Tapas & Testimonies

Our Tapas and Testimonies Event included four women interviewed on stage, sharing their experiences of God in life situations. But there are so many inspiring stories out there, and we just couldn’t get to them all. So here are the four speakers’ stories along with several others. Thank you all for your courage and generosity in sharing your God-given stories to encourage and empower others along the way!

Jump to a testimony:

Patty is married to John Pencak. She’s a mother of three grown children, two of which are still living, and has four grandchildren. She has worked with Maas Nursery in Seabrook for over 15 years, and is the full-time manager there. Patty would like to share how God has used even the loss of her husband Kenny and son Kelly in a murder-suicide on May 17, 2017, for good in her life. She currently serves as a co-leader of the healing ministry Grief Share at Gateway.

I had been searching for God and was a Jehovah’s Witness for a few years. Eventually, I felt that this church was based more on works than faith. I tried a non-denominational church and seemed to have found a home. I made good Christian friends and was part of a thriving home group. Once my church moved locations, I didn’t attend and I didn’t try to find a new church, my faith became a low priority. I did not have a church home or a current home group. I was praying sometimes but not reading the Bible; I had a belief in God but not a close personal relationship with Jesus.

Everything changed in an instant. On Sunday, May 21. 2017, I was awakened from a nap by police officers pointing guns at me and demanding I get out of bed. I was handcuffed and placed in the back of their SUV. I wasn’t sure what was going on and the officers did not seem to want to discuss it. I couldn’t understand where my guys were. If I was in the back of the police car, where were my husband and my son? I prayed to God to help me, and I felt the need to scream at Him and say “No, now”.  He answered in a quiet voice saying I would be okay.

I was trying to figure out what was going on. It was about the time we walked our dog, so I asked about my dog. The officer said the dog was in the house. I asked if anyone was hurt, and he said yes. I knew then that my husband Kenny, and son Kelly, were dead. If the dog was in the house, then they were too. And if they were hurt there were no ambulances there to care for them.

My life completely changed with the loss of my husband and my son. I can’t say that I was moved toward God right away, but I knew that God had said I would be okay, and I leaned on that.
God did some things for me; He wouldn’t let me explore the “why” and “what if” questions.
He put people in my life that were Christians to help me, and He had me in therapy. It was
my therapist who suggested I also try Grief Share.

One of my friends suggested I try memorizing scriptures. I thought this was a crazy idea but gave it a try.  It was very slow going at first but after a few verses I was finally able to hold on to the verses.  It was during this time that I finally felt my heart open and all these scriptures that I had been reading and memorizing move into my heart, and I felt a change that I had not experienced before.
God was right! He knew I was okay from the minute he told me. I’m not saying this time was easy; it was not.  It was sometimes filled with some very dark days filled with tears, anger, confusion and many other difficult feelings. Looking back, I can see His hand all over this. I am happy, I have many friends and I am newly married.  The most important part of this “tragedy” is He has turned it for good.  He gave me a desire to know Him, to have that close relationship with Him and to help others who have gone through loss.
Dawn is mom to almost 9-year-old Lucas. She’s been a part of Gateway since 2010 and is a toddler-wrangler in Ave M on Sunday mornings. Dawn has worked in education for over 20 years, teaching kids from 4-14 how to understand their emotions and themselves. In 2018, Dawn’s world fell apart as she navigated an unwanted separation and divorce. Throughout the still-ongoing journey, God has never left her side, showing up in big and small ways, teaching her lessons she never knew she needed.

Yesterday was D-Day.

I woke up peaceful. I knew God was going to take care of me, of Lucas, and of J. I kept praying for a miracle, and kept praying for God's will to be done, and kept praying for my marriage to be saved.

2 of those 3 prayers were answered yesterday.

God's will was done, and a miracle occurred, but yesterday, our divorce was final.

He was there, and we both cried through the entire proceeding.

Even before we were called before the judge, I was STILL fighting to save our marriage. We were sitting in the courtroom, right next to each other, because there was nowhere else to sit, and J leaned over to me, with tears streaming down his face, and he whispered, "I'm sorry." I whispered back, "Me too." He said, "I don't know how to fix this." and I said, "Yes you do, you just don't want to. This is a totally fixable situation J, we CAN fix this, you just have to want to, and do something about it."

He sat there with tears streaming down his face, while I continued to fight for our marriage.

Our names were called, and we walked up to the judge. We were both sworn in, and my lawyer began asking me all the normal divorce questions. The final question was, "Do you have any hope for reconciliation?" I looked over at J, tears streaming down my face, to see if I'd get anything from him before answering. J just stood there, tears streaming down his face, staring at the judge, and I tearfully said no.

The judge was visibly bothered by both of our tears. It was almost as if he was thinking, "I can see the love both of you have for each other. It's obvious neither one of you want a divorce, so why are you doing this? What else can we do??" But, the judge didn't say a word.

When my lawyer was done with his questions, the judge turned his attention to J, and gave J an opportunity to say something. J declined. And then the judge granted our divorce.

Y'all it was the most painful day of my life.

