Last Sunday our church voted in a new pastor but before doing so he gave us a little look into his life, his testimony, his story.
He let us know that even though we may not all be evangelists, we all have a life story and stories are powerful! They don’t have to play out like a Hollywood movie either. Someone, somewhere will be able to relate to your story and if we can find that common ground we may just be able to open a few of those proverbial doors everyone’s always talking about.
Having said that I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you, my story. So here goes….
I grew up in the 80s and 90s in a family of five kids, a mom and dad that worked hard and several different towns as we moved around a lot. I am the second oldest, I have one brother older than me, one sister after me, and two more brothers after her.
In school I was the shy kid, the kid that didn’t know how to make friends, the awkward one really. For the most part I was OK with that, as long as you left me alone I was happy. Couple that with all the moving we did, friends weren’t this lifelong relationship that everyone made them out to be, they were just people who you talked to until you moved again.
I was and still am the one who runs when it gets hard, if a friend and I had a disagreement it was no big thing for me to just do my own thing, a new friend in a new town would come along shortly anyway, who needs them?
Then in my fifth grade year we did settle down and we stayed in one place for a long time. I was able to make a friend, someone I actually had something in common with, I was happy.
We weren’t there for very long when the other kids in school realized that me and my family were different. We were Mennonite, which means we dressed a little more conservatively, we could speak another language and even as teenagers we had a summer job working on farms.
Our being different resulted in our being bullied. Myself included. We were called names, I was pushed around a lot, pushed off of my bike as I was riding it and completely left out of any recess activities, even though I was good at the games they wanted to play, soccer, basketball, red rover, dodge ball and most of the other games kids played at recess, they would rather play without me. Being picked last is hard, but not being picked at all is humiliating, many times I tried to get included, many times I walked away crying.
So again, I just kept to myself, instead of team sports I practiced, enjoyed and got good at individual sports. Track and field was my favorite, I was especially good at sprinting and long jump, I even broke a school record for high jump! My school had a lap running program, one lap around the school yard at recess got you one stamp on a card, a full card which is twenty laps got you a special reward, I don’t remember what the rewards were but the point was I ran laps like nobody’s business, I tried to make others see how cool I was, I tried to find value and worth in doing laps. It worked for a little while, but I soon realized that I was still alone inside.
Even though we stayed in that town for a while I never made a friend that stayed with me for the long haul, I’d make a friend and either I would be mean to them or they’d be mean to me and I would move on. Even though I desperately wanted to belong, I decided rather to isolate myself, I couldn’t get hurt if no one was there to hurt me.
Then high school came, after getting a late start due to my summer job working the tobacco fields (the school was in a farming town and many kids would start late, so the school made special arrangements with the farmers for the working kids to start late) I quickly saw that this place was not for me. I wound up with a group of kids who’d rather skip class and smoke pot and even though I never smoked I bonded with them because like them, I didn’t want to be in school.
When my parents found out that I was skipping classes they said it was simple, don’t go to class then get a job. So I got a job and left behind the only friends I’d ever truly bonded with.
In my off time I got together with another kid who I thought was a friend, he led me to some trouble as well, we would go to the school at night and on weekends and steal all the balls that ended up on the school roof, and then we would throw them at parked cars in the arena parking lot next door, hoping that the alarm would go off, or better yet the airbags would explode.
One time a passing cop car noticed us and gave chase, we hopped a couple of fences and got away and the way all that adrenaline made me feel, made me see that I didn’t want that life. So I dropped that friendship as well.
To call me an introvert would be to put it politely, I was a loner, and that’s how I liked it.
My family went to church but not religiously, and I know I didn’t make it easy on them either, I did whatever I could so I wouldn’t have to go. But then one of the few people that I let get close to me invited me to go with his family to church and I remember not wanting to go but also not wanting to be rude, after all I was spending the night and this was before I had a drivers license so what choice did I really have?
I went with them and knew from the second I walked in that this was not going to be what I expected. I was used to men and women walking in separate doors, sitting on opposite sides of the aisle and making no conversation louder than a whisper. People here were really outgoing, loud even and for an introvert like me that’s intimidating but I found that I liked it, they were friendly and invited me in like family. When the time came to go into the sanctuary and worship, I again expected an old hymn and slow music, instead it was loud! The people stood and sang their hearts out, it was fast and had good rythym and I was blown away, to be honest I wasn’t even sure that this was good, did God like us using instruments and being so loud? I couldn’t help it though, it was so infectious that I begged my parents to go to this church, and it worked! Not right away but it did.
