For years, I carried a sizeable two-year planning calendar with me at all times. As an event planner for entertainers and ministries, I needed to have available booking dates at my fingertips. Ink on those pages meant money in the bank; it also represented opportunities for lives to be impacted.
Not only did I manage other people’s events, but I also had many speaking events of my own. Saturday mornings, I led four-hour seminars training people to do closings for title companies and lenders. On Sundays, I often stood in the pulpit for pastors throughout the state of Florida who needed a temporary replacement.
I was 53 years old and going strong when suddenly, my world turned upside down. It was Saturday, May 10, 2008, and if you were to look back at the inscription on that day’s page, you’d find bold, black letters that read: “The Worst Day of My Life!”
It started as an ordinary Saturday. I was finishing up a training seminar in a South Florida conference room when the guest clerk appeared at the back of the room. She waved urgently, motioning for me to come to talk to her. I apologized to my clients for the interruption and went to see what she needed.
“Mr. Avery, you have a family emergency. You need to call home immediately!”
I excused myself from the room and called my wife, Anna. Through tears, she said, “Honey, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but Heath was killed this morning in a car accident.”
My heart stopped, and my body went numb. Anna’s words seemed impossible to believe. Heath was the oldest of our six children—our firstborn child who had brought so much joy into our family.
I walked back into the seminar room and told everyone what had happened. Numbly, I passed out their certificates of completion, then packed up my materials and headed to the car. I was desperate to get back home to Anna and my kids in Daytona. We were a tight-knit family, and I knew that Heath’s death would shake our world. I had no idea, though, just how much it would impact mine.
Four hours later, I pulled into my driveway. Anna and our pastor were standing in the front yard. I ran to them, and we all wept. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the pain of losing a child or the burden I felt to ease my wife and children’s grief.
I entered the house and saw four of my beloved children and other loved ones, their eyes all swollen from tears. (Our oldest daughter was expecting our first grandchild any day, and she was unable to travel.) Suddenly, Job’s words sprang forth from my lips: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21 NIV).
Over the coming days, I stoically clung to this verse as I tried to remember all the many blessings God had given me through the years. I knew God was good, that He had a plan. I knew He could take all my pain and use it for good.
But can I be candid? None of that did anything to alleviate the pain in my heart.
In the days that followed, I went into Pastor Pat mode. I made sure everyone who came to offer their condolences was ministered to and I worked hard to make them feel welcome. I must have looked so strong on the outside. But inwardly, I was crumbling.
As it happens after the death of a loved one, everyone eventually returned home, and the phone calls slowed down. With the activity and interaction with people gone, I suddenly found myself alone with my thoughts. And it wasn’t long before those thoughts began to lead me down a dark and lonely path.
For decades, my job had been to encourage hearts and lift others’ eyes to God, the One who could help them in their time of need. I was Pastor Pat, the man with the biblical answers. But now, in my own grief, those answers eluded me. And instead of sharing my pain and questions with others, I buried them deep inside and kept pushing through each day.
I went back to work within a week. I had employees to manage and events to hold. But behind my office door, I was an empty shell of a man, tossed about by unfamiliar waves of anger, sadness, grief, and guilt. Surely, I could have done something to prevent my son’s death.
My anxiety level increased as the darkness enveloped me. The pain in my heart grew more and more intense. Completely out of character for me, I went to a liquor store and purchased a fifth of vodka, hoping that that clear liquid would stop the pain. I left the store with a brown-bagged bottle in hand and went to my office.
I hid the bottle in a locked cabinet and then waited at my desk for the ladies who worked for me to leave. The moment the door closed behind them, I poured myself a drink. I kept pouring and drinking until the pain in my heart subsided enough to go home and face my grieving family.
This went on for months. I managed to hide my new habit until the day I nearly drank myself to death. Late that afternoon, I drank an entire bottle, passed out, and fell out of my desk chair. When I came to, I somehow mustered up the wherewithal to call my wife for help.
I can’t imagine Anna’s pain when she walked into my office and saw me, her once joy-filled husband, lying intoxicated on the floor. An empty vodka bottle and fresh vomit on my desk quickly exposed the reason.
Incredibly, my sweet wife didn’t say one angry word to me. Instead, she held me in her arms, told me she loved me, and promised we’d get through this valley. I then watched Anna clean up my mess. Talk about a humiliating moment.
Afterward, she gently asked me why I had done this to myself. My wife and I weren’t drinkers. I told her the simple truth: my heart was broken and I didn’t know how to deal with it. We agreed that I needed to get help, but I didn’t follow through. Instead, I continued to drink to suppress the pain.
So many nights, I sat at my desk, drinking and pouring out my heart to God. “Oh Lord, my heart is so broken for my family and me. There’s not a moment that goes by that I don’t think of my son. Lord, this has just messed up all our lives!” Then, I’d wallow in guilt and beg God to show me what I had done wrong or what I could have done to prevent Heath’s death. A month later, I drank myself unconscious again. Then I did it again…and then again.
Looking back, I am sure I was trying to kill myself. I so desperately wanted the pain to stop. Anna was so patient with me, but the final time, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Honey, I cannot continue to live like this. Something has to change.”
Her words pierced my heart. I realized that I was hurting my sweet Anna, the one I loved most in this world. If I didn’t change, I might lose her and my family…or they might lose me.
I’d been so caught up in my grief that I hadn’t considered how my actions were hurting others. Anna was right: something did need to change. Together, we sought professional help. God led us to a knowledgeable medical doctor who helped me deal with the anxiety and depression I was experiencing. I also began seeing a Christian psychologist who provided a safe place for me to unload my burdens. I shared my pain and struggles with pastor friends who stood with me and kept me accountable.
An amazing thing happened when I exposed the despair of my heart—the darkness began to lift. Hope that life would somehow be okay again began to stir inside me. My mind became clearer, and I was able to concentrate and carry out responsibilities more easily. Once again, I found comfort in the biblical truths I had always known and believed.
It’s been 12 years since Heath’s death. My heart still aches for my son, but praise God, His grace has freed me from the clutches of darkness. And today, I have the privilege of helping others move forward through their pain. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NIV).
When I hear that someone has lost a child, I want to wrap my arms around them and say, “I understand.” I also want them to know that God understands. He knows the pain of losing His Son too. And He cares. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 NIV).
Perhaps you know the grief I’ve described above, and like me, you’ve tried to hide or numb it. I was so afraid, so embarrassed to share the depth of my pain. I didn’t want people who looked to me for guidance to know I had weaknesses.
I don’t think I’m the only pastor who has felt this way. Only now, over a decade later, am I finally sharing the intimate details of that period of my life. Why? So others will know the dangers of isolating yourself in your pain. I also want people to know, there is light at the end of that dark, lonely tunnel of grief and depression.
Weeping may last for a night, but joy will come in the morning (Psalm 30:5). With God’s help and the help of others, you will breathe again. Laugh again. Smile. It’ll take time, maybe years, but with Christ’s love and the love of His people, that day will come. Don’t give up.
While shaking down my cell, a corrections officer found my water-bug beneath my sink. (That’s a device my roommate and I use to make hot water for our coffee in the mornings.)