But what came next was the miracle.

As I was walking out of the courthouse, I saw J sitting in his truck, hunched over the steering wheel, Something told me to go over to him, to not go straight to my car. I knocked on his window, he looked up, and saw it was me, and rolled down the window. I leaned into him, and said, "J, I will love you forever. This is not our ending. We are done yet. Our story is not over." I don't know why I said it, but I did....it wasn't even as if I was speaking. I was on autopilot. He pulled me to him and just hugged me. I asked him to let me go, because it was cold, and I wanted to sit in the truck with him. When I got in the truck, he told me he was sorry for all the mistakes he made. I asked him what mistakes, and for the first time since he left, he started naming all his wrongs. It was the first time he claimed any responsibility.

He told me I deserved the best, and so I said, "Well, stop pushing God away then. He's trying to make you into the best."

He told me he didn't want anyone else, that he just wanted me. I said, "Me too. You're it for me."
And then y'all, J started sobbing. Sobbing. Sobbing like I had never heard him cry before. Truly broken. He laid on the console, and I wrapped my arms around him, and started to pray aloud for him. It was an incredible moment. A moment that should've happened while we were married, but couldn't because J had to be broken in order for it to happen. He had to lose me in order for that to happen. I must've prayed over him for about 10 minutes. I prayed for his guilt to go away. I prayed for his grief over his best friend to subside, I prayed for healing to begin, I prayed for him to stop pushing God away, I prayed for God to continue to mold him into the man he was created to be, I prayed for his fear to be banished, I just prayed and prayed and prayed. And when I was done, all I felt was peace. It was one of the most powerful and incredible moments in my life. In that moment, I KNEW I had forgiven him for everything. There was nothing but a deep and powerful love for him. More love than before. I can't explain it, but it was palpable. I could feel it.

After he composed himself, I looked at him and said, "J, we have a beautiful opportunity that not many people get. We have the opportunity to fall in love all over again. But before that happens, we both have some growing to do. And it's not going to be easy, and it's going to be painful. But, it'll get us to where we need to be, if we are going to be us again. And you can't avoid it, you can't push it away like you've been doing. You have to embrace it and get through it, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Otherwise, this place you're in is where you're gonna stay. You can't keep punishing yourself for mistakes you made. You've been forgiven by me, and by God. You have to forgive yourself. Otherwise, you'll stay here."

Anyway, at some point, the moment passed, and I got out of the truck and went to my car. We didn't speak the rest of the day, except he texted me to see if I went to the doctor (I had the flu last week, and a nasty cough is the last of it that won't go away). And then he face-timed to say goodnight to Luke.

Y'all, yesterday was incredible. I am forever changed by it.

Thank you for the prayers, and please continue to keep us in your prayers. Especially J. God is working on him, and I can see it. And I think he's starting to see it too.
Susana is a retired teacher, and a small group leader for Women’s Bible Study at Gateway. She has four sons and four grandchildren. She says, “God drew me to Gateway where I attended GriefShare. I had no idea God had placed me with people who would help me through the loss of my mother and husband. I have found so much love at Gateway; everyone I’ve met has taken me under their wings.”

I grew up in a Christian home. My family was very poor. Due to tough circumstances, at the age of 13, I was given into marriage to a man in our church who was 11 years older than I. Yes, I was a 13 years old virgin bride! By the age of 26, we had four sons – two single births, and a set of twins.

Early on, we struggled in our marriage because we had not made Jesus the Center of our lives. There were many times that we felt like giving up and ending our marriage.

One day, a friend of my husband’s invited us to visit his church. Reluctantly, we decided to attend. This was one of the best decisions we would ever make.

Hearing the Word of God, being around fellow believers, and learning to follow Christ helped to hold our marriage together. Every time we faced problems, I’d bring them to Christ in prayer. I became a prayer warrior for our marriage!

Although my husband worked very hard, it was not enough to meet all our needs. I decided that I wanted to go back to school. I had never attended middle school or high school, so this would not be easy!

I remember regularly going to my prayer closet, textbook in hand, asking God to help me. I would say, “Lord, you know that I can’t understand most of what I am required to learn. But your Word says that if I bring my requests to you, my God will meet all my needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." – Philippians 4:19

By the grace of God, I completed the GED requirement, earned an associate degree, graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with my bachelor’s degree, and became a teacher. This was a miraculous work of God!

My husband and I raised four God-fearing men. I no longer have my husband, as he has gone on to be with the Lord. We were married forty-two years.

Looking back, I can clearly see the hand of God in our lives. God’s faithfulness continues to make me strong. I know I can trust him with whatever the future holds. God is great!
Ralinda, aka “Grammy,” is a retired teacher and Christ follower. Her mission in retirement is to love God and love people in every way she can. At Gateway, she serves as a greeter for services, vocalist on the Arts Team, and part of the Hospitality Team for Women’s Ministry.

I went through a good bit of trauma when I was young (including sexual abuse). It left me feeling too broken to be loved. I loved the Lord, but I struggled to believe He could love and care for someone as broken as me.

