Carlie Ross is no stranger to the anxiety that plagues nearly 2.6 million adolescents across the United States. Her first memories of anxiety began when she was just four years old.
At four, Carlie was diagnosed with an arrhythmia. She and her parents learned that she might have to have surgery later in life, but at only four, the confusing word terrified her. Carlie knew nothing about what an arrhythmia was and felt certain she was going to die. This turned into a deep fear that crippled Carlie every day. She couldn’t sleep alone, socialize with other kids, and began having trouble breathing. Carlie refused to do anything that caused her heart to beat faster because she was afraid it would bother her heart. She never played sports and to this day won’t ride roller coasters because of that foundation of fear.
“A lot of my anxiety always stemmed around death, because I thought my condition was more severe than it was and I thought I was going to die. When I was seven, my grandpa died. Since then, and with each passing family member, it has built onto the anxiety of death.”
Between the ages of eight and twelve, Carlie had three surgeries to correct the arrhythmia in her heart. After the last surgery, Carlie’s heart has never had another problem.
But the anxiety didn’t heal when her heart did.
“My anxiety continued to grow when I was in elementary school. I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I had a lot of anxiety about school, making friends, being normal. When I was about to enter high school, another family member passed away and brought back all of the anxiety of death and it stuck until I was a freshman in college.”
Carlie has attended Pleasant Valley her entire life, and chose to follow Jesus when she was ten. Despite the security in knowing where she would go if she were to die, the anxiety wreaked havoc in her life. In eighth grade, Carlie began taking medication for the anxiety.
“I didn’t have a really strong relationship with God until high school. I had the opportunity to switch schools, and He surrounded me with so many people at school that were my community and we helped each other grow in our faith. God helped me have that opportunity then I was able to step away from the anxiety of socializing.”
Carlie grew as a leader in PV’s student ministry. She led worship, went on mission trips, and discipled other girls as she continued to grow in her own walk with the Lord.
It was in her freshman year of college that she was really tested to the extreme.
Carlie woke up every morning with panic attacks – she couldn’t breathe, her heart would race, her hands would shake, and she would overheat. Every single morning was debilitating as she worked through the anxiety that filled her every day.
“My whole life, I’ve prayed, ‘Lord would help me to someday not be afraid of death and be excited to be in eternity with You.’ Then came the anxiety my freshman year. I was alone and really couldn’t function during a normal day so I really had to trust Him. Being away from my family I found idols in my life, like finding comfort in home instead of Him. I found I had put my trust in my parents keeping me safe and the comfort zone of my home church in Kansas City – but not God. He was who I had to put all of my trust in. That was the biggest growth for me at the beginning of my freshman year. I was learning to put all kinds of trust in Him, and it was a turning point. “
Carlie began therapy for the first time as an adult, continued taking her medication, and worked on fully relying on the Lord to help overcome the anxiety.
“I think experiencing that anxiety so horribly made me long to be in a place where I would never experience anxiety again, and that made me hopeful for a day I wouldn’t have to be anxious any more. That transformation was gradual, but one morning I woke up and got up and started doing my normal things and thought, ‘I didn’t have a panic attack when I woke up this morning’ and I began to think, ‘this is getting better.’ It really grew my trust in Him and pointed out that I hadn’t trusted Him for enough and tried to do it all by myself.”
Carlie calls that season her “big mental breakdown,” and since then she’s still struggled with anxiety, but it hasn’t revolved around death.
“Now I’m excited to be in heaven because I never thought I’d get to be excited about it.”
In fact, in January 2020, Carlie was able to stop taking the anxiety medication she’d been taking for eight years. Carlie has learned to trust God with every aspect of her future.
“There’s nothing that I’ll experience now or in the future that He won’t be with me through. I feel a lot more joyful and at peace in general. Through the whole pandemic and everything, I’ve been able to sit back and trust that He’s in control and holding my life in His hands. He’s holding it all together for His purpose and glory.”
Carlie knows she’ll probably experience anxiety again in the future, but she knows she can look back at all of the times in the past where God has been faithful and carried her through.