When the officer asked who it belonged to, I admitted it was mine. He took it with him to the officer’s station. I wondered if he was going to write me up for having it.
My roommate couldn’t understand why I didn’t lie. “You could have told him it belonged to the inmate who lived here before you, that you didn’t know it was there.”
I told him about the verse I had read in my Bible that morning: “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” (Proverbs 12:22 NIV).
Later, the officer returned and gave the water-bug back to me. Both my roommate and I were surprised. “The reason I’m giving it back to you,” the officer said, “is because you didn’t lie. I can’t stand a liar.”
Neither can God, I thought as he left.
“I guess the proverb was right,” my roommate said.
“The Bible is always right,” I said. “That’s why I read it every day. It has valuable wisdom to face whatever comes that day or in the future.”
My roommate was intrigued, and I realized how important it is to keep my words and actions lined up with the Bible.
The situation reminded me of a Bible story about a prison guard who came to believe in God because of the prisoners’ actions. Paul and Silas, who were Jesus’s followers, had been stripped, beaten, and put into prison. Chained, they spent the evening praying and singing praises to God while the other prisoners listened.
Then, about midnight, an earthquake struck so violently that it loosed their chains and shook the prison doors off their hinges (Acts 16:23–26). The jailer woke up and came running to the prison, assuming that the prisoners had fled.
He was about to take his own life to preempt what would’ve been his punishment for the prisoners’ escape. But Paul stopped him, shouting, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28).
The jailer was so moved by their choice to stay in prison that he became curious about the God they worshipped and asked, “What must I do to be saved?”
Have you ever considered that the choices we make reveal what we believe and value? When we choose to do right instead of wrong, our actions can prompt someone to wonder about God and seek Him.
The morning after that incident with the water-bug, my roommate woke up early. I noticed him watching me read my Bible, and I asked him if he’d like to know what that day’s proverb said. He nodded his head, and I read to him what happened to be my favorite verse in the book of Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (3:5).
“I like that one,” he said.
“Me too. Do you know what it means to ‘lean not on your own understanding’?”
“It means you shouldn’t just trust yourself or your own ideas. Check to see what God says first before you move. Don’t be wise in your own eyes. Seek wise counsel. Take everything to the Lord in prayer.”
Like the prison guard in Paul and Silas’s situation, my roommate wanted to know more about my God and His ways. And that morning, I had the privilege to lead him to the Lord. Every morning after that, we’d get up early and study God’s Word together.
When faced with an opportunity to do things God’s way—the right way—do it. If you hold yourself out to be a Christian, remember that people are examining your life. Put God’s Word into practice, and your life will draw others to the Lord.
I was five when I realized that there was something terribly wrong in our home. I had awakened to the terrible sound of things breaking. Frightened, I called out to my mama, but she didn’t come. Instead, my cries were met with a deep, threatening voice: “If you don’t shut up, I’m coming in there.” Even at five, I knew what that meant. So I hid my face in the pillow and cried myself to sleep.
In the morning, I walked into the kitchen, ready for breakfast. My heart broke when I saw Mama’s face. Her eye was black and blue, her nose bloody, and her lip split. I gasped. She quickly signaled for me to keep quiet so that I didn’t wake Dad. I put my arms around her waist, pressed my little face against her hip, and cried.
My dad was a violent alcoholic who reached for the bottle instead of the Bible. The drinking and abuse got so bad that Mama moved us kids from Illinois to California to stay with her brother so that we’d be safe. I was ten at the time.
About a year later, she called us into a room and said, “Your dad is dead.” He had been killed in a one-car accident. Strange emotions emerged. I had loved my dad and felt terrible that he had died, but at the same time, I was relieved because I was so afraid of him. And then, I felt sad. I had never once heard my dad say he loved me, and now that he was gone forever, I realized I never would.
The absence of those words haunted me for decades as I pondered the question: Why didn’t Dad ever tell me he loved me?
The only answer I could come up with was that I must be unlovable. I mean, if my own flesh and blood didn’t love me, surely there was something wrong with me. Feeling rejected, I bought into that lie and sought to be loved and accepted at any cost.
We moved back to Illinois and lived with our grandmother in a federal housing project. The projects were a step up from the fleabag apartment we’d lived in with Dad. We were so poor. I often went to school hungry and ashamed. I vowed that one day I would live a different life, one that didn’t include poverty and rejection.
When I was 16, my mother married another alcoholic, and our family became more dysfunctional by the day. I couldn’t wait to graduate and forge my path to success. When the time came, I was elated. I was the first in our family to graduate from high school. Not only that, I’d finished in the top third of my class, and I held five varsity letters.
At my graduation, my stepdad handed me a beer and said. “Drink up. You’re a man now.” I was ready to be my own man, so I drank up. Unfortunately, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree—and I would soon discover that I had the same addiction to substances that my dad and stepdad had.
The day after graduation, my stepdad evicted me from our home. According to him, I was old enough to be on my own. I quickly looked for other guys in my situation who could rent a trailer with me. The four of us made ends meet.
I took out a college loan to attend a university close to our trailer park. I did well in school…until I became more focused on smoking pot, popping pills, and tripping on acid than I was on my studies. After two years, I dropped out of college.
I loved to drink, so at 26 years old, I decided to open a neighborhood tavern in my hometown. It took off like a rocket. I went from living on mac and cheese to making $1,500 a week in no time. That was 1976. Having free booze at my disposal was a dream come true.
The money flowed in fast, and I felt like I was in heaven. I bought a Cadillac off the showroom floor and then a house with an in-ground pool. I was 28 years old and making a fortune.
Within a couple of years, I had five successful businesses. I had a knack for the business world. But no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much money I made or how many things I accumulated, something was still lacking. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
One day, a bouncer who worked for me asked if I’d like to try cocaine. Desperate to fill the hole in my heart, I tried it. With my weakness to addiction, I quickly developed a $700-a-week habit.
When I complained about the high cost of cocaine, my dealer suggested I start selling a few grams to my friends so I could get my drugs for free. Now that’s what I was talking about—free booze and free cocaine? Uh, yeah. Without another thought, I started dealing drugs.
I sold my small tavern and some of my smaller businesses and signed papers with a friend to open a 1.2-million-dollar nightclub that could hold 2,000 people. It was packed nightly. After that, I opened a racquetball club and fitness center and added free workouts to my benefits list. I was living large, and for the next decade, I was running with the big dogs.
I was a respected businessman by day and a party animal by night. Limousines, private jets, ocean cruises—I took the party wherever I went. In my mind, I was king of the hill—a man who made his own rules. But in truth, I was completely out of control; the booze and drugs owned me. They called the shots now, not me.
I always figured I could stop at any time, but I was wrong. The more I used, the emptier I became and the more I sought love, acceptance, respect, and security through drugs, alcohol, loose sex, and money. I was spinning my wheels in a deadly cycle.
A functional alcoholic and drug addict, I was still able to manage my businesses. But that all changed when, at the age of 40, some “friends” talked me into trying crack cocaine. I was instantly addicted, and my life crumbled before my eyes.
Suddenly, the only thing that mattered was getting my next fix. I smoked crack around the clock, three to four days in a row, without eating or sleeping. Misery loves company, so I invited close friends to party with me. Since they couldn’t afford the crack, I covered their bill.
