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 Trusting for Provision

Although I titled this section Trusting for Provision, it is in reality all about faith and really believing that God is who He says and will do what He promises.  Hebrews 11:6 says “But without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  This is one of the true foundations of the Christian’s walk with God and you will see this general theme scattered throughout all areas of my entire testimony.  God says or prompts, we hear and do (stepping out in faith), and God does the work and we stand in awe at what He does through us.

In the end, what matters most in your expression of faith is not what you “say” but rather what you “do.”  Indeed, faith is where you place all of your weight on something knowing fully that it will support you.  In this section, I will describe repeated examples where we have placed our full trust in God and He has indeed rewarded our trust.

Before I go further, I want to point out that I have found a close relationship between faith (truly believing and trusting in who He is), obedience (doing what He says or expressing perfect love for Him), and fear (negative responses that drive us to not trust Him based on our feelings or emotions).  God wants us to operate everyday with Him in the first two areas.  When we really begin to understand who He is and to operate in His will, we’ll find that fear is cast out (1 John 4:18) and we will experience that peace that surpasses all understanding.

Trusting and God’s Tithe
Speaking of trust and obedience, throughout this story, you must understand that at no point did we ever stop being faithful with our tithes.  This topic directly touches on both of the two areas that God wants us to operate in that I mentioned in the previous paragraph – faith and obedience.  Tithing is a very personal and intimate part of your relationship with the LORD.  When you don’t tithe, you are in effect telling the LORD “I don’t trust you and I don’t want to do what you say.”  Granted, your church is blessed to be able to do the work of God’s kingdom when we tithe, it is more important to me to do it because of my love for my Father and because I understand who He really is.

Growing our faith and trust in God has been very much like physical conditioning and working out – the more we have done it the stronger our faith has become.  God has grown our faith to the point today where to most people observing the extent of our trust it would truly make no sense.  As you read on in this section, you will see what I mean.

Right from the beginning of this journey, the LORD has consistently reinforced in us the concept and importance of trusting in Him.  Time and time again He has proven to us His faithfulness to provide for our needs when we abide in Him.  One of the names of God is Jehovah Jireh, which means God our Provider.  He knows what His children truly need and has promised that He will provide those needs.  Even as I am writing these words today in December 2009, this story is developing as God is once again showing us in a mighty big way how He extends His hand of provision when we put our faith and trust in Him.  These are some of those examples when the LORD has shown us that He is Jehovah Jireh.

2007 -No Short-Term Disability
In April 2007 when doctors first discovered my brain tumor, I had just 6 weeks earlier started my new job at Applied Materials.  After I was hospitalized, we contacted my company to report the medical situation and start my medical leave and short-term disability.  When our request was processed, we were notified that I did not have short-term disability because I had declined the coverage six weeks earlier when I enrolled in my company benefits.  I could not remember declining the coverage and would never actually do so.  To this point throughout my professional career in corporate America, I had always selected and paid for this coverage.  But when I found and looked at my copy of my enrollment form, sure enough it showed “declined” for short-term disability.

The net result of this lack of coverage was that Applied Materials granted me the vacation and sick time that I had accumulated up to my hospitalization date (I had only accumulated a few hours because I had only been with the company for six weeks).  After those few hours were quickly consumed, I was placed on an unpaid leave of absence and would not be paid again until I was medically released to return to work.  The initial estimate by my doctors was that after surgery, I would be on disability for as long as 12 weeks or until the end of July 2007.  This would all be recovery time without pay.  Our family did have one other small source of income from my military retirement pension, but it was not nearly enough to cover our living expenses.

A Little Background
Coming into this time, we had gone through a 2-1/2 month period earlier in 2007 (from January until March) when I was unemployed because I had abruptly quit my job at Verizon in the first week of January (I give more details about this in the section “Dying to Self”).  

God, already knowing of this drought that was coming, had prepared our family for provision of our needs by blessing me years before with good financial wisdom.  At the time that I quit my job, our family had virtually no consumer debt and had sufficient savings for several months of living expenses.  The end result was that we never had to do without and never got behind on any of our bills during this period.

