Archive for the ‘Faith Stories’ Category

By Shearer Pettigrew. Photos by Rodney Macklin.

COVID-19 has taken so many things, but it has also provided Richmond’s First Baptist Church with new opportunities to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. I have had the privilege of being part of one of these opportunities, teaching the new kindergarten class started by our preschool. The class grew out of the need to help families who could no longer send their children to school for in-person instruction. Helping these families has also been a blessing for me in so many ways. Most importantly, it has required me to continually put my trust in God and find peace in the belief that I am following his will.

One of the best parts of teaching kindergarten is being able to read great children’s books. I am constantly amazed by the incredibly talented people who write stories that hold the attention of a five- or six-year-old child. In today’s world of movies on demand, video games that can be carried around in pockets and the seemingly unlimited access to all of it, having a young child sit still, listen to a book and transport themselves to another world is so much fun to watch.

Reading kindergarten books is one of the most important parts of our day. I read to the children for fun and to reinforce lessons. Recently, as part of our science lessons, we have been talking about what animals do in the winter, specifically how some adapt, some migrate and some hibernate. There is one book, First Snow in the Woods, that is full of amazing photographs of animals native to our area. In it the authors pair the photographs with a fictional story of animals preparing for winter. The children are mesmerized by the photographs, and I love that the photos allow me to talk to the children about God’s beautiful creations. All the amazing things they see in nature have been divinely made.

When studying animals in winter I also use books by one of my favorite children’s authors, Jan Brett. She not only writes wonderful stories, but she is also an amazing artist. She illustrates her books with such detail that every time I read one, I see something new. One of the things she often does with her illustrations is not only to let the reader know what is happening in the story on a particular page, but she will also draw a small picture in the margin to foreshadow something that is about to happen. My kindergarten students have a great time looking for the “extra picture” and trying to predict what is about to happen in the story. I have often wished that I had a magic window in the margins of life as I wonder what God has in store. It’s then that I lean into my faith and trust in the One who created all the beautiful animals. After all, God doesn’t make junk. He doesn’t make mistakes.  

Of all the books we read today, the oldest is the Bible. It was written thousands of years ago, without illustrations, for people whose lives were dramatically different from ours. Yet, we can relate to it. It captures our attention, our imaginations. It has the power to guide and inform our lives and decisions thousands of years later. It was written to captivate our minds and hearts so that we live informed, and transformed, by God’s word. It teaches lessons to all who listen.

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by Lynn Turner

Years ago I was given a book by Richard Foster called Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. He begins the book by saying, “Prayer ushers us into the Holy of Holies where we bow before the deepest mysteries of the faith.”

callout-prayer copyI was captured! I admitted that there was a lot about prayer that I did not understand. I was a novice at praying. My prayer life was a one-sided relationship, where I did most of the talking,  primarily asking God for things: for myself, on behalf of those I loved or for direction in making important decisions. I mostly was asking God for things that would make my life easier and better. While I believed that God wanted good things for my life, I was neglecting what God wanted from me.

Foster goes on to say, “Real prayer is about a love relationship, an enduring, continuing, growing love relationship with the God of the Universe.”

It has taken me many years to understand this concept of prayer.

incense 300pxIt likely was Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen that opened my eyes to the kind of relationship that God wants to have with me. I realized that prayer is a loving relationship centered on trust. Trusting my deepest heartaches, my greatest joys to the one who knows me through and through, who loves spending time with me and who calls me his “Beloved.” Nouwen says, “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert.”

This kind of prayer is exhilarating. It is exhausting. It is Holy Ground.

In recent days, I was given an image of prayer that I have never seen in Scripture. It came from writer Mark Buchannan in his book Your God is too Safe.

