Fellowship of the Parks
A Family for Everyone
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I grew up in a household where you had to be very careful about what you did and what you said. My biological father was abusive, and abandoned my mom, brother, and me when I was young. She had to quickly find a job, and worked really hard to put food on the table and meet our needs. One day, through a personal ad, my mom met the man I now consider my dad. It all happened so quickly – they dated for two weeks, and were married two weeks later. My dad wanted to adopt my brother and I, but couldn’t because our paternal rights weren’t released for a long time. It didn’t matter – from day one he’s been our dad. The only thing adoption changed was the addition of his last name to my birth certificate.
Once I graduated from high school, I went to work full-time. I don’t know exactly why, but I got real burned out – decided I was just done. At that same time, I met Brayden’s dad. We dated for just a short amount of time when I ended up pregnant. We married, but it was a very bad relationship – he was very abusive. Through a long, drawn-out divorce process, I was thankfully able to put it all behind me.
I started working with my dad during this time, and things really began to change. One day at work, I was in the yard working on my tractor, and this guy walks up out of nowhere and starts trying to tell me, “Hey, you should do ‘this’ and ‘that’ and try to work on it like ‘this’. I was like, “Hey, I don’t know who you are, but you need to stop telling me how to do my job!” That man would turn out to be my husband, Jake Kaz.
Our first real date was the turning point in our relationship. When he picked me up, he asked Brayden to come with us to get ice cream. From that point on I was like, “Alright, maybe this guy is worth it.” We got married in May of 2013, and just this past October had our little girl, Claire. Jake has definitely showed me how marriage should be. He does anything and everything for our family, and that makes me want to do anything and everything I can for him.
He lit a fire under me to really get involved in church. I started to listen a lot more to the messages, and knew there was definitely something missing in my life. I’ve gone through a lot, but things really started to turn around when I left a bad situation and got back into church, and started praying that God would send the right, godly man into my life – one that was right for me and Braiden??. I can look back and see that He did exactly what I asked. When I put all my faith in Him, He met my needs. I am where I am today because of God.
Catherine and I met through my friend’s wife. We didn’t date very long before getting engaged, and then quickly got married. Just as quickly, though, we found out we didn’t have a lot in common. Marriage was a huge adjustment: I went from being a bachelor with all the money I could spend, to boom – being married, having a stepchild, and then having another kid with Catherine. We had a lot to deal with. We went to individual and marriage counseling, but it didn’t solve our problems. I drank, and with every change and stress that drove us further apart, I drank more. We had no intimacy between us, and no spirituality in our home. There was just this feeling of aloneness.
Thankfully, a counselor suggested we try Dave Ramsey’s financial management program. While it focused on finances, it also covered deeper spiritual issues. This program brought us together – we were able to get on the same page and heal. When we moved to the area in fall 2012, our oldest daughter started regularly attending Fellowship of the Parks. She would always come home and tell us we needed to go, but heavy stress levels kept us from doing it. We were burnt out. When Christmas came, and we didn’t know where else to go, we decided to try FOTP. Then at Easter, we went back. We plugged in and decided to join a Small Group, which has now become our family.
At the time, Pastor Chuck was starting a church softball team, and he asked me to play. We weren’t very good, but it was fine. I got to know Chuck quite a bit, as he shared some personal and marital struggles he had faced. Slowly, over time, I stopped going out with guys from work; I stopped going to the bars. I started looking forward to going to Small Group and to doing family things.
When Pastor Doug talked about taking first steps toward giving financially to God through the giving ladder, we decided to try giving $100 a month. When I got into a new job with a sizable raise, I thought God had a lot to do with it, and told Catherine I wanted to make sure we bumped up our giving to 10% of our income. As much as God helped my family and me personally through FOTP and its people, I want to give my money and my time to them, because they are constantly reaching others. We went because we were far from having everything together. We were looking for something that was missing in our lives. I found it at FOTP – connection to Christ – and that’s something I hope everybody will find.
I first came to Fellowship of the Parks in 2003. As much as I appreciated the teaching and worship, I had recently been divorced and felt like I didn’t belong here. It seemed to be a church full of married people. That stayed in the back of my mind and, when I was remarried two years later, I came back thinking “now this can be my church.”
Within two years, that marriage had also deteriorated. All the lies and infidelity paved the way for yet another divorce. As broken and frustrated as I was, I had grown to love FOTP too much to leave and ended up hosting a singles group at my house to try and help create a place for myself and the other single adults around me. Through that group, I realized a deep insecurity with myself. I felt incomplete if I wasn’t married, which really bothered me. I wanted that to change so I would nd my identity in Christ and in serving Him.
In 2011, I became the founding leader of DivorceCare at Fellowship of the Parks. The program does a great job of teaching that we are de ned by our relationships with God long before the world labels us as married, divorced, or single. Regardless of how messy divorce so often is, the path forward is forgiveness through Jesus and finding our contentment in Him beyond our immediate circumstances.
It’s amazing to see all that God has done for single and divorced people through a church I initially thought was for married people only. Ironically, it was only after I had reached a place of total contentment with myself and the Lord that I met Mark, who also served at the church and had himself been single for nine years. We eventually married each other, but with a completely different understanding of what our purpose really is for each other. The difference for both of us is like night and day.
I am so happy to see how the singles ministry at Fellowship of the Parks has developed since I first came. We now have a group called Undivided 735, where those who are or have become single again can pursue their relationships with the Lord together with their attention undivided from Him.
