Comeback

People often ask George and Carrie Sutherland and their family, “Does it get easier?”

“It changes,” their daughter, Jessica says. “You take it breath-by-breath, and then step-by-step; day-by-day, and then week by week. And then some days it is back to step-by-step.”

***

One Sunday in October 2014 at the Clear Creek Community Church Egret Bay Campus, the pastor invited anyone in the congregation who had a relationship with Christ to take the next step of baptism that very day. George and Carrie Sutherland had already been attending CCCC for several years, but had never been baptized. It was their 20-year-old daughter, Clare, who spoke first.

“Mom, I want to go. Will you come with me?”

“Of course, I will,” Carrie said. “I’m right there with you, baby.”

Leaning over to inform her husband, George too said, “Okay, I’m in!” And the three of them got in line to publicly express their faith in Jesus Christ.

Clare being baptized at an outdoor baptism at Clear Creek Community Church’s Egret Bay Campus.

About two weeks later, Clare’s headaches began.

During one particularly debilitating episode, Clare was driving to class at nearby San Jacinto College. She pulled her Jeep Liberty to the side of the road and called her mom, in tears.

“Mom, my head hurts so bad, I can’t stand it.”

“Okay, I’m on my way.”

Unable to get a doctor appointment quickly, they headed to the emergency room. After a CAT scan, the doctor delivered the news.

“We need to do an MRI. She has a mass — a tumor.”

The week of Thanksgiving, doctors performed brain surgery to remove the mass. But, they weren’t able to remove it all.

Carrie, a sonographer in Maternal-Fetal Medicine, shared Clare’s pathology report with one of the oncologists she worked with. The co-worker gave a very direct response: Clare had 32 weeks, maybe 52. That was it.

“We knew that we could lose her,” George admitted. “But at the same time we didn’t knowthat. So we didn’t live there until we knew we were out of bullets. The statistics were not good, but statistics are just numbers, you know? Maybe we’ll be an outlier, we thought. We weren’t ready to give up hope.”

In January 2015, Clare began her first round of chemo. But shortly into treatments, her doctors realized there was little, if any, progress being made.

“Each time, we thought, Okay, this is bad news, but maybe it’s not,” George said. “And through the whole thing, it was a lot of prayer — a lot of faith. It was always, we can’t control this, but we know it’s in God’s hands. What can we do? What’s the next step?”

Doctors began talking about targeted therapy and clinical trials.

“It felt like to me that step 1 didn’t work, so ‘Let’s see what the latest emerging research is that we might be able to throw at itit’s not proven, but let’s go there,’” George recalled. “And I just thought, Oh, dear God. It’s too early for a Hail Mary.”

“I knew that the only way that Clare would survive would be God’s miracle,” Carrie said, fully understanding the medical realities. “And I knew that was possible, but that it might not be what he wanted. He had already given her back to us once.”

At birth Clare had an Apgar score of 1 on a scale to 10 — a score of 7-9 being normal, and a score of 0-3 requiring immediate resuscitation. So Clare, with a heart rate of 40, received CPR upon first entering the world. Yet, she breathed. And she breathed on her own, as though making the bold statement, I’m okay! A statement Clare went on to live her life by, even throughout her fight with cancer.

“We knew that if God was going to call her to him (which is kind of what it felt like he was doing), we had to say, ‘okay,’ too,” George said.

As George and Carrie walked with their daughter through her suffering, Clare trusted that they would let her know the things she needed to know, but there wasn’t much that Clare really wanted to know. She didn’t want to be over-informed.

“Clare’s comment through the whole thing was, ‘I know God’s got me,’” Carrie said. “You could really feel that the Holy Spirit was holding her… it was like a presence.”

Clare completing chemotherapy.

“She wanted to wrap her faith around it,” George explained, “and she had such a peace around her. She knew where it was going, there was no misplaced hope, she just didn’t know the statistics. So she just kept life as comfortable as she could, and wanted to do the same things that she usually did.”

Clare didn’t want to make a bucket list. Instead, her mantra became Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.” In a time when the wrecking balls of doubt or fear inside her brain could have potentially destroyed all belief, Clare faced her fight with this song and an impenetrable shield of faith. At times, even when others felt like unraveling, it was Clare’s faith in God that held them up.

“Her walk with God through the whole thing was beautiful,” Carrie said. “It was beautiful.”

“She was magnificent,” George added.

***

Clare’s older brother, Clay, was living in Baton Rouge at the time of her diagnosis. He was running a restaurant and church was not a part of his lifestyle anymore. Over the years, he had grown a distaste for organized religion and “church people” and had fallen away from any relationship he once had with God.

“When my sister was battling cancer, she called me one day and challenged me to ‘just go to church, any church,’” Clay said. “At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about or why she would even ask such a thing of me.” Clare would even text Clay’s girlfriend, Candie, “Can you make sure Clay goes to church?”

“Clare kept saying, ‘Mom, if anything good comes out of this, I hope it’s that Clay comes back to church,” Carrie said.

While Clay wasn’t ready to go back to church, he did find a way to shift his schedule so that he could split his week between Baton Rouge and League City. He and Candie began spending half the week in Louisiana and half the week with Clay’s family in Texas while Clare underwent chemo treatments.

Clare (right), with her sister, Jessica.

Clare’s older sister, Jessica, remembered how normal Clare made it seem like to be going through chemo. She would drop her off for her treatment and afterwards Clare would suggest a trip to Starbucks before heading home to play with her nephew, Luke.

“She truly remained herself through it all, including her everything-is-going-to-be-okay mentality,” Jessica said.

But there were many times Jessica and her mom longed to say more.

“We wanted to have conversations about faith and where we were, and where Clare was, and how we were feeling,” Carrie admitted. “But Clare would just say, ‘I’m in a good place, Mom.’ I think it was harder for us to not have those conversations than it was for her. We needed that.”

“I remember feeling kind of a guilt that we didn’t have those deep detailed conversations to try to help her understand it, but she didn’t want that,” George admitted. “So that was me feeling guilty for me. As a parent, I kept wondering, how do I best help lead my child through this?”

Some of Clare’s college friends visiting her during her battle with cancer.