This led to many bad choices. I keep looking for love and validation from the world. I even struggled with wanting to kill myself.

It was many years before I began to heal. But I kept reading God’s Word and trying to lean into Him. Because I knew a lot of the Bible and had studied much of it over the years, I gradually learned to stop those negative thoughts and replace them with God’s Word.

Those years prepared me to survive the hardest trial yet - the death on my oldest son. Even in my darkest hours, I kept standing on the Word of God. He held me up. Even though I don’t understand why he died, I know God is always working for my good. I know that he can use all my trials for His good.

I have a limited view of life. God knows all of it. I will keep trusting Him. He will make beauty from the ashes of my life. I can trust Him. He will bring joy in the morning even after the darkest night. The power of God’s Word, and praise and worship get me through the toughest times.

To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
- Isaiah 61:3

You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath
. - Psalm 39:5

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. - Romans 8:38

And my life verse:
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
 - Isaiah 41:10
Sandy has been married for 27 years, blessed with three wonderful children. In 2006, they left their family and forever-home in Colorado, believing that God had a purpose in leading them to Texas. Sandy serves as a life group co-leader with her husband, and as a small group leader in Women's Bible Study. Sandy’s faith journey began 15 months into her marriage, after giving birth to her firstborn - when the doctor informed her husband and family that there was nothing else he could do, and that she might not make it through the night.

I had been married for 15 months and the doctor told my husband and family that there was nothing else he could do at that moment. I may not make it through the night; they should start planning for the worst.
I was 21 years old and had given birth to my firstborn, Eli.  He was born at 36 weeks and only weighed 5 pounds 2 ounces. That should have been a sign of concern for the doctor, but it was dismissed as a young mother’s first child.  A few hours after giving birth to my son my blood pressure skyrocketed, the nurses couldn’t find my veins, my gums began to bleed and clot on my tongue until there was no more clotting, just bleeding. I was airlifted to Presbyterian St. Luke Hospital in downtown Denver and was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome which is an acronym for severe pre-eclampsia characterized by hemolysis, elevated liver enzyme, and low platelet count.  I developed ALL the serious complications that can develop with HELLP syndrome.  My liver had stopped working, my kidneys were beginning to shut down and my brain was swollen.  My platelet count was so low it was causing the bleeding without clotting. The treatment for HELLP syndrome is giving birth early in the pregnancy but in my case, everything went haywire after I gave birth.
The doctor said I would need to have a plasma transfusion for 3 days –  10 bags a day – to bring my platelet count up and help my liver start working.  That very first evening on the 7th bag I had an adverse reaction to the transfusion.  The doctor was out of options, and I was deteriorating.
My mom explained the severity of the situation and that the doctor was looking at the possibility of getting me on the liver transplant list, but time was not in our favor.  I remember a nurse came in to check my vitals and I was being myself, smiling and slightly joking around trying to make small talk when she said, "Don’t you understand you are fatal!” Oh, my mom could have slapped her back to yesterday the way she looked at that nurse! But that morning I had silently prayed to God, “I know you are sovereign, and your will, will be done but I want to be the one to raise my son. You protected him in my womb. Please let me raise him”. I placed my hope in him. And had peace.  But some people don’t understand that peace.  
I looked at my mom and said, “Mom I know that there are many praying for me, but I think it’s time for you and me to pray, we both know that I will not survive an operation if my blood isn’t clotting. Every couple of hours the cotton and gauze at the incision where they placed the transfusion port which was about 1.5 cm would get soaked and blood would start dripping down my back even though the dressing was about 2 inches thick of cotton and 6 inches long toward my back and they had tried to stitch shut around the incision. During this time the doctor was meeting with other doctors regarding my case in hopes of getting me to the top of the liver transplant list.  As we started to pray, I remember feeling the presence of God in that room; it was as if he had walked in and stood near me. When mom and I had finished praying I will never forget the nurse who walked in; he looked like an angel.  He had the bluest eyes, golden blond wavy hair, and was dressed in white scrubs. He said the doctor had asked for one more lab test before making a decision.
About two hours later the doctor came in and said “we can’t explain what has happened, but it seems like your liver has started working. We’re going to get you started on steroids to help with the swelling of your organs. You may have to stay in the hospital for a month or maybe two weeks minimum, depending on your platelet count.”
However, from the time I arrived at the hospital and was discharged, it was only 7 days! The nurse who took me from the helicopter came in to say goodbye in tears stating that they all thought that for sure I was going to be Dr. Porreco's first patient to die, and I was truly a miracle. My mom turned to her and in her broken English said to that nurse it was God who healed my daughter, no one else. The nurse agreed and so did Dr. Porreco. God received the glory, and I began to learn to walk in faith.  I am very grateful to God for allowing me to raise my son, to be there for those “life moments” like graduating and getting married, and to see him worshipping every Sunday at church behind the drums at Gateway!
Linda was born on December 2, 1939, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She graduated from McNeese State College with a BA in elementary education. While living in Houston, Linda met and married Gordon Stockman and they had two children. After teaching 20 years, she retired to enjoy her five grandchildren. Linda was widowed after almost 53 years of marriage. Gordon and Linda were members of Abundant Life before it became Gateway Community Church. She has served as a leader in Women’s Bible Study for many years and now has a life group meeting in her home.

