Born in 1980, I grew up privileged. I didn’t know what it meant to be in need or go without. As illustrated by my family of origin, what I did determined my value. This quickly formed my identity and I excelled at doing all the right things with and for all the right people. At home, I became the fixer. I fixed everything and everyone who gave the slightest glimpse of being broken – including my parents. Over and over, even when they didn’t ask for it. My dad was quiet and my mom busy in the lives of our thousands of friends. At church, we got out of the car with all of it together, even though, on the inside, we were dying. Being everything to everyone is exhausting. My desperate need to be known kept me hiding in fear of being discovered a fake.
Even in the midst of deep sin, I always had a sense Jesus was my answer. No matter where I was, I always sensed Him inviting me into something different. I wanted the new life He offered, I was just too afraid to give up the old life. I begged Him to put His love in one hand while refusing to let go of my loves in the other. I wanted Him, but I didn’t want to let go of them. The world continually failed me – even though- over and over again I gave myself completely to it. With nowhere else to turn, my senior year of high school, I handed my broken and messed up life over to Jesus.
The next few years I walked in circles as my Redeemer worked to form a new identity in me. It was clumsy and full of failure, but I was determined to prove my worth to Him, He wouldn’t be sorry, He saved me. I was in a downward spiral toward religion and trying really hard to do all the right things instead of investing in the relationship with the one who had the ability to do everything I continually tried and failed to do. I remember lying on my dorm room bed crying out to Jesus, “Please make me love you!” Thinking to myself, if I could just love Him more than the world, the struggle of surrender wouldn’t be so intense.
That next summer I signed up for a mission trip to Mexico, hoping I would find what I needed in the brokenness of Mexico to walk away from the world and join Jesus for a completely new life. However, just a few days before I was set to leave, I was in a terrible car accident. Stopped at a downtown red light my little red convertible inched its way into the intersection only to trap itself under the back tires of a semi-truck traveling the perpendicular. The trailer made its way on top of my little car, completely crushing it all the way to the driver’s side seat, where my unresponsive body pinned. Seconds later, the car was thrown out from under the semi and slammed into the brick wall of a downtown city building. I was cut from the wreckage and rushed to a nearby field, where a medical helicopter waited to transport me to the nearest trauma hospital. In the air, my heart was jumped two different times as the medics fought to keep me responsive.
Thankfully, that part of my story isn’t something I remember. All I know is I woke up a few hours later with only 56 stitches, a slight concussion and a room full of overly grateful friends and family. For weeks random people stopped by my house with the same exact message, “God really must have a plan for your life because there’s no way you should be alive.”
I would simply and politely nod each time, but inside I felt like throwing up. I didn’t understand – if He was going to save me, why not save me before the accident. I felt betrayed. In my heart, this trip was my ticket to a changed life. I needed to be there because I knew I would find the strength to hand my future over to Him.
Then one night it finally clicked – Mexico didn’t have what I needed. I didn’t need to go there to have this experience which would convince me to leave behind my life. I didn’t need a place. I didn’t need a book, a sermon series or even a car accident. I needed Jesus. Just Him, but this time; all of Him. With Him as my life, I had every answer I needed. Nothing I could do or not do would change the fact that He makes all the difference in the world. And there I sat, weeping on the bedroom floor of my parent’s house, two weeks after my accident, finally receiving grace and turning toward a real relationship with the one I was created for.
I handed Him the pen along with permission to script whatever story He wanted. Since He started writing, I’ve found more freedom than I ever knew was possible. He took the brokenness of my adolescent years and redeemed it by inviting me to spend thirteen years in student ministry. He has empowered me to accomplish more than I could have dreamed on my own. He turned my striving into rest as I’ve learned to rely on His strength and His power instead of my own achievements. He has filled my life with satisfying relationships and challenging partnerships.
Since then, I married the love of my life, Dave Dooley and we had two beautiful girls, Ella (11) and Addilyn (8). Together, we joined a team of pastors in Middletown, Ohio before we settled into ministry life as a part of the staff at the Cincinnati Vineyard, a megachurch in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Eight years later, God called us to surrender the place we thought we’d always do ministry and He led us into foreign land.
As a family, we found ourselves called to the streets of the red light district in Hamilton, Ohio. Gathering together in one of the most broken places we have ever been and trying to bring grace and truth. Hose House #4 is a broken down firehouse on East Ave. Parked right next to a brothel and a homeless shelter it is one of the most broken places you could be. With no power, electric or running water, it would appear to offer little to the hurting world around it. But, these past two years, this old firehouse has built one of the most amazing communities I’ve ever witnessed. It’s nothing to spend a Friday night worshipping Jesus with a few prostitutes, former drug dealers, and addicts, numbers of our friends from the homeless shelter and anyone from the street who happens to drive by. At first glance, I don’t have much in common with many of my new friends. But dig a little deeper and you will see we have so much in common. We are all broken people, living in a broken world, just looking for Jesus.