However, after being hospitalized and entering into this new unpaid leave of absence, our savings were starting to get low and would not be enough for the entire summer.  Along with the shrinking savings, the following circumstances served to further aggravate the situation:

  1. Just a week before the diagnosis we had entered into a contract to build a new house (with all of the associated deposits and expenses) as part of our relocation to Austin, Texas for my new job at Applied Materials.  My family was still living in our house in The Colony, Texas (in North Dallas).
  2. On May 7, 2007 (a nice hot Texas early summer day) we came home to our house in The Colony to discover the house AC was not working.  The company that held our service contract said the main coil needed to be replaced at a cost of $3600 (an amount that would completely exhaust what was left of our savings).
  3. As a family, we had been incurring increased expenses related to my weekly commute from The Colony to Austin for work.  Our house in Austin would not be ready until the fall.

All during this time, one thing that never changed or waivered was our commitment to giving our tithes and offerings.  Recognizing that God was our provider, we gave generously during that time which included a special $2,000 offering to our local church (Body of Christ Family Church in Red Oak, Texas) as we were led by the Holy Spirit.  God rewarded our obedience and faithfulness in a big way that summer as follows.

Our Pastor (Billy Grate) had previously been a business owner of an insulation company and knew a lot about HVAC systems.  One afternoon while contemplating our situation with the expense of fixing the AC along with our financial need to make it through the summer, I called my Pastor to seek his counsel.  Through this conversation, God blessed us on both fronts.

During our conversation, Pastor Grate also counseled me about the financial need of our family.  He reminded me of God’s divine providence and how He is in control and able to work things even through the people and systems in my company.  We prayed that day on the phone for God to intercede in these situations for us and stood on His promise to provide our every need.

God’s Poured Out Blessing - The House AC Unit
Pastor Grate knew of a fellow Christian (Fitzgerald Small) who had recently done some AC work on his daughter’s house.  Fitzgerald was able to salvage our dead unit, replacing only a few minor components, and returning it to full service for a fraction of the initial replacement cost estimate.

God’s Poured Out Blessing – The Short-Term Disability
Within days of Pastor Grate’s prayer with me on the telephone, I received an unsolicited call from a lady who worked at Applied Materials corporate headquarters HR Benefits department in Santa Clara,
CA.  She had become familiar with my case and was inquiring about my situation and how I had come to be without short-term disability (STD) coverage.  

I told her that when I had enrolled six weeks earlier I did not remember declining the coverage even though my form showed that I had.  I told her that I had always before paid for this coverage because it is wise protection especially for people with families.

She said that apparently during the online enrollment process, the selection of STD coverage was pre-populated with the “decline” option and could have been easily overlooked.  If not changed explicitly by the employee, it was possible to decline it without ever realizing it.

Watch God Work
She prepared a briefing on my case and escalated it to company executives, obtaining approval to get my
STD coverage retroactively activated, including previously missed compensation payments.  All of this was done without me saying a word other than in our prayer to our Heavenly Father.  And He took care of it.

2009 – The Financial Storms Rage
For our family, 2009 was a year filled with financial storms like we have never seen before (indeed like the world has never seen before).  However, these storms have allowed us (as well as many others) to live out our faith in God and to celebrate His faithfulness as the true source that provides all of our needs.

In this next section, I will describe using smaller vignettes some examples where we placed our hope and reliance in our LORD and He watched over and provided for us.

Company Shutdowns
As a result of the declining global economic conditions, Applied Materials (as well as most other companies) started to implement a lot of initiatives to cut costs and help the company weather the storm.  Starting December of 2008 and continuing all throughout 2009, they started an aggressive use of company shutdowns (or furloughs) where employees were not allowed to work for one or more weeks.  During this time we had to either use any remaining vacation time or to take unpaid days (this is what generally happened). 

bullet In December 2008, we had a three-week shutdown over the Christmas and New Years holidays.
bullet Starting in January 2009, there was at least one week of shutdown every month with the exception of June and December 2009 which would have two shutdown weeks.

These shutdowns resulted in at least a 25% reduction in our salary and placed strain on our family’s finances all throughout 2009.  In response however, we not only continued to give our tithes and offerings, we tithed throughout the year based on our normal income without any reductions for the shutdowns.  Our attitudes were “it all belongs to God and He will provide.”

