Blog - Victorious Living Magazine

Need A Good Father?

August 15, 2022

Need a Good Father?
by Kristi Overton Johnson

I can’t share my life without talking about my parents. Their love and support positioned my brother, Michael, and me to walk incredible life paths. I thank the Lord daily for the gift of godly parents and their Christlike example.
Growing up, I never realized that not everyone’s home life was like mine. That’s not to say my parents are perfect, but they genuinely love the Lord, us kids, and others, well. I felt safe, valued, and loved.
It breaks my heart to know that so many people have grown up under abuse, belittlement, and rejection by those who should have protected them. If that was your experience, I’m so sorry. This was not God’s intention for your life.
My eyes were indeed opened to painful childhood experiences when I entered the world of prison ministry in 2013. I remember the first time I had to speak after the testimony of a woman who had been sexually abused by her father. I watched in disbelief as most of the female inmates nodded their heads as if they understood her painful upbringing through experience.
I felt so inadequate at that moment to speak into their lives—I hadn’t walked in their shoes, so how could my story possibly make a difference to them? Besides, it just felt wrong to share how good my parents were to me when others had been hurt so badly by theirs.
I felt God encouraging me, though, to lay aside my insecurities and share my story as He led. He had brought me to speak behind prison walls for a reason; it was time to trust Him with my story. God wanted to use lessons from my water-ski career and stories about my parents’ sacrificial and unconditional love to paint a beautiful picture of His love. For people who have been raised by harsh or absent fathers, it is difficult to imagine God being any different, especially since we call Him our heavenly Father.
I was reminded of this truth just the other day in our weekly Victorious Living team online meeting. Out of 9 team members, 5 had been abused, abandoned, rejected, and harshly disciplined by their fathers. And as a result, they have often struggled with insecurities, shame, unworthiness, anger, fear, distrust of authority, and a sense of being unwanted. Each admitted it was challenging not to put the face of their earthly fathers onto God. I was reminded of how blessed I am to have a loving father.
I find myself sharing many stories about my dad’s wisdom or actions when I’m speaking. That’s not because my mother’s influence in my life is any less significant. My mother, Becky Overton, is a precious jewel. Mom modeled the Proverbs 31 woman daily. She trusted the Lord and worked diligently to care for my father, brother, and me. For 15 years, she served as my daily water-ski coach and helped me become a world champion.
It’s just that Daddy is way more vocal than Mom. And his incredibly demonstrative, larger-than-life personality makes for some pretty lively stories. God has used Daddy’s strong voice and actions to provide me with direction, correction, and encouragement.
My father, Parker Overton, taught me how to live a God-honoring life. I must admit, I rolled my eyes at him a time or two, but his one-liner lessons sure have stuck in my mind.
Some of these lessons include: Leave a place and thing better than you found it. Say thank you. Share all you have with others. Be generous. Notice your surroundings. Be a person of your word. When you speak to people, look them in the eye. Make people feel important. Give a firm handshake.
“Protect your reputation,” Daddy would say, “because it’s hard to get it back once it’s gone.” I heard that one a lot. And you know, he’s still teaching me even though I’m in my fifties! That’s what good fathers do.
I can’t go anywhere without his voice playing in my head. If I’m in a parking lot, I’m alert because I remember, “a parking lot is a dangerous place.” When I fly, I hear his voice prompting me to pay attention to the flight attendant: “She deserves your respect, baby.” Last week, I put down my phone to give the lady my utmost attention even though I’ve flown hundreds of times and can quote the safety instructions and mimic every hand gesture from memory.
I’m thankful my father cared enough to teach me how to honor God, people, and places. And he didn’t just preach at me; Daddy practiced what he preached. Day in and day out, he lived a life of integrity and excellence in public and private. “People are watching you, baby,” he’d say. He didn’t realize that I was watching him, and what I witnessed taught me volumes.
For example, the way Daddy treated Mom showed me how my husband should treat me. Even after 56 years of marriage, he continues to open her car door, hold her hand, and speak well of her in front of others. He truly loves her as God intends. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t tell her how beautiful she is and how her beauty would make “a tadpole slap a whale,” “a bulldog break his chain,” and “a momma cat leave her kittens.”
The way he treats his friends taught me to generously share the blessings and opportunities God provides me, whether or not someone can (or will) return the gesture. Likewise, the way he treats his employees taught me to honor those under my authority. Daddy has always cared for those who work for him, whether at his business or our family’s property. He treats everyone like family.
And he is always at work behind the scenes trying to make people’s lives better. Like when he arranged for his dentist friend to give the girl at the Hardee’s drive-through a new smile. He’s never forgotten the pain of having buckteeth as a child and how he felt when he looked in the mirror or was taunted by other kids.
Growing up, my father experienced many painful things that he was determined to protect his family from experiencing. For example, Daddy told me every day that he loved me. He protected me from the harmful effects of alcohol and cigarette smoke. And he made sure that I knew there was a champion inside of me.
Daddy would come into my room every night, kneel by my bed, and tell me stories. “Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Kristi who became the best water-skier in the world…” Each night’s story led me on a water-ski adventure that always ended with victory.
Those nightly adventures laid a solid foundation for my future success in the sport and in life. Because of how those stories played out each night, I never saw myself any other way than a winner on those water skis and in life. This simple act and his constant reminders of “you can do it, baby” kept me motivated and helped me believe that anything was possible.
Those words encouraged me to get up after a disappointing fall at the 1999 World Championships in Milan, Italy. I had fallen short of my goal of winning that day and had landed myself in a three-way tie for first place.
I was discouraged and angry as I bobbed around in that lake where Mussolini once landed his seaplanes. I tell people all the time, Satan will find you anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a lake, a kitchen, or a prison cell. He’ll arrive on the scene at your weakest moment and remind you that you are a disappointment to others.
I almost believed his lies until I heard my daddy’s southern voice yelling out, “You can do it, baby!” from the shoreline. His words reminded me that I was a champion and capable of victory in that moment of uncertainty. With Daddy’s encouragement in my ears, I got up and skied myself into the World Championship title. I am so glad I chose to listen to my father’s voice and not the enemy’s.
Daddy would have still been right there on the shoreline, ready to welcome me even if I had lost that day. He would have helped me out of the water, given me a hug, and whispered in my ear, “It’s all right, baby. You’ll get it next time.” Then we would’ve walked over and congratulated the winner. Dad was a stickler about good sportsmanship. “You have to win and lose graciously.”
When I was 11, my father did something incredible. He built me a private lake where I could train without the disturbances of other boaters and pesky critters like snakes and jellyfish. He called it Lake Kristi. Crazy, I know!
I didn’t grasp the magnitude of what he’d done until I was much older. It’s incredible now to look back at pictures of that dry, dusty land. The property’s transformation shows the power of vision, hard work, and a spirit of excellence.
Daddy saw potential and purpose in that farmland when everyone else saw dirt. As a result, Lake Kristi has been a venue for world-class water-ski competitions, collegiate cross-country events, triathlons, weddings, ministry events, and a safe haven for abused animals for over forty years.
These are all great things I’ve told you about my dad. But I am most grateful for the foundation of faith he helped provide. Not a night went by that I didn’t see my daddy on his knees praying to “the Good Lord,” as he calls Him. He and Mom took Michael and me to church and taught us to respect God. They made sure we understood that everything we have is a blessing from above and intended for blessing others.
I’ve shared many examples of my father’s goodness in this story. But you know what? Daddy’s most generous gifts will always pale in comparison to what my heavenly Father has done for me—and what He’ll do for you. Jesus said, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11 NLT).
Our heavenly Father is generous beyond our wildest dreams (Ephesians 3:20). He even sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sin so that we could have a relationship with Him and eternal life (John 3:16). There is no greater demonstration of love.
Not only is He generous, but everything Daddy God gives to His children is good. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (NIV).
That doesn’t mean everything we experience feels good. But God our Father will never send evil into our lives to hurt or tempt us (James 1:13). That’s Satan’s nature; he seeks to destroy the children of the Most High God (John 10:10).
God is a giver of life, not death. Peace, not chaos. Comfort, not fear. Love, not hate. Forgiveness, not chastisement. Hope, not despair. And His good nature and love will never shift based on our performance or His feelings. Thank goodness! Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:31–39).
Every day, God invites His children to come boldly into His presence. We find grace, help, acceptance, contentment, rest, and wisdom there. All we have to do is approach Him and ask. Daddy God welcomes your requests and will never rebuke you. (See Philippians 4:6–8; Hebrews 4:16; James 1:5.)
Thinking back to my childhood, I never once needed permission to approach my daddy. I could walk past his assistant and enter his office anytime, and I never once felt like I was bothering him.
Likewise, you and I don’t need an appointment to approach our heavenly Father, nor do we need to go through another person. Through the name and blood of Jesus, we have unlimited and unhindered access to God (Ephesians 2:18).
You might be thinking, “There is no way God would want to have a relationship with me.” That is not true. Your heavenly Father fashioned you with His very hands (Psalm 119:73) because He wanted to have a relationship with you. Don’t listen to the enemy’s voice that says you are unworthy. Study the Bible and see what your heavenly Father says about you. And then listen to His voice and believe His truth.
I told you how my father had a vision for “little Kristi” to be a champion. Well, God has an even greater vision for your victory (Jeremiah 29:11). When your heavenly Father looks at you, he sees potential and purpose, just like my daddy saw potential in me and in that barren farmland. God is a restorer and fulfiller of dreams, and His vision for your life never fades. When you come to Him and lay your dry, barren life down at His feet, you’ll receive beauty for your ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
No matter who you are, God wants a relationship with you. Accept His invitation. Everything you’ve ever desired in an earthly father can be found in Him. Your heavenly Father will never abandon you.
Understanding God’s love for you and your identity as His son or daughter will determine your level of freedom and victory on this side of heaven. Whatever your past experience with your earthly father, set it aside. Don’t put the face of your earthly father on God. Get in the Bible and learn about His nature. Then, draw close to Him and experience His faithful loving-kindness for yourself. He promises to draw near to you (James 4:8).
No matter how many times you’ve fallen in life, God will always meet you with open arms (Luke 15:17–20). He will help you get up and move forward victoriously. He isn’t looking for perfection or performance. He simply wants you to desire a relationship with Him and trust His love. That’s what puts a smile on His face (Hebrews 11:6).
You may be wondering how a relationship with God is possible. It’s simple. A relationship with the Father happens through faith in His Son. According to John 14:6, it’s the only way. Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (NIV). The minute you express your faith and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, something incredible happens: God becomes your Father. He welcomes you just as you are (Ephesians 1:6).
If you don’t have a relationship with God as your Father, why not experience it now? Place your faith in Jesus. God will adopt you into His family and forgive you of all sin. Then, you can experience the love of a good Father today.

KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON encourages and equips people for victory through her writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.

SIDEBAR:
Have you ever considered that, no matter who you are, it’s never too late to impact your child’s life positively like my dad impacted mine? You can set a godly example through your words and actions, even from behind a prison wall. Further, you can bring about effectual change in their life and yours through your prayers (James 5:16). God can produce a godly lineage through any willing person.
All you need is faith, determination, and a willingness to make God-honoring choices. As you draw close to God and allow Him to work in your life, others will notice, and they will desire the goodness of God to flow in their lives as well.

 

A Place To Belong

A Place to Belong
The Story of Sheridan Correa

I grew up in a large, religious family—the seventh of nine children. At first glance, you’d think we had it all. My father was a successful businessman who provided us with a large, beautiful home. My mother stayed home and managed the household. They raised kids who excelled in music, academics, and sports. We attended church together regularly.
But we were dysfunctional. Dad worked long, hard hours and was often away from home. Mom stayed home and was responsible for raising all of us—a stressful job to be sure. Our home felt unstable, and toxic stress brewed all around us.
Periods of separation created a great divide in our family. When they’d split, some of us kids would go with Dad and the rest with Mom. I never knew where I belonged or which “team” I was supposed to be on.
It didn’t take long for feelings of inadequacy to surface. As one of many kids, I felt like a number rather than an individual. It’s remarkable how alone and unloved you can feel, even in your own family. As far as I knew, I mattered to no one, and I was ready for life to end by the fourth grade.
One day at recess, I rushed to the top of the monkey bars, fully intending to throw myself to the ground, break my neck, and end my misery. Tears streamed down my face as I prepared to jump. Before I could, however, teachers managed to get hold of me. They took me to the school psychologist, but nothing ever came of the incident other than an assessment.
I coped as best I could with the dark emotions brewing inside me for the next eight years. Every day, I put a smile on my face and performed. Performance and achievement were my jams. God forbid anyone would discover my imperfections or insecurities. I became a master at wearing a mask, and no one knew a frightened little girl was hiding within. Two very different people were living inside me, and not even I knew which one was the real me.
I graduated high school and set out to experience a happier and more stable life. I attended university on both music and athletic scholarships. I achieved great success for the first few years and was emotionally sound. And then I went off the rails.
Desperately seeking happiness, security, and a solution for my miserable life, I turned to men. Marriage seemed to be the next milestone of accomplishment. I was young, vulnerable, and immature when I said “I do” for the first time, and within months, the relationship ended in divorce.
My failed marriage only added to my pervasive sense of inadequacy. I felt great shame and entered a deep emotional and mental darkness. I had experienced the lows of depression before and had even seen counselors, so I had coping mechanisms, but this time, nothing helped.
I finally sought psychiatric help. I recounted my life and the inner turmoil I had felt since a child. I told the doctor of the violent mood swings, recurring thoughts of suicide, how fear ruled my life, and our family’s history of mental disease. Before I left that office, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Relief washed over me. I had always known something was “wrong” with me. Now I had the answer to all my problems. I eagerly accepted my diagnosis, along with numerous psych meds. There was hope for me after all.
I took my meds consistently and soon felt more stable. I returned to my comfort zones of performance and achievement, sure that my meds had fixed me for good. Three years later, I remarried. It didn’t take long for that marriage to unravel too.
I hadn’t felt loved as a child, so I didn’t know how to love others or myself, nor did I know how to receive love as an adult. A rejected, isolated little girl lived inside me, and until she was tended to, nothing would ever be right in my life. I had no idea how to help her, though, so I continued doing the only things I knew to do—perform, excel, achieve, and hide my brokenness.
For the next decade, I battled anxiety and severe depression. I experienced a short reprieve when I became a mom to two amazing little boys, but the cycle of hopelessness soon returned. I grew tired of trying to feel normal and be happy.
I called crisis hotlines, cycled in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and experimented with multiple psych medications. But nothing gave me lasting emotional and mental stability. Years of inner turmoil took their toll and began to manifest through my body: I experienced chronic debilitating pain. Old sports injuries were also now requiring surgeries.
I began using painkillers. At first, my use was legitimate, and I took them only as I needed them. But then I discovered that opioids numbed my emotional pain. I finally felt normal and could deal with life circumstances. And I liked it. Not only that, the constant emotional stress and all the voices in my head were gone.
Pain pills were controlling my inner monster. And although I knew I was developing an unhealthy dependence, I denied and ignored the problem.
My descent into addiction hell escalated after a traumatic motorcycle accident left me unable to walk for months. My injuries required major surgeries, and I experienced much pain. My addiction to opioids increased.
The next three years required the constant assistance of pills for me to tackle even the most mundane task. I began drinking daily as well, sometimes until I blacked out. Alcohol, drugs, and my sense of unworthiness were a deadly mixture. My mind became the darkest, scariest place I had ever known, and my memory was my worst enemy.
In the middle of this downward spiral, my husband filed for divorce and received temporary sole custody of our boys. I felt more rejected and abandoned than ever, and I became bitter and resentful.
With my identity as wife and mother stripped away, I felt I’d died, along with everybody I loved. If I wasn’t a mother and a wife, who was I? What reason did I have to live anymore?
Overwhelmed by those thoughts, I grabbed a month’s supply of muscle relaxers and washed them down with rubbing alcohol. But just like on that playground, my suicide attempt was unsuccessful. I was admitted to a psychiatric facility until I was stable.
Released from the hospital, I found myself homeless. I felt a weird camaraderie with all the other lost and broken people I encountered on the street. I deluded myself into thinking that I could help them.
It wasn’t long before I entered the world of hardcore drugs. Once I got a taste of that life, I turned completely away from my family, church, and community, and didn’t look back. I became an overachiever in addiction and crime. That worked…until it didn’t.
I was numb and ignorant of the damage I was doing to myself and the people I loved. My children were becoming memories that only haunted me.
I soon became a “frequent flyer” at the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, Arizona. At first, it was for minor things like shoplifting and outstanding warrants, but then came more severe crimes like criminal damage, domestic violence, and drug possession and sale charges.
After each arrest, I was confined to the psych ward. Emerging from my drug coma and facing the reality of my life was always more than I could bear. Knowing who and what I had become was terrifying.
Finally, stripped of everything, I hit rock bottom. Desperate to end the insanity and despite being in solitary confinement, I found a way to inflict serious harm. The guards, however, discovered my bloody self and placed me on suicide watch. Still, under their watchful eyes, I tried to end my life again, but to no avail.
I didn’t understand it then, but I now know God’s mercy was at work, and He was about to reveal Himself to me in the most beautiful way.
I had grown up hearing about God. But at the same time, I was taught to rely on my intellect and performance. I came from a long lineage of successful people; we didn’t need anyone’s help, not even God’s. I clung to the belief that I was in control and could achieve anything if I set my mind to it.
But in that ugly place, I finally had a life-changing revelation: I wasn’t in control of anything! My intellect, self-efforts, and awards couldn’t bring me happiness and stability, nor could they free me from my emotional and mental prison. I didn’t have a clue about how to manage life.
I was a homeless meth and heroin addict who had lost everything that mattered, including my freedom. It was time I moved aside and gave up the reins.
Once released to the jail’s general population, I began attending church and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. There, I learned that God was a loving and caring Father. This concept intrigued me, and I began to open my heart to Him.
New feelings, thoughts, and desires introduced themselves to me. They were foreign yet strangely familiar, and I felt I’d come home to where I always belonged. I found a new desire to live and love.
The morning I was to receive my prison plea, I knelt beside the jail toilet and surrendered my life to the care of God. “God, if You want to send me to prison, that’s okay. I’ll go wherever because I know You’re coming with me.”
Later that day, I learned that the state prosecutor had changed the plea deal. Instead of serving a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, I was sent to the Phoenix Rescue Mission. I would remain there for one year with three years’ probation. I entered the Mission’s gates wanting, willing, and ready for whatever God had in store.
I knew God was inviting me to trust Him, but it’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. So I started studying His Word, the Bible. God lit a fire inside me for Himself, and as I learned more about Him, my mental illness, addictions, and hopelessness lost their holds on me. God began to change me from the inside out. I no longer felt like a counterfeit version of myself. I finally felt seen, heard, loved, and accepted.
But then, after seven months in the program, I was a witness and an accomplice to another person breaking the program’s rules. Initially, I didn’t think I would be affected because I wasn’t the one breaking the rules. But there were consequences, and I had a choice: either restart the program or defer to prison.
I stayed in the program, accepted the discipline (Hebrews 12:6), and learned from my mistake. Like David in Psalm 139:23–24, I asked the Lord to highlight anything preventing me from moving forward with Him.
The Lord soon revealed something critical—I needed a Savior. Although I had recognized my need for God, turned my life over to His care, learned lots of scripture, and even experienced a real-life change, I hadn’t come to know His Son, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior. I hadn’t accepted what He’d done for me on the cross. I was still relying on my good works.
My deceitful action at the Mission revealed the sinful nature I still carried. I needed to be born again in Christ to receive a new heart. I asked God to forgive me of my sin, and I put my faith in Jesus for salvation rather than my performance.
I reached out to God through His Son from that day forward, and He drew me close (James 4:8). In His presence, both I and that little girl living within me found freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17) as we journeyed through our traumas with His eyes of love, compassion, and forgiveness.
Healing came through understanding my worth. Knowing that God wanted to hang out with a super-sucky person like me changed everything. I had value now because I belonged to and was wanted by God, the Creator of the world. I could take off the mask and be my authentic self (Psalm 139:7–8) and still be loved.
The Lord got to work pruning me of my religious, performing, and conforming ways (Romans 12:2). He’s continually ridding me of the things that feed my independence and self-sufficiency. What a relief to know that I no longer have to rely on my limited strength, efforts, and achievements. I can stand tall in Christ. In His strength, I can do and overcome everything (Philippians 4:13).
I am five years into my recovery now. God’s love has given me a new life. All that was dead and lost has been restored (Ephesians 3:20). I now have a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7), am free from addiction and mental illness, and have the courage and the resilience to face life without drugs.
Not only that, but the Lord has reconciled and restored me to my family and my two sons. He has also blessed me with a godly husband; we were married earlier this year. I am still amazed at the goodness of God and thankful that He was willing to patiently bring me home to Him, where I’ve always belonged.
You can belong to Him too. Right now, He is beckoning you to Him, where you’ll find peace, contentment, and rest. Don’t give up. There is hope. Jesus Christ can set even the most traumatized heart and mind free. And His arms are open to you today.

