I was born in 1981 with a birth defect, causing a hole, between the two bottom chambers of my heart. Both of my Grandfathers and Great Uncle died from heart disease before I was born, at the ages of 66, 50 and 42. I also have a Great Grandfather who died, after going into cardiac arrest at the age of 58.
By the time I was 2, my Father died from heart disease when he was 36 years old. I can still remember pulling up to the funeral home, with my mom and brothers and sister. Everyone was crying, and although I did not know why, I understood the deep grief and sorrow that poured out of their hearts and it broke mine.
By the age of 4, my heart was enlarging, compensating for the hole and it began to put me into Heart Failure for the first time. I underwent Open Heart Surgery in San Francisco. Heart disease became the norm in my life, although, I knew it wasn’t normal.
The first time I remember learning about God was when I was 5. I was at a girl scouts convention and they told us the story of Jesus’ resurrection. In my little mind, I thought it was going to happen that weekend. I was so excited and even though I didn’t have all the details right. I believed instantly that Jesus was the son of God.
As a Child, I thought God lived in a tin metal hut on College road. I thought it was his earthy home away from Heaven. I don’t know where I got that idea, but there is a sign with a Goldpanner panning for Gold at the top of it. I thought it was Jesus praying on his knees. Every time I passed by that place, I would turn and look, to get a glance of the place where God lived. I didn’t care that He lived in metal hut. I cared that he loved me.
When I was 8, my grandmother died of a heart attack at the age of 67. I was upset one day and my mom told me, it wouldn’t always be this way. She read to me Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain”. In that moment, a seed was planted in my heart. That scripture came to mind in every death, every illness and every heartache from that point on. My mom also shared with me, what it meant to be saved and how to accept Jesus as my Savior. That night, when I was alone in my room, I got on my knees and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I understood that I was in need of a Savior. I was repentant, but I did not understand Grace.
Around the age of 9, I heard God’s still small voice, for the very first time. I was lying in my bed, and whatever questions that were buried deep in my heart, God knew. He spoke to me and said “YOU are MY child”. I thought it was all in my head. But then he spoke again, “I love you. I always have and I always will”. It was undeniably Him, as the tears poured down my tiny face and I experienced God’s truth filling my deepest need.
I desperately wanted to know this God that loved me, but I had no idea how to seek Him. I prayed a lot, but was unable to hear His voice, so I assumed that He was distant. I often felt alone growing up and was filled with anxiety due to the deaths surrounding me. I had dreams from a very young age that always consisted of the “End Times” and pure evilness attacking me. I did not attend church nor did I have any biblical background that could have possibly influenced these dreams. I had no way of sharing these dreams with anyone, because I didn’t know how to describe them.
When I was 13, I snuck out with a friend one night. We got picked up by some older guys, about 19-21. In our innocence, we were going out to have some fun and get a little drunk. That night…my friend was raped. We agreed not to tell our parents, but her dad found out anyway through her journal. We had to testify in court against this man, who had multiple sexual accounts on a minor, weapon and drug charges. He was sentenced to 18 months for everything, but after good behavior he served a total of 9. In this experience, I learned that our Justice system fails us miserably. During all of this, my friend and I planned, each in our own minds how we would kill this man…and in our hearts, we wanted to. One evening, I suddenly felt the need to pray for my friend. I began questioning whether this was God or not…but the persistence did not let up. So I began to pray for His protection over her, and the more I prayed, the more I sensed that something was terribly wrong. About an hour later, I got a call from her. She told me that she had been down by the river, contemplating taking her own life with her father’s gun…but for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. I don’t think I gave God much more than a simple “thank you” when in actuality, He was deserving of my sincere awe and praise for intervening in her life. I also don’t know when our desire to take justice into our own hands diminished, but somewhere in all of this, it did. Romans 12:19 says “Do not take revenge my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord”.
About a year later, I was baptized by my oldest brother Bob, who had gotten saved a few years earlier. He was the only spiritual influence in my life. He would take me to church, read the bible to me and encouraged me to grow closer to God. He was young, but very mature for his age. He was one of the most God-fearing, Jesus-loving human beings that I have ever known. When I was 16 years old, my brother passed away from heart disease, at the age of 24. It was a very devastating and unexpected loss for my family. At the time, I did not understand how a loving God could allow a family to experience so much death. I was lost and confused on how this should be dealt with, so I did what I witnessed my whole life… I buried the pain, convincing myself that it was all okay, because someday, God was going to make it all better. God wanted to heal my broken heart, but at this point in my life, I could only understand his sovereignty. I still desperately wanted a relationship with Him, and wanted to please Him more than anything, but I was afraid of Him.
