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Nathan Buchanan

Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran, Infantry Squad Leader, Martial Arts Instructor. This was my identity. When I got out of the Marine Corps in 2013 I had just started working with my father installing carpet because I had no idea what else to do with my life. College didn't seem like a good fit for me and my "skills" didn't exactly transfer over to a civilian career. I had spent the last 5 years of my life dragging my wife and young son around the country, leaving them wherever we were stationed to either go train for months in California or deploy to Afghanistan. I didn't know it at the time but God was working. I didn't grow up in a Christian home. Sure, we might go to church on Easter every other year if Grandma invited us but it was never a priority. I got married young to a Christian woman and I would follow her around to churches because she wanted to and it made me look good. Our marriage was "rocky" during my time in the military but once I was discharged and starting adapting back to "normal" life, the wheels fell off. My main priorities were to go out with my friends, drink and much as I could, and start fights...and I was very good at all three of these. Again, I didn't know it but God was working. I was slipping in and out of severe depression, drinking heavily, and having suicidal thoughts. Out of the blue I (yes me) asked a friend about churches and where he went. So he brought my family and I to HBCSL. Here my wife and I starting Marriage Counsling almost immediately with Eric and Jenny Klingle. God (and Eric) kicked my butt in so many ways over the next couple of months that I literally had nothing left to do but surrender everything to him. I was having a very hard time dealing with the forgiveness of sin and I still remember the exact moment where I finally realized that my debt had been paid by Jesus's blood on the cross and that I had to spend every single day of the rest of my life reaching out to people and sharing how amazing God's grace is! I'm still installing carpet and surprise, God is working. I am truly blessed to have an opportunity to be in so many homes and have God open doors to me to spread the Gospel. Because of him, my life is completely transformed. My prayer is for Men, if you are reading this and you feel that pull at you're heart. Maybe you're marriage is struggling, you're not happy with work, you're angry, ect.. whatever it is, don't fight the holy spirt. Reach out and ask for help. I'm surrounded by a group of Godly men who love Jesus and are quick to call me out when I'm getting off track. There is always hope because our God's love is never-ending. Don't give up, God is working.

Sammie Congleton

It took many years from the day of my salvation to be where I am today. One thing I can truly say and believe with all my heart is: God will never leave you or forsake you. Being the 2nd oldest of seven children put me in a position of being the care giver for my younger siblings. Dad was an alcoholic, and Mom a very self-absorbed woman not very concerned with our spiritual needs. On Sunday mornings, hand-in-hand my brothers and sisters and I would walk the few blocks to our church. After yet another job loss, Dad made a life-changing decision to move us to the Tampa Bay area of Florida where he had been for a couple weeks interviewing for a job. I had just graduated high school in June, turned 18 in July, and was excited about my future as we began packing for our move at the end of August. As it turned out, dad installed the family in a small house, bought some scant furnishings, and without any regret, abandoned us. We were devastated and mom was a mess emotionally. I got a job at a department store downtown Tampa to help with expenses. I felt like my life was a disaster, and then the most amazing thing happened. Our elderly neighbor asked me if I would like to go to church with her on Sunday. I would do anything at that point to get out of the house for an hour, so I agreed to go. God was at work in my heart the minute I entered that church. It was the Sunday before Easter and the pastor preached the love of Jesus in a way I had never heard before. At the end of the sermon I was so filled with the love of Jesus, when a call forward was made to accept Jesus as my Savior, I flew down the aisle with tears streaming from my eyes. I proclaimed Christ as my Lord and felt an overwhelming sense of peace fill my entire being. God used my dear neighbor so I could know His Son and I am so thankful for her obedience. I was the first member of my family to experience salvation. With lots of prayers and time, one by one all my siblings came to Christ. Even my mom at age 82 accepted Jesus as her Savior and was baptized. Life had many ups and downs as the years passed, but my Heavenly Father was always there with me. When my son Michael passed away at age 18 months, I felt the comfort of the Holy Spirit. How blessed I am to be the child of God. I am 73 now, have seen the world change in ways I never could have imagined. The one thing that never changes is the love of God. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Frank Schymik  

If you asked me why I was a Christian, my response during my middle school years would have been something like “It’s because Jesus loves me, my sins are forgiven, and I go to church”. Not too far off, but I definitely did not grasp what it meant to be a genuine follower of Jesus or to accept Christ into my life. 

Around that time, my relationship with my dad began to change. We both loved being right, and our similar “type-A” personalities clashed. This led to frequent conflicts and disagreements.  We would get into screaming matches to the point where my brothers and mother would be in tears because of our actions.   I was really good at losing my temper quickly, yelling, screaming, and being angry.  The worst part for me was that I never felt good resolution after these interactions with my dad.  Time went on and things began building up under the rug, including other sin issues.  I found a coping mechanism that I thought was good at the time: drinking. High school started and I chose to hang out in the party scene where I would I drink and smoke marijuana to numb the pain I was feeling. I also entered into a sexually impure relationship my junior year of high school.  Through all of this, I still was attending church. Instead of feeling contrition for my actions, I felt justified in them because of the pain and ultimately distorted God’s grace while continuing in my sin.  To make matters worse, the pastor at my church got arrested and went to prison leaving my church and I broken.  I thought no one could understand this pain, not even God.  Starting college, I started to desire change even though I continued to numb myself with parties, drunkenness, and hook-ups.  I sought out a church when I got back to school sophomore year with a desire to be in community. My dear friend Lee shared the gospel with me and I ended up putting my faith in Jesus at winter retreat that year after a sermon about decision-making. Despite putting my faith in Jesus that night I was still afraid to give all my heart to Him as there were unresolved sin issues in my life.  I was dating an old friend from high school, and though I was elated, I had been holding on to some lies that were plaguing my mind and relationship with her.  I had been unfaithful and dishonest and decided to keep it a secret.  I was afraid to admit the truth to God, to myself, and also to her.  I was hiding sin in my heart that was straining my relationship with God.  On a long drive one day I wrestled with God and asked the Holy Spirit to continue to convict me. I did not have enough strength by myself to be honest because the pain was so incredibly deep. The Holy Spirit convicted me to the point of physical anguish and I finally chose to confess and repent fully of all my sins. I FINALLY opened up completely to her and fully came clean.  While I was confessing these things I realized one of the deep lies that I had believed; “I am too broken to be loved”.   It’s still a struggle for me but I am reminded Romans:   “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of GOD that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Despite how long I resisted, I have finally allowed God to have all of me.  I have seen God work in my life greater than I could ever imagine.  I am no longer choosing to live in hiding, denial, pain, lies, deceit, or unfaithfulness and these things do not define me. Jesus came down to this earth to die for my sins. He wore all the pain and suffering so that I would be made right with God. He now views me as His own, like Jesus. He views me as righteous and blameless. Despite the ways I have failed Him, my loved ones, and myself, His love for me will never die. The Gospel changed me, and it most certainly changes everything.

Ruth Vanderstelt

“Are you a Christian?” was the question asked by a close friend that eventually changed my life. I struggled; I knew I had to speak the truth. The problem was, I didn’t know the answer.  In my mind I shifted into self-justification as I mentally listed all of the activities I was involved in at our church.  I was involved in so many activities that I rarely had a free night to spend with my family—I actually felt indignant!  But I knew there was no justification.  I could not answer the question.  The truth was, I had never turned my life over to Jesus. There was no relationship, only a calendar filled with events that fulfilled a driving desire within me – a desire I didn't understand.  My friend then stated, “If you can’t tell me who your Heavenly Father is, with as much confidence as you know who your earthly father is, you need to think about it.”  There it was.  The truth.  The light that exposed my deception.  I had arranged my life to suit my own needs and “wrote it off” as doing His work.  How could I have missed this?  Scarier yet, did I really want to do it any other way? But in my soul I knew my life could never be the same – a light had revealed a dark secret. And I was afraid.  Several days later I was introduced to a woman who would become my spiritual mentor for the next year.  I joined a weekly Bible study and attended a women’s conference that fall.  At the conference, I met Jesus face to face, and met him for the first time.  In my mind’s eye, I fell to my knees and wept at His feet.  How could I have mistaken the love of our Savior with the life I was leading?  How foolish I had been!  My self-serving intentions had blinded me.  I prayed and was “prayed over” as I poured out my pain and prideful sin. My self-fulfillment and the admiration of others was a heady and lethal combination – could I let go?   Then I was reminded of a beautiful old hymn, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me. And that Thou bidst me come to Thee, oh Lamb of God, I come – I come.”  I needed to examine myself – and let God examine me. I let God’s grace wash over me and felt the peace that I had always heard about, but had never experienced. God gave me the direction and courage I needed to begin the journey He had planned for me.  Layer by layer I began to understand that I was “seized” with fear, and I was attempting to cover this fear with a full calendar of good deeds. Like a pool cover, my activities were a flimsy shield for a deep, dark hole that was my insecurity. No matter how hard I tried, I was consumed with the fear that I wasn't good enough. I found myself envious of others, and how God was working in their lives and using them  – how come he wasn't using me? I felt I wasn't worthy. This was painful, and it wasn't fair.  I prayed with a wonderful, godly woman who recognized my fear and helped me release it, in the name of Jesus. I sometimes battled with fear wanting to reclaim me, but God is bigger, and I felt His protection and peace cover me with a love much stronger than my “pool cover”. I also felt a greater freedom of life without fear. I found courage and confidence I had never known. Transformation happened and new life was breathed into my spirit.  My life changed.  My family changed.  As God began to piece my life back together, He used me in ways that pleased Him.  I sensed the Holy Spirit in a gentle way that I could not hear before--in the frenzy of my activity.  I was amazed that God was waiting not only to forgive me and heal me, but to use me! God revealed to me the gift of balance of kindness and truth, and He blessed me with opportunities to minister to others and speak God's love and truth. The fear is gone, and now I'm free!  

Matt Miller

Desires:

While I grew-up as a Christian, I was also carefully cultivating desires in my heart...  Desires to achieve what people said that I could not do.  While I did not see myself as faithless, I was restless to fulfill my desires to succeed.

Winter/Brokenness:

One season in particular was a pivot towards God.  For seven years, my business partners and I clawed our way to a knife-edge of success in our tech startup.  It was a season where I saw as my efforts coming to fruition… the praise of men, “Just a little bit further. You’re about to ‘go big’”.

Meanwhile, God placed one of His men in my path.  Once a week, Steve would sit with me and humbly plead with me what it meant to be a follower, husband, and father… a giver.  He placed no importance on the things I had come to see as valuable.