SHERIDAN CORREA is a biblical counselor who is trained in trauma-informed care. She’s a wife, mother of two teenage boys, singer, and avid runner who has been radically changed by Jesus. She joined the Victorious Living family in 2022 as social media manager.

Lay Your Burden Down

Lay Your Burden Down
The Story of Jay Bastardo

Who is Jesus to me? Jesus is my everything.
At every stage of my life, whether I realized it or not, God has been exactly who I have needed Him to be—my Savior, healer, and friend; my protector, provider, and redeemer; my comforter, strength, and refuge. And lately, Jesus has been revealing Himself as my source of peace and identity.
It took a scary trip to the hospital in 2020 to begin to know Him this way, but you need to know more about me before I tell that story.
I started life in the Dominican Republic, where my family worked very hard for what little we had. My grandmother was the first entrepreneur I ever met, and man, was she a hustler! She always had creative ideas, and I was right there by her side.
Grandma was poor, but she never complained or focused on what she didn’t have; she just went to work. We did all sorts of things to make money: we bagged the charcoal we found on the ground. We cooked beans. We made hair products. And people came to our home to purchase these treasures. Grandma’s work ethic sowed an enterprising seed in me that thrives today.
My mother was a hard worker too. She came to America through a government program in 1994 and worked three jobs to make a better life for us. She fought hard to take me with her to the States, but it wasn’t possible at the time. She was forced to leave me in the care of my grandmother.
Being away from my mother was incredibly painful, and my heart still hurts when I think about it. No matter how much love my grandmother and other relatives showed me, nobody’s love ever felt like Momma’s. I lived with an enormous hole in my heart. It was difficult knowing she was so far away, and even as a young boy, I felt an urgent need to protect her.
Thankfully, God made a way for us to be reunited five years later. On May 26, 1999, I arrived in Newark, New Jersey. I came armed with five dollars that my aunt had given me. She told me, “Go be a man and make your mark on this world!”
And that’s what I set out to do from that day forward. I was 15 years old.
I had dreamed about this moment and my life in America for years. I was so happy to be reunited with my mother, but the perfect life I had imagined was not to be found. I hadn’t seen her in five years, and we’d both changed. She was now married and had another child. I hadn’t met her husband or my half-brother before the day I arrived. I felt very out of place and alone. Not to mention, I was a teenage boy wrestling with deep emotions and raging hormones.
And then I had to start school in a new place where I didn’t speak one word of English and I had only one pair of jeans that I wore every day. It was a cruel world.
One incident haunted me for years. It happened on the first day of school. I entered a classroom to ask a teacher—in Spanish, of course—if I was in the correct room. When he answered “no,” I assumed he spoke Spanish and continued speaking. No is, after all, a Spanish word.
Suddenly, a young Latina burst out laughing. I’ll never forget her mocking voice. “Are you stupid? Don’t you see that man doesn’t speak Spanish? You’d better learn the language!”
The way she spoke ignited something inside of me. I didn’t appreciate being called stupid or being challenged. I turned to her and replied in Spanish, “I promise you that I’ll be speaking better English than you before this year is over.”
I went home and got to work. I grabbed a dictionary, turned on the television to FOX and CNN, and put on the closed captions. Every day, I highlighted a new word from the dictionary and used it in a sentence as many times as I could.
All that work soon paid off. Six months later, the teacher in charge of the English as a Second Language program came into the classroom and promoted me to a regular English-speaking class in the presence of that girl. It was a very satisfying moment; her words had hurt me.
From that point on, I was determined to prove my worth through what I could accomplish. I would show the world who Jay Bastardo was and what he could do. And I’ve been working to prove myself ever since.
My story really is one of immigrant success. I arrived in the US at 15, worked crazy hours through high school, and went on to various jobs. I met my wife, Eridania, in New Jersey, but we were from the same hometown in the Dominican Republic. God brought us together in the land of our dreams!
I always knew I wanted to own my own business, be my own boss, and pursue the American dream. We moved to Greenville, NC, and eventually we bought a food truck on Craigslist. We called it Villa Verde—to honor our Dominican hometown and our new hometown, Greenville. God blessed that business, and today we have two beautiful brick-and-mortar authentic Dominican-food restaurants and a third restaurant serving good old Southern food.
We’ve worked hard to get here, and I continue to be driven by a need to succeed. I’ve accomplished much in life. Accomplishing things isn’t bad. The Lord wants us to reach our fullest potential and make the most of the opportunities He brings. But no matter how much I accomplish, it’s somehow never enough in my mind. What I’m learning now is that if my motive for doing something is for myself and not for God’s glory, then accomplishing it will come at a great price.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve felt this incredible responsibility to be successful, not just for my sake, but for others—my grandmother, mother, wife, children, staff, community, and more. This need to prove myself means I am in constant motion. For years, I have defined myself by what I do and how busy I am.
So you can imagine what a shock the worldwide shutdown of 2020 was to my system. The COVID-19 pandemic rocked my world. Always before, I could handle crisis. I worked harder so we didn’t lose what we had. I never backed down from a challenge—no matter how high the odds were stacked against me, I overcame them with commitment, determination, and hard work. I had started from nothing before, and I’d always found a way.
But COVID was different. People were dying. The disease came like a murderer in the night; it wasn’t a respecter of persons. I couldn’t work harder to fix it. I couldn’t implement a solution. I had no control. And people were dying! That terrified me.
As a business owner, I didn’t know what to do. Should I keep the restaurants closed, or should I open them for take-out? But if I opened them and one of my staff got COVID, was that my fault? And what if they died?! Inside, I condemned myself: “You’re a greedy pig, Jay. You only want to open to save your business and make money. It’s all you’ve ever cared about!”
Satan knew just how to push my buttons. I’d been hurt by those exact words in the past—from people I loved. So I decided to keep the restaurants closed. My inner self tormented me with that decision too.
“But I’m responsible for all these people and their families. Some have left their countries to work for me. If I don’t open back up, they won’t have money to pay their bills or send back to their families. Everyone will suffer because of me!”
Back and forth I went. I wavered so much that my mind became filled with chaos, doubt, and fear. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t see the way forward.
And that’s where the unexpected trip to the hospital came in. I experienced so much inner turmoil over these business decisions that I thought I was having a heart attack.
Turned out my heart was fine—I was “just” having a panic attack. What? Me, a panic attack? No way! “Only weak people have those,” I thought, “and I’m not weak. I’m a doer, a man of faith who overcomes obstacles. I mentor other people. I’m a provider and protector for my family and friends. I help the people of my community. I can’t have a panic attack. That’s just not me!” I felt so much shame and condemnation when I heard those words. (I think I’d have been happier with a heart attack!)
But I went back home and kept worrying about what I should do. Finally, I decided I would keep the restaurants closed.
And then my beautiful wife, Eri, spoke up. “Why don’t you let the staff decide, Jay? Find out how they feel about this.”
Well, why didn’t I think of that? We gathered everyone together to discuss the situation. Their response blessed me. “We want to come back to work,” they said. “The community needs us, and we need to be here too.” They even told me that if we didn’t have the money to pay them, they’d still be there for us. That night, we decided to move forward as a team, and we all rolled up our sleeves and got back to work.
My family and our staff pressed forward daily after that. But I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room—I had gone to the hospital, crippled by fear and anxiety. Those emotions were still tormenting my heart and mind. Why was this happening?
The story I’ve told you so far has been about me—but my faith is also a big part of my life. In the middle of all my worry and indecision, I began to sense God inviting me on a journey to discover the answers to these questions and to better understand my true identity as His child. I’ve since stepped out into this journey, and the deeper I dive into my past, examine my belief patterns, and let God reveal His truths, the more freedom and peace I find.
I’ve lived under pressure so long that I’m not sure I would know how to live without it. I am well aware that my choices today impact people I will never meet on this side of heaven. I strive daily to live a life that my kids will want to model. The funny thing is that no matter how hard I try, I usually feel like a failure at the end of the day. And these failures taunt me. My response is to work harder and try to do better. It’s a weighty burden.
When God and I set out on our journey together, I remembered Matthew 11:28–30 (NIV), where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
These verses helped me understand that the pressure I live under is not from God; it is self-imposed. His purposes for my life will never weigh me down, nor will they create anxiety, self-condemnation, or pressure. They also won’t invoke fear, doubt, or confusion.
If I am under these things, then I must be under something other than the will of God. There is freedom, peace, and order wherever the Lord is—not bondage, fear, and chaos. (See 1 Corinthians 14:33; 2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Corinthians 3:17.)
I’m not responsible for everyone’s life outcome. Each individual is accountable for their own choices. I’m also not responsible for being everyone’s provider and solving their problems. That’s God’s job. And my taking on these responsibilities is me trying to play God.
Here’s a fresh revelation: I’m not God! I can’t tell you how freeing it is to let go of that responsibility.
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want me to care for others. I am His hands and feet on this earth, and I am called to serve and give. But He is teaching me that I’m not responsible for people; I am responsible to them. My role is to live a life of integrity and to operate in my giftings as I serve, love, and honor those around me.
To put it simply: God is calling me to focus on being, not doing.
The greatest thing I can do for others is to be a surrendered child of God; the rest will take care of itself (Matthew 6:33). He calls me to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5–6) and release my loved ones to His care. God loves my family and staff more than I do, and His plan and provision for them will not fail.
I’ve already told you that my motive for doing has been to prove my worth. But the Lord has also revealed the driving force behind that motive: fear. Deep down, I need to prove I am somebody because I am desperately afraid that I am nobody.
If I fail, I’m afraid I’ll prove that what my classmates, a former boss, and even some family members said about me was right. They said I’d be poor and never amount to anything, that my ideas were stupid, and that I’d fall flat on my face. I strive because I’m terrified that what they said will become my reality. I also fear I’ll fail my wife and children.
But a fear-based, performance-driven life is not what God intends for His children to experience. That’s Satan’s desire. God has never asked any of us to prove our worth.
Before we accomplished one thing in this world, He exchanged His Son’s life for ours (John 3:16). The Lord’s love for us has never been based on what we do but on who we are—His children. And what we do isn’t what pleases Him either. It’s how we trust Him that matters (Hebrews 11:6).
I’m thankful for these revelations and all the others. And I am committed to allowing the Lord to work in my life. I do want to experience His freedom and rest, but I’m finding that a learning experience too.
Like I’ve said, I work nonstop. I have for years. I don’t understand people who don’t want to work or who give excuses why they can’t work. But God is teaching me that working nonstop isn’t His intention either. Rest is good, and God commands us to do so. It’s the fourth commandment. Even God rested from His work (Genesis 2:2–3).
Still, if I’m not working, I wrestle with feeling guilty, lazy, and unproductive. I feel like I’m not being a man and providing for my family. The Lord is helping me work through these patterns of wrong thinking. He is teaching me to find balance in my life—not just for me, but for the sake of my family.
My constant going keeps my loved ones on the move too. And the pressure I’m under seeps into their lives whether I intend it to or not. We are all weary. My wife and teenage son work ridiculously hard and long hours. Our family bounces from restaurant to restaurant, event to event.
As you can see, I am learning much about myself and the why behind my what. And I am sure God will have a lot more to show me in His time as He helps me become who He created me to be. I’m excited for God to transform me into a new person as I change how I think. Then I’ll be able to experience His will, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (See Romans 12:2.)
Perhaps today, you are under heavy burdens and being attacked by fear. Like me, you’re afraid that people’s words and thoughts about you will come true. God wants to help you be free of your burdens and escape the turmoil. Jesus’s promise of rest is for you too. Lay your burdens down, my friend. Right here at Jesus’s feet.

