Tom Schueman: You know, I go to combat, and then I’m about to die every day, and I’m just like David calling on the Lord. I’m in the valley of the shadow of death. And then, of course, you come running back to the faithful Father. And so if I’m being honest, that’s kind of my story.
God’s Promises Can Lift Us Up in Times of Darkness: Tom Schueman & Alli Patterson – Episode #340
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. In life, we can’t escape adversity; we are bound to end up with some bumps and bruises along the way. Maybe it’s because of rough beginnings, or difficult relationships with loved ones, or unexpected circumstances that inevitably come our way. Having faith in God doesn’t mean you won’t face challenges and difficulties. But it does mean we won’t have to face those battles alone—like the apostle Paul, who called upon God and rejoiced while being imprisoned, and constantly tried to find the blessing during the pain of being captive. Through his example, we can see that when we put our trust in God and focus on gratitude, we’ll find strength to get through the rockier times of our lives.
Our guests this week have each faced significant trials, and chose to trust God during those times. Each of them found that facing negative experiences in this way equipped them with the tools to face future challenges in a healthier way.
Marine Veteran Tom Shueman, who served in one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan, opens up about staring death in the face daily, and how reading the Psalms reminded him that he wasn’t alone.
Teaching pastor Alli Patterson thought she had life figured out at an early age. She did all the “right” things, but quickly discovered early on in her career and her marriage that there were cracks in the foundation she’d carefully laid—and found herself searching for solace outside of her marriage. It was in the dark hours of almost losing everything that she left her future in God’s hands, giving her the courage to try to restore what had been broken.
Let’s start with Tom’s story.
Tom: My name is Tom Shueman. I am a dad. I’m a Marine. I’m a husband, son. I write a little bit. And I’m an infantryman and a follower of Christ.
Growing up, we were extremely poor, and everybody in my family lived in a two-bedroom apartment. I never considered service.
I don’t have a family history of service. I didn’t grow up watching G.I. Joe or Apocalypse Now or anything like that. When 9/11 happened, I probably couldn’t have told you the four branches of service. 9/11 happened, it was the end of the age of innocence. That was my first call towards service.
Finding Comfort in the Word in the Face of Death
In combat, it was my experience that everything bad is happening all the time, and you just have to figure out what you’re going to do with two bad options. It’s a series of unfortunate events. And you have to make the best of all these unfortunate events.
There was a period in my life in 2010 where every day I was certain I was going to die. And statistically, it was likely at the rate that we were taking casualties, at the rate that people were getting wounded, the amount of firefights they were in, and the amount of improvised explosive devices that were striking. At that time I was reading the Psalms.
I went back to Afghanistan a year later, and I was alone. I was out on a remote outpost where I was the only American, and I was advising Afghans. And again, I was alone, but I wasn’t, you know? I was never alone, and I was never abandoned.
In the midst of the violence, in the midst of the death that was abounding all around me, I still had something good that I could hold on to. And I don’t know, I don’t think I’d make it through those periods in my life without [faith].
“In the midst of the violence, in the midst of the death that was abounding all around me, I still had something good that I could hold on to. And I don’t think I’d make it through those periods in my life without [faith].” – Tom Schueman
Life is little glimpses of what hell will be like and what heaven will be like. And I think war is just a magnification of all these kinds of human experiences, of the heavens and hells that we go through here on earth. You just get to see it in a greater magnitude. You get to see the waste and the depravity and the horror in a very unique way. But you also get to see the love and the conviction and the mercy and the grace, and you get to see the greatest form of love played out right in front of you. It’s something that I’ll always be grateful for, the opportunity to have these experiences that I’ve had.
What to Do When Adversity Comes
Everybody in life is going to get ambushed. Everybody in life is going to have something traumatic happen. Cancer, car accident, a miscarriage. Something is going to happen that we weren’t expecting. So how can we be more resilient as we move through life so that these ambushes cause less damage?
How can we be more resilient? How can we recover from these things? How can we get to a place where we have gratitude for adversity and say, “This adversity shaped me and made me a better person?”
“How can we get to a place where we have gratitude for adversity and say, ‘This adversity shaped me and made me a better person?’” – Tom Shueman
There’s so much fear in this world. Everybody is so afraid. You know, the Bible says “Fear not, fear not. Do not be afraid. Fear not, fear not.”