In those last days, as Clare began losing her eyesight, she was still cracking jokes with her eyes closed, as she laid in the hospital bed in her parent’s bedroom.

“She kept her phone near her playing Christian music, just looping; just kind of resting in it,” George recalls. “Her faith in God held her, and she just relaxed in it, like a hammock.”

***

“I honestly never believed she was going to die until the minute that she did,” Jessica said. “I kept thinking Is this really happening? Did she really just die? Are we really picking out flowers for her funeral?”

One of the things Clare wrote about in her journal was that she was most concerned about her family. I’m worried about my family — if they’re going to be okay, she wrote.

“I told Carrie a long time after Clare had passed that my faith felt kind of wooden,” George said. “I had no interest in picking up a Bible or learning. Didn’t feel like picking up [the guitar] to play music. I was in this place where I was just spent. And that lasted several months.”

“I can’t say that I was angry at God. I knew his decisions were all good, but it wasn’t what I wanted, so I just needed a time out,” Carrie admitted. “It was like, I love you, Lord, and I know that you love me, but I don’t know what to say to you right now.”

“And I still believed that God was good, but I was numb, and it was hard to pray,” Jessica said. “It was hard to accept that he chose not to heal my sister.”

“How do people who have no faith deal with something like this?” George wondered. “For many of them it’s a bottle of whiskey in the fetal position, which I have to admit was tempting, but when you sober up — and you invariably do — that problem is invariably there.”

The Sutherlands began to find healing joy in even the smallest reminders of Clare, like eating chicken curry.

But, they remember, while Clare loved the Indian cuisine, she had a love-hate relationship with one of its most prominent spices, cumin.

“She hated the smell of cumin, because she thought it smelled like body odor,” George chuckled. “And you know, she’s kind of right. But it sure makes your [food] taste good.”

It’s impossible to separate the odor from the flavor.

“The pain and the joy [of loss] are the yin and the yang,” George realized. “They are so inextricably interwoven. And so, you can’t have one without the other. If you try to numb out the pain, then you also lose the joy.”

Clare (center) with her father, George, and mother, Carrie.

“You know, I just saw, through the whole thing, so many answered prayers,” George said. “From the time this thing started, we had people jumping in to help and support. And where did all those people come from? It was a cumulative experience of the past 20-plus years of our lives. It’s like God was saying, ‘The Sutherlands are going to need some help — not for about 21 years, but let’s get started now.’”

Some of the same people who they befriended in the bleachers at their kids’ YMCA sports games, were the people who just showed up with groceries and started cooking.

“You can’t see God, but you can see where he’s been, like leaves blowing through a tree,” George explained. “That’s how it felt for me. I could see God just kind of working on this whole thing, sort of orchestrating our lives. So God was at work bringing people into our lives over the years long before we knew we would need the help.”

The key was letting people in.

“A lot of people, when tragedy strikes, they close their doors,” Carrie said, “But I knew from having lost a family member already, that people want to love on people, and that those people need closure, as well. So I don’t think our front door was locked for months. People just came on in.”

Their small group, in particular, had committed to work together to provide consistent meals and keep the house stocked with tissues. Since the door was unlocked, they quietly came in and did what they thought needed to be done without disruption.

“The funny thing now is that friends will come over now and I’m like, ‘Why did you ring the doorbell? Didn’t you learn anything?” Carrie joked.

***

“Towards the end of Clare’s battle with Cancer, it got really hard,” Clay admitted. But these ”church people” he had never even met before, approached him, hugged him, and told him they had been praying for him for a long time.

“It was such a stark contrast from our community back in Baton Rouge,” Candie said. “We did not have that group of faith and love and support because the way our friends dealt with difficult things was by escaping or avoiding dealing with them.”

“That’s when it really started to hit me” Clay said. “I was seeing two different worlds.”

“We watched people wrap their arms around George and Carrie,” Candie recalled. “People were there all the time and just loving on them. And I had never seen that. People were living out the Word and not just talking about it.”

“I spent most of my life justifying not going to church because of the people,” Clay said. “But I watched these people who had a faith that can weather really hard storms versus people who didn’t. And we decided that we wanted to be closer to people like that… I really wanted to see what it was all about.”

Clare and her brother, Clay.

After Clay proposed to Candie the Christmas after Clare passed, they both started job hunting in Houston, and by spring they were packing up their lives in Baton Rouge and moving to League City.

“Moving [to Texas], I was still dealing with a lot of really dark things,” Clay said.

It was then that Candie finally got Clay to go to church. Through a couple of sermons that he says spoke right to him, Clay became more open to seeking out this tangible faith he was witnessing in his parent’s community, which was now his community. Clay and Candie did their premarital counseling through Clear Creek Community Church and eventually joined a small group.

Roughly two years after his sister passed, Clay became the first person baptized at the East 96 campus. But, as George and Carrie Sutherland reveled in their son’s newfound faith on that June Sunday in 2017, it wasn’t without the shadow that Clare couldn’t be there to celebrate with them.

“I get it now,” Clay said, about Clare asking him to go to church. “Through dealing with a faithless grief, I learned about that ‘rock bottom’ thing that people frequently reference. Thankfully, the good Lord placed some amazingly patient and loving people in my life that helped me to experience Christ’s love and my need for him as my savior.”

Clare got her wish.

***

On the first anniversary of Clare’s death, George penned his reflections in a letter to close friends and family.

“I wrote that the loss is like a hole in your heart that you can never fill in,” George recalled. “But surrounding that hole there’s so much joy, and love, and laughter, that you learn to love the hole. There are a lot of bad experiences in your life that you can just put a box around, and just, you know, put in the back of the closet — a bad relationship, a bad job experience, a bad this, or a bad that — and just forget about it, and get past it, and never worry about it again. But this is something you have to hang on to, and it changes you forever because you can’t let go of the hurt. You just can’t… It always becomes a part of you.”

People still ask the Sutherlands, “Does it get easier?”

“We’re all still pushing through it,” Carrie said. “It still stings, but it’s going to sting. So you own it. And actually, in a way, you don’t want the sting to go away.”

 

Behind the Science: The Tia Fink Story

A person does not need to look too far before they are faced with the puzzling mystery of how everything on this earth and in our solar system and out in the universe works together in such ordered fashion.  The beauty of science and creation is clearly seen all around us— if we are looking.