My habit soared to well over $2,000 a week. I began selling cocaine by the kilo to pay for my addiction. Inevitably, I lost all of my businesses because I was whacked out on crack for days on end. And then I lost my freedom when DEA agents arrested me and charged me with drug trafficking. They read me my rights and told me that I’d serve 20 years in a federal penitentiary. That was April 10, 1991. I was 42 years old.
Heading to the county jail, I imagined that those six black DEA vehicles looked much like a funeral motorcade as they tailed one another down the highway. In my heart, I was wishing it was and that I was the one dead. But God would soon use this “death” to lead me to the life I had always desired.
Once at the jail, I was booked and thrown into a cell block with 16 bunks; I was inmate number 28. Twelve of us slept on the floor in the day room. It was a nightmare. All day long, the TV blasted, guys slammed cards on a table, rival gangs threatened one another, and men screamed and cussed on the payphone. I was living in a zoo!
“I have to get out of here,” I thought. “I’m surrounded by lowlife losers.” I was so arrogant in thinking that I was better than those other men. The Lord would soon reveal to me just how low I had gone.
Twice, I sought bond. I was denied both times. The judge deemed me a flight risk. I didn’t know how I could survive such chaos.
I did my best to lay low and avoid conflict. Then, a week after my arrest, I received a letter that changed my life. As I held it, I felt something like an electrical shock run up my arms, and it scared me. I opened the letter and began to read.
“Danny, no matter what you’ve done, God still loves you!”
What?! God loved me and accepted me?
Love. Acceptance. They were what I’d always desired. Somehow, in that moment, my soul was pulled out of my body, and I went to a peaceful place filled with a powerful love. Instinctively, I knew I was in the presence of God. Even an atheist would have known that. God’s presence overwhelmed me and revealed the depth of His love for me—for every cell of my body that He had purposely and intricately knit together (Psalm 139).
I hadn’t thought of God since I was 12 years old, and that was 30 years ago! Back then, a man had come to the projects driving a church bus and had invited me and the others to go to a revival. I had no idea what a revival was, but I sure thought it would be cool to ride that bus. So I went.
While there, I heard fiery evangelists preach about God. I enjoyed being in the powerful assembly of believers. I went to that church throughout the summer and learned about God. But when school resumed and I began to excel academically and athletically, I forgot all about the Lord. I quit going to church and reveled in the attention of my friends.
Thankfully, God didn’t forget about me. He pursued me, even to a jail cell, to reveal His love for me and my need for Him. He did this through a vision. In my mind’s eye, I saw a large screen playing a slideshow. It was the story of my life, and man, was it ugly.
One by one, the slides revealed the great sin in my life. I was undone. Until then, I hadn’t given my actions much thought. I just did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with whoever I wanted. I’d never considered my actions sinful or a violation against a holy God. I was on a highway to hell, and I hadn’t even known it! The truth broke my heart.
As the slides played, I couldn’t speak, but I thought, “Jesus, will You forgive me for my sins? Will You save me from this life?” Suddenly, I awoke from the vision, and I knew something was different. That hole in my heart, that emptiness that had led me down so many dark paths, was finally satisfied. I felt completely loved and at peace.
I looked around the dayroom from the confines of my cell; everything looked and felt different. No longer did I see losers; instead, I saw men that God loved. And I had compassion for them. I was most definitely a new creature in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even my addictions were broken. I knew it instantly. I rushed to tell others about my encounter with the Lord, and many of them trusted in Him.
I was locked up for 18 months while waiting for my trial date. During that time, I had many opportunities to witness God’s faithfulness. In fact, while I was still pretrial, I served time in six prisons and five county jails. Being dragged by the feds from prison to prison made life difficult, unpredictable, and lonely, but nothing I experienced ever caught God off guard.
The Lord was my constant companion, and He showed me that as long as I was willing and available, He would use me at every pitstop. He was preparing me for a lifetime of ministry.
One of my favorite places to serve the Lord behind bars was in hospice. Comforting men that the world had forgotten in their last days and hours was a high privilege. I experienced much joy and contentment being the hands and feet of Jesus.
God brought great comfort to me, too, when I faced death. Three years after being sentenced, I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s a disease with no cure and no treatment. The doctor told me I’d be carried out of prison in a body bag within a year.
I prayed every day to the Divine Healer and proclaimed the promises of His Word. I believed that God would heal me, even when I lost 45 pounds of muscle and walked with a severe limp. I trusted that, with God, all things are possible (Mark 9:23).
I had to choose, every day, to take my eyes off my terminal disease and focus on God, my Healer. Then I was unexpectedly transferred to a one-man cell. I made it my custom to worship the Lord with all my heart there. I was so free as I basked in His presence, for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
One day while worshipping, I received a revelation from God that I was healed. I took Him at His Word, and in no time, I gained back all the muscle I had lost, and my limp disappeared.
Doctors were skeptical and ran tests, but they couldn’t find any trace of that deadly disease in my body. There was no denying that God had reached through the razor wire of prison and healed me from that incurable disease.
Friend, it ain’t over till God says it’s over! I don’t know what your challenge is, but I know this—God is bigger. Give your situation to God, lift your eyes to Him, and watch what He can do.
When I received my healing, I also received confirmation that God was calling me to be an evangelist. I began fulfilling that call in prison. The Lord made sure I had many opportunities to deliver His good news of salvation—I ended up serving time in a total of twelve federal prisons and five county jails in eight states!
During my last six months in prison, I wrote a book about my incredible journey, called High on a Lie. It shares the many miracles God did in my life, including blessing me with a wife and allowing me to father a child while in prison. You’ll have to get the book to hear more about that.
I was released from prison after serving my full 10-year sentence. That was 20 years ago. Five years after my release, the Lord said to me, “You went to prison for doing bad; now I’m going to send you back to prison to do good. And this time, you’ll go through the front door with honor.”
I gladly accepted His invitation to take the Good News of Jesus back into prisons. So many men and women are searching for love and acceptance. Like me, they have never heard the words “I love you” from their loved ones. I have the privilege to share the life-changing words of that letter I received in jail—that no matter what I’d done, God still loved me.
You know, that good news is for you too. The love of Jesus Christ is available to every person who calls on His name (Romans 10:13).
If you haven’t already done so, would you call on the name of Jesus? Will you look to Him for forgiveness and salvation? Will you accept His love and acceptance? It’s all a free gift, and it’s waiting for you.
The Lord once said to me in prison, “Danny, you’ve gone through life doing things your way. How’s that working out for you?” I admitted, it wasn’t. Then He said, “Now we’re going to do things My way.” I am so glad I handed Him the steering wheel of my life. His way has never failed me.
Now, how about you? Are you clawing your way through life as I was, searching for love and acceptance? Joy and peace? Are you trying to be the god of your destiny? I ask you what the Lord asked me, “How’s that working out for you?”
Take it from me. Move over and let God be in the driver’s seat. He won’t fail you. Trust His love for you and His plan and then, rest. He’s got you. He won’t fail you.
In Christ, you’ll discover everything you’ve ever desired—love, acceptance, purpose, and happiness. Receive it today. All you have to do is ask.
