Some years ago, when I was working as a dancer in a nightclub, two customers summoned me to their table. Two more jerks, I thought, never dreaming that the one drinking a Coke would speak words that would change my life.
One of the gentlemen, Mr. Hobbs, was an architect who designed boats for the Navy. He asked me what abilities I had besides dancing. I told him that I'd been a secretary but could not make enough money to keep my 5-year-old son with me.
Mr. Hobbs told me of some missionaries his family supported in Mexico, and then he said, "They would give anything to have someone like you to help them."
My mother was diagnosed with Huntington's Disease (HD), an incurable, genetic brain disease, in 1995. My siblings and I were told that each of us had a 50 percent chance of also carrying the HD gene and in turn passing it on to our children.
I was terrified. Seeing the changes in my mother was heartbreaking. But I knew God had a plan.
We were told that a test was available that could accurately determine whether we carried this fatal gene. But without a cure, it seemed ludicrous to consider.
During the late 1970s I was engulfed in a lifestyle of cocaine, marijuana, liquor and every pill imaginable. At the time, I associated with celebrities from the music industry and "high-class" drug dealers, who supplied me with everything I needed.
I've likened the years I spent in that state to a ride on a carousel. I was going around and around and getting nowhere.
The drugs were plentiful. They helped me to escape the pain of abuse, rejection, hopelessness and guilt.
For the last 3-1/2 years since her divorce, our daughter, along with her two daughters, has found it necessary to live with my husband and me. We have committed ourselves to helping them and sacrificing the comfort that normally comes with almost reaching retirement and being "just grandparents."
It has not been easy, but God has confirmed to us that this is what we are supposed to be doing. He often reminds me through my granddaughters what it means to be made more like Jesus.
Recently one of them, who had just turned 5, asked me to get her medicine out of the cabinet for her. Teasingly, I said to her, "Mary Kathryn, what would you do without Grandma to get everything for you?"
In 1956, when I was 7 years old, I wanted to become a Brownie (Girl Scout) like my best friend. But money was tight. My dad had to work two jobs, and my mother worked at night.
Having gone without during the Great Depression, my parents didn't want to deny me anything. But when I asked if I could join the Brownie group, my mother said, "You are in too many activities already. Neither one of us can afford one more involvement." Undaunted, I begged, "May I join if I come up with the money myself?"
My mom went over the list of supplies and clothing I would need. She added up the cost of uniforms, blouses, socks, a beret, a sweater, shoes, a coat, a handbook, pins, badges, books and a year of dues. She was hoping I'd be discouraged by the grand total of $49, but I wasn't.
My husband, Paul, and I went into the portrait studio to pick up pictures of our 12-month-old son, Ezekiel. We waited with excitement until our names were called, and then, as the sales associate placed the pictures in frames for us to look at, we both stood in shocked silence.
This happened every time we went to pick out our son's most recent pictures. As we looked into those perfectly brushed and lighted photos, we were reminded once again of Ezekiel's Down's syndrome. It was like receiving the news of his condition for the first time.
Finally, we would break the quiet and begin to express our preferences, commenting on how well he smiled in this picture or how blue his little eyes were in that one. Always we would look at each other and smile reassuringly that God had given us this little boy and that in our eyes he was perfect.
March 14, 1986 is a day I'll always remember. I had been serving in the United States Air Force for more than 12 years and was stationed in South Korea.
That morning I walked into the living room of my small apartment and found the room filled with a cloud. I wasn't afraid or shocked; rather, I was extremely calm. In the center of the cloud I saw my 11-year-old son's face, and I heard the Lord say, "Go home."
Immediately, I rushed to my workplace to tell my supervisor that I needed to return home to Denver. With his permission, I took the first flight headed to the United States.
After I started Junior High School, God began breaking my heart for the poor and put the idea of becoming a missionary in my head. Years later, I attended a small Christian college, and less than a month after I graduated in 2000, I boarded a plane headed for the African nation of Mozambique.
God allowed me to minister to the poor and to teenage prostitutes there for six months. I fell in love with the people and the land, and it was difficult to leave. I seriously considered living there as a full-time missionary--until the Lord redirected my life and gave me a passion to instill a missionary heart in the people of Orange County, California, where I live.
I found a way to incorporate God's heart for missions with my work at a popular coffee store. Our location became a venue for live music, much of it played by Christian musicians, who have been given the opportunity to minister in a different way to people outside the four walls of the church.
Three years ago, before the summer break, our Bible study leader gave the class a challenge: "Do something weird for Jesus this summer, something you've never done before." As I drove home, I accepted the challenge, but I wondered what "weird" thing I could do.
I recalled a minister I knew once who made a regular practice of standing at our sanctuary door and blessing everyone when he shook their hands. I remembered how this filled me with warm feelings, and I started to wonder if I could make others feel that way. Could I be a witness for God in the marketplace? I thought.
One day, after I finished shopping for groceries, when a young man was putting my bags in the back seat of my car, I said to him, "The Lord bless you."
