What follows is the testimony of a courageous young mother who attends Christ the Word Church. Erin's testimony was given at a women's event the weekend of Mud's funeral in Chicago. She sent it to us knowing that Cheryl would be unable to attend the event and that I had been looking forward to Cheryl's report on her presentation. Receiving this was such an encouragement to Cheryl and me in the midst of saying farewell to Mud. May God grant many more testimonies like this in our churches--David Bayly
By Erin Hoot
I am so grateful to share my testimony with you. I hope you will find it encouraging. This is my story.
I was not raised in a Christian home. My mother was a self-proclaimed atheist and my father was Catholic as a child. I remember that we attended a small church briefly when I was young. We didn’t attend long and never looked for another church after. By earthly standards, I was a pretty good kid growing up. I did well in school and never got into trouble. I never partied or did drugs. I had a job from the time I turned 16 and attended college during my senior year of high school. I had my future planned out from the time I was 10. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and was on the right path to reach my goals. It was shortly after graduation that my perfectly planned life began to unravel.
While attending college, I was quickly distracted with men. I had a series of steady boyfriends, all of whom were more important to me than just about anything including school. I dropped and failed several classes in my first years of college. I finally decided to take a break from school just before turning 21. I started working 2 jobs to pay off my credit card debt, hoping to return to school when I was in a better place in my life. I began partying all night with friends and had several bad relationships and one-night stands. This behavior went on for almost a year. Then, the Lord would take my life in a very different direction.
Shortly before my 22nd birthday, I found out I was pregnant. Due to my promiscuous behavior, I wasn’t sure who the father of my child was. When I told the men involved, I was offered money for an abortion. I was counseled to have an abortion by others as well. Only a few short years prior to this, I had determined that I would have an abortion without question if I ever became pregnant and was not married. Even though I didn’t know the Lord at the time, it is clear to me now that He was at work in me even then. Every time someone mentioned an abortion to me, I simply replied, “Out of the question.”
Before giving birth to my beautiful daughter, I went back to school. I decided it was time to get my life back on track now that I had someone else to worry about. I worked full time and went to school, all the while missing some of the most important early months with my daughter. While I was away from her, I missed her – my heart hurt. She was in daycare from the age of 6 weeks and in the care of my parents while I was in school at night. I felt hopeless and lost, completely without direction and stuck in a place I couldn’t get out of. As bitter as my heart had become toward men, I decided the only way out of this was to find someone.
Before my daughter’s first birthday, I began searching for a husband. I would work all day, go to school in the evening, and go out to the bar at night. I hardly gave my precious little girl a second thought. I kept telling myself I was doing this for us – to give her a father, me a husband, and us a better life. I was so oblivious to the fact that the two of us were a family, and she really needed me, not just some guy I could scrounge up from the bar. I quickly slipped back into my old ways. I dated several men. I even tried to manipulate a man away from his wife and children to take care of me and my daughter. I was so selfish, manipulative, evil, and completely wretched. I had no idea my life was a direct path to hell, and I didn’t care.
One night I was in the bar as usual, and a man walked in whom I found incredibly attractive. I figured I would go after him and hopefully spend the evening with him. He had a different plan. We talked, exchanged numbers, and that was it. For a few weeks following our encounter, we talked on the phone for hours. We finally agreed to go on a date. During our first date, I knew he was different from the others. Rather than the way I would usually end an evening out with a man, he kissed me good night and we planned to have a second date. The way he treated me threw me for a loop!
Not long after we began dating, he made a confession to me – there was a warrant for his arrest for an old child support case and he was facing 8 months in prison. This information, coupled with the fact that he had 5 children from 2 previous relationships would have normally sent me running for the hills. Again, God had a different plan. I was in love with this man, and he was in love with me. He certainly was not the easy solution I was looking for, but I didn’t care. I just knew that we were in love and the rest of it would all work out.