I spent the rest of my teens drinking and hanging out with other typical teenagers. I would lie, steal and judge others even though, I knew it was wrong. When I was 17, I went out drinking and driving with friends. On our way back to town from a party, I began racing another car. With a girlfriend, who was sober and pregnant sitting next to me, we reached speeds exceeding 100 mph. As we came to a curve on a cliff, I felt the car begin to hydroplane across the pavement. I knew that any sudden movement would mean an instant death for all of us. I felt the presence of God. Like when a parent runs alongside a child on a bike, guiding them safely on the right path. Looking back at this moment makes me wonder, how many other times in my life was God there, guiding me, even in my sin, out of his great love for me?
At the age of 18, I began having an affair with a 25 year old married man. I had one hand reaching for God and the other reaching for my sin. Colossians 3:5 says “Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming”. I was living life the way I wanted, and everything in my life came before God. I was torn and at this point in my life, I had broken every one of the 10 commandments.
One month after I turned 19, I moved to Colorado. My weeks were spent in meetings and working 50-60 hours a week and weekends were spent getting wasted and hanging out at clubs. I didn’t think much about God, except when I would feel a tiny pinch of his convicting love. I am pretty sure I had the worlds dustiest bible.
One day at a meeting, my boss told me I was a very passionate person and to not let people mistake that passion for anger. In that moment, I heard God’s still small voice again, saying “I want you to be passionate for me…”. The only time I thought about or prayed to God was at night before bed. I spent the next 8 years asking God to not give up on me and I promised Him, that one day I would be passionate for Him. When I spoke the words “Don’t give up on me” I didn’t realize that they were not my own, but God’s. I was echoing his spirit speaking to mine, “Don’t give up on me, I am, still here”. But in my inability to discern, I was still lost…..
In 2002, I married a very broken man. The relationship lasted 3 years. The last time he put his hands on me, he picked me up by my throat and began yelling random things at me. As I hung in the air, 3 things went through my mind…“Is this how I am going to die?”…“Do women who are killed by their husbands, realize that these are their final moments?”…“If I live through this, will I walk away and never look back, or will I stay and allow him to kill me, in his lack of self-control?”
Before passing out, he threw me across the room into a desk.
I was not innocent in this relationship. It takes 2 to build or destroy a marriage.
No one knew how bad things were, because I hid as much of it as possible. I had never felt so alone and yet God was there. He was there in my 19 year old employee, who gave me scriptures to read and told me about God’s great love for me. He was there in my sister, who called weekly, just to pray for me. He was there in my brother, who poured out his heart to me, as he was greatly concerned for my wellbeing. He was there in all of those people, who call Him Savior.
Even though I was lost, God found me, and met me in my mess.
I wanted to get a divorce, but I felt guilty about it. I needed to know, that God would still love me, if I followed through with it. One day in my pain, I cried out to him and he answered me, “I have something else planned for you and it is better”. On top of my very broken marriage, I was filling for bankruptcy, running a high volume shoe store and my step-dad had been diagnosed, with stage 4 lung cancer.
Soon, I was on a plane back to Alaska to be with my family. I was able to spend the last 5 days of my dad’s life with him. He was a kind man, who accepted the Lord into his life during the last few years, prior to his death. At this point, death had become routine. Every 7 years or less someone died in my life and I felt numb.
That same year, I met my current husband and we were married within months. We had both just gotten out of very broken marriages. We were separated for 2 ½ of the first 3 years we were married due to deployments and war. We got pregnant the first time and I knew instantly that I would miscarry. Then the Lord gave me a vision. I saw my husband and I walking into the back of our old church, carrying 3 car seats with 2 boys by our sides. I miscarried that next month and 6 months later, in 2005 I got pregnant with our twin sons. During this pregnancy, I was diagnosed with a genetic electrical heart condition that can cause sudden premature death. I had a defibrillator installed in 2006, when my boys were 6 weeks old. In 2008, our triplets were born and 9 days later I was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for Severe Congestive Heart Failure. Many people began praying. I lost 14lbs of fluid, in less than 24 hours that my heart had been desperately trying to pump around my body. What usually takes weeks or even months to heal happened within days and my heart was once again pumping efficiently. My Dr. had never seen anyone recover so quickly.
