This is going to be to story of me. Perhaps it's my reflection of Tracy's "9.5 years" blog post. I really hope it's the beginning of a message that I am called to submit.
Please excuse any typos, it seems every fifth or so letter won't type. I edited on the fly so I didn't read back over this after I typed it (hoping to make it more organic, but it'll probably sound more a youtube comment).
I'm going to disclaimer this post: I may really hurt some people that have been influential and wonderful in my life. Please understand that I love and honor all of you and would be glad to explain anything you want me to. However, I am committed now to have integrity in every realm of my life. This post will be me totally vulnerable and honest. I will be the same person here that I am when I next speak to you.
I want to walk you through my tumultuous relationship with God. My hopes are twofold:1) I hope that friends and family can get a new and totally unobstructed view of me. 2) I hope that my story will resonate with seeking something better in life.
My journey starts in a small church in Moorefield called the "church of Christ". The church has many friends and fond memories for me. I remember loving the church as a child. I couldn't imagine my life without that church somehow involved. I was taught of all the heroes of the Old and New Testaments. Looking back, it was this extensive teaching of the bible that fostered a strong biblical tradition for me. Vacation Bible School became a staple of summer that I still miss to this day. As a very special treat, we would occasionally be babysitted by a very sweet family named the Lyons'. The had two kids one close to my sister's age and one close to my age. Some people remember the 90's for the music or the clothes, but I'll always remember the 90's for the times Denver and I were playing Donkey Kong Country on his (then state-of-the-art) Super Nintendo.
While we didn't associate much outside of church and these babysitting sessions, I'll always remember the day the Lyons family moved away as a very important and dark turning point for me. It was more symbolic of my transition from a child to an adolescent. Adolescence was when some dark demons began to emerge in me, demons I have only very recently put to rest.
Anybody that remembers me from high school knows that I was always very quiet and shy. What you didn't realize is that my silence was filled with a constant fear that everyone hated me and was looking for something to pick on me about. Every whisper from the other kids was something about how I looked or how awkward I acted. This suspicion turned into a total hatred for myself. I developed a deep depression and began looking for anything that would allow me to escape the people that I felt hated me so much. Unfortunately for me, I had access to the internet.
For whatever reason, I turned completely against my church and turned instead to Wicca. I created a fantasy world where I would become high priest of witchcraft and eventually a god once I died. It was my escape for a world I was tired of living in. I started hating (perhaps even loathing) the three times a week that we went to church. That attitude spilled out in the most passive-aggressive way possible (remember that I'm still a shy and awkward teenager). I accomplished little and hurt some of those wonderful people at the church, I hope that they an forgive me.
My father is a very devout Christian and did his duty well. Regardless of my protests (when I actually mustered the courage TO protest) and my bad attitude, I still went to almost every service all through high school. Of course, I still hated every minute of it. (Fun fact: I once spent an entire service calculating how much time I actually spent at every service from the time we started until I left out house. It turned out to be several months with of hours.)
Along with all my own demons, the church was undergoing a "regime change". The preacher that had started at the church when I was 8 was leaving to be with his family in Tennessee. As a baptized male older than 13, I was able to start attending the men's business meetings. While I could have used this as an opportunity to turn back to God and look to some of these men as role models, I instead focused on all negatives that a tumultuous time like that naturally brings out. I started blaming that church for most (if not all) of my life's problems.
Late high school brought a whole new concept to me: atheism. It started first with a friend that had himself embraced atheism. He has well studied in a variety of areas and I had no answers when we would debate it. Without the knowledge (nor a true love for God) I turned into a raging atheist. Religion became a silly thing for silly people. I sickly turned this arrogance into confidence, and finally began caring for myself (somewhat) and finally began dating.
Tracy was a VERY religious Pentecostal (and still holds onto to her faith to this day) but was still the girl of my dreams. I eventually wore her down and she decided to give us a try (another fun fact: Tracy and I have never broken up from that point almost 10 years ago). She wasn't about to convince me to come to her church, instead I started pulling out her more rebellious tendencies. We were teenagers very deeply and unapologeticly in love.
Then, it happened. A major car crash that broke her neck and leg. Remember that she is my everything at this point (and with the exception of God and Jayden, you still are Trae ;) ), the guilt was like a caustic tumor in my gut. I put an unloaded gun to my head one night and thought how I could make things right by extinguishing my own life. Of course, I lacked the courage to actually do the deed. But it felt strangely good to feel like I was so close to ending the guilt and anguish.
Luckily for me, Tracy is an amazing woman with a gift probably doesn't realize she has: She is extremely loving and compassionate. She brought my back to religion with that love and compassion. At this point, I was finally free of the church that I had hated for so long (the wreck happened a month or so before school had ended). I was free to be an adult and make my own life decisions. My first was that I was leaving the church of Christ for the Assembly of God (another fun fact: the churches are almost connected by a parking lot they are so close) and I was leaving the parents who I had falsely blamed for many of my problems.