The group gets its name from 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, where Paul explains marriage to be something that very easily distracts us from the Lord. Especially in our culture, marriage quickly becomes the primary relationship we pursue, care for, and worry about. Paul says we should give that kind of attention to our individual relationships with God first. Everything else comes from the over ow of that. It’s an unpopular idea, for sure. And yet it matches perfectly with what Jesus taught: being in the world and not of it and making sure nothing gets in the way of our relationship with Him. In 7:35, Paul wrote, “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”
We are a church that loves to strengthen marriages, helping them to be built and function with a Christ-centered perspective—and rightfully so since marriage was the illustration of intimacy Jesus used to explain our unity with Himself. But that is a relationship we are all meant to enjoy, whether we are married or single, young or old. We all t into one family together as His Church—His bride. No matter what stage of life we’re in, we can grow, serve, and love right where we are.
I have been a middle school music teacher for several years. Three years ago, a new student walked into my classroom and we had an immediate connection. Conversation seemed to come easily. Now don’t get me wrong, Jennifer had a hard-outer shell, and she was not interested in singing! Period! However, shortly after starting my class, she began to eat lunch in my room. She was relatively quiet the first few weeks and did not initiate conversations. As time progressed, she started to open up more during lunch and actually began singing in class as well! During our chats, I learned that she was living in a local children’s shelter. As time progressed and our comfort level increased I learned much more about the life of this special child. Jennifer continued to share her story with me. She was so young to have such a “full plate!” She told me that she was going to be featured in WFAA’s Wednesday’s Child. The basic message from this program was: “no one wants to adopt teens”! This was a very sad reality.
Soon after bonding with Jennifer, FOTP started the adoption/orphan care movement. I had always thought that I might adopt one day, but it wasn’t until the realization of this statement that I genuinely felt a longing to “make the plunge“. I nervously prayed for guidance.
Towards the end of the school year, Jennifer asked me to take a picture with her. I placed the photo on the fridge and immediately thought and felt that “this is my child”. On the last day of school, she brought me a letter and a painting. After school dismissal, I read the letter. She had expressed that she loved my class and that I was the mother she needed. I knew then that I had to adopt Jennifer. I talked to a friend who worked at an agency and started paperwork. That summer I was able to keep in contact with Jennifer, but didn’t let her know that I was thinking and praying about adopting her.
In January 2016, we officially started the process. I was very nervous and afraid because I am an older single woman, but I was prayerful and leaned on my great support system. Jennifer was placed through Child Protective Services and moved into my home on the last day of school. She was fostered in July and formally adopted on National Adoption Day November 19, 2016.
Blending together as a family has been an eye-opening but beautiful experience. I had the opportunity to meet Jennifer’s biological mother, and we have been able to bond. Jennifer’s sister has been adopted by another single mother and lives ten minutes away. This has been helpful and encouraging for all of us.
To say this process had been a journey of faith would be an understatement. It was truly the blind being led by God. This process has been a very positive one, and definitely a win-win situation. Jennifer has a new supportive and loving family, and I have become more open minded and vulnerable in the best way. Sure, there are challenging moments, but when these times arise, we seem to figure out a way to make things work. The words that the judge spoke on Jennifer’s adoption day help us to continue: “Are you sure that you want to do this? Denise? Jennifer? After I make my pronouncement, it will be too late to change your mind!” It is then that we remember that we were both in tears as we said, “Yes!”
When I first came to Fellowship of the Parks, the only person I knew was my sister, who agreed to come with me for moral support. My ex-husband had just left me with our 18 month-old, and my 14-year-old and my world felt like it was out of control. Even with a Catholic background, I lacked a personal relationship with God. After everything I’d just gone through, I felt like maybe that’s what I needed.
My sister’s support wasn’t quite enough in itself to get me to become more involved, not to mention I still had a thousand unanswered spiritual questions. It sounds silly, but I felt inadequate to serve. I did have the courage, at least, to join a LIFEGroup for single parents. I was nervous but I knew I needed more support in my new journey.
The group was brand new, and I was the only person who attended at first. I think I actually needed that. Stacyee, the group’s leader, was so helpful in talking with me about some of my spiritual questions while encouraging me to study on my own. With time, I was much more aware of what the Christian faith actually stood upon. For the first time, I knew in my heart it was true and I soon found myself serving in multiple areas at the church.
The single parents LIFEGroup grew to have many more regular attenders like me, but eventually, Stacyee needed to step down as the leader. She asked me to lead it in her place. I didn’t feel qualified but I was encouraged that she thought I was capable. I soon found that it wasn’t my knowledge (or lack of knowledge) which decided if I was qualified to be a leader or not. It was the fact that I was actively pursuing God and valued having others around to do that with.
The biggest fear I had to overcome as a LIFEGroup leader was the group prayer. It helped to realize that all of us were nervous about praying out loud. But I knew I had to work past it if I wanted to grow in my faith. To help, I purchased a small prayer book and found a few relevant prayers to read aloud for the group until I became more comfortable with it.
I am forever grateful for what that first LIFEGroup offered to me in community and spiritual growth. Neither was automatic but rather the direct result of what I put into it. I learned a personal relationship with God and His people was exactly what I needed. God calls His followers to love each other, and I have yet to find a better way to do that than to entrust myself to a small, Christ-centered group of people and take an active interest in their lives.
Last fall represented a new time of growth for me as I felt God leading me to start a brand new LIFEGroup to follow The Daniel Plan. I’m still no Bible scholar but I was excited to witness what God did through this new group.
