I didn’t expect Valentine’s Day to be so painful.
I needed some ingredients for dinner, and I was blissfully unaware that it was February 14 as I strode through the door of the grocery store. I stopped, caught off guard by the scene before me. The store was awash in pink and red.
Men in dress shirts and ties from a day at the office strode past me, arms loaded with bouquets and balloons. Women, too, though noticeably fewer. I sighed. Getting to the items I needed to cook dinner would mean passing through stands of roses, tables stacked with heart-shaped cupcakes and cookie cakes, and bins filled with assorted boxed chocolates.
I decided to take a shortcut to the back of the store, but that was a poor choice. I ended up in the card aisle. Hallmark central was filled top to bottom with pink and red cards and crowded with last-minute shoppers, frantically searching for that perfect card.
This grocery run unexpectedly triggered my dormant grief. I’ve been a widow since 2011. You’d think I’d have handled this by now, but on that Valentine’s Day, everything I missed rushed back to haunt me.
I’d gotten used to the single-mom life. The raw pain from my husband’s unexpected death had softened, along with the scary unfamiliarity of doing things alone. I’d grown accustomed to using only a small part of my bed, to going solo to parties and events and movies, and raising the kids on my own. I’d even begun to dream new dreams and was tackling a reviving wish list.
But running headfirst into the world of all things romance messed with me, and I left the grocery store with a fresh wave of loss.
Being one in a world of two is hard.
The thing is, I don’t want to spend my time pining for what I don’t have or being caught off guard by unexpected triggers. So, I’ve developed a battle plan to help manage the pain. Maybe it can help you too.
Use your grief to pray for others. People all around us are hurting. Our pain and loneliness are healthy reminders to pray for friends and family who are grieving and to reach out to let them know they are seen and loved.
Celebrate the love you do have. When my emotions are sinking, I’ve found that reaching out to others can provide a considerable boost. Proverbs 11:25 says, “those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (NLT). Instead of getting caught up in relationships we don’t have, we can nourish the ones that we do.
Treat yourself. Do something for yourself to lift your spirits. Read a book. Listen to music. Visit with a friend. Go for a walk. Make plans.
Stay clear of triggers. Be aware of what sends your emotions spiraling into a funk. Knowing your triggers helps you avoid them. Take positive steps like those listed here instead.
Surprise someone who needs an act of love. Joy is contagious, and giving it away is a great way to fill a lonely or hurting heart. Surprise others with a word of encouragement or a gift. Let them know they are seen and loved.
Give your pain to God. Pain, given and entrusted to God, has a great purpose. God will not waste it! Let Him reshape your wounded heart. Let Him be your comfort and fill the emptiness. Let Him satisfy your longings. Let Him deepen your faith as you wait in the wilderness. Choose to praise God through the pain.
LISA APPELO is a speaker, writer, and Bible teacher who inspires women to deepen their faith during times of grief and to find hope in the hard. Formerly a litigating attorney, her days are now filled with parenting seven children, ministering, writing, speaking, and running enough to justify eating lots of dark chocolate. Find encouragement at LisaAppelo.com.
An attitude of gratitude doesn’t happen naturally, especially in prison. With its uncomfortable living conditions, constant noise, and unpleasant people, prison can be dark and lonely—hardly a place where one might think to count their blessings.
The heart of every prisoner is a battleground for the war between good and evil that surrounds them on a daily basis. Satan thrives on the negativity that exists behind the razor wire. He works hard to keep a prisoner’s attention on life’s difficult and unpleasant circumstances, so they become critical and complain and turn away from God. Satan knows that if a person is looking only at what’s wrong in their lives, they’re bound to get depressed and succumb to hopelessness.
During the 31 years I was locked up, I learned the importance of living with gratitude. But it wasn’t until I surrendered my life to Christ and started reading my Bible that I realized how much I had to be grateful for, even in prison.
Learning about the Apostle Paul changed how I looked at my circumstances. Paul went through some tough times in his life, including being beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and thrown into prison (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). But through it all, he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus rather than his problems (Hebrews 12:2). He kept fighting the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12) and relied on God for the grace he needed to endure (2 Corinthians 12:9). He praised God even when He was suffering, remembering that his trials were temporary and would bring God glory (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).
From his prison cell in Rome, Paul taught that God wants His children to rejoice, pray, and give thanks, regardless of the circumstances they face (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Doing time in prison never felt good, and I can’t say that I ever rejoiced over the bad things that happened to me while I was there. But my attitude began to change, as did my life, when I took Paul’s advice and started praising God for the blessings I could see and praying for Him to reveal the ones I couldn’t.
God opened my eyes to the beauty all around me and revealed the ways He was using my time in prison for His purpose and giving my life meaning. Through me, God was doing things I didn’t think were possible (Ephesians 3:20). I was most thankful that Jesus died on the cross to save my soul from eternal death. I can’t thank God enough for His gift of salvation. I certainly don’t deserve it and never could have earned it.
Learning to live with gratitude on the inside of prison prepared me for life in the free world too. Out here, I’ve found that being grateful and counting God’s blessings is still the only way to survive. Life is difficult on both sides of the prison wall!
I am grateful for every minute that I spent behind bars. Without the experience, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. Prison life wasn’t easy, but when has easy ever gotten anyone anywhere worth going?
If you’re struggling in a dark place and overwhelmed by your circumstances, look to God. Praise Him for what He’s about to do. The joy of the Lord will drive out the darkness and give you the strength to overcome anything (Nehemiah 8:10).
ROY A. BORGES served 31 years in the Florida Department of Corrections, where he realized his need for a Savior. While incarcerated, Roy ministered to others through his writings, over 300 of which have been published. Roy’s book, 101 Short Stories from the Prison Cell, is available from amazon.com.
One scorching summer day, I was sitting at a stoplight when a man approached my car. He was holding a sign that read, “Homeless, hungry. Please help.” I let him pass by, but I kept watching him in my rearview mirror.
I noticed that every few steps, he would fall asleep where he was standing. His eyes would close, and he’d sway back and forth. Then, he would slump headfirst toward the ground until something would startle him awake and he’d move on.
His feet were near the curb, and I worried he might slip and fall into oncoming traffic. I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to help. What should I do, Lord?
Experience told me this man wasn’t tired from the wear and tear of homelessness in the hot Arizona sun. As I observed him from my air-conditioned car, I remembered the decades I had spent as a junkie strung out on heroin, when the streets had been my home.
I lived under bridges and in abandoned houses, and I hustled for money in neighborhoods known for drugs and prostitution. I was in the grips of my addiction, and it showed. But there at that traffic light, God didn’t let me linger on my traumatic past; He used a different memory to speak to my heart.
I remember standing at a crosswalk, one day when a woman called out from her car, “Good morning, beautiful. Are you hungry?” She didn’t wait for me to answer. She looked me in the eyes through her open window and said, “Jesus loves you, sweetheart.” She flashed a huge smile, handed me a warm breakfast sandwich and a couple of dollars, then drove away. I never saw her again.
