The latest sermon series at our church has resulted in the pastor asking us to share our testimony with people or, in his own words, our “God Story”.
Considering the fact that my wife and I discussed it both among ourselves and with our small group last week and I’m currently sitting at a Nissan dealership getting a warranty repair done on my wife’s car, I suppose now is as good a time as any to “formalize” it.
I was raised in a church-attending, God-fearing household but spent my first 18 years at home going through the motions of church. I went to summer camps, attended youth group functions, closed my eyes during prayer, and was even baptized in my early teens. There was no shortage of opportunities for me to soak up all the Jesus I could get my hands on.
My youngest sister passed away at age 8 when I was 14. This event was a huge blow to my relationship with God, because I truly did not understand how it could have happened. As angry as I was, it still didn’t change the fact that each week I was still faithfully there in the pew, listening to the sermon.
I left at age 18 for the Navy with my best friend from high school. Out on my own, making my own life choices and decisions, meant that I wasn’t necessarily held to the standard I had been up to that point. I made the most of my new “freedom”, giving myself plenty of rope to hang myself with. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t race down the street with a chainsaw or lead a small country in rebellion. I just started to look more at Sunday as a day to sleep in (and sleep off my Saturday night) and less as a day to be reminded of God’s grace and my need for him in my life.
Fast forward to Easter morning of 1997. I’m attending what the Navy refers to as “C School” out in San Diego. One of my buddies attending the same advanced training as me, rolls out of bed substantially earlier than usual for our Sunday mornings and bangs on my barracks door. Bleary-eyed and more than a tad aggravated, I answer to him blitzing me with “Dude it’s Easter morning! We need to go to church!” to which I admit he has a point and agree to get ready.
My buddy, Gerry, was Catholic (I was never a Catholic, although my teen years were spent at an Assembly of God church) and he takes the reins of our hung-over Easter morning service in an attempt to appease our mothers, who are convinced that we young sailors are up to never-ending drunken shenanigans (we were). We find the first Catholic church outside the base, park his car, and wander inside. Turns out that lots of folks make their way to church on Easter (and Christmas too!) and there is standing room only in the sanctuary. At one point in the service, the priest walks through the crowd and splashes holy water throughout. I got nailed in the eye, but didn’t really get much other than that out of our time there. That would be one of the last “major” church going things I did for awhile.
I served in the Navy until 2001, visiting quite a few ports and even taking part in operations in Kosovo and Iraq. I would occasionally make my way into various churches in the Virginia area but never fully committing to any of them.
Fast forward again to my first few months of being a civilian. I met my future wife at a mall in Florida. During our dating and subsequent marriage, we did the Christmas/Easter thing and that was about it for our spiritual efforts. Just over a year into our marriage, we had a son. Our son was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. This event took me back to that same place as when my baby sister was taken from us. I was angry. I wanted nothing to do with God.
As our son grew, we discussed finding a church that we could begin to raise him in. I can’t speak to my wife’s state of mind, but I was only interested in him having a sort of “moral framework” outside of what my wife and I could provide. I didn’t plan or expect any life changing “come to Jesus” moment for myself. Needless to say, we made friends at the church and began to sit in a small group each Sunday morning led by our new friends Gary and Ann. Our studies were interesting enough, and we were happy in the church, but I still wasn’t taking it as serious as I could. We were faithful attendees but it was still not “sinking in” for me.
We eventually moved out of my wife’s home state and ended up in Arizona as a result of my employment. We visited several churches in the area and found one that we enjoyed. It was during this time that I became acquainted with my friend Nick Ivie. Although he was a Mormon and I was not, I had an incredible amount of respect for his quiet demeanor and could very easily see the impact his religion had on his behavior as a father and husband.
This first area we lived in Arizona lasted almost 4 years. In mid 2011, I transferred to where we are now, falling out of touch with Nick and only seeing him on Facebook and occasional trainings we had together in Tucson.
In early 2012, we started attending our current church. Discovering a robust men’s group that was actively looking for ways to be true men of God changed my life finally. As a group, we watched the excellent film Courageous and kicked off two Bible studies directly related to the film. I jumped in fully, trying to find the piece that would contribute to me improving as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, and whatever other role I would play in life. I began to think long term about my behavior and the eternity that awaits us all and made conscious attempts to improve.
Our final fast forward brings us to October 2, 2012. My friend Nick was killed in the early morning hours by gunfire. One of my biggest regrets was that I was thinking about him only a couple days prior and meant to reach out and see how he was doing, but time got away from me.
It’s those little things that turn into big things later. Our family mourned along with countless others and we continued on in our lives. Although there have been numerous interactions over the years with countless people who may have helped me along in my testimony, I mention Nick because I truly believe that my relationship with Nick was the ultimate catalyst that resulted in me truly committing to be a better man and Christian.
I constantly make mistakes to this day, and I imagine that any number of people who know me have had a complaint or two against me. I struggle to be a good husband and father, like so many other men, but fortunately I have the best guidebook and advisor any man could need.
I’m still a work in progress but with my amazing wife next to me, my fellow Christian friends around me, and God ahead of me, I’m optimistic about my prospects.