Tia Fink is a scientist and professor of environmental science at Lee College.  She attended many churches growing up that had either very human-centered views of religion or very corporate views of religion.  The focus was either on what humans should or should not be doing to please God or how a person would be blessed to the degree that they were willing to empty their pocketbooks on a Sunday morning.  Both these unbiblical and damaging approaches left Tia with a distaste for God, church, and any kind of religion. She decided to become an atheist.

“I was just happy letting everyone believe what they wanted to believe,” Tia said.

In 2004, when Tia was 20 years old, a work friend invited her to visit Clear Creek Community Church.  While the fill-in-the-blank sermon notes were pleasantly non-threatening, and the people seemed friendly, Tia stopped going after only a few weeks.

“I liked the fill-in-the-blank worksheets a lot,” Tia admitted, “but at that time, I just didn’t want to attend and didn’t think any of it was important.”

Sometimes people would talk to Tia about church and God, and her responses varied between ‘I don’t get it,’ ‘No, that’s not for me,’ and ‘Never again am I trying that.’

“There were other times when people really wanted to know what I thought, and I would say, ‘Well, everyone believes in some sort of “higher power,” no matter what name they called it.’ For the most part though, sometimes I would recognize that maybe there was a higher power, but that he doesn’t care at all because this world is so messed up and evil.  But because of all the evil in the world, I believed that God didn’t exist at all, neither did Satan, neither heaven nor hell.”

Years later, this approach to life was no longer working for her.  She and her husband found themselves in a huge financial bind that led to depression and eventual separation from one another.

“Within four months, I lost my husband and all my earthly possessions,” Tia recalled. “I thought we were still going to work things out, so I let him have anything he wanted from the house.”  But then it turned out she had nothing left.

At that rock-bottom point, Tia had another co-worker  who noticed that she was really struggling. He told her, “If you’re looking for answers, the Bible is where you could find them.” Although she was very skeptical, she had nowhere else to turn and she did need help. So in either a moment of courage or desperation (or maybe both), she asked him where she should start.  Tia finally started her journey of truly discovering whether or not God was really real, and if he was, how he could possibly care about her life.

Tia began reading both the Old Testament and the New Testament at the same time.  And being a scientist, any time she came across verses that didn’t make sense or that she disagreed with (or even ones that she didn’t like), she put on her research hat and started digging.

“I’m not one that if I read something, if it totally doesn’t make sense, I’m just going to move on and leave it alone,” Tia said.  “I would research, ‘Why? Why would God do that?’ There were some very interesting parts that, from my standpoint, just seemed horrible and cruel. But when I researched the background for them and why they happened, it started to make sense why God would choose to want things done that way or allow certain things to happen.”

Her year-long process of excavating the truths underneath the scriptures led to a true discovery of what the Bible really said about God.  This also led her to read supplemental books at the same time she was reading through the Bible. She was looking for answers to explain some of the most challenging topics she encountered both in the Bible and in her personal life: Why does God allow horrible things to happen?  Where is God during my suffering? What does it mean that God is sovereign?

When Tia was reading through the Bible, she was looking for answers for her situation, but she wasn’t seeing those. Originally, she didn’t know you could look in the Bible about marriage, or divorce, or finances.

“I think the way I approached [reading the Bible] helped me have a bigger picture of it all, versus just looking at my current situation.”

Eventually, Tia came to faith after reading about the nature of God, Jesus, and her own need for a savior.  She realized God wanted his people to worship him and him alone when she read about the pagan concrete idol Dagon in 1 Samuel that broke to pieces and bowed face down before the Ark of God and His presence.  She realized Jesus was the only pathway to a right relationship with God when she read his words in John 14 that he was “the way, the truth, and the life.” She realized that because of God’s great love for the world, expressed in John 3, Jesus’ life was given up as a sacrifice for the sins of man.  And when she read Romans 3, she realized that no one was good on their own and she needed this savior, Jesus, too.

The scriptures even revealed the kind of person she wanted to become because of her newfound faith in Jesus.  She wanted to be like the deep-rooted trees planted along the riverbank that Jeremiah spoke about because these were the trees that never stopped producing fruit and could withstand heat and drought without worry.  And she wanted to be like the wise person who builds their house on solid rock from the parable that Jesus told in Matthew because the person who builds their house on bedrock could withstand any amount of rain and wind and floodwaters.

It was clear to Tia that Jesus, who was both the living water and the rock of her salvation, was the answer to her circumstances.  It wasn’t that the heat or drought or the rain, wind, or floods in her life would necessarily cease, but that her faith in Jesus would ground her to no end.  It was only after these revelations that Tia decided to check out church again.

“This process of fact-checking the Bible also led me to fact-check some local churches, too, and I think that was unbelievably helpful,” Tia said.  “I first started by watching some online sermons… and I found myself saying, ‘That’s not true!’ or ‘That’s not what the Bible teaches! Why are they teaching this to people?’”

Then she remembered Clear Creek Community Church and the fill-in-the-blank sermon notes.  She started watching many archived sermons and decided to attend in person again. Tia even fact-checked Clear Creek messages.  But after finding them to be biblically accurate, she knew she had found a church she could trust.

Tia has now been attending CCCC for over two years.  She joined her current small group in February 2018. She serves on Sundays with the high school student ministry.  And she is still a scientist.

“I feel like I understand everything in science better,” Tia said. “We know a lot of things [about our world], which is great. God gives us the knowledge to know these things. The what, the when, the where, and the why are pretty much mostly answered up to this point.  But most of the time, scientists are so reluctant to put in the who.”

However, it seems that even the intelligent design of our solar system challenges this reluctance.  The simple fact that our planet has an orbit keeps us from crashing directly into the sun.  Our specific orbit keeps us from crashing into other planets.  And Jupiter is so delicately positioned to act as a sort of shield for the earth, deflecting harmful gases and asteroids that might otherwise be bound for Earth [Opfer, 2015].

“You can read all these scientific things and you can see how the world works and the physics and the chemistry and the environmental science and the biology, but there’s always these holes, like these gaps of what we don’t know.”