Home Mortgage Increase
In April 2009, I received a notice from my mortgage company that our monthly payment would increase to $4300, almost doubling starting in May 2009.  This increase, which was due to a change in the tax rate on our house, further exasperated the strain that was on our finances and drove me to pray with increasing intensity to ask God for guidance (always acknowledging that it was all His anyway).  His response was always “wait.”

An Approaching Financial Train Wreck
As we approached the end of the year, Applied Materials announced that they would no longer have monthly shutdown weeks starting in November because they were taking some other actions to further restructure the company.  However, the two-week shutdown planned for December would still take place.  Now, at this time, the shutdowns that had been happening all year had taken a serious toll on our finances and looking forward at December (which would be a month with only half pay), I knew that December would be a financial train wreck for our family.  Most of our savings cushion long gone, an outstanding American Express credit card bill that we could not pay, and our home mortgage payment falling behind, there was pretty much no way that we would be able to make it through December.

We started to pray earnestly for God’s provision and guidance (discernment) and asked members of our church small group to pray for us as well.   

Laid Off From Applied Materials
On the morning of Thursday, November 12, 2009 I was laid off from my job as an IT Audit Manager at Applied Materials.  In general the initial reaction that I get when I tell people about this is one of compassion or sorrow.  But I will now show you how my initial reaction was one of fervent praise and why that was.

You need to first understand the background behind how God had previously talked to me about my job and how He is truly in control.  One year earlier in December 2008, Applied was doing a voluntary layoff where they targeted a percentage of employees and offered them lucrative severance packages if they left.  This was somewhat of a dangling carrot because they were anticipating a hard layoff in the Spring of 2009 in which the package would not be nearly as good.  Early one morning in December 2008 as I sat working at my desk, the Holy Spirit told me something very clearly that kind of shocked me.  He said that on that morning my boss was going to offer me the voluntary severance package.  He also said not to worry and to not accept the package.  Later in March 2009 there was indeed a hard layoff and I was not affected.

Fast forward to November 2009 – this time for two days prior to the layoff action on November 12, God virtually screamed at me that they were going to lay me off on that Thursday.  I remember walking out to my car after work on the evening of November 11 and seeing Erin Barber, one of my acquaintances who was an HR representative.  I could see that which God had been telling me clearly written all over her continence as a burden she carried.

On the Thursday morning of the layoff during my customary 5:00 AM prayer time, God dominated the conversation, again reiterating what was going to happen on that day, preparing me for it, and encouraging me to go in and to represent Him well on that day.  

During this time, my son Gerald Junior was playing in his senior year on the Varsity Football team at Leander High School.  Head coach Steve Gideon (a devoted man of God) had a weekly devotional at 7:15 AM for any of the players who wanted to come and there were a group of dads who came to support the boys.  On this morning Pastor Lance Bane, the team Pastor, was delivering his weekly devotional to the kids, but God spoke to me so clearly through his message.  That morning Lance talked of the LORD’s sovereignty, how He’s on His throne and bigger than any circumstance.  All of these words just penetrated me and further encouraged me for that day.  Then, God sealed the deal for me when Lance cited the example in Matthew 17:27 where Jesus told Peter to go and catch a fish and look inside his mouth for money to pay their taxes.  Here again, God was yelling at me to not worry about the money (that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills).

As a result of this effort by God to prepare me, I was enabled to go in that day and truly show the love of Jesus and the peace that He gives me.  When I walked into the room with my boss at 10:00 AM, I immediately tried to ease his anxiety, telling him that I already knew what this was about and that I was truly okay with it.  I told him about how God had been preparing me for days and how I saw this as coming from Him – in essence closing one door prior to opening another.

That afternoon when I returned home, Lynita and I read through the terms in the severance package together and noted how it was indeed an answer to our prayers (actually it was only the beginning as you will later see).  Even though I was no longer allowed to go to work, the package provided full compensation (regular biweekly pay checks) until mid January 2010 and then after that a lump-sum severance payout.  Effectively, the perfect financial storm that was coming in December had just been reduced to an April shower.  I found myself reflecting back on Lance’s devotional that morning and thinking of when Jesus calmed the raging storm on the Sea of Galilee by saying “peace be still.”  God is truly in control and He is right here in the boat with us!

