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Stories

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STORIES OF LIFE CHANGE

If the God of the universe chose a collection of stories as his primary way to communicate with humanity, should we not continue to tell the stories of how he is working in and through our lives?

Stories have the power to inspire us towards incredible action. Stories give us a peek into God’s design for us. Stories matter.

We tell stories for 2 simple reasons:

  1. To inspire the Church to worship Jesus Christ for who he is
  2. To help us remember what he has done

Psalm 102:18: “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”

 

Read, watch or listen to the stories of the people of Christ Fellowship. We also want to hear how God is working in your life. If you would like to share your story, click the button below.

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Lost and Found

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Lost and Found

She sat, an open Bible in her lap, pleading, begging for God to reveal himself to her. “Dear God, if you’re real, let me feel your presence. Let me know you’re here with me. Show me something in your word that will convince me I’m not alone.”

The resounding silence she felt echoed throughout her soul. She closed her Bible and, with it, her heart. In that moment, at the age of 13, Mindee Way made the decision to walk away from God and embrace the worldly ways of the students around her. It was a decision that lasted far beyond her middle school years, but one God has used to birth a passion for student ministry in her life.

Mindee Way Story

Mindee was raised in a loving, Christian home where church attendance and involvement was a high priority. When she was 10 years old, she committed her life to Christ at AWANA. Immediately she knew her life was changed and she recalls feeling so joy-filled and free that she skipped home from church that evening. From that moment forward, for the next few years, she was on fire for Christ, passionately sharing her faith with those around her, both at school and at church.

However, as she entered middle school, Mindee began to notice the disapproving attitudes of others toward her exuberant faith. Though she was surrounded by like-minded Christian friends at church, very few of them attended the same school, and she often found herself very much alone and isolated in her beliefs. She began to wonder, “Why am I the only one who believes or feels this way? Why am I the only one taking a stand on this issue?” As the negative attitudes of others gave way to disparaging comments, her isolation and confusion only increased, and God began to seem awfully far away.

Although she was involved in the youth group at church, Mindee didn’t feel she had a mentor or friend she could talk to, someone she could share honestly and openly with about her struggles and questions. No matter how hard she tried, she just didn’t sense God’s presence like she wanted to, or like she felt she should, adding to her disillusionment. After crying out to God and hearing nothing in response, Mindee gave up. She stopped going to church regularly. When she did go, it was purely for her parents’ sake, with a rebellious and disrespectful attitude. As Mindee looked around her at those outside of church, it seemed life was so much easier for them, so much more fun, and so much more interesting. She decided it would be better for her to become like those friends, and so she became an entirely different person, adopting different behaviors and attitudes to reflect her new, more worldly, beliefs.

Mindee’s rejection of God and her faith lasted through the remainder of her high school years and well into college. She enjoyed the pleasures of being part of the “cool” social scene: the parties, the drinking. Her rebellious attitude continued to put a strain on her relationship with her parents. Over time, God began the process of drawing her back into a relationship with himself.

After college, Mindee returned to church. God began to reveal himself to her and through the power of his grace and forgiveness, began to restore her relationship with her parents. Eventually, God led her to Christ Fellowship where she began to serve in short term missions and preschool ministries. As she became more involved, she noticed something special about the leaders, particularly in student ministries. “Though my natural bent is toward younger children – the preschoolers and babies,” Mindee says, “I just couldn’t deny that God was tugging at my heart to work with students: middle schoolers and high schoolers.” The thought of reliving those painful days of separation from God, the mistakes she had made, and the difficult relationship with her parents was frightening, but she recalls, “I spent a lot of time in prayer, and I knew this is what God was calling me to do.” With the desire to be obedient, Mindee volunteered to be a shepherd on Wednesday nights.

She was placed with a small group of middle school girls. As she listened to them share their struggles and fears, ask their questions, and express their emotions, she remembered the days she longed to have someone to talk to. Someone who could provide loving guidance and wise, relevant counsel. Someone who had lived through the same struggles and come through them with their faith intact. Mindee realized, “I can’t undo the mistakes of my past, and I can’t prevent them from making their own mistakes. But I want my girls to know I’ve traveled down that road – I’ve been to the parties, I’ve worn the clothes and had the friends – and it’s not worth it. I want them to know that following Jesus is difficult, but it’s totally worth it.

Mindee Way Story

It’s been six years since she began this journey with “her girls,” and there have been difficult moments. There have been times when Mindee has found her own faith challenged by situations and circumstances in her group. Some of the girls have moved away or now attend different churches, but she remains in contact with all of them. “They know I’m going to point them in the direction of Jesus. I’m not going to simply tell them what they want to hear. I’m going to tell them the truth. Bottom line, I will always be there for them.” Despite the difficult moments, Mindee remains more convinced than ever that shepherding this small group is exactly where God wants to use her.

“These students are our future generation,” she says. “Things are so different for students today. The pressures of the digital world, along with all the peer pressure and academic pressure, is much different than it was when I was in high school. These youth need people speaking truth to them. It’s a critical time to speak truth when the world is feeding them lies.”

As Mindee looks forward to the day when her group of girls will graduate from high school, she knows the time she has spent with them will continue to build into their faith journeys. At a recent gathering, one girl brought a friend with her. For that friend, it was the first time she had ever seen a Bible. The girls were excited to share that special moment of introducing God’s word to someone for the first time. Mindee knows it’s impossible to overestimate the impact of moments like that.

With the explosive and continual growth of the student ministries at Christ Fellowship, Mindee knows the importance of adding new leaders and volunteers regularly. As someone who was reluctant at first, she understands committing to leading a small group might be intimidating or overwhelming. Yet she offers this advice: “Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean automatic spiritual maturity. These kids are still growing and learning, and we can be a part of that. If you give your heart and your time, God will take care of the rest.”