The year 2020 was unpredictable and challenging in so many ways. It’s incredible how a virus, a phone call, a knock on your door, or a text can change your life.
My family’s world turned upside down on June 11, when my oldest son, Stephen, was in an automobile accident. At first, we heard only that he had sustained a broken wrist and ankle. But then, the doctors discovered he was losing spinal fluid. Stephen needed immediate spinal surgery on five vertebrae. The doctor was certain he would be paralyzed.
There were other medical issues, as well. Stephen’s entire left leg was mangled. All the bones in both feet were broken, as well as his left ankle and wrist. It’s a wonder he didn’t lose his leg. The miracle of all miracles was that he had no head trauma.
We quickly informed family and friends through social media and asked them to pray for Stephen and for the doctors working on his behalf. Stephen miraculously came through the surgeries.
On July 28, my precious daughter-in-law shared a testimony of God’s goodness on FaceBook: “God is so gracious. He rescues us from things we see and don’t see. He’s there when we feel alone and afraid, when we feel lost, or when life just seems too much. He will never leave us; He is the anchor that holds.”
In the months that followed, God’s Word and His faithful love became our lifeline. Our hope in Him was the anchor that secured our hearts and minds as so many emotions attacked us (Hebrews 6:19). After three weeks in the hospital and five weeks in a rehab center, Stephen finally came home. Oh, how we rejoiced. I will be forever grateful that God touched my son.
No matter their age, when one of your children goes through a traumatic event, everything else fades into the background. Priorities change. My number-one priority became prayer. Stephen needed specific miracles for each part of his body. I looked up scripture on healing and spoke God’s Word over him.
When I would pray these scriptures, I always put Stephen’s name in the place of “I” or “my.” He is a believer in Jesus Christ. For example, I’d pray Psalm 107:20 and other verses over him: “Father, Your Word has become a part of Stephen. It is flowing in his bloodstream. It flows to every cell of his body, restoring and transforming it. Your Word has become flesh, for You sent Your Word and healed Stephen.” (Find other scriptures on page 33).
Did you know that words of faith cause God’s power to flow from the unseen realm to the seen realm? According to Hebrews 4:2, faith is leaning our entire personality on God in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness. This year, our family leaned on God, and God showed Himself trustworthy.
Looking back over 2020, I am reminded how important it is to prepare for the unpredictable before it happens. What we choose to do daily determines whether or not we will be able to stand when challenging times come. If we decide today to spend time with our heavenly Father and enjoy His presence, we will be better prepared to face tomorrow.
How do you prepare for tomorrow? Spend time with God before you step into the busyness of life. Tell Him how much you love Him and that you need His wisdom. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead you and to reveal anything in your life that is not of Him. When He shows you those things, ask Him to forgive you and ask for His peace to fill your heart. Study His Word and pray it. As a child of God, praise Him for His resurrection power that lives inside of you.
His power and presence will keep you safe during the most unpredictable, challenging moments. It’s His promise to you. God is the anchor that holds, no matter the storm.
Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT). I discovered this promise when I was in the county jail. People often visited us inmates to share how Christ had transformed their lives. I listened quietly, tucking away their stories in my heart. Through them, God was sending me nuggets of hope that my life could be different too.
One Thursday night, a man called Elder John shared enthusiastically about the Lord and His transforming power. He told us that as we grow in a relationship with Jesus, people would begin to see us in a new light. God’s light.
The idea of an incredible transformation caught my attention. “Wow,” I thought. “I could be a new person and have a better life!” I desperately wanted to be a different man than the one sitting in that jail cell. I had made many wrong choices along my road of destruction.
As a preteen, I and two of my siblings were sent to live with a family member while our parents and older brother served our country abroad. While there, I was physically and emotionally abused.
I told my parents about the abuse, but then the accused family member gave their spin on the story and painted me as a rebellious teen. In the end, my living arrangements stayed the same.
It seemed that my entire family was against me. I felt betrayed and abandoned, and I grew depressed and angry. I decided it was time to care for myself. I reasoned that, if any change was going to happen, I’d have to do it for myself. So I took to the streets and vowed never to look back.
I surrounded myself with people I thought would understand how I felt and who’d have my back. The guys on the streets quickly became my heroes. To my young, deceived eyes, they were turning things around for themselves. Of course, I didn’t consider their methods of robbing and killing. All that mattered was that I had found a new family that accepted me.
Being accepted and feeling needed were big issues for me. I needed to have a sense of belonging. On the streets, I felt needed. The guys offered me jobs—although illegal—that made me feel important. I didn’t have many friends, so I did anything they asked to keep the ones I thought I had.
When I was 16, my parents intervened and sent me to Job Corps, but when I got out, I was sent back to the same family member’s home. The abuse continued. I stayed there a year before I returned to the streets. This time, I started using drugs.
I set out down that road of destruction, mindlessly committing crimes all for the sake of acceptance. I came perilously close to death several times. Only the hand of God kept me alive. By the time I was 20, I had over 35 misdemeanors. My life was completely out of control.
So many people were after me that I decided to go live with my brother at Fort Rucker army base in Alabama. While there, I met a young lady. We spent a lot of time together in Panama City, Florida, visiting her cousin who lived near the beach. Through him, I’d get drugs for personal use. One day he said, “Hey, man, you want to get some weed and make some money?” It seemed like a good deal, so I began trafficking drugs for him over state lines.
It wasn’t long before I was caught transporting 140 kilos of cocaine from Florida into Alabama, a federal offense carrying a 100-year sentence. I was arrested and put in jail.
And that was my situation when I met Elder John.
My sin of pride and rebellion had led me to what seemed a final destination of hopelessness. But in that dead-end situation, God finally got my attention. He used Elder John to show me that there was hope for a better life in Jesus Christ.
I took a life-changing step of faith toward Jesus and surrendered my life to Him. I asked Him to forgive me of my sin and to make me a new man, like Elder John said He could.
When the time for my sentencing came, I didn’t know a lot about Jesus, but I had faith, and the Bible says that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). I trusted that my life was in God’s hands and that He would open the judge’s eyes to see the new man I was in Christ and judge me accordingly.
My faith remained, even after I heard the judge announce that he was giving me 99 years for my crime. Something rose up in me, and I replied, “I cannot accept that sentence, Your Honor. It isn’t what I prayed for.” In the depths of my heart, I knew that God had a different plan.
Stunned, the judge called me, my lawyer, and the prosecutor into his chambers. There, he asked me questions to ascertain my cognitive state and asked about my comment. I told him that I felt God had a plan for my life, and it didn’t include 99 years in prison.
We went back out in the courtroom and the scene repeated itself. Once again, I refused to accept the charge of 99 years. The prosecutor went nuts and accused me of making a joke of the judicial system. But then something amazing happened.
The judge started tapping himself on the head and said, “I don’t know what is going on with me, but I am going to step away from the federal mandate and show you favor. Mr. Daymon, you are hereby sentenced to 10 years mandatory in federal prison.” The prosecutor strenuously objected, to no avail.
I decided right then that my time behind bars would be well served and I would live the rest of my life honoring God for His kindness toward me. Only He could have brought this about.