Soon after, the promising way of the tech entrepreneur became impassable.  My time was engulfed in the business and so far upside-down financially that we could not exit.  I was trapped and helpless with no way forward except to fix the unfixable.  Sitting at the doughnut shop where Steve and I always met, I was tearfully struck by a passage that I had been memorizing all along:

1Peter 1:6-9- In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

Rest/Joy:

At that moment, brokenness started to turn to joy.  I realized God loves me now and not a better version of me.  He loved me enough to rip away the desires that I had carefully grown into idols to replace Him. I needed only to rest in that and rejoice!  My fear of failure, desires for success, and anger started to fade.  We exited that business with the weight of the world and the freedom of Christ.  Rachel and I moved our family to Michigan and stumbled into HBCSL where the joy of identity in Christ is poured out on us.

Spring:

Time to work/plant… Just as God planted people of faith in my path at critical moments, God has placed me on a path to intersect with others.  There is joy in being used for God’s glory.  I don’t know exactly how the harvest will go but I do know what to do.  Be faithful.  Be the words of God to those in my path.  Why?  He loves them where they are just as He loves me. 

Sheryl Carlisle

God has moved in my heart many times throughout my life, yet there are two distinct times that stand out in my memory.  The first came in my youth as a 15 yr old, a teenager already dealing with many emotions, and I lost my father.  I can remember attending a church picnic at the time, and just wanting to scream out all the hurt that was in my heart.  I realized my response to this tragedy could either make me bitter or better.  I had accepted Jesus as my personal savior at age 8, and now I was at a crossroads in my Christian life.  I found Jesus as my comforter, and my Father.  He met me in my deepest need.  He has always been available to listen to my cries for help. 

 

The second experience took place two years ago.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Mortality was staring me in the face.  My life verse Philippians 1:21, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” ran through my mind.  We sang the song “Christ is Enough For Me, but was He? I was at another crossroad.  Was my faith in God, and could I trust Him in everything?  I can say He has been and continues to be faithful in my life.  He is trustworthy.  He has my best interest in mind.  His plan is always the right plan.  I see life and relationships differently now.  I am no longer enslaved to anything, and I want Christ to use me in any way that glorifies Him.

Rachel Miller

The Gospel changes everything, yet it stays the same, and it is changing me.  I know I am to live every day in light of the Gospel~but oh how I fail!  As I look back over my walk, I do see pivotal moments where the Gospel has brought me to my knees. The first time this happened was when I was 6.  Jesus grabbed a hold of my heart , and I confessed and recognized that I was a sinner and was dead in my sin.  The Gospel was at once awesome and terrifying.  He became my Savior and Lord.  At 16, my parents divorced, my foundation was shaken, and my choices were poor.  I was at a crossroads~would I live for self?  Would I live for Jesus?  Was my faith only my parents faith?  He gave me the strength to put my hope only in Him, rest my foundation only on Him.  He became my Father & my Friend.  After years of struggling to get pregnant, I was wallowing in anger and self pity, in the throes of depression, and having anxiety attacks.  God lovingly and graciously allowed me to hit bottom.  Once there, I looked up and realized I was absolutely wrong, had a wrong view of Him, and was completely covered in sin.  He reached down and grabbed me, I reached up with confession and small acts of obedience.  He became my Righteousness, my Strength, my Comforter and my Healer.  After giving us 5 children, He became my Laughter and Joy!  After a business failure and possible bankruptcy, a move, and storms all around us, He became my absolute Peace.  Praise Him that my heart finally knew, because of all He had brought us through, that I could absolutely trust in Him.  He blessed us at that point truly above all I could ask or think...He is GOOD!  He is so much more than the pathetic words I ascribed to Him.  At those pivotal times in my life, those aspects of His character were abundantly revealed to me!  As my relationship with Him grows and as my walk deepens, because of my identity in Him I actually look forward to those days that I know are coming.  The ones where I can do nothing but kneel at the foot of the cross and cling to the Gospel.  Oh that I may endure to the end!   I love this quote from The Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent, “On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God's unrelenting grace toward me.  On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus' righteousness and not mine.”

~My life is His story~

Sally Love

I grew up in a strict christian home. We went to church two times every Sunday.  When I was eighteen years old I made Profession of Faith. I did this more or less because this was what was expected of me, but I never experienced a personal relationship with Jesus our Lord and Savior. I knew in my head He died to save from my sins, but beyond that I felt nothing.  I met my husband Sam and four years later we were married. We had three children, Sammie, Cassidy and Jacob, and life was busy as it is with many families. We went to church, Bible study classes and I did many church dramas. Our children attended christian schools, played sports and life was good.  At age thirty four, just a few months after my youngest son turned one, I felt a lump on my breast. Sure enough it was cancer. I thought “How I can I  have the dreaded cancer? Why was God allowing this to happen to me? I had young children to take care of, and now I have cancer?” Life became series of surgeries, chemo treatments and body scans.  Somehow, with the help of my family and many friends, we were getting by.  I went into remission and life went on. Less than three years later, the cancer returned, showing itself in my lower back, ribs and the outside of my lung. Once again, I went through chemo treatments for about six months and everything looked good. I stayed in remission for five more years.

I continued to go in for treatments for a drug called Herceptin. This drug attacked the protein cells of the cancer cells and flushed them out of my body. I was fortunate to be able to take this drug as I had to be "HerTwo Positive" in the chemistry of my cancer. Herceptin did not protect the brain as it could not go past the blood wall.One day I started to feel pressure in my head. This went on for a few months. I had a treatment scheduled with a CAT Scan to follow. I told   my chemo nurse about the pressure I was having, and she said to have them scan my head when I went for my CAT Scan. She thought I may have a sinus infection.  I had my scan and after that they told me to stay in the scan room.  They came back in and handed me the phone saying my oncology doctor was on the phone. She explained to me that I had three cancerous brain tumors and that I would be admitted to the hospital right away.  I was terrified and so scared!  My children were at school, my husband Sam was in St.Louis for work and I was all alone.  I called Sam and gave him the news and he flew home right away. I then called my sister, who in return, called our pastor, Dave Breen.  My sister and Dave Breen were there first and after checking on our children, Sam was there as well.  It was explained to me that I would have three surgeries back to back with about ten days between each one. My neurologist told us that the second surgery was the most dangerous as it could affect movement in my left side, and I am left handed.  It was at this time that I realized that no one around me had any control of this situation. Only my Father in Heaven had that kind of control, and that is when my faith became real and I felt a true personal relationship with Him!  I had the first of three brain surgeries, and with a swollen face, swollen eyes and bruises I made it through. Then it was time for the most dangerous second surgery.  The morning that I was admitted, my whole family[less my three children} were there. As we were waiting for the nurses to take me, Pastor Dave Breen asked my family to form a circle around my bed and and hold hands so that they could pray to our Heavenly Father. It was very emotional, and as they were praying I looked up to the corner of the room and felt God looking over me.  At that moment again my personal relationship Jesus was very real.  I went into the operating room and just before the my brain surgeon was going to start, I told him that I was praying that God would work through his hands. And God did, not only that surgery but the ones to follow.

I went on to have whole brain radiation and as of today, I have no brain tumors.

Throughout my journey I have a favorite Bible verse that helps me get through any troubles that I may face:  Psalm 139:13,15 and 16, "For You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in that secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book before one of them came to be"  This let me know that God has a special plan for me and that no matter the hardships that I may face, He already knows the outcome. I do not fear death from this world because I know God in a very personal way.

 

Penni Powell

Last September when we did baptisms at church, I was at one of my lowest points.  As I drove back through Spring Lake after making some pretty bad decisions, I was very afraid to face my thoughts being home alone. I approached church, and noticed the Saturday service was about to begin, so I decided to go in. I’d rather be at church than face myself and my guilt and shame at home.  Well, that night, God did some pretty powerful work.  It was baptism weekend, and it was awesome.  I was very emotional, and guilt-ridden. But God spoke through all of that.  I left that night feeling like I needed Him, and that He was calling my name. I was so very stubborn and did NOT listen to His calling. I ended up going back to church on that Sunday, and again, was blown away at how strong God was calling me.  He was saying that he did NOT know me, that I had no relationship with him, and that when I prayed at 14, it was only a ticket out of Hell and not a surrendering of my life to Him.  I was very stubborn and apprehensive.  Did I really want a relationship with a God that I felt didn’t listen to me, didn’t hear me, and didn’t protect me?  Did I really go this long thinking I had a relationship with Him when I didn’t?  When I left church that Sunday I was a hot mess.  I could not get over the convictions I was facing, I could NOT let go of the voice calling me.  I was so distraught, but I was still not wanting to let go.  I ended up getting a hold of my small group leader and asked her if she would pray with me.  Of course she accepted the invite, and I headed over to her house. She held my hand as I gave my life to Christ. I confessed not knowing Him, for not having a relationship with Him, for doubting Him, for hurting Him, for being so very naughty and sinful.  I instantly felt the joy of the LORD for the very first time in 36 years! It was amazing and uplifting. The weight was literally lifted off from me. Now, despite a life of believing God was my Savior, I know differently. I know that through my sin and suffering He wrote a beautiful story that has brought me where I am today. That through my sins, I ended up at the best Saturday night service of my life.  I fully believe and see God in my life, and I do not doubt His relationship with me.  Through my ashes, He has created a beautiful canvas that can be used to bring Him glory.  

Sharon Lamson

Sunlight streamed through the church windows. The cushioned pew on the far right of the church felt uncomfortable. It had been 16 years since I had been in that church. The first time, I was 9 years old. It was the day Jesus became my best friend.  Can BFFs ever not be “forever?” Can the valley of the shadow of death stretch on endlessly? Can a broken life ever be healed?  The music started; the choir sang their hearts out. I sat alone and thought I don’t belong here. This is a holy place.  But I had signed the card—invited a pastor to visit me at my home. I was terrified of my confession. I braced for the reprimand and ultimate rejection. But there was that song I’d heard during the service: “No turning back, no turning back.”   The “hound of heaven” pursued me—relentlessly chasing me from the shadows of my past. I felt his breath and heard him running after me.  “No turning back.”  It was the music—the Song of the Creator—that captured me. Not just church music, though those hymns, old and new, became lifelines to me. God’s Word—especially the psalms—convicted me, caressed me, carried me. Born to worship—yes!  Tears flowed like a prelude to the symphony that waited to be played. Healing rain fell from my eyes, and all my sins were washed away. The presence of God sang into my heart and I learned something amazing:  The Gospel doesn’t enter our lives just at conversion. The Good News reverberates throughout all of Creation—every…single…day. I hear it when the waves lap the shores, when the sun crests the hill in the morning, when a homeless man and his dog walk with me on the prayer road and I listen to his story. The symphony plays on and I am an instrument waiting for the maestro to give me the signal to play my part.  And when I’m out of tune? When I forget (or stubbornly refuse) to practice the disciplines of prayer, devotion, thanksgiving…worship? That “hound of heaven” tracks me down—panting and slobbering all over me until I pet him—love him, adore him, obey him.  Whenever “Because He lives (Amen)” comes on the radio, I can’t help but worship right along with Matt Maher when he sings:  “Let my song join the one that never ends. Because He lives.”  The Gospel is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on, my friend…Creator started singing it, knowing fully what it was, and He’ll continue singing it forever, just because…He lives.

