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“Life On The Run” Kipp Wilkinson | Vault

Life on the run. From the law.  Still a child living with his once carefree but now troubled Mom, the remnants of his semi-idyllic remote hippie childhood… faded into a dark season for the whole family. At only 12, Kipp had already experienced 2 lifetimes of pain. 

He takes us on his journey… of life… of processing his childhood..  of a life-changing divine encounter… and profound moments.   All of this led him down the  path of healing, to the remarkable albeit imperfect place he is now at in his life.

VERSE: Romans 8:15- “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

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Meg Gleasner: Wonderful news. Letters from Home has recently joined the CRISTA family in Seattle, Washington, and we are now part of the Purposely podcast network and channel. Thank you for celebrating with me, all of you current listeners, and a special welcome to all of you new listeners. To give you a great sample of the stories you can expect or may not have had a chance to hear yet.

We are doing a From the Vault series of some everyday extraordinary faith stories from the past. The first story we have brought up for your encouragement is Kipp’s story Life on the Run. 

Kipp Wilkinson: We got home and we’re getting out of the car to unload things. This van just peeled onto our street. And these two huge guys in suits jumped out and grabbed my mom by the arms and threw her into the van and sped off.

Eventually my dad came home and he set me and my sister down and explained that they were bounty hunters. They’d been tracking my mom and now she’s being transported back to Tennessee to be put in jail.

Announcer: And now for the next episode of Letters From Home, sending encouragement to your doorstep by capturing the heartbeat of God’s people. One story at a time.

Meg Gleasner: Hi, it’s Meg Gleasner, your host, Family Life on the Run from the law. Not what most of us are facing at age 12, right? But he was, and it affects him to this day. In his story, he walks us through his once carefree, exotic hippie childhood to a darker season. A place where at his lowest, an unbeknownst presence stops him in his tracks.

He shares with us the deep transformation and that made him the grounded and beloved man of God he is today. And of course, there are still struggles. Today is our first episode in a two-part series on the host of the Mountain and Valley Podcast, and today’s guest is the everyday extraordinary Kipp Wilkinson.

Kip, I can’t tell you how excited I am to get your story out here today on our podcast. When I started this podcasting ministry, a year and a half ago, I prayed for a group of podcasters that would stand with me in prayer, and I viewed it as a ministry and I really didn’t know anyone else. And I joined Instagram to find out if the podcast could have a broader audience, because people that I didn’t know were listening and I wanted to give it a better chance.

And when I prayed for podcasts, the first podcast that I stumbled upon that I felt was in the same wheelhouse and burden was mine is Mountain and Valley Podcast,

And you and Micah, when I listened to that first episode, I got chills. I felt the Lord gave me Mountain and Valley Podcast as a sign that, Meg, you’re doing the right thing. This is where I’ve called you to be. And your tagline is almost exactly the same as mine, getting everyday people in their stories. And mine is everyday extraordinary faith stories. And Kipp, your story is that.

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah, absolutely. 

Meg Gleasner: There’s something that you wanted to share before we get into your story

Kipp Wilkinson: I just wanted to give a small warning before I really get going. I can’t tell my story without talking about some very heavy topics, specifically suicide, if that in any way is gonna be a trigger for someone out there listening, or if you just aren’t at a good place where you can hear or talk about such an issue, then I, I recommend not listening and then go listen to a different episode of Letters from Home.

But that being said, if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, know that you’re not alone, you are valuable, and please, please talk to someone or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is 1- 802 7 3 8 2 5 5. 

Meg Gleasner: Thank you so much for that. Yes, that’s a great, a great thought. So can you tell us a little about your upbringing?

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah. So I grew up in a home that wasn’t really a Christian home. At best we were agnostic. I didn’t hear the gospel until I was 15 years old. But when I was five, my parents decided to move our family to a small rural town in the mountains of Tennessee. At the time, we were living in a city called Chattanooga, but my parents wanted to live somewhere more remote and get a fresh start.

So they bought roughly 10 acres of land in the middle of nowhere, I mean, nowhere. And built a it’s like just woods. But they built a small log cabin on that land. Over time that that land turned into a small zoo I guess you could say, we owned horses, goats, chickens, rabbits, domesticated deer, because yes, that’s a thing.

And my mom started breeding shelties. You know, it sounds picturesque. I know. And in a lot of ways it was I made everything else in my childhood. There are all these memories of biking through the woods with my little sister and riding horses on mountain trails. But the cabin itself had no insulation.

Winters were spent huddled around kerosene heaters and the first time I ever saw a shower in my life was when I was 11 because we only had bathtubs. I know that sounds silly, but everyone, every time I tell someone that, they’re like, What? How’s that even possible? 

Meg Gleasner: It sounds a little bit like Little House on the Prairie, but it’s interesting about the zoo thing. Did you have animals in your room? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Yes, all sorts of animals. In fact, one of the reasons we had moved up there was cuz my parents wanted to start their own business and they opened up a tack and feed store that doubled as an exotic pet store. So on top of the wild range of animals we had at home, we also had parrots, chinchillas, chameleons, lion, fish, all sorts of stuff.

Meg Gleasner: Wow.

Kipp Wilkinson: But, you know, since it was a small town, the income for that pet store wasn’t a lot. And before too long my dad had to take a second job as a produce manager at a store that was about an hour or so away from home. So we didn’t get to see him a lot. It seemed as if he was on his way at work, which, you know, he was, he was a hard worker.

We were really proud of him. He fought in Desert Storm, but it was tough with him being away at work so much for us growing up. At some point my parents decided they needed to hire some help for the pet store. Over the course of six years, they hired a handful of people, but there was one who was around the longest.

He was a truck driver full time, and then when he was helping with the store, he helped pick up and deliver feed shipments. 

Meg Gleasner: Were you and your sister in school at the time or were you super out, away from a school? Were you completely not around people except for in the pet store.

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah, it’s a great question. We were in school. Eventually we ended up not being in school, but at this point in time, we were still in school. So this guy that was helping with the pet store, he and my mom started having an affair. My mom, basically through this time, trained my sister and I to keep secrets from our dad. We were young and I know my sister didn’t understand what was going on.