If anyone were to tell me three and a half years ago when I first arrived to FOTP that I would be doing this, I would have thought they were crazy. But now I have seen how God cares for us when we simply trust Him and put Him first in our lives. He has truly changed me from the inside out.
My wife and I have been married 34 years. Lisa and I started dating at 15 and have two children. To say I am smitten falls short, I love this amazing woman, more now than ever.
On December 22nd 2015, Lisa went in for a voluntary hysterectomy. On the operating table the doctor found cancer and called the oncologist. He walked her through what he wanted done. We found out from the scans on December 28th that the cancer was contained. Fortunately, things moved very quickly. We met with the oncologist on January 4th. He gave Lisa options. Lisa decided to have the surgery and it was scheduled for January 8th. The doctor removed 95% of the cancer. While recovering from the surgery, Lisa underwent another surgery to place her port for the chemotherapy treatments. We began to see how our God was showing up at every turn. The statement, “God’s got this” continued to resound for both of us!
Lisa started the 18 chemo treatments on January 25th. Lisa did okay with the treatments. Our issues revolved around making sure she ate three meals a day and drank enough water. She slept sometimes days at a time and other days not at all. For me, tears would just roll at times when I saw the love of my life hurt, or she couldn’t sleep. We spent days on our couch recovering from surgeries. The pain so intense that nothing would work. If she took something it would cause something else. We made it with God at our side through these difficult times.
During her treatments either myself or our daughter took Lisa. Lisa made it her objective to lift others up every time she was getting treatments. Lisa committed to never going to treatment without a smile. We shared the gospel every time. We have no doubt that God had us there for his work. God kept her going, he never left us, as he promised.
Lisa received numerous well wishes, cards, food and other meaningful gifts. One of the items she received early in this journey was a book called, Praying through Cancer. God, put this book in her hands, to help her in those many nights of no sleep along with those times where she was anxious. Every time we would have a tough time, he would show up in a verse, phone call, text, through the many friends who kept up with us.
On February 18th Lisa had a spot checked on her left foot. It came back as melanoma. She had surgery to remove it on March 2nd. This was difficult, she had to use crutches to get around for 3 weeks, while the site healed. Through all of this, chemotherapy treatments continued. On May 31st, Lisa went in for a follow up with her skin doctor to find a spot on her face. It came back as a melanoma. It was removed on June 7th.
Lisa had her last chemotherapy treatment on June 20th. She rang the bell to symbolize the last chemo treatment. On July 5th Lisa’s scans came back all clear!
Marriage longevity runs in our families. We thought everything was perfect. We have two children; Samantha (10) and Max (5). After Samantha was born in 2006 we started looking for a church home. We decided to attend Good Shepard Catholic Community. We had Samantha and Max christened and our marriage recognized by the Catholic Church. Then we stopped attending.
We’d been to FOTP several times throughout the years with Amanda’s sister and her family. The kids always loved it and continually asked when we would go back. So, we started attending regularly. In December of 2013, we attended Starting Point and joined the church.
Throughout our marriage, we struggled with communication and financial stress that never seemed to get resolved. It was the same dance year after year. We had attended counseling but it never seemed to work. On our 2015 annual beach vacation with all of our family, we had a huge blow-up. This fight motivated us to attend Marriage on the Rock in 2015. However, something was still off. We both swept it under the rug and continued to coexist in our home and put on a happy face in public.
What I (Chris) didn’t realize was marriage took effort and I wasn’t putting in that effort. I evaded problems and issues when they arose hoping the situation would resolve itself on its own. In my work career I routinely solved complicated problems and worked to find resolutions to satisfy those involved, but at home, I was withdrawn, distant, and disengaged. My behavior was unsustainable and it was taking a toll on our marriage and family.
Our financial struggle was serious. We had been making silly mistakes and with no real communication between the two of us, things got out of control. Trying to keep the peace between us, we didn’t talk about how things were going — and it was going terribly.
The series With Him was a light bulb moment for us. We immediately sought out Roger Gibson and said, “We need help.” We began weekly meetings with Roger to learn how to forgive and reconnect. After another episode of selfish withdrawal, I (Chris) had an epiphany while watching FOTP baptisms. I had to change. I truly accepted Jesus in my life and was baptized. While going through that process Roger encouraged us to participate in a two-day Marriage Intensive. It wasn’t easy, however, it has transformed our lives.
The support and belief that FOTP has shown us has been a miracle in our lives. We now have the tools we need to communicate and understand our needs in a productive way. We still struggle, but we pray together, continue to work on our relationship with Christ as a couple and as individuals.
In the months since all of this came to the surface, our lives have been forever changed! Our children have seen the change in us. Our daughter has accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior! Our son enjoys talking about what he’s learned in Kids Inc. and prays with us too.
We have experienced a renewed commitment to each other that goes beyond ‘til death do us part’. Our marriage is now focused on the teachings in the Bible and we seek ways to honor each other daily.
I was raised in a home absent of religion. Somehow I knew my parents believed Jesus was the son of God, but they chose to keep searching for the right fit for their lives. They did not believe the Bible was how they wanted to live. My parents were into astrology, and I even remember going to some Scientology meetings. Somehow, I believed in Jesus as the Son of God, but I never learned anything about Him until much later in life.
My parents divorced when I was in the 6th grade, and that is when my rebellion kicked into high gear. I decided now that my dad was out of the picture, I would start doing what I wanted to do. Drinking, smoking and hanging around a bad crowd is what came after that. All those things combined to make even more bad decisions throughout my life.