The Adventure of Waiting

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The Adventure of Waiting

This summer I went to Bay City, TX on my first short term mission trip. I was one of three leaders of a group of middle school girls. It was an adventure that jump started a sense of adventure in my spirit. But this story really isn’t about the mission trip. It’s about a missional life.

We went to Bay City to simply bring God’s love to those we encountered everywhere we went. I imagined my time would be filled with a lot of talking, but God had me doing a lot of listening. Many conversations left me speechless as people poured out their hearts and all I could do was hug them. I was able to pray with Muslims. I cried with nursing home residents. I sat and heard people’s experiences and what life had brought them. Listening. That’s what I was doing. I was listening to others. God made me hear him loud and clear so that I would be ready to listen when I returned home.

Beth Moore

As the mission trip was coming to an end, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to call my husband, Randall, and tell him to quit his job and bring the kids so we could set up a new home in Bay City. Once home, the feeling did not go away. Life continued and my husband didn’t quit his job and we didn’t move to Bay City, but the feeling I had about not being in the right place grew stronger. Friends called it the mission trip blues. But I didn’t believe that’s what it was. It was deeper. My soul was screaming “you are not supposed to be here anymore.”

But I didn’t know where I was supposed to be. Or what I was supposed to do. I prayed daily for God to just make his desires my desires. I thought he would remove the gnawing at my soul but it grew louder. And I stayed silent using my ‘listening’ muscles I’d strengthened in Bay City. Eventually the feeling spread like a wildfire through my family. God started gnawing at my husband and my kids. Each in different ways and at different times, we would discuss the desire to be somewhere else, to live somewhere else, and the feeling that our home didn’t feel like home anymore.

So Randall and I started praying and ultimately we listened as God told us to sell our house. We didn’t know where we would go and we knew we weren’t supposed to look for another home here in McKinney, we were just supposed to be obedient and sell our home. So we started getting our house ready to sell, and as we cleaned and purged we were overwhelmed knowing that God was preparing something for us. And since we didn’t know where, we just worked at the tasks God had given us: loving each other and preparing the house for someone else.

Beth Moore

We listed the house and within nine days a couple had put a contract down. The husband had voiced nervousness over our house from the beginning, but the wife loved it so they moved forward. They had their inspection and even shared with us that it came back great, then four days later they decided to terminate the contract. The wife wanted the house, but the husband didn’t. He told his realtor that he couldn’t shake his fear.

This was really confusing for us. Why would God bring a buyer who would walk away in fear after a great inspection? Then Randall and I realized who strikes fear in the hearts of men: God! The great I Am! It was another reminder that God is working for us! He is preparing a place for us and a buyer for this house, because it’s his house.

We have peace about losing the contract on our home. That’s something only God can provide. We know that the sale of this house belongs to the Lord to be used for his will and his kingdom and he is going to bring a buyer that will allow us to do the things he has in store for us.

I believe he has been disconnecting all of us from places and institutions that we love to prepare our hearts for wherever he sends us. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s overwhelming. But as Randall and I share with each other what God has put on our hearts and the peace we have, we know that we can trust God. When life looks scary and frightening and when there are a million chaotic things going on around us we can sit quietly with peaceful hearts knowing God is in control.

I think about that Bay City mission trip and the fact that God used it as a catalyst to make me hear him when he called me to surrender my home. I think about God in his infinite wisdom and his awesome power, how he orchestrates even the smallest details over the course of our lives that eventually lead us to obedience. He has put a lot of work into me and my heart and my family. He’s lovingly created situations and places and people to interact with me to continually smooth off rough edges of my soul that don’t want to listen and obey. God has removed comfort and given me peace. I’m not on a mission trip anymore, but my daily life is a missional life and he is working in me and through me wherever he puts me.

Beth Moore

Lately he’s been putting me in my car with piles of laundry baskets, kids and dogs while strangers walk through our home. And even those moments can be missional as I try to keep an attitude that reflects his great love for me and faithfully walk even closer to him. And I hope that I can make this adventure, which seems crazy and uncomfortable, as fun as possible for my kids and my husband as we celebrate what God is doing.

We don’t know details like the “when” or the “where,” but we know the “who” – God! The Creator of all! The undefeatable God! And I pray that my faith is unshakable as we continue to walk this road of loving God and serving him in whatever way he asks us. And wherever we are planted, whether it’s in Bay City or McKinney, we are on a mission to love people.

This is just the start of our story and I can’t wait to see how God takes this and weaves a beautiful tapestry that I can share with others. Because that’s why God allows us these huge leaps of faith, to grow our relationship with him and to testify to his great power and love. And I will testify to the his love, grace, kindness and power until the day I die.

Even in the waiting there is adventure!

A Redeeming Love

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A Redeeming Love

This isn’t just any love story, rather it is a story of true love, with ups and downs, that ultimately only God could heal.

Matt and Carrie met while working as travel nurses in Tacoma, WA. It was not long before they hit it off and began dating.

Carrie, who placed all her fulfillment in finding “prince charming,” thought she had found the missing piece she had been seeking. While Matt was enamored with Carrie, he was internally battling a deep dark secret which was consuming his life. Matt was an alcoholic. He was a bit of a loner and isolated himself from others.

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Matt grew up in a small farm town and in high school, wanted to experience something different. So he signed up to become a foreign exchange student in Germany. He drank socially with his friends and had the time of his life. Upon returning to the farm a year later to finish his senior year, he continued to drink. In the beginning of college, drinking was a “social thing,” but by the end of college it was a full blown addiction, drinking 5-6 nights per week.

In an attempt to resolve his issue, Matt moved to a bigger city with different people, a new house and began work in a major trauma unit. He believed that if he changed his surroundings, things would get better … and they did, but only for a few short weeks. The problem soon returned and consumed him once again. Matt knew he did not want to continue in this lifestyle, so after a few years of this battle, he packed his bags and headed to Tacoma for a travel nurse assignment.