The vision in the Revelation of John, the book of Revelation chapter 5, is where John describes the worship in heaven, worshipping at the feet of Jesus. In the inner circle, closest to the throne are twenty-four elders and four living creatures. The Lamb, the worthy one, takes the scroll with seven seals. Here is what John sees in verse 8: “When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (italics added)

Buchannan says, “It is a stunning image…prayer as incense. I find it deeply consoling that our prayers are gathered as fragrance in the presence of God, that my prayers this morning for my wife and children, my church, my neighbors, mingle now with the purity and intensity of heaven’s worship.”

I don’t know about you, but I have never thought about my prayers as incense in worship. I have never thought about all the prayers I have prayed and prayers of all the saints gathered as a fragrance to Almighty God in an act of worship.

This image changes the way I view my praying. It encourages me that as I spend time with my loving God in prayer, those prayers linger on as a fragrance for eternity in the very heart of God.

May prayer become for you, as it has for me, more than a time of talking and asking; may it become a time for being and abiding, for trusting in His unfailing love. May it become sweet incense lifted and pleasing to God.

Editor’s note:
The Prayer Ministry of Richmond’s First Baptist Church offers a prayer retreat each fall. Please visit fbcrichmond.org/prayer for more information about A Day of Holy Rest and Soul Care, September 28, 2019.

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by Clint Smith

Richmond’s First Baptist Church is known throughout Central Virginia for its beautiful, reverent and moving Sunday morning worship services. Every week, hundreds flock into the sanctuary at Monument and Arthur Ashe Boulevard to sing, pray, learn and grow. Though God is present everywhere and at all times, the worship service is a place where God seems especially near and where our hearts are increasingly attuned to his movement. There is more to the church experience, however. While the service allows us to grow deeper in our faith, it is not an ideal environment for us to grow together. Relationships require cultivation, achieved only through authentic connection. This is why small groups are such an important part of the Christian life.

callout for small groups post“As much as I love gathering with the whole of the local church for corporate worship, there is something powerfully unique about an intimate gathering around a living room, a small classroom or a dining room table,” says Ed Stetzer, author of Transformational Groups. “It forces us to think differently than when we are in a big room for worship. The theology taught in our pulpits begins to be fleshed out in conversation and action.” ¹

A small group is just what it sounds like: an intimate, intentional gathering of people who meet regularly for a common purpose. While this purpose is often to study the Bible or to discuss a book, it can be any activity that builds community. Small groups can serve lunch at the local middle school, hike the James River Trail System on Sunday afternoons or ride motorcycles on scenic byways. In the course of these activities, friendships inevitably develop around shared experience and interests, leading to deeper connections with one another and with the church as a whole.

The individual’s growth within a small group is often significant. “The concept allows for real honesty with your thoughts and comments,” remarks Ann Hall, a member of a recent Lenten small group study of The Good and Beautiful God (James Bryan Smith, 2009). “We didn’t judge one another as we really had an opportunity to see one’s heart and spirit.” Another member of that group, Mignon Tucker, commented, “Inclusion of individuals at different stages in the Christian journey helped me to re-examine some long held beliefs and ponder new ones. I looked forward to every week and felt motivated to prepare.”

small groups montage

How small is too small? What is too big? “The ideal size is between 6 and 15,” writes Andrew Mason, Executive Pastor of Discipleship Communities at Emmanuel, a multi-site church in Minneapolis. “Groups that start out with two to five people in attendance run the risk of dying out quickly with no one showing up by the third or fourth meeting. Too many and you will inevitably have a handful of people that don’t feel as connected as others do in the group. New guests will take longer to get assimilated and will potentially get lost.”²

Would you like to start a small group? It’s easy. Pick a reason to meet (find a book to read, choose an activity), invite people to join you (call or text your friends, post a flyer at the church) and get together (find a spot and a time). It’s really that simple!

Maybe you’d prefer to join a group that’s already active? Our church has dozens. Many of them meet on Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. You’ve probably been calling them “Sunday School”, but that’s just a small group with another name. There are also the new “3-D” (Discipleship, Dinner, Dialogue) small groups meeting in the church and in homes. Other groups practice T’ai Chi, make sleeping bags for the homeless and even buff police badges.

Where will you plug in?

