Lake McGinty pulls out his chair and sits at the table, tossing his long brown curls away from his face and smiling a jovial smile. He begins to share his story, his slight accent revealing itself every so often, softening the harsh vowels of the standard American tongue.
“The instantaneous moments are not how God spoke into my life. It has been His continual long-term faithfulness that has pulled me in.”
Lake tells of his earliest years in St. Louis, Missouri, where his family lived out the beginnings of the American dream. When he was seven, Lake found a professing faith in Jesus and just two years later, his parents’ followed God’s calling on their lives to serve as missionaries to college students in Cape Town, South Africa.
The University of Cape Town, or UCT, is the largest university in Africa. Lake’s parents ran a nondenominational ministry for students, and Lake, his older sister, and younger brother attended public school in South Africa.
“That was my life for the next ten years or so. Public school in South Africa is a lot more of a blend of cultures. And it was a huge culture shock, to sum it up – going from a small suburb of St. Louis to a large city in South Africa with my parents serving at a university with over 100 nations represented. I was in school with people from every background, worldview, ethnic background. It became very easy to just be the Christian kid, but the biggest struggle for me was intimacy with relationships. Being a kid who moved around a lot, I had very shallow friendships.”
Despite Lake’s academic and athletic achievements, he often felt like he didn’t belong.
“I always felt like the social outcast. Which is interesting because I was in the upper end of academics; I was the star of the basketball team, and played rugby for four years in high school. I was known by everyone in my year, but primarily because I was the American. But I could bound around and fool myself into thinking I was known. After high school I realized I’d never had a close Christian friend.”
Lake’s lack of deep and steady friendships trickled into how he viewed the Lord.
“The truth that God never leaves and never wants to distance Himself was a hard one to believe.”
As Lake began college, first at a Bible college in South Africa, then at a small, Christian college in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and finally at Missouri S&T, he found that because of his lack of long-term friendships over the years, walls had been placed around his heart, protecting him from getting too close to someone who might be a temporary figure in his life. Through the Lord’s gentle pursuance and the deep relationship with others, those walls began to crumble.
“None of the walls coming down were my doing. There were a few key people who spoke directly into that – whether they knew they were doing it or not. One was a young man at the Bible college in South Africa. His name is Johan.”
Johan was the first deliberate mentor Lake had in his life. He was the first person to push Lake out of his comfort zone and directly pursue a friendship with him.
“He insisted on having deep conversations and showed up at my room at the most inopportune times. He taught me about God’s persistence and calling us back to Him, then catching us when we don’t want to be seen by Him. Johan would interrupt me when I wrote poetry. And as one who gets very vulnerable and most often uses poetry as a way to talk to God, Johan asking, ‘What’s this about? Will you read it to me?’ felt like an invasion of my privacy, but it was God showing me that inviting other people into the gifts that He has given me is a form of faithfulness.”
While God worked through Johan to reach Lake’s heart, he didn’t grasp that he was called to do the same thing for others.
After Lake moved back to the United States to attend Covenant College, two more people began pouring into Lake’s life as well.
“Nathaniel, who we called Nanny, was my RA. And he, independent of his actual position, led us in Bible studies and encouraged each of us to lead one during the semester. That was the first direct call to serve in teaching that I had experienced. And then Peter. He was a dear friend and accountability partner, and also a missionary kid – his parents served in China. He was the first friend of mine where I felt understood. I could talk about struggles with fitting in in the United States, and Peter understood what it was like to have a little bit of an accent. It helped me to learn that God understands our context more than anyone else because He knows. I learned that truth is a foundation in a Christ-driven friendship. You have to know each other in order to best speak into each other’s lives and best uplift one another.”
While at Missouri S&T, Lake developed a one-on-one discipleship relationship for the first time, and finally understood the importance of pursuing a discipleship friendship himself.
“Jason was the first person to one-on-one disciple me. We went through Psalms and Proverbs throughout the course of two years. It was an intense study, but it was life-centric and ultimately, God showed me the depth His scripture and theology can apply to everything in our lives.”
After being discipled, Lake felt the Holy Spirit leading him to now disciple others. He asked his friend, Will, and he agreed to be discipled by Lake.
Lake and Will met weekly, studying Scripture, but also reading through C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia, seeking out Lewis’ intentional inclusion of theology in his writings.
“Throughout the course of time, God used each one of those friends to gradually reveal to me what it means to be in a friendship first, but a friendship that goes on beyond the day’s events and what you enjoy and includes hard things, like calling each other out, keeping one another accountable, and praising together. Now, I can say all of these men, in their own way, have become like brothers to me. I think there’s a new found understanding of the value of every human life in that. And discipleship is a two-way street. I think that the Lord reveals to His children the value of being helped.”