I was a young college student, studying music and looking to supplement my income, when I was made aware of a job opening at a local church. I gained an interview, and my meeting with the committee went well.
The choir members were excited about the possibility of hiring a college student. But among their questions for me, one was glaringly absent: Are you a Christian?
I wasn't. To me, this was just a conducting job. I didn't notice it then, but now I can see the absence of this question as a direct intervention by God.
In 2001, I had a marriage made in heaven, three wonderful little boys, great friends and a house with a white picket fence. I worked as a university instructor and at one of the nation's top hospitals. All of my hard work had paid off, and I was on my way.
But in a matter of months, my picture-perfect world was shattered. After the birth of my youngest son, I began to experience unusual physical symptoms such as extreme fatigue, numbness and tingling in my limbs, and loss of balance.
After undergoing months of testing and losing my vision in one eye, I heard the dreaded words: "You have multiple sclerosis." Life as I knew it changed forever.
In my ideal world, God would sit me down with paper and pen and ask me to write out exactly how I would like my life to go. Much to my shock and chagrin, however, that is not the way God handles His business.
It was June 24, 2005 when I first received the news that I had cancer. Being the naïve 23-year-old, 6-month newlywed that I was, I reacted out of anger, fear, shock and disbelief. Finding the beauty and purpose in my situation was the last thing on my mind as my doctor began to tell me that the lump I had found on my leg was actually non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and that I would have to undergo eight rounds of aggressive chemotherapy.
Fingering my long locks of hair, I listened as the doctor said that I would lose all of my glorious mane, which I had just spent $65 to have highlighted!
In July 2005 my husband called me at home. Although I had been resting, I was so breathless he assumed I was doing intense housework. Two days later, my hands shook so badly that I could hardly write.
That Sunday I couldn't sing more than two words without losing my breath. Soon after, short walks left me breathless. My hair began to fall out and my weight decreased.
Immediately I agreed to undergo medical tests. Both my resting heart rate and active heart rate were abnormally high. My thyroid was producing hormones at a toxic level three times above the average.
"I didn't die. I lived! And now I'm telling the world what God did" (Ps. 118:17, The Message).
I started having post-menopausal problems in 2002. An initial biopsy returned negative, and at first the problems were sporadic, but in 2006, they worsened. I prayed and asked the Lord to heal me as He had healed the woman with an issue of blood (see Mark 5:25-34).
Because I work at an OB/GYN practice, I knew I should have additional tests done. This time the results were positive for endometrial cancer. In my state of stunned denial, the Holy Spirit overpowered me with Isaiah 26:3, " You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you" (NIV).
We should never underestimate the power of the Lord's timing and the importance of doing His will. In 1980, my unsaved, alcoholic uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live.
Throughout his life, my grandmother tried unsuccessfully to speak to Uncle Tim about godly matters. Unfortunately, even news of his impending death did not change his ways.
Miraculously, Uncle Tim lived 18 years after his diagnosis, all the while staying away from the Lord. During that time I grew close to him, looking beyond his intoxication to see a man for whom Jesus died.
Arriving home from work one day, I thought I was alone. God knew that I wasn't. Making my way to the back of the house to take a relaxing shower, I turned on the light in the hallway. I also turned up the volume on the radio to hear it over the running water and the exhaust fan.
As I stepped out of the shower, something in the hall caught my eye. I walked from the bathroom to the bedroom and flipped on the light.
To my utter horror a stranger was standing by my bed, a stocking over his head and a knife in his hand. Terror constricted my throat, but inside I heard, "Call upon Me and I will deliver you."
"Jesus!" burst from my lips, followed by "I bind you in the name of Jesus!" Immediately I ran down the hall. I knew my screams would not be heard over the radio, and I realized that I must get out of the house.
I reached the front door, but I knew I'd never get the security chain off in time. When I whirled around to face the masked intruder, he was standing two feet away. He raised his knife and bellowed: "I'll cut you in pieces. Go lie down!"
The calming voice of God told me to obey the authority of that knife for the moment. I whispered, "In Jesus' name I will lie down" over and over as I headed back toward my bedroom, assuming that the intruder was right behind me.
As I re-entered the hallway, I prayed, "Lord, I know it is not Your will that I die like this, and I don't know how, but I know You are going to save me." Entering my bedroom, I noticed the intruder was no longer behind me.
The Spirit of God told me he had left the house. After a few minutes I called 9-1-1. The police found the intruder's tracks under the window, where he had apparently broken in, and by the back door where he'd probably exited. The deputy was surprised I escaped unharmed.
All I could reply was, "Jesus did it!"
I've learned that prayer can carry us through not only daily needs but through deadly crises as well. Even if we find ourselves trapped in a corner, we have a prayer weapon to use in our defense–the name of Jesus.
I'm a big fan of schedules. I prefer the security of a solid plan and a definitive timeframe. I hate having to wait, and I hate having to rush.
However, being an obsessive planner can sometimes make living with God's timing a little difficult. We have all had that conversation with God when we say: "Hello! Your timing could use a little work." I have said this—more than once.
Six years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child. We were so excited. But our hopes ended in a miscarriage.