The who, Tia explains, is the one who so carefully created both the parameters of the universe and the very atoms that make up a unit of matter.

“Subatomic particles and the strength of gravity appear to be finely tuned just right to support stars, atoms, molecules, and life,” Tia said.  “Scientists believe if the Big Bang conditions had been slightly different, then the universe would not exist (Johnson, 2003).

“Or just take neutrons and protons as an example. Neutrons are just slightly heavier than protons.  If it were the other way around, atoms couldn’t exist because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang.  No protons, then no atomic nucleuses, no atoms, no chemistry, no life,” Tia claims.  “Saying that God doesn’t exist in that is pretty much setting yourself up for more failure than understanding.”

At the same time that her understanding of the created world amplified, so did her compassion for her friends and her scientist colleagues who still do not believe.  For Tia, choosing to believe in God within a community of atheists can be challenging, at times. Sometimes when presented with opposing discussions with friends or colleagues, she has to say, “I understand where you’re coming from, but that’s not what I’m gonna believe anymore. I’m going to be over here believing this, but if you ever have questions, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

“All you can do is try to share the gospel with them sometimes, and share with them in a gentle way so that they’re not going to be hostile towards it.  But it’s not our work to do. It’s God’s work to save them.”

On top of these challenges, Tia’s personal circumstances—the ones that drove her to seek answers in the Bible in the first place—have not changed much at all.  And yet, somehow, everything has changed. While Tia began her spiritual journey hoping for a restored marriage, along the way she found a new perception that God didn’t just exist, but he knew her by name, he was writing her story, and she could trust him.

“As you read through the Bible, there is all sorts of devastation; we’re not the first people to have war and famine and adultery and everything else,” Tia said.  “Lots of people in the Bible had to learn how to be content. I’m sure they didn’t want to be in prison.  I’m sure lots of God’s people didn’t want to have all the bad things happen to them that happened to them.  I’m sure they didn’t like those situations at all, but He allowed it to happen—and it was still for their good, somehow.”

In the quest to be content in her circumstances, Tia admits that putting these truths into her mind and soul daily is the main thing that keeps her moving forward.

“If you look at the big picture, God’s sovereign over all of it, even from the grass growing to the condition of the soil to every drop of rain.  So if He sees and controls all that, what makes you think that he doesn’t see and know and control your circumstances? Because He does.”

 


 

References:

 

Opfer, C. (2015). What If Earth Changed Its Orbit. Retrieved from

https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/what-if/what-if-earth-changed-its-orbit.htm

 

Johnson, G. (2003) Can Science Prove the Existence of God? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/11/science/can-science-prove-the-existence-of-god.html

Giving it Away

Kyle Yawn, a 26-year-old Maintenance Flight Controller at NASA, loved his job, but he could not stop thinking about retiring early. He always loved spreadsheets and numbers, and it became the ultimate optimization puzzle for him. It was fun figuring out the earliest he could possibly retire.

Kyle’s boldest estimates had him retiring in his mid-thirties.

“My dad retired when he was fifty,” Kyle said, “I was ten, and my mom had quit her job when I was born. So I’d seen my parents my whole life, essentially, as I was growing up.” Because of this, an early retirement became a life goal for him. Kyle saved every penny he could, maintaining a budget lifestyle even as he got raises at work.

Then in February of 2016, Kyle received an email that shook him to his core. He had signed his small group up for the Generosity Challenge, and was receiving a daily prompt encouraging people with specific ways they could be generous that day. Kyle had just received a significant raise at work, and the email suggested using a recent raise at work for others instead of themselves.

Kyle was stunned. When he got home he talked to his wife, Lisa, about the email. He suggested they give the whole raise away.

Lisa was reluctant at first, but Kyle assured her that they could afford to give it all away. Suddenly, their lives switched gears. Instead of worrying every day about where the money would serve them best, it became about where it could serve everyone else. They remembered organizations they had always wanted to support, and started recognizing places where they could help the people in their lives. Some of their friends needed help paying for car work, and another friend was raising money for a mission trip. Now these prayer requests became opportunities to give. “It was really fun and exciting,” Kyle said, “because we switched from having this plan all put together to ‘alright God, where are you pointing us to use this money that you’ve given us’ because that’s what we want to use it for.”

This is Ginger

 

Meet Ginger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Victor.

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

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

Victor was still waiting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the community.

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

The response from the community was overwhelming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Well

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

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

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

 

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

* * *

 

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

She stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

* * *

 

Chanda was starting to crave attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The friend moved away to live with her biological father.

The stepfather went to jail.

Chanda fell into a state of despair.

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

When she was 16 years old, tragedy struck again.

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

By law, it was rape.

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

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

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

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

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

At the age of 18, Chanda got pregnant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

* * *

 

The man looked at her deeply.

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

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

She felt her heart stagger.

“I have no husband,” she said breathlessly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stopped.

 

* * *

 

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

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

Chanda was devastated.

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

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

Chanda started praying that night.

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

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

So Chanda picked up her Bible and started to read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanda packed her things, and headed back to Texas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krissy proved to be the safe friend that Chanda needed.

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

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

Chanda and Krissy.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone must know.

 

* * *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanda and Caleb.

 

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

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

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

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

 

* * *

 

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

 

War: The David Frazier Story

David Frazier walked his wife to the open door of an old brick building on the East side of Los Angeles. Two nuns greeted them and were waiting to take Mrs. Frazier inside.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” David asked, peering into the doorway. A bright light beamed from somewhere just inside the doors that made him shield his eyes.

“This is something I have to do,” Mrs. Frazier said. Dave lowered his hand. Her eyes were piercing as they stared at him. She turned and went with the nuns who ushered her through the open doors. David watched her go and then began to walk down the street.

Buildings surrounded him, shrouded in shadows on either side of the street. It was getting dark, and David began to walk faster. He saw a few other people hurrying by on the sidewalk and a single car whisked lazily by. The air was cool, and a light breeze brushed his cheek as he walked. He turned to look back at the building with the bright light. He couldn’t see it.

David stopped walking and focused his vision down the street. He could see the skyscrapers in the heart of downtown, looming in the waning sunlight.