“I’ve experienced it all to different extremes and severities… [God] was in each moment of panic and in my month-long breakdown. He brought me out of it all… there’s nothing that the future will hold that God doesn’t already know about and that He’s not already there.”
Through the highest moments of anxiety, and through the times where her anxiety is at bay, one thing has always been clear to Carlie. She is able to proclaim with a steady assurance that…
“Jesus is my peace.”
It is often childhood memories and experiences that mold the way God and self are viewed. This is no exception for Jay Gordon, whose journey has been marked with illness, loneliness, and a calling.
Jay’s story begins with a strange skin rash when he was in fourth grade. This itchy and painful rash resulted in three months in and out of a hospital before Jay and his parents finally heard the diagnosis they’d been searching for:
“In fourth grade, I was diagnosed with chronic urticaria – uncontrollable hives – I’m part of the 2% with no known cause or cure. Most people grow out of it, but mine is severe enough that I won’t grow out of it and will be on medications for the rest of my life.”
To help keep the hives at bay, Jay was prescribed a medication with the warning that the side effect would be hunger and because of that, most likely, weight gain. Jay put on about 40 pounds before his family moved from Oklahoma to Kansas City so his dad could pastor a new church.
“I started middle school with no friends, a massive health problem, and a very low self esteem because of my body image and my own thoughts of what I felt like. That progressed from 6th grade until my junior year of high school.”
When Jay started high school, he was the only student at the small church his dad pastored. He didn’t have a community of friends surrounding him, speaking life into him, or encouraging him.
Because of his loneliness and lack of self-confidence, Jay was quiet, reserved, and kept to himself, further limiting the friendships that could’ve come during those formative years.
Jay felt isolated.
“The loneliness felt like I was the outsider to everyone. People knew me and would chat with me, but no one invested in me a ton regarding my personal life. My relationship with God was in a place where I knew all of the answers and could repeat them… but I didn’t want to dig deep and hold on in the struggles. I kept trying to distract myself instead by being busy. I was also stagnant because I wasn’t being challenged or learning anything new about who God is.”
When Jay was about to begin his senior year of high school, he met with his football coach to discuss which position he would be playing that year. His coach told Jay that he’d love for him to play on the offensive line, but he needed to gain 30-40 pounds still. As Jay thought about adding even more weight to his already overweight body, and the insecurities he was already struggling with, he knew he couldn’t do it. He wanted to gain back some of his confidence and began working towards becoming physically healthier rather than gaining weight.
And Jay did something else.
He began praying for community.
The Lord answers prayers in all kinds of ways, and for Jay, it was placing him in the same study hall hour as two friends, Erica and Carlie, who told Jay all about the student ministry at their church and invited him to come check it out some time.
So he did.
When Jay walked through the doors of Pleasant Valley’s student center, worshiped with the other students, and listened to Brad Daniel’s message, Jay knew he’d found it.
He’d found home.
Jay instantly felt like he belonged. He became a regular in the student ministry and showed up to as many events as he could. When it was time for Summerfest after Jay’s high school graduation, he knew that he had to go.
“It was the second or third night, but I had just heard Jason speak and felt a conviction to talk with my roommates and [room] counselor about what was going on with me. My [room] counselor, Paul, told me that I was heard, I had a family there, and that I would be known and taken care of in the sense of belonging to our church.”
Jay had spent his entire high school career aching for biblical community and strong friendships. He had longed for a place to belong and for friends who would accept him for who he was. Loneliness had been Jay’s story for so long. With vulnerability and transparency, Jay asked his roommates if they’d be willing to be there for him the remainder of the summer. They all agreed, and God continued to show Jay the love, acceptance, and community around him throughout other events at Summerfest.
“Once I took the step of faith in telling people that I was lonely and needed community and gospel-centered friends, it was there waiting for me all along. My relationship with God changed… because I had people who challenged me on both what I knew and what I did in my walk with Christ.”
Jay really began believing God’s promise that He will never leave His people.