Steve

The Spirit of God awakened me to my need to trust in Jesus when I was around nine years old.  Although I had heard many sermons to that point in my life, that particular Sunday I recall feeling the weight of my sin as being almost unbearable.  Coupled with the fact that I stood guilty before a Holy God, I couldn't wait for the service to get done so that I could speak with my father, the pastor, and to place my faith in Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness of my sins.

Though I have been a child of God's for many years now, I cherish the last five years in particular.  I have endeavored to live for God, serve God, and please God in the past, but far too often my heart has not always been where it should be, completely devoted to God.  Through the faithful ministry of the Word, through finding renewed joy in worship, through involvement in small group, God has begun to show me issues in my life that I had previously ignored.  As I attend Harvest I find it is bittersweet.  The worship is incredible, but when we open up our hearts and allow God's Spirit to shine the light of His Word into our lives, it can be painful as well.  It is not pleasant when God begins to reveal to us our strong tendency towards selfishness, the previously hidden idols that are now being revealed, the fear of man that has long influenced our decisions and behavior.  But what joy is ours when we acknowledge these things before God and repent of them.  What freedom can be found when we are no longer motivated or concerned about what others think, but only concerned about what God thinks.  What peace is ours when we can come to the point of surrendering our selfish desires, our dreams, our wants, and rest in what God provides.  From the time I was a young boy and trusted Christ as Savior, God has been doing a work in my life.  Since I have had the opportunity to attend Harvest with my family, that process has accelerated 10 fold.  Far too long, even as a Christian, my focus has been horizontal.  Since attending Harvest, that focus has shifted to become vertical.  Though God is at work in my life, my prayer is that He will continue to work in me and change me until the day that I stand face to face with my Savior.  My life is no longer about me, but about bringing Him all the glory and honor that He so richly deserves.

Keri Smith

I got the call late one evening in early January 2013, just after the New Year. I was alone; Jeff was on duty at the fire station and Kelsey was out.  The sound of urgency and seriousness in my Doctor’s voice should have scared me.  He told me the results of my MRI that I had undergone on December 29th 2012, which was the morning of Kameron’s 2nd birthday party.  He said, “I have made an appointment for you with the best oncologist in town, please trust me.  You may request a second opinion but I don’t think you should waste any time.  Make sure Jeff goes with you.  If he tells you that you’re having surgery in a couple of days…clear your schedule.  Again, I’m sorry to call you at home to tell you this.  I wish I could talk with you and Jeff in person.”  He continued, “You probably aren’t going to sleep at all tonight.”  At that time I felt like I was consoling him.  I told him everything will be okay and that we will do what we have to do to deal with this.  I never told him that I was all alone at home.  In less than two weeks I was at St. Mary’s hospital preparing to go into surgery.   I had two masses of cancer each the size of baseballs.  Dr. Brayder, the best doctor in town, chose to do an incision as opposed to laparoscopic surgery because he had concerns that the cancer had spread, which it had, into my lymph nodes.  I spent roughly eight days in the hospital; three of which having a tube through my nose and down my throat pumping my stomach.  On the seventh day the tube finally came out and we got to leave on the eighth day.  My stay was only supposed to be three to five days.  I started chemotherapy one week and two days after returning home from the hospital.  It was scheduled for six rounds with three weeks in between each round.   I Praise God because He is so good.  From the moment I found out I had cancer that evening in January, I did not feel sad, scared, or upset.  I felt total and complete peace.  I immediately claimed 1 Peter 2:24 over the situation, “For by His stripes you were healed.”  You see; months prior to this, God had been prompting me to dig into my Bible and to memorize verses.  He was drawing me near to Him so when I found out that I had cancer, I understood how much bigger than all of this He was and that gave me peace.  To be healed in my physical body would be great, but it would also be great if he took me home to be with him.  Either way, I was healed.  My desire was to go through the experience bringing honor and glory to God, because He is so deserving.  My friend told me when she found out I had cancer that she bawled.  I got to thinking about how I never cried over the fact that I had cancer. From the get go, I claimed several verses.  Just to list a few I focused on 1 Peter 2:24, Ephesians 3:16, Romans 8:18, James 1:2-3 and Hebrews 12:1-2.  One of the Holy Spirit’s promptings was not only to memorize verses but to write the ones that stood out down in a journal.  It makes me feel so loved by God!  When I had been memorizing verses and growing closer and more dependent on God I had no clue of what my family and I were about to embark on.  I finished my last chemotherapy on May 30th, 2013.  I just trusted God; He was and is my refuge, strength, counselor, friend, father, helper, and so much more.  I am so thankful for the wonderful family God blessed me with.  Nate and Stephanie called and texted to check up on me from North Carolina, my sisters called and brought meals.  Jeff and Kelsey never left me alone in the hospital.  When I was going through chemotherapy they would make sure one of them was with me for the first week afterwards when I would feel awful.  I am so blessed with the best. When I was in the hospital on medication it was very hard to pray and read my Bible.  Kelsey would read the bible to me. God also showed love to me through all of the meals, calls, texts, visits, and cards.  I can’t see how I could or will ever view life the same again.  I have a much more intimate relationship with God and He has shown me that my time here is not up yet.  I feel that He wants me to be much BOLDER in my faith and stand firm in my beliefs.  I feel he just plain wants me to view others through His eyes and, above all, as much as it has to do with me, be at peace with everyone, as it says in Romans 12:18 that, ”If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  This road has not been the easiest to take but we live here for such a brief time and will live in eternity forever.  God’s ways bring me so much more peace than the ways of this world.  I feel, both through my cancer and now, such contentment, peace, and love…Thank you Jesus!!  There will be a day when we stand face to face with our maker and He will say, “Go right,” or “Go left.”  One way is to Heaven and the other is to Hell.  We need to not only believe in Jesus Christ, even the devil believes in Him, but we need to live for Him.  I have had to completely put my life in His hands and trust Him and that is where I choose to stay.  When I come face to face with Him, I want Him to be able to say to me, “job well done my loyal and faithful servant.”  To God be the glory. 

    UPDATE…

It has been 2 years and 8 months since my original diagnosis.  Since that time the cancer has metastasized twice I had surgery and chemo in February – July of 2014 and again just this past June 4th of 2015 and currently undergoing radiation.  When I had a scan to find my current cancer the Dr. was reviewing the report with us, the look on his face was disbelief.  His comment was, “for this type of cancer to come back localized is not common - it normally comes back spread all over.”  My immediate thought that traveled through my mind was that my God is not localized.  Praise God!  I have stage 4 ovarian cancer and the peace I have is only found through Christ.  I consider myself to be in a win, win situation.  This is not about me having cancer it’s all about God.   He knows my story from start to finish.  If he wants me here I aim to be light for Christ and if he takes me home…wow, what glory that will be. 

Tim Penning and Cindy Kikkert-Penning

She told me on my birthday. It was a cold, dark day in February. I came home from work to find the house dark and empty and in disarray, with unfinished piles of laundry, and breakfast dishes still in the sink. It was uncharacteristic, so I tidied up in a huff and then went out to get take-out for dinner. When I returned, she was in the kitchen. She said “hello” softly.   Then she said the three words that would change our lives: “I have cancer.”

She didn’t mean to tell me on my birthday, of all days. Earlier in our marriage she had found a lump and it turned out to be benign. She was hoping for the same thing. She was hoping she could quietly get it checked out and then tell me it was nothing without having me worry.  It didn’t work out that way. It was stage 4 breast cancer this time. There was more than one tumor, already spread to the lymph nodes and the neck. It had come out of nowhere and spread fast. We were both worried.  “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:34)  In the time that followed we were surrounded by God and His people. Both of us were life-long Christians, and had a good knowledge of the Gospel. But this cancer diagnosis would draw us from a conceptual knowledge to a deeper, emotional and spiritual relationship with the Lord. Our Christian family, our small group and others at church, and many others prayed with us and for us often. We felt it.  Through chemo-therapy, surgery, and radiation treatment, God was with us. Through complications and infections and 8 more surgeries, God was with us. When a brain tumor emerged and there was brain surgery and radiation to the brain, we felt peace instead of worry. With the ongoing treatments and scans and follow-ups that will be endured as long as Cindy lives, we do not worry; we trust God.  “I tell you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  There have been times we felt despair. We wondered why this was all happening to us. But we have come to realize that it was unrealistic to expect a life with no troubles. Everyone has a burden, it could be relationship issues, financial burdens, or anything. Ours has been primarily cancer.  But cancer is not our identity. Jesus is. When we suffer with the treatments and side effects of cancer, we remember that Jesus suffered for us. We know that this world, our current situations, our bodies, are not permanent. Our hope is in Christ, in the perfection he offers. The Gospel has caused us to have hope not in this world, but in the world to come, where we live in full health eternally with God. We do not know what may come next week, next month, or next year. But we do know Christ will come, and draw us to Him. The time and circumstance of our death do not matter; His death and resurrection do.  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)  We are runners. My wife was a competitive runner, with many trophies and medals to prove it. She ran through cancer, including all through chemo, surgeries, and radiation. She got in her daily run with dedication.   One day, early in our cancer journey, I was running behind her, and she said: “How is God going to use this?” It was a question that blessed me. Cancer had invaded her, but this was the Spirit of God in her. Her focus was not on herself or on cancer, but on God and His will for our lives. I was right there with her. Since then we have tried to be open to sharing our story, which is to share the Gospel. She uses her running to witness to others. A heel fracture unrelated to cancer has given even more opportunity to witness since she has “run” for 10 months on a knee scooter. People ask about it, and she turns it into the full story. We talk about the cancer and why and in whom we have hope. We have struck up conversations with strangers, told them our story, shared our faith, bought Bibles for people, and counseled them on the phone. We speak of Jesus without shame and with great excitement. We didn’t used to do that. The Gospel compels us.  Cancer changed our lives. But it’s really the Gospel that changed us. It changed how we look at trials, and even death. It changed how we live. It changed everything.

