt,” said Geo, “and I realized how out of control it was: $58,000. That’s a lot of money. It was like God opened my eyes to do something about it.”

The connection between their looming debt and the anger Geo felt about giving above and beyond their usual tithe to the church started to become clear to him. He realized he needed help to do something about it.

“I started talking to Curtis more about budgeting and getting out of debt,” he said. 

Curtis helped Geo develop a leaner budget. He also pointed him to financial advisor, Dave Ramsey. Geo read his book The Total Money Makeover and began listening to his radio show. 

Around that time, their navigators asked Mark Carden, Clear Creek’s Executive Pastor, to speak with the group about the Bold Love campaign. Geo questioned Mark about the church’s motives behind Bold Love and discovered more about himself than he anticipated.  

“I didn’t ask because I actually cared, it was because I was trying to justify not giving,” Geo recalled.  By the end of the consultation, he just felt further conviction that the problem was with his own heart. 

And so the Mejias made their Bold Love commitments: to continue in community with their small group, for Geo to begin serving on the parking team, to continue giving regularly with generous hearts, and to get out of debt.

The journey to paying off all their debt began. They had a plan in place with a strategic date set for when their final debt would be paid.

“We wanted to get out of debt because we couldn’t be generous, and we couldn’t accomplish the things we wanted to in life with the debt,” Geo said. 

But, there were some big financial temptations along the way.

“I still wanted to do things my way,” said Geo. At times, he considered stopping their regular tithe in order to make up ground financially. And near the end of their journey, he decided to put the final debt payoff on hold so that they could save for buying a house.

 But, continuing in their routine of encouragement from Scripture and other sources, they persevered. They continued to tithe and eventually decided to use the money they had saved up for a down payment on a house to pay off their final loan. 

“I felt so much peace—so much relief,” said Geo. “In the process, God had to break me of my will.”

God taught the Mejias many lessons through their 23-month journey, and they’re already noticing little glimpses of a new life.

“To me it feels surreal,” said Geo. Their first debt-free week, they were able to buy several things for others as gifts. “It was joy. It wasn’t grudgingly giving like it used to be.”

“Material things don’t have such a strong hold on me now,” said Portia. “I’m trying to seek [God’s] kingdom first, and God is still working on me. Sticking to the budget and being disciplined is something that God has helped me with because if I’m not disciplined in how I spend our money, then that affects my husband and our whole family.” 

They used the whole experience to teach their kids how to use money properly, in a God-honoring way. 

“The boys got to see we don’t have to live that life of debt,” said Portia. “But, we can live another way—a way that not everybody else is living.” 

Other fruits have come from this season of cutting back and allowing God to break them of their way of living, as well. Following the journey out of debt, the Mejias not only continued tithing, but they began to give more.

They also took the step to become Navigators, and Portia and Geo have both led short-term Bible studies with co-workers and friends. Geo admits that before all of this life-change, he tended toward hoarding his time and money. But that’s not such a struggle anymore. 

“Bold Love and going debt free accelerated all that [growth],” he said. “I think God’s been trying to teach me to trust him—that it’s all his and to trust him. If I’m doing what he’s asking me to do as far as being generous, he’ll have my back somehow, some way.”

Geo and Portia both sense a great deal of spiritual growth in their lives and now live with a sense of anticipation, waiting on what God will call them to do next. 

Looking back, the Mejias belive the Bold Love commitment was a crucial step in their story. 

“I hate Bold Love and love it,” laughs Geo. “It changed our lives.”

The Dance: The Kristine Gregory Story

Kristine Gregory loves salsa dancing.

A friend invited her along to a class while they were in college together. She didn’t even know how to dance, but on a whim she volunteered to be an officer during her first class. Kristine not only learned how to dance, but also began coordinating events and instructing others.

“I’m the type of person who just jumps into things and learns as I go,” she says.

One summer during college, she did things that made her uncomfortable just so she could learn how to navigate uncomfortable situations. Her zest for life crackles through the air as you talk with her, and she laughs as she explains her own metaphorical perspective on life: “I view life as this big hallway that I dance through with a bunch of doors. If God is leading me in a dance, he’s going to open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”

Kristine studied to be a pharmacist at the University of Texas, the same season of her life where she fell in love with salsa dancing and something that would change the direction of her life–medical missions.  She went on a trip to Mexico, and her experiences there stuck with her.