Alcoholism came later after I suffered several significant losses in one year. I used to pray every night and remember the night I told God that if He loved me, He never would have let these things happen to me. I was done and not speaking to Him anymore. It was too much for me, so alcohol was my answer. After drinking heavily for about seven years, I had what I will call a divine intervention. The obsession with alcohol was gone, and I started down a new path.
Even though I was free from the bondage of alcohol, I was still empty and spiritually dead. I met my husband, Tony, at 40 and we had twin girls three years later. So now I was a spiritually dead mother of two infants. I was miserable, but I couldn’t change it. One day my boss called me into her office to tell me I had a complaint from someone. It was not the first time, but she did tell me I couldn’t get any more complaints. I knew I could not change myself. That night in February of 2013, I got down on my knees and asked the Lord to come into my heart and change me.
A few months later, we started attending Fellowship of the Parks Keller and joined very quickly. I got baptized here as well. As my husband and I have drawn closer to the Lord, He has guided our steps. With each step of obedience comes even more of His blessings. He has opened doors for me that never would have been opened before I gave Him my heart.
Through getting to know Him, He has changed my life. Over time, He has freed me from the chains of bondage, restored me and made me alive!
Since Mike and I were married in 1994, we had always wanted to have a baby and become a family of three. Yet years and years passed, and we weren’t getting pregnant. I struggled with the identity of who I was not – the one thing I desired and knew God called me to be – a mom.
In 2011, my dad passed away after a battle with cancer. Many years earlier, Mike had lost both his parents suddenly, too. Losing those close to us was a real and significant fear in our lives. We feared the deep sadness and heartache a loss can leave even by the way of foster care or adoption.
In November 2011, we moved to North Fort Worth and were looking for a new church home. During our first Sunday at Fellowship of the Parks, Pastor Doug talked about his own adoption story, and how God adopts us as his own sons and daughters. That was the first seed God planted. Then, I found out my new hairstylist and dentist had also been adopted. At this point, we figured God was really trying to tell us something. Mike and I accepted God’s call to become adoptive parents.
In 2012, we wrote a heartfelt “Dear Birth Mother” letter, in hopes of connecting to an expecting woman planning for adoption. However, this was a dead end and our hope was diminishing. Yet we continued to pray.
In November 2013, we helped FOTP at the Buckner Foster and Adoption Center’s Shoes for Orphan Soul’s workday. It was there God placed a desire in our hearts to foster babies needing love due to abandonment or abuse. A few months later, we started the mountain of paperwork and extensive training to become licensed foster parents, and ultimately adopt a baby. This was the beginning of our “Joy Journey.”
On October 15, 2014, at 2:30 am, CPS delivered a precious three-month-old baby girl into our home and our hearts. She had been abused – with fractured ribs, multiple bruises, and adult bite marks. All we could do as first-time parents was accept and love her as our very own. So we did. We didn’t know if she would be our daughter forever, but we kept praying.
We were faced with many battles to keep this sweet girl safe, secure and loved. Our faith was tested to the limits. Even the devil tried to tell us we weren’t worthy of joy. But God reminded us to fight for our joy, both the joy in our hearts and the baby we had become to know as Joy, because she was worth it and so were we.
Several months and hurdles later, the teenaged biological parents relinquished their rights. Our prayer to keep Joy was finally coming true! On November 19, 2015, we became Joy Marie Harbour’s forever family. God called us to be on our knees, praying to defend our Joy. She was His gift to us. From day one, we received her into our home and hearts and fought for her – even when we were afraid of losing her – because God promised us one day we would become parents.
We are so grateful to God for our journey. Through Christ we overcame fear, and He gave Joy to us, forever.
When I was young, about ten years old, my family started going to church heavily. My dad was going through a spiritual transition. He ended up accepting Christ and getting baptized, and my mom did too. We were a lower class family though, and when the church scorned my dad, he decided we would quit going. He told us, “Church is in your heart – just believe that, and let’s move on.”
In 2008, I moved to Lake Worth and met my wife, Kristi, who grew up Catholic. We went to the Catholic church for a little while, but over time I told her, “Hey, this isn’t going to work.” I was mostly concerned about what I wanted. One day, one of my co-workers said, “My husband and I go to this place called Fellowship of the Parks,” and invited me. I thought, “Okay, I’m going to go to this ‘Fellowship of the Parks’ place.”
The first person I met there was Nick Engels. He was out in front of the church working when I first pulled up. It was a hot day, and my A/C was giving out, so I rolled down the window. Nick greeted me, saying, “Hey, what’s going on? How are you? It’s nice to meet you!” Pulling into the parking lot, I thought, “You know what God? Timeout… I’m not feeling you today – I’m really not.” I put the truck in reverse and backed up. Right then, Nick was at my window. He put his hand on the door, saying, “Hey man – go ahead and park.” Startled, I said, “Yeah, I was just reversing so I could back into a spot and get out easier.” I parked and went in.
When I walked through the doors for service, I was almost in the front row before I realized it. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “I’m a back-row person!” But by the time I turned around, service was starting, and I figured I’d better sit down. When Pastor Charles began praying, I just broke down. I prayed what I’d been praying for years: “Someday, God, just let me walk in with my family.…”
After about three Sundays, I asked my wife if she wanted to go to church. She accepted, and when we got there, who was there but Nick! Looking at her with a smile, he said, “Welcome to Fellowship of the Parks!” He was there to welcome both of us on our first visits. On the drive home, she said, “Man, that place isn’t bad. I think the boys are going to like it.”