JAY BASTARDO is on mission to discover his identity in Christ. He and his family serve their community through authentic Dominican food and heartfelt service while living out God’s agape love to the world.

 

Rebuilding The Life That Heroin Tore Apart

Rebuilding the Life that Heroin Tore Apart
The Story of Amber Leason

“How did you become an addict, anyway?” people often ask.
Before I met Jesus, I would have given you multiple reasons. And, of course, none of them would have involved me. In my view, somebody or something else was always the cause of my downfalls.
I blamed genetics because addiction runs in my family. I blamed ex-boyfriends because every one of my romantic relationships ended in disaster. I refused to take responsibility for any of the messes I made.
But the truth is, I had a good childhood. I grew up in a loving home with both parents. No traumatic events can explain why I responded to the world around me the way I did. The only person to blame is me. I was the source of all my problems, and even worse, I created problems for everyone around me.
There was a dark space of nothingness inside me from as far back as I can remember. I tried hard to fill that space but always came up empty-handed. The more desperate I became, the more I grasped at the world around me. And everything I touched, I broke.
I tried to fill the void in me with men. At 13, I lost my virginity to my first boyfriend. My whole world revolved around that boy, and I let go of everything else to hold on to that relationship.
He quickly became insecure and controlling and forbade me to go places and do things with anyone else. Over time, I abandoned all my friends and school activities; I even shut out my family. The end of the relationship shattered me.
Who was I now? I had isolated myself and had no identity outside of him. Because of how I had treated them, my friends wanted nothing to do with me. No one would talk to me or sit with me at lunch. In fact, they went out of their way to avoid me.
I’d call my mom from the pay phone outside the school in tears. She did her best to comfort me so I could get through the rest of the school day. But the next day, it would start all over again. The days and weeks dragged on until my broken teenage heart crumbled under the weight of loneliness.
I was determined to end my life, so I took every pill in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Then, I went into my mom’s room and stood over her, quietly weeping as I watched her sleep.
I wanted to wake her up, to tell her what I had done. But I wanted to die more than I wanted to live. Death was the only way to end my pain, I thought. So I went to bed, hoping to drift away forever.
I was so disappointed the following day when I woke up. But I got up anyway and forced myself to walk to school; I was still under the influence of all those pills.
I had never been high before, and I liked how I felt. Suddenly, I didn’t feel any pain, and I wasn’t lonely. If I could stay numb, I reasoned, I’d be okay. The trajectory of my life changed that day.
I found a new group of people who accepted me. I hung out with the kids who got high. Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school, even though I was doing hard drugs daily.
The party continued after high school until I discovered I was pregnant. I got married and stopped drinking and getting high for the sake of my child. In 2003, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I had a couple good years, but stress soon got the best of me again, and I returned to the numbness of drugs.
When I turned 21, a whole new world opened to me. I could leave my son with his father and go out clubbing every night of the week. In 2005, I got a DUI. I spent only one night in jail, but that was enough to know that being locked up was not where I wanted to be.
Soon, I divorced my son’s dad. After that, I cycled in and out of relationships, drinking heavily and fueling my addiction.
In 2014, I hurt my back at work. The pain from the injury was terrible, and I relied on opiates to function. I was relieved to have a prescription for painkillers; I wouldn’t have to buy pills off the street anymore.
I was already struggling to stay clean before the back injury, but now that I had opioids on hand, my addiction escalated quickly. A month’s prescription lasted only two weeks, so I had to rely on heroin and meth until my prescription refilled.
By 2015, I was no longer a functioning addict. I began doing things I’d sworn I’d never do, like shooting up. I lost my job, my car, an apartment, and then my son. He had grown tired of how I was living and no longer wanted to be around me. I understood why he wanted to live with my mom, but it still hurt.
Losing hope, I decided to try rehab. I started thinking about God as I went through the steps of recovery. I got up early to sit alone outside on the patio of the rehab center and talk to Him.
“Do you know who I am, God?” I’d ask. I wondered if He even saw or cared about what was going on in my life. I didn’t know about Jesus or the magnitude of God’s love for me yet, but my heart was open to the idea that God existed.
I came out of rehab determined to stay clean. I went home to my mom and son and did well for a while, but I began experiencing excruciating back pain. Turns out, shooting up had led to an infection in my vertebrae. Antibiotic therapy cleared the condition quickly, but I began using pain pills again. And that started the cycle of addiction all over.
My mom requested a drug test, and I didn’t even put up a fight. I just left and dove headfirst into another dysfunctional and abusive relationship. My new boyfriend and I immediately began running the streets. We were homeless, and our entire lives revolved around our drug habits. I hit an all-time low, and a new level of darkness entered my life.
By Christmas 2016, I was determined to pull myself together. I’d missed all the other holidays with my family that year due to my addiction; I didn’t want to miss this one. I was looking forward to spending the day with my son.
I sobered up and waited anxiously for Mom to pick me up. But when she arrived, I was devastated to see that my son was not with her. Instead, she had with her a 7-page letter they had written together.
In the letter, they asked me to choose them over drugs. “Your son is sick of sharing you, Amber! He’s so tired of you abandoning him for this life.” My mother read the letter aloud as I sobbed uncontrollably. My precious son was deeply hurt and traumatized because of my choices. It was painful to hear, but I knew it was all true.
Somehow, I got the courage and strength that day to turn my back on my boyfriend and drugs and return to my parents’ home for shelter. I am convinced I would not be here to tell this story had I made a different choice that day. I never got high again.
My troubles didn’t suddenly disappear; I’d be lying if I said they did. Instead, they multiplied as I confronted the broken relationship between my son and me.
He was rightfully angry and did not believe that I would stay clean. It would be a long road to earn his trust, but I was determined to travel it.
Knowing I needed help, I decided to start going to church. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt like I was supposed to be there. Once again, I found myself talking to God. “I need to know that You are real, God. I can’t face life alone. I don’t know what I am supposed to do to fix my relationship with my son.” God would soon answer me.
I struggled to stay away from my ex-boyfriend, who was still addicted and on the streets. He would call and beg me to return to him. Our conversations always left me feeling helpless. He promised he was not getting high, but I knew better. I also knew spending time with him would be dangerous. But I cared about him and wanted to help him.
So, as any true codependent would, I started dragging my ex to church. On Sunday, February 5, 2017, we met at a fast-food place before the service.
After breakfast, we stood up, and a syringe fell out of his pocket. An immediate flurry of feelings rose inside me, but ultimately, anger prevailed. “Get away from me and leave me alone,” I cried as I ran out of the restaurant. He followed me, and soon we were screaming at each other and physically fighting. It was a miracle that we did not end up in jail.
I can’t explain how, but I knew that my life depended on making it to the church that day, so I kept running. Today I know there was a real spiritual battle trying to prevent me from coming face to face with the love of God. Thankfully, God won. In fact, He gave me a message that day that I couldn’t miss. It was written in chalk, right there on the sidewalk: “I am rebuilding the life that heroin tore apart.”