Suddenly, he couldn’t remember if that was even the way he had come from. He was running now – desperate to find the building with the bright light. But it was nowhere in sight. He turned at the next intersection, but nothing looked familiar. He could feel his breath becoming more sporadic as his mind began to panic. He looked left. There was a street with more unfamiliar buildings. He looked right. Nothing. His head was spinning. His vision started to blur – his heart pounding. He couldn’t walk in a straight line. He stumbled and caught himself from falling on the wall of a nearby building. He heard the clink of glass and saw a large green bottle on its side on the sidewalk in front of him. He looked up, but his sight was darkening. All went black.

* * *

David opened his eyes and lunged forward, gasping for breath. He surveyed his surroundings and quickly calmed down.

He was in his house, in his own bed. Toni, his wife, was lying next to him still asleep.

He tried to stifle a soft chuckle, and grinned as his panic subsided. He felt relief wash over him and settled his head back against his pillow.

The past was where it belonged once again.

 

BATTLEGROUND

David Frazier grew up just over an hour from downtown Los Angeles in Woodland Hills in the 50s and 60s with his mother, his aunt and his grandmother. His father had passed away just weeks after Dave’s birth in 1949.

At age 12, David became enamored with surfing. He spent as many hours as he could in the Pacific Ocean and embraced the life of a “California surfer boy.”

When the time came for the United States Army to draft soldiers into the Vietnam War, many of the surfers and other young men that David knew refused to go. Many of them became known as “draft dodgers,” known to have fled to Mexico or Canada, or even faked an illness or injury to avoid service. But Dave, despite being inexperienced and full of uncertainty, stepped forward willingly.

“I had never shot anything bigger than a Red Rider Daisy BB gun,” Dave said. “I mean, I wasn’t going to volunteer to go over to Vietnam. But, if I got drafted I wasn’t going to run away from it.”

So in 1969, at 20 years old, Dave was drafted into the United States Army. After completing basic training and advanced infantry training in Augusta, Georgia, Dave received orders from his captain: he was headed to Vietnam.

Dave landed in Duc Pho, Vietnam in 1970 where his primary duty was driving a supply truck from the landing zone to various bases, a nearby radio outpost, and the U.S. headquarters. If he couldn’t make it by truck, Dave and the other men in his crew would load the supplies into a helicopter and deliver them through the air. Every day, Dave would drive through the villages on his way to deliver supplies and came to know many of the locals.

“The Vietnamese people in the villages were just sweet, beautiful people,” Dave says looking back. “Even though they lived in villages and they were rice farmers and stuff, they were intelligent. They were smart people. They would always tease me, and I’d tease them. But, I saw a lot of the Americans treat the village people like dirt. I’m sitting there thinking: We’re over here to give these people freedom and take care of them. You can’t treat human beings like that.

But seeing the way the villagers were wrongly treated wasn’t the only thing that left its mark on him.

“That was a whole different world,” Dave says. “That was war.”

Dave has countless stories about the things he saw and experienced in Vietnam. He could talk about the places he got to see on the other side of the globe (surfing in Australia on a short-term leave from the war), or the people he got to meet, or the camaraderie he had with his fellow soldiers. But many stories contain the things he’d rather forget: gruesome injuries, unspeakable acts of violence, gore, death.

It didn’t take long for it all to begin to take its toll on Dave’s mind. Dealing with the harsh realities of war became a struggle, one in which Dave was not alone.

Alcohol was readily available and even more readily used. Drugs were commonplace.

But quickly Dave found that, as it was with most of the other soldiers, no substance could completely numb him to the horrors of war.

“At headquarters we had guys that had been in-country for three to seven years that I worked with,” Dave recounts. “One of the guys names was Brian. He came up to me one day and said, ‘I got orders to go home. They’re making me go home. They said I’ve been here too long.’ And I said, ‘Well Brian, I think they’re right.’ And he says, ‘No, David. This is my home now.’ Brian disappeared in Danang.

“There were a lot of guys that never came home.”

 

AWOL

After serving in Vietnam for a year, Dave was given orders to return home in 1971. He stepped off of the plane in the state of Washington thinking his war was over. But his welcome-home greeting made him realize the fight was far from finished.

“The protestors and the hippies were there throwing rocks and bottles at us, calling us, ‘baby killers,’ and spitting on us,” Dave remembers. “That devastated me.”

Dave returned to California where he tried to acclimate once again to civilian life. He began dating a girl he had known before the war. They soon married, and Dave landed a job through his in-laws, working in construction.

But despite the fact that the world was moving forward, Dave could not. Traumatized, Dave struggled to recapture the spirit of that 12-year-old surfer he once knew so well. Everything wouldn’t just go back to way things were before the war. His friends stopped hanging around saying that Dave was “different.”

He continued to drink.

Dave stopped coming home every night. His wife worried. He would be at a bar or at someone’s house, looking for his next drink. He started coming to work hung over. Dave began to realize that he was losing control.

“There were times that I would reach out and say, ‘I think I’ve got a problem.’ But [my wife’s] dad, who I worked for, would always say, ‘Dave, you don’t have a problem. Just don’t drink as much.”

Dave continued to have nightmares of Vietnam and the war. He would drink to try to forget. But then, unable to sleep, he would drink until he could do nothing but dream.

It didn’t take long for his wife to come to resent him. She asked him to leave her and their daughter Shannon.

“Things just kept getting worse and worse, and my wife divorced me,” Dave says. “I hung around for a while and things didn’t get any better and then I just disappeared. I don’t know where I was, or where I went. I can’t remember… nobody wanted anything to do with me.”

The downward spiral persisted, and Dave took to the streets of L.A.

Ten years had passed since Dave had returned from Vietnam. Since that time he had been in and out of VA hospitals all around L.A. with medical issues related to his drinking problem. But whenever he was allowed to leave, he would go right back into his usual methods.

“I intensely tried to kill myself,” Dave said. “I did not like guns, so I wasn’t going to blow my brains out, but I knew that alcohol would do it… I never liked alcohol. I just drank it for the effects.”

While he was in one of the VA hospitals, Dave met another veteran who became one of his few friends. The veteran knew he was going to be in the hospital for a long time and so he asked Dave to housesit for him.

