For the longest time I used to loathe difficult times. I still don’t like them (something I’m working on), but my attitude has completely changed toward moments of crisis or difficulty. I have learned this lesson throughout my entire life and each time it becomes clearer. One particular period began about 11 years ago & lasted for several years. It began roughly 8 years into my occupation as a youth pastor. My Dad contracted an illness. It started with him having difficulty breathing. The diagnosis was pneumonia but he kept getting worse until he was life flighted to Pittsburgh from Latrobe, PA. It was a diagnosis none of us expected. All cancer is bad, but acute myeloid leukemia is one of the worst types of cancer anyone could have. It typically takes the life of an individual in one month’s time from the moment it becomes active in the body. It was a long battle but my Dad survived & is alive & well today by nothing less than cutting edge treatment, wise doctors, his brave sister (my aunt) who donated her stem cells, & a miracle from God through countless prayers for healing.
Within this time frame my mother contracted breast cancer two times. The first bout we thought it was over. Not long after my Dad became well, the breast cancer came back with a vengeance & metastasized throughout her entire body. Just 1 week after my mom & dad’s 30th wedding anniversary, my mom went home to be with the Lord at the age of 60. Before my mom went home to Jesus, we were expecting & were able to tell her the name of our 4th child that she was never able to meet. Sadie Ann. Her middle name after my mom’s middle name.
We had all 4 of our kids under 4 years with twins in the middle. During this season of children & trying to help my parents by taking care of them in whatever way we could, we opened a build-your-own Mexican restaurant called Madres Mexican. The church where I held a youth pastor position came to me the month we opened our restaurant & told me they could no longer pay me. Understandably this decision was made because the church finances took a turn for the worse. I hold nothing against them for this decision. It was the right thing to do. Good thing we planned to open a business because our restaurant began with a great start & we even had plans in the making to open a second location. Then a mall shooting took place. Plans changed. About a year later mall traffic was starting to return and things were starting to look up. Our sales were growing again & we were figuring out a new routine without my mom just two months after her going home. It was December, the day after Christmas. Our family has a yearly tradition of everyone going to a movie the day after Christmas. This is something we all look forward to! Everyone that travels to Pennsylvania to reunite over the holiday always makes it a priority to attend. We always have an average of 20 people.
As soon as the movie let out we walked out into the mall only to find a ghost town with caution tape & police blocking every entrance into the mall! What happened?! Our mall made national news, again. There was a flash mob of 100 teenagers that organized a plan to terrorize the mall that night. They ransacked mall retail stores, went on a theft spree, overturned kiosks, attacked patrons, & destroyed property. People were afraid & traffic was gone once again. 3 months later, another shooting just outside the mall in the parking lot. Things became really difficult very quickly. Sales plummeted and so did my income. I was paying my employees but not able to pay myself. I was working 80 hours a week with no income. Shortly after, over the holiday season, our grinder pump that rids our house of sewage & waste water broke. We had no way to get the money to fix it. We were barely able to afford groceries. We were no longer able to take showers or use any water. We had to start brushing our teeth outside with a hose. It was the straw that broke me. I was lost. I couldn’t understand. I’m just giving the highlights here. These aren’t even half the details of the struggles we faced during this time. Why am I listing all these horrible things? To make you feel pity for us? No. I have to tell you the struggle, the crisis, we found ourselves in so you can understand the comeback. What happens next was nothing short of miraculous!
My wife was working full time, as a contracted abstracter. With her income, my lack of income, combined with our piling business expenses, we could barely pay our bills. There were days where we had to decide to buy groceries or pay bills. One day it all came to a head & my wife & I didn’t know our next move. We went to church Wednesday night & asked for prayer. We were humiliated. We were both broken. That Saturday morning, a friend of ours showed up to our front doorstep in her Suburban. She told us she was woken up the night before & God spoke to her to write down a comprehensive grocery list. Her Suburban was loaded down! Her grocery list was down to the very details. The brand shaving gel I used, the special formula my youngest daughter was on, a case of Keurig cups & we didn’t have a Keurig but my Dad comes over the next instant with a surprise gift, a Keurig, new Egyptian cotton queen sheets for our queen bed & the list goes on… To help you understand the gravity, she didn’t know any of these things because we never shared these details. How did she know what we needed & what we used down to the very brands or that my Dad was about to give us a Keurig?! The amount of food & necessities brought into our home that day were enough to sustain us for over 3 months!
Our Mexican restaurant was behind over $20,000 on rent payments & other bills. One day I get a call from our food supplier at Gordon Food Service. Somehow there was a credit of overpayment that gave us almost a month worth of free food for the restaurant. This happened several times! Another restaurant outside the mall came to our food court. They took a look around & came over to us. They proceeded to tell us they were switching over from Coke products to Pepsi products & noticed we were the only ones who sold Coke & asked if we wanted all their unused products. I didn’t have to purchase beverage products for 3 months! That December we were behind happened to be the craziest, busiest mall traffic December! We had lines at our restaurant every day. We paid up on our bills in less than a one month period! One day I was out on my rounds picking up product for our restaurant. I had just enough gas to do the job. I had no idea how I would make it home that night after close. I had no money & we lived 45 minutes away. I contemplated asking my in-laws, who lived in the same town where our restaurant was located, if I could spend the night so I’d be able to open the restaurant the next morning. I opened the freight elevator to load in our product. There was a $10 bill laying there & it was what I needed to get enough gas to make it that week.
When my mom passed away, we had no idea her boss had organized a fund raiser in her honor to raise money for breast cancer research. They distributed leftover finances to our family. The amount was just enough for us to get our grinder pump replaced so we could use the water in our own home again!
Time & time again when we had no other options the miraculous happened & all our needs were provided! Though we felt like giving up, we never gave up hope & trusted that God would come through. I share an abbreviated version of this story at every orientation for all our new team members. Why? So we can encourage every team member & let them know there’s hope. Just like we needed someone to come alongside us in crisis & hardship, we are there for them. I know how hard life is & how in one moment you can be basking in the sunlight & the next be dashed upon the rocks in the midst of a storm. I’ve lived it. Life is not easy. Storms come out of nowhere & sometimes nobody is to be blamed.
When the storm comes, I want to encourage you today to know where to place your hope, to persevere, don’t give up, & then expect a comeback! If you give up now, you’ll never know the victory on the other side. Miracles still happen. I’m living proof.
One of my favorite verses is from Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (NKLV)
Are you going through a crisis? Then get ready for your comeback! You may not learn to like trials, but you will soon begin to see your hardships in a different light.
James 1:2-4 “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (NLT)