Whoever she was, she had looked past my skimpy outfit and the track marks on my arms to let me know, in a tangible way, that God loves me. Remembering her stirred my heart and encouraged me to do the same for this man.
I didn’t have any food, but I did have a few dollars and some bottles of water in the car. That was enough—I’d been given the opportunity to let this man know that God loves him, and I was ready. I rolled down my window and called out to him.
At the sound of my voice, he stood up straight and rushed to my car. He gave me the biggest smile as I handed him the money and the water.
“How’d you know I was thirsty?” he asked.
I smiled and answered, “I didn’t, but God did, and He loves you.”
The light turned green, and the man stepped away. Tears streamed down my face as I thanked the Lord for this encounter. Through that gentleman, God had reminded me that He can use anyone who’s willing to reach His lost and hurting children. He does it through one compassionate act at a time.
I love how Jesus handled people begging along the roadside (Mark 10:46–52). He didn’t waste time sizing them up or making assumptions about how they got there. Instead, He engaged with them in conversation and let them know that He saw them. He met their needs and loved them. (Read the Gospel accounts to see Jesus’s compassionate interactions with people of all backgrounds.)
There is no shortage of opportunities to implement what Jesus taught us. Every day, in every city and on every street, we encounter suffering people. But homelessness and drug addiction are often symptoms of a greater, spiritual problem.
It doesn’t matter who a person is or what they’ve done. It’s none of our business whether the sign they hold is true, how beaten down they look, or whether they are on drugs. Our only business is to show them the love of God without judgment.
After all, as Romans 10:14 asks, “How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (NLT).
May we always be prepared to give a reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15).
CHRISTINA KIMBREL serves as VL’s production manager. Once incarcerated and bound to her addiction, she now ministers hope to those held captive by their circumstances while sharing the message of healing she’s found in Jesus.
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT).
As I was enjoying the savory, Southern goodness of a smothered turkey wing for lunch, I bit the inside of my cheek. Ouch! For the rest of the day, I was careful not to chew food or gum using the injured side of my mouth. The ongoing discomfort was a stark reminder of the intense pain that would follow if I were to bite the same spot again.
After a couple of days, the soreness went away. Assuming it was healed, I began chewing gum as I normally would, but I ended up biting the same spot again because—surprise!—it was still a little swollen. It hurt worse now than it did the first time I bit it, and I realized that not feeling the pain on the inside of my cheek didn’t mean that the area had healed. In fact, the numbness had just made it easier for my routine chewing to cause reinjury.
The physical, mental, and emotional injuries we experience in life are just like that. We endure something for so long or we are hurt so many times that we become numb to the pain. We’re functional, so we think we’re fine—but in reality, we still need to heal.
Pain tells us that something is wrong and that corrective action should be taken. Numbness or indifference can indicate that the hurt we experienced in the past is more serious than we thought. The pain still remains, and unresolved pain can result in passivity, poor judgment, and further injury. But sometimes it’s easier to pretend that we’re fine, to deny those feelings, and to “suck it up”—all to our detriment.
There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging our feelings. God has feelings too, and when we see His emotions in scripture, they are often in direct response to ours: He feels love (Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16); hate (Psalm 5:5, 11:5; Proverbs 6:16); joy (Zephaniah 3:17); sorrow (Psalm 78:40; John 11:35); pain (Psalm 22:14–18); compassion (Psalm 135:14), and more.
We don’t need to be afraid to admit that we have feelings, especially the painful ones. Pain is an inevitable part of the human experience. Whether stemming from physical injury, emotional trauma, or psychological struggles, pain can be overwhelming and debilitating. A wound that hasn’t been tended to or given a chance to heal is easily reopened.
When we acknowledge our pain, accept its presence, and actively engage in the healing process, we can begin the transformative journey toward healing and wholeness. It’s important to allow ourselves time to heal. We shouldn’t rush to replace what’s lost or try to reshape our lives to disguise the pain. Just be still (Psalm 46:10).
Healing takes time, patience, and self-compassion, but we will not be in pain forever. Psalm 30:5 says, “weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (NLT). God wants to heal every hurt we have, so embrace both the pain and the healing process.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for being the God that heals me. Help me to recognize the unhealed areas in my heart. I ask You, Lord, to heal them all. I give my pain to You and embrace Your healing. Let me know when to move forward in the injured areas of my life. I trust Your wisdom. Amen.
NAYA POWELL is a freelance writer and editor, currently working as a marketing and graphics specialist. She is a Christian minister and enjoys supporting outreach ministries including Habitat for Humanity and Tried by Fire Ministries, a ministry helping female inmates reenter society and live healthy, productive lives.
We can’t travel through life without experiencing hurt and disappointment. The simple truth is that people let us down—and we let them down too. Those hurts and disappointments can lead to bitterness that will consume us if we let it.
How do you know if you’re a prisoner of bitterness? Consider these questions.
Do little things irritate you? Do you blame others for your trials and troubles? Do you feel emotionally flat, quickly become fatigued, or lose interest in life? Are you easily frustrated and get defensive? Are you negative and critical of others? Do you justify your bad attitude by placing the blame on them? Do you withhold communication and withdraw from others? Do you envy someone else’s life? Do you replay scenarios in your head and reopen old wounds? Are you plotting revenge?
If you answered yes to anything above, a poisonous root of bitterness may be growing in your heart. I suggest you deal with it now before it chokes the life out of you.
Bitterness is a trick Satan uses to imprison us. He wants us to perish in the poison of bitterness and take others down with us. That’s why the writer of Hebrews 12:15 warns us to “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you” (NLT).
I experienced many disappointments as a child, and bitterness took root in my heart. Those letdowns hurt and made me angry. Over time, unresolved anger fed the bitter root. It grew and enslaved me.
In the prison of bitterness, I blamed others for my circumstances. I lost everything precious—my mind, children, health, and freedom. When I finally realized the problem was my bitter heart, I found freedom with God’s help and the truth of His Word.
Here are some keys to coming out of a prison of bitterness:
Forgive the offender and the offense. The world wants us to be bitter, but Jesus calls us to be better (Romans 12:2). That’s why He instructs us to forgive one another as many times as it takes (Matthew 18:22).
While He was hanging on the cross. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT). Jesus understands our pain. He was hurt, abused, unjustly judged, and crucified. Yet He forgave those who hurt Him and modeled the way to a life of freedom with His dying breath.
Forgiving the offenders and letting go of the offense is difficult. But it is the only way to keep bitterness from poisoning our relationships with God and others.
We like to keep an account of the wrongs that are done to us. Specifically naming the offense releases it to God and clears the cache. And that prevents bitterness from building up and taking root.
Repent of sinful, unholy reactions. According to Ephesians 4:31, bitterness is an evil, sinful behavior in the eyes of God. Therefore, we must repent and ask God’s forgiveness for harboring offense in our hearts. Sin keeps us from experiencing God’s best, and sin spreads to corrupt the hearts of others.
Look for a community of believers that can hold you accountable. Hebrews 12:15 instructs us to “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” It’s hard to do that alone.