 

Carla Stevens

I lived my life knowing the Word in and out. I grew up in a home that went to church every time the door was opened. As a family, we regularly served where needed, teaching children's church, youth group, Sunday school, nursery, choir and all. We knew how to be saved and what was required of our life after salvation. The one thing my family never understood was the real meaning of the gospel, forgiveness and GRACE.  I married my high school love and we have three beautiful sons, but in the midst of the marriage, I found myself as the spiritual head of our home. I led our family in devotions at dinner, I sang all the children's church songs to my boys growing up, I prayed with them and spoke about the Lord, but inside I felt a void and a sadness.  My husband was a hard worker, I knew he loved me and our boys; but deep down inside I knew he was not happy with our life.  I would pray to God to help us, to fix Todd and to help me not feel so lonely, but I was always doing things my way to be sure it was all handled.  Three years ago I found my perfectly controlled world shattered. My husband had left the marriage and our life was leveled. All at once, everything I was trying to control, blew up in my face. I never noticed within all my efforts, God was chasing me and my husband, but I was in the way. My life, my marriage, all that was controlled by me, was stripped from me in a moment.

My husband knew he and I needed help and begged me to go to counseling with him. I went thinking finally "He will get help" not realizing God was trying to get my attention as well. We were both a mess, with different issues, but both pointed to our lack of allowing God to be first in our marriage and our lives. 

We started crisis counseling right away with Dave and Kristen, and in the very first meeting they shown us what was wrong in our marriage. Our marital wheel was reversed and now has a nail in it. They began to show us in the Bible what God's marital plan looked like and counseled us for weeks on repentance, forgiveness, grace and getting our marriage back on track. Wonderful things began to happen in our family.  My husband got saved and in the course of a few months my teenage son did too. My husband and three sons were baptized, my husband was growing spiritually leaps and bounds. His personality changed, he smiled all the time now, he became softer and more friendly with others. He became the leader of our home, the involved husband and father. He finally became that man I always desired of him, but inside I was unforgiving, spiteful, proud, resentful and miserable. I was sinking deeper into a pit of misery all because I would not forgive.  As I sank deeper into my self wallowing, I continued to blame him, my parents treatment of me, my upbringing and other people for what was happening in my heart.  I was playing the victim, and feeling vindicated by all my actions, I started to plan my own healing. I started cutting my body convincing myself that the physical pain was masking the inside pain I was feeling in my heart.  I thought if we renewed our vows, it would make me feel better and I could finally forgive him.  It didn't work. I thought if we had a baby, that would help because the renewal didn’t.  We lost the baby.  That didn't help either and I felt like God had turned his back on me. I had lost everything, and wasted a year and half of my life being bitter, angry, prideful, self-destructive and unforgiving. I tried to fool the very people who had invested in my life for the past year and a half, to help me and show me Christ's love for me. I found myself with nothing left and with nothing left, I finally surrendered to Him. The moment I did, I felt a heaviness lifted from me. I started getting into the Word because I felt a hunger for it for the first time in my life. I started to see my husband through the eyes of a forgiver. I started to experience joy for the very first time in my life. I had to humble myself before God and ask for forgiveness after I was unwilling to do the same for others. I finally started to understand what grace and the gospel really was and how God can remove all the stains in my life and restore my marriage once again. I had finally let go, not only of our marital hurts, but also of past hurts I never thought I would be haunted with forever. I started to listen to God and read what he desires of my life and he rapidly started moving in me and changing everything about me- the way I saw people, the way I treated people, and the way I handled stress and obstacles in life. Finally living a drama free life! I had to humble myself and ask forgiveness of those who invested in my life, confess what I had become and ask them not to give up on me. My life has not been the same after that. God chased me and pursued me and he never gave up on me.

 

Jennifer Machiela

Like my daughter, who "got saved" when she was just three, I have no recollection of the day I first received Jesus as Lord (though I remember hers quite clearly.)  However, my experience has been that the gospel affects different areas of life and change comes little by little.  Not unlike an onion, which has multiple layers with differing thicknesses, life for me has involved God "peeling back" the layers to expose sin and my need for Him.  In His incredible grace, He's repeatedly but gently brought things to my attention that need to be fully submitted to His control as opposed to barraging me with every flaw and sin right from the start.  One of my bigger struggles has been with fear.  Not just that uncomfortable nervousness, but actual hyperventilating and making entirely irrational decisions because I allowed my mind and feelings to run with an idea to the point that my thoughts and actions didn't make any sense.  I've been especially consumed with fear for my family's lives.  As you can imagine, surgeries, especially the potentially life-altering ones, have been decidedly problematic.  Though I've matured considerably through the years in terms of recognizing God's ultimate control, I've continued to struggle.  Then one day, after a stint in the E.R., CAT scans, and consultations with the neurosurgeon, my husband and I were suddenly facing down a surgery to replace his brain shunt.  I'm sure that some people have tremendous faith in the medical profession, but after losing one of our micro-preemie twins early on in our marriage, I had no such confidence and fixated on the possibility that this COULD result in my husband's death.  God, being ever patient, didn't just walk away in exasperation, but used His Word to show me how I was letting fear reign again.  He brought scriptures to mind that showed me His loving character.  I wrote them down and pulled them out to change my focus each time I noticed that fear getting the upper hand again.  However, the morning of surgery, I woke up at 4 a.m. and fear immediately attacked.  I prayed fervently that God would remove these thoughts and help me to trust Him, but my thoughts continued to wage war in my mind.  I got up to spend time in the Word since I know that it's the source of truth and when I went to turn on some music on the computer to accompany my reading, God put the Bible Gateway verse of the day on the screen... "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all -- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)  Wow! God knew exactly what I needed AGAIN.  He redirected my mind putting the focus back on HIM and His character and goodness rather than the particulars of this circumstance.  Ultimately, my husband came through surgery fine, but due to some problems, the process had to be repeated again several months later.  This time, I felt like God was calling me to walk through it "alone" with Him and that's when the gospel really changed everything.  Basically it became a choice... was I willing to trust God with my husband's life?  If He chose to take the love of my life, would I still serve Him and believe Him to be good?  Was He on the throne or was I insisting on retaining some of the control myself?  It took several hours of wrestling in prayer, but ultimately the choice was whether I was going to believe what His Word says and trust Him or not.  I finally surrendered and totally gave my husband up to Him.  In Romans 8:28, it says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  While God's ways might not always be my ways and might look very different from what I'd choose for myself, He works for HIS glory and my good -- ALWAYS!  If that means losing my best friend and being a single mom then He's good and it's for my good.  It took a while, but finally I was able to rest in the fact that I "am precious in His sight and honored" and that He doesn't just tolerate me, He's crazy about me and only wants what's best for me.  While I knew this cerebrally and even in other arenas of life due to other "layers of the onion being peeled back," it wasn't 'til this surgery that I totally submitted my future with my husband to God's control and fully rested in God's love and provision regardless of what that might look like.

Sara Koert

I had everything under control since I can remember. I was raised to be a Christian, to be obedient, to excel, to be independent, and I naturally fell into thinking I was pretty great at all those things.  I really was gripped by my own sin as a child, knew I needed a savor, and asked him into my heart many times. I studied his Word in Christian school, and I knew his presence and love throughout my whole childhood. Because I was so good at the whole Christian kid thing, I fell into a rhythm and that rhythm looked a lot more like earning my salvation and coasting along with a abysmal relationship with Jesus.  In college my perfection bubble started to burst when I was faced with my own ugly sin in how I treated all the people who weren’t like me, who didn’t speak “Christianese" and who really didn’t think I was all that great. I lost a little control of my world but I was hanging onto the rest for dear life. I had a plan and when I make plans, they happen. It wasn’t until after I got my dream job and the promotion I knew I deserved in the cool city where I lived with my highschool sweetheart husband that God said “you were too busy doing life your way and wallowing in your pride and self righteousness to know I was preparing you to be a vessel to bring a little boy into the world”. We weren’t trying or ready for a baby, but God gave us one, and after throwing a pity party for a few months God grabbed hold of my heart and He broke it. I saw how the pedestal I created, sometimes to honor God, was actually creating cavernous distance between us and I was too far away to feel His peace or know His love or trust Him with my life. I had that precious baby nine weeks early after the owners of our apartment foreclosed and we were left without a place to live. My body was failing and that was out of my control. That year God took a lot of things out of my control and for the first time, maybe ever in my Christian walk, I knew what it meant to rely on Jesus 100% for my hope, my peace, me and my child’s life, and my family’s future. By the grace of God, I didn’t die, my premature baby had absolutely no setbacks and spent an average amount of time in the hospital.  My husband’s best friend at the time opened his home for our family to live in, and God very quickly provided the exact job my husband needed to support us back in our home of West Michigan. I was forced to sit on my hands and I was blessed with a front row seat to God’s glory being magnified in my life over and over. In that Gospel-changing season I realized truly that I could not do it on my own.  I saw my ugly, sinful reflection more clearly than ever, and in my brokenness He reminded me that He was the one that washed me white and clean, and that “his love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me, and on and on and on it goes, it overwhelms and satisfies my soul.” I thank God for inviting me to recline at the table of His grace, adorned by the beauty of the Gospel that was there waiting for me all along. 

