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.  

Rewritten

By Tiffany Ravedutti

When my husband and I relocated from Illinois to Texas in 2013, everything about our move supported what I felt deep in my heart: my life was changing.

Around that time, my husband and I started our own martial arts academy and transitioned from employees to employers. We welcomed our first daughter into the world and transitioned from newlyweds to new parents. We left the comfort of living near our support system, and ventured away from everything we knew. We even traded iced-over roads for streets lined with palm trees.

Nothing felt the same. And as the feelings of familiarity vanished, so did the sense of safety.

Spiritually, I could feel the tides turning, too.

Immediately upon arrival, we started the church-hunting process. I found myself desperately searching for a church just like the one I left in my hometown. My husband immediately felt drawn to Clear Creek Community Church, but I kept asking to visit, “just one more” to see if I could find the Texas equivalent of my hometown church.

Week after week, we tried church after church and found nothing that felt like home. When we missed a service or hadn’t made plans to check out a new church, we’d go to Clear Creek’s Egret Bay campus.

At one point, we attended a morning service at a nearby church and we both left feeling uneasy. After the service, as we walked to our car, I looked at my husband and asked, “So…do you think we still have time to make it to Creek?”

“I was hoping you’d be up for that!” he replied with relief.

It was during that visit to Egret Bay that I began to entertain the idea that my husband’s discernment was right all along: this was where we belonged.

At the end of the service, when prompted to pray, I felt a strong conviction that I had been approaching this whole church thing the wrong way. Rather than searching for a church that perfectly fit my long list of criteria and could serve me well, I should have been searching for the place where God wanted to use the gifts he had already given me to serve his church.

I looked around at the crowded auditorium and found it hard to believe that there was any gift inside of me that couldn’t already be found in a group that size. Nonetheless, I tucked the conviction in my heart and promised God that I’d explore it further.

Over the next few months, my husband and I joined a small group. Suddenly, the intimidating size of Egret Bay shrunk to people we knew, faces we recognized, and lives that intersected our own.

A few more months later, I decided to follow through with that conviction I felt, and started serving in Student Ministry. As our team huddled, and relationships began to form, the church seemed to shrink even more. Soon enough, there wasn’t a week I walked in that I didn’t know someone.

I loved everything about serving in Student Ministry, but I still had a tugging feeling that I had something more to offer.

Inspired by my experiences serving others at our business and our church family, I began to write posts on social media about the ways in which I could identify God working in the world around me. Every time I wrote something, it was as if this hidden talent (that I never even knew was there) ignited a passion in my heart and grew until it became something I craved.

After writing a post, women I’d known from different times and places in my life would send messages encouraging me to keep writing because I seemed to write their own thoughts. It was when a friend asked me to get a coffee with her that I realized there may be something for me to pursue in writing when she reached across the table, grabbed my hand, and said with tears streaming down her face, “You wrote the words of my heart and reminded me that Jesus sees me. Thank you.”

Somehow, writing seemed to marry my creativity with compassion, and I could no longer ignore the overwhelming desire I had to point people to the grace found in Christ through the written word.

In one Student Ministry huddle, our leader, Aaron Lutz asked the question to the group, “What’s something you see in the world that God is breaking your heart about right now? What’s he asking you to do about it?”

I knew my answer immediately, but I hadn’t spoken it out loud before. When it was my turn to answer, I almost choked on the air I was using to speak.

“I…uh… well, I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think God’s been leading me to write,” I said, staring at the ground.

Startled by my own words, I immediately started dismissing them.

“But, I don’t even know what this is. All I’ve ever known is martial arts and it’s really all I know to do. I don’t know anything about writing…I just…I don’t know.”

Feeling flustered, I looked to Aaron with a hurried half-smile that said, “Okay, next person, please!”

His eyebrows raised in interest and said, “Hey! That’s awesome! Don’t leave today without me introducing you to my friend, Jon.”

After service, Aaron introduced me to Jon Coffey, the director of Story Team.

After a conversation about the power of storytelling, the vision for Story Team, and cultivating a culture of story at Clear Creek, I was hooked!

He explained the process that we’d follow: I’d meet members of the church for coffee and they’d share the story of how God has worked in their lives. I’d write their testimony and it would be shared on the church’s blog to encourage others.

I remember thinking, “So, I get to talk to people about Jesus while drinking coffee? Is this real life?”

What a perfect way to serve my church.

It only took a few minutes into my first interview for me to understand exactly why I felt convicted to shift my church-hunting perspective all those months ago.

To date, there hasn’t been a single, Story Team testimony I’ve had the pleasure of hearing that I haven’t silently swept tears off my cheeks as I’ve listened to the redemption and restoration and goodness of God. There hasn’t been a single story I’ve gotten to share, that I haven’t walked away in awe that God would be gracious enough to give me a front row seat for the work he’s doing in the world.

There hasn’t been a single story I’ve written that my own faith hasn’t been strengthened from hearing.

And along this incredible journey of discovering and using my God-given gifts to serve the church, there hasn’t been a single cup of coffee that I’ve regretted drinking either.

The Big Picture: The Nate Fisher Story

Growing up on a farm in northeast Kansas bolstered Nate Fisher with good morals, a hard work ethic, and some spiritual understanding, as his mom regularly took him and his sister to church in the small town nearby.

Official NASA Portrait for Flight Dynamics Division (CM) – Nate Fisher. Photo Date: July 11, 2018. Location: Building 8, Room 183 – Photo Studio. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

“What I took away from my family was that to get through life, you want to be a productive person and not a weight on society and culture,” 33-year-old Nate said.  