God’s plan for you does not involve your being imprisoned by bitterness. You, as His child, have a higher calling. Don’t let Satan outwit you (2 Corinthians 2:10–11). The enemy wants you to believe that you are a victim and that you deserve to get even with those who offend you.. But bitterness leads to darkness and death, and God has called you out of the darkness (1 Peter 2:9).
Bitterness comes when we fail to forgive those who’ve hurt us. Therefore, forgiveness is the cure for a poisoned and bitter heart (Ephesians 4:32). A transformed mind and life must include forgiving others, past, present, and future.
Is there someone you need to forgive? Tell the Lord and receive His forgiveness for harboring bitterness in your heart. Then, ask Him to help you release both the offender and the offense. He will help you.
God never calls us to His higher purposes without equipping us to step forward in faith and live in His will (Hebrews 13:20–21).
SHERIDAN CORREA, MA is a trauma-care biblical counselor. Once mentally ill, drug-addicted, and incarcerated, she has been radically transformed by Jesus Christ and lives a life of victory in all areas of life. She now ministers the same hope and freedom to those held captive by their past and current circumstances. She joined the Victorious Living family in 2022 as the digital content manager.
Recently, I visited the Holy Land, and now that I’ve seen where Jesus lived, died, and returned to life, I am confident that I will never be the same. When I read the Bible or listen to a message, it’s like I’ve been given the gift of seeing and hearing the Word of God on a 90-inch high-definition television with surround sound, where I’d only experienced it in black and white before. The Word of God has come to life within me in a fresh new way.
I experienced many places and revelations in Israel, but witnessing the masses of people longing for God impacted me the most. Each year, people from every tribe and nation descend upon the Holy Land to pray, worship, tour the land, and sit under biblical teachings.
Seeing so many people hunger and thirst for the Lord encouraged my heart. Today’s news portrays a world that has turned its back on God. But in Israel, I witnessed a remnant of people boldly desiring His presence.
A highlight of my trip included a moment of spontaneous worship with German believers. Our group had just entered a cathedral near Jerusalem when we heard other spiritual pilgrims singing the old hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” It echoed against the stone walls in four-part harmony.
Our group joined in for the last verse of the hymn—in English, of course. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I imagine God was smiling as He received the praises of His children. We couldn’t speak the same language, but we were saying the same thing—“God, You are awesome!”
When the song ended, you could have heard a pin drop. The Lord’s presence was so thick in that room. Suddenly, everyone erupted in applause and hallelujahs.
Our groups exited the church at the same time, and we hugged each other. I said to one lady, “Hello, sister.” She looked confused at first, but then she smiled and replied in broken English, “Yes, we sisters!”
We had 84 people in our group, ranging from 22 to 86 years old. We were of different races, denominations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our life experiences varied widely. One lady shared how just two years earlier, she’d been living in a tent under a bridge after addiction had stripped her of everything dear.
Despite our various geographical and experiential makeups, we quickly bonded. We were in one accord, “agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose” (Philippians 2:2 NLT).
That’s because we recognized each other’s value in the eyes of God and treated each other with respect and love, as Jesus commands in John 13:34. God’s love in us was a powerful bonding agent. It prevented us from seeing physical, political, and socioeconomic differences and opened our eyes to the beauty of each other’s spirit.
It also resulted in generous acts of kindness, grace, and patience throughout the week. Due to age and physical limitations, some people walked much slower than others. But no one ever complained, and we didn’t leave anyone behind. If one of the group members stumbled or fell due to the rocky terrain, others helped them up.
Oh, if God’s children could always be so loving, kind, generous, and patient with one another, our world would be transformed.
One day, after a delicious and expensive meal by the Sea of Galilee, a young man from our group blessed our whole table by picking up the tab. I learned about Mark’s generosity while in line at the cash register. I had my shekels (Israeli money) in hand when he turned around and said, “It’s all been taken care of.” I was stunned. I hardly knew him—I just happened to sit at his table.
Mark’s action caused me to think about God’s generous gift of salvation (John 3:16) when He “purchased our freedom and forgave our sins” (Colossians 1:14 NLT).
I suddenly imagined myself at a heavenly cash register, waiting to pay the price for my sin, a price I could have never paid (Romans 6:23). Then Jesus turned around, looked at me with eyes of love, and said, “It’s all been taken care of. I paid the price for your sin and the world’s sins.” (See 1 Timothy 2:6.)
I hadn’t done anything to deserve this kind act of mercy. In fact, no one deserves it. But just think—Jesus paid that heavy price for you and me before we even knew Him and while we were still active sinners (Romans 5:8).
Sadly, that was the last interaction I had with Mark. At about midnight, Mark’s wife called with devastating news—his child had died.
Our Bible teacher shared the news with our group after our morning devotion, sitting under a tin shelter overlooking Bethlehem. Sadness hung in the air, but then, one by one, we began to pray. We boldly took our brother and his loved ones to the throne of God and interceded on his behalf (Hebrews 4:16; 1 Timothy 2:1).
My heart hurt, and like everyone else, I had questions. But I took comfort in knowing that while Mark was flying home to reunite with his distraught wife and children, more than 80 people were crying out to God on his behalf.
In His grace, I could see that God had given Mark a new family of burden carriers to intercede for him. Not only that, but my Lord had also positioned many mighty men of God to be with Mark when he received the news. They stayed with him the entire night, supporting him and making arrangements for his flight home. Despite how it looked, God wasn’t absent, and He had not abandoned Mark.
God never abandons His children. John 14:18 promises that He will never leave us as orphans. The word “orphan” always brings to mind a picture of my adopted son, Dalton, and adopted daughter, Ivy. I see them as they were in 2004 when I first met them in Russia. In particular, I envision Ivy, who was living in a run-down children’s hospital. She was in extremely poor condition.
Ivy’s mother had abandoned Ivy and her siblings. They had no provisions, protection, direction, purpose, voice, or hope. Even after being in the hospital, Ivy remained frail, pale, hungry, dirty, powerless, and voiceless. She knew no language. She didn’t even know her name because she had lived her formative years in isolation.
Through this image, I better understand God’s promise not to leave us as orphans. In Him, we are never alone, rejected, dirty, weak, powerless, voiceless, or without hope for our future. We are accepted, protected, loved, pure, whole, heard, seen, and powerful. We belong to God, and we carry His name, the name above all names (Philippians 2:9).
Sometimes, circumstances can make it feel like God has left us. But Numbers 23:19 reminds us: “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (NLT). God will not leave His precious ones behind. Not me, not Mark, not Ivy, and certainly not you.
It might look like evil has prevailed in your life. You might feel completely alone. But you are not alone. God is close, and He is ready and willing to help you. Look at Psalm 121:2–8: “My help comes from the Lord… He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. … The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. … The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever” (NLT).
Does that mean you won’t experience pain? No. But it does mean that you are not alone in your pain. Does it mean that life won’t ever become dark? No. But darkness cannot overtake the light within you (John 1:5; 16:33).
If there is one thing this trip taught me, it is the importance and beauty of family—God’s family. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (NLT).