¹ https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/march/4-reasons-small-groups-are-vital-to-your-churchs-health

² http://www.smallgroupchurches.com/the-ideal-small-group-size/

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Soul Food

By Jeannie Dortch.

At least once a year, one or more members from Richmond’s First Baptist Church family gives his or her testimony of tithing, a habit of giving 10% of one’s annual income, usually patterned after an example set in their homes as children. My desire to tithe, however, grew out of a rich association with members of FBC and an appreciation for the Bible’s teachings that I had never learned at home. This is my story:

My mother grew up on the only road that led to the town cemetery. It was common for her to watch the hearse drive past her door taking a corpse to the graveyard. As a result, she developed a fear of death that grew to extend to a distrust of the Bible because of its many references to death.

My father’s religion was golf. So, attending Sunday school and church was a winter activity for our family because our car was driven to the links on fair weather weekends. We never read or discussed the Bible at home, and prayers were only offered at our annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Suffice it to say that in our home, the idea of tithing was never taught and certainly not caught by example. I am thankful that my formative years were spent in the 1950s and 60s, a time when children were exposed to church because it was expected. Very few things vied for families’ attention on Sundays with businesses closed. I can remember enjoying the services, and even walking to church by myself as a teenager. I have always had a curiosity and yearning to learn more about the Bible.

My husband’s religious training started on FBC’s cradle roll, but he hadn’t attended in years when we married in 1968. FBC never lost track of him, however, so when our daughter was four years old, we received a home visit from Katie’s Sunday school teacher inviting her to visit Sunday school. She was thrilled. The Sunday morning I took her, I decided to visit an adult class while waiting for Katie’s class to finish, and, that was where I met Buddy Hamilton and his small class of Christians. They embraced me as one of their own, becoming Jesus with skin on for the next many years! Each week, I would tell Jeff what I had learned to his skepticism and retorts, but his questions propelled me back to Buddy’s class to gather more answers to take home to share. Eight years passed before Jeff decided to attend church, and two more before he visited Sunday school.

While slowly learning to give our hearts to Jesus, we gained mentors in the faith whose example we wanted to follow. There have been so many FBC saints who helped us learn to pray, to volunteer, to lead, to teach, to give back with our bodies, minds, and souls and also with our money. We are grateful for each and every one of them and have been richly blessed by their presence in our lives.

soul food
Recently, Jim Somerville commented that we all need a faith that we can live with and die with. For me, that directive indicates a need to tithe. Some people emphasize the tangible rewards gained from tithing, but I believe the beauty of tithing is found in the giving itself. Tithing is like one-stop-shopping with the comfort of knowing that so many worthy causes that the church supports are covered by my gift with no need for me to research or worry about the legitimacy of the cause. Each week after the offering plates are passed, one of the ministers reminds us of yet another wonderful event, ministry, mission trip, organization, or association to which my dollars have been applied. More satisfying than the finest meal, I like to think of tithing as soul food!

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Willingly Dependent on God

Story by Lori Humrich

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice, (Psalm 130:1, NIV).

This was my prayer for months after January 27th. That night David and I had a date. As I drove home, a car cut in front of me and stopped suddenly. I was able to stop, but the driver behind me was not paying attention, and slammed into me. While both the people who caused the accident walked away with no injuries, my right leg was severely damaged.

I remember seeing the side of the truck that hit me, I remember the cold, I remember the pain, and I remember they wouldn’t let me be with David. I remember the doctor said they had decided to save my leg, even though it would be painful, and I might not walk again. He said it would be a very long recovery, with several surgeries.

On February 6, they vacuumed out the bits and pieces that were previously my knee area, inserted a lot of metal and screws, and my recovery began. After being released from the hospital I was transferred to Glenburnie Rehab and Nursing Center. Being the youngest person there gave me plenty of incentive to go home. But I hadn’t thought through what that meant—I would be on my own for very long days while David was working.