For the next 10 years behind bars, I studied the Word of God. I was determined to lay a foundation on which I could build a new life and equip myself to share the Word of God effectively.
Prison came with many challenges, especially during the first eight months when I was confined in a state prison until a bed became available at Coleman Federal. In that violent environment, I quickly found that even the most committed Christian could make fear-based decisions. I was no exception. Regretfully, I took my eyes off the bigness of God and His ability to deliver me from certain situations. I focused instead on the threats of man. As a result, I did things to ensure my safety that I wouldn’t have normally done.
I reasoned that God knew my heart. Surely, He could see that I didn’t have a choice but to do those things to survive. Besides, I’d be out in ten years. I reminded God these weren’t forever choices.
But God wasn’t buying what I was selling, and His Holy Spirit started dealing with me, reminding me that my mindset was not based on God’s truth.
No matter the cost, I needed to choose God’s way. First Corinthians 10:13 promises: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I claimed this scripture, and true to His Word, God always provided a way out when I committed myself to follow and trust Him.
Satan used fear, threats, manipulation, and control to try to make me doubt God’s faithfulness. He wanted me to look at the situations and take my eyes off the Lord. It took moment-by-moment determination to stay focused on God, His truth, and His promises so I would not succumb to Satan’s lies, but God always honored my decisions to follow Him.
I got out of prison in 1997. Within a year, I was back, but not for the reason you might expect. This time, I went in as a volunteer to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ. Like Elder John, I wanted those searching for a new life and a better way to know Jesus, the only One who could transform their lives.
Since then, I’ve continued sharing this good news behind bars. It hasn’t always been easy. Like anyone, I still face challenges. Satan continually tries through painful events to make me question God’s faithfulness. Thankfully, I’ve chosen to submit to God’s truth and resist the enemy’s lies, and I continue to win those battles (James 4:7).
Three years ago, I lost my son to gun violence. It broke my heart, but God gave me the strength to go behind bars the very next day to share with men that God is good, no matter how difficult life is. When I told them that I’d asked the Lord to let me be the one who leads the man who killed my son to Jesus, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. But my heart isn’t for this man to rot in prison or to die himself; it is for him to find the better way—God’s way—like I have. Only God can turn this man’s life around and make it fruitful.
God is the only One who can turn your life around and make it fruitful too. Please, take that first step of faith and surrender to Him. He’ll accept you just as you are, and He’ll transform you into a new creation. I’m living proof that the Lord can transform any life.
As a professional writer, I have shared hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people’s stories over the past four decades. But now it’s time to share my story.
By the time I was 7 and my sister was 11 years old, we had been in guardianship three times. We had moved about nine times. We had experienced the fallout from addiction, instability, and violence. But then came the day that changed everything.
As an 8-year-old, I walked home from school thinking about the bad choices I saw people around me making. I stopped next to a church at the corner of my street in Lakewood, Ohio, and committed in my heart: “I will not grow up to be like them.”
It would be decades before I understood what that thought meant or from whom that calling had come. Only later would I see God’s fingerprints throughout my life. And only later would I hear Him tell me, “I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1 NLT).
As a child and even as a young adult, I was desperate for love and acceptance. I tried everything I could to win over the people I loved. School became my haven. It was as if I lived two lives. But even my school activities and success didn’t fill the void in my heart.
I felt more than unloved. I felt unlovable. I felt worthless. Yet I still tried to find and prove my own worth.
When I was in high school, a fellow band member invited me to attend a Bible study based on the Gospel of John. I had gone to church briefly during my mom’s second marriage, but I knew nothing about the Bible. At the Bible study, we did things totally foreign to me. We read the Bible. We sang songs about God, some of which were scripture put to music. As a musician, I will remember those songs for the rest of my life. Everything was new to me, and I learned that Jesus was the Son of God who died on my behalf and that someday He was coming again to set the world right. I understood He alone could deliver me.
It was during that time that I first called upon the Lord. Tensions in my home had grown to a new high, and I was truly afraid. As I lay in bed one scary night, I whispered, “God, when You come for Your children, please take me with You!” It was all I could think to say. God protected me that night, but other life experiences prevented me from fully trusting His heart and believing the depth of His love for me.
Before long, I was forbidden to go to church, and I lost contact with my new friends from the Bible study. Alone, I wavered in my commitment to the Lord. I did not understand basic concepts such as how to read the Bible and apply it to my life.
But I still hungered for God. That God-shaped hole in my heart led me to look for a church within the first week of my freshman year of college. I remained desperate for love and a sense of worth, all the while still feeling I needed to earn God’s love and favor. I had committed to not repeating the mistakes of those around me, yes, but I found myself drawn to unhealthy relationships, a trap into which people from dysfunctional homes often fall. I graduated early and immediately got married, still believing I was worthless and unlovable.
My husband and I soon left Ohio for Orlando, Florida, where I hoped to start a new life. A year later, in January 1986, I got a call while on deadline as an editor at The Orlando Sentinel. My sister had taken her life. Over the next few months, I would miscarry twice at work, and my first marriage would come crashing to an end. And then, a week and a half after my marriage ended—six months to the day of my sister’s suicide—my mother took her life.
However difficult, this loss of everything familiar did eventually set me on a path back to God. Halfway across the country from friends and family, I felt alone. But I recognized God had given me a unique opportunity to reinvent myself and forge a new path. I made a second vow: I wouldn’t allow myself to be victimized again. As my heart began to heal, I let Jesus in. I would no longer believe Satan’s lies. I would find the love and value I had sought for so long in Christ.
God continued to shower me with His grace as He demonstrated His patience toward me. Remarried to a kind, loving man and now the mother of a toddler, I wanted more of God for myself and my family. So one night I prayed, “Lord, help me find a good church with good teaching.” I had only briefly experienced good teaching as a teenager, and I was hungry for truth.
The next morning, as I went through Yellow Pages listings, I felt led to call a church near our neighborhood. As the pastor and I talked—first by phone, then in person—he told me about God’s grace, which is greater than my sin. I realized that although people in my life had sinned greatly against me, it was my sin alone that had separated me from God. But I also learned that, despite my sin, God loved me unconditionally.
My mind was blown. How could God love me when I had wandered so far for so long? I was overcome by His love for me. I was transformed by His grace. For perhaps the first time, I felt real peace and purpose. My life’s purpose was no longer to impress people so they would love me. I finally understood that my purpose was to know Him and to make Him known.
One day as I read my Bible, I came across 2 Corinthians 1:3–4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (NIV).
I realized God wanted me to use what I had experienced to help others. I could encourage people who had gone through childhood trauma, experienced dysfunctional relationships or miscarriage, and comfort those whose loved ones had committed suicide. I could point them toward a good, gracious God who is our healer, our help, our refuge, and our only true hope. And I began investing in the lives of children and young women so they could know the victory God offers us in Jesus.
While I would love to end my story by saying, “and she lived happily ever after,” that’s not how life in Christ works. God doesn’t spare us trials, but He does see us through them. And it is our privilege to share in His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). In our trials, we lean closer to God. We grow in our reliance upon Him and in our faith as we let Him work through our lives. And we gain more experiences we can use to show others His faithfulness.