Like the Holy Land’s rocky terrain, life’s paths are often challenging and steep. Please, don’t try to take the journey alone. A person standing alone is open to attacks and defeat. But if you stand close to God and surround yourself with other believers, you will be victorious.
Friend, you have a family. Anyone who professes Jesus as their Lord and Savior becomes a part of His eternal family (Ephesians 2:19). No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you have a place in God’s family. And nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:31–39).
You also have a place in the Victorious Living family. See page 2s and 30s for information on how to connect with us. Like my Holy Land tour group, we are a diverse group of people seeking to carry out God’s greatest commandment: to love the Lord with all we are and to love others as ourselves. We’re not perfect, but the grace and love of God bind us together. We invite you to join us.
Kristi Overton Johnson encourages and equips people for victory through her writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.
As a child, I wanted to be anyone other than myself and live anywhere but the house where I grew up. My mom had mental health issues that created an uncertain, toxic, and chaotic environment for my sister and me. I resented our constant struggles and envied the “perfect” lives of everyone around us.
When I was 22 years old, I escaped my chaotic home by moving two states away. Unfortunately, that meant leaving my friends and small support system behind as well. Perhaps the isolation was too much for me because that same year, I traded chaos for a new form of misery—marriage. He was 10 years older than me and our expectations were completely different. The escape I thought I’d found took me to a new emotional low. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to live.
I know now that my hopelessness wasn’t because of my marital issues or the lack of relational support; it was because I wasn’t in the will of God. It would be decades, though, before I even knew what that meant.
When I was 27, my husband and I legally separated and I filed for bankruptcy. He refused to leave the house, however, which only made a bad situation worse. When a colleague told me about a lady named Monica who would likely welcome the company and additional income of a roommate, I called the next day. Monica had recently separated from her husband too, and she offered to rent a room to me in her tiny home.
Monica (aka Mo) and I had similar yet different backgrounds. She was a child of divorce and alcoholism, whereas I’d grown up in an intact yet dysfunctional home. Her brother had died at a young age, while my sister and I had never shared a real conversation.
We both felt very much alone in the world. We had been let down more than we thought we deserved. We’d made poor decisions. And now, we wanted more out of life.
God allowed our paths to cross at the right time, and we each soon felt like we’d found a long-lost sister. Mo was genuine, kind, and honest with everyone she met. A friendship like hers quickly becomes precious when you’ve never experienced a sense of belonging.
My whole life had been a soap opera, full of drama—much of which was self-created. But life with Mo had meaning and was conducive to hope; she was genuine, kind, and honest with everyone she met. I felt safe and welcomed in her home. For the first time in my life, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere and had someone who truly loved me, so believe me, I held on tight.
She was a woman of conviction and character who fought for what was right instead of settling for what was convenient. Mo had my back and encouraged me to be the best version of myself. She was my much-needed motivator.
I had considered college at one time, but my husband had laughed and told me I was too dumb to do that. Any money spent on such a “futile endeavor,” he said, would be wasted. Mo, however, encouraged me to apply. In fact, we both did, were accepted, and we both succeeded.
We didn’t have much money while we were in school, but we never lacked for anything. God provided. We received federal grants for school, and church friends and neighbors dropped off meals and left boxes of vegetables on our front doorstep. I’d never been so poor yet felt so rich.
We were grateful to God for His provision and gave back wherever we could. In the end, Mo completed her nursing degree, and I earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees in psychology, exercise physiology, and public health.
Mo loved the Lord and loved to tell people about His goodness. We traveled to churches where she would sing and share her testimony. She had an incredible voice. I remained in the background, taking care of the details.
Early in 2009, 17 years after we’d become roommates, Mo developed an intense backache. She went to a chiropractor for treatment, but there was no measurable improvement after a week. So, he ordered X-rays, and I accompanied Mo to the chiropractor for her results. “You have a pleural effusion, which is excess fluid around the lung,” he announced.
The words on the magazine in my hand blurred, and I felt flushed, short of breath, and sick to my stomach. I just knew that the world as I’d known it had ended. I wanted to run from the room and pretend I’d never heard the words pleural effusion, but it was too late.
Mo handled it better than I did. As a nurse, she assured me that there could be several reasons for pleural effusions and that it didn’t automatically mean cancer, although it was one way melanoma could present itself. Keeping my horrible thoughts and out-of-control emotions to myself was challenging.
Monica’s backaches worsened, and she was referred to a specialist. As we left the doctor’s office, I overheard the pulmonologist say, “That’s going to be a sad case over the next several months.” Stabbing me in the heart with a knife would have been less painful. Please, God, anything but this. Anything!
It wasn’t long before Mo was debilitated and unable to drive. I became her caretaker when she was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma and given a prognosis of six months to live.
Monica was convinced that God would heal her and asked me to keep a journal of our journey. She was sure that God would use her testimony of healing to change more lives than she could count. I granted her wish and kept a journal, but most of what I wrote was a record of her increasing pain and the time we spent trying to find relief.
She never asked me to read the journal to her, but she did request that I include a section called the BPOD—it stood for the best part of the day. In my eyes, there were no best parts of any day, but for Mo, something good was always happening.
One evening after a horrendous day at the hospital, Mo said, “We had a great day, didn’t we?” She meant it, and that angered me.
“Yup, we did,” I lied. Then I asked Mo to recap it so I could see events through her eyes.
Her answer came quickly and with little deliberation. She said she was thankful I had ridden in the ambulance with her and that three of our closest friends (all nurses) had spent their entire day with us. She said she was treated like a queen. Then she became emotional, sharing how God was so good to her, always ensuring she was well cared for.
I marveled then and I marvel now at how we viewed the same experiences so differently—but that day exemplified Mo’s journey. She endured each test and procedure like a trouper, despite being in pain, exhausted, and unable to move or find comfort. No matter what happened, she chose to see the good and told people, often in a whisper, that she was getting stronger by the day.
It took me a long time to realize that Mo was getting stronger each day—stronger in her faith and confidence in what God was doing. I saw Mo’s physical pain—her inability to move, breathe, or eat without getting sick. I didn’t see what was happening in her heart and mind and soul.
I understand now how Mo had such an optimistic view. She had fixed her eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV). She zeroed in on God’s promises. I focused on the unbearable physical circumstances, and that led me to question God and my faith.
Mo remained at home until the last 12 days of her life; at which point, we moved her into a hospice house. As they rolled her in on a gurney, she told the staff, “I’m here to complete my healing.”
Mo’s life blessed me in countless ways, but her death changed me. I had been caring for my friend for six months. I was physically exhausted and had lost almost forty pounds. But I had become spiritually strong as I developed a deep relationship with God—something I’d never experienced before. That’s a good thing, because when Mo was gone, I questioned everything.
I grieved a full year before I stopped accusing God of blowing up my life, yet again. It took another year before I could say, “Okay—You’re God, and I’m just going to trust that Your plan is better than mine.”
That’s the moment I finally accepted God’s sovereignty and surrendered the rest of my life to His plan.
No, life has never been what I thought it would be, and I’ve realized now that no one in this life has it easy. But when we let Him, God will take all the strangely shaped and often painful pieces of our lives and bring them together for His great and perfect purpose.