Willingly Dependent on GodBut the real recovery was the totally independent Lori accepting total dependence. The doer and giver had to be the receiver. I had to learn to be graciously dependent on David, my family, church, friends, and strangers, but most importantly, dependent on God. God used this time of healing to call me to be totally dependent on Him.

Out of the depths:

I tumbled into depression and anxiety. My life had never been so out of control. Every sound in the house scared me, riding in the car terrified me, everything exhausted me. The littlest things to an able-bodied person sent me into a tailspin—rocks on the sidewalk, stairs that don’t have wheelchair access, being stuck in a restroom and unable to open the door to get out.

I cry:

Oh, how I cried. Sometimes with joy, but mostly in pain, sometimes physical or mental, and sometimes spiritual pain. Although I never had the “why me?” thoughts, I did wonder “why?” What was the suffering for? Then it occurred to me that maybe I was doing too much. Was doing all I could for God and the Kingdom keeping me too busy to seek God? In 2016, during Lent I was so busy with church activities that I jokingly said “Next year I’m giving up church for Lent.” Little did I know.

To you, Lord:

Willingly Dependent on GodI did a lot of crying to God, begging for pain relief, to not become addicted to the pain medication, to forgive those who had caused the accident, to forgive myself for not giving Him complete control of my life. Apparently I needed to be hit over the head with a 2×4, since I hadn’t listened to His still small voice. These months sharpened my listening skills.

Lord, hear my voice:

God did hear my crying. He brought me the love of First Baptist Church through cards, flowers, food, and presence. When people called or visited, I forgot that I was in pain. I was more than abundantly blessed.

When my boss told me they could no longer hold my job, how I cried. But God heard me. I had been thinking about going to seminary for several years, but because of the cost and my work, I couldn’t fit it in. I had told God if He wanted me to go, He had to make it perfectly clear. And so, He did: I started at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond in August.

My healing isn’t complete, but has already surpassed what the doctors thought possible. Recently I walked into church. I started driving and cooking. I am able to do some things independently again, but I have to remember that I need to follow God’s pace, not try to outrun Him. I have become willingly dependent on Him.

Lori HumrichOriginally from Michigan, Lori joined FBC in 2012 and was baptized in the James River. She met David at First Baptist and they married in 2014. Lori is a member of the Seekers Class, former director of Legacy of Leadership, and liaison for the Lambs Class. Wednesdays find her helping Beanie in the kitchen. Lori has three children and one grandchild.

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By Stephanie Kim.

There are times when unrelated thoughts and experiences from my daily life intermingle in my mind and end up linked together. One week, I had a Bible study lesson on Ephesians 4, reviewed my homeowner’s insurance policy, and heard an explanation on why we go to church. Thinking on these topics brought to mind my faith family – the people that I worship, pray and study the Bible with each Sunday and fellowship with throughout the week. Some might call that a church family, but it’s not really about the church building, being Christian, or even the denomination. It’s the family that I see regularly and with whom I live out my faith, in times that are good and bad, simple and complex.

Faith Family

Stephanie is a member of Sojourners Bible study class.

My Sunday morning Bible study class helps me learn God’s Word and grow in faith. While studying Ephesians 4, I read verse 16: “Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (NLT). In this small group, we encourage and strengthen each other, we share our burdens, and we try to love as God loves.

Much like my homeowner’s insurance policy, I know my faith family is there for me when disaster strikes. They have been there to assist me in grief and loss, to help me back onto my feet when I didn’t have the strength to do it on my own. They have worked alongside me in putting the pieces back together and have assisted me with recovery and moving on. And better than insurance, they have celebrated with me in my successes.

Our pastor reminded us at the end of a sermon about why we go to church. It is the place of refuge after a tough week where we can find strength and encouragement, where we can worship and pray together. And worship provides the opportunity to refuel after a draining week and to regroup to face the challenges of the coming week.