One day, during Dave’s stay at the house, he opened up a closet door and found several cases of alcohol.

“The neighbors found me. And the ambulance came. I don’t know. Somehow I just woke up in the hospital,” Dave says. “So I remember it kind of like I was dreaming. The nurse was freaking out. I remember this alarm going off. I woke up on that gurney, and I remember the doctor saying, ‘This is a miracle, because you’re dead.’”

Dave doesn’t remember how long he stayed in the hospital that time. It could’ve been a few days or a few weeks, but when he was allowed to leave, something propelled him in a new direction.

“I just walked out, and kept walking,” Dave says. “I ended up in East L.A. in a mission.”

Dave lived there in order to receive meals and a place to live, but was required to attend daily sermons in order to receive the services of the shelter.

During one of the sermons, the preacher asked, “Do any of you want to be forgiven of your sins?”

Dave sat among the other homeless people with no place to go and no one out looking for him. The world had struck him down. But the question pierced his heart.

“I’m sitting there thinking, You know David, you have nothing to lose. And so I got up, and some other guy got up, and we walked up there to the front. And I got on my knees and I said, ‘God, I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t do this anymore.’ I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

Dave arose a changed man. He still had a drinking problem. He still carried around anger and guilt. He was still homeless. But now he had hope. He was forgiven.

 

THE RETURN

Dave left the mission and quickly found his way to Simi Valley where he had a place to stay with another veteran. Across the street from the house, there was a man who happened to be going through the Alcoholics Anonymous program. The man became David’s AA sponsor and David began to feel some progress towards being free of his addiction to alcohol. But Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t the only thing that Dave found in Simi Valley.

“I walked into a Great Western Savings [bank] with a bunch of change. I had to pay an electric bill or something,” Dave recalls. “I had found all of this change in the house, so I took it over to the bank to get cash for it and I said, ‘Can I cash this? I’m, sorry I didn’t count it.’ And I looked up and there she was and I just went, ‘Wow.’ I fell in love right there.”

A young woman named Antoinette was behind the counter that day.

“I worked with my best friend and she said, ‘Oh I know that guy. Stay away from him. He’s on drugs,’” Antoinette, who goes by Toni, says with a laugh about the first time she met Dave. “[My friend] had just gotten sober and so she was at her AA meetings and [Dave] was at the same ones. He was sober and he wasn’t on drugs. But Dave’s a fun-loving guy, and I think she interpreted that as him being on drugs. So it kind of turned out to be a joke later on.”

After their initial meeting, Dave didn’t see Toni for several months, but fate intervened. Toni’s sister happened to live a few houses down from where Dave was staying. Toni was having car trouble one day, and Dave happened to be out in his yard. He said he would look at the car for her.

10982184_593953024080254_7512788353665011475_o(From left to right) Paula, Toni, Dave

Upon inspection, Dave informed Toni that there was little hope for the car, but offered her consolation in the form of a date.

“We went on a date, and then the second time he asked if my kids could go with us,” Toni says. “That was the first time that anybody had asked me that. That impacted me more than anything, because I was divorced.”

The two began regularly seeing each other and quickly realized that their future was together.

“We just knew that we belonged together,” Toni said. “He brought me home one night shortly after we started seeing each other, and we sat out in the car in the rain and he said, ‘We ought to just get married.’ And that’s what we did. We’d known each other for three months and we got married. My mother thought I was crazy, and she was right! But we’ve been married ever since.”

The couple married in 1982, and Dave found work as a welder. But Dave discovered his true gifts as a craftsman when he tried his hand at carpentry when he did some contract work for a business owner who wanted to save money buying display cases. Several years later, Dave would be hired to work for Schlitterbahn Waterparks as a Master Carpenter.

11537977_593953437413546_7960888123916044664_oDave and Paula

In 2005, Toni and Dave moved to League City, Texas to be closer to their grandchildren. But while Toni was ecstatic to be closer to family, Dave struggled with flashbacks.

“The heat and humidity took me back to Southeast Asia,” Dave said. “I mean it’s the same exact humidity.”

Though Dave had come through many of the trials he had faced when he first came back from Vietnam, the experiences he’d had during the war hadn’t left him. After discussing it with Toni, Dave moved back to California for a time just to be away from an all-too-familiar climate.

“He was jittery and jumpy,” Toni says about Dave’s continual battle with his past. “He thought he heard helicopters. It was just sights and sounds for him. It felt like he was back over there… Because being around a lot of people has been so difficult for him over the years, it kind of limits where you go and what plans you make. So we had to kind of alter our lives to be sensitive to that.”

After a stint back in California, Dave realized that despite the climate and his struggle with the past, he needed to be near his wife and the rest of his family. So he packed up the few possessions he had taken with him in his truck and drove back to Texas.

 

REASSIGNMENT

The Fraziers started attending Clear Creek Community Church in 2012 after being invited by Toni’s daughter, Paula. Both Dave and Toni had grown up attending church, but after going through difficult patches in their respective young adult lives, neither had ever recommitted to attending church regularly.

“I had wanted to go to church again for a long time. I actually drove past Clear Creek many times,” Toni recounts. “So we started attending with [Paula] regularly, and just felt like we belonged there from the very beginning.”

Dave and Toni quickly got involved by joining the small group that Paula was already in. But while Toni began to engage with the group, Dave still struggled to reconcile his past.

“[Dave’s] not a shy guy,” Dave and Toni’s small group leader, Chuck Fulcher said. “At that time it was a fairly large group, you know, and he was very content to just kind of sit on sort of the periphery and just listen to what was going on. Every once in a while he might make a comment, but in general… he didn’t open up a whole bunch.”

Around this time, Dave started seeing a counselor named Jerry Clark who specialized in family counseling but had an especially soft spot in his heart for veterans.

“He came in one day and he said, ‘David, I’ve got your whole scenario right here.” and he sat down and he said, “What happened over there wasn’t your fault.’” Dave says with tears in his eyes. “It was like all these bricks fell off my shoulders. I’d carried all that guilt around for all of those years. And then he invited me to his group and that was when I found out he had been a Marine in Vietnam.”

Jerry had also gone through the horrors of war and a similarly difficult transition back into civilian life.