You know, physical courage is very easy. When something has to happen and you have to expose yourself to danger, there’s no problem. It’s just like, “Hey, I’ve got to go help this person I love, so I have to go do the thing that I have to do.” I think physical courage as a Christian is incredibly easy. Moral courage is a lot more challenging. Doing the right thing, consistently doing the right thing, the moral courage piece is really tough.
You look at someone like Paul who is rejoicing while in prison, and I think a lot of that is as a Christian, so long as you have your faith, you can take Paul as such a great example of the ability to be persecuted but still to rejoice. I think that’s something worth studying and trying to incorporate.
“You can take Paul as such a great example of the ability to be persecuted but still to rejoice. And I think that’s something worth studying and trying to incorporate.” – Tom Shueman
I’ve had a Father who has always been faithful when I’ve been consistently wandering on my journey. My faith and my Father have always buttressed me, have always helped me maintain my sanity. Without my faith, I don’t know how I’d get through those experiences. It’s such a deep well I can continue to fill my cup from.
Narrator: To learn more about Tom Schueman, follow him on social media, and be sure to check out his book, Always Faithful, at your favorite retailer.
Stay tuned to Alli Patterson’s story after a brief message.
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Narrator: Our next guest is pastor Alli Patterson, who vulnerably opens up about a situation where she sought something outside of her marriage, breaking trust with her husband, and shattering the commitment she had made to their family and community. With pain and humility, Alli cried out to God for help, and eventually found the courage to share her truth, even though she knew it would have a devastating impact.
A Foundation Filled with Cracks
Alli: My name is Alli Patterson, and I am currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a wife of almost twenty-four years. I have four kids who are almost all teenagers now. I serve as a teaching pastor at Crossroads Church out of Cincinnati, Ohio, and I love to teach and speak in many different settings.
In my early twenties, I built a foundation for my life based on what I was taught. I was a pretty good person. I wished people well. I genuinely loved the people in my life. I went to school. I got good grades. I tried to work hard. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be well-liked. I had a corporate career, got kind of a great job coming out of school, and it looked from the outside like I had built my life correctly. I had a wonderful guy, and I had gotten a good running start into my adult life.
And yet, I started to see that maybe there were some things that weren’t strong at the very foundation of my life. I started to see cracks in my ability to manage conflict, to tell the truth in all circumstances, to create relationships with people who were different from me. I just saw that some things in my life—there were weak places, there were shifting sands under what I had built.
“I started to see cracks in my ability to manage conflict, to tell the truth, to create relationships with people who were different from me. I saw there were weak places, there were shifting sands under what I had built.” – Alli Patterson
My husband today, we married when I was straight out of college and he was coming out of law school. We got married, and we were putting together the life that we had planned. And it turned out that we hadn’t really thought a lot about how to actually be married. We loved each other. We wanted a life together, and that’s about where it ended.
And so off I go into my corporate career, and I start meeting all these people. And I’m also being exposed to a lot of things that I just wasn’t prepared for. And one of those things was just relationships with all kinds of other people, specifically men.
I got into an affair with a man that was ahead of me in the company. And it burned everything to the ground.
It truly did. It exposed who I was being. It exposed all the cracks in my marriage. It exposed all the cracks in my character. It truly burned everything that I had tried to build into the ground.
Facing The Hard, Ugly Truth
During this time in my life, I was just a pariah to a lot of people. I was “that woman,” I was the one who did the thing you’re never supposed to do. And I was the worst one.
One of the things I had to do first was to tell the truth to myself—and very quickly in that same period of time, to tell the truth to God. And the moment I told myself the truth, I was on a run. I’m a runner. I love to run. It’s a space where I can reset, where I can be alone. Sometimes I talk to God, sometimes I’m just with myself. And on one of those runs, I finally stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, I hit my knees, and I just said out loud, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this. It’s too dissonant. It’s not me, but it is me. I can’t do this anymore.”
I said to God words that had been bouncing around in my head for a long time, weeks at that point. And I said out loud to God, “Okay, get me out however You need to.” And the two little words I said to Him were, “Break me.”
I said, “I want to be who You made me to be. I want a real life. I want a real marriage. I want a real relationship with You. And I’ve ruined it all. Break me. Come get me.” And new life really began when I just kept walking that direction, no matter what it cost me.
“I said, ‘I want to be who You made me to be. I want a real life. I want a real marriage. I want a real relationship with You. And I’ve ruined it all. Break me. Come get me.’ And new life really began when I just kept walking that direction, no matter what it cost me.” – Alli Patterson
When I confessed the affair to my husband, every single time I took a step in what I thought was the direction of truth and God and life, it cost me something for a long time.