Faith Family

Stephanie (far right) with friends

Belonging to a church is also about connecting and belonging to a family. It’s where I and my faith family are challenged to grow, to serve, to love. It’s where we experience God’s love in a world of disasters and disappointments. Even though we come from very different backgrounds and may not always agree, it is the best place for us all to grow and mature in faith.

I have others in my extended faith family that don’t attend my church and are not part of my immediate faith family, but nonetheless are an important part of my growth. They provide extra protection like an “insurance rider.” Although I don’t get to see or talk to these faith-filled friends frequently, they are as close as a call or email.

Connecting to a faith family gives the help we need in the daily routine and in times of disaster. It also gives us the chance and the challenge to provide coverage to those without insurance in their times of need.

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Sharing the Faith - Tom Chewningby Tom Chewning

Editor’s Note: The Richmond Times-Dispatch recently published an article about Tom Chewning. Tom and Nancy Chewning, active members of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, have worked for many years in a variety of ways to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. Below is Tom’s own story, which first appeared on the FBC website more than five years ago.

Warren Buffett says that being born in the United States is to win the “ovarian lottery!” In my case, I got all the lucky numbers right and the power ball too.

I had a wonderfully privileged childhood. My parents were both well educated and totally committed to their children’s well being. In return, I wanted to make my parents proud of me through academic and athletic performance. I had some success in both areas, which led to my attending the University of North Carolina and playing on the best tennis team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A graduate degree in business at Wharton School followed.

… I had
no spiritual content in
my life.

My business career was a series of good breaks for 40 years. I never had a job I didn’t like, and I was never between jobs. I was a commercial banker for eight years; then at 31, my uncle asked me to be the CEO of a holding company he had formed in Seattle.

The 11 years there were very heady times for me. I was a star in my company, in the local business world, and certainly in my own mind, but the relationships I had with Nancy and our children were far from close. I was almost an intruder in the world they had to create without me.

Outwardly my
life looks much
the same as before, but with Christ truly my Lord, it feels entirely different, because now the puzzle pieces
fit together perfectly.
I gave the impression of a Christian as our family attended a small Methodist church on Sundays, and I taught high school Sunday school. In reality, outside those two hours on Sunday, I had no spiritual content in my life.

In 1987, we moved back to Richmond when I took a position at Dominion. At a Needles Eye luncheon that year, Jess DuBois, a local radio and television personality, told his story of having everything he could have imagined and yet feeling empty. I listened intently to his advice that only through a personal relationship with Christ could I find true happiness, but I really didn’t understand what he was saying.

Our daughter began attending Young Life meetings in high school. As her personal relationship with Christ developed, she was bold enough to ask Nancy and me if we really knew Christ as our personal Lord. Soon Nancy told me that her relationship with Christ was the most important one for her. My wife and daughter had both decided that Christ was going to be first in their lives. So where did that put my relationships with them?

Nancy and Tom Chewning

Nancy and Tom Chewning

My life was a bit like a picture puzzle. I had put myself in the center and woke up each morning asking what might make my day better. But when the other pieces just wouldn’t fit properly, I realized I had the wrong piece in the center. When I put Christ in the center of my life, my daily question changed to how could I make someone else’s life better. God used this concentration on others rather than myself to give me real joy.

Outwardly my life looks much the same as before, but with Christ truly my Lord, it feels entirely different, because now the puzzle pieces fit together perfectly.

Enjoy related stories:
Tom Chewning: Social Investor by Peter Bacqué (from Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/25/13)
The Lord, Children and Sports by Nancy Chewning (previously featured in First Things First)
U-Turn Sports video produced by David Powers

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By Deborah Hocutt. Photos by Daniel Hocutt.

It was a Wednesday afternoon when I got the news: “Deborah, you have cervical cancer. We’re so sorry that there’s nothing we can do. Do you have your family nearby because some final decisions will have to be made? You’ll really need their love and support during a time like this.”

calloutA second opinion with a leading cancer specialist confirmed that yes, it was Stage 4 cervical cancer and yes, the prognosis was not good. Not good at all.