 I honestly don’t believe I had any idea what was happening, looking back on it. And there were, gosh, there were some times they would lock us in a room where we’d just watch cartoons while they were away. Anyway, 

Meg Gleasner: Yes. 

Kipp Wilkinson: Awkward, you know, that’s a good picture of what growing up looked like. So eventually my dad found out about this guy that my mom was seeing, and reasonably so he blew up.

 He forced my mom and this guy to cut ties completely and rightfully so. He should have done that 100%. Then my mom kept seeing him, but at some point we discovered that this guy was a drug dealer. He’s actually one of the more popular, well known drug dealers in the town. And then, you know, I don’t know all the details because it wasn’t a part of my life or discussions, but this guy broke things off with my mom, and she lost herself. You know, she had always been this carefree person. I refer to her a little bit as a hippie nowadays because that’s, that’s kind of how she was. I mean, she loved animals. She just kind of, went with the flow of things was just happy all the time.

But after, after this guy broke things off with her, she changed something in her had completely changed. And I don’t know, people have asked me this before, but I don’t know if she was involved with the drugs that this guy was dealing. I don’t know if that factored into it at all. But what I do know is that she was a different person than she used to be.

And the reason I say that is because she became verbally abusive. She would consistently tell me that I was, I was an unwanted a piece of garbage that she wished I wasn’t alive or that she could just ship me off to live with relatives so she wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore. And that was, that was tough.

Those were words that sink deep and we’ll see later on in the story I had to struggle with. And to this day, I’m still coming to terms with a little bit. And with that, she actually began putting me in harm’s way at times. She made all these insane plans to try and catch this drug dealer guy and getting put in jail as payback for hurting her.

So , she would send me out and I would ride my bike to where a, like a drug deal was taking place and I was supposed to film it, and then she was gonna turn it into the police and get him caught. And I remember on one of these trips, I was sneaking through the woods and someone heard me and started shooting a gun in my general direction. I didn’t get hit, but you know, I was 10 being shot for trying to expose a drug dealer.

Meg Gleasner: That’s insane. Kipp, and what were you thinking? Were you thinking anything and did, were you, did you have like a little camcorder?

Kipp Wilkinson: It was just a little mini dv camcorder. 

Meg Gleasner: So you just trying to grab that and bike away and still keep the cameras so you didn’t get in trouble with mom, right? Just like, whoa, what’s going on? What was your mom’s response when you got back to her? Was she at her car and you were just trying to really quick go ahead to her car or? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Ah, that’s a great question. So everything was so close that you could basically bike anywhere you needed to go unless you needed to go to like a bigger town to get groceries or something. So we all lived relatively near and by, so basically I just, I biked for four or five miles. 

Meg Gleasner: Oh wow. 

Kipp Wilkinson: To get to this point, which to me wasn’t that big of a deal cuz I would just go and that’s what I did all day. I would just go and bike for 10 plus miles because we were just surrounded by woods and hiking trails and that was just, it was fun.

But I think at that point I did start to realize like, something’s just not right, something’s going on. But I was really loyal to my mom, like I really loved my mom and cared about her. And you know, I was 10. I didn’t know any better.

Meg Gleasner: And so she wasn’t so much concerned about the shooting when you came back and reported?

Kipp Wilkinson: I think she just thought I was overreacting or something like that, but she just kind of shrugged it off I think. Yeah. But around this point, her plans just crescendoed into the highest point of madness. She actually hired someone to burn down this drug dealer’s house. That plan succeeded. One morning we were driving to the pet store and the man’s house was engulfed in flames.

Meg Gleasner: Can you reflect back on what you were thinking when you saw it burn? And what was your mom, was she gloating like Haha! Yeah! Or do you remember her response when you were there in the car driving by?

Kipp Wilkinson: I only vaguely remember her response. I think she was just really silent. I think we just drove by and she just, just didn’t say anything.

I know in my own head, I was like very excited about it. She’d been teaching me and my sister to hate this guy for years now. It must have been two years we’d been going at this. And I saw his house engulfed in flames and I was just like, serves him right. You know? And I, I couldn’t tell you what exactly he had done wrong other than breaking things off with my mom, , which he shouldn’t have been doing things with her anyway.

But it had just been ingrained in us to not like this guy and somehow we were supposed to be seeking after revenge against him. 

Meg Gleasner: So was he in the house, Kipp, when, when the house burned down? Or do you know what happened to this fellow? 

Kipp Wilkinson: I know he wasn’t in the house. We did find that out, I think a day or so elapsed before the next event happened.

But I do know that he was, he survived. He was okay. I don’t think he was even in the house when it got burned. So shortly after this fire happened, in the middle of the night, my mom came and woke me up. She told me to pack some clothes and a few things into a box and put it in the car. She didn’t explain what was happening.

She just told us to get in the car and go. So my sister and I did like she said, we also took three of our dogs and my parrot with us and we left. But when we were finally off the mountain, she explained that the police had a warrant out for her arrest and she just insisted that she was innocent and that she had nothing to do with the fire and that, you know, the police were corrupt and were out to get her.

And that’s something she’d been talking about for years. So we just, we believed it and went along with it. 

Meg Gleasner: Was your dad in the car? Did he go with? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah, so she, explained to us that our dad would meet up with us later on when we reached where we were going to, which was Missouri, but he wasn’t with us for a little while.

I think it was about a month. But yeah, that’s how we started a long journey of being on the run from the law. Eventually, when my dad did catch up with us, there was a long stint of living in hotels. There was even, at least one day where we didn’t have anywhere to go, so we just went and sat in a park.

But eventually my parents pulled things together and we were able to get an apartment. Around this time though, I began to notice something was wrong with me. I didn’t have words for it then. I didn’t know what it was, but I know now that I was severely depressed. I actually began hurting myself in different ways.

You know, I just believed I was worthless. All those years of emotional and verbal abuse, it just, they’d worn me down and I just couldn’t stand myself or the thought of myself. So there was one night I woke up with a start. Someone was pounding on our front door. I set up and listened, and whoever it was was calling out my mom’s name, and my dad’s name, then they call that my name, and that really scared me. They burst through the door and I remember staring into a blinding light trying to blink and refocus my eyes. Then I saw a riot shield with SWAT written across it. The SWAT team pulled each of us out the apartment and dragged my mom kicking and screaming out.