Those words spoke straight to my heart, and I knew they were from God. When I needed Him, He had shown up (Psalm 46:1). It’s incredible to me that God would intervene in such a profound, personal way (Genesis 16:13).
Determination flooded my heart. I snapped a picture of the message with my phone and ran toward the church. But my ex followed me, and we were fighting as we came in the doors. Members of the congregation quickly sensed that I was in trouble and moved in to help. They separated us, and a kind woman comforted me as I sobbed.
I calmed down enough to join the worship service. Tears streamed down my face as the beautiful song “Good, Good Father” played. When the pastor presented an altar call, I fell to my knees and surrendered my life to God. Despite the evil forces that had tried to stop me, the Lord’s purposes prevailed, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior (Psalm 57:2).
I invited Him that day into the dark, void space in my soul. He responded by filling me with His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I found in Jesus the acceptance and sense of belonging that I had searched for my whole life.
You must know that getting saved did not free me from the consequences of my addiction and selfish choices. Jesus never promises that we won’t have to deal with those, only that we won’t have to do it alone (Isaiah 43:2; John 16:33).
My life looked like a collapsed building that a wrecking ball had demolished—but God is in the remodeling and restoration business! He gives new life through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross to anyone who comes to Him. God has always been faithful to reconstruct and remodel the things that sin destroys. Knowing this strengthened my faith. Besides, I had nothing to lose by trusting Him to restore my losses.
Since then, my life has been one big construction site. Jesus has been the chief architect and foreman, overseeing every repair, big and small. When I gave Him control over every detail of my life, true and lasting transformation began.
It’s been an amazing experience to roll up my sleeves and be an active participant in God’s plan and purpose for my life. His blessings have been endless!
Within a year after getting clean, a renewed relationship with my son began to bloom. He still struggles with the trauma he experienced during my addiction, but I get the privilege of consistently showing up for him as his mom. I now get to be an example of the life-changing power of Jesus and reflect my Lord and Savior’s love into my son’s life.
He and his wife have made me a proud grandma. Even though COVID prevented it, they extended a kind invitation to me to be in the delivery room when my third grandchild was born. I praise the Lord for the miracle of forgiveness in my son’s heart toward me.
I am also married now to a wonderful Christian man who is not only the solid spiritual leader in our home, but also my best friend. He has helped me navigate through sober parenthood. The Lord has used him to be a positive male presence in my son’s life too. I am blessed as well to have a church family that embraces me and helps me stay connected and accountable.
Having the Lord’s presence and power in my life and a godly support system means everything. That dark space of nothingness is no longer inside me. Christ has filled it with His love, joy, and peace.
And He can fill you too.
We all have the same God-sized hole inside us, and only His love can fill it. Come to Him today. He makes a beautiful promise in Jeremiah 31:4 NLT: “I will rebuild you… You will again be happy and dance merrily with your tambourines.”

AMBER LEASON works in special-needs education and enjoys sharing the love of Jesus with her students. Using her life experience, she serves with Thrive, a women’s ministry that facilitates a space for women to connect with God and encourage each other in their faith.

Embracing God’s Plan

Embracing God’s Plan
The Story of Kyle and Bobbie Robinson

Kyle: Bobbie and I were blessed to grow up in godly homes. When we were married, we committed ourselves to continuing the examples of faith our families had given us. We went to church, attended Bible studies, served others, and did our best to live godly lives. And God blessed us in many visible ways.
We assumed these blessings were directly related to doing all the right things. We believed that if we obeyed God and served Him, He would protect us from difficulties. And since our belief system had never really been challenged, we had no reason to believe it wasn’t true.
Now that’s not to say we had never faced difficulties. We had, but it seemed we could always fix our problems with our minds or with hard work, perseverance, and our connections.
So when Bobbie and I couldn’t get pregnant, we reacted as we’d always done. We sought our options, developed a plan, and did what we could to conceive—medically and physically speaking. And, of course, we prayed.
We had both always wanted children. And although we knew going into our marriage that conceiving might be difficult, we still had faith. We hoped against all hope for a child, just like we’re told Abraham did in Romans 4:18.
While we waited for our little miracle, we made promises to God. One went like this: “God, if You’ll allow us to conceive, we will give You back our child to use however You decide.”
We followed the example of Hannah in the biblical account found in 1 Samuel 1. Like Bobbie, Hannah had also faced infertility. For decades, she had prayed fervently for a son and tried hard to conceive.
The Bible tells us that God heard Hannah’s plea and blessed her with a son. She named him Samuel, which meant, “I asked the Lord for him.” Bobbie and I decided Samuel would be a perfect name for our child one day.
Bobbie: You can imagine our excitement when we discovered I was pregnant for the first time. God had even helped us conceive naturally. Our faith soared!
But then came the miscarriages. Five of them. Kyle and I did our best to keep our eyes focused on the Lord. We clung to hope, reminding ourselves that nothing was impossible with God. But it wasn’t easy.
Finally, on August 17, 2011, our child was born. Kyle and I praised God for His kindness and the beautiful gift of our son. We knew God had a grand purpose for Samuel, and we couldn’t wait to see it unfold.
Grateful, we set out down the path of parenthood. It wasn’t long, though, before my mother’s intuition told me something was wrong. Samuel wasn’t developing like other children. He wasn’t using his hands, making eye contact, or smiling at us. Most of the time, he just stared off into space or rocked his head back and forth.
We took Samuel to his pediatrician and to other doctors, including neurologists, but no one had answers. I had suspicions of what might be wrong, but the doctors assured me that Samuel would grow out of whatever he was going through. Months passed without change. Desperate, Kyle and I begged God to show us what was wrong with our son. It seemed, though, that God had gone silent on us.

Kyle: As Bobbie and I went from elation to grief, doubt and confusion began to set in. God was supposed to be a good Father with amazing plans. How was what we were going through good?
We had been faithful servants of the Lord. We had even dedicated our son to Him. Where was God? Why was He allowing this to happen to us? Wasn’t He supposed to protect His children from hard times?
Too many nights, Bobbie and I sat on our bed and just cried. Our dreams for our son and family lay shattered around us. We felt like we were walking alone through the valley of the shadow of death, and we were terrified.
It was such a dark time for us as we wrestled with our faith. Nothing made sense. We’d done everything right and God had miraculously given us a child, but now, something wasn’t right with him. He wasn’t “perfect.” Samuel was an innocent baby—why would God allow this?
Bobbie and I prayed over Samuel as he lay in his crib and begged God to heal him—we knew He could. God could do anything! Really, though, we just wanted God to make him normal. We wanted people to look at our child and see something beautiful, not someone with a disability.
Surely, we reasoned, God would answer our prayers. Any minute now, He would wave His hand or speak a word, and everything would be okay for us and our son. Bobbie and I were determined we’d give Him the honor and glory when He did.