There are always these defining moments, aren’t there? Those character-revealing times on our path. Times when we have to go beyond our own abilities. Times when we have to look deep within ourselves to find God’s strength and courage. This was my time.

I knew treatment and surgeries were going to gobble up my remaining days. But I chose, and still choose, to stay positive. I checked into the hospital where I faced radiation, chemotherapy and major surgery – eleven hours of surgery. And my odds of making it through that process were about 10%, even less with post-surgical complications.

That fearful cancer call, that eleven hours of surgery, that chemotherapy and radiation treatment… were over twenty years ago!

I have come to accept that cancer is part of who I am. This acceptance comes only through faith, which acts as my pillow, and through grace, my comforting blanket.

But I didn’t come to this understanding easily or quickly. I have struggled to comprehend disease in God’s world, to stop going through scenarios in my head of “I could have …,” “I should have …”, or “If only I ….” It took years to stop looking for answers to “Why me?” and start coming from a place of “If it be Your will, Lord.”

Through much prayer, I have come to thank and praise God for my cancer. Without walking that journey with Him, I wouldn’t be the mother to two beautiful daughters born in China but placed, by God, into my arms. I wouldn’t know the amazing and rare love of my husband who each day loves me for who I am and who faces the fear, pain and aftermath of cancer as much as I do. I wouldn’t know how to care for and understand those who face serious illness and death. If not for my journey, I wouldn’t appreciate the overwhelming power of God’s grace and ever-present comfort. And even when I face the side effects of cancer, I know that whether in my now-home or my heaven-home, I am in the hands of a loving God, who guides my walk.

Before cancer God had a plan for me, during cancer He had a plan, and now He continues to have a plan for me. So what have I ultimately learned through my walk with cancer? Following God’s plan for my life, whatever that may be, is the most powerful medicine of all.

Deborah HocuttDeborah Hocutt, former literary manager now a full-time mom, is part of the FBC Prodigal Project.

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By Stephanie Kim. Photo by Susan Brown.

calloutI remember the early years after my now 8-year-old daughter Julia was discovered to have delays. There were numerous visits to specialists and a lot of testing, which resulted in no firm diagnosis, no named syndrome, just that she’s missing part of her eighth chromosome and part is duplicated. I obsessed for a while searching the Internet for every article and website that had anything to do with genetics and all of her maladies – intellectual disability, atrial septal defect, hypotonia, spinal issues, intestinal malrotation at birth. But I started realizing all this research was causing me much fear and anxiety. What other problems might there be? What will she be able to do? What will she NOT be able to do? Am I doing all that I should be?

family photoOver the past few years, I have discovered that my best resource for life as a special-needs parent really is the Bible. I have re-written Psalm 139:13-17 in my Bible with Julia’s name: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of Julia’s body and knit her together in my womb. Thank you for making her so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched Julia as she was being formed in utter seclusion, as she was woven together in the dark of my womb. You saw Julia before she was born. Every day of her life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are Your thoughts about Julia, O God. They cannot be numbered!”

From reading the Bible, I realize that my two daughters belong to God. He has entrusted me to care for them for whatever amount of time He gives me to do so. But ultimately, they are His. He is in control. God knows every malady Julia has and will have; He knows the ones that I don’t even know about yet. I often have to remind myself that God doesn’t make mistakes.

A friend told me about his sister who has a child with delays and how she has worried every day of her daughter’s life whether she would ever walk, talk, read, do math, drive, etc. I did the same for several years, but hearing about her lifelong worries made me decide that I didn’t want to live my life that way – always worrying, wondering, fearing. It all comes down to faith and trust in God. Do I really trust that He has a plan for Julia and that it is good, that He will take care of His children, that she will be able to do the things He has prepared for her, even if I don’t know what those are yet?

Julia still can’t count or recognize any letters, and she still has difficulty expressing her desires and frustrations. But she has taught me to enjoy each moment with her; to celebrate every little success, no matter how small; to slow down and take notice of each of God’s blessings; to have patience like I have never known; to be thankful in all circumstances; to be as joyful and loving as she is; to have the kind of childlike faith she has.