Matt was knee-deep in alcoholism when he met Carrie. Spending time with her helped him fight the addiction. Although Matt shared his drinking problem, he didn’t know how to tell her the seriousness of the addiction. Carrie was in love and chose to overlook the problem. Even despite all these obstacles, God had a plan for them.

Time passed and soon the happy couple was engaged. As Carrie was busy making wedding plans, Matt continued to drink. She was blissfully unaware of the storm growing around her.

It wasn’t long after they were married that Carrie realized the problem was serious and more of an issue than she had ever imagined. She felt alone and scared.

At first, Carrie thought it was a simple fix … Go to church, get help, get plugged in. But it wasn’t that simple, Matt wasn’t ready for help. He wasn’t ready to let go of his vice. Overwhelmed and angry, Carrie moved out less than a year into their marriage and the talk of divorce began.

Matt attempted to keep the drinking a secret; hiding alcohol in places around the house, getting cash back from returned items, drinking while she was at work, etc. Carrie knew he was drinking, but couldn’t prove it and felt betrayed. Matt finally reached a point where he didn’t care to hide his drinking anymore. The arguments were frequent and the chaos worsened.

Carrie moved out a second time and divorce was once again on the table. She didn’t know where else to turn, so she turned to God pouring her heart out to him, knowing only he can change the heart of man and save their marriage. Carrie prayed fervently over her husband Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,” and asked God to take over. During that time, God also changed her heart.

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Months passed and Carrie felt a promise whispered from God; someday her husband would be sober. Family and friends were shocked when she announced she would move back in, but this time with a different purpose … To love him and to work on her issues of anger, resentment and co-dependency.

Matt went to AA, started working out and handed over his license and credit cards to Carrie. They found a small group with committed leaders who were aware of their marriage struggles and were intentional in helping them. It seemed Matt had really turned himself around and the marriage was on the mend. Months later, they found out they were expecting their first child!

However, a couple of months before their daughter arrived, Matt had a major relapse. He went on a two week drinking binge and was in a dark place again. Carrie was crushed, but had confidence in the Lord that he would sustain them.

Two months later when Matt held his daughter in his arms, he uttered the words, “I want to be a good dad.” Through love, grace, forgiveness and support from church and family, Matt finally had victory over a more than 10 year addiction with alcohol. He surrendered to the Lord and the chains of addiction were broken. Now, he lets God fight his battle by reading the Bible daily, memorizing scripture and being accountable to others. Matt has been sober for nearly four years and is grateful to fully know the sweetness of redemption. Like all believers, Matt and Carrie have been redeemed by the grace, love and mercy of Christ. Only God can save and redeem anything and anyone if we allow him to work in our lives in a radical way.

Young Faith

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Young Faith

Finding Christ at Camp

A story of how two best friends decided to follow Christ.

A little over a year ago when my husband, Corby, and I decided to send our three children to Camp His Way, we made the joint decision to also go as counselors. When the five of us returned happy, dirty, smelly and exhausted, I thanked God for the experience, but decided that surely my week of service meant that the following year’s adventure would look a little more like a beach vacation for Corby and myself, while the kids went to camp all by themselves.

My much less selfless husband, however, committed to another year as a counselor, and I will admit that I not so enthusiastically followed suit. I had no idea that what God had in store for me this year at Camp His Way was far greater than anything any vacation could ever hold. My excitement grew as I was assigned to a cabin with my daughter, Claire, and seven of her best friends.

These girls have spent countless hours at my house and I adore every one of them. What an epic weeklong sleepover this would be! When my eight buddies and I arrived at camp, the camp director explained that there was a new addition to camp this year. It was a simple one – a bell, hung right outside the chapel doors. When a child made a decision at camp to give their life to Christ, they were to ring the bell, and everyone at camp would stop and cheer.

Claire and I have had many discussions over the last year about what it means to become a Christ follower, but she always became very emotional and stopped just short of making a decision. Hannah, one of her best friends, and the daughter of my dear friend Amy, was also one of my campers.

Hannah and Claire

Hannah and Claire met in preschool at the age of 2, and quickly became the best of friends. Our families have shared so much together – school, sports, church, vacations, memories. They are more like sisters than friends, and our families have become family to each other.

Amy and I have laughed about the differences in our two girls, and wondered what their journeys to Christ might look like. Claire, the sweet tender soul who has always seemed “ripe for the picking,” and Hannah, the confident, strong willed leader, who would make that decision when she was good and ready without input or encouragement from anyone else. Amy has always said she just prayed Hannah would find Jesus sometime before she turned 18.

On the second day of camp, Hannah seemed uncharacteristically quiet and reserved. Near the end of our morning activities, she came to me and said, “I want to ring the bell.” Thinking she just wanted to ring the bell because it seemed like a fun thing to do, I asked, “Hannah, you know that has a special meaning, right?” She nodded, and held my gaze. Quietly, I asked, “Hannah, have you asked Jesus into your heart?” She said, “Not yet.” I asked if she wanted to talk to me about it, and she said yes. I didn’t even notice that Claire was standing there until I heard her say, “Mom, I’m ready too.”

With my heart pounding and pleas firing up to Heaven for God to speak through me to them, I led them to the front row of the quiet, empty chapel. I asked each of them to share with me what was in their heart, and was brought to tears by their sweet responses that were evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

There, on what will always be the best “vacation” of my life, I got to hear those sweet voices ask Jesus to live in their hearts. I loved witness them ring the bell. For our families, Camp His Way will forever be more than just a church camp. It is the place where two little girls who started as preschool playmates became sisters in Christ.

Transformation Through Trust

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Transformation Through Trust

“My eating disorder started when I was 18”

When you meet Shannon, you’re overwhelmed by her beautiful smile and sweet demeanor. What you don’t see are the emotional scars that once led her to drink an entire bottle of Milk of Magnesia every day.

Between graduating from high school, making an unexpected move the following summer, and burying a childhood friend, Shannon was left feeling emotionally disoriented and anxious. Things were spiraling out of control and she grasped for anything she could control.