I’ve been on a journey with cancer the last three years, and God has been with me all the time. It started on October 19, 2020, when I received the diagnosis of breast cancer in my right breast. This diagnosis came 26 years after a mastectomy on my left breast due to cancer. While still reeling from this news, on October 27, just 9 days later, I was involved in an automobile accident. The accident was my fault. At the hospital, a cat-scan revealed I had 3 fractured ribs and a fractured sternum. After 3 days, as I was awaiting my discharge papers, a doctor walked in and introduced himself as a pulmonologist. He told me the cat scan had shown a spot on my right lung and it looked suspicious. He had a pet scan scheduled. The pet scan determined that the spot was cancer, but also showed a growth on the pituitary gland in my brain.

With this news, my children insisted I go to MD Anderson Cancer Center. This meant the doctors wanted more testing and biopsies. It was determined that none of my cancers were related or metastasized from my earlier breast cancer.

MD Anderson’s priority was my lung cancer. The cancer and part of the middle lobe of the right lung was removed. Six weeks later, I had a mastectomy on my right breast. It was a blessing and God at work, that both cancers were detected early enough, because of my accident. I did not need radiation or chemotherapy. The pituitary growth was benign and wasn’t causing any side effects, so it is monitored yearly.  Another blessing was that brain surgery was not needed. All my surgeries occurred during the Pandemic. MD Anderson did not allow anyone to be in the hospital with the patient. God gave me strength and peace, and I never felt alone, for I knew God was there with me.

God has been good and blessed me on my journey with cancer in the past. A year ago, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and I am presently under treatment at MD Anderson. My cancer did not respond well to the first treatments, but thankfully there is another protocol they can try, which I am just beginning. I trust God will be with me on this journey with bladder cancer at my age of 84. Whatever, the future may hold, I trust that God knows best, and it is His will for my life.
Erin is a wife to Austin, and mother to two young daughters, Colin (age 8) and AJ (age 4). The Stonestreets have been a part of the Gateway family since their move to Houston from North Carolina in 2018. A former police officer, Erin decided to utilize her skills in crisis and negotiations to work as a stay-at-home mom. In March of this year, Erin’s husband was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. After receiving the worst news and a very grim prognosis, the peace and grace of God showed up in a big way and is sustaining this family through the hard days and trials they face.

This is My Testimony…

I feel like the word testimony means different things to different people.  Sometimes it’s a conversion story of how one received salvation.  Other times it can be a lesson that God has taught someone, or a way in which God has shown up in a person’s life.  My testimony is the latter.  This testimony also doesn’t have an end, but rather it continues to be a living, fluid, daily work of the hand of God in my life – how my faith has been tested, but how the peace and grace of God has been proven and will continue to be proven to be sufficient for my needs.  But isn’t that exactly what faith is?  Something that is alive and ever changing?

In January of this year, my husband Austin woke up one morning and informed me that he felt a small growth on the inside of his mouth.  He described it as about the size of a pencil eraser, and that it just popped up out of nowhere.  A couple days later, he was in the dentist’s office, a couple weeks later, he was at an oral surgeon, and a couple weeks after that, he found himself at an ENT’s office.  During this time (approximately 4 weeks) this small growth grew, was becoming painful, and was able to be seen on the outside of his face.

The ENT informed us that this was just an issue with a salivary (or parotid) gland, and sometimes these things happen.  We were told it would need to be surgically removed, and everything would be back to normal.  Fast forward another two to three weeks, and the growth - at this point a tumor that was half the size of a golf ball - was removed during outpatient surgery.  Following the surgery, the doctor came into the waiting room and informed me that he had removed the entire tumor, and that there wasn’t anything he saw that should be cause for alarm.
On March 6, approximately two months after the initial finding of a growth in his mouth, Austin returned to the ENT for his post op appointment.  The morning of his post op, Austin told me “I know the Doctor told you he got the entire tumor out, but it still feels like there’s something there”.  Austin went on to his appointment, thinking it would be just another day.  It was not.

The ENT told Austin that the pathology results returned, and the tumor was malignant.  He was immediately referred to MD Anderson.

After receiving the news (I wasn’t present, because why would I go to a routine post op appointment? GUILT) Austin called me and told me what the doctor had said.  He came home, and as soon as he walked in the door we hugged and we cried, and then we got down on our knees and prayed together in our living room.
During this prayer, we thanked the Lord for all our blessings, and to my utter shock and surprise, my husband actually thanked the Lord for cancer.  He thanked the Lord for giving it to him, and He thanked the Lord knowing that the glory of the God would reveal itself through even this worst of circumstances.  We also prayed for peace, and we made a commitment to God in that moment that the situation was in His hands, and we would not interrupt.

