Jeff Loftin was active in church when he was young, but wandered from his faith during his time in college, like so many do. Fast forward several years, through good choices and bad, through marriage, three children, and a career as a salesman. About two years ago Jeff began to realize he should get back to church and see if perhaps faith would be a blessing for his family.
My wife and I have had several conversations with Jeff about his faith. He’s eager to know how he and his family can build a faith that not only survives the rocky roads of life, but thrives through the hard times.
We tell him he needs to go deep in his spiritual disciplines and to stretch himself in serving God. And we point him to other people in the congregation whose lives show how it can be done.
Dig Deep to Anchor Your Faith
In 2010 Liz Beal, 28 years old, was pregnant with her third daughter. She and her husband Shawn were accustomed to the routines of having a child by this point.
This time, though, Jolie was born six weeks premature. One month later, Liz was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, which has a 40 percent survival rate.
Such a diagnosis destroys some families, the constant state of crisis fracturing their bonds. It also can destroy faith when there seems to be no answer to the question of, “Why me?”
But the Beals chose to take intentional steps to strengthen their faith instead, to continue to work on the spiritual disciplines that would help them face this crisis like Jesus would.
“I knew I had a hard road ahead of me but I also knew that no matter what the outcome of my treatment, my family and I would be just fine,” says Liz. “We prayed daily that we would be able to draw close to God and that if I was not going to survive he would give us the tools we needed to accept that.”
Liz says she also knew that throughout the bad days it would be easy to find excuses not to keep up with the discipline of Bible study. “So, I kept teaching our ladies’ Bible study at my church as a way to make sure I didn’t let my time with God get put on the back burner.”
“When I was going through treatments,” says Liz, “my worst days were also my best days because on those days that I felt the sickest and most down, I relied on God and my faith grew because of it. I always tell people that are facing cancer to find something to believe in that is bigger than yourself.”
Their commitment to rise above their problems has produced in them a depth of faith evident to everyone who knows them. During the years following Liz’s treatment and recovery, they’ve thrown themselves into serving in the church, using their creativity as a family to plan and lead activities like Vacation Bible School.
“My husband and I were always close and made a great team before, but during and after cancer we grew so much closer. It really ended up a blessing in our lives.”
My friend Jeff is still at Stage One of his new life in Christ, but he’s already discovering the importance of those disciplines in building a faith that sustains. He’s becoming intentional about his Bible reading habits and is eager to ask questions about things he doesn’t understand. He’s also pouring himself into using his unique talents to serve others.
Say Yes to God-Given Opportunities
When Wayland French was just 8 years old, his father walked out. His mother, who was in and out of mental institutions, was left with four children.
He met Peggy, whose home life was no more stable that his. She was adopted when she was in junior high.
They were married at the age of 18 and suddenly found themselves caring for three teenagers when Wayland’s mother went back into the hospital.
From that point on, their life has been filled with a continually changing household of children, including their own two daughters and many others who happened along.
“Our oldest daughter particularly would bring home not stray puppies or dogs, but people,” Wayland recalls. “We always had extra kids around, and it was ‘Dad, can they stay the weekend’? Then it would be two or three or four years before they left.”
“Looking back on it,” he admits, “it was really kind of scary. We never had any protection if someone got sick or had to go to the hospital. We had no authority for anything. Same for school—we had nothing. Nobody ever questioned it back in those days, but we always wondered, what if.”
They took in Peggy’s nephew, Billy, and his twin brother when they were 12, and they stayed through high school.
A few years later, Billy was getting a divorce from his wife when he learned she was expecting a child. After his ex-wife abandoned their daughter, Billy showed up at the Frenches’ house, baby in tow. His daughter is now a teenager and has never known another home.
Being willing to take in those who have needed a home hasn’t always been easy for them. “We’ve had mixed results,” Wayland admits, “but you see glimmers of hope.”
The tough times and those “mixed results” have strengthened their faith, driving them to open their hearts and their home even more freely.
Today, in their retirement years, they still have people passing in and out of their home. These days it’s often international students from the University of Missouri, who don’t actually live with them, but rely on them.
Jeff Loftin is several decades short of the Frenches in his spiritual journey, but he’s already a lot like them.
More than a year ago I made a plea to the congregation for help with the Mizzou Christian Campus House prison ministry that my wife and I lead. Jeff, after a brief conversation with his wife, told me he’d like to give that a try. He’s now a certified corrections volunteer and helps us in the prison on Monday evenings.
He says it just seemed like something God would want him to do. He knew he couldn’t afford to settle for being another average, comfortable churchgoer, like he was before.
Over the past several months his confidence in contributing to the prison ministry has grown. His past experience working in a psychiatric hospital has proven to be a valuable resource and his salesman’s gift of gab helps him to connect with the prisoners.
That eagerness to stretch himself spiritually, to say yes even when he’s not sure what he’s saying yes to, is working wonders in developing Jeff’s faith into something with roots, strong enough to withstand whatever comes next.
The same sort of disciplines and active service will strengthen the faith of any Christian, no matter their stage of life or faith.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Missouri.