“I turned to laxatives instead of God. It was something I could control,” she remembers.

She knew it was getting out of hand. She would cry out to God for help but she just couldn’t break the vicious cycle.

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After coming home from work, she was about to take her daily dose of ‘control in a bottle’ when the song “East to West” by Casting Crowns came on the radio. The chorus ran:

Jesus, can you show me just how far the east is from the west
’cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been come rising up in me again
In the arms of your mercy I find rest
’cause you know just how far the east is from the west
From one scarred hand to the other

Through the song, Shannon felt God reaching into her heart

She soon realized the need to bring her eating disorder out of the darkness of secrecy and into the light. She shared the weight of her struggle with close friends and her boyfriend, now husband, Austin.

She found solace and reprieve as she began recovering. But as soon as the progress began, she hit a major obstacle. Yet another crisis struck when her roommate moved out and her university paired her with someone she didn’t know. The new girl made hurtful comments about Shannon’s body, only intensifying the stress. Despite requests for her to stop, it just continued.

Before long, Shannon relapsed

It didn’t just continue. Her disorder got worse. Shannon began taking magnesium citrate, a powerful liquid laxative. When she couldn’t handle the taste any longer, she switched to pills.

But God wasn’t letting Shannon go. Shortly after the relapse began, Pastor Bruce started his new series on the Sermon on the Mount. As the weeks progressed, it was hard to ignore that God was speaking to her. She needed to quit. This is when her journey to recovery truly began.

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God was showing her new ways to lean on him, trust him, and give up the control she found in laxatives. Peter’s act of stepping out of the boat and into the raging sea in Matthew 14:29 touched her heart. When Bruce invited church members to come forward if they need prayer, she struggled with the idea of coming forward. But God was calling her to step out of the boat. As if the internal nudging wasn’t enough, Austin encouraged her to do it.

One Sunday Pastor Bruce invited anyone who would like to be prayed for to come forward to the altar. Shortly after the service, a lady approached Shannon to let her know she had already been praying for her. Having battled an eating disorder herself for 16 year, she understood the captivity it holds.

God was showing himself to Shannon in overwhelming ways. He was placing people in her life, presenting messages through songs, scripture and the sermons. Through all this, God was telling Shannon to place her trust in him over the laxatives. He was showing her that he was ultimately in control.

Once Shannon opened her eyes and heart completely to God’s sovereignty, she realized that she didn’t have to be perfect. She came to understand that part of life’s beauty was in the mess. She learned that she wasn’t the one in control and didn’t have to be. She made the choice to finally give it to the One who has the ability to handle it all – the only One that could save her and give her back her life.

He Carried Me

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He Carried Me

Happy-TammyIt’s every mother’s worst nightmare. When Tammy answered the phone that horrible night in 2005, she had no idea that her world would be turned upside down. Minutes before her phone rang, she was listening to the radio at work, about a really bad car wreck. She and the other nurses at the hospital discussed how bad it sounded shortly before shutting it off.

The phone call that followed was to inform her that her son had been involved in a car wreck, the very car wreck she heard on the radio. He didn’t make it.

He was only 20 years old, snatched away in an instant. Tammy could hear screaming down the halls and she wondered why no one was helping. Until she realized it was her. She went immediately silent as one of the doctors walked towards her with a syringe..

Tammy recalls Brad’s birth, a month early, not hearing the expected cry, thinking “Lord, please don’t take him NOW.” Twenty years later, she echoed that same plea .

“Please let it be a dream, let me wake up in the morning and it be undone. Let him come back.”

She prayed it every night for months, waking up every morning crushed to find Brad still gone.

The first year after Brad’s death was a blur. She doesn’t remember any of it, so consumed by her pain that she blocked everything else out. Though God never left her side, she built a wall against him and became numb to the world around her.

During a birthday party that was thrown for her, all she remembers is sitting in a corner of the room, emotionless except for her ever-present despair, while the festivities went on without her. She couldn’t even muster up the strength to join in her own party.

She struggled to mother her other two children, to partake in her marriage, which eventually ended due to the mounting stress of losing a child. Tammy attempted to turn to God by reading scripture and praying, but she couldn’t let go of the pain, couldn’t accept what happened, much less God’s comfort. At the time it didn’t matter that Brad was in Heaven. all that mattered to Tammy was that he was not here.

It wasn’t until almost a year later when the ice finally started to thaw ever so slightly. Tammy and her daughters were walking around the Canton Trade Days and came upon a sign that said “If I could build a stairway to heaven, I would come and bring you back down”. Tammy stopped to ponder the sign when her older daughter commented “I can just see it now, Mom. You climbing up those stairs to Brad, as he is having lunch with Jesus and Peter, and declaring ‘Young man, you come down here right now!’”

For the first time since that devastating night, Tammy laughed.

But she still bottled her pain and clung to it as if it were a lifeline. One night, near the two year mark, their beloved cat suddenly died and more pain was added to the heartache. It was Tammy’s breaking point. She sought solace in the laundry room and found that there she could cry and scream and let go.

That’s where the healing finally began. She cried out to God, pleading that she needed him. Not just a verse, not just a song, but HIM. And then he was there. She could feel him. She realized he had always been there. She just couldn’t let him in while holding on to her pain. He never left her, and she finally turned to him and let him carry her.

Final-Tammy-with-her-sonTammy dove head first into her comfort of the Lord. She fully leaned on him and allowed her relationship with him to heal and grow. She has learned the truth of His love and the depth of His grace. She plugged into a women’s Bible study and allowed God to lead her life completely.

Today, Tammy has never been stronger or more on fire to help others and spread the good news. She still has pain from losing her son. That will never go away. But now she knows she isn’t alone. She is able to rejoice in the fact that her son, who knew Christ as his Savior, waits for her in Heaven. She will see him again someday. There are still bad days. They come just as waves always come upon the sand, and she has learned to ride those waves of grief. And now it’s okay, because she has learned to grieve with the Lord.

