God Will Meet You in the Middle of Your Storm: The Schwenks & The Earls
Ruth Schwenk: In those times when it doesn’t even make sense, you know, and you’re like, Why? I literally had to trust that God knew better than I did. And He had a plan that I maybe would never understand.
God Will Meet You in the Middle of Your Storm: The Schwenks & The Earls – Episode #238
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. If you’ve lived any life at all, you know what it’s like to encounter a storm. Sometimes, you know it’s coming and you can prepare for it, and sometimes, it blows in without warning and leaves destruction in its path. Our guests this week have felt what it’s like to be caught in a storm and feel like there’s nothing to cling to in the middle of it–only to find out that God was holding them up through it the entire time; husband and wife ministry partners Patrick and Ruth Schwenk and former Army captain Harold Earls and his wife Rachel.
Patrick and Ruth Schwenk are husband and wife partners in ministry who have been married for over twenty years and have four children. Before they would meet in Bible school, Ruth and Patrick would have their own individual encounters with God that would set the course for the ministry they would seek together. With a passion to share the good news of the Gospel with and encouraging others to put their trust in God, Pat and Ruth would face their own reckoning of faith that would put that message to the test. Through a difficult season of infertility and multiple miscarriages and a devastating diagnosis for Patrick, the Schwenks held fast to the belief that God could still bring good out of pain and chaos.
Ruth Schwenk: Hi, I’m Ruth Schwenk, and I’m a mom to four kids who have grown up really fast. I’m a pastor’s wife and we’ve been married for twenty-two years and in local church ministry for almost twenty years. I’m also an author and a Bible teacher and a blogger at a podcast, which seems like a lot when I say it all. But honestly, I just feel like your ordinary girl who’s just doing my best to follow Jesus through these ups and downs of life.
Patrick: Well, hello, my name is Pat Schwenk and as Ruth mentioned already, we have been married for twenty-two years. As I’m a husband, father, pastor and author, Ruth and I’ve been involved in online ministry for over ten years now and written a number of books over the last ten years. And we have just loved being involved in local church ministry, which we’ve been a part of now for for almost twenty years.
And so I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were involved in local church ministry and just very early on experienced God’s presence and His grace in my life, drawing me into a relationship with him. And so I just had a real love for Jesus, a real love for the church.
And I remember I was in high school—I was a freshman in high school—and I would sit in the back row at the church that my parents were attending at the time. And the youth pastor would teach on Sunday mornings. And I didn’t have any kind of relationship really with Him at that time. We just started attending that church. But God really spoke through him in a very powerful way, and it was at that time as a freshman/sophomore in high school that I really felt like I was saying, “You’ve got to make a decision. This is either your parents’ faith or it’s your faith.” And so it was really freshman/sophomore year in high school where I really believe I recommitted my life to following Jesus.
Ruth: I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but I always sensed that there was something more to life than just living for myself. And it’s really interesting to me that even as a child, I would write down prayers in a notebook. And this is before I was even following Christ. So I just knew there was something more. And towards the end of my freshman year of high school, a friend of mine invited me to church.
When I heard the gospel presented, like, that’s what I had been waiting for. So I accepted Christ my freshman year of high school and everything didn’t change for me instantly. I wish I could say it did, but it didn’t. I still really kind of struggled to live my own life for myself. But I remember a youth pastor when I was probably a sophomore in high school—the youth pastor at the church that I had accepted Christ at—sent home a little note and it just said, “John 3:30: He must become greater. I must become less.”
And there was something, I mean, we know God’s word is alive and active—something in that scripture just hit me like a ton of bricks and everything changed for me after that. It was like a turning point for me where I realized in order to follow God for all He was, I had to give up everything that I had been and I had to follow Him with my whole heart. So that’s really for me when the faith change happened. And so that was towards the end of my high school years that I really got serious about following Christ.
“I had to give up everything that I had been and I had to follow Him with my whole heart.” – Ruth Schwenk
The Joy of Love, The Pain of Loss
Patrick: Ruth and I met on a prank phone call at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. So we were both students at Moody in downtown Chicago, one of our favorite cities, I think one of the best cities in the world. And so of all of the things that I could be doing with my roommates, we would get on my computer and we would make prank phone calls to different students on campus. That was long before cell phones and caller ID. And so my roommate actually had a class with Ruth, and so we called her. I called her with a bunch of my classmates and friends, you know, in the dorm room listening and watching. And we called and began to try to prank phone call her. And as the story would go, she didn’t fall for the prank, but in time she fell for me.