During the prayer that we prayed on our knees on our living room floor, hand in hand with tears in our eyes, I was completely overcome by a sense of peace.  In that moment, I was wrapped in a warmth and comfort that I cannot explain, and that underlying sense of peace has been with me everyday since.

Three weeks later, we had a diagnosis of Muco Epidermoid Carcinoma, and a plan of attack that required another surgery followed by six weeks of aggressive treatments. In the three weeks between the original removal of the tumor, another tumor had grown, and was growing faster and larger.  During the eleven-hour surgery, the new, golf ball size tumor was removed, along with his lymph nodes.  A trach was inserted in his neck, and Austin’s face was fillet open. A large amount of tissue in his cheek was removed, and a large incision was made in his leg where they then removed tissue to replace that in his cheek.

I want to pause here for just a moment and explain the little moments that we experienced during this journey in which God would show up and remind us that He was in control.  At various points during this phase of our lives, God literally would present us with little miracles, and speak to our hearts saying be strong and courageous, I have overcome, and this is still in My hands.  There is the peace.

The first miracle is the fabulous team of brilliant physicians that no doubt was ordained by the Lord. Austin’s “team leader” is head of the head and neck department at MD Anderson.  She is a world renown surgical oncologist, a literal expert.  And because the Doctor is who she is and carries some serious clout with her position and her title, she was able to hand pick Austin’s medical team.  This medical team included more brilliant, widely renown physicians, and experts in their field.  One small miracle.  Most would consider happenstance, but we knew God was at work.

After his surgery, the brilliant team leader doctor spoke with me, and again I was informed that she was confident that she removed all of the tumor.  With the surgery completed and the treatment plan that was in place, we could be hopeful that Austin would be cancer free.
I was in the hospital room when they wheeled my husband in.  I saw the extensive incisions in his face and leg, I saw the many tubes - the wound drains, feeding tube, and IVs.  I saw the trach that was coming out of the hole cut into his neck.  I also witnessed the extreme pain that was on my husband’s face. But still, there was peace.

That night was difficult and long.  The pain was brutal.  But God was in that room.  God was in the room when the nurse prayed for Austin.  God was in that room when, during the pain and terrible circumstances, we were able to joke and laugh and not focus on the negative.  God was in the room at midnight when I sang happy birthday to my husband, celebrated his 41st birthday, and thanked God for the “many more”.

Here’s another miracle:  Maggie was the nurse assigned to Austin following the extensive surgery.  Maggie was kind, helpful, and gentle.  Maggie was also a Christian.  Maggie asked us if she could pray for Austin, and of course we agreed.  This amazing nurse was used by God in that moment, and she laid her hands on my husband and she PRAYED.  She prayed hard, and she prayed LOUD. Maggie touched heaven with that prayer, and when she was finished and left the room, my husband looked at me, both of us in tears, and he said “the entire time she was praying, I didn’t feel pain”.  God was still working, and there was still peace.

After a weeklong stay in the hospital, we came home.  Austin was eating through a tube and taking medication through a tube.  So many pills.  There were wounds to be cleaned and tubes to be drained.  But still, there was peace.

Four weeks after surgery, Austin began his treatments.  The treatment plan was six weeks long – one chemo treatment per week, and radiation Monday through Friday for the six-week period.  Two days a week during those six weeks, Austin received doses of double radiation.  They were literally cooking my husband from the inside out, and at about week three, the effects were really setting in.  His face and neck were burned, he was very lethargic, and he was in extreme pain.

What was going on in our house was also chaos.  I was trying to keep things as normal as possible for our two young daughters, managing the constant flow of family in and out of our home, driving Austin to his appointments, being the best caretaker/wife/mother I could be, and managing everyone’s emotions…which were many.  But still, there was peace.  There was also grace, strength, and hope renewed to me every morning, which I will never be able to explain.

Also, during this time, the tumor began to grow back, along with a second, smaller tumor.  The cancer that we thought would be gone and out of our lives was more aggressive than any of the team of doctors anticipated.  After more biopsies and pathology, the diagnosis changed, and we learned that Austin had an extremely rare, extremely fast acting cancer called NUT Carcinoma.  The team of doctors at MD Anderson informed us that they would do everything possible to keep the cancer local to his face, but if it were to metastasize elsewhere the prognosis would be six to ten months.  Hearing this news was hard.  Still, there was peace.

Another miracle:  MD Anderson itself.  Because Austin’s new diagnosis, we learned his cancer is extremely rare (less than 20 cases worldwide per year), and had he not been a patient at MD Anderson, it potentially could have been undiagnosed and quickly fatal.  One day we were walking the halls of MD Anderson, and we stopped at an area that is basically a mini museum, with plaques on the walls explaining the history of the hospital.  In this same area, there was a wall of televisions, and they were playing videos of patients, their stories, and their successes.  I looked over at my husband, who was staring wide eyed at this wall of televisions, with tears were pouring down his face.  When I put my hand on his shoulder to comfort him, he said “I am just so grateful that we can be here.  How blessed are we to have the best cancer center in the world in our backyard”.  Again, God telling us “I’ve got this”.  And more peace.
Now I want to really talk about this peace that I’ve been experiencing.  This crazy, inexplicable, calm in the presence of chaos and “what ifs”…