For the first time I felt like I belonged, that I wasn’t alone. For the first time in my life I didn’t see God as someone who created us and then left, but as someone who wanted to have a relationship with His creation, a friendship even. For the first time I looked forward to going to church.
I’m not going to try to convince you that after that moment it was happily ever after or even that I gave myself over to Christ, because that’s not what happened. But it was at that time that a door opened for me, it would take a few more years before I would go through it but God had to change my perception of Him first and that change started in that church, that was the turning point.
A few years later I met the girl that would become my wife, I fell head over heals for her and she for me. We lived a couple of hours apart and we only got to see each other on weekends, so the weekends were what we lived for.
When we decided to get married we began attending a church near her hometown, a little more conservative than the one I had now become accustomed to but we felt at home there.
That was the church where we were baptized and later, married. We attended regularly and everything was going well.
My wife, like me is shy and introverted, we kept mostly to ourselves and since we worked together on her parents’ farm we spent every waking moment together. We worked a lot, and by a lot I mean a lot! Twelve hours a day and sometimes longer in the hot greenhouse really took it out of you, so when Sunday rolled around, the one day we had off, church was not high on the list of priorities. It was easy to convince ourselves to stay home and get some much needed rest, I mean it was the day of rest wasn’t it?
This was how we looked at it for many years, and that’s why we didn’t attend for so long. Soon it became our way of life, church was something we would do next Sunday, then next Sunday, and soon we didn’t talk about going at all.
For nearly eight years we avoided the subject, we got irritated with anyone who suggest we go to church, we did not want to hear it. During this time I became an angry person, bitterness settled in and even the small things ticked me off, my job made me mad, people made me mad and since I was already someone who kept to myself this only confirmed to me that I should just stay at home and be alone, even with my wife right there. I isolated myself even from her.
What happened next I don’t know if I can explain, I was at work and angry as usual, someone did something that angered me so I did what I always did, I hid, hid from them, hid from the world and played on my phone. For some reason I went into an app that I had never even thought about going into before, the Google bookstore app and as I was perusing the imaginary shelf one particular book just kinda stood out, and no it wasn’t the Bible. It was a book about marriage and it was written by a pastor and his wife. I don’t know why I had such a strong urge to buy this book but I couldn’t fight it, I downloaded the sample which was essentially the first chapter and then there was no way around it, I clicked ‘purchase’.
This pastor didn’t talk like a pastor, he talked like you and me, he didn’t shy away from the more controversial topics and I respected him for it. He talked about sex, porn, marriage relations, how to see your spouse and what God really intended for a married couple. He also bore his soul on his own anger issues, something that was close to home for me, he encouraged readers to read the Bible so I took his advice.
With a new outlook on husband and wife relations, and a Bible in my hands I felt like a new person! One Saturday after work I came home and said that we should go to church the next day, not the one we attended before and not because we didn’t respect it, but we were starting over and needed a place where no one knew us. By this time we had become parents to two amazing little boys and I wanted them to have a different view of church than I’d had. So the next morning we did what we’ve been doing almost every Sunday since, we got ready and went to church, not out of obligation or pressure from anyone but because we wanted to go!
You know how people say that God showed up? I didn’t understand what that meant until that Sunday morning, I had never heard worship music like that before, I had never felt worship like that. God was there! There was no denying it, I felt His presence and knew right then and there that was the place for us. I had never had that sort of aha moment until then, I saw people raise their hands in worship, some were dancing for Jesus, and others just closed their eyes and sang, but every voice in that building was singing, I thought that the church my friend brought me to was loud, this place was louder yet, and it was awesome!
My story isn’t over yet, but you should know that God will use odd things to bring you to Him. In my case it was an app I never thought about opening which led to a book purchased that I never thought about purchasing which led me to read the Bible which I never had the desire to read before. Now I can’t get enough of God’s Word, I can’t get enough of worshipping Him, and my family actually enjoys church.
I gave my life to Jesus when I was married, I re-gave it to Him when I started going to this new church but this time I had no desire to give Him some of me, I gave Him all of me. My life is transformed, He changed me when He wanted to change me, He had a purpose for all that loneliness I felt, all that darkness I went through. That purpose, I believe is to use this gift of writing to open doors for those who might read my story.
When I say that my life is transformed I don’t mean that life is all good now, life is still hard, actually probably harder than before. What I mean is I now see life through a new lens, from a new perspective.