Within a few months, life carried on with our newly large family. I began having a few drinks each night to relieve the stress, from caring for our 2 2 year olds and 3 newborns. My husband was working full time and going to school on Thursday and Friday nights and all day Saturdays. We also purchased our first home and moved. Our lives were very full.
The valves in my heart began leaking and within a year 3 were severely regurgitating and required surgery. Before flying out of Alaska, my old church prayed over me. I knew, that I was instantly healed. When I got to the states, the doctors said there was nothing wrong with my heart, and sent me home.
Soon, the drinking became the norm in my home and was a nightly occurrence. My tolerance grew to dangerous levels and then it began happening earlier and earlier in the day. Our attitudes began to change and where there was once laughter and love was replaced with disgust and anger. Between work, school, remodeling and caring for our 5 children under 3, we did not have time for each other or ourselves and God was the last thing on our minds. 2 years flew by in the blink of an eye. I walked by a mirror one night and caught a reflection of someone I didn’t recognize. I starred at her, and the tears began to fall. In a moment, I saw everything for what it really was. Even in my drunkenness the reality of the last 2 years hit me and then God spoke to me with sternness, “If you continue, you will die”. I spent the next 6 months, praying for God to help me to quit drinking. It became less and less, although it did not happen overnight. There were moments when I would fall to my knees on the kitchen floor. The bottle would be in my hands and my children would gather around me asking “Mommy, what’s wrong?!” And I would cry out to God in desperation to not take that first drink. I hated who I was and I was full of anger…I was angry at God, for not taking this desire away from me…I was angry at my unbelieving husband, for bringing it around me…But most of all, I was angry at myself, for letting it get this far.
In 2010, my husband began working out of town. I knew that it was God’s timing, as the path we were on was headed for divorce, and I sensed that God was about to work deeply in my life. It was during this time that I began to seek God. “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for me with all your heart”.(Jeremiah 29:12-13)
I prayed a lot. I also began to read my bible and to repent for so. many. things. I recognized that there was nothing good in me. My heart was full of selfishness, jealousy, pride, coveting, anger, gossip and many other sins and I was a drunk on top of it. These sins were embedded into my nasty, sin filled heart. But, according to the worlds standards, I was a “good” person. I didn’t walk around killing people or shooting up schools or whatever the worst possible sins are that you can commit these days. My alcoholism was kept in the privacy of my own home and the rest of my sins only surfaced randomly…a little bit of pride here… a little bit of gossip there. But the truth is, I was committing horrible sins, in the eyes of a Holy God.
One day, with a persistent urgent desire, I fell to my knees and I called out to God…..and for the first time in my life, I gave him all of me. It wasn’t until I was honest about my sin problem and humbled myself before the Lord that he was able to change my wicked heart. I was desperate for Him to change me, because I knew, the path I was on, was headed straight for hell. Matthew 7:13-14 says, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it”.
As I gave my life fully to God, I told Him that he could do whatever he wanted with my life, no matter how I felt about what he choose to do. I knew that it was a bold prayer as the words rolled off my lips, but there was no more holding back. I didn’t want, a shallow, Christian Atheist Faith that I have witnessed most of my life. The kind where people say a simple “save me Lord prayer” and place God wherever they feel like on their list of priorities, blocking off certain areas that he’s not allowed to touch and keeping specific sins that aren’t really so bad. Keeping him at just the right distance when they need him and yet far enough away, to mute the conviction…no, I didn’t want what I already had.
I wanted a Real. Authentic. Genuine. Passionate. Faith-Filled Relationship with my Creator. I wanted everything he had to offer me, convictions and all.