Rebuilding After Trust Has Been Broken
We were trying desperately to seek God and figure out could we actually build something new? Could we actually have a foundation that would stand? Like, could Jesus help us? The world was telling us, “No, it’s not possible. You’re young. You don’t even have any kids. Just cut and run. Who cares? Get out. Don’t trust her ever again. Don’t believe you can ever rebuild.”
I think I felt a sense that God was angry with me or disapproved of me before I actually started talking to Him. You know, when it’s in the dark and in the quiet, we can tell ourselves these stories. And definitely my story was, “You’re a terrible person, you’re a terrible wife, you’re a terrible friend, you’re a terrible employee.” And I heard these loud, awful accusations all the time. But as soon as I began to actually engage God, as soon as I actually went to Him, surprisingly, He broke through that.
“When it’s in the dark and in the quiet, we can tell ourselves these stories. And definitely my story was, “You’re a terrible person, you’re a terrible wife, you’re a terrible friend, you’re a terrible employee.” And I heard these loud, awful accusations all the time. But as soon as I began to actually engage God, as soon as I actually went to Him, surprisingly, He broke through that.” – Alli Patterson
And when I was at my worst, God began sending me people who would tell me, “Not only am I here with you, but I do not agree.” I began to feel hope and I began to see light again when God began sending me His people.
One of those moments happened in the most unexpected place. I almost lost my job over this situation because it was a relationship that happened in the workplace. I was terribly ashamed, terribly alone. And the one person you definitely don’t want to see if you’re in a situation like this in a workplace is the H.R. person.
And so the H.R. woman and I were in this tiny little room, and we were having this very painful, uncomfortable meeting. A couple of people left the room, and she looked up at me and she said, “Alli, can I pray for you?”
And my head snapped up. I had just been looking down, crying, and feeling the way you might imagine I felt. She had no idea I was a person of faith and no reason to suspect that I would be. And yet God placed her in that room and she prayed for me. And I thought, The grace of God is here.
Breaking Away from Negative Thoughts
When I encounter someone today who needs desperately to know “you are not your worst moment, you are not your darkest hour, you are not your greatest sin,” the only thing that I have to offer them is to be honest about my own story. All of those stories and accusations and awful thoughts about who I really was, you know, the voice deep inside me that was saying, You are beyond reach. You’ve done something that’s too awful, that is not the voice of God. And the more I actually came to Him in prayer and began to read His Word again, the more I did that, the more it was a lot easier to believe that maybe I wasn’t those things after I started to talk to God.
“When I encounter someone today that needs desperately to know “you are not your worst moment, you are not your darkest hour, you are not your greatest sin,” the only thing that I have to offer them is to be honest about my own story.” – Alli Patterson
Devotionals can be an awesome way to connect with God. I think I had the very first Jesus Calling devotional when it came out, and the thing that grabbed me about the voice inside of that book was that somebody was stepping into the gap and saying things that I need to hear from God.
[Jesus Listens, February 20th]
Your Word tells me that You guide me in the way of wisdom and lead me along straight paths. Yet I sometimes feel so confused—struggling to find the right way forward. I’ve tried so many things, and I’ve been so hopeful at times. But my hope-filled paths have led to disappointment. I’m thankful that You fully understand how hard my journey has been.
Help me to walk in the way of wisdom—trusting You no matter what happens in my life. I know that steadfast trust in You is essential for finding and following the right path. As I go along my journey, I encounter many things that seem random or wrong. Yet I believe that You are fitting all of them into a comprehensive plan for good—Your Master Plan.
I’m learning to walk by faith, not by sight—trusting that You are indeed leading me along straight paths.
In Your great, wise Name, Jesus,
Narrator: To learn more about Alli Patterson, visit theallipatterson.com, and check out her new book, How to Stay Standing: 3 Essential Practices for Building a Faith That Lasts, wherever books are sold.
If you’d like to hear more stories about gratitude and adversity, check out our interview with Max Lucado.
Next Week: Fox and Rob Richardson
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from husband and wife team Fox and Rob Richardson, who endured twenty-one years apart when Rob was incarcerated. Leaning heavily on their faith and their love for one another, Fox raised their sons alone and continued to fight for Rob’s freedom—knowing that God had better plans for them—and chose not to be defined by their past mistakes.
Fox Richardson: I don’t place my joy in the good opinions of others. I have to place my joy in the Lord and God’s redemption for me, God’s ability to heal me, God’s ability to use the wretchedness of me for God’s highest good, and then make peace.