Ruth: Yeah, it started with a prank phone call. But I was not as gullible as his roommate made him think that I would be. So no, I did not fall for the prank phone call. But yeah, on Valentine’s Day, he had this note with the top ten reasons that I should be his valentine. And I think that’s probably what sold me. He had one on there that said, “You make my liver quiver.” It was so funny. I just so thankful that God saw fit for us to meet, for me to meet somebody who had had such a legacy of faith lived out for him. And that, again, was just I feel like God’s providence in my life, because, like I said, I hadn’t followed Christ till I was in my older years in high school. And so that was a critical time in my life to really solidify my faith. And I feel like God bringing that into my life did that as well.
I have four kids—living children—but I also actually have had five miscarriages and so there was really a ten year period where I had nine pregnancies in the span of those ten years, and five of those ended in miscarriage. And when I think back to that time period, suffering was huge for me. I lived in a lot of fear and uncertainty because I literally never knew if my baby was going to live or not. It was awful.
But, you know, I feel like God used that suffering and that uncertainty and that fear to really deepen my faith because I had a choice. I could either trust Him or I couldn’t. And there was literally no earthly thing that I could do to change my situation. They had no explanation for why at twenty weeks, my baby’s heart just stopped beating. I had two miscarriages at twenty weeks, one at sixteen weeks, one at fourteen weeks. And there was never any answer. There was no solution.
“I feel like God used that suffering and that uncertainty and that fear to really deepen my faith because I had a choice. I could either trust Him or I couldn’t. And there was literally no earthly thing that I could do to change my situation.” – Ruth Schwenk
It’s seasons like that in our life—because we don’t just face one storm, right? We face multiple storms in our lives. And so how I walked through that season and through those storms was really preparing me for what would come down the road seven years later with Pat’s cancer diagnosis.
An Unexpected Diagnosis
Patrick: In 2015, beginning of 2016, we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to start a brand new church, and we launched that church in April of 2017. And then it was about nine months after the public launch of our church that I was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer. I had known for maybe four or five months that something was wrong with my body. I couldn’t quite figure it out. There were things that just didn’t feel right. I was experiencing pain in my spine and just different parts of my body. I just knew something was off.
And so I went through about five months of what they call frontline treatment and followed that with two stem cell transplants, one in July of that year and then one in October. On the one hand, [it was] the most difficult time of our life and of our marriage and our family, just walking through that as a couple and walking through that with four kids. But it’s also been an opportunity where we’ve just seen God’s goodness and His grace and His faithfulness.
Ruth: One of the ways God really protected me through the last few years going through Pat’s diagnosis and treatments is just by reminding me of who He is and that I could trust Him. And I kept coming back to the verse in Psalm 9:10 that says, “Those who know your name trust in you, Lord. He has never forsaken those who seek you.”
Patrick: And by God’s grace, that cancer today is in remission. There’s no trace of cancer that they can see in my body. And so we just praise God for that.
Peace in the Midst of Our Chaos
Patrick: There are so many ways that chaos and pain and suffering and loss can be places of great anxiety, but they also can be places of great abundance where God is beginning to do something new and something powerful. And so we’ve experienced that over the last couple of years. God has been so good, He’s been so faithful and been so gracious. And so we’re just grateful for all of the ways that God has met us in the middle of our storm.
“There are so many ways that chaos and pain and suffering and loss can be places of great anxiety, but they also can be places of great abundance where God is beginning to do something new and something powerful.” – Patrick Schwenk
Ruth: I find stillness and calm through reading God’s word, journaling, writing out scriptures, listening to piano music—that’s my favorite—or worship music, even going on a walk honestly brings so much stillness to me. But one thing for sure is that I have to every morning, the first thing I have to do is spend time with God. I just really feel like it frames my day. It gives me the right mindset. And I love using devotionals for my quiet time. I love using all sorts of devotionals. Jesus Calling has been a devotional I have used off and on for years. And I think one thing I love about Jesus Calling is the perspective of Jesus speaking directly to me. And there’s just something so comforting in that, when I read a devotion from that perspective of Jesus speaking directly to me. We continue to pray for health and for the cancer to stay away. We saw the power of God in Pat’s life take his cancer and put it into complete remission and without a trace. And it was a miracle, honestly, how they discovered the cancer so early. And we don’t believe that was an accident. And we believe that God hears our prayers. He loves us. He desires to take care of us just as His child. He desires to take care of us just like we as a mom or a dad desire to take care of our own child.
