It’s the hard times when I’m feeling alone and discouraged that I find myself going back to the past, when you have no doubt that God brought you through a hard time. This helps me feel safe, secure and it even helps me refocus, it even boosts my faith that God is bigger than anything I will ever face.
One of those memories I cherish is when Chrissy and I started out on this journey of serving God full-time.
Side Note: I know now that we had no clue as to the price we would pay for this calling that we had chosen to answer. This isn’t a bad thing, we just didn’t have any idea what our life was going to be like.
To start this new adventure, we asked God to help us pay off all our bills. With one tax rebate check, He made this happen to the dollar. We proceeded to pack up all of our belongings from our mobile home into a small moving truck. We loaded our two young children and one Dalmatian puppy into the car. With one last look at our small, safe world, we left our family, friends, and any support systems we had grown up with.
We traveled 9 hours away to the most southern part of West Virginia to one of what they call the Twin Cities, Bluefield, WV. It was nestled in a valley of the Appalachian Mountains. Just across the state line in Virginia was another city called Bluefield, VA. Thus the twin cities nickname.
We moved here to go to Bible collage because, if you wanted to be successful in ministry, this is just what you do. As I had mentioned, we really had no clue what we were doing. I just believed that God was telling me to come follow Him and lead his people. So, since this college was the only one we knew about at the time, we signed up there.
Side Note: At this time, we didn’t have access to the Internet or even a computers, which would have helped us research this better. As it was, we went off of the word of a school recruiter, and trusted that God would provide the rest.
And that is how I became a student enrolled in Bible college. Unbeknownst to us, this college was one of the most conservative, legalistic schools on the east coast for the Church of Christ/Christian Churches. The very contemporary church that we were coming from was a Christian church. So, we figured this should be good. We didn’t know how wrong we could be. We didn’t even understand the difference between contemporary and traditional church styles. We assumed they were all like our great church.
Back in the 90’s, I only wore a button-up shirt and tie with dress pants at three places. One was when I worked as a professional photographer for a large corporation, and it was required. Two was a wedding and thirdly a funeral, where it was expected. I tell you this because this is what I called “dressing up”. When I had gone to Penn State, I could wear whatever I rolled out of bed in. Not that I did, but I could have. Believe me, no one in the photo dark room cared what I looked like.
Not so with this place. Every day, in every class, I was expected to be wearing dress clothes. That is how conservative this college is. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we didn’t fit well, and many of the promises made to us to help us decide to come by the recruiter were unfulfilled. But that would not stop me I had a call from God, and I was sure of it.
One thing I failed to mention is that Chrissy was pregnant with our Jonah. So, on moving here we needed some support to help us get acclimated and get settled. Unfortunately, none of that happened. I was told that I could work at the school and that there were plenty of youth ministry positions at local churches that embraced the students of the school. Well, I did work for the school but they applied all of that money to my tuition for school. There were no loans or grants not even scholarships, because as we discovered, this school was not accredited. You paid as you went, and they made sure they received their payments.
We did have a few people and our home church who believed in what we were doing and us. The gifts that came in helped us put gas in the car and some food on the table.
After a few months of classes and trying to fit in, with still no real steady income, Christmas was coming and along with it, the time for Chrissy to give birth. Things were pretty discouraging, but I had faith that God would see us through.
Side note: Remember the puppy we took with us? Well, on arriving we were told no dogs. You need to find it a home. This puppy was a birthday gift for Ben, he loved the movie 101 Dalmatians. So we found a temporary home for her with one of the off campus students. We though it was a good home. To make a long story short, within weeks of her going to her new home she was hit by a car and broke her leg. The vet helped us fix her up. He told her that she was fine. A few weeks later, in spite of her vet’s bill of good health, we got a voicemail message from the other student saying, “Your dog is dead and I buried her in the yard.” Click. Wow! Not a good day.
So, at this point, I almost had it but I decide that I would do whatever I could to bring a few bucks in, and hopefully this would help us and make things better.
I also thought that whatever I made a little would go to taking the kids out for some fun. So we went to McDonalds a few times and bought the kids Happy meals. It was late November, and 101 Dalmatians was the surprise toys in the Happy Meals. So, I had the brilliant idea that we would secretly remove the toys and keep them for Christmas gift for the kids.
The closer we got to Christmas, our Happy Meal toy stash was growing. We hoped that somehow we would be able to buy a few real gifts for the kids, but it didn’t look good.
The grandparents were going to send some things; we knew that, but it’s just not the same as providing for your family. So, we prayed that God would provide. This is when we received a card in our mail on the same day we also received a discouraging anonymous piece of hate mail in the box too. (That is another story.)
In that card was a note saying, “I wish I could do what you are doing. Merry Christmas!” with a cash gift enclosed. It wasn’t much but enough for Chrissy and I to get the kids a few gifts. And we still wrapped the happy meal toys and gave them to the kids.
After 20 years our grandkids play with these little toys and the Christmas ones are on display every Christmas as a reminder to us of God’s faithfulness. His Will, will always be done. Even if those around you are coming against you, and things look hopeless, if you place your trust in Jesus and stay faithful to what His Word says and what He has called you to, He will see you through.
It was a skinny Christmas, but it bound our family together and made us stronger. It actually taught our kids and us how to love and put others before ourselves. Look for opportunities to encourage anyone you can and let people know authentically that you appreciate them without expecting anything in return, even if you don’t understand why God has laid them on your heart. If you watch, God will show up and beautiful things will happen.
As I said this was a hard time, but looking back brings joy and hope to me as I hope it stirs up in your soul the same.