 

Nicole Wisen

My story is about grace.  It starts in Romania.  I had two older siblings that were put in a state orphanage, but by God's grace, I was put in a Christian one with my twin sister.  It was there that God led my future grandfather to invest in a church which eventually brought my parents to Romania to fall in love with us.  By six years old we were on a plane to America, with three more new siblings waiting for us to arrive.  I still remember that day like it was yesterday.  A new family, but not just any new family, a Christian one!  Through this family I was raised with Christian education, attending church every week, including Wednesdays, and hung out with Christian kids.  None of this saved me, but as I look back on my life, because of God's grace, He placed me exactly where He wanted me so that I could come to know Him.  I was able at a young age to accept Jesus as my Savior and live in a protected family that taught me God's Word to live by.  Being adopted, kids can be really mean.  When they would say mean things to me, I would tell them that I was adopted because that was God's plan for my life.  It wasn't my choice - it was His and even at a young age, I knew I had to trust Jesus for wherever I was.  High school was an eye-opener for me in the sense that growing up in a Christian family or going to church doesn't mean you lived your life by the Bible or even truly knew Jesus.  In an ethics class, this truth was made real. So many issues were placed on the table and the kids gave their opinions.  It blew my mind how the kids in the class made excuses for what they believed, using the Bible but taking it out of context.  I soon found myself forced to search the scriptures for truth, since what I was hearing didn't seem right.  I was seeking God within the context of His Word.  Then at a Christian college my professor asked who in the class had already had sexual relationships.  28 out of 30 kids raised their hands.  Again, I was in the minority.  A kid in my class asked me if I was ashamed of that and I answered, “No, I am doing things God's way.”  I realized quickly that again, bearing the title "Christian" doesn't necessarily mean living in obedience to His Word.  Understanding the gospel does.  Through all of this, I have seen God's grace and protection in my life.  I know some of the stories of kids that were in the orphanage with me, and they are not in good places.  I am thankful today that God directed my path, put me in a Christian home, saved me, gave me strength to stand on His Word - all of this was His choice, not mine.  One of my favorite verses is Luke 9:23 – “If anyone wishes to be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Jennifer Rickert

As a new Christian I often would hear people share experiences where God showed His magnificence in a mighty way. For me, my story wasn't all that interesting before I knew Jesus.k I was lost. Like really lost. Like should have died several deaths lost, but by the grace of God I didn't He saved me. Little ole rebellious troublemaker me.....now a child of the most high God. And that was it or so I thought.  I really knew I was changed & even started to bear fruit, but when God wanted to get a hold of my heart issues like selfishness, pride, & jealousy I ran right back to the very things that tried to kill me before, only this time they fought back with a vengeance. I turned my back on the very same God who so graciously saved me from my empty dark abyss. I ran from my son, my friends, my church, & my family & straight into the arms of addiction, destruction, and death. It was dark.  Many times friends would call to reach out to me to pray for me & tell me to come back to Jesus, but to me it seemed I was just too far gone, that I had rejected God & chose the wrong path. Surely He would not want me anymore. I believed the lie that told me God's grace wasn't good enough for me & couldn't possibly cover the magnitude of sin I participated in. All of that was about to change in a big way. The kind of big way only God could orchestrate. Here I was again lost, empty, guilty, & ashamed. I just wanted to die quickly. I couldn't believe I had fallen so far. There was a phone call with a friend who simply told me what I needed to hear even if I really didn't want to.....step out in faith & come home. Before the call ended there was a challenge from her to simply make my decision sober, not to drink alcohol or take any drugs. She also sent me two separate scriptures - Psalms 27 and Proverbs 5.  Her instructions were to not simply find myself in these words but to choose which I would want to be my testimony. Reluctantly I agreed to the terms of her request.  That night as I left work with the decision heavy on my heart I knew for sure I wasn't going to look up those scriptures because I was totally on to her scheme. However on the train ride home my Facebook, Instagram, or Spotify would not pull up. Being that I had an hour to pass I curiously decided to pull up Psalm 27 & Proverbs 5, which oddly enough, my Bible pulled up on my phone. After reading those scriptures God gripped my heart & showed me He didn't leave me. He was there all along longing for my return. That night was one of the longest nights I've ever endured. I wrestled with putting down my idols & putting God back on the throne in my life. I repented and asked God to forgive me for all the sins I committed. Ultimately the Holy Spirit compelled me to return home even though returning home meant I would be homeless, jobless, car less, and have to face all the people I ran away from. I knew it wasn't going to be easy but I knew God was using this situation to glorify Himself.  I've just passed 90 days sober, working on establishing a trusting, healthy relationship with my son & family, serving back at church, working consistently, paying off old debts, living with a amazing Christian family who welcomed me & my son into their homes & lives as family. God has and is providing exceedingly and abundantly more than I ever could have imagined.

 

Linda Louise Tomich

I grew up with an absent father and an abusive mother who raised us with her best friend who was a call girl. My Mom married five times and at one time told me she was a lesbian. In between marriages she would leave my older brother, myself, and my younger brother all alone for days at a time while she went on a drunken binge with whoever wanted to go with her and sometimes bringing the men home. We managed to do well on our own at a very early age. If any of my mom’s boyfriends or husbands paid special attention to me, I paid the price through my Mom’s jealous, hateful heart towards me. She loved my older half brother and my younger brother, but she hated me.  I was not allowed to show happiness, sadness, fear or any emotion that would draw attention away from my manic depressive, alcoholic, suicidal, abusive mother.   I was married eight years and was determined to have “my dream come true”: four children, boy, girl, boy, girl all two years apart. I always dreamed to be a mom and to love all my children and to have a family, but I could tell something was missing. When my kids went to VBS and I heard their joyful laughter and singing, I was determined to find out what it was that made them so happy! Through a Story Hour lesson, a miracle in itself, I accepted Jesus as my Savior.  I had the hopes that I would be even a better mom as I grew in my love for God and I was a very hungry Christian.  I wanted to know everything, believe it, and live it. But one night while putting my little girl to bed, I felt like my life was ending when I felt this extreme hatred flowing into my heart toward my little girl that I loved. It was so evil, it scared me. I went to my room and fell to my knees, begging God to please kill me, there was something horribly wrong with me. After I quit crying I could envision this chain, long and thick, too heavy to lift and as I followed it in my mind I found it wrapped around my grandma’s neck, then my mom’s, then mine, and then my daughter’s and it continued on. In my heart I heard the words: “Break it! Break it in Jesus Name!”   So as I silently prayed, I timidly said, “I break it in Jesus Name.”   I knew in my heart I had to say it out loud. So I said it out loud. “I BREAK IT IN JESUS NAME!” I felt a breaking in me as I cried, not just for me but for past generations and for future. The next morning I woke up and loved my little girl with such a perfect love. But what I did not know until much later is that God broke the chain between me and my Mom.  My Mom was still abusive, especially since I became a Christian and quit drinking with her. But now I was not afraid of her and God pursued her with a passion using me, our prayer group at church, and even the little children that I led worship with on Sunday mornings as we all prayed for my mom.

I bought my mom, her child hood drinking buddy and her call girl girlfriend a ticket to the movie The Prodigal Son. When Billy Graham spoke at the beginning, my mom’s heart started to break. My mom cried when she heard Billy Graham explain the Gospel. Her friends laughed at her and kept asking her what was wrong with her.  My mom became a Christian and witnessed to many people through her struggle with cancer.  She became the best mom anyone could ask for and an awesome grandma who loved children so much she taught Sunday School at her church.  Our generational sin cycle had been broken.  Our family and generations to come had been changed.  The love that I sought my whole life was found in a God who never gives up.  

Susan Ream

God began a work in me before I even knew that there was a God in Heaven.  I grew up in an alcoholic home where rage, physical abuse and insecurity reigned.   At the age of fourteen I had an experience that was the catalyst to my discovery that there was something bigger than my puny, scary, unfulfilled little life.  One day I was contemplating the meaning of life.  Suddenly I was compelled to the ground.  Lying prostrate I cried out  "If there really is a God, I need to know it.  If you are there, I don't know how to find you!"  I reasoned that if someone created me, he wouldn't just make me - then throw me on this earth-place saying, 'now go fend for yourself.' My 'prayer' continued, "Please, if you are real show me how I can know you."  The year following that prayer was, for me, a further revelation of the meaninglessness of life.  Not only was my home of origin meaningless but I found all of life to be utterly meaningless.  My one goal, as a teen, was to be part of the most popular group in school.  I reached that goal only to uncover emptiness and deep disappointment.  These new friends were shallow and absorbed with exalting themselves - no one really cared about me.  At the end of that year I came to the place of hopelessness asking, "Why am I alive, what is the purpose of life?"   In my hopelessness, I withdrew from everyone.   My family did not even notice but one of my friends, who came from a Christian home, observed my struggle and was very concerned.  Debbie talked to her parents who encouraged her to ask me over to their house so they could talk to me.  When Debbie asked me to spend the night I declined but Debbie persisted.  She said, "Susie, my Mom thinks God is trying to talk to you."  At first I was alarmed and responded, "Why would God want to talk to me?"  Debbie continued to urge me to come to her house.  She was insistent and would not take no for an answer.  I finally caved and went to Debbie's house to hear what God had to say to me.  I observed a different kind of family that night.  I saw a Dad who took his kids to bed piggy back style.  There was lots of laughter and fun in that household.  Though my heart was dark, it was lightened by what I saw.  After Debbie's Dad tucked the kids in bed he directed his attention to me.  He had a Big black book in his hands and he opened it to share the greatest story of hope that my heart had ever heard.  He looked at me with eyes of love and told me the story of Jesus.  That night I learned that I was created by God and that, because of His love for me, He made a way for me to be adopted into His family through the blood of Jesus.  God had a plan for my life.  He had a purpose for creating me.  He even had a home prepared for me after this life was over.  That was the night God reached down from Heaven and touched the heart of a fifteen year old girl and changed her forever.  I surrendered my life to the One who gave His all to give me life now (abundantly) and forevermore (eternally.)  Since that night God has opened the eyes of my heart and revealed more of Himself through His word and through miracle after miracle in my life.  I praise Him for pulling me out of the pit and placing my feet on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ His Son.  

There is nothing I desire more than to be used by God and to see my children and grandchildren discover, and grow in, the faithfulness of Christ Jesus.  God began a new 'thing' from my generation on down - Only God could do this.  

 

Kristen Wisen

Where to begin?  The awesome thing about the cross is that it doesn’t just change your eternal destination…it changes everything about you.  I am a list keeper – I have to-do lists, grocery lists, guest lists, and wish lists.  But the one list that I used to have (that I am ashamed to admit) was a grudge list.  If I was hurt or I was upset with someone, I put them on that list.  About 13 years ago, I was angry at someone – they had hurt me and had said some pretty terrible things to me.  So I made a list – a list of everything they had said, so that if I started to warm up to them again, I could literally pull it out of my purse and remind myself of why I was mad at them.  Bad idea.  The only thing that list produced in me was bitterness.  And bitterness isn’t something that can be contained – it began to affect my moods, my children, my husband and my relationship with Christ.  I can remember one day, in the midst of my wallowing, I pulled out that list and started to read it again.  And the Spirit spoke to me – not a voice but simply a thought:  “I am not a list keeper.”  You see, if God was a list keeper, there would not be enough paper in the world to contain the sins against Him.  Instead, He chooses to love.  He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.  God forgives and places my sin as far as the east is from the west.  He doesn’t keep them in His back pocket to remind Him over and over of my failures.  The cross insured that.  And because the cross has provided all the forgiveness I will ever need, keeping a list of sins against me seemed pretty ridiculous.  So I took the list and tore it up.  Good idea. The gospel has taught me to give up some of my lists for God’s glory, and it’s a life-changing lesson.  The relationship I was stewing over has been restored – not because the hurt was confessed, but because I chose to forgive and love, rather than wallow and stew.  It has taught me that in the same way that I desire to imitate my heavenly Father, my children seek to imitate me – so learning to let go of hurt and forgive is a lesson that has impacted my whole family.  The grudge lists are gone and have been replaced with kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness.  It’s a much better way to live.  I have been crucified with Christ and yet I still live – but it’s not me who is living but Christ who is living within me.  The life I now life in this flesh, I live by faith in Jesus who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20) The gospel teaches that my life is not my own – that Jesus now lives within me.  He is not a list keeper but a wonderful, loving Savior.  To God be all the glory.