I’m 56 now, and I’ve lived through change, loss, and grief that I truly thought (maybe hoped) would kill me. But I continue to survive (and even thrive) as I’m living out a calling I never asked for or expected. My experiences have equipped me to help others facing unwanted and unexpected events and circumstances in their lives.
In 2021, I launched a podcast to support grieving women called Grief 2 Great Day. I even wrote a book about Mo’s journey, Dying to Be Healed, to honor her incredible example of faith.
Regardless of the circumstances affecting your life, I encourage you to find your BPOD each and every day. Finding the good and praising God for it will enable you to survive and thrive despite the pain.
What’s your BPOD?
STEFANIE CABANISS was a public health professional before beginning Grief 2 Great Day. She is Southern by choice, a turtle-paced triathlete, wife, and follower of Jesus. She helps Christian women navigate loss through understanding their grief, growing their faith, and processing daily life to find hope. She and her husband, Jeff, live in eastern North Carolina.
I was raised with the classic silver spoon in my mouth. I was used to privilege, so as an adult, my biggest concern became getting to Dad’s money before he blew it. I wasn’t fast enough.
Dad died in a veterans’ hospital without a penny to his name. I decided that would never happen to me, and I set out to secure the things the world offered, heedless of the cost to me or others.
At age 16, I got a girl pregnant, and we married. After high school, I headed off to college, where I met a man who taught me how to cheat at cards. With his help, I became a professional gambler. I put myself through college by taking money with my deck of 52.
Upon college graduation, I divorced my wife, abandoned my child, and focused on advancing my career. I found another woman to marry who’d let me do whatever I wanted.
Because of my gambling reputation, I was invited to Las Vegas as a guest. I was immediately impressed by the endless supply of money and women, the limousines, the power, and the fountain in the middle of my suite. If I could connect to all this, my life would be fine, I thought.
One evening, I went to the baccarat table where the heavy-duty players gambled with money instead of chips. Millions of dollars were on that table, and I watched a man lose 200,000 of them in twenty minutes.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?” I asked him after a few drinks. He called me a wise guy and invited me across the street to Caesars Palace.
The minute we walked through the doors, people took notice. Blackjack dealers glanced up, and crowds parted as we went to the baccarat table. Once seated, the man whispered in the croupier’s ear. Immediately, the table was cleared and the gambling limit removed. The man ordered $50,000 as comfortably as you might order a glass of milk. Then he handed me the money, and told me to play!
I hit a hot streak and, within 15 minutes, won over a quarter of a million dollars. My new friend became my godfather. He quickly connected me with the underworld, and I began wholesaling Mafia money nationwide.
Despite my new, illegal connections, I continued as the manager of a major corporation in Houston. My coworkers knew nothing of my double life, but that would soon change.
Increasingly out of control, I chased every whim of my heart. One day while speaking with a woman from Kansas City on the phone, I asked her what she wanted out of life. When she replied “power and money,” I was on the next plane to meet her. At dinner, I suggested we get married. It didn’t matter that I had a wife of 12 years back home. Life was about me and what I wanted.
I flew home and informed my wife I was leaving. Then I got into my Cadillac, drove back to Kansas City, picked up this woman, and moved to Denver. There I became the CEO of a multimillion-dollar international corporation.
I had a limousine, an unlimited expense account, diamond rings, Rolexes, gold jewelry, and anything else I wanted. And I had power, both corporately and in the underworld.
Yet I found myself wondering, What’s next? Is this it?
I had no answer, so I set a new goal. I would be a nationally-ranked racquetball player. Moving up in this sport was fun and exciting, but like with everything else, the thrill of winning eventually faded, and emptiness returned.
No one knew how lonely and miserable I was. My third wife got tired of my shenanigans and left for another man. It’s only by God’s grace that I didn’t put out a contract to have her killed.
I soon met Peggy, and we married. At the same time, I launched a new enterprise to cater to “powerful” men like me who wanted “more in life”—a brothel called Fantasy Island. It became one of the largest prostitution houses in the country.
One day, I took Peggy to Las Vegas so she could see how people catered to my every whim. I waltzed in and took her to the same baccarat table where the insanity had begun years earlier. Ironically, that’s where I was when my attorney called to tell me the Feds had raided Fantasy Island. There was a warrant out for my arrest.
I flew back to Denver and was arrested. Incredibly, I received only probation. To me, that just meant, “Don’t get caught again.”
With my double life now exposed on national news, I was fired from my day job. But that didn’t matter. I went into the executive search business and quickly made top dollar again. I had escaped prison and continued to win at life—but inside, I knew I wasn’t right.
For years, there had been only one place where I really felt good, and that was at Lost Valley Ranch, a beautiful community in the Colorado mountains.
Every time I went there, I felt great. But every time I drove home, the reality of my pitiful life hit me hard. I didn’t know why the place was so special or what it was about the people there that made them so different.
I remember being at the ranch on a random Easter Sunday and deciding to do what people do on Easter. I went to church. I rode my horse out on the meadow where a young man named Bob Foster was preaching a sermon.
“There’s a difference between happiness and inner peace,” he said. “Happiness is like the smell of a new car, a new dating relationship, closing a big business deal, illicit drugs, or sex. You get high and feel good, but the feeling doesn’t last. Peace is different.”
I knew the kid was right. I had achieved, received, performed, and climbed my whole life but for what? I’d feel settled and happy for a while, but the void always returned—every time.
How could I have this lasting peace Bob preached about?
He answered my question by explaining that peace only comes through a personal relationship with Christ. Whatever that meant, it was not the answer I wanted. I cursed, got on my horse, rode out of the meadow, and drove back to Denver and my crazy life.
In God’s goodness, He didn’t let me get away. He chased me down. Suddenly, my life was full of people telling me about the person of Jesus Christ and the peace He offers. I responded with mockery and insults.
I’m sure many walked away believing they’d failed, but they didn’t. To this day, I can tell you their names, what they looked like, what they wore, and most importantly, what they said. God used every person to plant a seed in my prideful heart.
Take Paul and Kathie Grant, for example. Paul, a Jewish believer in Christ, patiently shared his faith in Jesus with me on the racquetball court. Laughing behind his back, I pretended to be interested.
For months, Dr. Grant answered my questions. He didn’t realize I was deliberately engaging him to make him late for work. What a stupid fool! I thought. How can this idiot sit here and let me do this when he has a waiting room full of patients?
Yet Paul was my first true friend. When the arrest came down on my house of prostitution, he was the only one who called to make sure I was okay. Other “friends” called to ensure their names remained anonymous or to inquire where they could find the girls who’d worked at Fantasy Island—but Paul called for me.
Eventually, Paul invited Peggy and me to go to church. We went, and Paul and Kathie took us to their home after the service. I didn’t want to stay long—I had $100,000 riding on the day’s sporting events. But they were our friends, so…
We talked awhile and shared pieces of our life stories. Their stories always ended up back at something about God. As we left, I told Peggy, “Let’s go home and have a drink. That stuff’s fine for them, but I’m not interested.” I rejected God’s message once again.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s Lakewood Police Department was dissatisfied with my probation deal. Determined to bring me to justice, they sent an attractive undercover policewoman my way. She offered to sell me a stolen television and implied that she “came with it.” I gave her $200 and was arrested.