Tammy reflects back on her time of grief and is grateful for the many who helped her through and prayed for her, building a hedge of protection around her during her darkest time.

 

 

Willing to Forgive

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Willing to Forgive

Music was Darla Melton’s delight – that’s what the Lord used to lure her to Himself. She had been living in North Texas for a year when on a drive home one day her ears were drawn to the sounds floating through the air. They were coming from a gymnasium in Plano.

“I love music and I didn’t even think twice about going in there,” she said. “No one invited me in, I just went. To my shock it was a Sunday worship service. It was awkwardly weird, but I just sat there. It was a good weird.”

Her world in Houston had been tough. In an effort to deal with the pain of abuse and betrayal by those she loved the most, Darla had been making some not-so-good choices, and fell prey to substance addiction. Her addiction was a way to cope with how people had treated her, and even how she mistreated herself. Now, she found living far from negative influencers provided not only distance between her old ways, but also a new life she never thought possible.

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After the music, the pastor described characteristics of Jesus explaining His immense love for us. Darla was in disbelief. Having been raised Catholic, she felt this God was nothing like the one she had grown up hearing about through the rituals and traditions of her inherited religion. Though she welcomed it, Darla struggled to fully grasp God’s mercy, His grace, and His endless capacity to forgive, especially in light of past hurts.

The pastor asked a series of questions, each resonated with Darla. “Yes,” she silently replied. “I’m tired. I’m hurting. Yes! Yes! He’s talking to me! I was tired and I was still drinking. I knew I was broken, and I knew I needed help.”

When she was nine-years-old, her parents’ marriage ended. Although she had no prior communication with her Grandmother, Darla was left behind with her in Honduras while her mother moved to the United States for a fresh start with a new husband. Darla was treated as sort of an indentured servant. One of her most vivid memories is of the tall stacks of dirty dishes she would be forced to wash.

“I went through a lot of physical abuse there,” she recalled. “I was doing all their chores. There were a lot of grown-ups there and I was taking care of their kids… I was still a kid. I was sexually abused by my step-grandfather there and by a cousin. They treated me bad.”

Four years later a friend of Darla’s mother, whom she describes as an angel, stopped by and saw her plight. She was quickly moved to live with her family in the U.S. At that time, Darla’s mom was a hero. She had defended and rescued her, but this sense of safety and security would be short-lived. When she was 16, her stepfather entered her room one night. After confiding this to her mother, Darla was made to believe being touched inappropriately had all been a dream. Rather than being the recipient of an apology, she found herself taking the blame for trying to destroy her family with false accusations.

“I remember looking at her and I just said, you’re right. I dreamt the whole thing. I am so sorry. Please forgive me for causing this,” Darla said. “I took ownership. I remember desperately wanting to leave, to get out of there. And it came at a very high price.”

Darla left. Though she worked steadily as a waitress, her journey after that became a roller coaster of abusive and unhealthy relationships, partying and drugs and alcohol. Until one day, God introduced a man who was different. He was a clean-cut professional who loved her in ways she couldn’t comprehend. Eventually they relocated to Dallas.

That knight in shining armor is now her husband. Along with their children, they have been a part of the Christ Fellowship family for twelve years. By the time Darla joined Celebrate Recovery – a ministry that helps people overcome and heal from any number of life’s ills – she had already closed the door on drugs and alcohol. Yet it was being sober that ripped off the bandage, uncovering painful memories of her youth she had buried deep within.

“The drinking didn’t bring me to CR,” Darla explained. “A lot of people rightfully think it’s only for addiction, but it’s also for hurts and hang-ups. I didn’t come because of addiction. I came because I was so angry. I had quit drinking and stopped numbing. So, now I had this rage. All these feelings were starting to surface. I was just so mad and I didn’t know what I was mad about. I just knew that I couldn’t contain it and there was no turning back. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to drink anymore. That’s when I realized I was in big time denial. I was trying to cover up (the past). And that still hurts, even now. It’s so fresh.”

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At a former church, Darla had heard about Celebrate Recovery, but she didn’t yet feel comfortable enough to share her story. When she learned the program was being offered at Christ Fellowship, things were different.

“It was the timing,” she said. “I think I was ready. I was ready to really look at myself for the first time. I didn’t even care if the group was safe! I decided I’m going to do this for me. It doesn’t even matter who knows. I’m going to do it for me. So taking that responsibility, owning it, I think that was the key to finally dig in and start uncovering all that yuckiness, all that stuff that I had numbed. I numbed it for a reason, not because it was pleasant. They weren’t happy, joyful memories, but I was in a survival mode, like I don’t know if this will work, but I’m gonna try it.”

Before CR, Darla struggled with accepting God’s grace because of her own sinful choices. Now she can see His hand on her life every step of the way, and it’s His forgiveness enabling her to work toward forgiving others.

“I’m still working on forgiving my mom and my stepdad, but I feel that I am really close to letting all that yuck go,” Darla said, recognizing God’s perfect timing in her journey towards forgiveness. “I know I keep sounding like a broken record, but it wasn’t until I came to Celebrate Recovery that I realized, ‘Oh! This is what a relationship with Christ is like.’ Now, I look back and I’m like how did you do that, God?  I couldn’t even ask for so much favor.”

Choosing to Forgive

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Choosing to Forgive

What fond thoughts come to mind when we think of a father? Love, compassion, loyalty, honesty, someone we can trust? Joshua Hutt received none of these things from his father. Life started out well enough. Joshua describes his family as Christ-centered during his early years and even accepted Christ into his heart at the age of five.

When he was eight years old, the family moved to a farm in Maine. Before long, Joshua began to notice that the kids at school treated him differently, going out of their way to be mean to him. He felt for the first time in his life that he had enemies. His father claimed not to know why this was happening, but Joshua later learned that the people in the town believed that his father was stealing from the farm he was overseeing.