The next day. My dad had us pile together any money we had, and some family sent us a little bit of money, and we made her bail. Then we went on the run again and moved to Kentucky. So we definitely were not supposed to be going anywhere. And I think the idea was to try and get away from the police so that mom would not end up in jail at all.

So we stayed. We stayed in Kentucky for a little while, and I do think, honestly, this sounds bad, but I think if we had stayed in Kentucky, she probably would’ve gotten away with everything because we were way under the radar in Kentucky. It was a small town. No one knew us, no one we like we were super careful and at one point we started using fake names and all sorts of stuff, but Kentucky, Kentucky. Kentucky’s boring. 

Meg Gleasner: How did your mom say okay, Kipp, so here’s, here’s your new, I mean new name now you so and so and where, so-and-so. What was that like? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah, it was a very general conversation. It was just something along the lines of if anyone asks you who you are or where you’re from, this is what you tell them.

And I just, I used a fake name. If anyone was to ask me who I was, I would just say I’m Jake. And in Missouri, like people noticed our accents. Like we had, my accent doesn’t sound as thick now, it might sound thick to you and some other people, but when we were in Missouri, we had really, really thick southern accents.

And in Kentucky, everyone has a thick southern accent. So we were totally fine. My mom decided we needed to move to Florida, and she loved Florida. Like she had always wanted to live in Florida, so we moved again. We moved down there just right outside of Panama City. And, but then one day, my mom and I were out buying groceries, and as we got home and we were getting out of the car to unload things, this van just peeled onto our street and these two huge guys and suits jumped out and grabbed my mom by the arms and threw her into the van and sped off.

I think I was 13.

Meg Gleasner: Oh.

Kipp Wilkinson: And I was, I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I ran and hid under a porch because I didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t want anyone grabbing me, so I ran and hid. But eventually my dad came home and he found me and he set me and my sister down and explained that they were bounty hunters.

They’d been tracking my mom and now she’s being transported back to Tennessee to be put in jail. At that point, we decided to go ahead and move back to Chattanooga, the city we were originally from, which is relatively close to the jail that my mom was staying in. And so, you know, it was close enough for us to visit, but it was also a city where we had a lot of family, so we had people to stay with.

We ended up just moving in with my grandparents, and at this time my dad decided it was a good idea for us to start going to church. I wanted nothing to do with it. Nothing. I didn’t believe there was a God, I was a, a self proclaimed atheist. You know, I just, I couldn’t believe that there was a God at all who could orchestrate the universe, and I especially didn’t believe that there was a loving God because how could he let all of this stuff happen that had happened to me?

You know, how could there be a God that possibly existed and loved me even though I was a, I was a worthless piece of garbage because that’s what I believed about myself. But I had no choice in what was going on cuz I was 13 going on 14. So I had to go to church and ultimately I had to go to this youth group.

But I would go and I would just go stand in a corner by myself and not talk to anyone. And I would just, I had this mantra that I repeated in my head, as soon as I turned 18, I’m going to get a car and drive somewhere where no one will ever bother me again. And I would just say that over and over again, while I stood in the back corner and these people talked about God. My sister and I were put back into school.

She was in middle school. I was in high school starting my freshman year. At this point, I had not been in an actual school building or school system since the third grade. 

Meg Gleasner: Really? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Mm-hmm. Yeah. 

Meg Gleasner: So when you were in Florida and all the other places there, you were just kinda living the, just life at home with-

Kipp Wilkinson: Exactly. Yeah, we were quote unquote homeschooled wherein my mom went to a bookstore and bought a couple of books and told us to read them. And that was, that was basically it. I had one math book from basically the fourth grade until the eighth grade. I was going into school very, very overwhelmed. I knew I was behind, I was really scared and anxious because I just, I had no idea what was going on.

Kipp Wilkinson: I remember I would sit in an algebra class and be like, I, I just don’t, there are letters in math now. What’s, what’s going on? Because I just, I didn’t have anyone teaching me anything. 

Meg Gleasner: Were you able to make friends at school?

Kipp Wilkinson: I did make a few friends. They weren’t really close friends that I could talk to about anything at that point, but that was, that was really good that I was able to meet some people.

Cause I think in the long run, that helped me out with a lot of stuff. 

Meg Gleasner: Where were your grandparents in all of this? Were they your dad’s parents?

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah. This is my dad’s parents. They were very excited to have us back. Honestly, my sister and I had never gotten along with this set of grandparents. 

Meg Gleasner: Oh.

Kipp Wilkinson: But as we lived with them, we really realized how much they cared and grew pretty close to them. So it was, it was nice having them around. We were very thankful that they were trying to help us out with everything going on. I was at lunch one day and someone called me to the principal’s office over the intercom, and I was confused.

 I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. No one ever picked me up from school early. There was no reason to do that. And when I got there, my grandpa was waiting for me. He didn’t say anything on the way home. And when I walked into the living room, my dad and sister were there with the rest of the family and everyone was crying. And they told me that my mom had committed suicide. 

Meg Gleasner: Oh. Oh man. So sorry. And

Kipp Wilkinson: I can’t remember her sentence. She was gonna be in there for a while, and that was something that really broke me because the thing that kept coming to me was I wasn’t even worth enough to stay around. You know, If she’d been any kind of a loving parent, then she wouldn’t have killed herself.

Like she, she would’ve had a reason to stick around, even if she was getting out 10 years from now. Like, at least she had her kids waiting for her on the outside. And that was, that was one of the toughest things going through my head at the time. And, you know, it’s a little selfish. I won’t, I won’t lie, it’s a little selfish, but it was, it was tough having to go through that.

Meg Gleasner: Do you still feel like that a little bit? 

Kipp Wilkinson: As I’ve gotten older I’ve understood a little bit more of what happened and why she did it. And as I struggled more and more through depression, I understood how someone could do that. I still hate it and it’s still painful to be on the outside and losing someone because of suicide, but that, that question of was I not worth enough sticking around for, has slowly gone away because I realized it wasn’t that, like that wasn’t the reason she did it. There were a lot of other reasons. So thankfully over time that mindset has gone away. Thankfully.