We still have our bad days with uncontrollable screaming fits, inexplicable behaviors like throwing off her shoes, and endless visits to specialists. It is on those difficult days that I am reminded I don’t have the strength to do this on my own and that I must rely on God to help me. I still catch myself wondering if Julia will ever read or be able to live independently, questioning if I’m doing enough for her. I do occasionally research the latest genetic findings, but now it is with faith and without fear. It is because of Julia that my faith has strengthened, and I am now living the abundant life.

I am truly blessed to be chosen by God to be the mother of a child with special needs.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch April 28, 2012.

Stephanie KimStephanie Kim is Director of Finance for the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. She is an active member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church and often participates in worship services as flutist. She resides in Mechanicsville. She can be reached at flute2tr@comcast.net.

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By Mary Hiteman. Photo by Paul Bickford.

Through God, we love deeply, so hurt is strong.
When tragedy happens, His tears do fall.
We ask why? And where are You? We are too numb to feel.
We’re shocked & we’re angry & we cry. . .and we heal.
          Suzanne Shonnard

June 28, 1998 – do you remember where you were? I don’t remember, but Suzanne Shonnard does. She attended First Baptist’s first Prayers for Healing Service that afternoon. Her mother was scheduled to have surgery the next day to remove a brain tumor. She remembers praying with desperation—could her mother be healed overnight? She felt glued to the pew, arms tightly crossed, staring at the floor while nervously shaking one foot. She didn’t want to be disruptive, so she did not shed one tear because she knew she would end by sobbing. Something happened to Suzanne that night during the Healing Service. The message of hope inspired her, the music comforted her, candles were lit, and most importantly, there were prayers for healing. She did not want to leave the service—she felt a bit strengthened and closer to God, and she was finally able to take a deep breath.

Suzanne Shonnard

Suzanne Shonnard during the monthly Prayers for Healing Service at First Baptist.

According to Suzanne, that’s one thing the Prayers for Healing Service does—it gives you a chance to catch your breath. In the midst of a crisis, you are in a place where you don’t need to be strong. Each month someone shares an intimate story of healing. You hear scripture and prayers and feel the presence of God. You find out what others have done when the moments of peace wear off and the anger, loss and fear poke through. It’s a safe place where prayers are offered for others, where others will pray with you and for you.

Suzanne has become the moving force behind this on-going ministry. She recruits speakers and musicians for each Prayers for Healing Service. She arrives two hours ahead to set up the Chapel. She serves as one of the lay readers of scripture. As she participates, her faith is always strengthened by each Healing Service.

Back to June 28, 1998. Her mother died too quickly from the cancer, but Suzanne will tell you that no matter what happens, God is by your side all the time, with His arm around your shoulder – whether you feel His presence or not – He is there and always promising: “It’s OK, I’ll take it from here.”

In January, 2011, Suzanne felt His presence in a new way. She was facing some surgery of her own. At that month’s Prayers for Healing Service, she walked to the kneeler in front of the Chapel and received prayer. On the Wednesday before the surgery, she was prayed over by the Catalyst Prayer group (whose mission is to pray for FBC’s leaders). She was hesitant and a bit embarrassed on both occasions, but the experience of having folks pray with and for her was very humbling and very powerful. She went into surgery surrounded by the peace and calm of God’s presence.

Editor’s Note: Join Suzanne at the next Prayers for Healing Service, July 10 at 5 p.m. in the Chapel.

Mary HitemanAccording to one wise five-year-old, Mary Hiteman, associate minister for the Weekday Preschool at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, “is the boss of the school who tells us Bible stories each Monday after she says good morning to everyone at the front door.” Mary has led the preschool for 29 years, under its motto: “It’s ok to have too much fun!” Her other great blessing is being a grandmother to Hayden. They both enjoy gardening, camping at the “rivah,” vacationing at the beach, and reading.

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