“We have to have faith in the midst of doubt, struggle, and loneliness that He is still there and caring for us.”
Jay is currently pursuing a degree in Student Ministry through Spurgeon College at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion for students stems from the struggles he faced in middle school and high school. Jay knew from an early age that he was called into ministry of some kind, but didn’t know what direction he was supposed to head, until he chose to go back to Summerfest as a counselor.
“After Summerfest, I thought it was so amazing that I decided to be a room counselor the next year so I could give to students what I didn’t have. That amplified my calling to ministry. I felt it in 8th grade but didn’t feel the confirmation until the transformation that I experienced my senior year of high school.”
When Jay reflects on his life, he sees how the Lord has used his pain for God’s glory by giving Jay a softened heart for lonely students and a passion for biblical community. The teasing he endured in middle school because of the extra weight he carried was painful then, but God used it to point Jay towards the calling on his life. The loneliness was piercing at times, but the Lord has now given Jay friends that genuinely care. They check in on him, encourage him, and point him back to Jesus.
At one point, Jay led a life marked by insecurities that caused loneliness and a real need for community, but despite Jay’s loneliness, he was never actually alone. Jay knows that now and it is from that knowledge that he can assuredly say:
“Jesus is my constant.”
Sometimes we see a beautiful, happy family and never know the mountains climbed and pain endured for such a family to even exist. Brittni’s family’s journey began before she was even married at just 18 years old when she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Brittni was told that she would likely have a difficult time conceiving babies, if she was able to conceive at all.
Brittni chose to follow Jesus as a little girl and grew up attending Pleasant Valley. Her relationship with the Lord grew as she grew, and eventually she found herself at a Christian college in the beginning stages of a relationship with her now husband, Jarrod. It was in that first year of school that Brittni received a phone call from her doctor with her diagnosis.
“Like most women, you dream of becoming a mom and when you’re 18 in college and getting a phone call when you’re at school, it is definitely hard. Then having to be upfront with Jarrod that I may or may not be able to have kids – I knew the relationship could get serious quickly but that’s a major thing for people, so I had to work through all of that with him early on.”
The Kingstons wed in 2009 then committed to hosting a community group of freshmen high school students and walked with them through all four years of high school. They began trying to grow their family when their students were seniors, knowing that it would most likely be a journey, but completely unaware of all the patience, sorrow, pain, and joy their journey would hold.
After trying to conceive naturally for six months, Jarrod and Brittni began working with their doctor to help address some of the deeper issues preventing Brittni from getting pregnant. The medications she took made her incredibly sick, and still, there was no baby. Brittni and Jarrod were emotionally exhausted when they decided to take a break from medications while their family walked through an incredibly heavy season with her brother. Their focus shifted for the time being, but Brittni’s prayers for future children didn’t stop and her longing to become a mama was as strong as ever.
About a year after they began trying to conceive, they started a new treatment plan with their doctor, and just a few months later they were pregnant!
Their miracle baby was alive and growing and moving.
Jarrod and Brittni announced their pregnancy on social media when she was just eight weeks along. They chose to celebrate and recognize the miraculous life growing inside of her. Accompanying the picture of Jarrod’s office with a notice of his eviction to make room for baby, Brittni wrote, “Whatever lies ahead – God is good, faithful, and our cornerstone.”
After 12 miraculous weeks with their sweet baby, Brittni headed into an appointment while Jarrod was out of town and found out their baby’s heart had stopped beating.
“I was mad at God and mad in general. That was a hard year of infertility. And that was when people were just starting to talk about infertility more openly, so a lot of people didn’t know what to say or do about it. My family had walked through a hard season, and it didn’t seem like it was fair to have another thing happen.”
Brittni pauses for a moment to wipe the tears from her eyes as she remembers that tragic day.
