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Zach's

Story

By grace and grace alone

I always say I grew up in a semi-Christian home. A spiritually split home, if you will. God. Church. It was an expected obligation growing up, something my mom found valuable because of her faith and my dad chose to entertain to keep my mom happy despite his disdain for God. Morally, I could say I was a “Christian” from a young age. I loved people well. I obeyed my parents. I chose good over evil. And in the summer between my 8th and 9th grades years I felt God pulling on my heart to accept Him as my savior. So, I prayed the sinner’s prayer. Looking back knowing what I do know, I believe I had life-saving salvation at that point in my life but I did not know what it meant to follow Christ beyond living the moralistic life I had already been living.  The cost of following Jesus had not been counted—it hadn’t even been realized! And the result was evident. Externally I was the Christian of Christians in high school. Internally? I might have had the Spirit, but I resisted Him. I fought Him. And allowed the hidden life of my flesh to reign supreme in my heart and soul, essentially snuffing out the transformative work God was trying to do.


Nothing changed until my freshmen year of college. When looking at colleges, the University of Cincinnati was my first choice. At the time I was wanting to go into medicine and the opportunities for this career path around UC’s campus were unmatched by all universities in Ohio except for Ohio State, which was far too big for me to even consider. I chose Malone University, however, and not because it was the better choice, but because I had the opportunity to continue swimming at the collegiate level. I don’t regret going to Malone. I don’t regret nor forget about the incredible friendships I made there. But God had something else in store for. In the middle of a swim meet in November, my right shoulder, after years of pitching and swimming, finally gave out. Upon getting it examined it was revealed to me that I had torn my labrum, a tendon in the middle of the shoulder, simply due to overuse. Swimming was done. And after spending months unable to use my arm, attempting to get back into shape to be where I was prior to my injury seemed like too much. Ultimately, I realized that while I loved Malone, while I could see myself staying there regardless of whether I decided to swim, I decided to pursue my career over swimming. Unknowingly trading one idol for another. So, I transferred to my original number one choice. Cincinnati. Yet after having swimming taken away, God and my faith were the last things I wanted to pursue. Pair that with the unknown depression in my life and the external façade no longer being enough to convince me of God’s power and alcohol became an easy escape. 

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Dabney LG Leaders _ Winter Retreat 2017.
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To say my first month at UC was a blur is an understatement. And I’m not sure anything would have changed if I hadn’t wandered into the community room of my apartment building one night expecting another party and finding a group of Christians celebrating someone’s birthday. One of the girls there chose to simply talk to me for over an hour. Dig into me. And although I don’t know whether this is true, I feel like she knew the entire time how broken I was and saw that for years the Lord had been preparing me for that exact moment. She pointed me to Cru and H2O, two campus ministries she was a part of at the time.
It took me weeks to finally go. I don’t remember my first time going to Cru. But my first time attending H2O is vivid in my memory since that is the first time I ever went to church still drunk from the night before. Something about their service was different. Like I said before, I loved Malone, but Christian universities have their flaws. One of the larger ones being that everyone is forced to go to church on Sunday. While good for some, it takes away part of the atmosphere was half the congregation could care less about worshipping God. At H2O? I was on a public campus. Taking part in a voluntary student group. No one there had to be there. They chose to. And that made all the difference to me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that first service was my equivalent to the woman encountering Jesus at the Well. I walked away from H2O deeply impacted and for the first time in my life craving something more substantial than the vapor I was lapping at.  

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I went to two fall getaways that semester, one with Cru and one with H2O. I got involved in two small groups: again, one in each ministry. I even joined H2O’s discipleship program, The Well, that semester. But I loved a double life. On Fridays and Saturdays, I went to parties. And on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I did church things. None of my friends crossed over. It wasn’t until spring break of that year, 2016, that my life began to change. For some reason I can’t fathom even today I chose to go to Panama City Beach with Cru that year and for the first time in my life I shared the same Gospel I was wasn’t entirely sure I believed. Upon returning I realized I was the exact same person I was sent there to evangelize to. And sometime over the next couple of months, my life drastically changed. I applied to leadership in H2O over Cru, choosing which ministry I wanted to be a part of long-term. Somehow, I was accepted and placed into a Life Group under the leadership of Allen McPherson and Laura Bothwell. To be frank, that year in leadership was rather difficult. I couldn’t stand Laura (whom, ironically, is now my fiancé) and she couldn’t stand me, and I had a lot of growing and pruning that needed to happen. 


Summed up, that year resulted in a lot of growth, especially with my pride. I may have chosen God over the world, but I still chose myself over Him. The result of that growth was me changing majors partway through the year from biology to professional and creative writing. To make a long story short I started working at Cincinnati Children’s and couldn’t see myself going into pediatrics, which for the longest time was the only thing I wanted to do. So, I switched. To the only other thing I loved: writing. 

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My life had changed. There was no denying that. I loved God. I wanted to pursue His mission. I had a book written at the time and accidently sent it to one of my best friends, whom, like only a best friend would, decided to read the entire thing. From alcohol to writing. My coping mechanism had simply changed, but the underlying depression hadn’t. That summer, however, God began revealing to me what His grace meant and looked like and how I had been refusing to fully accept it for all areas of my life for so long. Coupled with attempting to understand my depression and cope with it for the first time, He also began placing the desire for full-time missions work in my heart. Fall semester only grew that desire. I dove more into H2O and into discipleship and really developed a love for discipling men and the vision of H2O. A church for college students on a campus that glorified alcoholism, sex, and the secularism. I saw the need. And the thirst for something more in so many of the students. And it was that which led me to choose the life I’m living now; a life of serving a mission far greater than my own.

Favorite Series

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

  • The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

  • The Inkheart Triology by Cornelia Funke

  • The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris D'Lacy

Objective Truths

  • Blue is by far the best color

  • Lord of the Rings is better than Harry Potter and Star Wars.

  • Endgame is only a mediocre movie

Favorite Books

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Dooer

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

  • The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

  • The Cross of Christ by John Stot