The family dynamic began to change. Joshua’s dad began picking many fights with his mother, making up false stories about her to family members and people in town. He also began having multiple affairs and even became violent with his children.

One Christmas morning as they sat bewildered, his father announced that he no longer wanted to be married to Joshua’s mom. He was filing for a divorce. Heartbroken, they pleaded for their father to stay, to no avail. Soon after, upon returning from a visit to their grandparent’s house one weekend, they discovered he had completely cleaned out the house; he took furniture, valuables, even food, and was gone! Joshua’s mother soon learned he had also not only cleaned out the family bank account but had emptied the boys’ college savings accounts.

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Over the years, they saw little of their father, mainly when it seemed convenient for him or when there was an opportunity to cause hurt for Joshua’s mom. He insisted that the boys go to boarding school despite their mother’s protests and pleas. They were sent away from all that they knew and away from their small bubble of safe connections. After demanding the boys spend one Christmas holiday with him at his place, Joshua’s father disappeared Christmas Eve. The boys woke up Christmas morning to find no Christmas, no food or money, and no father. In an attempt to cheer up his younger brother, Joshua drug in a palm tree from the balcony and made decorations out of computer paper.

Joshua’s father continued to make life difficult for him, creating barriers and obstacles at every turn. At age 16, Joshua decided to take the GED so that he could be finished with high school and return home to his mom. He passed with flying colors. Shortly thereafter, he began to experience some health problems due to a congenital kidney disease. On September 11, 2001, he went into full renal failure. Joshua’s mom contacted his dad to let him know of his condition. The following day, his father canceled the health insurance policy that was providing medical coverage for Joshua. It seemed his father was leaving him to die just to save money. With no insurance and no money to pay the mounting medical expenses, he was forced to emancipate himself and move into his own apartment in order to qualify for Medicare. Thankfully, his mother was eventually able to provide one of her kidneys to her son and Joshua underwent a successful transplant surgery.

While going to college, Joshua lived in a small one-bedroom apartment. He could not afford to run the heater so he covered the windows with blankets to help keep the room insulated. He even took the cover off of his computer so that any extra heat produced would flow into the room. He soon nicknamed his apartment ‘the cave’ as it was cold and dark. Ironically, it also symbolized his heart.

On the outside, things looked good. Joshua worked hard to be outgoing with others and put on a smile to cover up his pain. Yet when he was alone, he was safe to remove the mask. Things were dark. His heart was filled with hurt and thoughts of revenge. He even contemplated killing his father. The weight of all of the years of hurt had left him with a terrible brokenness. There was simply no room for love. Despite Joshua’s relationship with Christ, he was ‘living a walking death’.

One evening while watching a movie, Joshua was captivated by the part of the movie where the character was lost and alone in the forest. Joshua was flooded with emotion as all the hurt, rage and darkness that filled his heart came out with tears. For the first time in his life, Joshua was completely broken and vulnerable.

That one scene opened Joshua’s eyes to the life that his hate for his own father had created. As he sat there in tears, he recognized he too was lost. He was not using his life as God wanted and planned for him. Sitting in the reality of that moment, Joshua felt the Holy Spirit provide him strength and a sense of purpose that he had never felt before. He wiped his eyes, jumped to his feet, ripping down the blankets over his windows to let the light pour in. As he watched the beams of sunlight flood in to brighten his cave, he felt the Holy Spirit flood his heart. Joshua knew the only way to move forward was to forgive his father.

Not quite sure how to forgive his father, Joshua began to pray. He asked the Holy Spirit to move in his heart and to free him from the burden he had carried for so long. Though not immediate, his heart began to change. He worked to forgive his father. As he did, he saw his life change. He was able to connect with people and establish friendships. He was encouraged to write his story and to even send a letter to his father. In time, Joshua did just that. He spent several days chronicling his father’s misdeeds and his feelings. At the end of the letter, he offered his forgiveness and extended an offer to reconcile with his dad. Mailing that letter he felt truly free for the first time in his life.

Despite his father’s angry and hostile response, Joshua has continued to extend forgiveness and grace. He has had an enormous burden lifted from his heart by choosing to forgive. Joshua realized that all of those emotions he craved so badly from his father – love, compassion, loyalty, honesty and trustworthiness – were available in droves. While they were not going to be provided by his earthly father, Joshua sees and knows that these are lavished on him from his Heavenly Father. This journey of forgiveness is a continual process. “I must forgive endless times even if he never changes because my God continues to forgive me. I may not have a perfect earthly father, but I DO have a perfect Heavenly one.”

Life. Love. & 2nd Chances.

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Life. Love. & 2nd Chances.

How do you handle life when a storm of disastrous proportions threatens to destroy everything you hold dear? That is exactly the question Cody Sisson has had to answer. You see, Cody got caught up in a colossal storm. Some of it (like most weather phenomenon) was out of his control, but some of it was created with his own two hands. Life was getting tough, Cody felt as if he were drowning. He tried and tried to fight for air, but everything just seemed to keep sinking further and further until finally he gave up. Instead of turning to God for answers, Cody pulled away and focused on his own happiness, his own way……

For Cody & Laura Sisson, marriage has not always been a bed of roses.

 

With just two years under their belts, Laura’s brother had come to live with them for a few months while attending college. Laura often felt torn between him and her husband while Cody felt isolated and jealous of her time. Cody and Laura began to struggle in their communication, rocking their already fragile foundation.

That’s when they celebrated the birth of their firstborn child. It seemed that this would bring them closer and help them return to a happy place. But this celebration was soon blunted by a severe struggle with postpartum depression. Laura drew within herself, convincing Cody she no longer loved him. Try as he might, he couldn’t reach her. When Laura finally found help with the postpartum depression, she struggled with guilt and then poured everything she had into their son, further alienating her husband. In the midst of it all, Cody was just starting out as a firefighter and paramedic with a new station, still going through the probationary vetting process.

As the stress mounted, what little joy remained faded from his life. Cody decided enough was enough and took matters in to his own hands.

