My pastor recently gave a message describing how Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Being different than a hired keeper who might run away in the face of danger, the flock belonged to the shepherd who would stay and defend them. He had a genuine loving concern for what belonged to him. Jesus is that loving protector and caretaker for His flock. Jesus, the good shepherd’s purpose, is to give life and protect from destruction. And although this next imagery may make those of us animal lovers shudder, it helps to confirm that sometimes love is shown in ways we don’t always like. A shepherd would often break the leg(s) of his sheep to prevent them from running off into danger. He would then carry that sheep over his shoulders down the path each day until its injuries healed. While being held, the sheep grew to love and rely on the shepherd like never before.
Oddly enough, I believe Jesus did this very thing to me.
Five years. I had been living in this small town in Western Kentucky for five years and had yet to make any meaningful relationships. I not only avoided bonding with the people; I also lacked a REAL one on one relationship with God. I was, what I like to call, a “baby Christian” who had a history of anger and atheism, with little to no guidance and the life choices to prove it. I had always been very independent and didn’t really care about having friends because I didn’t trust people.
Feeling convicted about not being a part of a church family, my husband and I began visiting some in the area and knew we had been led to the one we now call home. After just a few weeks of attending, the Lord brought several women into my life that completely changed my heart. My relationship with them grew stronger and stronger as I began to experience what can come from real love and encouragement.
One Sunday morning, one of those women invited me to a Run for God class. I wish I could illustrate the facial expression I made. You see, my words say one thing, but my face speaks from the heart. I laughed and said, “The only time I run is if something is chasing me.” With persistence from my friend and growing pant size, I conceded. The way I understood it was that it was basically a couch to 5K training program with a devotional. Little did I know that God was putting something into motion that would altogether transform my life.
I showed up for class each Saturday morning, bright and early (also outside of my character). With each devotional and time spent running with God, it finally clicked. I can run because I am doing it for God. I can make real friends because I am doing it for God. What would happen if I did everything in life, FOR GOD?
Ten weeks into the class, we all registered for a 5K in our town that promoted to suicide awareness. As my first race ever, I had zero expectations for my outcome. I just wanted to finish. As they were calling out awards for age groups, they called my name as the third place winner. It took me by surprise, but it didn’t take long for my pride and competitiveness to kick into overdrive. I was already plotting the demise of the two women who beat me for first and second place. Just as the Lord revealed what life could be like when you do it all for Him, He let me know very quickly what can happen when you begin to do it for yourself.
The very next day, I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my foot. I would not be able to complete the 5K for our Run for God group. Even though I was discouraged, I continued to go to class. While others ran, I sat. I sat and encouraged them as they struggled through the long runs. I SAT and read the Word. I SAT and prayed. I SAT, growing closer to God every day.
While still in what I called “the dreaded boot,” I sat and cheered as all of my new friends ran past me to complete their race. My heart was full. God had set me on a different track. A race towards Him and onto the path He had planned for me.
We quickly started a second class, and I was asked to help instruct. Still unable to run, I knew God meant for me to focus on the “God” portion of Run for God. To show others that training to run successfully mirrors training ourselves to walk successfully with Christ. It takes work, commitment, sacrifice, discipline, and occasionally a boot.
Learning to put God first and dedicate all I do to Him, the ability to stand before a group and teach due to the confidence I gained through the Spirit, the forever friendships that I have made, are just a glimpse into how God transformed me…. all through a broken foot.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
I am so thankful to begin this new year as a part of this ministry. Before I jump right in though, I think some introductions are in order. I am a true believer in the fact that, for you to understand and get a deeper look into the heart of a message, you need a pretty good picture of where that person has been and what God has rescued them from. A visibly transformed life can have a major impact on the world around you.
Ten years ago, if you would have asked someone to describe me, I’m afraid they would’ve used adjectives like angry, lost, empty, aggressive, broken, self-destructive… I’ll stop there, I’m sure you get the picture.
After moving around for a good part of my childhood as a military brat, we finally settled in Western Kentucky where most of our family was. Within our home, there was no prayer, no Bible reading, no foundation of faith. I don’t blame my parents. They were both very young and did the best they could while dealing with their own childhood trauma.