Lori Lewis

I am writing this from Dublin Ireland because the Gospel does indeed change everything! Being here in Ireland serving the Lord is possible because God's promises are true. Peace comes through living in obedience to Christ, even when it is scary and uncertain. I have never before felt such peace as when I finally submitted to what God had laid on my heart nine years earlier, to serve in Ireland as a missionary. For nine years I participated in various short term outreaches in Ireland and other locations but quickly discovered short-term is not what Christ wanted from me.  I can honestly say they were half-hearted prayers that I offered to the Lord:  How do I make serving full time work? How do I manage my family and finances etc.?   I failed to recognize it was not me that would work out any of those details, but it was Christ who would attend to every last detail, and far better than I ever could! The Gospel shows time and time again that God's provision is perfect. Christ will do a mighty work here in Ireland but not by my doing, I am simply the vessel He is using. To God be the Glory! Isaiah says, ”Whom shall I send, who shall go for us? Send me!" The Gospel changes everything, believe it! I am not capable of doing what God has accomplished in my life over the past year that made it possible to leave employment, sell home, gather finances and be in Ireland serving and harvesting souls for the Kingdom. It is all the Lord.

Holly Ribbens

My whole life I had known and loved Jesus.  I remember lying in our fields looking at the night sky, praying through my teenage years.  I was 18 when my father was killed in a plane crash.  I determined on that day that I didn’t much care what the Lord of my youth thought of me.  My dad had accepted Christ that November and was on fire for the Lord. By December he was gone. I continued to go to church most Sundays but I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I lived or died, didn’t care what I was putting into my body, didn’t care that I was sinning against a holy God.  I didn’t care that I was defiling the temple of the Holy Spirit.  A near fatal car accident didn’t even jar me from the destructive path I was on.  The amazing thing is that God kept pursuing me, kept pressing down on my life, kept showing up,  and in a moment of sheer terror I found out that I was having a child.  What I thought was God’s wrath was actually God saving my life.  He saved me with that child and in turn I kept living my life as I wanted to live it, consumed by my own wants and needs; consumed by my need for control.  I lived for that baby and I lived for myself, but I did not live for God.  How many years could I live this way? I had married and divorced and lived on my own selfishness and still I thought I was okay.  After all, I still went to church every Sunday.  But God is faithful and He kept pursuing me, kept pressing down on my life, kept showing up and in 2009, I married Rob.  We had no idea what God had in store for us.  I had spent so many years running from God and couldn’t believe that He would restore me, that he could pull me up out of the pit.  In the midst of everything, I found myself working inside of His church.  I was grateful that He saved me and entrusted me with His people, that He gave me the heart and words to speak into the lives of others, and it was an honor to serve Him, but something was still missing.  What I didn’t know is that it was my full surrender.  I was still holding onto some shred of pride, some small measure of control.  Rob and I continued to serve and continued to grow and God kept pursuing me, kept pressing down on my life, kept showing up.  

Then it all fell apart.  Rob was serving every Sunday as the worship leader and I was there all week long trying to hold things together.  We began to question if we were in the right place, not wanting to let anyone down, yet knowing that God was not being glorified in this place.  We began attending Harvest and at first it was every Sunday that we had off.  Then when Saturday nights started we couldn’t get enough, there weren’t enough tears to shed.  We couldn’t see how we could possibly stay where we were and we couldn’t figure out how to leave.  We met with Pastor Dave and God saw to our departure.  It was painful and I was filled with sorrow even though I knew God had a better way for us.  A verse from Genesis kept coming up over and over.  Genesis 45:8 “Now therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God…”  How could I continue to have unforgiveness and pride?   I began to go to Ladies Bible Study and God showed me that I was nothing without Him-  that my plans are all flawed and that I had been humbled because I had not sought humility.  I learned that it was only in humility that I was free.  Kristen let me ask questions and encouraged me to wrestle with the Word.  The Lord revealed that I had not chosen Him, that He had chosen me, that He died for me and that there wasn’t anything I could do to deserved His indwelling. On September 13, 2004 in an act of surrender (there have been many since) Pastor Dave baptized me.  He has won, He is winning and I couldn’t be more grateful that He keeps pursuing me, keeps pressing down on my life, keeps showing up.  

Robert and Kathy Vanderson

We were both raised in a Christian home where we went to church every Sunday and both of us went to Christian schools. As a result we knew a lot about God and how Christians were supposed to look and behave. We also knew Christ as our Savior, but for us it was more like a fire insurance policy rather than a relationship with Him. As the years went by, God blessed us with a family and a good job despite the fact that we were basically ignoring Him and living our own life. On the outside it looked like we were great Christians because we were in church every Sunday and were even members of a small group.

In the summer of 2014, we started spending the weekends on our boat in Grand Haven and, wanting to keep up appearances, we thought we better find a church to attend on Sundays. We rode by Harvest Bible Chapel every weekend on the way to the boat so we thought we would give it a shot. Little did we know that our God is an ever-chasing God. Even when we were ignoring God, He wasn't ignoring us.  Summer ended and we decided to continue attending HBCSL because we were so drawn into the Gospel message being preached each week. There is nothing as powerful as hearing Christ crucified for me, that God loves us no matter how much we ignore Him and no matter what we have done.  Later that fall the “Lord Change Me” series was preached and we were convicted like never before. The big idea that day was “We change when Jesus is our treasure and Jesus is our strength”.  Wow! All of these years we had been trying to be acceptable to God by trying to please Him with our performance and by trying to be our own agent of change. The gospel tells us that through surrender, confession and repentance we find forgiveness and are acceptable to God. Romans 7:6 tells us "But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code."  We are now secure in Christ and set free. Jesus is our "Jailbreak."  Since then, God has been working in our lives and changing us like only He can. He placed us in a small group where we are surrounded by Christian friends and are held accountable to each other. We just can't wait to see how God is going to use us in the future.  On January 25, 2015 Kathy's dad died and we were both at his side when he took his last breath. The thing that really struck us at that time is that it doesn't matter how many times you went to church, or what things you accumulated during your lifetime. The only thing that matters is if you knew Jesus.  

 

Jenny Nieboer

I was born with a rare birth defect where my kidneys never fully formed.  My entire life has been a string of dialysis and transplants, hospital stays and surgeries, pokes and doctor visits, and everything in between. You could say I know a thing or two about physical suffering. I was raised in a Christian home and came to Christ at a very young age, but it wasn't until about 4 years ago that I truly knew what that meant.  I had been living on my own for almost a year down in Atlanta, GA and by all accounts I was doing pretty well. I had a good job, a nice apartment, a good church to be involved with; I was the picture of the American dream. But inside, I was an anxious, nervous wreck. I had credit card bills that kept climbing, health that was deteriorating, and a facade of independence that was quickly dissolving right in front of me; I just wanted to "have it all together". All too soon the truth came out in one singular disaster. I had been given a kidney from my mother and through the grace of God, it had worked for 5 wonderful years. But then my selfish living caught up with me and the gift of my mother's own kidney had failed due to my body's own rejection of it. The reason? A full year of me neglecting to take the life-saving drugs that kept my body's immune system at bay because I so deeply desired to be "normal".  So within a 24-hour period, I was back on dialysis, grieving my selfishness and complete detachment from God. Until that point, I had been living solely for myself, only coming to the Lord when I wanted something. That night, the gospel became a reality to me more than it ever had been before. Knowing God had forgiven me for all that I'd done: for how selfishly I'd lived, for how flippantly I'd treated the gracious gifts He'd given me, for how my actions had wounded my family, and my mother, humbled me more than I'd ever been humbled in my life.   Four years later, I still struggle with total surrender and the occasional bout of selfishness; but I am a changed woman. I no longer hide my struggles from those closest to me. I do my best to serve Him in all I do and try to minister to those He wishes me to speak to. Best of all, He's blessed me with a loving and forgiving family, amazing friends I can be transparent with, and a church family that has helped me grow more in the past two years than I've grown in my entire life. I was even baptized almost a year ago, knowing it was the least I could do to show my gratitude to Him. He gets all the glory. None of this would have been possible without Him. But with Him, I look forward to the changes He has yet to make in me.

Nikki Rodriguez

Before Christ, I was a selfish, people pleasing, ignorant, inconsiderate person. I worked VERY hard at work, so I could stay busy. I made really good money so I could people-please on the weekends by buying friends their meals, drinks, anything they wanted, just to make others happy and me feel needed. As a child I remember being very aware of sexuality and did inappropriate things. As a child I was very unkind to other children. As a teenager I was toying with internet role playing, chat lines, which led to some internet pornography, but mainly led to meeting men offline. I met one man, tried to say no to what was about to happen, but I pretty much gave in, and it happened anyway, and afterward I felt cheap, worthless and thought  there was no purpose to trying to stay "pure" anymore. I felt like a complete failure and let down and didn't want anyone to know it. Eventually the internet wanderings came crashing down, and I ended up moving out when I was 21. I didn’t really change my habits, I just had more freedom. Instead of meeting people online, I would just hang out with friends around town on the weekends. Whatever I thought in my mind made me who I was.  After being on my own for a while, I met a man that I knew was different than all the rest. I never went back to the internet, slowly stopped going out to bars, paying for friends, and people-pleasing. Looking back now, I can see God sent Tim into my life to save me from myself. We met in 2002, and in 2004 Tim and I were married. I felt the Lord drawing me to Him, but it wasn't until a marriage Life Group that I began to see God really moving in my heart. I was a complete clone of my mother, and made my marriage a selfish display of me, me, and me. The Lord brought me conviction, and He changed my life. I am so thankful Tim stayed right with me through this difficult period of stomping my feet, and not wanting to change. I finally understood what God intended for marriage, and family, and He began breaking away my selfishness and opening my eyes to who He says I am, not who I used to be.  I didn't have to carry the dead weight of that person anymore. He changed me. My husband reminded me, it's a walk with God, so praise God this selfish sinner get to walk with the Lord!  It’s God in me, that’s the only good I have. He has given me victory in so many things; selfish addictions, lusts of the flesh, anxiety, fear, and gave rise to a heart that wants to serve the Lord. A heart that He is still working on! A heart that has been raised to new life with Christ! I still struggle, but now it’s worthy the fight! Jesus has already won!