Bobbie: This was our hope, but as time went on, we finally had to admit it might not be God’s plan. I felt like a rug had been snatched from underneath me.
Pain gripped my heart every time I saw another mother hold her child close and soothe them. I was Samuel’s mother, and just like those mothers, I was supposed to be making everything better for my child. But I couldn’t. And no one around me could make it better either. Not my parents, who had always been there for me, not my husband, not even the doctors.
And God wasn’t making it better either.
Kyle and I continued to beg and plead and make deals with God. By the time Samuel was a year old, we had exhausted every avenue humanly possible. Self-pity, anger, anxiety, and disappointment overtook us. But then, one night, we came to our senses. We got on our knees, threw our hands in the air, and finally surrendered our son and how we thought our lives should look to the Lord.
“Father,” we prayed, “we don’t understand Your ways. But we choose to trust You and Your plan, whatever it is. God, we don’t know what to do. Please help us. Hold us. Use us. We know You gave Samuel to us for a reason—take him, he’s Yours. Amen.”
For the first time, we recognized that, outside of God, we had no hope. We needed the Light of the World to illuminate our darkness. Incredibly, as Kyle and I finished praying, the Lord whispered to my heart, “I’ve got this.” Relief washed over me.
God was with us, and no matter how bleak our situation seemed, He still had a plan. Life for us wasn’t over, and we weren’t alone in this dark valley. I had heard Psalm 23 before; now I finally understood it. Sure, I still had questions, but I had peace too. And that was greater than having answers.

Kyle: God’s presence ushered in His peace for me that night too. As a husband and father, I had been anxious and frustrated. I should have been able to make things better for my wife and son, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t change a thing.
Through our prayer, I had cast my burden of fixing our family’s situation—a burden God never intended for me to carry—onto the Lord’s shoulders. And because of His great love for my family and me, He had accepted it (1 Peter 5:7).
I physically felt lighter as I came out from under the weight of my cares. The fog of doubt, anxiety, fear, and disappointment had lifted. My perspective pivoted, and I could finally see our situation differently.
I understood that, just because life had taken an unexpected and challenging turn, that didn’t mean God had left us. He hadn’t messed up either, and He certainly wasn’t trying to punish us or teach us a lesson. God was inviting us to join Him on a life-changing journey.
As these things dawned on us, Bobbie and I realized we needed to rise out of our self-imposed prison of pity, fear, and anger and start fighting for our son and our family in the spiritual realm.
Bobbie and I had read Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker, with a small group from church. We had learned the importance of “circling” something or someone in prayer.
We decided to start circling Samuel in prayer. We literally took turns walking around our house, praying that God’s will would be done for our son. At night, in the middle of the chaos, we’d turn on the floodlights and take turns walking around our home, praying out loud. I am sure the neighbors thought we were crazy!
When Samuel was 18 months old, we finally received a diagnosis of autism. It was what Bobbie had suspected all along.

Bobbie: It was a relief to finally have an answer, but it brought with it a host of new questions. What would Samuel’s future look like? Would he ever be able to communicate with us? Would he be able to attend school one day?
We quickly learned that every case of autism is unique. We often tell people now, “If you’ve met someone with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Autism comes in so many forms, and we had no way of knowing where Samuel would fall on the spectrum.
Kyle and I grew tired of fighting for answers no one could give us, so we focused on the one question we could answer: How could we help Samuel reach his God-given potential? Our response to our situation was the only thing we could control.
We knew the sooner we got help, the better outcome we’d have. We didn’t want to look back one day and think we could have done more, so we began researching available resources for children with autism.
The closest center was in Winston-Salem, almost a three-hour drive from our home in Greenville, NC, and Samuel needed daily therapy. My parents lived in that area and invited Samuel and me to move in with them. Kyle remained home due to work commitments. On weekends, either he drove to Winston-Salem to be with us, or Samuel and I returned home to him.
Our whole world centered on Samuel’s therapy. Many sacrifices had to be made, and not just by us. Incredibly, my father put off his retirement to help us cover the mounting expenses from Samuel’s therapy.
It was difficult to accept help from family, friends, and even strangers. We had always been so independent. But Kyle and I quickly learned that we wouldn’t make it unless we humbled ourselves and received help when offered. We also had to learn to ask for help; the road was too difficult for us to travel alone.
The facility in Winston-Salem was a godsend. Within months, Samuel was making noticeable progress. He began making eye contact and using his hands. He picked up a pencil and tapped it on the table. Kyle and I celebrated every milestone as a gift from God; we took nothing for granted.
When Samuel turned 3, we heard his voice. It was the most beautiful sound ever. A year later, he said the words I’d longed to hear, “Love you, Mama.”

Kyle: I’ll never forget the day I walked into the house, and Samuel called out my name, “Dadda.” Samuel was four, and I hadn’t known if he would ever understand who I was. I broke down and cried.
We clung to every victory, big and small, as we faced the ever-present challenges of raising a child with autism. We still do. Remembering how far Samuel has come enables us to press on through each unpredictable day. Thankfully, God continues to give us His strength. The weaker we are, the stronger He shows Himself to be (2 Corinthians 12:9).
At the treatment center, we met many families who were walking the same uncertain road we were. Bobbie and I were thankful to be a part of such a wonderful community of people and to have access to these life-changing services. But we couldn’t help but think of the many families who weren’t as fortunate as us.
In one of our prayerwalks years before, Bobbie and I had both had the idea of starting a therapy center in Greenville. After witnessing the effects of therapy on Samuel and how it had helped our family, we began to seriously consider the idea. Families from eastern North Carolina needed access to therapy. Was God leading us to step out on their behalf and shine His light onto their path?
It was an exciting but frightening concept. We had no idea how to move forward or what to do. (And if we’d known all God had in store for us, we might have run in fear.) Nonetheless, we said, “Yes, God,” and stepped out in faith.
God quickly revealed our first step. We were to secure one therapist to help Samuel and be available for other families. Friends and business leaders held a tennis tournament called “Aces for Autism” to raise funds for that therapist’s salary. That was in 2015, and Aces was born.
In 2016, we started offering services at Oakmont Baptist Church. We held an event there for families to learn about therapy opportunities. We wondered if anyone would come. We were shocked at the long line of families winding around the room.

Bobbie: There were so many kids like Samuel, so many families with shattered dreams. And here they were, all waiting to speak with us! We could see the desperation on their faces. How would we possibly help them? It felt like an overwhelming and impossible task.
As we looked at the line, Kyle and I reminded ourselves that God was with us and that He had not called us to help all these people on our own. He was with us, and not only that, Aces was His idea. God would ultimately provide for these families—not us. All He asked of us was to listen and faithfully take the next step He would put on our hearts.
We were determined that Aces would be more than just a center for services. It would be a ministry of God’s love. We wanted to walk alongside these families, provide life-changing tools, and wrap our arms around people. We tell all our families: “You’ll get through this. Yes, it will be hard, but God will help you. And we’ll help you too. Together, we’ll take it one day at a time.”
Kyle and I had no idea how God would grow Aces over the years. It’s been an incredible adventure. Since 2016, we’ve had the privilege of coming alongside 81 families. And we’ve outgrown several locations as we’ve added needed services and therapists.
In 2022, Aces will break ground on a new 30,000 square foot building in Greenville. Over 300 families are waiting for services. To God be the glory. Not only that, God is using Aces as a model for centers across the country. And He has used Kyle and me to fight for new legislation for better access and accommodations for families with autism.
We laugh when we think back to our prayer for God to make Samuel “normal.” God never looked at our situation—or Samuel—the way we did. He had a plan, and it was far better than anything we could have imagined.
Suppose God had answered our prayer the way we wanted. We’d have missed the joy of Samuel and experiencing God in such a powerful, personal way. Our situation forced us to rely on the Lord, to trust Him as our constant source of provision. Further, we’d have missed the privilege of knowing and helping hundreds of families in our area.

Kyle: It’s been an adventure, for sure. We’ve experienced incredible highs and lows, but God has been with us every step of our journey. Bobbie and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.
Samuel is 11 years old now; and he continues to make progress. This once nontalker now talks nonstop! It’s unbelievable how he went from not making any sounds to having this vibrant personality that says hello to everyone. Samuel has the biggest heart, and he puts a smile on people’s faces everywhere he goes.
As a family, we still face many challenges, especially now that Samuel is growing bigger and stronger. Every day, Bobbie and I must trust that the same God who helped us navigate the obstacles of the past will continue to provide for us in the future. He will meet all our needs—Samuel’s, our family’s, and the needs of Aces.
God has also blessed Bobbie and me with two more children—a son who is now 6, and a daughter who is 3. Only by God’s grace can we maintain balance and ensure that each of our children receives the love and attention they need. It’s not an easy task.
Maybe you are walking through a similar dark valley. Maybe you feel alone and afraid, or angry and confused. Bobbie and I know how you feel. But we want you to know that there is hope. With God, you will make it. He is with you, and no matter what it looks like, God still has a plan for your life. And He will bring it to fruition.
If you haven’t done so already, surrender the way you thought life should look to the Lord. Give Him all the pieces of your shattered dreams. He will put the pieces back together in ways you can’t imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there won’t be any pain. God doesn’t always protect His children from hard things, but He does help us through them.
Take one day at a time. Trust the Lord to give you His strength, wisdom, peace, and joy. When He sends people to help you, accept their help. Don’t isolate yourself; you cannot walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. You need the Lord, and you need community.