“I was anxious and angry, and I didn’t know it,” Jerry said about returning from Vietnam. “It cost me a marriage. An old man I knew, who was a deep believer in Christ, just asked me one day… if I was in Vietnam. And I said, ‘Yeah. How come you ask?’ And he said, ‘I don’t think you’ve come home yet.’ And that was the beginning. It was probably 10 or 12 years after I came back that it dawned on me that I was still fighting the battle.”

10619910_661819440626945_4089849331283753518_oThe Fraziers and their small group.

It was Jerry’s own experience that had given him the desire and the necessary experience to help other veterans truly come home from war. Eventually he started the group Transition Plus to give organization and community to veterans in analogous situations to those that he, Dave, and many others have faced.
Jerry helped Dave come to grips with his guilt and Dave’s life dramatically changed. Soon he was speaking up during the group discussions at his church small group and he began to open up about the things he had been through.

“He was realizing that there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus and the whole guilt thing,” Chuck said. “I felt like the light bulb was going on in his brain. And he was being released from a lifetime of guilty feelings… you just started seeing him being less burdened.”

But his church small group wasn’t the only place that Dave was starting to speak up about what God was doing in his life. Jerry had invited Dave to commit to start regularly attending Transition Plus where Dave would have the opportunity to share his experiences and influence a new generation of veterans.

“[Jerry] calls me his ‘right-hand man,’” Dave says. “He says I see things in people that other people don’t see. He says that we’ll be in group and I’ll see pain in someone’s eyes – one of the vets – and I’ll call him out. I’ll say, ‘What’s going on?’ And they’ll start talking, and I’ll say, ‘Come on let it out.’ And the tears start flowing, and the horror stories start coming out.”

It was shortly after Dave started attending Transition Plus that Clear Creek Community Church had a large outdoor baptism. On the evening of October 5, 2014 several hundred people came out to support the dozens who were getting baptized – one of which was Toni Frazier.
After returning to church, getting involved in small group and recommitting her life to Jesus, Toni wanted to take the next step by professing her faith through baptism.

Among those in the crowd were many familiar faces of people from her small group, her kids, Paula and Rick who had both been baptized, and her two granddaughters Cameron and Lily. But none seemed to be more impacted by her declaration than her husband.

Dave and Chuck started talking about Dave getting baptized at the outdoor baptism. But Dave had one stipulation: it had to be in the ocean.

“I’ve been surfing since I was 12 years old. I would go out and catch waves and talk to God out there. I’ve always done that,” Dave says. “I’d paddle out and I’d be sitting there waiting for a nice wave and I would just talk to God. I feel like I belong there.”

So on a sunny Saturday, in mid-October 2014 Chuck and Dave marched out into the Gulf of Mexico from the beach of Galveston with their small group and the Frazier family watching.

“When he got baptized is when I really realized that he got it,” Toni says. “I just witnessed what it means, that God loves us no matter what, and that since Jesus died for our sins we can continue to live our lives glorifying him. You can just do so much more in your life knowing that you are loved that much… It’s the story of redemption. I almost want to say survival. But it’s obviously more than just survival. This is the story of Dave gaining his freedom.”

* * *

Today, if you met Dave, now 67, you might not know all that he has been through. He’s a fun-loving, hard-working, humble man who loves to laugh and make others smile. Dave still attends Transition Plus with Jerry Clark who says that Dave hasn’t missed a meeting in over two years for any other reason than a prior commitment to his family. Dave serves as a part of the First Impressions team at Clear Creek Community Church and still attends the same small group. He and Toni own their own house now. He goes by “Grampi Dave” there, courtesy of his 5-year-old granddaughter, Lily.

His days of wandering around drunk in the streets of L.A. are far behind him.

But don’t think that everything is easy now that Dave goes to church and has a relationship with Jesus. He’ll be the first to tell you that it’s anything but easy. Though he is far removed from the destruction of his past, he still has to face the ramifications of it. Aside from health issues resulting from years of alcohol abuse, and the effects of PTSD, Dave is also trying to rectify his relationship with Shannon, his daughter from his first marriage. After finding a letter from Shannon written decades ago, Dave wrote back. But the damage of having an absent father and separated parents has seemingly left its mark. Dave hopes, and continues to pray, for healing in Shannon who is now 43 and has a family of her own.

The Dave she used to know isn’t the same man anymore.

“There are things he can do that I could never approach,” Chuck Fulcher said. “Dave can pray with conviction about someone who has PTSD or someone who’s on the verge of suicide or something, because he’s been there. He knows exactly what it is and he can relate to that person with compassion. He can talk to these people and they’ll listen to him. They might be polite and listen to me, but I’ve never blown anything up or shot anything. I don’t even own a gun! You can’t change the past. But God’s allowed him to go through things, and God is using those experiences.”

Yes, life has left David Frazier battle-scarred and close to death on multiple occasions. But he continues to fight, it just looks a little different than it used to. Instead of fighting for his own survival, he fights to help lead his fellow veterans into the freedom in Christ he has come to know. Instead of fighting against his guilt and his past, he fights to be the best husband, father, grandfather, church member, friend, mentor, and Christ-follower he can be. He fights because he’s a soldier. He just follows the orders of a different leader now.

Purpose: The Matt & Megan Adams Story

 

It started with a question.

 

Matt Adams had been working as a barber with his boss, Sheridan, for several months when Sheridan turned to Matt one day and asked, “What is your purpose?”

“I don’t know, man,” responded Matt.

Sheridan nodded. “So, you’re just floatin’ through life, huh?”

Matt shrugged and laughed uncomfortably, “I guess, man.”

Sheridan pointed at Matt. “God’s got a purpose for you, man.”

The thing was, Matt didn’t know what Sheridan was talking about.

“Nobody had ever asked me that before,” Matt recalled. “I snapped right there when he said that. ‘What’s your purpose?’ I was like, That’s deep.”

Matt had never given much thought to his purpose or future. He had been in survival mode for most of his life. But he saw something in this Christian man  that he admired, and deep down, the idea struck something in him.

“Sheridan was a business owner, and I want to be a business owner one day. He’s a barber, I’m a barber. He’s a father, I’m a father,” Matt said. He started noticing how Sheridan conducted his life.