“We believe that God hears our prayers. He loves us. He desires to take care of us just as His child. He desires to take care of us just like we as a mom or a dad desire to take care of our own child.” – Ruth Schwenk
Patrick: You know, I think over the last two or three years as we’ve walked through that cancer diagnosis as a couple and as a family, you know, one of my favorite verses has been 1 Peter, 1:3-4, where Peter is writing to a group of Christians that are going through a really difficult time. They’re enduring their own kinds of trials. And he says, “Praise be to God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ and His great mercy. He’s given us new birth into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” And so I think oftentimes when we go through difficult times, whether it’s the loss of a child or maybe a son or a daughter that’s walked away from the faith or it’s a job loss or it’s a cancer diagnosis or an unfaithful spouse, we really have an opportunity where our hope is really anchored.
I think that’s been our prayer that whatever it is that the future holds six months from now or three years from now or ten years from now, we don’t want what we’ve been through to be wasted. And so we want our story and our circumstances and the way that we continue to walk through this with faith, to point people to Jesus, to be a means of glorifying Him. And so I think that’s been my prayer lately is certainly I don’t want the cancer to come back. But also, God, we just want you to use this for your purposes and for your glory. We want people to look to you and to find their hope ultimately in who you are and what you’ve done for us.
Narrator: You can find Patrick and Ruth’s book, In A Boat in the Middle of a Lake: Trusting the God Who Meets Us in Our Storm wherever books are sold.
Stay tuned to Harold & Rachel Earls’ story after a brief message.
This Lenten season, spend 40 days with Jesus, exploring the promises of joy found in scripture. Through 40 select devotions from #1 bestselling author Sarah Young’s Jesus Always, you’ll experience closeness with the Savior that invites you into a new joy-filled way of living. Draw nearer to Jesus with 40 Days of Jesus Always. Find out more about where you can get 40 Days of Jesus Always at jesuscalling.com.
Narrator: Our next guest is former Army Captain Harold Earls and his wife Rachel. As a Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Harold has learned about the value of sacrifice, and the effect that a life sacrificed to service in the military would have on so many of the men and women he encountered during his own time of service. Early during Harold’s service in the Army, he witnessed first hand the plight of veterans who were facing depression and PTSD that inspired him toward a new challenge: climbing Mt. Everest to raise awareness for veteran suicide and PTSD. As a young couple with a growing family, Harold’s wife Rachel would face her own challenge—the fear she faced for her husband’s safety as he took on this dangerous endeavor. While Harold followed the call he knew God was giving him, God would give Rachel the peace and strength to support Harold, while trusting that God had them both in His hands.
Harold Earls: I am Captain Harold Earls, well, man, I guess formerly Captain Harold Earls. I just got out of the Army officially a few days ago. I am a Georgia boy, born and raised, and previously I served as the commander of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Rachel Earls: And I am Rachel Earls, wife to Harold, and we have a YouTube channel, which I started, gosh, back in 2014 called Earls Family Vlogs, where we vlog our daily life and share it with our online community. We also started a nonprofit to give back to our community called the Earls Fam Foundation. We have two boys already, three and one. And I am currently pregnant with baby number three.
Rachel: My faith really took off back in about middle school in sixth grade. I was going through confirmation actually, and my grandmother passed away and it was the first death that I had ever dealt with that was close to me. And I mean, it really broke me. I was the youngest of the grandchildren and I was probably the closest to my grandmother. And so I was really, really questioning God honestly. But I went to this summer camp on a retreat and it was there actually that I really felt God’s presence for the very first time. I was in our chapel that overlooks the lake with a cross in the middle of it that lights up at night. And they had opened up the curtains.
And for the first time in my life, I walked down to the altar to pray like I’d never—I’d prayed before, but I’d never gotten on my physical knees to pray. In that moment, I could just feel God. Like, I could feel Him just like wrapping His arms around me, letting me know that my grandmother was with Him and that I was going to be okay. And so from that moment, literally sitting there on the altar, I committed my life to Christ. And from that point on, it just changed my whole entire life.