KYLE AND BOBBIE ROBINSON are the founders of Aces for Autism. Families seeking support for autism may contact Aces for Autism by email info@acesforautismnc.com or call (252) 689-6645.

God Always Makes A Way

God Always Makes a Way
The Story of Nate Carrera

Fatherless children make up a lot of the prison population. I know because I was one of them. I take full responsibility for my choices in life, but I must admit that my childhood was a crucial factor in why my life turned out the way it did.
Growing up without a dad was a recipe for dysfunction and disaster in my young heart and mind. I never knew my father, and since no man ever stepped up to fill that role, my childhood was void of any positive male role models.
My mom did her best to raise my brother and me, but then she got sick. Incapacitated by the treatments, she could not work or care for her family. Conditions were terrible in our home. There were no rules or boundaries, and we had complete freedom to run the streets.
Drugs owned me right off the bat. My life became one long blur of chemicals and crime, and I began racking up felonies left and right. My foolish ways led me to reap a fool’s reward (Galatians 6:7). I would face many consequences.
Life got crazy, and I longed to be free of the chaos. There had to be more to life than what I was experiencing. Part of me wanted to be the person God had created me to be. But how? All I knew to do was pray. I was twenty-nine years old when I cried out to God and said, “Lord, forcefully put me in Your will.” It didn’t take Him long to answer.
A couple of days later, I was taken by force back to the county jail. The baffling thing was that I was innocent of the arresting charges. That was a first! And then, my wife left me after the pastor who married us advised her to divorce me.
I was confused and deeply offended by the pastor’s advice. I had expected him to encourage her to stand by her commitment as my wife. Anger ate at me for a long time until I came to the end of myself.
In that place of complete brokenness, I finally recognized my need for God. I had nothing left when God knocked on the door of my heart. You can believe I was ready to open it and receive everything He had to offer.
My brother and I had been taken to jail together but were housed in separate units. We hatched a plan to meet up one day at the church service. I just wanted to spend some time with my brother, but God had other plans.
There was something very different about that service. The message was on the person and power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit uniquely touched me. I didn’t go forward to the altar that day, but I did place my faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16).
Some people tell of miraculous encounters with God, and their stories are so powerful, they can make other people question their own salvation experience. My story isn’t dramatic, but I know a miracle occurred in my heart.
God poured out His grace on me that day. Me—a sinner! His forgiveness washed away the shame, guilt, and condemnation I carried. Suddenly, I had a new sense of purpose, drive, and peace. I was a lost son who had found his way back to the loving Father he had always wanted but had never known existed. And God welcomed me home with open arms.
From that day forward, I began to walk in freedom from addiction. I left behind the destructive path I had known since childhood. My entire life changed when I placed my faith in Christ. That, to me, is the greatest miracle of all.
While I had genuinely surrendered my life to God, I still owed a debt to society. I remained incarcerated with the Florida Department of Corrections for four more years. Instead of letting the time do me, however, I decided that for this go-around, I would make good use of it. I committed myself to becoming the man God had designed me to be.
I learned all I could about Jesus, and I took every class the DOC offered to better myself. One day, my bunkmate told me about a former inmate named Kory Gordon, who had been featured in Victorious Living magazine.
I read his testimony, and in my heart, I knew that I would be doing ministry alongside him one day. I began writing ideas and goals in my journal, but I had no idea how quickly some of them would become a reality.
I attended the weekly chapel service in my unit for the next two years. One day, prison ministry volunteers told us their church had just hired a new pastor who had been an inmate at Franklin Correctional. I immediately knew they were talking about Kory and felt led to reach out to him.
With favor from the Lord, I obtained the address of the church where he was pastoring. I contacted him, and he quickly responded. There was an instant godly connection, and we forged a friendship. My “knowing” that we were going to be working together intensified.
I had spent two years before I met Kory preparing myself for release from prison. When I finished my sentence, I went to a transitional program in Panama City, FL. I refused to return home to Tampa Bay. There was too much old temptation there.
I was determined to stay on the path God had for me to follow and made choices accordingly. The stakes were high—I had a young son who desperately needed me, and I longed to get custody of him and get him out of the foster care system. I wanted to be a godly father to him, something I had never had myself.
The obstacles to parenthood seemed impossible. I was a four-time return offender to the DOC. My criminal history could fill an entire book. I was single and broke with no transportation or home. I had never been a parent before, and nothing showed that I could be one. I was up against a stacked deck. I am grateful that no deck is too stacked for God.
The courts would not even consider reunifying my son and me until I completed a list of classes and obtained specific certificates. I was also required to take random drug screens.
Considering my circumstances, these were not easy or cheap tasks. I had only a bike for transportation and had to ride far distances to complete those requirements. By the grace of God, I fulfilled every one of the court’s demands. Now, it was in His hands, and I prayerfully awaited the court’s decision.
Around this time, Kory and his wife, Kasey, had me over for the weekend. Not long after, I decided to step out in faith and move closer to them. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to be a part of their lives and ministry.
The move was a tough decision. If things went wrong, the courts could deem me an unstable father. With that, they could refuse to return my son to me. As difficult and risky as this decision was, I felt God’s peace about it, and at their invitation, I made the move to the Gordons’ couch.
My faith was stretched and tested, but God’s hand was always in my situation. Not one detail escaped His notice. His goodness went before me and made a way.
The Lord began opening doors for me. In no time flat, I had my own place to live. The job and transportation I needed came quickly too. God put amazing people in my life who embraced me in genuine love.
I joined a church and began serving in the food ministry. Even my employers turned out to be a blessing in my life. We are all like family. The grace of God met every obstacle I encountered.
When I was in prison, I put so much thought into how I would get back on my feet. I knew I’d be starting over with nothing, and my list of needs was overwhelming. But there was never a reason to worry or stress. God is a God of providence. He supplied everything, just as He said He would (Philippians 4:19).
After months of earnest prayer, jumping through hoops, multiple home checks, and regular drug screens, I was finally awarded custody of my son. We were reunified a year ago. He is excelling in school and seems to be happy. We have formed a solid bond while navigating through this transition together.
He doesn’t know it, but we are growing up together. I am learning this fatherhood stuff one day at a time. It’s not always easy, but I know being a father is what God has called me to do.
God has carried me through many difficulties, and He has never failed me. When the going gets tough, I remind myself of His faithfulness and continue to lean on Him. He truly is a miracle worker. I regret not giving my life to Him much sooner.
I hope my story will convince you of the goodness of God. He is and will always be a good Father to anyone who desires a relationship with Him (Matthew 7:11).
Don’t wait to accept His love. Come to know the Lord today; He will never fail you. As His child, you’ll find the acceptance and love you’ve always desired.

NATE CARRERA was once owned by drugs and crime, but he has been set free by Christ. As the Director of Development for Damascus Road, he uses his testimony and passion for Jesus to bring hope to the incarcerated.

The Golden Rule

August 17, 2022

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).

Jesus shared this simple summation to His followers in His Sermon on the Mount. It’s often called the Golden Rule. Like gold, this rule is precious, priceless, and has a high return on investment. Jesus also said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and…love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37, 39 NIV).

Have you ever thought about how you want to be treated? Take a minute and respond to these statements:

I wish people would treat me ____________.

I wish people would speak to me _____________.

I wish people would view me ______________.

I want people to love me ___________________.

I want _________ shown to me.

I’m sure, like me, you want to be valued, honored, respected, loved, and treated with kindness and justice.

Now think about the magnitude of Jesus’s words. How we desire to be treated, well, that’s how we are to treat others. So whatever characteristic or action you inserted above, to receive it, you’ll have to go do that to others. Go be that to others. These acts of love are what being a follower of Jesus means.

Surely none of us answered, “I wish people would treat me unkindly. I wish people would speak to me untruthfully.” Or “I wish people would view me as incompetent and reject me. I want people to judge, criticize, and show hatred to me.”

How does it make you feel when people treat you in those ways? It makes me feel cheap, insignificant, and unloved. What purpose is served? None. And God certainly isn’t honored. So why would we want to act in such a way?

Interestingly, God is most concerned with our actions, not the actions of others. The directive from Jesus is for His followers to love others and move toward them in active goodness and mercy. It’s the kind of love God shows us every day. How we feel about a particular person doesn’t get to play into the equation. God wants our obedience; that’s how we show we love and trust Him (1 John 5:3–5).

I’m sure there’s a particular someone right now that each one of us might think, “There is no way I can treat them with kindness!” Well, I’ve got good news for you. In the verses right before the Golden Rule, Jesus teaches that if you “keep on asking, you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will open to you” (Matthew 7:7–8 NLT).

Jesus gives us these three amazing promises to supply and equip us to do this hard, seemingly impossible thing. The Bible also teaches that God will provide us with wisdom along the way. We aren’t left to carry out His commands alone. He is with us, but we must remember to draw near to Him for help. If we “come close to God,…God will come close to [us]” (James 4:8 NLT). This verse reveals the loving heart of God.

If we’re honest, there are a lot of times we don’t want to show kindness or love to others. We’ve just been hurt too many times. But God can heal those broken places in your heart. He has mine. Ask Him to place His love for people in you and help you see people the way He sees them.

God can put His desires in your heart and help you accomplish them (Philippians 2:13). He will show up and make Himself available to you through His Word and His Holy Spirit as you draw close to Him.

It helps to remember that you’re not treating people with kindness for their sake; you’re doing it for God. Your motivation is to honor the Lord and bring glory to King Jesus.