While at Missouri S&T, Lake was actively involved in their student ministry where he served as president during his last year of school, giving him many opportunities for discipleship relationships. From shallow friendships with no idea that intimacy in Christian circles is a gift the Lord has given us, to leading an entire ministry of Church community, Lake’s relationship with others and with the Lord changed drastically. He could now see how the Lord is a faithful friend who desires intimacy with us and never leaves.
After Lake graduated, he began looking for a job and while many doors closed, the Lord made it clear that he was going to work in Kansas City. Shortly after moving, he found Pleasant Valley and began attending Twenty-Somethings, determined to find community but also get involved in leading, discipling, and serving as well. Lake’s longing for intimate friendships is a direct result of the walls God tore down around his heart.
And while Lake now has deep and steady friendships, he has learned that Jesus is really the best friend of all.
“Jesus is faithful and not shallow. He’s been faithful to surround me with people who love Him and then encourages me to surround myself with people I need to share His love with. It isn’t a shallow faithfulness, it is a deeper faithfulness – He knows the depth of us and chooses to give us the depths of Him. Jesus is faithful.”
Am I a burden to my friends?
Am I the one clinging to a past I’ve journeyed beyond?
Do I seem to them to grasp at fading ripples of our times,
Never again able to create the waves that bore us hence
And look as though longing to never use the past tense?
On the surface it seems waves don’t travel far,
Can’t brave the miles between.
But, underneath, I think, they span entire oceans
And traverse the waters unseen.
That is what I hope to be,
The connector, the tides joining the continents.
Not hoping for times fading,
Not expecting a splash anew,
But joining lives together,
seeing no need for them to drift apart
And trusting that the months and miles mean nothing to the heart.
So I pray I’m not a riptide pulling them back to sea,
Brought along for the ride as I drag them along,
Nor that I come across as one who is locked and bound to distant memories.
But, rather one who believes it is to eternity that brothers belong
And that we can endure seasons of silence amidst phileo’s song.
A poem by Lake McGinty
Mitchell Neth is no stranger to the halls of Pleasant Valley. In fact, if walls could talk, they would tell of Mitchell’s boyhood, running to and fro in the nursery and preschool areas and beyond. Mitchell has called Pleasant Valley home for as long as he can remember and his parents’ involvement in the church certainly helped him feel more at ease here.
“My dad led worship and my mom was leading K-2. All throughout elementary school my parents and their relationship with the Church had kind of a complacency. We did church and knew God was a part of our lives and could check it off of a list. For me, I thought my church experience was to reflect what they did.”
Mitchell settled into his chair, adjusted his glasses, and folded his arms on the table in front of him as he began explaining that a legalistic mindset began early on for him. He believed that he needed to serve in order to have a relationship with the Lord.
“I needed to do something that is a part of this organization to further grow it and then it will grow me.”
Mitchell’s willingness to serve was certainly commendable, but he never knew and never practiced what it was to be a disciple.
Mitchell never experienced community in the church. In middle school, he began attending LUMY – the local Methodist church’s student ministry – because many of his friends from school also attended. It was there Mitchell began to discover community.
“I value that time because it turned church from being, in my mind, a service opportunity into a community opportunity, and I realized I have friends that are here for a reason because they actually care about spiritual engagement. They’re active in something other than just school.”
It was around that time Mitchell began to learn that the role of the Church is in God’s Kingdom rather than just in his own life. However, His personal relationship with God still revolved around how Mitchell could serve the Church and not on how God could change Mitchell’s heart.
While Mitchell still attended Pleasant Valley, he wasn’t involved in the student ministry. He had spent years fine-tuning his skills on the tech team and working with production for the weekend services and faithfully served in this capacity.
Mitchell leaned back into his chair, folding his arms against his chest as he wondered if anyone ever asked: “What does Mitchell need at this time? How does the Lord want to move in Mitchell besides what he needs to learn for production? How do we challenge his heart?”
Mitchell’s skills were exceptional and his heart bent towards serving led him to working, rather than attending, several Summerfest camps with PV’s student ministry.
“I was blindsided to the fact that [camp] was meant for me to engage in and not serve in. I always had a separate room with leaders and wasn’t tied into general activities. That was the story of my middle school years.”
However, a few people in the student ministry recognized that Mitchell was missing out and began encouraging him to engage more – as a student not just a servant.
“I was blind to what happened downstairs in our church because my weekends were occupied with running cameras or graphics or helping the tech director however I thought I could. It was sad that I got drawn in too much to the service side, but I didn’t know what else to expect because that was the model my parents had painted for me.”