Finding Our True Love
Harold: My best friend in the whole world, Tom Ferguson, is cousins with Rachel. And so he always told me, like, “Hey, I got this cousin. You should totally meet her.” And I was like, “Hey, man, I just don’t think so right now.” And then one day he showed me a picture of her. And so fast forward a little bit of time. I was sitting here and I guess I sent her a Facebook message. And so I messaged her and I said, “Hey,” all boldly, “Let me introduce myself to you over Facebook.” And I guess it started to take off from there.
Rachel: And a little context. We were in college at the time. I was at Florida State University in Florida and Harold was at West Point up in New York. So we were completely long distance. I had never heard anything about this boy before.
Harold: And mind you, Tommy was like, “Hey, man, I prepped the battlefield. She knows who you are, you’re all set to message her.” No, none of that.
Rachel: So it kind of came out of the blue, but also not because I’d gone through a lot of heartache, honestly, but I’d really been intentional with my time with God, just like really pursuing Him, falling in love with the Lord again, and the night before I get this friend request from Harold, I literally had prayed, asking, “God, will you just send me a sign that he is out there somewhere? Like, I don’t have to meet him now, but just give me some sort of reassurance,” and then next day, here comes Harold.
Harold: So I ended up asking for Rachel’s phone number.
Rachel: Yeah. And pretty much we fell in love on that first phone call. It was six hours long. Then we started meeting up in person and just continuing our relationship long distance.
Harold: I just admire and look up to Rachel’s faith that she has had all along. I’ll never forget, it was about a month after we started dating. My parents actually got a divorce. And for me, like my family, man, such an amazing mom, such an amazing dad, we had and still do have an amazing family. But it was really hard for me, hard for me to process, especially right after I met Rachel, who would be my wife. And so I think that was really my first real taste of faith in a relationship, right? And what love looks like and how true love looks like under God’s eyes. And I think she was such a great servant and just how she loved God. It really was impactful to me, especially at a time that I needed it.
Climbing Mt. Everest
Harold: I’ll never forget, I was sitting in my barracks room at West Point and I was actually drafting out my bucket list of all the things at that time I thought I wanted to do in life. And so at the top of the list was to climb Mount Everest.
Honestly, I’m a good old Georgia boy. I don’t have any climbing experience. But it was something I always wanted to do. But it wasn’t until one of my mentors, Command Sergeant Major Todd Burnett, really like a father, said, “Hey, I think you should climb for something more than that.” And so the more I got to know Sergeant Major Burnett—I was just a young cadet. He had personally struggled with PTSD and with suicide. And here this was a leader and honestly a hero, someone that I looked up to more than anyone at West Point. And to see his own struggles on the mental health side of things, it became very real and clear to me that there is a problem within our ranks in the military. And so we decided to make our efforts and cost to raise awareness for PTSD.
Rachel: So, when your husband comes to you and tells you that he wants to climb Mount Everest and he’s not a climber to begin with, I think the easy answer is to be like, “What? No, that’s insane. You shouldn’t do that.” But I also knew that if this was a dream of Harold’s and if I were to kind of go against that, then it would—in the very beginning of our marriage—cause separation between us. And I did not want that. You know, when the idea came about, we were engaged. And so we’re about to be married. I’m trying to unify us. And so I think just in choosing to support him, it really did unify us because we had to be all in together.
Harold: So I did not expect Rachel to respond how she did, I mean, especially climbing in our first year of marriage. But then I learned so much from her, like the way that she came around me and loved me and was like, “Man, this is your dream. I can see how bad you want to do this. And I’m going to do everything I can to make you happy and make it happen,” meant the world to me. There was just no way I could carry just the weight of the fears and the what if questions without relying on God and having faith in Him that he was going to carry me through all of it. There were devastating avalanches on Everest that killed nineteen climbers and sherpas. I mean, just very devastating years previously.
I’ll never forget. I was 20 thousand feet at advanced camp, and I had to leave a message in case I didn’t come back. And it was very, very difficult.
Rachel: You know, I know that there is a greater purpose. But it is a sacrifice, right? And trusting God through it all, you know, that whatever the outcome was going to be, I was going to be okay and He was going to be with me every step of the way.
Harold: So this was before we even got to the mountain. And we just did a Fox News interview and we were talking about what we were doing and we were talking about the cause behind it and the fact that twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. And so after we got done doing the interview, Sergeant Burnett was one of our spokesmen. A man reached out, a veteran reached out to our publicist and said, “I need to talk to that man, I need to talk to that man.” He was pretty frantic. What we didn’t know at the time is that man was planning on taking his life that day. And so Sergeant Major Burnett was able to speak with him and get him the help that he needs. And I’ll never forget, I was twenty-three years old, just staring out of my window in China in some random motel room. But in that moment, our mission to raise awareness and to actually help veterans in need manifested itself. I knew in that moment that’s how God is working through all of this. And that’s I mean, honestly, that was a mission success before we even got to go to the mountain.