 

Jeremiah 17: 7-8 

Maddie Fox

After graduating high school, I moved to California, and I put Jesus on the back burner of my life. I enrolled in an intense musical theater program and devoted every hour of my time to improving my craft. The word “perfectionist” would be an understatement… In fact, to comfort myself from the intense anxiety that resulted from my perfectionism, I would get drunk with my friends regularly. When neither perfectionism nor drunkenness satisfied me, I started obsessing about my appearance. I began to exercise compulsively, eat very little, and in less than a month I dropped over 15 pounds. It still wasn’t enough. Finally, I entered into a relationship that was far from God-honoring, and we quickly fell into sin. By the time the relationship ended, sin had nearly destroyed me. I moved home from California as a broken mess. I woke up every morning with a dark cloud looming over me… I contemplated the purpose of even staying alive. Everything that I had pursued left me completely empty and hopeless, and I believed God was angry at me for it. I began attending church in an attempt to “clean up my act”, and I started counseling with a woman who is now my dearest friend. One day (I remember it like yesterday) she explained to me what positional sanctification was. I had never heard the term before in my life, but I could feel my heart stirring. She explained that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross made it so that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see me. He sees the perfection of His son Jesus. Perfection. God could not possibly be angry at me because Jesus is interceding for me claiming me as his own, and I was counted blameless.  That moment I felt my heart explode, and all of the pain, the guilt, the shame, the hopelessness was spilling out and I could breathe again. I was in absolute awe of what Jesus had done for me. In all of my brokenness, sin, and shame, I was viewed as perfect. Everything I had done was forgiven, paid for, and washed away. I remember feeling like I couldn’t believe that kind of love existed! I went home that day weeping and praying and praising God all at the same time. I thanked Him for loving me, forgiving me, and for seeking my heart after all I had done to stray from Him. That week Jesus replaced the dark clouds with brilliant sunlight. The hopelessness I had felt so deeply for months was replaced with joy, and it wasn’t temporary. I began to obey God, no longer in an effort to earn His approval, but in response to His love. Since that day, He has conquered my depression, straightened my paths, and covered me with joy that does not fade. My story is not about a girl who pursued the Lord, but rather a girl who was passionately pursued by her Savior. 

Sam Bacon

From a very young age, my heart longed for the Lord. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, actually the furthest from it. My parents didn’t discourage my three older sisters to have their boyfriends stay the night or live with us for periods of time.  Drugs and alcohol were pretty consistent in my home, and though life was moving very quickly around me and it all felt normal, I was very alone and it was very dysfunctional. My mom worked the 3rd shift and would regularly work 70 hour weeks. My dad was an alcoholic and though he loved me well, he wasn’t very present. It all came to a head when I was 10 and both of my parents jobs were in jeopardy. The photography business my dad was working for was becoming obsolete, and the grocery store my mom managed was going out of business. On top of all that, we had a house fire and ultimately my parents had to foreclose on their dream home. They realized their desperate need for help at this point. My dad went to rehab for a few months and we lived in a hotel for 10 months while my uncle helped us find a home and get our feet on the ground. All I could remember in that time of my life is knowing that it needed to be that way and essentially God had a plan. I would write letters to God and ask random people questions about Jesus because I knew nothing. At this point, one of my sisters moved to Florida to pursue a culinary education and she lived with my aunt and uncle who told her she had to go to church if she lived with them. Though my sister did not believe in God at all, she went to church and received the Gospel. When she came home to visit she shared it with my family. My parents were at a point in their life of such readiness, we went to church and got saved almost immediately. My very first time at church I went to Sunday school and remember vividly the teaching of John 3:16. I couldn’t believe that God would allow His Son to die for us because, get this, He loved us! They challenged us at church to memorize the verse (something I had never heard of- I didn’t even own a Bible) and said they would ask us the next week to recite it. Out of 90% fear and 10% eagerness to learn, I spent that next week reading that verse hundreds of times on my own. I truly believe that it was in those tender moments during that week that the Lord gripped my heart and I understood the clear picture of the Gospel. Since then, I have gone through dry seasons and even seasons of doubt, but not for a moment did the Lord ever let go of me. 

Lorraine Bush

I accepted God's gift of salvation as a child, but I thought God was like a parent in the sky waiting for me to mess up so He could spank me. I usually felt that I wasn't good enough, was depressed and moody. But when I understood that because of Jesus' work on the cross, God sees me as if I had never sinned, or better yet, as if I had always obeyed, and that He really loves and delights in me; that changed everything. I am free to be happy and grateful and joyful all because I understand that because of Jesus I am clean and righteous and in good standing with God. Oh, what joy!  

 

Daniel Cook 

James MacDonald has defined faith as believing the Word of God and acting upon it, not matter how you feel, because God promises a good result.  

 

My name is Daniel Cook and my life was rocked in 2010.  I was raised in a Baptist home until the age of 12 and in fear of God.   From a young age I knew about God, Heaven and eternity. And I even knew Jesus was the only way to heaven. I was baptized at a young age and always wanted to be a “good person.”

My parents divorced when I was 13 and life as I knew it drastically changed. Looking back on things now, I truly see God’s love and grace throughout this time. At the age of 14, I met my wife Kristie at a soccer tournament. She was two years older and I was overwhelmed with how she made me feel. Never having kissed a girl, I thought perhaps this could indeed be “the one.”    I’m sure you are wondering, and yes indeed, she was my first kiss. 

At the age of 15, I was all over the place in my head. With no other options, in my opinion, as a young adolescent I thought death would be better than life. I swallowed approx. 250 pills- whatever I could get my hands on in the medicine cabinet.  By God’s grace my life was spared. My mom, single and raising three teenage boys, was at a loss and checked me into Pine Rest. This is where my anger began to take root, along with the art of manipulation. After staying 15 days, the counselors agreed that I could return home. Having no heart change simply just “playing the game” and living a lie, life went on.  Yet God was chasing me.

 

In my junior year of high school, Kristie was pregnant with our oldest daughter Kaitlyn. Being a father I knew my life was forever changed once again. Life was good though.  After all, I had a girlfriend, played soccer, lots of friends, and for what it’s worth was even homecoming king. After graduating in June of 1995, Kaitlyn was now a year old and Kristie and I married that September. 

The next 14 years of marriage, although difficult, at times was (in my opinion) good. A couple years later, we had a healthy baby boy, Tyler. Two years after that, another beautiful girl, Eyliana. I was the man. New house, new cars, new Harley, travel trailer, four wheelers, and amazing vacations. I owned my own landscaping business.  As I knew it, my life was great. I worked hard and played hard. Life, after all, was about me- skydiving, hunting, fishing- whatever I wanted, when I wanted. 

Due to poor business decisions and being selfish,my business tanked.   All my cars and toys were returned to the bank. All we had after bankruptcy was our house.  Needing work, I took a position teaching classes across the country and traveled 5 days a week. Without getting into detail, my disobedience to God was spiraling out of control. Drinking was the norm, coming home with tattoos that I had no business getting, and to my own disappointment and more importantly to Gods, neglecting my wife.  Kristie and I decided it would be better for me to get a job where traveling was not needed. God was chasing me and giving me plenty of warning where my life was heading. I didn’t listen!

With my experience in landscaping, I quickly found work and was now able to be home with the family. However, putting my significance in self rather than God was eating away at our marriage. At the time I did not see it, but the continued pressure I put on my wife was building. After all, my significance was found in her and I needed constant approval from her on what a great guy I was. 

 

One day after our 15 year anniversary, my wife and I sat on the front porch of our house. Kristie looked a bit sad and I asked her a question. “Why do you look so unhappy?” Her simple response was ”I’m not happy, I’m done, we need to separate.” I lost a business, lost my toys, and went bankrupt (all due to my poor decisions) and I could handle that.  But my wife wanting to separate?  I could not handle this.  Let’s just say after hearing those words, I felt as if my world had stopped. God had been chasing me and trying to get my attention, and now He had it!  I knew in my heart some serious changes needed to be made if there was even a chance.

 

The next month was an emotional roller coaster for me as Kristie and I both agreed to make this as easy on the kids as possible. We rented another place and would each take a week in our home, while the other would go to the condo. 

For the next month it was all I could do to just get out of bed.  My brother Dave was there for me and constantly checking in. Drinking became the norm once again, and on two separate occasions, I found myself with a Bible, a fifth of vodka, and a loaded pistol down my throat. I don’t share this with you for anything more than to show you the greatness of our God.  God was working and He never gave up.  

 

After a Saturday of drinking, I decided on Sunday to check out Harvest Bible Chapel Spring Lake. Strategically I came in late and left early. The only thing I remember about this day was watching the praise and worship team singing and thinking of all the times my wife would sing on Sundays, and all I would do was complain about the time Kristie spent practicing. I never encouraged her or let her know how awesome she sounded. Conviction was truly starting to set in.  God was working!

I believe it was the next day that Pastor Dave Wisen reached out and asked if I wanted to meet for breakfast.  I agreed to breakfast, after all I was a mess and had no idea what to do.

Dave just asked a few simple questions.  He started by asking if I would like to talk with someone who is a bit slower to get to the truth or someone who would be in my face. To which my response was “In my face, please!”  Dave’s response was “Ok, you will be meeting with me.”   I didn’t care who it was.  I just wanted my wife back.

One of the hardest times was when Dave asked, “Are you prepared to follow the Lord even if your wife does not return?”  “No!” is what I wanted to say.  However, with hesitation and doubt, I figured I would try. 

 

Dave gave me a CD series by James McDonald - Lord Change Me.  James said something that tugged at my heart:  “Faith is believing in the Word of God, acting upon it, no matter how you feel, because God promises a good result.  I replayed it over and over again until I had it memorized. Tears began to flow down my face and I was out of control emotionally. I proceeded to pull my truck over and cried out to the Lord for strength and direction.