(I'm taking this part as an aside to personally appeal to both my mother and father to forgive me for those dark days. I was a terrible son for many years, yet you always loved me and were always ready to welcome me back home. You truly are beautiful people. I have asked for your forgiveness before but I'll never truly feel that I can ever make up for what I did to you.)
I know this is getting long, but I promise I'm getting close to the end and the moral.
College. Do I really need to say anything more than that? The entire concept of gathering a bunch of kids fresh from being handed the right to make their own decisions seems more and more like a flawed idea. Anyways, I majored in Biology (after a very brief fling with psychology) and started learning even more about evolution. I would argue that teaching creationism in schools (or just not teaching evolution) actually encourages kids to feel betrayed and reject religion once they start learning the fundamentals of evolution and the origin of species. My academic arrogance popped up again at a very unfortunate time. Tracy's granddad had passed away and her church back home was basically falling apart. On top of that, false rumors were spreading about our accident and Tracy was being slandered. It hurt a very beloved relationship she had with her pastor and his wife. That rumor is the sole reason I will never again live in Moorefield. I can forgive the people that hurt my wife, but you will never know the depth of the pain you caused her. I can only hope that you can appeal to her and plead for her forgiveness. (I also plead my wife's forgiveness, because I know that this a very painful topic for her to this day). Perhaps you thought it would make light of a scary situation, but I wish you knew the pain it caused her so you could realize how much you need to be forgiven by her.
Tracy was having a crisis of faith, so I tested the waters to see if she would embrace atheism with me. Praise to lord, her faith was so strong that she refused to believe in a word without a loving God. However, this led to a tension between us that lasted until the last couple years. Despite our loving bond and eventual marriage, we could never fully connect.
Now, I start my story of redemption:
It all started with an episode of South Park (and no I'm not going to try to convince anyone that South Park should be our moral compass, c'mon it has singing poop). Kyle said one line: "Maybe the Bible doesn't answer the How but the Why." I paused the episode right there. My mind was completely blown. (And no this is not going in the direction of reconciling Big Bang and Creationism, I know better than to stir up that controversy). I tried for weeks (or maybe months) to wrap my head around that one statement. Finally, it came to me after getting a sudden urge to go on a run around the stadium (I hadn't started running avidly at this point):
THE PART OF ME THAT I THOUGHT WAS BROKEN (the reason I hated myself so much) WAS THE PART OF ME THAT WAS CONSTANTLY YEARNING FOR GOD'S LOVE.
I can get into more specifics of how I arrived at that conclusion (and other conclusions later). This story is more about the journey and not the destination.
(Tracy I'm sorry I didn't share this next part with you before now. But I didn't have the context to tell you until now.)
Running started making me feel good. Not only from the runners high, but also from reconciling with God. I would spend my runs repairing the parts of my mind and soul that I had spent a lifetime damaging. God was slowly revealing his purpose in me. Every run I went on turned into another painful memory transformed into a life lesson. I can't even describe the profound change I felt at every level in my living. This transformation accelerated to light speed once I started listening to Daily Hope with Rick Warren (and yes I just lost a few of you there. I understand his views on abortion and homosexuality are controversial (and are still issues I'm struggling to find an answer to), along with other issues. However, bear with me for a couple more sentences before going back to Candy Crush). He hit me with the next mind blowing moment:
THE COMMANDMENT IS LOVE AND LOVE IS TO STOP THINKING ABOUT YOURSELF AND TO GIVE YOURSELVES HOLLY TO THE SERVICE OR GOD BY GIVING YOURSELF TOTALLY TO THE SERVICE OF OTHERS.
There's more to what he said, but that's what hit me. Love is the answer. I can tell you, I've started an intense bible study and there are TONS of verses about love and service but shockingly few of what specific setup our worship should be (I'll be waiting for the argument by such-and-such verse in the comments).
So, this isn't the end of my story. It's more like the beginning. I am a sinner, and you will catch me doing selfish things. However, you will not hear the silent prayer of forgiveness afterwards and a plea to make me a better servant. I am a work in progress. I was actually right when I thought as am adolescent that my true purpose will come after death. However, I'm no longer eager for that day to come soon. I want everyone to see how much love I now have in my life and I awesome changes that God has made possible. THAT is my ministry to him. I won't be going door to door with my Bible smacking people over the head with it. There isn't a soul in America that doesn't know the story of Jesus. If you know me as that shy awkward kid from long ago, get to know me as I am now. My hope is that when you see that shyness and inner hatred replaced with love and happiness, you will see the true nature of God.