Rachel: I am grateful and it helps me to see the good around me and all the blessings that God has just given me, which really carries me through those hard moments.
“I am grateful and it helps me to see the good around me and all the blessings that God has just given me, which really carries me through those hard moments.” – Rachel Earls
Harold: I feel incredibly just grateful and humbled and proud, honestly, that the past year and a half, two years, I was able to show up to Arlington National Cemetery, literally the heart and soul of this country, every day. I would drive in at 4:30 in the morning and I would see 250,000 white headstones. Everything that makes me proud to be an American, I would see on a daily basis. And so for me to have the opportunity to serve there with an extraordinary group of young men and women honestly has been a highlight of my life so far and something that I am thankful for.
I mean, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it’s humbling when you see it every day. I mean, it never got old. It was incredibly humbling. And I think everyone who goes there realizes that people sacrificed so much for you to be where you are, right? That this country, although we have our flaws, our flaws are still worth fighting for. This still is the greatest country on earth.
“Everything that makes me proud to be an American, I would see on a daily basis. And so for me to have the opportunity to serve there with an extraordinary group of young men and women honestly has been a highlight of my life so far and something that I am thankful for.” – Harold Earls
Every morning, I would show up to work at 5:00 a.m. stat, I would do PT, and then immediately following that, I would always do a devotional. The reason I think it’s so important is to start your day off right—and that’s something that I’ve had to work at—I’ll tell you, when you start your day off with Jesus, you start your day off with Jesus Calling, with prayer, in devotions, there’s just something about your day as your eyes are immediately fixed on Him. No matter the challenges you face, the leadership struggles I would face at the tomb, I always had it fixated on God from the very beginning.
“This country, although we have our flaws, our flaws are still worth fighting for.” – Harold Earls
We are tasked by Congress to maintain the highest standards and traditions in this nation. And the reason we do that is because of the unknowns, the unknowns that are on the plaza on America’s most hallowed ground. They gave up everything, right? We don’t know their faces. We don’t know their names. Their families will never know who they are. And so we put forth everything we had every single day. We’ve been guarding 30,000 consecutive days. And the reason we do that is to bring them honor, these men and women that were so brave, that we don’t even know who they are made those sacrifices for you and I, so that we could have the religious freedoms that we have so that we can worship the God that we worship, so we can go to church on Sunday and say Jesus in public. I feel just honored and grateful that I got to be there for the time that I did.
“Men and women that were so brave, that we don’t even know who they are made those sacrifices for you and I, so that we could have the religious freedoms that we have so that we can worship the God that we worship, so we can go to church on Sunday and say Jesus in public.” – Harold Earls
I had a moment that came full circle for me because we used to go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier probably every other year growing up. And I’ll never forget one of the first times I was changing the guard. We come out, we do the rifle inspection as we switch over and change sentinels. And there weren’t many people in the crowd that day. But I remember looking out and I saw a boy who honestly was probably around the same age I was when I first went. And for me in that moment, that’s when everything came full circle for me, right, because I had been that boy so many years ago, had that dream of being an American soldier, of serving there. And so I love how God works in unexpected ways that you can’t see, and He’s writing a story all along. And while you may have dreams and passions, I love how He’s working and writing a story for you.
Narrator: To learn more about the Earls Fam Foundation, please visit earlsfam.org, and find their new book, A Higher Calling, wherever books are sold.
If you’d like to hear more stories about getting through a storm in life, check out our interview with Pastor Jonathan Pitts on our YouTube channel, at YouTube.com/JesusCallingBook.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with GraceLaced Co. founder Ruth Chou Simons. Ruth encourages us to look for God’s grace, which is laced throughout our daily lives, and how we can see that grace show up—even through difficult seasons.
Ruth Chou Simons: We need to cling to joy. We need to cling to the fact that even when there is social distancing and separation and difficulty and canceling of things that mean a lot to us and difficulty getting to places that we want to get to, to be with the loved ones that we want to be with, that ultimately God’s presence never leaves us, that He is absolutely the one that provides and is the joy that we have to use and that the world could use some joy right now. And so we get to be conduits of that joy.