My favorite hymn is “It Is Well With My Soul”, and many times throughout my life I have wondered how the song’s author, Horatio Spafford, could write such a beautiful song full of hope and peace while experiencing such pain and turmoil in his life.  You see, Spafford literally lost everything – his fortune, his children – and still he could write an uplifting hymn knowing that, come what may, it is well with my soul.  I have no idea the kind of pain Spafford experienced, but I now know and fully understand the peace that he experienced.
I had the extreme privilege of growing up in a Christian household.  I knew from a young age about the importance of a relationship with God.  I knew about His love and mercy and grace.  But until this point in my life, I had only heard of His peace.  Now, for the first time, I can tell of the trueness of the peace that passes all understanding.  I know exactly what it feels like knowing that I have peace during trials and tribulations.  I know exactly what it feels like to feel a calming presence and be completely at peace, even when the world as I know it is literally collapsing around me.  I will never be able to fully explain the fact that the Lord did not allow my heart to be troubled, even when my head told me trouble was rampant around me.  I can attest and proclaim that even when receiving the worst news, God spoke to my soul and said “here is my peace, now honor the commitment you made when you placed this in my hands”.

Here is what I know to be true:  I am loved by God, and I know that God will not allow anything that will not work for His good and His glory.  I can have peace knowing that, come what may, God’s glory will be proven, time and time again.  I can go to bed at night knowing that even in sickness, even in healing, even living, and even in death the glory of God will always prevail and make itself known.  I wholeheartedly believe the verse Mark 11:24, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.  I know that this may sound strange and even insane to some, but I never once prayed for my husband to be healed.  What I have prayed for and will always pray for, is for the will of the Lord to be done.  I can rest easy, thanks to the peace He has given to me, knowing that I am inside of His will, and that everything will be alright.

Austin finished his course of treatments.  The days/weeks/months were long, painful, and grueling.  I observed my husband, the pillar of our family, a strong independent man, become dependent.  I witnessed the cruel effects of cancer on his mentality.  I sensed his sadness when he looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the face staring back.  I knew that he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders dealing with the thought of leaving his family.  But still, there was peace.

Of course, I had my moments.  I had worries.  I had fears. There were a couple of times that I hid in my closet and cried for a few minutes.  It was overwhelming, it was heartbreaking, it was scary.  But God and his miraculous peace.  I was able to continue smiling because of peace.  I was able to stay positive because of peace.  I was able to be strong for myself, for my husband, for my children because of peace.  I was able tackle each day because of the vast and perfect current of peace.  The truth is, none of us know what a day holds.  Worrying does nothing except take you farther away from what God actually wants for you.  Peace I leave with you, peace I give to you -John 14:27.  The Lord gave me His peace, and I refuse to waste such a marvelous gift because of my own human doubts.

At the end of the treatment phase, more scans were taken to see where we stood with the cancer.  We walked into that appointment together, both of our heads filled with “what ifs” – what if the cancer metastasized?  What if the cancer is still in his cheek but has gotten worse?  What if they tell us this is all they can do?  Even though our heads were filled with the garbage of doubt, our hearts held peace. Our souls held peace.

The doctor entered the room and told us the cancer had not metastasized outside of his face, and the cancer that was within his face was shrinking and showing to be less active.  Even amid the giddiness of the good news, there was peace.

As we were leaving, walking the halls of MD Anderson, we passed by a couple that were sitting in the corner of a waiting area.  They were holding each other tightly.  They were in tears.  Austin and I looked at each other, and, knowing what the other was thinking, we turned around and returned to the couple.  We sat beside them and asked if we could pray with them.  Again, a miracle.  This time, God spoke to my soul saying “Focus on me.  I’ve still got this”.  Peace.

Three weeks later, we returned for more scans, and we were told the same thing.  The cancer is shrinking and is less active than the weeks prior.  Peace.

Austin will continue to be monitored closely moving forward, with monthly scans and checkups.  We’re currently living with cancer, but we’re also living with peace.  We know that things could change for the better, or things could change for the worse, but through it all, we will have peace and  we know God will continue to reveal Himself in the everyday miracles.

1st Thessalonians 5:18 – “In EVERYTHING give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”.  I thank God daily.  I thank Him for his blessings.  I thank Him for his goodness.  I thank Him for his mercies. I thank Him for handling the things that I can’t.  I thank Him for being all the things that I don’t have to be.  I thank Him for the trials that have been put into my life that have become small testimonies.  I thank him for the strength, grace, and love that he has given to me during the most difficult of times.  But I especially thank Him for His presence in my life, and for the peace that He has given me, because I would be lost without it.

And like my husband originally thanked Him for, I thank God for cancer.  Because now that I know true peace, I can tell others about this amazing thing that was given to me through Christ Jesus, and that is all for His glory.
Angel has been at Gateway since 2011. She serves faithfully in Celebrate Recovery and Student Ministry. She and her husband Steve launched the teenage version of CR, called “The Landing,” in 2012. She has also served on the Prayer Team, as a greeter, on the Arts Team, as a small groups host, and as a childcare worker. Angel has four children, four grandchildren, four fur-babies, and works as a Special Education Paraprofessional. 