To spend as much time as I could with my grandmother, I began going to church with her every Sunday. The bond that I had with that very special lady is something I could never describe in written words. We were inseparable. I remember sitting beside her each Sunday, in amazement, as she gracefully played the piano during worship. She loved me like I had never felt love before and made me feel deserving of that love. Around the time I would be starting middle school, something terrible happened. My grandmother was life-flighted to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis because her heart was failing. I can remember my aunt picking my sister and me up from school and taking us to the movies to keep us distracted. Fortunately, she was blessed with the opportunity for a transplant, and it seemed like everything was going to be ok. She lived for eleven years after the transplant. The last two years of her life were the two years of my life that the devil used to catapult me into a lifetime worth of anger and emptiness. The medication she had to take to keep her body from rejecting the new heart destroyed her kidneys. She began dialysis several times a week but was withering away. I watched her light and life slowly fade as she suffered every second until the end. The questions, fueled by anger, started flowing. Why her? She went to church! She played music in church! She loved the God that was supposed to love her back! She was too young! Could there really be this all-loving God? No, there couldn’t, He wouldn’t do this.
That anger combined with a life that was in a constant state of chaos due to a lack of involvement, lack of faith, substance addiction, abuse, and family members who were out of control…I was left to let the anger, sadness, and loneliness open the door for the devil to make himself at home. I began trying to fill that brokenness and emptiness with every terrible thing this world has to offer; partying, attention from anyone willing to give it, and more and more anger.
When I was 21, I became pregnant. Of course, we had to get married because that’s what a good southern woman does to save face. But this wasn’t all bad. I started to feel a little peace and happiness. I thought I loved the man I was marrying, we were going to have a child, I was doing great in college and could still finish so everything was fine. The day I had to say goodbye forever to that baby, I felt myself break. I can remember it vividly. Any anger that had been buried came erupting to the surface. That was it! There definitely is no God, and if there was, He could care less about any of us! That is what I told myself for years. I was an anthropology major in school, so there was no shortage of professors who were quick to reinforce that thought with scientific facts and figures. And boy was I ready to argue with anyone who dared to try and convince me that there was a loving God and that “He had a plan”, and that “there was a reason for everything”. I was educated, had an aggressive personality and was motivated by so much anger that the devil had a field day with me. I did what I could to try and convince everyone around me to give up on all those silly stories and rules created by men to control society. The only person I know I successfully pulled away was my own mother.
My marriage was anything but happy. How could it be? We were so young, and I was so volatile. We each turned to different ways to numb the pain. Two years after the loss of our first child, we were both preparing to graduate college and had big plans for our future. But God had a different plan. I became pregnant with Chloe. It was a shock because due to health issues, I wasn’t expected to be able to have any more children. When that child was born, I felt myself begin to heal. Just as I felt myself break when I said goodbye to my first child, I felt myself, LOVE. Really love. I knew then that she was sent to me for a reason and that there had to be “something” or “someone” out there because this kind of love could not be explained with science. But I had no understanding or faith to fall back on. I was the poster child for someone who was “lost”.
I struggled for years after Chloe was born. Her father and I couldn’t seem to get through past hurts, and our marriage was so unstable that we divorced when she was one. I was a single mother moving from place to place and job to job. I know now that I was moving every year because I was running. Running from my sadness and emptiness. But no distance ever made a difference. I was still angry and lost. Along the way, everywhere I went; I met and got to know bold Christian men and women that tried their best to lead me to Jesus. Each planting seeds. I would always disregard them though. Until one person, someone I had grown to love, all but forced me to go to church. I started attending on Sundays. I enjoyed the singing and meeting new people but would zone out and not pay attention to much else. But one day was different, I woke up feeling different. I went into the church, sat in my pew by myself as usual and listened, really listened. I didn’t feel alone. I had been so ashamed of myself for so long, thinking that even if there was a God, “How could He love me now? Look at what I’ve done, what I’ve said!” That day, I heard and felt that He does love me because Jesus loves me! He suffered and died for me! ME! Not just the righteous people that have never fallen. Me! I could feel Him right there with me as I fell apart. Almost like He had His arm around me as I finally let go of all that anger, shame and guilt and gave it to Him.
On August 8, 2009, at the age of 28, I was baptized. And I’ve never been the same. The devil didn’t and still doesn’t make it easy, but now “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
I saved the happiest part of my testimony for the end.
The sorrow I felt for convincing my mother there was no God was unbearable. I prayed for years for God to allow me to bring my mother to know Jesus. On Mother’s Day of 2017, my mom gave her life to Jesus and was baptized. Now we worship Him together!
You see, that is what we are created to do. To be transformed through God’s Grace and to live it out each day to be a living testimony to those around us. I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me down a path that helps those as lost as I once was.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“ ‘The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ ” “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15: 21,24