In that moment, I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Joy radiated between both of us. It was like the story of the prodigal son, returning to his father and there was a celebration. I was filled with his Joy, Peace and Love that I had been missing for so long… For the first time in my life, I understood who God really was and the depths of his love overwhelmed me, because I had nothing to offer him, but my broken, sin filled heart. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (Romans 8:38-39)
In May of 2011, I was working out on my elliptical and was shocked twice by my defibrillator. It was extremely painful and sent me into a state of constant anxiety. Soon, I went into panic mode and God told me to “Be still”. It was during this time that I experienced God’s comfort like never before. I learned the true meaning of worship and that I am able to trust God in any circumstance, as he is always in control and always by my side.
I began searching for a new home church as I felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit, but was greatly discouraged in my efforts, as most of the churches that I had experienced were based on false Christianity or were lukewarm. Given my recent life circumstances, I felt extremely guarded by God in finding the right home church to be a part of. After attending one church here in Fairbanks, and sensing that it was not where I was being called, I heard from a mutual friend that the pastor of that church was quoted saying “My church is lukewarm and I am okay with that”. Revelation 3:16 says “so, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth”. I spent most of my life not producing good fruit, and yet, I considered myself to be a “Christian”. Matthew 7:16-19 says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”.
As you can see, I was looking for the real thing. A place that speaks the true Gospel about Repentance And Grace…A place where people are expected to turn from their sin and honor and glorify God with their lives, while serving others.
In 2011, I found what I was looking for in Journey Christian Church. It started with a lifelong friend inviting me to a women’s bible study. There, I was surrounded by women who were honest and humble about their struggles and weaknesses. It was exactly what I had been looking for…a place where I could fellowship with other believers and be held accountable to God’s Holy standards.
In January of 2012, I went to the Mayo Clinic. Prior to going, my old church my family attended, prayed over me. While being prayed for I knew, that God was not going to instantly heal me as he had before. The hardest part was not being told “not yet” from God, but being told that my faith was not strong enough by other believers. God later showed me that I had had deeper issues with my heart than just the physical that needed healing. I have experienced and knew full well God’s amazing, healing power in my life, so it was not an issue with my faith. It was the same with my brother who passed away. It was not a matter of faith, but of God’s will.
While at the Mayo Clinic, I was diagnosed with 3 new heart conditions on top of my birth defect and genetic electrical heart condition known as Long QT Syndrome. Are you confused? Don’t worry, God isn’t! Romans 5:3-5 has become one of my favorite scriptures, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.
After being prayed for, I had two different people I had never met approach me with “a word from God”. They both said these words kept appearing to them as I was being prayed for and they felt the need to share them with me. They asked if I felt that God had “abandoned” or “forgotten” me. At first I was confused, but deep in my heart, I knew that it was how I truly felt about my past. God was just bringing it to the surface. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”.
A few weeks later, my sister passed on a 3rd message from another member of that church. The note read “Stephanie, while you were up front getting prayer for your heart, I heard God say in a Very Loud, Authoritative tone, Full of Possessiveness, “Her heart beats the rhythm of Mine”. And there He was, staking claim in my life again. My God, My Savior, My Heavenly Father. Isaiah 43:1 says “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.”
I’ve had a hard time explaining when I got saved…but I have come to this conclusion. It was nearly 25 years ago, that I got on my knees and accepted Jesus into my heart. He has spent my lifetime pursuing me, and 3 years ago, I received my salvation, after a 22 year process.
1 Corinthians 1:30 says “God has united you with Christ Jesus… Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy and he freed us from sin.”
I have grown tremendously in my walk with Christ over the last couple of years. I have learned what my spiritual gifts are and have been given continuous opportunities to serve others. I have been encouraged, uplifted and continue to bear fruit, that is a result of my walk and growth in Christ, from what I have learned through Journey. I have witnessed people come in as sinners, and watched their lives be transformed by the truth, that Pastor Derek and the leaders of that church hold people accountable to.
I am no longer the person I used to be, and at this point in my life, I am learning who Christ is, in me. The more I seek Him, the more my character takes on his characteristics and the more fruit that is produced in my life. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). I have been delivered from Alcoholism and I am keeping my promise that I made to God 8 years ago, by raising my children, to be God-fearing, Jesus-loving human beings.
My marriage is in a much better place and through our deeply committed vows, we have come to know what the true meaning of love really is. My husband is not a follower, but I am fully convinced that God will continue to pursue him, out of his great love for him.
Jesus doesn’t just fill that God–shaped hole in our hearts, He gives His own in exchange for our sinful, broken ones, so that we may be “more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)