 

Let’s just say God and I had a heart-to-heart in that moment.  I realized it was my move.  God had pursued me and it was time to completely put my trust in Him.  My life at that moment was forever changed! And to this day by God’s Grace, continues to change in ways I never imagined! 

The story does not end there. God had so much He wanted to teach me and wasted no time getting at it.  Conviction was setting in with a vengeance and other things needed to change in my life.  Instead of living to please myself and wanting nothing more than my wife back, my heart’s desire needed to be to Glorify Him in everything!

 

Since leading my wife to the foot of the cross at that time would be rather hard, I knew that resting in Him and leading my children was what I needed to do. When it was my week with the kids, I asked if they would like to join me at church. They all agreed and actually seemed to enjoy it.

Kristie eventually agreed to meet with Dave and Kristen Wisen. On two separate occasions, Kristie walked out of the room angry, “But God” in His grace and love was working on her too.

Kristie did eventually come back to counseling and God slowly started to change her heart. She was obedient to what God was asking her to do and I learned that I needed to keep being the man God called me to be regardless of what she was doing.  After approximately three months of living apart, Kristie agreed to move home and give life together a try. I will never forget her agreeing to go to Harvest for the first time. It was Christmas and we were all singing. My heart was pounding, hands were sweaty, and all I could pray was “Lord do your thing! Holy Spirit please show up and do what only you can do.”  During the singing, Kristie began to cry! I’ll be honest, I was stoked, after all, I haven’t seen emotion from her in three and a half months. We didn’t discuss anything but I knew God was working! There was another five long months were all I could do was love her like Christ loves the church and show her I cared and to just be thankful she was at least home.  We both agreed to join a small group and were placed with Mike and Angie Tuburgen. They loved us, cared for us, and genuinely showed what loving others like Christ is really all about.

 

There were a ton of ups and downs, but as both of us now wanted to Glorify God, slowly our relationship with each other started to change. We found ourselves both unemployed at one time but God provided opportunities only He could! We remained faithful and continued to keep our eyes on Him. My wife auditioned for the worship team and was soon leading people in worship. Our life together was beginning to change into something I still, to this day, cannot seem to explain in words. There were and still are many trials in our life, however God promises us that there will be trials in our lives in James. The difference now, is we both know where our strength truly comes from!

My wife is now employed at HBCSL  and serves on the worship team - (Yes, I cry at times when thinking about it)  We have been blessed to lead a small group the last two years.

I get the privilege of teaching Sunday school a couple times a month.  We are both involved with Biblical Soul Care counseling others and pointing them to the cross, using our story at times show that there is hope when we truly trust in Him.  What God has and is continuing to do in both of our lives is awesome. We are both truly on fire for Him and cannot imagine our lives any differently. We are both blooming where God has planted us, knowing that His work in and through us is not completed. We look forward, and are by His Grace ready for what He has next.   My name is Daniel Cook and the Gospel truly did change everything!

Carl C Hatch

Growing up, I was a shy and insecure child.  Coupled with this, my dad’s lack of mental stability from years as a police officer began to take a toll on me.  He was an accomplished officer for 25 years, and when I was 14 he had a mental breakdown. He was hospitalized in the Psychiatric unit at the Veterans Hospital in Battle Creek, MI on several occasions. His behavior was often delusional, paranoid, and withdrawn. I felt abandoned by him, battled depression, was withdrawn, confused, angry and suicidal. I was sent to a series of counselors.  At 17 I turned to drugs and alcohol for relief because my home life was so dysfunctional.  I used heavily for about four years.  My behavior became out of control with blackouts, overdoses, stealing, arrests, etc. I ended up homeless, living in a motel room, depressed, suicidal, and estranged from my family. A friend gave me a ride to a treatment center. After the treatment I remained homeless and was placed in a half-way house in Holland.  I met a resident there named Dan and we became best friends. After we moved out (5-6 months later), he eventually became a Christian and started witnessing to my girlfriend and I. We both rejected the Gospel. We eventually broke up, and a year or so later she was killed along with 2 other people in a car/train accident.   It shocked me and I started thinking about what Dan had told us about Jesus. Dan would invite me to church, but I continued to reject Christ.  About six months later, a male friend of mine was also killed suddenly at work. This intensified even more my thoughts and questions about my eternity.  One Sunday morning in June of 1984, I took Dan up on his invitation to go to his church.  I was very uncomfortable there. There was a guest speaker preacher talking about salvation and I felt something was drawing me, but I didn’t know what. It made no logical sense that I would be in a church. I was sober but unhappy.  The preacher gave an invitation and I came forward and accepted Jesus as Savior. I was dating a girl at the time that was a Christian who eventually became my wife. I went to school and became a Paramedic.  God blessed me with a wonderful wife and two boys. He also restored my relationship with my parents before they died.  After years of procrastination and trial, God led me to share my testimony in homeless men’s missions as a chapel speaker and also via a Christian radio program "Unshackled". Through His power I continue to be free from drugs and alcohol. God transformed me in ways that I still find amazing and that I don’t deserve. None of these things were ever in my wildest dreams. He continues to change me, although sometimes it’s painful. But I know that in the end, no matter what happens, I have the assurance of salvation through His son Jesus Christ. My identity remains in Christ, not in my past.

Carl Hatch

2 Corinthians 5:17

 

Karen Renee Lamb

I was taught about God since I was a small child as I attended church every Sunday morning and evening.   When I was a teenager, I made profession of faith and became a member of the Christian Reformed Church.   When I was around 14 years old, my brother five years older then me came home at midnight and I had been sleeping on the couch.   First he offered me a beer.   Then he came over to the couch and sat next to me.   He began groping me and laughing at me b/c I could not get away.   When someone close to you hurts you that deeply, I believe that you experience the grieving process, denial, sadness, anger, acceptance.    How does someone process this kind of betrayal of trust?   I did not mention this to my parents at first, but I did not feel comfortable being home alone and my brother would follow me around the house and would touch me inappropriately when I tried to wash clothes or wash my hair in the laundry room.   One day  I decided to tell my parents at the dinner table.  I told them that my older brother had touched me.   They did not answer.   So, I went to my bedroom.   My father came in to my room and asked me if I was pregnant and if I was going to hurt myself.   I said, “No, then I left and went for a walk in the woods behind our house and cried.  Nothing else was ever said.   My brother had been in the army and one time the family brought him to the airport to return to his military duty.   I was forced to give him a hug goodbye at the airport.   During every holiday, my brother would call to talk to my parents.   My parents forced me to talk to him while he laughed at me on the phone.  I felt like there was a knife stuck in my heart.   I cried out to God for help, but the emotional pain that I felt would not go away.  When I was about 21 years old, I was having a tough time believing in a future without pain.  The   holiday was coming up.  When I tried to envision my future, my mind was full of pain.   I was seeking God through reading the Bible and watching Christian programs on television.   One of the programs I watched was Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker on Praise the Lord program.   It was broadcast out of Charlotte, NC.   I also had a friend John Harshbarger who was witnessing to me by phone.   He was stationed in the Coast Guard outside of Michigan, but he would call me to see how I was doing and to minister God’s Word to me.One night I couldn’t stop crying, and I put my fist through my living room window.    My knuckles were   bleeding quite bad, but I didn’t want to go to the hospital so I just bandaged it up with a thick rag and laid on my living room floor waiting for it to stop bleeding.     I was scheduled to work at Mercy Hospital during the Christmas holiday weekend.   I decided to look for God to help me deal with the pain.   I got in my room and I had three possible destinations.   I would drive to North Carolina and ask for help from the PTL TV network, I would drive to Harrisburg, PN to talk with my friend who had been witnessing to me about God’s love, or I would drive my car into a tree.  I had a map, but I did not have a GPS.   When I had reached the border of Michigan and Indiana, I decided that I was too tired to make it to Charlotte, NC., so I headed East towards Pennsylvania.    I drove for several more hours.   At one point I was looking for a tree to run my car into.  (Finding a tree to hit on the highway is not easy.)  Once I had made it to the state of Pennnsylvania, I called my friend and told him that I was out for a drive.  He invited me to spend time with his family.  It was there while I was visiting with his family that I surrendered my life to God.   Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.   For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  After giving my life to Christ, I had hope.  Hope for my future.  God is always with me through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The feeling of a knife being stuck in my chest was replaced with hope.  My hope allows me to keep my eyes on my eternal salvation rather than on any disappointments that I may face each day.   My hope is in God, who is absolute and all-powerful.   

Nancy Carvey  

I grew up in the church and considered myself a Christian, but it was all about what I did and what I looked like to others around me.  I smiled bigger as life got harder, but inside I was floundering and falling hard. When things became too hard for me to cover up, I ran. I gave up on my marriage that had seemingly insurmountable obstacles and I shook my fist at God.  I was going to live my life by my rules because after everything I had done to prove myself worthy, I had nothing!  I launched myself into my newfound “freedom”. I threw myself wholeheartedly into partying with friends, drinking too much, trying new things I had dubbed ungodly, moved in with a man I was dating and enjoyed the party life and seeing the world on the back of a motorcycle. Oh, I went to church at first to prove that I could live this life and still be a Christian – because I knew Jesus died for me.  I just kept that in my back pocket. I still had my huge smile and it still covered up the mess I hid inside.  Surely no one would love me if they really knew the mess I buried and kept hidden.

On July 4, 2013 I was headed to a party on a motorcycle with the man I was living with. We stopped behind a line of cars as we waited for a car to turn. Suddenly, we heard screeching tires. I woke up pinned under a car. In an accident that should have killed me, God saved me. That night, I looked at my life. I realized that my life could have been over. I watched the sun rise and my thought was “what if I had seen the Son rise instead”, and I wept! How could God ever love me? I am beyond His love.

I talked with a neighbor about how far from God I was, but that God must have saved me from that accident for a reason.  She suggested a Bible Study that would begin in September at a church called Harvest. I struggled with the decision – Harvest is HUGE! God compelled me to go. The study was on Genesis, and I cried through the whole class because God was convicting me completely, but He began to heal me. I finally ventured into church for the first time and promptly cried through the whole service because of His conviction. God was healing me through His conviction and three seemingly little words at the end of each church service – “You are loved!” God faithfully taught, healed, and changed me through Biblical counseling, but I resisted baptism. I went to church on Saturday night, and God kept prodding me to be baptized. I went home ignoring His command and spent the night arguing with Him.  Literally, all night! I finally obeyed. There was such an amazing relief when that water washed me and God presented me as His in public. My life is changed! I am His!