Fear hit me as I sat in jail over the weekend. Violating my probation could mean eight years of prison. I began to cry, not because I was repentant, but because I was panicked.
Back at home and awaiting my trial, I imagined ways to escape my impending doom. Drugs and alcohol could give temporary relief, but I knew they’d only bring more problems. My money would sustain life on the run, but where would I go? I considered suicide.
God used my unbelieving wife to save my life. She suggested I call the man who had married us—a Christian pastor.
Her suggestion angered me. I didn’t want that stuff in my life! But the Holy Spirit was more powerful than my arrogance, and I called that pastor and told him I wanted inner peace.
The next day, I drove 85 miles to his little country church, and at 10:00 a.m. on March 4, 1981, I came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Immediately, God took hold of my life and flipped it upside down.
The first evidence of His presence happened on my drive down the mountain from my meeting with that pastor. I began to think of my daughter, Tammy, whom I had abandoned 23 years earlier. It was my first unselfish thought ever.
Incredibly, there was a message from her waiting for me on my home answering machine. She said the strangest thing: “I saw your name in the papers from all your arrests; I’d like to meet you.”
When we met, I immediately asked her forgiveness. She responded kindly. Incredibly, the Lord gave me the privilege of leading her to Him.
With my charges, I fully expected to go to prison. But the judge miraculously dismissed my case and even barred it from further prosecution at the district level. I walked out of court free to the world, but more importantly, Christ had freed me from my sins.
I began praying for an opportunity to return to the Lakewood Police Department and share how Christ had changed my life. God provided my heart’s desire.
The assistant chief of police was having lunch with colleagues when my name came up. Wary of the news that I had changed, he declared, “Even God couldn’t forgive that man.”
Someone challenged him to find out, so he arranged a meeting. “I’ve come to see if what you’ve found is truth,” he told me as we sat down. After hearing my testimony, we held hands and prayed together.
Three months later, this man who had orchestrated my arrest introduced me to the undercover policewoman whose sting had led to my arrest. She is a dedicated Christian and now a close friend.
My life continued to change with God in it, and I soon became the chief chaplain for the Colorado State Patrol and the DEA. I held more credentials than most officers. God also began sending me into prisons to minister to juveniles, men, and women. With God, all things are possible.
I’ve not been the same since I surrendered my life and will to Jesus. The Prince of Peace has filled my heart and made me whole. He has freed me from my empty way of life, and my chief desire now is to share God’s good news of salvation with the world. I want people everywhere, including you, to experience the transformative power of His love.
Don’t settle for the temporary highs of this world. God’s peace is available through a relationship with His Son, Jesus. My prayer for you is that “you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).
If you’re ready to do that, pray with me: “Heavenly Father, I am a sinner in need of a Savior. Forgive me for my sin. I believe You sent Your Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for me and that He rose again. I give You my life. I desire Your will above my own. Father, give me peace and make me whole. Give me your Holy Spirit to help me live as You desire. I ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.”
BILL FAY is a graduate of Denver Seminary and a former chief chaplain for the Colorado State Patrol and DEA. He has spoken cross-denominationally for 40 years. His best-selling book, Share Jesus without Fear, has been translated into 54 languages. It provides practical tools to present the compelling message of God’s saving grace. Visit sharejesuswithoutfear.com to watch videos on how to uniquely share your faith.
Helen D. McCrimmon, my nana, was the glue that held my family together. She was a mighty woman of God who wanted everyone in her household to know Jesus, the Savior she loved and served (Joshua 24:15).
When Nana moved from where we grew up in Oklahoma to Tucson, Arizona, my mom packed up my two little sisters and me and followed. Our new neighborhood was notorious for gang violence and drugs; it was the local ground zero for the crack epidemic that ripped apart communities all over the country in the 1980s.
Most adults in my family struggled with addiction. My mom wasn’t a drug addict, but she had other issues. That left me, my sisters, and Nana, to navigate a war zone within our home and outside our door. Nana reminded me of my essential role on a regular basis. “Chris, no matter what happens, remember that you are the man of this house. I need you to stay out of trouble and protect your sisters.”
I was in elementary school when Mom went to prison. Nana stepped in to raise us and instilled godly values. “You’ve got to get trained in God’s Word, baby. Write it on your heart. And know this: the Lord will find and rescue you even if you wander from Him.” (See Proverbs 22:6; Deuteronomy 6:6–8.)
I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior while I lived with her. I learned about Bible heroes like Joseph, Moses, and David. But then Nana got sick and moved into a nursing home, so my sisters and I went to live with our aunt.
Everything changed. Away from church and Nana’s watchful eyes, I forgot all about God and my Bible heroes. The outside world looked more fun than church, anyway. So I quit playing sports, started smoking weed and drinking. Then I joined a gang.
None of us had jobs, so I wondered how my new friends owned lowriders, gold jewelry, and name-brand clothes and shoes. When my homeboy pulled a handful of little, white rocks from his pocket and asked, “You want in the game,” I no longer wondered how they made their money.
I didn’t hesitate. Just like that, I became a crack dealer. When I wasn’t dealing, I was blowing money on my own drugs or partying at motels with random girls. My new life brought consequences, but they didn’t do much to deter me.
At 16, I went to juvenile detention for two years for auto theft. Before I went in, I discovered I had a son, but I was too immature to care about being a dad. I shrugged off that responsibility.
In 1989, on my 18th birthday, I was released. Nana passed away soon after that, and I hit the streets, jumping headfirst into the drug game. When a friend inherited some money, we made investments that took our drug dealing operation to another level. The money rolled in for three years.
Soon, I had another son. This time, I manned up and stepped into my role as a father. I told myself I was doing right by my family because I provided nice things and paid the bills. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ironically, caring for Nana had created a soft spot in my heart for older adults. I had an honest job as a certified nursing assistant. I enjoyed the work, but I wasn’t content, so I chose to continue selling drugs on the side.
I made a grip of money dealing drugs. Every Friday night, people from all over the city would visit my neighborhood looking for crack. They had cashed their paychecks, and I was waiting to take their money.
I knew there were heavy consequences in the game I was playing, but I didn’t think they would catch up to me—I told myself I was lucky. But it was only a matter of time before my luck ran out.
A friend needed some quick money, so I fronted him dope to sell. His troubles soon became mine, however, because I then owed money to my connection—and my source wasn’t about to take on my troubles.
My friend presented a plan to get my money back. “We’ll just hit this lick,” he said, “and we’ll be straight.” We? How did this become a we operation? His plan included armed robbery. How did I let it get to this point? I knew better than to trust this guy, but I couldn’t do anything about it now; I had to get that money. Paying my connection back was not optional.
I knew getting caught could send me to prison for over a decade, but I figured prison was a better alternative than owing money on the streets. So we mapped out our plan and put it into motion.