Despite major health challenges and painful loss, I have fixed my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2). I’ve learned I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control my responses by surrendering to the One who is perfect in all His ways. I can choose to walk by faith and not by sight.
Though happiness may sometimes elude me, I find I can always choose joy. It becomes easier to choose joy—to trust God’s hand and heart—as I look into the rearview mirror upon my life. Even in the dark times, He has been there, sustaining and protecting me.
I find comfort in knowing God will never leave or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5), in knowing nothing can separate me from His love (Romans 8:38–39), and in knowing these present sufferings cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in me (Romans 8:18).
Each day, I pray I will hear, recognize, and obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. I don’t do it perfectly, and no one gets more frustrated with me than I do when I mess up. But I am a work in progress, and I’m determined to press on toward the goal that is in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). He will complete the good work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6), just as He will complete it in you if you place your trust in Him.
Maybe you are like me: You struggle with trusting God’s heart or believing that anyone, including Him, could love you so completely and so perfectly. Maybe you are looking for a lifeline to grab hold of. God has given us that lifeline. His name is Jesus.
God is love; God is good; God is near. Receive His grace. Walk in His truth. He alone can break every chain and set every captive free. I am proof.
You can be too.
Our enemy, the devil, is always accusing us. The Bible says he is the accuser of God’s children (Revelation 12:10). He constantly tells us, “You’re not good enough. God is angry with you. You can’t do anything right. Nobody loves you. You are nothing. You will never amount to anything.”
Have you ever had thoughts like these? Did you know that those thoughts are not from God? His thoughts toward you are good (Jeremiah 29:11). Those hateful thoughts are from the enemy of your soul who has come to kill, steal, and destroy everything about you (John 10:10).
The devil wants you to be so focused on the hurt, criticism, and derogatory comments that have come your way that you miss the good God has for you. That’s why it’s so important to read the Bible and put God’s thoughts in your mind. Every scripture you read contains God’s truth and brings life and hope into your life.
First Peter 2:9 says that you have been chosen by God Himself. People may overlook you. They may reject you. But that’s okay—the One who matters most chooses and accepts you. And you aren’t randomly chosen, either. God, on purpose, looked at you and said, “I choose him; He’s My son. I choose her; she’s My daughter. That’s who I want on My team.” The devil may tell you that you’re not good enough, but God says you are His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10).
Maybe you’ve been told you’re too small or too big. God says, “You’re just the right size for Me.” Have you ever felt you’re not talented enough or have nothing to offer? God says, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). No matter what you’ve thought or what people have said, the truth remains—you are talented, creative, and intelligent. You are amazing. You just have to believe it.
Whenever you feel that sting of rejection, instead of getting down on yourself and losing your sense of value, say, “Yes, I am disappointed. And yes, this hurts. But I’m not going to sink into self-pity or start thinking something is wrong with me. I know the One who matters the most. The One who controls the universe has handpicked me. No, I might not have been chosen by the coach, the boss, or a friend, but I am chosen by the Most High God. And He has plans for me that are good and not evil, plans to give me a future and a hope.”
When you start seeing yourself as handpicked by God—valued, loved, created with purpose—your attitude will change. And when it does, your life will change too. You don’t have to worry about getting even for all the wrong that’s been done to you. I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of hurt and disappointment, but God promises that He will pay you back double for your former shame (Isaiah 61:7). He’ll make the rest of your life twice as good as it would have been if all that had not happened to you.
You’ve got to dig your heels in, though. You have to refuse to allow what somebody did or didn’t do to steal your destiny or cause you to go through life feeling inferior. Your value does not come from people or accomplishments; it comes from your Creator. So put your shoulders back. Hold your head up high. And live with confidence. God will take what was meant for your harm and use it for your advantage (Genesis 50:20).
Trust Him. He is faithful.
If you keep this attitude of faith, God will always give you the last laugh. And He’ll get you where you’re supposed to be.
In my publisher’s note, I shared how the Lord gifted me in my friendship with Jack Roland Murphy, better known as Murf the Surf. You may or may not recognize his name.
In 1964, Jack stole the JP Morgan jewel collection from the National Museum of History in New York. It became known as the jewel robbery of the century. He served three years in the New York City Tombs and Rikers Island prison, where he gained more insight into the criminal world. Upon his release, Jack put that knowledge to use, and that led to a double life sentence plus 20 years for two murders in Florida. His release date was set for 2244.
Jack quickly gained popularity and influence among his fellow inmates. But then, in 1974, a prison ministry came behind bars, and God got hold of Jack’s heart. He surrendered his life to Jesus, and everything changed. Jack served the Lord for over a decade behind the bars of a maximum-security prison where he fully expected to spend the rest of his life. Miraculously, however, in 1986, Jack was released. When asked how he walked out of prison 258 years before his release date, Jack could only point to the heavens and smile.
God certainly had a plan. Because of Jack’s life transformation, thousands have discovered the transforming power of Jesus Christ. From the time he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior until his passing on September 12, 2020, Jack shared the good news that Jesus saves and transforms lives.
Jack was proof of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. He was a walking testimony of how God can take the most hardened criminal and transform his life so radically that there is absolutely no trace of the old man (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I wanted to share with you some wisdom from Jack’s life, in his own words, showing you how you can have your own transformation experience. It is possible, you know. All things are possible when we put our lives in God’s hands (Matthew 19:26).
Desire a new life. Transformation starts with realizing we need a new life.
I realized with sudden clarity that I needed a new life. I’d had success, money, women, drugs, toys, parties, travel, and lots of action—but every plan or dream had fallen short. They had never brought satisfaction, contentment, or purpose, and none of it had filled that hole in my heart. I was ready for a new life.
Do you believe that your life can change? If not, why?
Surrender. A peace-filled, joy-fueled, and power-packed life comes when we surrender our lives to Jesus.
Knowing my life needed to be transformed, I asked Jesus to come into my heart, to forgive me for the mistakes I’d made and the pain I had caused, and to take control of my life. No longer did I want to be in control; I had only made a mess of things. I wanted God to take my life and use it however He saw fit. It was a total surrender that started with a simple prayer, “If You are real, then please help me. I need serious help.” I believe with all my heart that at that moment, God heard my prayer.
God will hear your prayer too. Have you surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Transformation is a byproduct of our relationship with Him.
Let go of the madness. Surrendering to God means letting go of the controls.
For years, I had heard about God’s love, but I didn’t want any part of it. I was my own man—a tough guy, and I didn’t need anybody. I was a mover and a shaker, both outside of prison and inside. I was Murf the Surf—a man who had enjoyed respect and success in every world I had ever entered. I wasn’t about to give up my life, the action, or the world I rocked in.
But then I looked at the world I was clinging to—a crowded prison filled with forgotten men. Danger. Tension. A world leading to death. That’s what I was clinging to? That wasn’t life. It was madness.
Often what we hold on to is the very thing holding us back and pulling us down. What do you need to let go of today?
Seize opportunities. The Lord has given us everything we need to live godly lives (2 Peter 1:3). We access those things as we get to know Him through the Bible. He’ll use people and programs to help bring about our transformations too. Embrace those opportunities.
