2016 A Million God Stories 

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#141

 Photo by Anna Carroll

I grew up the youngest of six children in an abusive home with alcoholic parents. We didn’t go to church often, only when my mom and dad were sober enough. When I was 9 years old a neighbor shot a dove and it fell in our yard. We tried to nurse it back to health but it died. For the dove’s funeral, I put on my dad’s suit (he was a big, strong Army man about 6’4”). The sleeves and pants were too long and I had to pull them up. I performed the funeral for the dove with all my family there listening. My oldest sister said later, “Timmy, you are going to be a preacher.” I believe the Holy Spirit planted that seed.

 

But from age 9 to 33 I certainly didn’t live that life. I got married when I was a senior in college to a girl I had dated in high school. My life was dysfunctional and I was looking for validation from others. I was 24 when we divorced. After that, I lived with friends for about a year—basically I was homeless. I was working but didn’t have money. I was spending money on other things, mainly alcohol. 

 

About a year after my divorce, I asked a woman I knew from a newspaper where I had worked if she would consider dating someone like me and she said she would pray about it. She prayed and fasted for five days. She said yes with two conditions: 1) I will always love Someone more than you, and 2) I am a virgin now and I will be a virgin when we get married. 

 

We married in 1991 and I worked for Ganett, the parent company for USA Today. At age 29, Ganett offered me a job as Managing Editor and then Executive Editor. I was making really good money but working 20 hours a day. I had become a flaming workaholic. In May of 1997, I was at the worst point of my life—depressed and exhausted. I did go to church but I was not a Christian. We talked of divorce. I started making plans for suicide and attempted four times. I was trying to end my wife’s suffering because I knew I was a bad husband. 

 

I had decided to try again and had talked to a financial planner about how to make financial plans for my family after my death. That week my pastor asked if I would go to a Promise Keepers event. I didn’t want to go to a Jesus event but I didn’t want people to think I didn’t want to go to a good event and said yes only to put on a show. On May 10, 1997, I got into a van with seven to eight guys and sure enough, there was Jesus music playing all the way. I didn’t want to listen to it. My plan had been that two weeks from that day I would kill myself. 

 

We got to the stadium and there was a pastor that came out and started sharing jokes. Lousy jokes. I kept thinking, this is the biggest waste of time, and got madder and madder. Finally, he stepped back from pulpit and paused awkwardly. I have 69,999 witnesses as to what happened next. He stepped back to pulpit and said, “I apologize. I was brought here to tell jokes but I don’t feel funny. There is a guy here who if he doesn’t get his life right, will not be here in two weeks.” As I sat on the top bleacher of the old Riverfront Stadium, I couldn’t believe what I just heard. A lump formed in my throat and I started crying. The pastor started telling my story. He said this guy is a workaholic, his marriage is a mess, he has hidden addictions, and he doesn’t think God is real. He talked about it being this man’s last chance and that God was calling him right now to believe in Him. There were 70,000 people there, but he preached the service like he was speaking to one person. “What do you have to lose?” he asked. I knew he was talking to me. At some point, I got up and went all the way down to where he was preaching and knelt by the stage. I prayed, “God, I’ve screwed up. If you can do anything with this life, here I am.”

 

I cried the rest of the weekend and ran the stadium out of toilet paper and tissues. I surrendered that weekend and something happened. I was born again. My mind changed at that moment. I have never struggled with suicide and depression or addictions since then. I went from old to new in that moment. Everything else was just crushed by the waterfall of God’s love. On the way home, I was the loudest singer of the praise songs in the van. 

 

When we got home from the event, I had forgotten my house keys and had to wake my wife to let me in. When she opened the door she said, “What happened to you? Your countenance… Everything is changed.” I grabbed her hand and we prayed together. The Lord reminded me of my call to be a preacher. The next day was Sunday May 12, Mother’s Day, and we went to church. I told my wife her Mother’s Day gift was that I was leaving the newspaper job and becoming a pastor. 

 

I attended seminary and became an associate pastor at a large church in Indiana. Four years into this job, I was asked to become the lead pastor at a large church in Kentucky. My wife and I felt like this was the way to go. But then I received a call from church leadership. They said they would like me to consider pastoring a different church, a much smaller church, that was having some problems, but they believed that the Lord could do amazing things at this church. My wife and I went to this little church by the creek to visit. I wanted to see how the Holy Spirit led me. It was early spring the day we arrived at the church. I got out of our van and as I stood in the parking lot of the little white church, it started snowing. The sun was peeking out from behind the clouds. It was like a Currier and Ives picture—a surreal moment. I felt strongly that God was leading us to this church. 

 

We have been here going on 13 years. We have ten worship services and reach about 1,200 people per week. Last year we had 399 baptisms, 327 of those were first time baptisms. Since 2010, we have had 138 people called from our congregation to ministry. But it’s not me. It is what God’s done here that is amazing. I failed a class at every level of education—even in seminary, I failed evangelism. As a kid, I had a speech impediment, a horrible stutter and a real lisp. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t get the words out. I was in special classes even through high school. But God has used me in spite of all of this. 

 

I owe Jesus everything—my marriage, my kids, my life. I died with Christ and everything I have now is gain. I know that every day my life is His and I owe Him every single moment. This fuels the passion that I live life from and the passion that I preach with. I believe in the begetting principle. Hate begets hate. Love begets love. I love the people of this church and I have a high-octane level of passion that begets passion in the people. I make mistakes… But the passion for Jesus cannot be questioned. God has used me to ignite passion in this congregation. The church leadership was right all those years ago when they asked me to come here. The Lord has done amazing things at this little church by the creek. 

 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

 

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Isaiah 42:12

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