Take a moment to think of some good, merciful, right, and whole action or response that you can do toward one person today. Is the Lord cattle-prodding your spirit in a particular direction? Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open for opportunities as you go through your day. Follow His promptings.

Treating others the way we want to be treated is the key to living a victorious life.

 

SHERIDAN CORREA is a biblical counselor who is trained in trauma-informed care. She’s a wife, mother of two teenage boys, singer, and avid runner who has been radically changed by Jesus. She joined the Victorious Living family in 2022 as social media manager.

God’s Vision Has An Appointed Time

August 15, 2022

God’s Vision Has an Appointed Time
by Kory Gordon

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible repeatedly speaks of dreams and visions as communication between God and man. When I read these verses, one of my encounters comes to mind.

It happened when I was 19 years old, in a small county jail in South Georgia. While there, I had a powerful dream. I saw myself in that exact jail cell, wearing the same orange jumpsuit. Except in my dream, I was dead on the floor.

Suddenly, the cell door swung open, and a bright light shone in. I was lifted off the floor and carried out into the bright hallway. When I looked down, I wasn’t wearing a jumpsuit anymore. Instead, I wore a military uniform, and medals of honor covered my chest.

I could feel the tangible presence of God nudging me, compelling me to walk forward down the jail hallway. As I did, every cell door swung open and dead men stepped out of their cells. God transformed each one into beams of light.

When I got to the end of the hall, I heard a voice from heaven that said, “I have given you the ministry of John the Baptist.” It is a ministry of leading people to repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I had this dream in 2002. At the time, my life was very dark. OxyContin and Xanax had buried me in addiction. Yet even then, I knew that God was behind the vision. He was showing me how and where He would intervene in my life long before it would come to pass.

Twelve years later, on March 7, 2014, this vision began to unfold in the Pinellas County jail. At the time, I was a dead man, walking in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1–2). But then, God’s glorious light flooded my dark world, and His love lifted me out of the place where I had fallen. He removed my graveclothes and dressed me in His robes of righteousness. And some day I will receive rewards in heaven.

It’s been 8 years since the Lord drew me into His love. Today, I am a free man. Earlier this year, while touring prisons with Victorious Living, I saw more of God’s vision unfold. There I was, standing before other inmates, telling them of the goodness of God. Men rushed to the altar to repent of their sin, all of them desperate for Jesus. There were those dead men, coming to life as the Light of the World overcame their darkness.

While on tour, I was given the opportunity to enter a dorm and invite men to our service. I had served 11 years in Florida’s DOC, and not once did I ever see a former inmate gain access to the dorms. Yet there I was, running with the vision that God had shown me. As they filed into our service, I knew that God had carried out His will for my life.

I can’t help but relate to Joseph. (See Genesis 37–50.) God gave him a vision revealing his future, yet for many years, his circumstances looked bleak, just like mine. But that didn’t mean God’s dream was void. His visions for our lives are for an appointed time.

Habakkuk 2:3 says, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (NIV). Sometimes, it takes many years for His vision to come to pass.

Friend, if you have received a spiritual dream, vision, or promise from God, trust Him to bring it to fruition. In our eyes, He might seem to procrastinate, but His timing and understanding of the situation are perfect. Stand firm in your faith and wait patiently for Him. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours. He is always right on time.

KORY GORDON spent 11 years in incarceration, where he gave his life to Christ. He is now an evangelist, sharing the Good News that set him free. In 2021, he founded Damascus Road, a nonprofit residential discipleship program battling addiction, recidivism, and homelessness. Email damascusroad2021@gmail.com for more info.

 

Pass The Test

Pass the Test
by Kristi Overton Johnson
For months, the Lord had been impressing on my heart the importance of integrity and being thorough. “Take no shortcuts, Kristi. Shortcuts open doors the enemy can walk through to wreak havoc in your life and ministry.” I had received these words with great enthusiasm. But then the test came, and I failed.
I knew it was wrong the moment it went down. It felt secretive and was prefaced with the words, “If someone asks how you got this, just say ______.” There was a process I was supposed to go through, and I knew it. But the process was tedious and could result in a negative outcome, so when this mighty man of God offered the shortcut, I told the little voice in my head to be quiet and took it.
It’s not that what was being offered was bad. It was an amazing gift. And if I were to reveal it to you, you might think it was nothing. But trivial or not, it was eating me alive!
I wrestled with conviction for days. To make myself feel better, I cast blame: “I didn’t ask for what I got; he gave it to me.” I justified having the gift with, “I needed it. This is a good thing, a God-thing even! People will be so blessed by it.” And they were.
The week went on and I tried to convince myself that God had provided it to our ministry. “Surely the Lord has given me the desires of my heart. I just prayed about this very thing, and now I have it! This is a blessing from heaven!” I thanked the Lord for such a beautiful gift.
But the Holy Spirit continued to poke away at my conscience until the goodness of God led me to repentance (Romans 2:4). Repentance happened when I chose to set aside my justification, reasoning, and blame and ask the Lord for His perspective on the matter. There, in the quiet, God revealed His truth in love.
I saw clearly that what I had done was wrong. I had skipped the proper process, ignored the inner voice of conviction, and put my reputation and the ministry God had entrusted to me at risk. Not only that, but I had credited God with answering my prayer in a shady way. I mean, come on! He is a holy God who does what is right. He doesn’t lurk around in the shadows to bring about what I need.
Busted and exposed, I fell to my knees and repented. “Lord, You’re right. What I did was wrong. My actions set a terrible example to others, and I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” I felt sick to my stomach.
You can believe guilt arrived on the scene quickly. But then I remembered that God’s conviction is rooted in His love for me, not anger or disappointment. He had revealed my sin to bring correction, protection, and promotion—not condemnation. God didn’t want me to waste precious time wallowing in shame; He wanted me to learn from my mistake and move forward better. If I was genuinely sorry, then God had already forgiven me (1 John 1:9).
Either I believed His Word and trusted His love, or I didn’t.
I am thankful for God’s love, and out of my love for Him, I want to pass the next integrity test. I want to prove to the Lord I can be trusted in the smallest of details. I want to live a life above reproach, so no man can bring an accusation (1 Peter 2:12). God forbid I take a shortcut that gives Satan an opening to attack the work God is doing (Ephesians 4:26–27).
Friend, there are blessings on the other side of integrity. Don’t take a shortcut. It’s not worth it. Walk faithfully, do things God’s way, and trust His timing. Doing so will prove your love for the Father and position you for greater things (Luke 16:10).

KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON encourages and equips people for victory through her writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.

 

Know the Season You’re In

August 23, 2022

I was enjoying my first cup of coffee one morning, when I read Proverbs 10:5, which is about living life wisely. Suddenly, I found myself in deep reflection about the seasons of life. I decided that I’m in a season of preparation. 

Some would say I’m in the “twilight years,” the time when people look back on their lives as a whole, with the recognition that their journey, at some point, must end. Everyone dies—no matter how closely we walk with the Savior and how faithfully we serve Him, we will still pass through the valley of death before we reach our eternal home. 

What stirred me to this revelation? I had recently stood at the bedside of a friend who was nearing death. It had been a while since I’d seen him last, and he had withered dramatically in stature. 

The murderous effects of cancer had turned his skin and eyes a pale yellow. The doctor had just brought him his biopsy results and informed him that he had somewhere between 30 and 90 days to live. 

He looked at me through those jaundiced eyes and said, “I’m not buying it. God can still heal me. But if He chooses to take me, I’m ready to go.” 

This was a man who had lived and breathed Jesus. I learned so much from him throughout our years of friendship. He could hardly talk about anything other than his most recent revelations from God. He was a faithful Christ-follower, and his faith and wisdom profoundly affected me. It was tough to see him in such a reduced physical state. 

I had my guitar with me, and I sang a couple of his favorite songs. Tears filled his eyes as he listened intently to the words of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” andI Can Only Imagine. Then, as if God had spoken to him, he turned to me and said, “We’ll be praying for you in heaven.” 

This man had seemed invincible to me. He was a solid, passionate disciple of the Lord Jesus who loved prison ministry and the men he had discipled behind prison walls. I had witnessed miraculous changes in countless lives through his teaching and training in the Word of God. 

Before I left, I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him. The tears flowed again. As I turned to leave, he said, “Tell our friends in prison I love them.”He went on to meet Jesus shortly after this visit. 

My friend was a wise man who recognized the importance of the last season of his life. He knew where he would spend eternity, but his heart remained burdened for souls that needed to hear the Good News of Jesus until his last breath. He understood that many people still needed to know the love of their Savior, Jesus Christ, who had died for them. He also wanted them to know He loved them. 

Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (NLT).My friend’s life was the embodiment of this verse. 

I’m 74 now. I’m in the later years, I know, but God still has a race for me to run. To do so, I must continually shed my earthly desires and pleasures. Thankfully, God offers His divine strength to help me shift my focus from satisfying my flesh to pleasing my Lord and loving His people. 

I pray that I will remain courageous in my faith and, like my friend, continue to fight the good fight to finish the race God has set before me (2 Timothy 4:7).I will remind people they are loved to the very end. I hope you’ll do the same, no matter what season of life you’re in. 

 

KENNY MUNDS takes the good news of God’s love and forgiveness into prisons across America. To learn more about his ministry, go to kennymundsministry.org. 

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