As God was leading me through this major transition on my job, He was also working to provide us with prophetic guidance and reassurance through my wife, Lynita.  During this time, she told me that God had spoken to her about our children and Christmas.  He had told her to have them each make a list of five gifts that they wanted and that we (Lynita and I) should select three from each of those lists.  He then told her not to worry and that our children would be blessed for Christmas.  When she told me these things, I remember looking her in the face and saying “I receive that word.”

For the above reasons, I was able to come out of that day with nothing but praise on my lips for a faithful God.  That evening at a rehearsal for our church praise team when we went around the room soliciting prayer requests, I offered a praise report (shout out) because I had been laid off that day.  This is because looking back at it, I could always see God’s hand all over it.  And knowing of His divine providence, that He is working all things for good, and that I am His child, the only logical thing to do is to praise.  To me, this is the essence of what David meant when he said in Psalm 34:1 “I will bless the LORD at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  It’s because of His divine providence.

A New Call to Ministry
After I was laid off, I reflected back on how the Spirit had also been telling me that this was one door being closed (that no man could open) while another door would be opened (that no man could close) – paraphrased from the letter that Jesus wrote to the church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7.  Looking back at the way it all had occurred, I knew with great certainty that God had demonstrated His divine providence, was in control of all of these events and that I was not a victim of the economy or even any type of unfair treatment by my department or Applied Materials.

In the week following my layoff, I did some work to update my resume and visited the job boards to update my profiles and to see what type of job opportunities were out there for someone with my skill sets.  But even when doing this, I had a persistent feeling that this had not all happened just so that I could go right back to doing my trade as an Information Technology Auditor.  I had many compassionate friends around me in those days who lent their support, offering to inquire on my behalf with their companies or associates, asking for copies of my resume, or offering advice on job search techniques and approaches.  But still I had this lingering check in my spirit telling me that there was another purpose for all of this.

The Morning of November 24 2009 - The Call Made Clear and Confirmed
On the early morning of November 24, 2009 after a week of offers to help and encouragement to step up my efforts to secure a job, I spent an extended amount of time in my prayer closet.  I laid this all out before God and earnestly asked Him to show me what He wanted me to do.  During that morning, God did most of the talking and I just lay there on my face and listened.  In that 2 hour conversation, he told me that at that time my full-time job was to go back and finish documenting my testimony.  My written testimony had only covered all of the events of how He carried me through the brain surgery 2-1/2 years earlier… it abruptly stopped in the weeks immediately after I was released from the hospital.

There had really been a lot of things that Jesus had done in my life since that time, big things, and amazing things.  In general, I did not talk a lot openly about those things, only sharing them with very few people.  In my heart, this was because I didn’t want to become boastful or let these great events become all about “look at me.”  But in this conversation on this morning, God clearly told me “Don’t worry about that… I want you to write it all down… everything that I have done in, to and through you.”  He told me not to worry about money or a job and that when the time came and the door opened, I would know and recognize it.  But for now, He told me to go back and assemble my journals and notes and to reconstruct a chronology and then explain my experiences.  This conversation took place between 5:00 AM and approximately 7:00 AM. 

When I emerged from my closet and went to my office to start organizing my writing outline, I checked my email and noticed that I had just received a guest book entry at 6:04 AM here on my website from a guy named Keijo Leppioja from Farta, Sweden (Stockholm).  He had recently been reading my original testimony and felt led to sign the guest book.  His words, although a little cryptic and in broken English, spoke volumes to me because of their content and timing.  Keijo said:

“And  word from Jesus can heal the sick and  give to us new power and new life will flow from us more and more thanks and bless and pray”

Guest book entries had become somewhat rare occurrences during this time on the site so when I noticed that it had come in during the time of my prayer, I took a keen interest in it and asked if God was perhaps trying to tell me something.  But wait, it was about to get even better and God’s confirmation would be even more clear.

While I was still there in my office contemplating the conversation I had just had with God in my prayer and then Keijo’s note, at 8:09 AM someone wrote an entry on my wall on Facebook.  The entry came from Wendy Perez from the New York City area, an old colleague and friend from years before when I worked at Verizon as an IT Audit Manager.  I had not really spoken a lot with her since leaving Verizon but had found her on Facebook and added her as a friend earlier in 2009.  Wendy’s entry on my wall was a clear message to me from God and significantly increased my boldness and removed all doubt that I might have been talking to myself that morning in my closet.  Her post read as follows:

“Hi Gerald. How are you brother. Praying to our God of miracles for your life. While meditating on that the following came: ministry. Ministering the word of God and what He has done in your life to the non believer, but not in the way you have been doing it, but in a more full time basis. Meditate on that my brother. Listen to His directions. Sometimes He has to close some doors to open some others. Amen”

At this point, I really don’t have anything more that I can add about God’s calling.    