Then, during Mitchell’s freshman year of high school, things began to shift for him.
“My freshmen year I finally attended camp as a student. That was the first year we split Summerfest with middle school and high school. What that meant for me was that I could see what the life of a raw Christian student is like.”
High school students who also served, led for the first week of middle school camp then joined with all of the other high school students for the second week. Other students who also served in different capacities reached out to Mitchell and showed him a healthier balance of serving, engaging, and growing.
“God intentionally put people around me who were peace in the chaos of camp. In the midst of middle school students and a lot going on, they still were able to dedicate their time as a student leader and be able to focus on the Lord effectively, really listen to His word and not always have to act.”
At Summerfest, Mitchell experienced a powerful night of worship.
“It was the first time I actually sat in a group of people with one collective voice, no worship leader and just a few guitars. Some of the songs I didn’t actually know. I remember hearing ‘Heart of Worship,’ for the first time and the lyrics just washed over me.”
It was in that moment Mitchell prayed and surrendered to the Lord.
“I said, ‘I want to be ready for what You have for me beyond my service. I want to be able to surrender to You in this time.’ I saw this as a short sighted time, but He wanted to carry it out a lot longer. With the teaching that week, and the community, I finally accepted Christ as my Savior. I got baptized later that week. People were shocked. They thought I was a Christian.”
This turning point was critical and distinct in Mitchell’s life.
“The Lord cared for a heart that was so involved in His church, but from a work level shrouding it in service. He said to me, ‘I need you to surrender to Me in this moment and for a lifetime.’ For a while I was upset with God. I felt like I’d missed something for my entire life. But He spoke to me and simultaneously revealed that what I was missing out on was Him. And I was missing out on community with other students.”
From then on, Mitchell has focused on not just stacking up service but figuring out what he’s actually good at and called to do.
“My relationship with the Lord and love for the Word and the hope that He has provided has formed what is now the necessary overflow for service. It fuels anything production-wise way better than whatever I was doing before. There’s a lot of calling and responsibility the Lord has placed on my shoulders. I need to really surrender to the Lord and focus on Him as my core to give Him much better quality service rather than quantity.”
Mitchell doesn’t just want to serve because he thinks it would further his relationship with the Lord, or because he feels like the church might have something to offer him, he now serves because of a deep desire to glorify God in his actions – whatever way he can.
“Surrendering to Jesus was the start of the desire. I’ve seen and tasted a glimpse of His goodness and I want to put Him at the center of that.”
Mitchell’s relationship with the Lord has deepened as He’s learned that God didn’t put him here to do it alone. God has given Mitchell community and opportunities to be discipled by others as he continues to grow in his walk with the Lord.
Mitchell still serves on the production team at Pleasant Valley, but he also serves as a leader for middle school boys pointing them to Jesus. Mitchell’s deep study of God’s Word has only excited him and continued to reveal to him his purpose and calling in the Church.
“Every word in Scripture is meant to be offerings of hope for our place in His Kingdom. Jesus is the embodiment of that and His Word is that as well. Because I know that my service has a purpose and a place, Jesus is my living hope.”
To all wonderful women, whether you are a biological mother, stepmother, adoptive mother, spiritual mother, or soul friend, may you be reminded that each one of you is created in the image of God. You were knit together in your mother’s womb. You are a unique, one-of-kind work of art from our great, loving, and creative God.
May you find your identity, not in the titles you’ve been given, the awards you have won or the opinions of others, but because you bear His image. May He protect you from debilitating fear in dehumanizing comparisons. May you be delivered from the pressure to be someone you are not. May you experience freedom from the guilt of not being perfect.
Father, care deeply for Your daughters. Remind them with fresh, faith-fueling frequency that they are daughters of the Most High God. Captivate them consistently with the love of Jesus Christ — a love that will never let them go; a love that is greater than all of their sin. Empower them with the Holy Spirit so they may step boldly into Your calling on their lives. Give them a perspective of how You have spread Your glory and Your gospel through both the hidden and the famous women of faith throughout history.
I pray when they look at themselves in the mirror they will not become deceived by the enemy to think that the only thing that matters is their face and their figure. Instead, Lord God, help them to see a Queen Esther, a prophet Deborah, a redeemed Mary Magdalene, a successful and benevolent Lydia, a humble, receptive world-changing Mary who was the mother of Jesus.
Grant these dear sisters in Christ bold love, considerate communication, genuine empathy, mutual respect and generous forgiveness. Reward them for all they are and all they do for You and through You. In the strong name of Jesus, to the glory of God. For ever and ever. Amen
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