Nate also lived by the idea that while you are working to provide for yourself, you should also treat your neighbors well.  To an extent, Nate believed that if he treated others well, then they would approve of him and, in turn, treat him well, and that all of this would lead to happiness in life.

Instead it led to a chaotic life with sporadic highs and crushing lows that included depression.  

“My self-value was anchored in my performance at work and my perception of what others thought about me,” Nate said.  

But that anchor didn’t hold.

As a kid, Nate was always interested in science.  With hopes of becoming an astronaut, he pursued an engineering degree at Kansas State University.  However, as he studied science, he found it difficult to reconcile the latest theories—how old the universe is, what stuff it is made up of, how our solar system came to be—with the Bible stories he had heard about growing up.

“When I came to college, I started drifting away from any kind of religious values that I did have.  I perceived religious people to be very two dimensional, always putting on a happy-go-lucky persona, and whitewashing all the bad things in the world.”

Nate’s vision in life was to finish college, get an internship, and get a job.  Towards the end of his college career, he landed himself a multi-semester internship with NASA Johnson Space Center, which then led to a post-college job offer.  Once he got the job, his focus then became working hard and saving up money for retirement. But his flight operations job was very competitive and, while he wasn’t the bottom performing person, he also wasn’t the top performer.  Once again, he had to prove his worth and gain other people’s approval through his performance. After finally passing his first certification, Nate’s immediate future seemed secure. But all his hard work didn’t pay off with the contentment he’d hoped for.  All the while, Nate was slipping further into depression.

“I remember sitting at my desk at the house I was renting and realizing, So I’ll work for a while. Maybe I’ll get married, maybe not.  I’ll eventually retire. Maybe I’ll move back to Kansas, maybe not. I’ll keep hanging out with friends, and then I’ll die, and the universe will continue to exist without me.And I remember thinking, Wow. That really sucks. What’s the point of all this suffering?  Sometimes you’re happy, but most of the time you’re not. What’s the point of all of this? It just seemed like a gigantic waste of time.”

PHOTO DATE: 02/27/2018 LOCATION: Bldg. 30 – FCR-1 SUBJECT: Expedition 54 flight controllers during undocking of Expedition 54 crew (Misurkin, Vande Hei, Acaba) from the Poisk module on ISS. PHOTOGRAPHER: Norah Moran

Within the next month of having that conscious thought, Nate was invited to a Bible study and to church by three different people: a friend from work, his roommate, and a cute girl named Rachel.

“I thought it was kind of funny.  I had just been wondering about the point of life, and then all of this happened.  It was very surreal. It seemed like the universe was telling me to do this.”

So Nate decided to pursue faith again.

“I went to the Bible study that my good friend was starting, and I also went to church with Rachel, because she was much cuter than my dude roommate.”  That church happened to be Clear Creek Community Church. It was 2013 when Nate started attending on and off for the next year-and-a-half.

Through studying the New Testament book of John in the small group, and listening to the sermon series at church, Nate began to see a greater purpose than simply living, working and dying .

“I slowly came to the conclusion that life isn’t all terrible things. There are good things to it, too. It started to make sense that serving Christ, becoming a member of his church, doing what he tells us to do, living the way he tells us to— really his whole message— that is the real point of life.  It’s not just this gigantic chaotic thing that just sucks at the end.  It’s actually really beautiful.”

After studying John, his small group read through Genesis, and Nate began making connections between the Old and New Testament histories and the more he studied, the more his preconceived ideas began to be challenged.  It even opened up the possibility that science and the Bible aren’t mutually exclusive.

“The more I learn about science just points me to the beauty of creation. God made an incredibly ordered world and studying the world and physics is just another form of worship. Diving into all the little details and learning about it only increases his magnificence.”

Nate got baptized and a few months later started dating the cute girl, Rachel, who had originally invited him to church. They eventually married, and now Nate currently volunteers with the technical arts team, running the sound board at the Egret Bay campus.

But just because he became a Christian didn’t instantly take away his struggles.

“One of my biggest preconceived ideas when I was a kid was that if you were a Christian, your life is perfect and everything goes your way and you’re happy all the time.”

While it’s not as deep-seated as before, Nate stills struggles with wanting other people’s approval to give him a sense of worth.  

But, instead of focusing on doing what he needs to do to make other people feel good, and mostly looking to his performance and productivity at work for personal self-worth, Nate has started to replace that with what the Bible tells us about where we should find our self-worth.  

“My highs and lows aren’t as big as they used to be, because now I find my self-worth is grounded in something different than it was before.”

He has made a practice of taking the time to get up earlier than he really needs to go to work to read his Bible — not just to read the words and go, but read it slowly and think about what the words actually mean.  

PHOTO DATE: 02/27/2018 LOCATION: Bldg. 30 – FCR-1 SUBJECT: Expedition 54 flight controllers during undocking of Expedition 54 crew (Misurkin, Vande Hei, Acaba) from the Poisk module on ISS. PHOTOGRAPHER: Norah Moran

“If I can start my day off that way, then it gives me the tools to try to enter into the various things that happen to me during the day and attack it with the right point of view such that I can do my best to honor God.”

While Nate claims it’s no silver bullet, he finds that studying the Bible daily does help to keep him in the right mindset.

“This world can seem chaotic and crazy and full of badness that seems to go unchecked, but all of that will be made right one day,” Nate said.  “We have to trust in a power that’s bigger than ourselves. The creator of the universe obviously has the power to do what he wants. So there’s a reason all of this is happening.  Even if we don’t understand it, that doesn’t mean that the reason doesn’t exist.”

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