Child Support
I regretfully need to present to you that I divorced my first wife.  Regretfully because I know how my Heavenly Father feels about divorce.  But I also present this with a heart of rejoicing because out of the ashes this tragedy, God has been able to turn it to good and weave it into this testimony.  You see I separated from my first wife Aida in a very nasty divorce back in 1998.  Remember that this was back when I was pretty much consumed with myself.  As is customary, Aida was given full custody of our only child (Gerald Junior) as part of the settlement.

The state Attorney General Child Support division almost immediately initiated garnishing of child support from my pay checks and have faithfully (indeed involuntarily) withheld and forwarded my payments ever since.  Over the years I have always maintained good contact with my son, having him come and spend most summers and some Christmas holidays with me (for most of this time he was living with Aida and her new husband in her native Panama or on his work assignment in Mexico).  I had also maintained a somewhat strained relationship with Aida as simply “the mother of my child.”

After my brain surgery and the life change that God performed in me, Aida could also see a difference and began to ask me for advice on how to strengthen her faith and deepen her walk with Jesus.  She often asked for my intercessory prayers for her immediate and extended family.

In late 2008, Aida’s husband (also retired military) got a job that would require them to move to Uzbekistan in the spring of 2009.  After some very open and calm discussion, we both decided that it would be in the best interest of our son if he stayed here and spent his senior year in high school with me.  Understand that we could have never done this before without some kind of involvement by attorneys and a judge.  We reached agreement and contacted the Texas Attorney General to notify them of the change in custody and to stop child support.  After forwarding a little paperwork, they did stop garnishing child support from my check immediately in May 2009 just as Gerald Junior arrived to live with us.

Two months later in July 2009, I received a letter from the Attorney General’s office notifying me that I was behind on child support and that they were forwarding an order of garnishment and could take further actions if I didn’t get caught up.  I contacted them and cited the paperwork that we had completed 2 months earlier and letting them know that my son had been living with me, I thought obviously a mistake had been made somewhere and this would clear it up.  But nothing happened and the state resumed and continued to garnish child support from my check.

Keep in mind where we are right now in the time line of this financial storm.  We have been having shutdowns all year reducing my salary and in May our mortgage payment had doubled to $4300 per month.  When I looked at what was going on with the child support, my honest fleshly reaction was to want to respond by fighting, maybe getting an attorney, or attacking Aida to whom I had been providing spiritual counsel over the previous year.

Fortunately, God gave me the measure of grace that was needed to simply bring this to Him, recognizing that the money was His anyway.  I also did not want to damage my witness for Him by returning to what I would have done before, fighting over money and damaging relationships.  So I kept my peace and just talked about it (a lot and often) with God.

Note that during this time as described above, another major milestone came along – I was laid off from my job on November 12.  When the Attorney General had resumed garnishing my wages in July 2009, they garnished from my military pension, essentially taking half of it.  In a few short months when my Applied Materials severance ran out, my pension could wind up being our sole source of income.  My response? More prayer.  At this time, Aida was aware that I had lost my job and I was having growing concerns that she was aware of the child support situation, my job status, and was not taking steps to do the right thing.

And I Will Pour Out A Blessing…
On the morning of Monday, December 14, 2009 I spent a good amount of my time that morning at 6:00 AM in prayer and quiet time laying this whole situation before the LORD.  When I say this whole situation, I mean the child support and the other financial burdens that were pressing so heavily.  By now the house mortgage payment was 2 months behind and the Collections department from Citi Mortgage was calling our house on average every 4 hours.  And when they weren’t calling, American Express was calling wanting to know when we could pay the $9,000 payoff balance.