“It was rewarding to see people become passionate through getting them connected to serving through medical missions,” Kristine says of her trip. “There is something about using your talents and passions to help others and to see the impact that your time can have in the lives of the people we serve.”

Then the doors just kept opening.

Kristine saw the needs of the people and got hooked on serving them. She also saw she was not alone–fellow students also showed a passion for serving others in this way. A natural leader, Kristine began coordinating volunteers on trips to Mexico and then took over coordinating the pharmacy side of trips. She saw the logistical side of these efforts, learning along the way. Eventually, she helped begin an organization at the University of Texas to mobilize students on trips to other countries.

Most everyone in Kristine’s life saw her passion for serving through medical missions, and an aunt brought up a topic that Kristine had not yet considered. Kristine was born in the small town of Concepción, Philippines and moved to the U. S. with her family while still young. Much of her family still lived in the Philippines, and she visited often. Her aunt asked a question that burdened Kristine: Why had she never been on a trip to her home country? She had traveled to several countries in her school years but had never seen an organization that served her home town. The need was definitely there. Now, the person to meet that need was ready.

“Literally,” says Kristine, “I was on my front porch in Austin and asked myself ‘What would be the first step to serve my hometown?’’ So, she called a friend and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t have a business plan, but where would I start?” Her friend suggested an organization to help her get 501c3 non-profit status. Because of Kristine’s drive and connections, she had a team ready to go to the Philippines before she even got approval. This was only a taste of how God would provide down the road.

In 2015, Kristine launched Be The Change Global Outreach, an organization dedicated to providing free medical care in international communities. Functionally, Be The Change works as a medical missions team, and was first launched in her hometown of Concepción, Philippines to serve remote neighborhoods with limited access to medical care. Medical personnel including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and hygienists saw patients over the course of roughly two weeks. Kristine and her team immediately saw the impact their work had and knew the model could be replicated in other places where the need was great.

In 2016, the effort branched into Myanmar with the same model. Be The Change treated approximately 1,400 people during the first trip to Concepción and around 1,800 in two trips to Myanmar.

Be The Change has intentional conversations with community leaders and patients enabling volunteers to “tailor our outreach to their needs,” says Kristine. Medicines are difficult to acquire for Filipinos, as the government offers little assistance and the prices are more than double than what they are in America. Be The Change works to bridge this gap by supplying needed medicine through personal funds. Volunteers pay their own way and provide extra money to provide funding for medical supplies and medications. The budget for supplies depends on how many volunteers go and donations that come in, usually at the eleventh hour.

“Everything works backward,” Kristine says.  “It’s like the chicken before the egg–grants don’t come through until the organizations see that what you do works, but you can’t do the work until you get funding.” Be The Change does partner with other nonprofits and charities that help provide supplies to medical missions, but the bulk of funding comes from the volunteers attending the trips. Even so, this struggle with the ministry also provides a way for God to show his providential care.

“Steve Jobs once said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,’” Kristine says with a smile. “God gave me all these opportunities that I wasn’t afraid to jump into, and they laid the foundation for me to start Be The Change. I pushed through all these unknowns and uncomfortable situations because I know God’s got my back.”

Since her faith was the key motivator for Kristine’s work, sharing it through the ministry was a priority. Kristine wanted the ministry to include her faith in Jesus but realized that the people they serve in the Philippines, being predominantly Catholic, already knew about Jesus. “I didn’t want it to be something where we forced Christianity on the people who we serve, or the volunteers,” says Kristine. She had to think more broadly and asked herself, “How can we inspire people to have more of a relationship with Jesus?” So, volunteers provide prayer for adults and a children’s program for the children of parents being treated. Dedicated volunteers lead arts and crafts, activities, and gospel lessons with the children. In Myanmar, Be The Change partners with a local church whose bishop provides many resources and relationships for their mission, engaging the community for Christ.

Kristine decided to take her vision a step further by creating a blog to document the development of this ministry.

“People get to join me in this process of seeing how God’s providing along the way as I walk in faith, only seeing so far ahead,” she says. “That is my focus–to inspire people to take leaps of faith.” Indeed, Kristine has inspired friends to begin their own businesses and nonprofits. They reach out to her for advice as well as ask questions such as, “How do you get through the scary times?”

Kristine feels the weight of this question because she has been there many times.