The Lord sent people into my life to teach me more about Him, but I sent them away. Funny how we ask God for help, but when He answers our prayers, we don’t recognize His hand in our lives. That was me until one day, a visiting friend said, “Murf, you need to get into the programs—especially chapel—because if nothing changes, well…nothing changes. And pal, you need some changes in your life.” I took his wisdom. What did I have to lose?
Who or what is available to equip and encourage you? Are you embracing these things or pushing them away?
Make changes. Studying the Word and learning from others is time well spent, but we must put what we know into action—“because if nothing changes, well…nothing changes.”
Experiencing a new life requires a decision to go in a different direction. It’s madness to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.
What needs to be changed in your life? Consider your peer groups, habits, environment, words, thoughts, or attitude.
Consider your choices. Jack says it best:
Like rungs in a ladder or steps on a stairway, choices can carry you down into the darkness of defeat and failure, or they can lift you upward into the light of victory, joy, success, respect, love, and adventure. All it takes is one choice at a time to change the course and quality of your life. Anyone can be a winner or a loser, a champion or a chump. Whether you’re in the loser’s circle or the winner’s trophy room of life is just a matter of choice. The choice is yours.
A transformed life comes by deliberately making right choices every day. That doesn’t mean you’ll always do things perfectly, but you’ll be willing to learn from your mistakes and keep trying. What choice can you make today that will put your life on a new path? How can you use the things that come naturally to you for a new, good purpose?
Transform the Lives of Others. God is in the business of transforming lives. But He doesn’t just want to change your life—He wants to use you to bring about transformation in others too. Jack hated jails and prisons, yet he chose to go back to over 2,500 prisons worldwide. Why? Certainly not for fame and money.
I went back into prisons and jails to help others find what I had found—light at the end of that dark tunnel. I had nothing to gain but everything to give. People need to know that there is hope; that they can change. Anyone can change when they put their life in God’s hands. Even an old con like me. I’m not doing anything new. It’s just my turn to join the awesome army of Christ and do my part.
And now, it’s our turn.
Are you facing an impossible situation? Do you need a miracle? Did you know that with God, you can scale any wall? (Psalm 18:29).
I found myself facing what seemed an unscalable wall in December 2019, when Natalia, the guardian of a teenage Ukrainian orphan, handed me the girl’s medical file and thanked me for helping Iryna obtain medical help. Humanly speaking, it seemed an impossible task.
My husband Tim and I had been looking forward to hosting Iryna and providing her with exciting experiences, but Iryna had suffered significant physical abuse as a child, and her leg needed major reconstructive surgery. Finding a surgeon who would be willing to provide that care for a foreign citizen with no insurance hadn’t been on our agenda.
We’d met Iryna the previous July as a result of my bumping into a lady’s shopping cart at HomeGoods. Olena and I both smiled and apologized for blocking each other’s way. When she spoke, I immediately noticed her strong Russian accent.
Olena was kind, and we struck up a conversation. I shared how I had adopted two children from Russia. She lit up and told me that she and her husband, David, were ambassadors of a Ukrainian orphanage called The Father’s House. They organized trips to Florida for children who lived in the orphanage. They were hosting a group the next week.
I offered to provide a day of water sports at our home for the kids. Olena accepted our invitation and brought Iryna to our house a couple of weeks later. The girl seemed unusually comfortable with our family and enjoyed being on the water. We were surprised when she accepted our invitation to spend the night.
Iryna visited one other time before returning to Ukraine. Two months later, Olena and David asked if we would host Iryna at our home during December. She had progressed significantly emotionally, spiritually, and physically during her stay in America, and they thought it would be beneficial for her to visit again. We agreed.
It was soon December, and Tim and I were waiting at Orlando International Airport. Excitement filled the air as we waited alongside other host families. Soon, Natalia came into view with the children, looking like a mother duck with her ducklings. We exchanged hugs, and that is when she handed me Iryna’s medical file and thanked me for helping her. How in the world did a random bump into a stranger’s shopping cart turn into something of this magnitude? God was obviously at work; if not, I was in trouble. Only He could bring about such a surgical miracle.
I tucked the file in my purse, and Tim, Iryna, and I went home. In the weeks that followed, we enjoyed many wonderful holiday activities. I especially remember our trip to a local farmers market one weekend where she met an American Santa Claus. I think I was more excited than she was.
When it was her turn, Iryna approached Santa’s throne, timidly met his high five, and stood beside him for a picture, but not too close. Santa asked what she wanted for Christmas. Her reply was unusual.
“I…want…leg,” she replied in broken English while pointing to her lower extremity. Santa looked stunned and sheepishly replied, “I’ll see what I can do about that.”
I quickly let him off the hook. “Don’t worry, Santa. God will take care of the leg.”
Our time with Iryna soon ended, and once again, we found ourselves at the airport. It was an emotional goodbye. Iryna, a stoic young lady, tried hard to maintain her composure, but tears soon got the best of her too.
“Oh Lord, comfort her,” I prayed.
The next day, I began pursuing medical help. “Lord, I know that Your hand is upon Iryna and that you have big plans for her. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of her life story, but I have no idea how to get her the medical attention she needs. Please show me what to do.”
I wanted God’s wisdom because I’ve learned the hard way that forcing a solution only makes a mess of things. Besides, finding the answer wasn’t my responsibility. It was God’s. My part was to trust Him, pray, and obey.
It’s hard sometimes to know what trusting God requires of us. Do we sit and do nothing while we wait for Him to act, or do we start knocking on doors? I’ve discovered answers come when we move forward prayerfully while wisely using the resources, skills, and connections God has given us.
I have relationships with skilled orthopedic surgeons across the nation through many surgeries of my own. I reached out to three of them for advice, and through them, God showed me the next step. They all advised me to apply to Shriners Hospitals for Children for Iryna’s care.
I had no idea Shriners Hospitals would provide care for international children. I had seen the touching commercials but hadn’t considered it an option. Immediately, Olena, David, Natalia, and I set out to complete the application process.
Reading through the final documents, I discovered I had been named Iryna’s legal guardian, which meant I would be the one to accompany her to the hospital. I had no idea how my busy travel schedule would allow it. Also, we were moving to another state in May. I suppressed my worry, reminded myself that God would work out the details, and uploaded the requested documents.
Then I asked the Lord if there was anything more I should do. A question arose in my heart: “Kristi, what is it that I have gifted you to do?” I immediately responded, “Write people’s God-stories, Lord.” I’ve been doing it for nearly a decade as the publisher of this magazine. “Then write her story and submit it to the hospital.”
I sat down at the computer, and the words began to flow. Iryna has experienced much trauma at the hands of others, which is why she needed medical care. Finished, I submitted her story online and prayed that God would move on hearts to accept Iryna. He did.
On March 12, Dr. David Westberry informed us that he would perform Iryna’s surgery free of charge in Greenville, SC. My heart leaped with joy. We received a surgical date of May 29, 2020.
And then COVID-19 struck. Suddenly, the world as we knew it shut down. A hospital representative called to inform me they were closed. Then, Natalia reported the US Embassy in Kiev had closed as well.
“Lord,” I prayed, “nothing can stop the good plans You have for Iryna—not COVID-19, international travel bans, or closed embassies and hospitals. What You have purposed for her life shall come to pass, according to Your Word. Amen.”