At that time, I didn’t realize I was putting my marriage on the back burner. I was very selfish in it. After we had started going to church though, my oldest son saw a change in me. He said, “Dad, you’re not as grouchy or grumpy anymore.” Other people noticed too, saying, “Whoa, what’s up dude? You’ve gone to this church thing, and you’ve really changed. You and Kristi are a whole lot happier. What are you doing?” I’d reply, “Do you really want me to tell you the secret?” And we’d invite them to church.
When we got around people who were like-minded, I began to see my relationship with my wife evolve. I also realized that we were not perfect, we’re human, and if we didn’t set our foundation the right way, it could all topple over. Now, our foundation is God, and our life together is a much better journey.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved God. My biggest desire, however, was for the “white picket fence” family.
In 2006, I got married. Soon after, we had a girl then a boy, and purchased a nice home in suburban Texas. It was just what I dreamt of and I was so thankful.
We visited Fellowship of the Parks near our new home in Grapevine. It was meeting at a high school back then, but had big plans to grow. It was so neat to be used to help grow a church. FOTP was so warm and welcoming, and I felt so close to God.
Six years down the line, my marriage was in a terrible place. I was devastated but avoided sharing my pain with anyone. I was raised by a single mom who often refused help because she thought she could do everything on her own. Embarrassed and ashamed, I refused as well. I ignored friends, family, and most importantly, I ignored God.
I had leaned on God in the past during more minor trials, but this time I wanted to be left alone to make my own decisions. Everything was disrupted—my home, routines, extended family and friends—right down to my identity as a woman. When people asked how I was doing, I would put on a smile and claimed everything was great. In my mind, I was still the girl who had it all.
But I was wrong. We couldn’t fix our marriage and the divorce papers were signed. I had never felt so desperate and afraid as I did during that time of my life. I was on my own with no one to lean on as I ventured into an unknown future. Now a single mom with two young kids on a teacher’s salary and a pile of college debt, I moved in with my mom. With four of us in her one bedroom apartment, my mom slept on the couch and gave her small bed to me and my kids.
Every day, I felt numb. I was working, parenting, and even worshipping like a zombie. I attended FOTP for a few more years, and was part of the transition to the beautiful new building before I finally reached out to Pastor Charles, friends, and colleagues to ask for help. It was a huge weight off my shoulders to be vulnerable and honest.
I’m humbled to see how God has grown me since then. It’s no surprise I’m closer to Him now than I ever was. God helped me see why our focus should be on Him before anything else, picture perfect family included. He is the only one who won’t disappoint.
I’ve learned that pushing people away just leads to more pain and anguish. Friends and family are meant to be aware of what we struggle with so they can love and support us through it.
Before, I thought my perfect image protected me. Now, I see how it actually hurt me to hide my weaknesses because God’s strength was also being hidden. I’ve learned that the more I know about myself, the more I can let others help me, and the more thankful I am for how God loves me.
Most importantly, I have learned that God is there to lean on. Talk to Him! Once I did, I realized that His plan for us is amazing, and that He can turn any pain into incomprehensible good. By giving Him my trust, God truly has blessed my broken road.
I learned the Bible stories and was taught about Jesus at an early age. When I was 13, I chose to be baptized after recognizing that I truly believed in God and what I had been taught in church. I expected something supernatural to happen once I was baptized, but it never did. Despite my disappointment, I continued to believe that being a Christian was about the same things—going to church and being good.
I experienced my first breakup with a girlfriend at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. It was the most emotional pain I had experienced in my life up to that point. I was already drinking alcohol but it became excessive and my means of escape. Over the next couple of years I got more into the party scene and before I knew it I was not the person I wanted to be.
Eventually, I came to take a hard look at my faith. If I wasn’t being good and going to church, I didn’t feel any reason to call myself a Christian. I felt if I were to die, I would probably not get into heaven. Although I was having a great time on the outside, I was falling apart on the inside.
I moved into an apartment complex my junior year simply because it was going to be a great party scene, and it was. To my surprise God used that place to bring me back to Himself.
I met a girl I liked, and when she started going to a Bible study group that met inside the apartment complex, I went as well. After going a couple of times, the group leader invited me to meet with him one-on-one in the mornings to study the book of Ephesians. I agreed to meet with him. As I read and we discussed what the Scripture meant, I began to realize that my faith was built on some misconceptions.
The verses that pierced me the most were Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
I discovered there was no amount of “being good” that could earn my salvation. I realized I was a sinner, no matter what I did, and because of this I was separated from God eternally. I understood God had sent Christ to live the sinless life I could not live, and to be the perfect sacrifice I needed to atone for my sins. I knew there was indeed a great work that had to be done to earn salvation, but Christ had already done it. Trusting in what He had accomplished on the cross was the only thing I needed to do. It was at this point in my life I became assured of my salvation, and being a Christian became more of a mission to follow Christ than to be religious.
Since trusting in Christ alone, I live with the security that my eternal state is safe with Him. I fall short every day, but I trust in God’s grace to finish the work He started in me. Through Fellowship of the Parks and friends we met in a LIFEGroup, my wife and I have been encouraged in our walk with Christ. We’ve learned so much about how God uses His people to demonstrate His love.
Spring semester 2014 at Texas A&M, God changed my heart miraculously. I went from being religious and seeing Christianity as following all of these rules to understanding what true love really is and how Jesus loves me despite all of my failures. That gave me a tremendous drive to love Him and love others. It was one of the most amazing times in my life!