As I finished my prayers, got up and walked out of my closet, I picked up my cell phone and noticed that I had just missed a call while I was in the closet praying.  The call was from Aida in Uzbekistan and she left a voicemail saying that she needed me to give her the number to the Texas Attorney General’s office so that she could call them and get the child support straightened out.  She was going to tell them that I had been laid off, had custody of our son and should by no wise be having child support garnished.  Praise God!  But this was only the beginning.

I went to my study to send Aida an email with the information she requested and noticed in my email box that I had received a message from my bank early that morning.  It was notification of an overnight deposit to my checking account.  As part of my leaving Applied Materials, there was some stock that I had accumulated over my short time there.  After some delays in processing and waiting for the Applied Materials stock to achieve a target return, this deposit represented the full liquidation of that stock and provided funds that were almost the exact amount needed to pay off American Express and to pay both months of back mortgage payments.  I went online and paid them both off right there on the spot.  Glory Halleluiah!! Praise God!!  But wait there is still more.

Later that afternoon, Aida called me to let me know that she had indeed called the Attorney General and that they had informed her that there was nothing they could do to stop the garnishing because the last thing they had was an order signed by a judge.  The garnishing would have to continue and she said that she would just try to remember every month to send a check from Uzbekistan to reimburse us.  As she relayed what they told her, I thought that their actions sounded wrong on so many levels.  I again contemplated driving the short distance down to San Antonio to speak with them in person and try to clear it up.  But once again, the Holy Spirit deep inside of me whispered “Peace, be still.”

Three days later on Thursday morning December 17, I received a phone call from Tony Jackson, a case reviewer for the Texas Attorney General.  When he called, he said that he was reviewing my case file and asked me to tell him a little about my case.  So I gave him a brief recap of the history of our divorce and child custody case (the good, the bad, and the ugly, not in that order).  I also included how Aida and I had mutually decided to exchange custody earlier this year when they moved to Uzbekistan.  Finally I told him of what had happened earlier in the week when Aida had called the department trying to get the garnishing stopped.  He said that he saw the record of that call in the file and that the information given to Aida was clearly not correct.  He told me that he would take my case, follow-up and escalate it to the proper people to get a just resolution, which would be the closing of the case.  (Does this sound vaguely familiar to what happened two years ago with my short-term disability? I asked Tony if he was a man of faith because he had in fact been prompted by God that day to look at my case because I had a need.

The central theme here that I want to point out with all of these is the fact that while I could have easily gone and fought these battles and stood up for my rights, fighting over money, I gave these battles all over to the LORD, didn’t say a word, and He fought them and in the end is getting all of the glory.

Christmas 2009 – A Testimony of God’s Faithfulness
Previously, I outlined how we had been praying about how difficult the December time period was going to be for our family financially.  Then I told you of how my getting laid off was in a way a blessing from God in answer to our prayers (as truly it was).  However, we really had no earthly idea of the depth of the blessing that He would pour out for us during Christmas this year.  Malachi 3:10b says “if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Remember the word that God gave my wife about selecting the 3 gifts each from our children’s Christmas lists?  When doing it I honestly thought this was going to be a lean Christmas for them, indeed for our family.  But God…  In the words of my 8-year old son on Christmas morning, “This is the best Christmas ever!

The kids were blessed with gifts far, far beyond what Lynita and I provided for them.  God poured out blessings for us from directions that we didn’t even see coming, moving in the hearts of family, friends, neighbors, and so many people to bless us (some of whom we didn’t even know).  Here is one specific case that so touched me that it brought me to tears as it unfolded.

On the week before Christmas, the people of Crystal Lake Baptist Church (a local church located in our neighborhood that we don’t even attend) were moved to provide us with a special Christmas basket, including a free fully prepared Christmas dinner and a shopping gift card.  Two of my sons are in a Cub Scout pack that has meetings there and my wife is a Scout Den Mom.  She told me that one of the church pastors had approached Rick the Pack 316 Cubmaster and asked if he knew who the Prater family was because the church wanted to bless them.  Rick said yes, that we had kids in his pack, and referred them to us.  As I stood in our kitchen listening to my wife tell how we were going to be further blessed by Crystal Lake Baptist Church, my eyes welled up and tears poured down my face as I softly whispered “look at my God.”

For indeed my most gracious Heavenly Father, great is thy faithfulness: morning by morning new mercies I see…

 

 

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© 2007 Gerald L. Prater

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