My name is Angel, and my story began July 31st, 1973. I am actively overcoming the effects of child and adult trauma. This manifested as co-dependency, anger, worry, insecurity, anxiety, depression, and FEAR – fear of rejection and abandonment. I believed I wasn’t good enough, couldn’t do anything right, and didn’t matter. I was constantly seeking approval. Fear had complete power over my life.

As my relationship with Christ grew deeper, I began to surrender to Him, and He began to break the chains of fear that had me stuck. For I have not given you a spirit of fear but of peace, love and a sound mind - 2 Timothy 1:7 - the first Scripture I ever memorized.

I am the oldest of my parents’ two children. My brother and I were never close, although I wished for a sibling to be best friends with.

I was not raised in a Christian home. My childhood consisted of alcohol, parties, violence, adultery, and screaming. I was left scarred by the emotional, physical, and mental abuse of my parents.

While I dreamed of being Daddy’s little princess, I instead received abuse at his hand. Not only did my mother fail to protect me, but she also added on her own abuse. In adulthood I asked why she never protected me from him. Her response was, “I didn’t want to get hit.” I have never understood how a mother could fail to protect her child. Many years later I would find the answer to my question. Due to this abuse, I promised my future children that I would never drink; I would break the cycle of dysfunction.

The abuse and trauma that I suffered led to the LIE that to be loved and accepted I had to perfect. Believing this began my lifelong struggle with fear, anxiety, and depression. I became an angry, bitter, people-pleaser with no self-worth. My only comfort was my books, my writing, and my Mamma Fudge (My maternal grandma). She loved me, taught me, comforted me, and treated me as worthy. She was the model of the GiGi I hope I am to my grandkids.

I married my three children’s father and the abuse continued with him. I stayed because it was all that I had known. He wasn’t abusive to my children at first, but as they grew up, he began to abuse them emotionally, mentally, and physically, so I left him and filed for divorce. I was a single mom, struggling with so much emotional baggage. I wanted to change, but I had no idea what steps to take. I had been introduced to Jesus at this time but had no relationship with Him. I wasn’t even sure if I believed in Him. I would run to and from Him for many years to come.

Fast forward many years….

In 2010, on Facebook, I reconnected with my high school sweetheart, and we decided to get married. I relocated from Ohio to Houston in July 2011. We plugged into Gateway and Celebrate Recovery immediately. I am so thankful that we did because I was going to be hit with so much devastation, one thing right after another.

Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come: a high school pregnancy, a house fire (that I accidentally caused), the death of my 10-year-old fur baby, the unexpected death of my Mamma, the call to start the teen version of Celebrate Recovery - The Landing - to mentor hurt teenagers, a breast cancer scare, a child’s addiction, a granddaughter we had raised for 9 years moving to another state, and countless other trials.

After the fire I lamented before the Lord, broken like I had never been before. He gave me this: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  - Philippians 4:6-7

I am so thankful for the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and the closeness of our relationship. Little did I know that I would need it for the most devastating events in my life that were to come.

My youngest daughter became addicted to meth while in high school, after years of struggling with numerous other drugs. She was in and out of treatment centers, therapists, mental health institutions, jail, and our home. I was beyond devastated and was powerless to do anything to help her - the worst feeling a parent can have. I fought for her with my husband by my side and no one else. I was ashamed that somehow my parenting had caused her addiction. I was consumed with the fear of being judged and shunned by my church family – the most important thing in my life. I hid this for about 7 years, which I don’t recommend.

If you find yourself here, PLEASE reach out to someone. I am always available. You CAN NOT go through this alone. I realized this when my daughter overdosed in front of me two days in a row. I reached out to several women in the church, explained the situation and they began numerous prayer chains. She entered treatment and has been sober for over 4 years. Praise God! For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them. – Matthew 18:20

In June 2022 I experienced the most traumatic event of my life. I found out that the dad who raised me wasn’t my biological father. I am still attempting to process the emotions that have flooded my heart and mind.

Remember how I always wished I had a best friend sibling? Well now I do. I have a half-brother named Scott and we are so much alike we could be twins! He is the perfect sibling for me! Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. - Psalm 37:4

My relationship with my dad who raised me has never been stronger. I am building a relationship with the brother I grew up with. I am getting to know my youngest daughter again, sober. I have 4 amazing grandkids, a marriage that survived and grew stronger, the best church and church family I could ever imagine. I have the best support system and forever family with Celebrate Recovery. I have so much freedom from my hurts, habits, and hangups and I owe it all to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I will restore to you the years that locusts have eaten. - Joel 2:25

My name is Angel and I have a new name. I am a masterpiece of the Creator of the Universe.

Thank you for taking the time to read my God story. If you are interested in hearing my full story, I will be giving that on December 18, 2023, at 7pm at Celebrate Recovery at Gateway Community Church. Your love and support are greatly appreciated and would mean so much to me.
Lauren has attended Gateway for 13 years and is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. She loves to serve Jesus and others and enjoys reading and writing.