Meg Gleasner: You only have one person in the world who gave birth to you, and you were really close to her, especially when you were younger, right?

Kipp Wilkinson: I mean, she was the closest family member for me. And you know, like we said, I didn’t have any friends for years, and she was like the closest person in my life.

 My sister and I, we didn’t go to the funeral. And that still, that bothers me. I wish we’d done that, but we didn’t go to the funeral and we actually, we didn’t even visit her grave site until I was in college. There was , a day, a few weeks after it happened that I locked myself in a bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror for a minute.

I just, I hated the person I saw. I couldn’t stand myself. I genuinely hated myself. And I just started screaming. Towards the end , I was yelling out to God, cussing him out, saying that if he cared, he’d do something. Show me someone who could care about me. And then at the end, I just, I admitted, I don’t even think you’re real, so who cares?

And then I pulled out a pocket knife. I was, I was ready to cut, open my wrists and kill myself. As I stood there with the blade, just ready, just lightly pressed against my wrists, something came over me. The best thing I can call it is peace. And I felt something speaking inside of me saying, Just wait.

Just hang on. And I put the knife away. Not long after that, I sat in the youth group and this pastor got on stage, his name was Chuck. He started talking about how God had created this amazing universe. He showed us pictures of the stars and slowly zoomed in to mountain ranges, oceans and forests. Then he explained how God had all of this amazing, wonderful stuff out there that he could have chosen as his own.

But instead he chose a broken form of a human named Jesus and lived a perfect sinless life and traded that life for our broken lives. And the only way to exchange his life for ours was to take on the punishment and death that we deserved. So he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross, tortured and killed so that we could be made whole again.

And not only that, but Jesus loved his people so much that he fought and destroyed death itself so that he could be reunited with us. It just, it clicked for me. I felt God, I felt God stepping into my life that night, in that moment and just taking me by the hand. And I finally saw and understood how much He loved me, and that through all those difficult moments, he’d been there right beside me.

And that night I surrendered my life to him. 

Meg Gleasner: Praise the Lord. 

Kipp Wilkinson: A long time coming. 

Meg Gleasner: You know, one other question I wanted to ask back there, but it might fall under the category of not wanting to bring it up. Did you tell anyone about your story in the bathroom with a knife? Did you tell your sister or anyone or a friend or did you just quietly keep that to yourself?

Kind of like you had to just keep going forward on your own? 

Kipp Wilkinson: That’s a really good question. I actually never told anyone in my family about it until years later. I think the first person I really, really talked to about it was one of my mentors, Josh, you know, I was still an awkward, shy freshman and he was the guy who I went to when I decided to get my life to Christ and he prayed for me.

And he took me to Chick-fil-A one day, and I just told him my whole story. You know, it was the first time I had really opened up to anyone about all the things that I was going through. I don’t think though, that I told him what had happened in the bathroom. I think the first time I really told anyone about that was on a mission trip.

There’s this amazing, beautiful country called Honduras, and I’ve been there four times now, and the first time I went this, the student pastor Randy came up to me and he was like, Hey, man Josh told me you’ve got just a really powerful, amazing testimony and I want you to share it tomorrow. And I went to sleep that night and I just, I’d heard several people tell their testimonies, but I had never told mine.

And I just sat in a bunk bed and I just started crying. I was just like, Oh my gosh. I, I’d never fully, that was the first time I stepped aside and processed everything that had happened, and it just, it floored me. So that day I stood up in front of this church this Spanish speaking church in Honduras and told my story through a translator.

And it was the first time I opened up about almost committing suicide. And it was so cool because so many people who were listening later would come up to me or come up to a missionary that was there and say that they related to it, that they’d walked through similar things in their lives. 

And it just blew me away because I could just see God working through that. And it was almost as if he was there saying, I’m gonna make some good stuff happen because of this. I think that was the first time I really told anyone about what had happened in the bathroom. It wasn’t so much, I think, I think if it had been one on one the first time I told anyone about it, I don’t think I could have done it.

I don’t think I could have gotten it off my chest.

Meg Gleasner: Yeah. 

Kipp Wilkinson: But because it was into a microphone in front of a bunch of people who couldn’t talk back to me, , I was like, All right, here we go.

Meg Gleasner: So you gave your life to the Lord and was it one of those moments where some people say for me, it was like, I felt like the birds were singing and a new day dawned I felt a burden lifted, even though I was only 16 years old. Did you have that kind of experience or what changed in you? Did you notice any immediate change? 

Kipp Wilkinson: You know, I don’t know. It’s hard to say exactly how I felt. I know I felt relieved. I know in that moment I felt loved and that was something that I had not felt, and I don’t know how long.

Meg Gleasner: That’s incredible. 

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah. I don’t think it was a moment where there was just a, a choir of angels singing, but I was just like, I really, I just felt God there with me saying, I’m here and I love you and you’re mine. 

Meg Gleasner: You know, just, it’s amazing how just that core relationship with your parents just affects everything.

Kipp Wilkinson: That’s true. And it’s, it’s, you know, even though I, I had that moment over the years, I’ve gone through seasons where I’ve slipped back into that like, not feeling loved. And it’s usually the seasons where God’s kind of quieter, you know, those seasons where he’s, he’s looking at me like, All right, you have to draw closer to me now.

I’m not gonna draw close to you necessarily. You gotta take that first step forward. But, you know, I’ve had those seasons too, where I don’t feel as loved, and I hope as time goes on, that will change. 

Meg Gleasner: Yeah. I trust it will. So when you, after you gave your life to the Lord, what, what happened then? Were you, did you just kind of feel more part of the church where you were at? Did you not, were you still in the corner or did you, did something change for you, what his church meant to you? 

Kipp Wilkinson: After that night, I actually became really involved in that church. I began serving on the tech and media team and, you know, through that youth group, I made so many friends to the point where I would call ’em family, almost like an adopted, extended family.

So many people just stepped into my life and began investing in me, mentors, just people who are older than me, and a lot of them honestly, became parent figures. They replaced the bad parent figures for me. And man, to this day, I don’t think some of them realize that one by one, they were taking away all the years of abuse that I had endured, you know?