The robbery went sideways right from the start. Shots rang out. Chaos ensued. And by the end of that night, our robbery victim lay critically injured in the hospital. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t pulled the trigger. I was there and had helped plan it.
Someone came forward as a witness, offering alleged details in the case. The cops showed up at my day job. Coworkers and patients watched in disbelief as I was arrested and led to a police car in handcuffs.
I was charged with, among other things, attempted murder, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. I was 21, barely old enough to buy alcohol, when the court sentenced me to 36 years in the Arizona State Prison system. Talk about a reality check.
My first day on the yard, I watched a man’s head get split open with a baseball bat. A few days later, I saw someone else get stabbed. I was relieved when a friend got me a job with the paint crew.
I just wanted a routine to figure out the ins and outs of prison and a way to stay out of trouble while there. But before I had a chance, I was rearrested and transported back to the county jail to stand trial for another crime.
The police were determined to take me down. They had gathered evidence tying me to another armed robbery where people had died. The same witness who testified against me before now named me as the trigger man in this new case.
As the star witness for the prosecution, this man testified that I was responsible for the murders of three people. As a result, I was convicted of first-degree murder. I stood silently, holding back tears as the judge handed down my sentence: “Christopher McCrimmon, the court hereby sentences you to death.”
Officers escorted me to my new cell on death row. Words can’t describe my loneliness as memories of Nana flooded my mind. I could hear her voice as if she were beside me, “Trust God, Chris. God never abandons His children.”
Really? Then where is He now, Nana? I sure didn’t feel Him. Not at first.
Death row was like a dry, parched land, and my soul thirsted for water (Psalm 63:1). I was on lockdown for 23 hours a day, only allowed out a few times a week for a shower and recreation.
I had plenty of time now to talk with and listen to the Lord. I spent hours studying His Word. The isolation drew me into a relationship with God, and eventually I recommitted my life to Jesus. He became the friend I needed most.
It didn’t take long for the stories I had enjoyed as a child to come alive and revive my spirit, and I began to notice a common thread in the lives of my Bible heroes.
They were all deeply flawed people—just like me—yet they were never out of the reach of God’s love, grace, and mercy.
Moses killed an Egyptian and fled to the wilderness, but God still called him to lead the nation of Israel out of captivity. (See Exodus 2:11–3:15.) King David committed adultery and murder, but when he repented, God forgave him…and scripture calls him a man after God’s own heart. (See 2 Samuel 11:1–12:13; Acts 13:22.) Saul murdered Christians until he met Jesus on the Damascus Road and became the Apostle Paul, a great missionary for Christ. (See Acts chapters 9 through 28.)
The living water of God’s Word refreshed and revived my spirit in that arid land of death row. It also revealed my need for repentance and God’s forgiveness. I felt sorrow over my sin and repented to God in prayer (Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
“Lord, I know I’m a sinner,” I said. “Please forgive me. I deserve punishment, but I don’t believe You will let me die here, this way. My life is in Your hands; I look to You for justice and mercy.” (See Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 30:18.)
My attorney submitted an appeal for a new trial. We waited almost three years for my case to move through the courts. Then one day, as I came in from rec, a friend shouted, “Chris, you got a new trial, man! I just saw you on TV.” I thought he was joking until I saw my face flash across the evening news with the headline, “Death Row Inmate Granted New Trial.”
In 1997, my new trial was underway. My attorney tried to prepare me for the worst-case scenario, but I cut him off. “We’re not going to lose. No way, man. God’s Word says no weapon formed against me shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17).
He nodded in agreement and stood up to defend my case with irrefutable new evidence. Evidence from police interview transcripts proved that I been convicted based on perjured testimony and that the detectives and prosecutor had allowed the testimony, even though they knew the witness was lying. It took the jury 45 minutes to return with a new verdict.
When I heard, “Not guilty,” I was like Lazarus when Jesus called him out of his grave (John 11:43–44). I left my graveclothes in that courtroom and returned to prison to finish my original 36-year sentence. I was one joyful, resurrected man.
It’s amazing how different the prison felt when I was no longer on death row. God had brought this dead man back to life twice! He had saved me from eternal damnation and from being put to death in prison. I was seeing my world with new eyes.
But Satan was still on the prowl, waiting to devour me (1 Peter 5:8). I tried hard not to fall prey to the enemy, but trouble was on every corner. While I did make some missteps, God was patient as I learned to listen to the Holy Spirit’s warnings and follow His lead. (See John 14:26, 16:13; Romans 8:14, 26.) The Spirit stayed busy, nudging me away from various things and people. Listening and obeying became the difference between life and death.
I avoided the chaos of prison politics by connecting with other Christian men and staying immersed in God’s Word. I grew bold in sharing my testimony and even led men to the Lord. I relied on God and the fellowship of my brothers in Christ to prepare me for life on the outside. These men and religious volunteers taught me the value of real friendship.
Through them, I also learned about Along Side Ministries’ discipleship program in Phoenix. The program paired me with a mentor who walked closely with me for the last two years of my sentence.
After serving almost 26 years, I was released on intense parole. I struggled to adjust to life on the outside, as many do, and soon violated my parole. I was sent back to prison for nearly two years.
But instead of being angry, I embraced the gift of time for God to heal more areas of my heart and mind so I could live successfully on the outside. I devoured God’s Word until my release in March 2020. By God’s grace, I was allowed to return to Along Side Ministries. This community of believers showed me the love of Jesus when I needed it most.
Since my release, the Lord has kept His promise to restore everything the enemy stole from me (Joel 2:25). He has given me a beautiful wife, a newborn son, and a healthy relationship with all my children. God has redeemed my time so I can leave a worthwhile inheritance through the example of my life as I live for Him (Proverbs 13:22).
Nana was right. Even though I wandered far from God, He chased me down—all the way to death row. He rescued me, and He’ll do the same for you, wherever you are (Psalm 107:20).
The truth is we’ve all been sentenced to death by sin (Romans 6:23). But God, who is forever rich in mercy, made a way for our salvation through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4–6). He’s made a way for you, too.
Jesus conquered death so you could live eternally with Him (2 Timothy 1:10) and experience an abundant life on earth (John 10:10).
You don’t have to sit on death row any longer. Come out of the grave and live. Take off those graveclothes and embrace a new life in Christ.
CHRIS McCRIMMON is passionate about Jesus, his family, and his church community fellowship. He is grateful to spend the rest of His life serving God and others. Through his testimony and knowledge of God’s Word, Chris ministers to men returning to society from prison.
Jeremiah 29:11 has always been my favorite verse. It says, “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV).
And up until July 23, 2022, my life reflected every positive vibe of this verse. I had loving parents who paved the way for my success, awesome sisters and friends, and I played the game I loved—baseball.
Even before I could walk, I had a bat and ball in my hand. I’d sit there in my diaper, swinging my plastic bat at a plastic baseball propped on a stand. My dad fed the baseball bug inside me, and every day, I’d wait excitedly at the front door for him to come home from work so we could play.