I have struggled internally with my sexuality for as long as I can remember. The first time I found another girl attractive was at the age of 5. At the time, I had no understanding of what same-sex attraction meant or what being gay was in the slightest.

I was raised in the church; my grandmother took me every Sunday and that’s what really gave me a foundation for faith. Unfortunately, as I got older, my foundation became quite shaky. As a child and all through high school, I experienced a lot of supernatural occurrences which I now understand to have been a spiritual war waged against my soul. It had affected me quite a bit to the point that I wrote Proverbs 3:24 on a note card and tacked it to my wall right by my head and could no longer fall asleep in complete darkness.

I read the Bible a lot in my youth, though I wasn’t too sure I grasped what I had been reading. When my parents and I began attending Gateway, I immersed myself in the church – volunteering for local relief efforts, a trip to Kenya, and Bible studies with my mom. My struggle with sexuality was seemingly on the back burner.

However, it became a slow self-destructive path when I was accepted to McNally Smith College of Music in Minnesota in 2014 where I felt free to live out the life that I thought was right – being gay and being open about it. I didn’t read my Bible once when I was there, I had my first relationship with a girl, and the devil left me alone. Or so I thought. One day, I was napping after class and I felt the sensation of a snake slither down my neck and a man’s voice that said, “Now I have you where I want you.” Looking back, I realized there was a bit of Eve in me as women became my forbidden fruit and Satan was essentially asking me, “did God really say that you can’t be gay?”

I flunked out of that college, came back home, and just worked, hung out with friends, and frequented Sherlock’s Bar multiples times a week and almost every weekend. There began a relationship founded on adultery. It wasn’t the first time, and unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time. However, by the good grace of God, the last time became the last time at age 30. I was close to getting into another relationship with a girl I had known for 5 years and loved dearly. It didn’t work, thankfully.

I had reached the end, the bottom of the pit where the only way out was to take Jesus’ hand and so I did, and I understood what sin was and what forgiveness felt like at the same time. The Holy Spirit covered me with His warmth and Jesus became the head of my household and whole life in March of 2022.

If there is one thing I would love for people to understand, it’s this - God does not care that someone is gay. He doesn’t care that someone drinks alcohol. He doesn’t care that someone eats junk food. He doesn’t care if someone has money. But what He does care about is the fruit that is produced from these lifestyles because we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). For me, my fruit was lust, idolatry, impure thoughts, lying, hypocrisy, and adultery. For others, it can be addiction, greed, and gluttony.

Freedom in Christ is drastically different than freedom in the world, for the world deceives and traps and before you know it, you are a slave to your own desires. As Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:23, All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.
Eva is her American name “to make people's lives easier!” She came from Shanghai, China, to pursue a postgraduate degree in Chemical engineering.

Eva loves the variety of small groups that Gateway offers, particularly the Zumba Bible study and women's gatherings. This helped her “to make connections with many feisty women who were locking their hearts, praying, and supporting me during my difficult time of battling breast cancer. I have found my heart filled with joy being with the pre-K little ones on Sunday and enjoy giving back by serving at Gateway COA outreach programs. I am thankful that I can be part of Gateway's vision and mission for building a strong family and community.”

She waved ‘til the sight of her parents was diminishing.
Tears welled up and just kept streaming.
She left her motherland with much reluctance and anticipation,
Stepped on the land of freedom of which she was dreaming.

Only packed a few English words with funky accent she was speaking,
Only one-hundred-dollar bill - her sweaty palm tightly holding,
Homesickness, and the long-beard professor only speak Cajun,
There is just not enough hair for her to be pulling.

Earned her nickname “the girl of sponging,”
She met a couple; they are like angels descending.
They warmed her heart and gave her a home like adopting,
She dried up her sponge with no more tears shedding.

They introduced God to her and help her understanding.
She argued that humans were all from monkey’s evolving.
They told her that God sent them to be the wire as HE is the sourcing,
Besides - she is really cute; this girl’s light needs to be shining.

She accepted Jesus as her Lord and now her life has been saving,
Confessed her sins and ditched old communist brain washing.
She enjoys praise worship and fellowshipping,
Holding her engineering diploma up high is worth bragging.

She moved on in her life with much more hills to be climbing,
Soon found out that “hunky dory” life is not such a thing -
In the midst of storm with loved ones passing,
She noticed that God has never left her side if she can have her gaze fixing.

The tumultuous marriage left her with two little boys to be raising.
She cared for them with much pride and every fiber of her being,
She felt tired, weary and has lots of fearing,
HE told her that HE is holding her while she can’t keep walking.

In the hospital bed, a nurse was next to her ear whispering,
“I will be praying for you as God is asking.”
She knows that she is in good hand of God’s healing,
So, she was busy chasing the doctor who is a really good looking.

She just wants to let her story be telling.
God’s grace and mercy need to be sharing.
She knows whatever hurdles she might be facing,
God’s love to her will never be ending.