Two short months after we met, he asked me to marry him. We quickly found an apartment and moved in together. Things were great at first. It was so great to see him every day and to share this life together. Reality quickly set in, and the true versions of ourselves finally reared their ugly faces. The stress of blending two families and fear of prison hanging over his head began to take its toll on our relationship. To add to our fear and stress, I found out I was pregnant only a few months after we moved in together. We knew the life we wanted together, but nothing could move forward while he was running from the law, including marriage.
Before we met, Todd was attending church fairly regularly with his roommate. Before moving in together, he asked me to go to church with him. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea. I had no desire to go to church or learn about God. My brother, who, at the time, was in pastor’s college here at Christ the Word Church, had asked me to come to his church for years. I always refused. This offer from Todd was different. While church meant nothing to me, it meant something to him. Out of my love for him, I agreed to go. We attended this church fairly regularly for several months. Neither of us had professed our need for Christ during this time. We continued to live our lives as we had been, all the while struggling and suffering hopelessly with the weight of the world on our shoulders.
During those difficult early months of our relationship, I had so many people buzzing around me with their negative thoughts and words. He will never turn himself in and be free of running from the law. He will never marry you. He will never change. His anger will turn to abuse. You will be a single mother of two children and have no future. You will go back to your old ways. Your life is a dead end. Everything they said to me made perfect sense. I had done so many wrong things in my life and there was no way to undo my past. It felt as though there was no way to move forward with my future. I felt stuck again, but this time my situation looked even more bleak. I knew I could handle being a single mother to my daughter, but now another child? Someone close to me suggested I sell my unborn child, pay off my student loan debts, and leave Todd as quickly as possible. She even referred me to a counselor who encouraged all the same things. I struggled with this thought for weeks, thinking of how easy it would all be, how different my life would be, how this was my only hope. While I still did not have a relationship with the Lord, He worked in my life again. After a few sessions, I never again returned to that counselor and I kept my son.
In August 2008, my brother asked our family to come to Christ the Word Church to see his graduation from pastor’s college. My parents, who had not attended church since my childhood, planned to see my brother’s graduation. Todd was eager to try a new church, one where we could grow and become part of a family. I didn’t like his church. I had always teased my brother about his church, telling him it was some sort of a cult. Women who have tons of kids, women who stay home with their children, men who are in charge while their wives shut up and listen – this was not the life for me. Oh how wrong I was about it all and how God would reveal the truth to me.
I was afraid to even walk in the door! Here we were: 4 kids, none of whom were born in a marriage; the two of us living together, unmarried; me, 7 months pregnant; him, running from the law. I thought we would burn to a pile of ash walking into the sanctuary. Obviously, we didn’t. Todd fell in love with the church and everything about it. I was still unsure but I was willing to follow him wherever he wanted me to go. That was our first day at this church and we’ve been here ever since.
October 2008, I gave birth to our son. When I came home from the hospital, I received a phone call from a woman at church telling me that there would be women stopping by for the next 2 weeks to bring our family dinner. I was really moved by this. Why would these women want to make an extra meal for our family when they didn’t even know us? Why were they so willing to help me? God would reveal this truth to me as well.
In December 2008, there was a gathering at for new attendees to the church. After all we had been through and all we were facing, I was weary and depressed. I didn’t feel much like socializing with others, but my parents encouraged us to come with them to the outing. During the event, there was a brief devotional. It was during this devotional that I realized I was hopeless. I was right…I couldn’t handle all that we were going through. It was then the Lord spoke to me and I heard His voice, “You can’t handle this alone, and you don’t have to. I am here for you.” Suddenly, the weight I had carried with me for so long, the guilt of my past, the pain of my present, and the fear of my future was lifted from my shoulders.
Some might expect that things would get easier from that point, but they certainly didn’t. All of those same struggles we were facing, they were still there. But I knew I didn’t have to count on my own strength to get through my struggles. I felt so changed and comforted, while Todd continued to wrestle with consequences of his past. He was still angry, scared, and sought comfort in alcohol. I watched him suffer through the fear of returning to prison and losing the life he had come to love. You see, he had been to prison before for this very same offense. He had no one to see him go, no one to visit him, and no home to return to when he was released. Several men from the church encouraged Todd to turn himself in and be free from the control this had over him. They promised to be there for him as he took a step in faith. He had been attending church for almost two years at this point and did not yet know his need for Christ.