“You’re going to be constantly talking yourself out of being scared,” she tells friends. “Let me share the verse that anchors me through those moments.”

Kristine clings to the story of Jesus calling Peter out on the water from Matthew 14. She knows it is very easy to be distracted by the winds and waves of uncertainty around her instead of focusing on Jesus. “When I get into those moments of being scared, or of wanting to know what the future looks like, my focus needs to be on God and not what’s around me because I still have to move forward in faith,” she says.

The question after each trip quickly became, “What happens to the patients after we leave?”

“We wanted to create something more sustainable,” Kristine explains. Sustainability includes providing ongoing care to their patients to enable them to make the best choices for their health and the health of their families. The next step the team envisions is establishing a permanent local clinic in Concepción this summer, focusing first on patients with diabetes and high blood pressure. This clinic could provide “more holistic and continuous” care by not only providing all medications and resources free, but also by providing lifestyle modification counseling for patients. There are many obstacles in this vision, but Kristine trusts that it is the logical next step in this ministry, and so she trusts that God will provide.

From leading salsa dancing classes as an amateur to leading medical missions teams overseas, Kristine sees how God has provided her training along the way. This reflective vision gives her an “intense trust” in God himself and in his providential care for the future. “[God], you put me here; you’re calling me to this,” Kristine explains about her trust. “So, I’m going to go through the doors you are opening, and something’s going to come from it.”

Once, early in her college dance class, an instructor pointed out that Kristine was back-leading in their dance. This happens when the follower anticipates what the leader is going to do and moves before she is led. Her partner said, “Let me show you what it feels like to be led.” He then took her into a turn where, for a moment, she felt completely out of control, and then immediately felt the exhilaration of completing the turn the way it was meant to be experienced.

Kristine uses this lesson to show how she yearns to follow God in her successes with Be The Change even when she can’t see the next step clearly.

“Being led means there’s a little moment of not feeling in control but knowing that at the last minute you are going to be okay. God can’t lead me any other way.”

Beneath the Surface: The Stuart Cayer Story

“It was sort of a culmination of things in the middle of the night. My marriage. My father. My friend who had sort of betrayed me. All my addictions. My children. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I knew I couldn’t do it anymore… I remember waking up in the middle of the night… and literally giving up.”

Stuart Cayer seemed like he had it all. The job. The house. The wife. The kids. The money. The esteem. By nearly every measure, his life was a success.

But the outward appearance of his identity was just a front—a crude covering for the heart of a broken man.

“I was probably addicted to every false idol there is out there, from pornography, to greed, to respect,” Stuart said. “You know, all of them… I was just deeply troubled.”

Stuart and his wife Sharon were trying to figure out how to be parents to two teenagers, maintain their ever-demanding careers as healthcare executives, and find time to enjoy their marriage. But they quickly found that balancing their arduous jobs with busy schedules and the needs of their children was beyond challenging, and their marriage took the brunt of it.

“There was a time shortly after that, quite frankly, that my wife and I barely liked each other,” Stuart said. “Well, I don’t even think we liked each other. I know we didn’t. Maybe deep down we loved each other, but we didn’t get along at all. Both of us thought about divorce and talked about it a few times, but never went through with it.”

Years earlier, they met working at the MD Anderson Cancer Center shortly after Stuart finished his Master’s degree.

“I knew that she was agnostic or somewhere between agnostic and atheist,” Stuart says. “Anyway, I loved her. I didn’t care. I wasn’t following Jesus Christ at that point in time anyway. I had a lot of other gods that I was chasing. So, we got married.”

As the years rolled along, Stuart and Sharon established themselves in their careers and as parents, and to the outside world, looked as if they had everything anyone ever wanted. But the talk behind closed doors tended towards all of their unhappiness rather than all of their successes.

In addition, health issues were catching up to Stuart’s father, and so Stuart spent much of his free time with his dad, unsure how much longer they would have together.

The mental and emotional toll of it all was crushing.

“Things were just a mess inside the home,” Stuart recounts. “There were a number of different times where, really, I thought about just not being here anymore, to the point that I can remember being on vacation in Colorado on a summer trip, on a ski lift, just thinking about how easy it would be to slip off into a deep crevasse. You know, I sat on that bench just white-knuckled, afraid to even touch anything for fear that I would do it. I didn’t get back up on that ski lift again. I’m sure my wife was wondering why I didn’t, but I just did not. And I can remember a number of different times where, you know, I thought about how easy it would be to just drift my car underneath an 18-wheeler, and do it that way. To be honest with you, I was too afraid to live and too afraid to die.”