Out in the sandbox, we’d pretend I was one professional player or another, and I’d take on the role of their respective position. My favorite was Brian McCann, catcher for the Braves. Other times I became Josh Hamilton, outfielder for the Rangers, or Derek Jeter, infielder for the Yankees. Before we played, Dad and I would stand, place our right hands across our chests, and sing the national anthem.
This dedication led to my commitment to play baseball for East Carolina University in the ninth grade. I had opportunities to play in larger programs, but being a Pirate felt right. Plus, both my parents had attended ECU. We had no idea then how important the Pirate community would be to our family when I headed to college for summer school in June 2022.
Greenville was a fun town, and I bonded quickly with my teammates. My dreams of playing college ball had finally come true; I thanked God for His awesome plan.
And then, on Saturday, July 23, I went out on the Pamlico River with my new friends. My girlfriend, teammates, and I had a blast on the back creeks, skimming across the water on inflatable rides behind my friend’s family boat.
As one would imagine, things got a bit wild; we were, after all, a boatload of teenagers. My friend Dixon and I boarded the tube and held tight until we could hold no more and we were ejected from it. We laughed and groaned as our bodies skipped across the water.
When our friend returned to pick us up, I decided I’d had enough. I grabbed the rope and pulled myself in toward the boat. At the same time, my friend put the boat in reverse. Suddenly, the rope was caught in the propeller, and I was pulled under the boat into the prop’s spinning blades.
A water-savvy teammate from Florida saw what happened and jumped into the water. He had just lost a friend in a boating accident and wasn’t about to lose another. He helped me get to the side of the boat and the others pulled me inside. Blood mixed with dirty river water and spread throughout the boat as everyone frantically tried to figure out what to do.
Our boat was inoperable since the rope was still caught in the prop, so my teammates started waving and yelling for help. My girlfriend called 911, and someone applied a makeshift tourniquet to my thighs.
After a few minutes, a man drove over to us. He refused to help us, though, saying he didn’t want to expose his children to the bloody scene. He threw us a first aid kit and drove away.
Soon, another boat approached. There was a nurse in that boat who immediately began attending to my needs. She was like an angel from heaven, bringing order and peace to our chaos. I was transferred to their boat and taken to the marina, where an ambulance awaited. I fought to stay awake, knowing if I dozed off, I might die.
From the local hospital, I was airlifted to ECU Health in Greenville. I had an out-of-body experience during the transport. I was floating above my body, watching the medical team working on me, and wondering how this day could have gone so wrong.
At ECU Health, I was rushed into surgery. It was a three-hour drive from Laurinburg, my hometown, to Greenville, but Dad had the pedal to the medal, and they made it in record time.
The days that followed are a blur for me, as I went in and out of surgery, but for my parents, they were a living nightmare. I can only imagine the pain they endured and the helplessness they felt as they stood by. My parents faced heavy burdens as they balanced work and family and soon decided to relocate to Greenville permanently. My sisters and parents made a huge sacrifice to be by my side.
I underwent 22 surgeries, including on August 4, a leg amputation below the knee. There was no time to grieve the loss of my leg or even process what it might mean for my baseball career, as we were focused on my survival.
People all over eastern North Carolina were praying for my recovery, and many sent letters of encouragement. The support of the Greenville community blew my parents’ minds. This was not even our hometown, yet people cared so deeply.
The community’s support and prayers carried my family and me, especially when the doctor told us that blood had ceased flowing around my knee. I would need another amputation, this time above the knee.
The news didn’t shake me at first. My leg was already gone; what was a few more inches? But my dad knew that losing my knee meant losing our dream of a baseball career, and that news hit him like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t thought of that possibility until he shared it. I lost it, and we both began to cry.
Mom, however, was not going to throw in the towel. “Look at me,” she said fiercely. We looked. “No one can tell you what you can or cannot do. No one can limit you, and no one knows your future. You decide. And if you want to play baseball, then that’s what we’ll go for. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you!” Her words smacked me and Dad back to the truth. Mom also knew nothing was impossible with God (Matthew 19:26).
My family had raised me to believe in God, and I had put my faith in Jesus Christ for salvation long ago. But in this trial, we all learned to trust God more deeply. We’d never experienced such an obvious need for His intervention. Our prayers grew in intensity.
Our faith soared when, days later, doctors spotted a trickle of blood moving through the vein in my knee during a washout of my wound. We had our miracle! The doctors could not explain the return of blood but gladly postponed the surgery. Then, blood began to flow freely through the once-dry veins. My knee was saved.
This was great news, but it didn’t erase the reality of my new situation or the pain I would face in the coming months. It was hard to reconcile Jeremiah 29:11’s promise of God’s good plan with this painful mess. I even told Him, “God, I’ve always trusted You have a plan. But this plan doesn’t feel so good.”
I didn’t know what to make of it all, but I felt God reminding me that His plan never intends harm. Somehow, He would bring good out of this pain; I just had to trust Him. He assured me, losing my leg wouldn’t be the end of my dreams.
I had plenty of opportunities to get angry with myself, God, and others. But I couldn’t let anger and blame have any place in my life if I wanted to move forward. I had to trust God’s love for me and stay humble. I had to start at ground zero, put one foot in front of the other, and learn how to walk again. And it wasn’t easy.
I talked to myself a lot. “Get up, Parker. Keep going. You can do it—God’s with you! You will play again.” It didn’t matter that I didn’t know of any other leg amputees playing ball in Division 1 baseball. But doesn’t there always have to be a first? So why not me?
I remembered the saying, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” In baseball, it didn’t matter that I had natural talent. Even with both legs, I’d had to work hard to succeed. So it was time to get off my rear and do my part to experience God’s plan. Otherwise, it would never come to fruition. Faith takes action.
It’s been 15 months since my accident, and today, I’m medically cleared to play baseball. In February 2024, I hope to step onto Lewis Field as a shortstop for the ECU Pirates. I still have a ways to go physically, but I’m sticking to my goal of being 1 percent better each day. Sometimes it feels like I’m going in reverse, but progress often feels that way. I just have to keep my eyes on the goal.
When I’m back on the field, I hope people do more than admire my comeback. I hope they are inspired to get into the game of life. One lady told me recently that I’d inspired her to take the stairs instead of the elevator. That’s the kind of inspiration I’m talking about.
It’s hard for me to believe my life today. This Southern teen, who admittedly mumbles his words, is now a public mouthpiece for God. If it hadn’t been for my accident, I would never have had such a story of inspiration. God has taken my life and the game of baseball and given them an eternal purpose.
Maybe, like me, you are facing a painful trial that came out of nowhere, and you’re left confused and wondering, “God, what’s up with this plan? It hurts.” Please know there is still hope.
Trust God and obey Him. Lean into Him and refuse to give up. In time, you’ll make it. God will take the messes of your life and work through them for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
Don’t listen to the negativity around you, especially that nasty voice in your head. No one but God and you can determine your future. You might not see the good of His plan as quickly as I did, but it’s coming. So don’t give up. God is on your side, and that’s enough. Remember, with Him, all things are possible.
PARKER BYRD is an East Carolina University student and baseball team member. You’ll find him sharing his inspiring story at various venues when he’s not studying, working out, or swinging the bat with his teammates.