Yeah. Those scars are still there. They’ll probably always still be there. But the awful memories were being pushed aside and replaced with some new memories filled of love and joy. I wouldn’t trade the friendships that I made in that youth group for anything. I don’t think I would’ve survived if it hadn’t been for every person there who decided to welcome me and make me a part of that group.

Meg Gleasner: The family of God and God’s people, and the love. It makes such a difference. And for me too, it was very formative and my college years having a rough upbringing, but the love of God’s people. And so for our listeners out there, all those little things that we do to make a difference or to invite someone to youth group or to a church, it makes such a difference that doesn’t feel that important you think everyone has the same situation, but a little bit of love and kindness and can go so long. I love how God’s people have come around you and that they mean so much to you. 

Kipp Wilkinson: Mm, Absolutely. And what was cool too, you know, during that time I really began growing in my faith. You know, like I said, I started on some mission trips and I was going to service projects.

And by the time I was a senior in high school, I was just a really active leader. I was mentoring some middle schoolers. And at that point is when I felt God started to call me into ministry, which is really cool. 

Meg Gleasner: Praise the Lord. That’s amazing. 

Kipp Wilkinson: So , if you’d asked me when I was 13 where I thought I would end up in life, I would’ve given you a very straightforward answer.

In fact, I think I did tell someone this at one point. I would’ve said, I doubt that I will be alive by the time I’m 18, and I believed that. I would not have expected to graduate high school as an honor as an AP student with a 3.8 gpa. I definitely, definitely would not have expected to graduate college and be the first person in my immediate family to do so.

Yeah, that’s excluding some cousins and aunts and uncles and I 100%, 100% would not have expected to be married to an amazing and beautiful person like my wife. You know, just when you look at some of the statistics and facts related to my life, I would dare say that I’m an anomaly. You know, kids who lose their, lose their parents to suicide, just they struggle through life because of that pain.

And I know that because I have, you know, someone who missed nearly five years of primary education should not be capable of graduating college without a lot of work. And yeah, here I am. And, you know, I say a lot because it has nothing to do with me that is entirely because of God. He stepped in and worked in my life in ways that have been just unbelievable.

Meg Gleasner: God is so good. 

Kipp Wilkinson: You know, I don’t say all that to imply that once you get saved, God magically makes life amazing.

Meg Gleasner: Right.

Kipp Wilkinson: And wonderful, and everything goes right for you. I know you know that, Meg, I’ve had to struggle through a lot, even since I became a follower of Jesus. Life isn’t perfect because people aren’t perfect, but I can say that the struggles have been worth it because each and every time I find myself learning more and more about who God is, and you know, the trail has been arduous, but with each step forward, I find myself drawing near to his heart and I’m eager to see where he is taking me next.

Meg Gleasner: Amen. Wow. Well, thank you so much. What’s on the horizon in where you’re at today? 

Kipp Wilkinson: A lot of cool stuff going on right now I think. You know, three years ago, I realized that I’d been pushing back against what I felt God calling me to do. I was ignoring it at the time. I was beginning to pursue a career in art education because I just, I didn’t believe in what God was telling me I needed to do.

I say that because ever since I was a senior in high school, I felt led to serving ministry full-time, specifically working with students and writing. You know, I just felt led to help build the church and to help people understand the Bible a little bit better. But I struggled with that because I didn’t feel qualified and I didn’t think I was someone God could use.

I thought, you know, you could probably pick someone a little bit better than me to do all of this. But as I got ready to graduate college, God just really got a hold of me and I had to give in. I had to surrender myself to what he was calling me to. So what happened was I called up my old youth pastor who was about to plant a church as an extension of our existing church.

And I just asked him if he needed help with the students that were gonna be there. And he brought me and my then girlfriend, now wife, on his volunteers and 

Meg Gleasner: Uhha . 

Kipp Wilkinson: He likes to talk about that cuz we talked about how hot she was at lunch. , he’s like, are you sure that’s your girlfriend?

Meg Gleasner: I’m sure she doesn’t mind.

Kipp Wilkinson: But we’ve been serving there ever since and we just, we love it. That church is like home and everyone there has become like family to us. And because of that, I’ve gotten to come alongside the student pastor there and he’s taken me under his wing and allowed me to teach and to help him in planning out what the student ministry looks like.

Just opportunities I, I would not have had on my own .Along with that, what I felt called to, I felt God telling me to go to seminary and just, just to go and get a good grasp on how to lead a ministry to gain as deep an understanding of scripture as I possibly could, because that’s an area I was, I was majorly behind in like math and I just, I doubted it.

I didn’t think I could afford it. I didn’t honestly think I was smart enough, but my wife has watched me struggle through this idea and prayed with me through it over the past, like three years. At the beginning of this year, she told me, You should just apply and see what happens. So I did it and I got accepted.

So this fall I will be attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. That’s a mouthful. In order to get an MDiv preaching and pastoral ministry. 

Meg Gleasner: So excited about that. What I mean, praise the Lord to see all that and all that God has done in your life. Kipp, it’s remarkable and it must give you hope for those that you work with in the church plan or in your church or just youth that you see.

Is there a verse that is really meant a lot to you that you go back to and God just really encourages you?

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah, the verse, I mean, I’ll, I’ll say it here in a second. So Romans 8:15, I found it in high school. I was just reading through Romans. I was trying to get familiarized with the Bible, and someone said, You just read Romans 8.

And I read through it, and this verse just jumped off the page and hit me in the face. It has been the verse that I go back to constantly when I’m feeling disconnected from God and I’m sure of who I am and how he sees me. Because I struggled for a long time, a long time with feeling loved and valued, and I still struggle with it.

You know, I, I’ve always felt this thing inside of me that says, No one cares that no one cares about me and no one loves me. I’ve just always felt unwanted and worthless, but God saw me and he wanted me as his own, so much so that he sent his son to save. You know, I don’t know who out there listening to this needs to hear this, but God loves you and to him you are worth everything.

And if you surrender your life to him, then what Romans 8:15 says will be true for you two. It says that you will not belong to a spirit of slavery, but you will receive the spirit of adoption by whom we cry, Abba Father. And that’s always been my favorite because you know, I felt unloved and I felt like I didn’t have a good family background, but what this tells us is that God has adopted us into his family and because of what Jesus did on the cross and because the Holy Spirit is in us, we get to call him Father.