It started with the Facebook friendship until, little by little, the relationship became so much more. As Cody Sisson’s friendship with the woman moved offline and into text messages, it became deeper. It wasn’t just information they shared together. They exchanged emotions – eventually desires.

She was sympathetic to Cody – towards his difficult marriage, his exhausted spirit, and his sense of isolation. As he let her deeper into his life, Laura found herself increasingly shut out by her husband. But his emotional draw towards this other woman was just one in a long line of issues confronting their relationship.

One afternoon, Laura received a disturbing email from a man she had never met, a guy who claimed to find her through LinkedIn. More frightening than the fact they had never met was what he claimed to witness. He had suspected his girlfriend had slept with another man, a guy he saw visiting her at her apartment. A peek into the man’s truck gave him the name of this man, who had a cooler sitting in the seat with Cody’s name on it.

Laura immediately rushed home from work to confront Cody. That’s when both of their lives shattered. Cody didn’t fight it, rationalize it or deny it. His relationship with the woman had become a full-blown affair. He had betrayed Laura.

It was the final devastating blow after years of pain dealt out on a broken marriage.

It was a perfect storm of stress, isolation, and outside forces that eventually came to its climax that afternoon when a heartbroken wife confronted her guilty husband. For most love stories, this would have been the tragic end. But for Cody and Laura, it was really just the beginning.

Cody recalls Laura’s response to his confession, “it had to be God because it wasn’t human nature to forgive like that.” He told her he was exhausted and had no fight left in him. He was ready to give up. But despite all of the pain he had caused, she still wasn’t finished.

“I told him it was alright,” Laura remembers. “Because I was going to fight for both of us.”

She was angry and absolutely devastated but in that moment she had decided to forgive him. Laura knew the Lord would give her the strength to fight on, to forgive Cody, and keep their family together. Many have asked Laura how she could possibly forgive, and Laura can’t even put into words how it was possible, only that she knows God made it so.

They immediately got to work. Cody called to confess to his parents who encouraged him to trust in the Lord. Laura called her parents, also believers, affirming her decision to fight for the marriage. Afterward came the hard part. It was time to lean on their life group. The women came over immediately to counsel and pray for Laura while the men reached out to Cody. The couple scheduled emergency counseling and began the healing process.

Laura showed up at Cody’s fire station the next morning, armed with prayer, encouragement, a new haircut and a cute dress. She went out of her way to express Christ’s love and forgiveness through her. Cody’s heart quickly melted and his resignation towards their marriage quickly turned to resolve.

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Through counseling, they learned how to communicate again. They began praying together, grew in forgiveness, and invested deeply into their community at Christ Fellowship. Though Cody was expecting judgment and condemnation from their life group, he instead found kindness, support, and encouragement.

The Sisson Family

Today, Cody and Laura enjoy a marriage restored – a marriage sweeter than it’s ever been – a living testament to God’s grace. Laura’s willful decision to forgive became the start to a new relationship marked by repentance and mercy. Now their story is a constant encouragement to the couples around them who struggle under similar circumstances.

 

Journey to Forgiveness

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Journey to Forgiveness

Journey to Forgiveness

As a child, Peggy Miller believed she had a good father. Outwardly, he was the epitome of worldly success: brilliant, an accomplished litigation attorney, a popular and well-respected Bible teacher. He was well-connected with many of the best and brightest minds in Christian circles. He taught a weekly adult Sunday school class with over 700 attendees and hosted a weekly radio Bible program heard throughout the southeastern United States. Peggy was proud of her father and loved listening to him preach and teach. It was her father, in fact, who led her to salvation in Christ. Publicly, he was everything a good father should be, and Peggy was rightfully proud to be his daughter.

Privately, however, he was a very different man, harboring a dark secret and lustful appetite. Peggy was in middle school when, one night, he entered her room and shattered her innocence.

Peggy’s life changed in an instant. Outwardly, she was still the “good church girl,” remaining involved in church, even serving as a counselor at Billy Graham crusades. She made sure to keep up appearances that everything was fine, but inwardly she was screaming for help. At the time, churches had no programs to help victims of sexual abuse.

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“There was no one I could turn to , no one who would listen to me, no one I could trust with my secret,” she remembers. “And so I suffered in silence.”

What she didn’t realize was that her silence was slowly killing her from within. When Peggy was 15, she began binge drinking. She struggled with an eating disorder, sometimes going up to two weeks without solid food. She became consumed with guilt and shame, thinking what had happened to her – what was still happening to her – was somehow her fault. Peggy lived with a constant internal scream; one that led her to contemplate suicide. At night, she suffered from vivid dreams in which she would violently kill her father.

During Peggy’s sophomore year of college her parents’ marriage finally crumbled and, with it, her father’s ministry. When he remarried less than a year later, Peggy was no longer welcome in his home. Her family relationships began to fall apart. Suddenly she found herself completely alone, broken and suffering. Peggy had been betrayed, not only by her father, but also by the church. No longer believing that it was a place of refuge and healing, Peggy walked away. The bitterness and anger she felt toward her father became stronger and more consuming. She dealt with it the only way she knew how: burying herself in her work.

Work brought a brief period of relief, an opportunity to silence that internal scream. Yet while she was successful at work, she was a failure at relationships. Peggy received four separate marriage proposals, but the relationships always ended before the wedding. What she could not yet understand was that the Holy Spirit was still working in her heart to restore her, heal her, and ultimately bring her back to him. Finally, at age 30, she met the man God intended for her; they were married after four years together. Peggy’s father performed the wedding ceremony.

Marriage seemed to be the answer to her suffering. For a few years, she was finally happy. But as time passed, that silent internal scream refused to be quieted and depression set in. Every attempt to return to church only reinforced her pain, forcing her to leave. Her father sent her a Bible as a gift, but she couldn’t bring herself to read it. She found no comfort, no relief to the bitterness she felt. One day, while watching a morning talk show, Peggy imploded and realized her need to seek help. That was the turning point that began her journey toward forgiveness.