The delay wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but Iryna was turning 18 in the fall; she’d soon be past the official admittance age for the hospital. I was afraid Shriners might not take her case once she became an adult. But then I remembered Philippians 4:6–8, that teaches me not to be anxious over any situation. Instead, I’m to tell God what I need and thank Him for what He has done and would do. The Bible promises that, if I do this, the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
I have experienced that peace through all the uncertainties of 2020. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have opportunities to doubt. There were plenty. I just had to keep fighting the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). Some days I fought better than others, but in the end, faith moved every obstacle (Matthew 17:20). It helped that Olena, David, and Natalia were fighting the good fight with me (Matthew 18:19).
On May 2, we received an incredible answer to our prayers. At that time, travel bans were still in place. The US Embassy in Kiev and the Shriners Hospitals remained closed as well. But that didn’t stop God; He wasn’t quarantined or closed for business.
Wait until you hear!
I was in a deep sleep when my phone rang. Natalia, in Kiev, was on the other end of the phone yelling, “Kristi, get up. Is good day. We have miracle!” She praised God loudly in her beautiful Ukrainian accent and shouted with joy. Tears stung my sleepy eyes as I listened to her explain.
Early that morning, a representative from the US Embassy in Kiev had called and requested that Natalia bring Iryna to the US Embassy immediately. Bedhead and all, Natalia grabbed Iryna and rushed to the embassy. A man met them in the parking lot, took Iryna’s documents, and told them to wait in their car. Then he went inside. A little while later, he returned and presented Iryna with a six-month medical visa to come to the United States. It was like a dream.
The miracles continued when Iryna entered our closed borders on May 20, three days before our family moved out of state. She made the move with us.
The hospital remained closed, but that was okay. God was giving us time to prepare for her big surgery. We signed Iryna up for free English classes at the local community college and hired a private tutor to accelerate her learning. She worked hard studying English. I, on the other hand, studied Iryna. I sought to understand her likes and dislikes and learned to read her moods. With time, I knew when to press in with conversation and when to leave her alone. God used our wait to intertwine our hearts. She has become family.
Time passed, and I ramped up my prayers. “Lord, You know Iryna’s birthday is in a month. She’ll be 18. Her medical visa is expiring soon too. We need You to work a miracle.”
In August, we attended a special prayer service. I asked Iryna if she wanted to go to the altar and pray for the miracle she needed. She shyly refused. I understood her reservations and didn’t push. Nonetheless, I felt the Lord wanting me to go forward and stand in the gap for her.
I walked to the front of the church and found a prayer partner. The auditorium was loud as people prayed for God’s intervention in their lives. I felt like I was screaming as I shared Iryna’s need. Breaking every social-distancing rule, the lady and I grabbed hands and prayed together. And the next day, God answered our prayers.
I was driving when the phone rang. I answered it, not even thinking about my prayer the night before.
“Kristi, did you get my email?” It was Lisa from Shriners Hospital. “We have Iryna scheduled for surgery, and we need you both to come next week for a preoperative appointment.” She explained that, while the hospital wasn’t scheduling international patients, Dr. Westberry had agreed to operate on Iryna.
It’s been nearly two months since that phone call. As I write, Iryna and I are waiting to be discharged from Shriners Hospital in Greenville. Iryna’s surgery is behind her, and the recovery process is underway. I’m in awe, looking at the evidence of God’s faithful love and unstoppable power sitting next to me in her hospital bed.
I smile as I recall all the “what if” scenarios that have challenged my faith over the last year. Not one of them was ever an issue. Because of COVID-19, my travel commitments were all canceled, so I had plenty of time to entertain and care for Iryna. The Lord kept us healthy despite the virus that raged around us. Communication wasn’t a problem. Often, we understood each other without speaking a word.
Insurance wasn’t an issue either. All medical costs were covered, including my meals at the hospital. Nor did it matter that Iryna had turned 18. To God be the glory for all He has done and will do!
Today, I asked the Lord why He chose me to be a part of Iryna’s life. He could have chosen anyone. I sensed Him say, “So that you could see how faithful I am to care for My children’s needs, yours included. And also, so you would tell others about My faithfulness.” Hence this story.
I don’t know what God has planned for Iryna and our family once her recovery is complete. We are willing to do whatever He asks. I certainly don’t want to miss any adventures God might have up His glorious sleeve. And I would encourage you not to miss any either.
Every day, God extends an invitation to us to join Him in the miraculous—sometimes even while we’re shopping at HomeGoods!
Whatever you’re facing, keep your eyes, ears, and heart open and be willing to say yes when the invitation comes. And then, get ready to be amazed. There simply is no obstacle that’s too big for God.
I’ve never been a fan of uncertainty or waiting on the Lord. I especially struggled with this concept when I was graduating from the University of Florida and rolling into the abyss of adulthood. The fear of the unknown made me feel emotionally out of control.
My post-grad dream was to host a TV show interviewing celebrity guests. For a year, I applied to various places in the television industry, with no success. I soon found myself in a season of deep depression.
But then I saw an opportunity to start a podcast in my hometown. I’d never considered podcasting before, yet I felt God leading me in this direction. My obedience to step through this open door became the threshold to seeing God show up in significant ways.
Long story short, a month after I started my podcast, I met an NFL Hall of Famer who graciously offered to be my first guest. Shortly after, he began connecting me with some of his celebrity buddies who also came on the show. In one year, I have interviewed over 20 celebrities. It’s been humbling to watch God circumvent my plans to enable His. He led me to this opportunity, and He is now behind me, guarding my dream.
We hear all the time that God is in control and His plan for each of us is perfect. I knew that with my head, but now I know it with my whole being. I have personally witnessed God moving for me—before me, behind me, and between me—just as He has always promised He would.
These unchanging promises of God are highlighted throughout the Bible, but especially in Exodus 13–14. In these chapters, we see that hardhearted Pharaoh nearly had to be plagued to death before he would allow Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to worship God in the wilderness. As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, “the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night” (Exodus 13:21 NIV).
Later in Exodus 14, Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued the Israelites through the wilderness. At the sight of Pharaoh and his chariots closing in on them, the terrified people asked Moses: “Why did God lead us out of slavery only to be chased down to the sea?”
Listen to how God instructed Moses to respond. He answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13–14).
The Lord then commanded Moses to put his staff in the water, and God split the Red Sea so His people could pass through on dry ground. After they had crossed over, the water came crashing down on the Egyptian army, and they drowned.
But notice the lineup change right before the waters parted. “Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long” (Exodus 14:19–20).
The frontal force that had led the Israelites out of Egypt and away from the enemy was the same protection that moved behind them to stand between them and the enemy. I have often missed this truth.
Sometimes, like the Israelites, I wonder, “God, where are You leading me?” But this story and mine remind me that God is ever faithful. He goes before me and behind me, always standing between my enemy and me. And between me and unfulfilled dreams.
God is before, behind, and between you and whatever you are facing too. He is fighting your battles, so just be still and don’t be afraid. He knows what He is doing, and His timing is always perfect. Trust Him. If He has placed a dream in you, He will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).