“But God provided and I remember…”
Brittni’s voice catches and trembles as she continues to share:
“So many aspects where God was so good. The doctor had to be a believer the way he treated me and made sure I was ok. I showed up on the doorstep of a friend who was in my community group who had a miscarriage before, and God led me to where I needed to be. The next day, my nurse was a Christian and knew my parents. She prayed over me. So many moments I knew God was there, even though I remember laying in the hospital bed thinking,
‘How will I feel joy again?’
But God was good and faithful in providing the community we needed to encourage us and be present at a time that was really, really hard.”
The room is thick with emotion and remembrance. Remembrance of the sorrow, the loss, and the precious life that God ordained and created with a purpose.
“But God is still good and He gave me my miracles.”
Brittni’s brother had a friend who had walked a similar road, and when she found out about Brittni’s miscarriage, she wrote Brittni, reminding her of the truth she had spoken when she announced her pregnancy just a month before. This friend used Brittni’s own words to remind her of the anthem God had laid on her heart months ago – “Whatever lies ahead – God is good, faithful, and our cornerstone.”
“I needed to be reminded of that truth, so it’s the truth I kept going back to.”
As Brittni and Jarrod grieved, they didn’t grieve alone. They chose to name their baby Brighton and had precious friends who made a point to show the Kingstons that Brighton’s life mattered.
“People sent us things all year, and we received things that had [Brighton’s] name on it. About six weeks or so before their original due date, my friend, Katie Purnell, sent me something to remind us that Brighton isn’t forgotten.”
Brittni was so touched by her community’s support and remembrance, she now makes a point to mark her calendar to check on other people who have miscarried. The friends that helped remember Brighton’s life are so precious to them.
After a few months of allowing Brittni’s body to heal and a few more months of treatment, Brittni and Jarrod found out they were expecting another baby – two years after they began trying to conceive. Excitement was mixed with the intense fear that she might lose this baby too. She’d known so many women who had multiple miscarriages in a row, and it took a long time before it felt like they were safe – until she could finally breathe.
“I was trying to find faith and trust that God will provide while also recognizing that God doesn’t promise it to be easy. By the time we were 16 weeks pregnant, we started to feel a lot more at ease. We were so, so thankful, and it is different when you go through infertility and miscarriage. No matter what ‘twings and twangs’ I feel, it is all viewed through a little bit of a different lens.”
Her second pregnancy opened up a lot of doors to talk about her faith with people at work. When people would ask why Brittni wouldn’t complain about morning sickness or different aspects of pregnancy, Brittni got to share that God is faithful no matter the hardship.
Brittni pauses to play peek-a-boo with her toddler for a moment, her Bible and notebook that reads “Give Me Jesus” is stacked next to her from the time she spent with the Lord earlier in the morning. Her little one giggles and waddles back to his toys as Brittni shares with a beaming smile and sparkling eyes,
“My first thought after holding Barrett was, ‘God is so good.’ Just the realization that he’s here and he’s healthy and God answered our prayers, giving us the gift we didn’t know we would ever get.”
When Barrett, lovingly nicknamed Bear, was a toddler, they began the same fertility treatments they used to get pregnant before. After a short time, they were pregnant again. Brittni and Jarrod were on pins and needles the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy, and Jarrod was at every single appointment.
Baby Briggs joined his brother, Bear, and then one year later, Brittni and Jarrod were astounded to find out they were expecting again – without the assistance of any fertility treatments! They weren’t even trying, so this baby was a big, wonderful, and shocking surprise from the Lord.
Brittni says that faith has come easily for her over the years, but going through so many trials in such a short period of time, shored up that belief in her that God is faithful.
“I just finished reading Esther this morning – the book where God isn’t mentioned but He’s so prevalent in – always working behind the scenes, using bad situations to still bring about His glory. And so knowing that we’ll have hardships again, we don’t know what that looks like but we’ll have more, it gives me confidence that we can still walk out on the other side seeing that God worked in that time, whatever that will look like.”
Looking back, Brittni knows that her faith is stronger because she now knows from experience that God is good amidst the trials and He provides what we need.
Brittni smiles slightly, one hand resting on her miraculous belly, and says…
“Jesus is faithful.”
Written by Kendra Leeanne