Peggy recalls, “I wanted my father to suffer. I wanted to seek revenge. But what God wanted was for me to forgive.”

She realized she was still holding on to her right to be angry, to her bitterness, to her demand for justice. With the encouragement of her counselor and the support of her husband, Peggy confronted her father. Sadly, his reaction was merely sorrow that he was caught, showing no remorse for what he had done. Peggy wanted justice. But God wanted her to extend mercy.

Shortly after she began counseling, Peggy’s aunt sent her a series of audio tapes on forgiveness, a faith-based testimony of what it means to forgive. As she listened to those tapes, her healing began.

Peggy Miller

“I realized forgiveness comes from me, from the power of the Holy Spirit living within me, regardless of whether it is sought. Even if my father never admitted his wrongdoing, it was still my responsibility to forgive him. And so, I forgave him.”

But forgiveness does not always involve reconciliation. As a tangible expression of her obedience to God, Peggy wrote a letter to her father expressing her forgiveness. Rather than restoring their relationship, her letter signified the end. Peggy and her father never spoke or saw each other again. He never met Peggy’s two children, his grandchildren. At his death six years later, Peggy learned she alone of all her siblings had been removed from his will and cut out of any inheritance. But through the power of forgiveness, she felt no anger or bitterness, only peace.

A week before her father’s death, Peggy had been invited to a Bible study led by a fellow dance mom. She was reluctant to go, but for her friend’s sake decided to attend. When she arrived, she was the only one there.

“At that moment, I knew God was leading me back into relationship with other believers. My family began attending church there and developed lasting relationships with other families. Forgiveness had set me free to become a part of a church family once more.”

Through the power of forgiveness, Peggy has also found the freedom to regain a relationship with her Heavenly Father.

“Not only do I understand the goodness of my Heavenly Father, but I am also grateful for my earthly father’s spiritual guidance in my young years. I’m thankful that my father taught me about God and led me to the saving knowledge of his Son, Jesus Christ. I look forward to seeing my earthly father again one day in heaven. My Heavenly Father, through my willingness to forgive, has healed me. No longer do I have nightmares or depression. No longer do I experience the darkness of anger or resentment. My good, good Father has restored my soul, healed my broken heart, and taught me how to forgive others and myself.”

Redefined by Christ

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Redefined by Christ

Identity. It’s who we perceive ourselves to be and how we get our self worth. For Gary, his identity was totally wrapped up in hockey. How he performed, what his coaches and team mates thought of him, where he ranked on the depth chart. Hockey was life.

And then it all got taken away…

Gary Steffes

Why Didn't You Tell Me?

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Why Didn't You Tell Me?

A beautiful evangelism story of friendship, loss, jealousy and sharing Jesus.

Joy in the Trial

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Joy in the Trial

Just months after her brother lost his battle with cancer, Monica learns she will be fighting her own battle. Hear how God proved himself faithful in the journey.

A Child's Example

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A Child's Example

Led by the example of their children, watch Randall and Beth Moore’s story of how they prayed through God’s calling for them to give generously to the Make Room building campaign and see how God provided in return.

Floyd and Tamra

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Floyd and Tamra

Floyd and Tamra’s involvement in Uganda began with a short term trip in 2010 and never ended. They are now preparing to move to Uganda long term to continue working with Pastor Makumbi Johnson and Victory Living Word Church. They will live and serve on the land in Kapeeka, Nakasake to develop a village. The long term vision includes a home for orphans, all level schools, a trade school, a clinic, a home for unwed mothers, business development, and more.

To support Floyd and Tamra visit bit.ly/stanleysupport

Laurie

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Laurie

Serving on staff at the church is at times like viewing the backside of a tapestry. There are threads going every which way and patchy globs of color in spots. Some threads are tangled up with each other and some are going here and there – deadlines to make, meetings, relational issues, ministry programs to initiate, next steps to encourage, rooms to set up, volunteers to coordinate, providing needed care and counsel for peoples significant life issues – a conglomeration of strings going in every direction.

Then you have the privilege of going on a mission trip and you get a glimpse of the other side of the beautiful tapestry that God is creating through the people that ministry has been blessing. God is the ultimate artist and his design is a perfect masterpiece created for his glory.
What we didn’t take on our Guatemala mission trip – personal agendas, wifi, sports leagues, rush hour traffic, schedules, work issues, and all of the cultural distractions and frustrations. Our team marched forward fully equipped after weeks of team building, preparation, prayer, packing supplies, a church body commissioning, a supportive group of partners, a fully funded trip, and most importantly in the Power of the living God with palms open wide and hearts eager to serve and fulfill His agenda.

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Each person on our team served beyond their own strength and let God use them for his mission in Guatemala. We spent 14-16 hours of each waking day together – long bus rides and in some extremely challenging physical conditions and environments that carried very heavy emotional burdens. Our team rose to all the challenges they faced.

Weaved throughout our morning and evening devotions and side conversations – was how a Christ Fellowship ministry – Promiseland, Students, Community & Global Impact, Life Groups, Worship, Sermons, Spanish, Mom’s Connection, Camp His Way, VBS, CFOnline, altar call, and others – how each ministry has been an integral part of helping the individuals on our team take “next steps” and grow closer to Christ.

What Rafe & I had the privilege to get a glimpse of on the mission field was the beautiful tapestry God is creating through all of the Christ Fellowship ministries. It was an awesome privilege!

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I took a lot of pictures during the trip and I’m I was bothersome at times – “just one more picture please”. I love pictures but I also wanted to make sure our parents on the team had a chance to see the eternal impact their child was making during the trip. And also, once our team returned home and got caught back up in the cultural distractions, they could take a quick glimpse of a picture from the trip and be reminded of the amazing ministry in Guatemala. We would be reminded of how God used us then and how he will continue to use us right here where we are if we rely on God’s strength and continue pressing on for the glory of our King!