Meg Gleasner: Before we seal up the envelope on this letter of encouragement, we have prepared little treat for you that we like to call the PS so you can see more of the heart and personality of our guest.

Announcer: Here is your PS.

Meg Gleasner: Are you ready for some questions?

Kipp Wilkinson: Let’s do it.

Meg Gleasner: Let’s do it. Is there anything that you miss about your childhood home? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Mm, There are two things. I miss all the animals. That was a really unique experience growing up, and I miss being in the woods like we were. It really was like living in a forest and I just got to go out and hike and bike every day and explore.

Meg Gleasner: Do you still bike? And have you ever gone back to visit? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Mm, yes. I stopped biking for a while and recently my wife and I went on a small biking trip in Virginia with her parents. And I immediately came home and I was like, We’re buying bikes. Cause I really, I didn’t know how much I had missed it. But the second one, I have visited three times. I always get kind of anxious going up there and a little freaked out. And if I’m honest, a little paranoid. The first time I went up there, everything was the way it was before. The second time I went up there, our cabin had been abandoned. My grandparents on my mom’s side had gone through and taken all of our belongings out in, burned them.

And that was rough to see. But then the third time I went back, actually went back with my wife and I just took her to show her what it was like and we hiked some of the trails up there and we went and saw the cabin and it had been torn down. And that was kind of, kind of rough to see. She’s actually the first person I’ve gone up there with.

I’ve never taken any friends up there. I’ve never, I’ve never really talked to anybody about like that place because it’s just so personal. So taking her up, there was a really big moment for both of us. 

Meg Gleasner: Is there any hike that you have, like a dream hike or vacation you’d love to do with Erin?

Kipp Wilkinson: As far as with Erin, I really want us to go and hike across most of Europe. We’ve partially done that. We went to Ireland for our honeymoon and I gotta be honest, the hiking was a little disappointing, but I know I really want to go to places like Italy with her or somewhere like in Scandinavia because I know the hiking there would be really phenomenal.

Meg Gleasner: So with all your experience with pets, I know you’ve got a couple of dogs. Do you have other pets? Tell me about the pet discussion in your home. 

Kipp Wilkinson: Ooooh! I might get in trouble for this. Right now Erin and I have one dog, his name is Huck, short for Huckleberry Finn. He came with the wife and right now, you know, we don’t have a lot of space. He’s an 80 pound dog. I know I would like a menagerie of animals.

I’ve told her several times on several occasions. I would love to have another parrot. Because parrots are just so sweet and it’s cool to have an animal that can talk to you. It’s not like a conversational discussion. 

Meg Gleasner: Oh, that’s good.

Kipp Wilkinson: But it’s cool to have a back and forth with an animal other than just like barking. And I do like cats, so it would be cool to have a cat, but not a small house cat. They’re these big breeds of cats that are roughly the size of a small dog. And I would like one of those. I’ve always wanted a golden retriever. There’s not an animal I don’t like, but I don’t think Erin’s totally on board with us having a zoo. So .

Meg Gleasner: Well, who knows, maybe someday down the road, you know, God willing, as you move along in life, you know, maybe it will be like in a discussion over, she can have more pillows in the house. You know, 20 pillows, trade for a big cat. Who knows? , if you had limitless time and talents, what other ministry would you like to participate in or start?

Kipp Wilkinson: There’s a lot of things that I would like to do a lot of things. Sometimes I think I’m a little too ambitious, but the big one, going in with your question, like with limitless time and talent, I’ve always wanted to build like a camp or retreat center, you know, just somewhere out in the mountains and surrounded by woods, maybe a big lake next to it.

And that’s because I think there’s something really unique and powerful about being in the wilderness that helps you connect better with God. I don’t know, it can just be easier to hear his voice when you’re out in creation to me and, you know, feeling called to serve in, in ministry a long time, especially student ministry I think something that a lot of people, especially the generations that are coming up here, you know, they just, they miss out on this opportunity to experience the great outdoors. You know, they’re just glued to screens and, you know, I’m glued to a screen most of the time, but I grew up in the wild, so it’s easier for me to put a screen down and go out and do something.

But for them, I worry sometimes that it’s hard to do that and I think they’re missing out. So I’ve been to a few camps and a few retreat places like that before, and, you know, they’re just, they’re all so focused on entertaining kids. Like it’s loud music and, and funny videos. They don’t give the students a moment to just sit in the quiet and listen to what God has to say and get into the scripture.

And there’s just something, it’s a little intimidating that there’s something about just sitting in the quiet of nature and being in the word and being in prayer that like it just changes you.

Meg Gleasner: Amen. Growing up, Kipp, who prayed for you and what impact did it have on you? 

Kipp Wilkinson: So like I said, my parents were basically agnostic. I know my grandparents on my dad’s side prayed for us as kids. I can’t recall like a specific memory tied to that. What I can say though is that, you know, when my mom was arrested, my grandpa actually came to live with us in Florida for a little while and help us transition. And something he brought with him was clothes, which was a really big deal for us at the time.

I would say we were border aligning on being homeless or close to that situation. And most of the clothes that we had didn’t fit right. Most of ’em were from Goodwill. They were worn or torn. And he told us that the church he went to, there were some people who were praying for us and you know, they’d gotten these clothes together to send to us to help us out.

Golly man, if I’d only known that years later at many different points, some of those same people who sent us clothes and had been praying for us would come into my life as friends and mentors. Oh man, it’s sometimes it still gets me choked up when I think about it. I don’t talk about it a whole lot, but it still has an impact on me.

It was a random act of kindness on their part, but for me and my sister, it changed a lot of stuff to experience the love that people could have for somebody. And just expressed honestly, they were expressing love of Jesus in a really cool way. Even if to them it didn’t seem like a big deal.

I’ve kept one of the sweatshirts that they sent as a reminder of how much something small can mean. 

Meg Gleasner: Do you find you and Erin doing the same thing trying to give back?