That time would not last. I left College Station for mission work in Colorado that summer, but come the fall of 2014 I was back at home looking for a job.
Being back at home under my parent’s roof and without a real sense of community like I’d had at Texas A&M, I really struggled to understand why the calling I felt God had on my life was not falling into place. It left me feeling lonely, sad, and disconnected from Him. During this time, I hurt a lot of the people who were closest to me without even knowing. I was at church every Sunday and even Bible study, but I just didn’t feel that connection with God. I found myself trying to replace God’s love with sex, something that had been a previous struggle. I went looking for sex instead of Christ’s love or even a Christ-centered friendship. For a couple of months this became an addiction, something I had to have, which made me feel even further away from Christ.
In October of 2015, I found out that during the time I spent seeking the wrong things, I had fathered a daughter. At the time, I was working as an intern for the youth program of the church I attended. Condemnation, guilt and shame all filled my heart. I knew God’s love, but I could no longer feel it or understand what it meant. Surely, the people that had come to expect so much from me would be disappointed and hurt when they saw I had not done things the way God intended.
The next few months took me through a grueling spiritual battle. I don’t claim to have it all together, even now, but Jesus has worked on my heart. He has allowed me to be free to share my struggles and pain as well as the blessing that He has given me in my beautiful daughter, Reagan Joy, who is now 7 months old.
Jesus saw me at my absolute worst—when I thought I had it all together and acted like I was someone I wasn’t. He made me vulnerable and gave me good Godly friends who showed me love through Christ and have walked with me through all of the struggles that I face.
As hard as I try, and as worthy as God is, He never expected me to be perfectly obedient through my own efforts—that’s why He sent Jesus to do it for me. I also see now how God doesn’t want me to be lonely. He has placed me in a family, both earthly and spiritually, that have each offered true encouragement and support. Most importantly, He has shown me His love in an even greater way than I ever imagined. As a father now, this has changed everything for me in how I know I am to love the precious baby girl He has given me responsibility for in this life.
Before knowing God and having a relationship with Him, I struggled with depression. Honestly, I don’t remember ever not battling with depression. I was severely picked on all through grade school because of my weight. I never felt like I could amount to anything.
I thought I was useless, ugly and pathetic. I got to the point of wanting to commit suicide to end all the hurt I had inside. When I finally started to seek out and rebuild my relationship with God, tragedy struck. At one of my daycare jobs, I learned that a child in my class passed away. I resented God which led to hatred toward Him. Before this, I had never thought of turning my back on Him but I did after the sudden death of this child.
My boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, finally got me out of the rut by telling me how worried he was about my faith and kept reinforcing to me that God is loving. As I wrestled with this, I finally got the courage to go back to church. I struggled, however, to connect with God or anyone at church.
Soon after getting back to church, my parents were in a motorcycle accident that killed my father. I was always a daddy’s girl, so when this accident happened, it really took a toll on me mentally and I felt myself slipping back into the dark.
As I passed Fellowship of the Parks on my way to work one day, I felt as if God was telling me this was going to be my church home. That weekend, my husband I visited and right away, we knew it was true. Everyone was so friendly and inviting. The preaching was very relatable and it just seemed real to us.
Within a week, we had a chance to go to the Starting Point class and become members of FOTP. After this, I finally had the courage to fill out a Connection Card and admit my struggle with my daddy’s death. That is when I was first told about the GriefShare group. Going through GriefShare helped me realize that my daddy’s death happened for a reason that I may never know, but God always has a plan for everything. I strongly believe that my walk with God became stronger as a result of the tragedy.
When we joined GriefShare, the leaders told us about the importance of LIFEGroups, and so we joined David and Tiffany Bates’ Couples group. Being part of their group helped us meet new people and it give us the courage to volunteer in the areas God had already made us passionate about. We now serve on Wednesday nights with the students—my husband with the band while I teach the 7th grade girls. I never thought I would enjoy it so much. I am so grateful to have found such an amazing church where I can open up and connect with people about who God is. I get to help young girls who struggle in a similar way to how I did.
My battle with depression is ongoing but it helps me so much to know that I have a connection with a God who loves me for who I am. God has used this church to bring us closer to Him than ever before, and I know that I can conquer anything with Him in my corner.
I attended church and had strong faith when I was younger. As I grew up, I let that go. I married, had three beautiful children and thought everything was great. Then, after 22 years, my husband asked for a divorce. I knew our marriage was suffering but hadn’t realized how much.
Left with a pile of debts and a mortgage I couldn’t afford, I prayed and turned it over to God. I just couldn’t do it anymore. At one point I had a mere $14 to buy groceries, but received an unexpected check for $140! I knew God was watching out for me.
Only three months after our divorce was final, my ex-husband remarried. It was another serious blow. I returned to church hoping to put my life back together but things always got in the way. I went on dating websites and went out with anyone who would pay attention to me; younger, older, married, it didn’t matter. I wanted to know I still mattered. It took a while to realize what I was doing to myself and I stopped. I talked to the priest at my church about how far I’d sunk. He let me know I still mattered to God and needed to realize it.
Things started improving. I met a man I felt God wanted in my life. He was sweet and caring. After dating a year, we moved in together. Things seemed great until I discovered he had cheated on me with his ex-wife. I felt God was telling me it wasn’t right, but I stayed. I just wanted to make it work. We found a different church and enjoyed the wonderful people there. But once again, life got in the way and I stopped going.