“I had a wife and children,” said Matt. “It was time to get my soul right.”

 

* * *

Matt Adams grew up in San Antonio as one of four kids in a single-parent home. His mother “did the best she could” raising him and his siblings, but it wasn’t long before Matt got caught up in gang life.

“It was dumb. We were fighting over a color and a certain neighborhood,” he said, shaking his head. “I look at it now and I’m like, You were stupid, man. But that was my religion. That was my god.”

Matt was also a heavy  drug user and started experiencing seizures as a side-effect. At his lowest, his mother told him he had to leave San Antonio and go live with family in Houston to get away from this life that was killing him. So, at age 22, he got out of what he calls the “never-ending circle” of addiction and gang life, and moved to Pasadena with family.

Not long after the move, Matt met Megan. They quickly hit it off and then started a family together.

But life was hard, and they struggled to get by financially. This put a constant strain on their relationship.

It was around that time that Matt walked into Sheridan’s barber shop and asked for a job.

Sheridan hired Matt a few days later, and Matt quickly learned that Sheridan led a different kind of life. He watched sermons on TV every day, listened to Christian music, and read the Bible. He had a good relationship with his wife and kids. He led his business well and treated his employees like family. They talked easily, and then Sheridan asked Matt the question about his purpose. Matt saw something different in Sheridan and wanted it for himself.

So, he started reading the Bible.

“It was like God was saying, ‘Yes, you need to read your Bible; read my word,’” Matt said. “ I just did what [Sheridan] was doing, and it felt good.”

Sheridan used to tell Matt, “You build your faith by reading God’s word,” and, bit by bit, Matt’s faith was indeed growing.

Home life, however, was still on the rocks. And while Megan saw the changes beginning to take place in Matt, she had no interest in participating.

“We would just fight about stupid stuff,” recalled Megan. “And then it became petty.”

One night, they had the worst argument they’d ever had. Matt was ready to walk out when he got a text from Sheridan that read, “Do you need me?” Matt immediately responded, “Yes.”

Sheridan came to their house and listened as they told him everything that was wrong in their relationship. He reminded them that hardships are normal in relationships and that they needed to work as a team against the hardships. Sheridan explained that God’s enemy will throw “fiery darts” at those seeking to believe and asked them if they were saved. Neither really knew how to respond.

“So, he just grabbed our hands and told us to repeat the prayer after him,” said Matt. They wept through a prayer of salvation that night. Both felt a sense of peace wash over them.

“That was a relationship turning point,” said Megan.

“I was ready to throw in the towel,” Matt recalled, “but he texted me out of nowhere. That was God working that out.”

Matt began taking his role as a godly husband and father seriously, desiring to “incorporate everyone in what [he] was learning.” He downloaded a kids’ Bible app and began reading devotions with his kids every night.

Then, one day during a kids’ soccer game, Matt complained of not feeling well. His stomach had been hurting all week, so they assumed he was just getting sick. Megan drove them home and when she pulled into the driveway, she took one look at Matt and knew something was terribly wrong.

“His face was droopy. I pulled into the driveway, saw his face, and automatically put the truck in reverse,” said Megan. Life experience told her Matt was having a stroke.

Once they settled Matt at the hospital, doctors verified he had had a TIA, also known as a mini stroke, which normally indicates a massive stroke would soon happen. They kept him in the hospital for a week under observation.

Ultimately, Matt felt that he got a second chance once again.

“That’s what I was thinking in the hospital,” said Matt. “That could have been my last day, and I hadn’t accomplished anything. It scared me.”

Matt and Megan didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Megan’s mother encouraged the two to go on the Daniel Fast. At the suggestion of Megan’s mother they tried the Daniel Fast for 40 days,  along with exercising, and  implementing elements that would soon become their new lifestyle. Matt also used the time to work on his relationship with God using a prayer journal and more fervently studying the Bible. He began reading the book of John and portions of Psalms and Proverbs daily.

Matt really began to grasp the Christian faith when he began watching old sermons of Billy Graham. He credits the famed preacher with giving him a more intimate knowledge of the gospel.

“I’ve always known the gospel, but [Billy Graham] made me understand it,” said Matt. “You can be good all you want, but that won’t get you into heaven. You have to believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins. And I’m forgiven for all the bad things I’ve done. That’s the main thing, right there. It’s like Wow, who could love [me] even though [I’ve] done all these bad things – even though I wasn’t living right? That amazes me.”

As Matt’s faith grew more and more deeply, Megan began to notice a change in him that sparked her curiosity.

“We would stay up and talk about it,” she said. “He would watch sermons. And then I started joining him.”

Eventually, a family member convinced Matt and Megan to attend a service at Clear Creek Community Church. Megan immediately saw a difference in the message versus others she had heard in different types of church settings throughout her life.

“This church really wants ungodly people to come follow,” Megan said. “When I first heard that I was like Yes! You’re trying to reach everybody. No matter where they come from or what they’re doing… I wasn’t a godly person. I thought we were doing so bad, and I finally heard ‘we’re all equal.’ That was super comforting [to know] we were not going to come here and be judged.”

Matt, Megan, and their three kids quickly got involved at Clear Creek. Megan started serving on the vocal team and Matt joined the prayer team. They got into a small group and were both baptized. Their kids loved being part of the church as well.

Matt and Megan had to un-learn old habits from their relationship and even the way both of them had viewed marriage growing up in broken homes. They sought marriage counseling from the church to learn how to work together as God-honoring spouses.

“We fought for us,” Megan said, “and we fought for what we didn’t want our kids to go through.”

Looking back on their life together so far, Matt and Megan see their journey as a gift.

“Coming to faith with [my husband] has been amazing,” said Megan. “Every single aspect of my life has changed. What I think about myself, what I think about me as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter. I’m enough… for God. And that’s what matters.”

“I’m like a whole other person that I never thought I would be,” laughed Matt. “I’m like the whole opposite of what I thought I would be. God can change anything.”

As for the question that started it all — now Matt has an answer for what he believes is his purpose in life: “I believe my purpose is to cut hair, to help people, and to share my testimony with people to help them come to Christ. I tell God to use me as a vessel, to use me whichever way he wants to.”