Jeremy's Story

Sample Story by Jeremy Lees (framed around “guiding questions,” included here for illustrative purposes) 

• What was your life like before Christ, or – if already a believer – before a life event that would challenge your Christian faith?

As stories go, I’d been pretty content with mine – not because my life had been in any way spectacular, but because it had just kind of rolled along uninterrupted.   

Growing up a pastor’s kid in Upstate New York, I had the privilege of seeing my parents work side by side in outreach to a working-class community teeming with social problems.  They followed a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to ministry, their Christian service extending to soup kitchens and street-witnessing – with the Gospel message always front and center.  

And I often felt like a junior partner in their efforts, playing on our worship team or rocking babies in the nursery.  Even now, I can recall details of my parents’ church with the same clarity I can picture my childhood home.  I’m sure I spent equal hours at both.  Though I’d often wanted more of my parents’ time, I couldn’t complain about the quality of nurture they offered me – especially my mom.  Even through my teen years, she’d visit and pray with me each night from the chair by my bed.  If she ever missed a night, I don’t remember it.  (In the years to come, those little chats would evolve into rich and often humorous phone calls, which I often enjoyed over lunch breaks, sitting in my car – always the best place for uncontrollable laughter.)               

• What personal conflict (difficult news, major change, or other low point) led to your turning to Christ as your Savior, or turning to Him in a deeper way?  

Being raised in a God-honoring home ultimately produced in me the kind of “results” you’d probably hope to find.  I’d grown into an adult excited about discovering God’s plans for my own outreach.  Never called to the pulpit, I found meaning at a non-profit organization aimed at strengthening families.  It was even helping strengthen my own family, now that I was married with two little boys.  In an unexpected turn, my parents started making plans to move to Colorado – which I took as a providential opening for re-connecting with my mom.  All things taken together, my Christian life had developed into a pretty good one.  

But, an untested one.  When my mom called me one Saturday morning to tell me she had uterine cancer, she disclosed it with the serenity you’d expect from such a mature believer.  She was quick to point out that her prognosis was favorable; as cancer went, her treatment options were low-risk, her chances of survival very promising.  Of course, crackling underneath this discussion of her “medical odds” was an unwavering confidence – from both mom and me – that our Heavenly Father was all-powerful to protect her very life.         

And He would protect her life, if that were His will.  My sister phoned me on May 7th, 2014, to tell me that my mom was dead.  It was a Wednesday night, and I got the news while standing in the parking lot of ABC Church.  I was to teach a class on Colossians that night.  I have no memory of what I talked about.       

“Favorable prognosis,” her doctor had told her? Lying awake in bed all that night, I reflected on her incomprehensible death:  If mom is gone, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me or anyone else in this world.  I was afraid, even in that moment, that my dad would no longer move to Colorado to be near me.  I turned out to be right.      

• How was your life different in the season following this deepened faith? (spiritual breakthroughs? changing priorities?)

I don’t claim to know the calendar of adversity.  I do know that when you’ve gone awhile without seeing it, you can almost forget it’s around.  My professional plans and my personal dreams had seemed to be coming together so nicely – even down to my mom and dad moving to Colorado – it was as if I’d been writing my own script.  Of course, I wasn’t.  

In the coming months and by a strength I can’t credit as my own, I set out to re-discover the Bible’s encouragements for those grieving – promises that hadn’t meant as much to me when I didn’t know how much I needed them.  There are still days I find it hard to smile and nights when I don’t sleep, but the prayers and kind words from many around me bolster my faith in those times, too.  Friends and laughter and crying count a little more for me right now, and quiet time with God is becoming everything to me.  He knows I need it; He shapes me in it.  

• What takeaways from this transformation inform my Christian walk today?

There is a kind of believer who can look back on a loss and – with the Holy Spirit’s guidance – begin to see the Lord’s purposes in allowing those life events that hurt us, that change us.  I am not that kind of believer yet.  But I am witness already to God’s delight in comforting us in those times, in giving us special reminders of His nearness.  He is showing me, too, that even in pain our Christian maturity is not stunted.  Instead, despite our own emptiness, He is able to work out His special designs for our lives.  We just have to be willing to surrender our human ideas about what those designs might look like.     

The Bible is rich with examples of godly men and women facing a different landscape than they’d envisioned.  My hurts can’t compare with theirs.  But, I take encouragement from the example of Paul, whose ideas of the future are informed not by his own limited view, but by his faith in an all-knowing God.  In reflecting on the Lord’s work in the life of the believer, the apostle explains that “we often suffer, but we are never crushed.  Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up” (2 Corinthians 4:8, CEV).  

By His strength, we won’t.