In 2009, after he drank too much at a party, a neighbor helped me put him to bed. He awoke later, came back out of the bedroom and began choking me saying I’d ruined his life and he wanted to kill me. My son got him off of me and we fled the house. He spent the night in jail and my son and I picked him up the next morning. We went to counseling and “worked through it.” But as time went on, I began to realize his priorities: his daughter, job, money, and then me. When I found explicit messages on his phone, I was finally done.
I was so overwhelmed and frustrated when I began looking for an apartment. When I found one I liked, I filled out the application online and prayed to be approved. I opened up my eyes and saw “Welcome to your new home!” on the screen. A feeling of joy washed over me and I decided to trust God with the move.
I heard Charles Thornton a while ago and wished I lived closer to FOTP because I really liked his messages. When I discovered FOTP was less than five minutes away from where I was moving to, I felt like God had led me to just the right place.
My first Sunday at FOTP was amazing. It felt like a strong, healthy family—exactly what I needed. I now lead DivorceCare in Grapevine and serve as a team lead for Kids Inc. Financial Peace University is helping me work on my financial future. I look forward to Sundays when I get to enjoy my church family. God is my rock and has carried me through the hard times. He is where my value comes from. There will always be challenges but I’m at peace because I know God is there for me.
My mother dragged me to church three times a week. I was 14 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She continued going to church as I turned to binge drinking. Before my senior year, I dropped out of high school and convinced my mother to let me enlist in the Army.
I excelled as a soldier, arriving in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive as a combat medic and helicopter gunner. My job was to lay down machine-gun fire from the chopper before jumping out to quickly identify the comrades I thought could survive their wounds. I comforted hundreds as they died and was responsible for evacuating more than 1,100 men during my time in The Nam.
We got back late each evening, blood covering myself and the chopper floor. I turned to marijuana or morphine to get some rest before doing it all over again. After losing so many friends, I didn’t want to go home alive. I volunteered for every mission I could, eventually participating in more than 450 gunfights.
On an “R&R” trip to Australia, I was introduced to cocaine, which became my “mistress” for the next several decades. After returning to combat, I was shot in the knee and sent home with a chest full of medals. That year, my mother died from cancer. Three years later, my father died from a heart attack. All of this and I had just turned 23.
I served the remainder of my enlistment in Georgia and married my high school sweetheart. As soon as I recovered enough to walk, I bought a Harley. Despite having a son, I was drinking daily and still using cocaine as a part-time bartender. It’s no wonder the marriage didn’t last.
I became a successful businessman despite my destructiveness, leaving a wake of failed marriages and fatherless kids. In 1990, now the president of a healthcare company, I lost everything due to a failed drug test.
I attended 110 AA meetings in 90 days, completely focused on getting sober. Three years later, I was offered my old job back and stayed with the company until retiring with a physical disability thanks to Agent Orange from Vietnam, which is still slowly killing me.
One day, I rode my Harley past a church with at least 50 other bikes outside and decided to check it out. Those guys loved me into their church. The motorcycle ministry president helped me understand my own salvation, even though I eventually became lukewarm in my faith as I continued battling many mental and physical health issues.
I met my beautiful, nurturing wife, Peggy. She was baptized but I was on cruise control in my faith. Eventually, I stopped going to church all together.
Peggy began begging me to come visit this great church in Haslet, and I reluctantly went. We had such a great experience that we attended Starting Point that same day and were both serving the next week. There’s just something here at Fellowship of the Parks that turned me red hot for the Lord again.
Thanks to Agent Orange, I was hit with a rare blood disease in 2015. Near death in the hospital, I felt the Lord telling me of His purpose for me. I never knew what hope really was until that moment, and I will never forget how my LIFEGroup was there for me. I know the life in my veins is proof that God isn’t finished with me yet. I live for Jesus every day and sense His presence all the time.
I grew up in a “together” Christian family that went to church every Sunday and even most Wednesdays. I went to Vacation Bible School every summer and youth camp in middle school and early high school. My parents are still happily married. Looking back, my life really was as perfect as a kid could wish for.
Toward the end of high school and into college, I started to struggle with the church I grew up in and would often leave bitter and angry instead of fulfilled, as I once had. In hindsight, I see that it wasn’t an issue with the church as much as an issue within myself. I started looking for a new church home and found a few churches that I was somewhat content with.
During this time, my boyfriend, Nick and I were engaged and then married. I remember suspecting several times throughout college and as a newlywed, “My life is too good.” Somehow I knew that life was supposed to be more difficult than I had experienced up to that point.
Shortly after Nick and I celebrated our two year anniversary, I became sick and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and diabetic ketoacidosis. Having never spent time in a hospital, I was very scared for my four-day stay. I would love to say that I turned to God and felt this overwhelming peace. Unfortunately, that was not what happened.
I don’t feel like I ever blamed God or felt resentful, but I certainly did not turn to Him for comfort at that point in my life. I depended heavily on my husband and parents and, given how generous and loving they all are, it was easy to do so.
When I was released from the hospital and started learning to cope with my new life, I was selfish and took my pain and frustration out on those around me. Once I realized this, I sought out a Christian counselor.
Through working with this counselor, I realized that being diagnosed with diabetes had caused me to go through all stages of grief. It took some time, but I was able to accept that I was a diabetic and I needed to turn to God to heal my pain and bitterness.