In July 2009, Todd turned himself in and was immediately arrested. We had saved enough money to bail him out of jail. We would only have 5 short days before his sentencing. The morning after we bailed him out of jail, Todd and I went on a mission through downtown Toledo to acquire the necessary paperwork to buy a marriage license. Anyone who has had to go downtown for those sorts of things knows that it can take hours at just one stop. We had several to make. As God would have it, just before close of business on a Friday we had a marriage license in our hands. Todd called Pastor David and asked if he was free to marry us that weekend. He was free that weekend, and we were married in a very impromptu service attended by few family and many whom we have come to love at Christ the Word. Two days later, he was sentenced to 8 months in prison. I had seen hard days before, but watching the police put my husband in handcuffs – this man I loved and had never seen as a criminal, was one of the most difficult days of my life. We were surrounded by family and friends from church to support us that day. At the end, I walked to my car alone and cried out to God. I sat in the parking lot repeating Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.” I didn’t know why my husband had to go to prison in that moment, but I was willing to trust God and knew in my heart that I would not make it through this apart from Him.
God used that time mightily in our lives. We had seen so many answers to prayer, so much growth, and so much love in those darkest days. The Lord provided protection for my husband in very dangerous places and he found favor with some of the most unlikely people. He was affectionately referred to as “the Bible guy” throughout his stay, and he even started a Bible study with some of the inmates. He came home a changed man in all the best ways.
I myself grew a great deal as well. I realized how much I really loved my husband and that I truly did need him. I realized it was okay to need him, and that God had designed for us to be one flesh. It was okay that I felt as though half of me was missing, even though our feminist society would say otherwise. I realized I would actually rather be home serving my family than at work all day. I lived completely by faith, not knowing what would happen from one day to the next. It was a very difficult time for me, but I was able to praise Him through my struggles. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I will admit that it wasn’t always easy to see His glory in what was going on in my life, but I knew it was there. I was given strength I never had on my own – the same strength used to flood the earth, part the sea, and raise Christ from the dead. That same strength was given to me when I needed it most, and all I had to do was trust in Him.
The Lord provided for us in so many ways. Not only were we given the strength to persevere through this ordeal, we were provided for financially as well. And the women of the church made sure we never went without a meal. I was able to visit my husband each weekend, and several men of the church visited throughout the month. He received numerous cards and letters from our church family, and countless prayers. All of the fears my husband and I had were put to rest as the Lord covered all of them.
It has been four and a half years since we started attending Christ the Word Church and the Lord continues to grow and change us. After coming home from prison, my husband started his own painting company and has been quite successful. The Lord increased my desire to be home with our children and gave that same desire to my husband as well. I now find joy in serving my family and serving others – especially on the occasion that I can take a meal to a family who has just brought home a newborn baby. I find myself speaking of the Lord and His goodness throughout each day, including to total strangers in the most random places. I can look back at the events of my life and see God’s sovereignty everywhere. It brings me great joy to see how every happening in my life – big and small- came together perfectly to bring me to where I am today. My life isn’t quite how I imagined it would be, but it is so much better than anything I had planned. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I am not perfect by any means. I am still a wretched sinner. But I see the Lord in my life day after day and am so blessed to be constantly sanctified by the One who gave me this life to glorify Him.
Now what about you? Do you feel the Lord calling you? Did you know that you need a savior? We all need a savior. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All have sinned…not just some of us, all of us. Sin is punishable by death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But God is merciful to us. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” He loves us so much that He sent His son to die for our sins. Christ died for us…not just some of us, all of us. Romans 10:13 says “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” You heard me correctly. You can be saved from your sins. Romans 10:9 says, “…If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved…” If you hear the Lord calling you, don’t wait another moment. Cry out to Him. He promises to fulfill you in a way that no person or thing can. He will change your heart and your life forever. I know. He did the same for me.