Kipp Wilkinson: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I mean, we’re both serving in a student ministry together, and for both of us, we have specific students that have become our disciples in a lot of ways.And I know I’ve watched Erin, like, she’s taken a couple of her high school girls under, under her wing, and some of the stuff she does for them is just so cool. But then also just any opportunity we have to invest in someone’s life, we take it, you know, whether it’s help helping a homeless person on the street get some food for that night, or praying for, you know, Erin’s a counselor, so praying for some of her clients every now and then.

Meg Gleasner: So you’re a co-host for Mountain and Valley Podcast. What would you say you uniquely bring to the podcast and what does Micah bring?

Kipp Wilkinson: You know my background and my education revolves around storytelling. I have a degree in English literature and writing. So while working on this podcast, I’ve slowly begun to realize I’m actually pretty good at helping people see the value in their story, especially in telling their story.

Because a lot of people think that their story, just because it’s not some radical, crazy thing that happened to them, it’s not important and no one needs to hear it. But that’s not the case. You know, everyone has a unique voice and a unique path that God has led them down, that someone out there needs to hear.

So I’m, I’ve gotten really good at helping people see and understand that, and one of the ways is I’m good at asking people questions. So there was, 

Meg Gleasner: Yeah, you are.

Kipp Wilkinson: Meg has experienced this firsthand. And every time I just, I end up with goosebumps just running up and down my arms because I’m just like, Wow, God is just so cool how he works all these things together.

So the answer to the second part of that, Micah, Oh, I hope you’re listening to this, Micah. He has a lot that he adds to the podcast. I think he adds a lot more than I do. Sometimes I feel like all I do is sit down and talk and he’s in the background doing so much more, making sure that all of our equipment is working and that is just the best equipment that we can have, that we can afford.

You know, you just make sure that people’s levels sound right while they’re talking. Just creating some awesome visuals. I mean, he designed our logo. He’s really gifted with the technical side of things. Now I say all that, but personally, personally, I think there’s something he brings to the podcast that he is not even aware of.

You see, he’s really good at making people feel welcome, experienced that firsthand. He’s my oldest friend. He was one of the people my first year in that youth group where he came alongside me and was like, I’m gonna be this guy’s friend, even though he’s the weird loner kid in the background.

I’m gonna be his friend and make him feel welcomed. But he’s always making sure that our guests have water or coffee, checking if they need to take a break. And on the whole, he just, he keeps a casual conversation going while the mics aren’t on, which is something I struggle with because I’m, I’m a little socially awkward sometimes. Micah makes our guests feel so welcome and so at home. And without that, I don’t think our show would carry the tone of just realness and vulnerability that it does. At first, you know, it was just me and Micah. And then we added Micah’s friend Jimmy on to run social media. And after Jimmy stepped away to take care of some family things, I asked my sister, my little sister and her husband to come on and help us because they both have experience and degrees related to recording and the recording industry.

And so they’ve been really helpful. My little sister, Kelsey’s been running our social media. My brother-in-law Austin has been the person behind the scenes making our podcast sound so awesome. We call him a wizard.

Meg Gleasner: Kelsey, hey, shout out to you. I love your Instagram and the black and white and the logo. Micah is awesome. I encourage everyone out there to go look at their Instagram and their logo, and I know I listen on Apple Podcast is where I like to listen to Mountain and Valley and wanna encourage everyone out there to go subscribe to their podcast. Where else can you be found?

Kipp Wilkinson: So Apple Podcasts like Meg said, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts. All you have to do is search Mountain and Valley with an ampersand, which is the and symbol for you, non lit nerds out there. 

Meg Gleasner: Kipp, what do you see as the greatest need in the church today?

Kipp Wilkinson: At this moment in time especially, I think the thing we need more than anything else is unity. I think the current events happening in America, and this goes specifically the American church, we’ve had a hard time unifying. And I will say I don’t think we can reach that point until we hit a place of authenticity.

I think this is the biggest problem. My wife and I go to, what would be called or considered a mega-church. It doesn’t at all feel like a megachurch. Our leadership has done a great job of making people feel like a family and a community. But I do see that pattern of a megachurch. I think that’s ubiquitous in all the big churches in the west, blacked out sanctuary, really loud speaker system, energetic worship, cool light systems, a hip looking pastor, just all those things.

And I love those things. In fact, you know, I serve in our media team, but sometimes I just, I worry that the church, not just our church, but the Capital C Church has become so focused on entertainment, that we’re neglecting actual spiritual growth. You know, at some point we have to stop focusing so much on what’s the next big cool thing we can do, and instead focus on what’s the greatest thing that we can do to serve our community and bring them closer to Jesus.

Meg Gleasner: Amen. When you were in Honduras, did you notice any difference in the church there? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Ooh, yes. So different. I’ve been to a few countries now and I’ve, I’ve been to a few underground churches even in Asia. And something that I saw in Honduras was really cool. You know, there are no light systems. The church we went to, we’ve gone to several times there’s no air conditioning.

You go in and it’s. And people there like they, it’s not like you can wear shorts and a t-shirt to church, like they dress up, so you’re just sweating. It’s hot, but everyone there is so on fire, like they love Jesus. They wanna be there. They’re not going because it’s an obligation. They’re just excited to be there and they’re excited to hear the word of God and they’re excited to worship him even though there’s not this entertainment value associated with it. Or like I said, an obligation associated with it. 

Meg Gleasner: Yeah, I agree. I think it can be a little bit of a mistake to try and compete with a world. I don’t like that idea. What do you love about Erin? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Ah, my lovely bride. Man. So many things. She’s funny. She’s a good cook. She’s gorgeous. The greatest thing though, is how much she cares about people. You know, I mentioned this, but she, she’s a counselor and she primarily specializes in trauma and even more specifically in sexual trauma. So the clients she sees have some, oh man, just I’ve, they’re just really difficult stories and just some really, really dark, awful things that they’ve gone through.

She’s, she’s strong. Like she just, she sits through so many horrible trauma stories every day. The thing that has always stood out to me is that she cares so much about these people. They’re not just a paycheck for her. Her heart literally breaks for each of the clients that she sees because she sees them as people and she wants to see them do well and have happy whole lives.

And man, that, if anything, tells you exactly the kind of person she is, because the same way she treats her clients is the same way she treats her family and friends. 

Meg Gleasner: What a blessing. What a gift. All right. Well, what quirk does Erin have that you tease her about? 