My mom and I first visited Fellowship of the Parks together. I immediately felt that this is where we belonged. Nick and I started to attend regularly and joined a LIFEGroup. We quickly connected with the people in our group and created lifelong friendships.
With the encouragement of the services at FOTP and the support of our LIFEGroup, I was able to reconnect my relationship with God. Through my relationship with Christ, I have been able to let go of the anger I had before. I can relax knowing that He is in control.
Nick and I attend FOTP regularly, have built great friendships and have strengthened our marriage as well. We look forward to raising our son with the support of FOTP.
For over a year now, I have been honored and humbled to serve on the Changed Story editing team. I love how God uses my English degree to help others tell their stories. I have been blessed to see the amazing experiences God brings people through FOTP, and the way He shows love to His people here!
I did not grow up in church, but started attending student services at FOTP in sixth grade. It was in my neighborhood and some of my friends went. I soon decided that I wanted a relationship with Christ, but that would eventually waver.
In seventh grade, my relationship with a boyfriend was much more mature and inappropriate than it should have been. It ruined my relationships with my family, especially my sister. She knew more about what was going on than my parents did. I escaped the stress through experimenting with self-harm.
I found out in July of seventh grade that my Mimi had stage IV cancer. She understood me better than anyone and we connected in a way that is indescribable. I was crushed. Later that year, my other grandmother also developed cancer. By this point, I was already beginning to question why God would let this happen. I felt punished. Both of my grandmothers died that December. I would do anything to get my mind off the pain and loneliness I felt. During all of this, I was still having major issues with my boyfriend and, to top it off, my childhood dog died. I began to question everything.
At my grandmother’s funeral, something in me changed. Every believer has experienced something like this and knows how hard it is to explain. I felt the Holy Spirit consume me and all I could think about was how I couldn’t do this alone; I needed Jesus. I felt as though God took my problems away. I knew I wasn’t alone and my faith was strengthened. After that, I started spending daily time in God’s Word and went on a mission trip with FOTP that next summer. I felt invincible.
However, soon after coming back from the mission trip, I got in trouble with the law. I don’t know why I did what I did. I was disappointed with myself and lost a lot of trust from my parents. This experience was an eye-opener for me to see that I was not truly living for God. I thought I was doing it all the right way; going to church, singing in worship, and reading my bible. But I wasn’t spiritually pursuing God. I needed to find myself through a more-honest relationship with Him.
I asked my dad for a purity ring that next Christmas. I saw this as the beginning of turning my life around for the better. I acted on my faith by volunteering to serve in Kids Inc. on Sundays. I have continued to serve and feel that it not only gives me joy but also holds me accountable. I was led through 1 John 1:9 to finally confess everything to my mom, which helped to begin the mending process for our relationship.
The relationship I’m in now is centered on God and we are continually amazed at how that brings us closer together. Without pursuing a strong personal relationship with Christ, I know there would be no hope in having a healthy relationship with myself or with anyone else.
A couple months ago, my faith was tested when my grandfather committed suicide. My old self would have spiraled out of touch with God, self-harmed again, and destroyed my healthy relationships. However, I am not that old self; I am changed!
I grew up in a healthy family environment with a Catholic mom and Methodist dad. I was raised Catholic though, and Dad has since converted. I was baptized as a baby and attended Sunday School every week. Like most kids, it was just something I had to do. I was Christian because I was told I was.
I never really fit in with most people and always felt like a loner. This led to a lot of depression. Once I entered high school, I got involved with the wrong crowd. I started drinking, which led to other things, including chemical dependencies. I became angry at everything and everyone for no reason.
My grades began to drop. I got into a lot of fights and just didn’t care anymore. When I turned 18, I decided I didn’t need church anymore. I did graduate high school and managed to squeeze out a degree from a community college despite all the partying. There were numerous nights where I just didn’t want to live anymore. My anger and depression was getting worse and worse.
I didn’t do anything with my degree but still found a good job, which paid for my addictions while living comfortably. This continued through my twenties.
Shortly before my 30th birthday, my daughter was born. She was more perfect than I could ever imagine. I honestly never expected to live to 30, but this little girl is who God has used to bring change to my life. My life soon had an all new meaning. It wasn’t about me anymore; I had to change so that she could rely on me.
My natural instinct was to raise her as a Christian. Her mother’s family knew Charles Thornton and they started attending Fellowship of the Parks in Grapevine.
I came a few times for my daughter, but it was hard to get used to after years of Catholic services. Slowly, I came to realize I actually had no idea what it meant to be a Christ follower. I didn’t know anything about the religion I claimed as my own. This is where my spiritual journey started.
With my eyes finally opened, I allowed myself to question God’s existence. While trying to figure out if He was real, I became confused about which religion had it right. I read and searched for answers. At the same time, I looked for scientific evidence of God and historical evidence of Jesus. I even contemplated other major religions.
I’m not sure what happened, but God definitely works in mysterious ways. My eyes just opened one day while finding a balance between science and religion. I knew there had to be a higher power that created what I see. How great of an intelligent design life is! By also coming to the conclusion that no man could endure the pain and suffering that Jesus did, I knew Christianity was the only outcome for me. This had to be real and not a hoax.
I went back to college and began attending FOTP consistently. It was my daughter and Charles who kept me there week after week. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. There was no fear of judgment for the life I lived. In May of 2014, I renewed my relationship with Christ and was baptized again. It was the greatest feeling. FOTP has and is changing my life. I now attend every Sunday, am part of a Small Group, volunteer, and I love every minute of it.