Stuart grew up believing in God. He was baptized at a young age, but attributes his decision to fear more than love.

It was in college that he departed from the church.

“I always believed in Jesus Christ,” Stuart says. “I never stopped believing. From the time I walked away in college, I was just busy off chasing my own dreams. He did not fit into my plans. I grew up believing that you had to be perfect, and you know, I walked away knowing that I couldn’t be perfect. I just couldn’t live the life they wanted to me live, and I knew so many people that I thought to be hypocrites, and I just didn’t understand that. Nobody ever really taught me about grace, or I just wasn’t really listening.”

In the midst of some of Stuart’s greatest struggles, he and his son began to attend a father-son small group at the request of their neighbor, Bobby Vichich. Originally intending to use the group for the benefit of his son, Stuart began to feel a sense of connection.

Eventually, the father-son group blossomed into a couple’s group and a separate men’s group, and Stuart continued to attend both. It was there he began to learn the importance of community, and he even softened to the idea of returning to church.

But despite his effort to find peace and comfort, his internal turmoil kept him dejected and hopeless.

Until one night.

“I remember waking up in the middle of the night… and literally giving up,” Stuart remembers. “I had given up on myself… and I just cried out to God. And it was probably the most pure, unadulterated feeling of love I’ve ever felt in my entire life. It was as if he put his arms around me, and just told me, ‘Welcome to the club.’ You know, he never said, ‘What took you so long?’ or anything like that.”

Stuart laid there in bed in the dark and cried. 

Later that night, Stuart wrote a letter to the men in his small group, thanking them for their prayers and support and explaining all that he had been dealing with (some of which they knew, and a lot they didn’t) and the details of him committing his life to Christ.

Stuart couldn’t sleep much after that, but he still had to get up and go to work the next morning. He got up, got dressed, and started driving to work, still raw with emotion.

“I cried all the way to work, so much to the point that I thought, I have to get it together or I’m going to get in an accident,” Stuart says with a laugh. “I walked into a friend of mine’s office, a doctor, and someone who I deeply respect for their faith, and explained to them what happened. And the interesting thing was that all the problems that I had were all still there, but none of them at that point in time, were a burden to me.

“And so that that was the day I was born again. I had been baptized earlier in my life, because I feared God. But I never really understood God’s grace, and that I didn’t have to be perfect, and that he accepted me for who I was. He called me to try to do his will. I think the most difficult thing was, What do I do now? What do I tell my wife and kids? I remember thinking, Well, I’m just going to be the father and the husband I should have been all along.

Within a week, people started asking what was different about Stuart. And those people included his wife and kids. So, he explained how the love and hope of Jesus Christ had radically transformed his heart and freed him to live life in a new way. A better way.

The better way has marked his story ever since.

Stuart started serving on the Parking Team, directing traffic at CCCC’s Egret Bay Campus, and volunteering on the Prayer Team to pray with people after church services.

Stuart and Sharon started attending marriage classes at Clear Creek Community Church and credit those leaders and those lessons as the biggest influence in restoring their marriage.

In March of 2017, Sharon made the decision to be baptized. One of the things she included in her baptism story read:

Over this past year, I’ve been reading the Bible more and novels less, and have committed to a year-long plan to read the Bible in its entirety. I’ve taken CCCC classes that I’ve enjoyed and I’m signing up for more. I now love doing these things, no longer worry myself sick, take action by praying, and feel much more settled and functional as a person. My marriage is wonderful and this May we will celebrate our twenty-eighth anniversary. Work has been reprioritized and life is good.

Thank you Stuart for bringing Jesus into our home.  This is the number one reason I’m here today.

During the summer of 2017, the Cayers went on their third mission trip to Honduras.

“Now, [Sharon’s] at the front of the pack, trying to do all that she can,” Stuart said. “And she’s not trying to check all the boxes, she just generally loves serving. She’ll tell you that she kept hearing these sermons about putting your faith in God, and just put your faith in Jesus Christ and finally she just decided one day, ‘You know what? I’m going to try this.’ And she loves it. And we love it. And everything around us seems to be changing for the better.”

Generations: The Davin Morris Story

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.