Kipp Wilkinson: Ah, you know, Megan, I feel like this is a trap. I think Erin emailed you. So that you would ask this, and I will get in trouble later tonight. . She is irrationally afraid of bugs. The creepy crawlies. Tell me more. I didn’t know how bad it was until about a year and a half into our relationship, but we were hanging out at her house. She was in another room, vacuuming, and she just started screaming.

I’d been laying down and I flipped up back onto my feet. I just squared up, put my fists up, and I was ready to take on an intruder. I expected to go into the other room and see a man with a knife threatening her. And I go in there and Erin’s screaming and crying because there’s a roach on the floor. So I like to bug her about that. 

Meg Gleasner: Yeah, I’m sure she loves that. Okay. . What quirk do you have that she teases you about?

Kipp Wilkinson: Oh boy. I have a lot of those. Lately it’s been, it’s, it’s the way that I clean things, so I’ve always lived a minimalist lifestyle. I don’t like to keep a lot of things. Until a couple years ago, all of the possessions that I had could fit into three boxes.

I just don’t like being tied down, and so I like to keep the house Spartan just sparse and organized. Everything has a place, however, I don’t worry too much about like dusting, vacuuming, doing the laundry, but Erin is the exact opposite. As long as the house smells clean and there aren’t any food crumbs anywhere, she’s fine.

So whenever I eat there just ends up being food crumbs all over the place. And she likes to joke about how she can tell where I’ve been or if I’ve made a sandwich because the utensils in the kitchen drawer have been reorganized. But there are breadcrumbs all over the counter. 

Meg Gleasner: And Huck doesn’t even help you out with that?

Kipp Wilkinson: If it’s on the floor, Huck will eat it. He’s our vacuum cleaner. 

Meg Gleasner: These are the fun things of marriage. Kipp, what flaw keeps you on your knees?

Kipp Wilkinson: I still struggle with a lot of self doubt and self worth, which I know comes from years of emotional and verbal abuse, and that has fed into my relationship with God.

You know, there are some days where I have a difficult time feeling valued and I just sink into this dark place. I just keep thinking no one likes me. No one loves me. I have no friends. It wouldn’t matter if I disappeared today, God doesn’t care about me, and none of those things are true, and I know they’re not true.

But, you know, in that self-doubt creep and it cripples me, it takes me down. And what I end up having to do is, like you said, get on my knees and pray. What happens, typically how I get through that is I’ll go out into the woods, I’ll hike on a trail and I’ll just pray through it. At the end of that hike, I usually sit down and open up my Bible and see what scripture has to say about it, and typically after I walk away from that moment, God’s like, All right, I’m gonna take away that self doubt for a minute.

Then he comes back, but he takes it away again. So, , 

Meg Gleasner: Is there a character or person in the Bible that you relate to? 

Kipp Wilkinson: David. You know, I’m not royalty and I never will be, but a lot of David’s life feels very familiar. He made a really bad mistake, but then he repented from that place, he went on to become someone who was so close to God that he danced in the streets in worship.

He wrote so much poetry and when you look at the Psalms just expressing his heart towards God. Sometimes that wasn’t always positive, but he felt so connected to God that he could just say the things that he was feeling. You know, I want to have that urge to dance and jump for joy to write so many things about how great he is.

I hope that at the end of my life, people can look back at me and say, He’s a lot like David. He’s a man after God’s own heart. 

Meg Gleasner: That’s really encouraging. I love your answer. When Grandpa Kipp God willing someday looks back on 2020 and all of the quarantine and world madness, what is the story you would like to tell your grandkids?

Kipp Wilkinson: First, I will just be happy that 2020 is over.

Meg Gleasner: . Yes, .

Kipp Wilkinson: You know, personally, I can’t speak too much into the pandemic and the quarantine. You know, I’m not a medical professional. I’m not a first responder. I am an essential worker and I am still having to go to work. So I haven’t had to deal with being in quarantine.

It just hasn’t hit me too hard, like as other people. You know, there’s a lot more going on than covid 19, and so I think this is the story that I would tell them. First, we watched the world slowly go into lockdown. No one knew what to think or believe. At times I didn’t know what to think or believe. While that unfolded, so many other things happened. The economy began to crash. I watched friends and family lose their jobs. A tornado struck down in my hometown and destroyed the area I lived in through high school and college. Then a deep hurt in our nation was brought to light as the black community began protests and riots across the country to express the pain they felt .My heart just broke for those people. 

I knew that something needed to be done. I knew we needed to put an end to hate and injustice, and I longed for unity between all of us. The world was just so dark in that moment, and because of Covid 19 churches had closed their doors for nearly three months. And you know, for a while I assumed the first service I went back to would be at my usual church with my regular community.

And I figured I’d cry like a baby when it happened. But the first service my wife and I went to was a prayer service. We joined together at a church we’d never been to with leaders from all across our city. We listened as pastors from nearly every church walked onto a stage and spoke about racial injustice and prayed for an end to racism and hate.

We stood with a crowd that was more diverse than any we had seen to date. Just a community that represented both black and white people. And we lifted up songs of worship alongside our black neighbors. And I cried. Because that is what it should look like. The church should be all of us united together, every tribe, nation, and tongue singing praises to Jesus and loving each other.

No divide, no racism, no hate. That day I got a glimpse of what eternity’s gonna look like, and that is the story I tell those grandchildrens.

Meg Gleasner: I trust you’ve been inspired by Kipp’s story as much as I have. I’m so thankful that after his turbulent childhood on the run, that he is now grounded in faith. One takeaway is how truly even the smallest act can make such a difference, like sharing our extra clothes, inviting someone to youth group, or just saying hi to that kid in the corner who’s by himself.

We just don’t know the impact. I’m praying that we all see ourselves and others as God sees us. Beloved. If you would like a bonus peak into the Letters from Home happenings, sign up for our newsletter. We won’t clutter your inbox. Promise. Just one splashy email per month.

Announcer: Links from our guests will be in the show notes. For more everyday extraordinary faith stories, go to our website, and click subscribe or follow on whatever platform you’re listening. 

2 Corinthians 3:3, And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.

Until next time, go in peace.

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