My story starts out the way that many from small rural midwestern towns do. I grew up in the small Baptist church in the town near where I lived, “prayed the prayer” when I was five or six, and was baptized when I was in the 8th grade. Like many others, I didn’t really grow in my faith though. I prayed when I wanted something from God and went to church on Sundays, but other than that, didn’t give Him much thought. My family was deeply hurt several times by different churches when I was growing up, which caused us to stop attending church when I was in high school.
I was overweight most of the time I was growing up. I didn’t start out that way, but when I entered school, some of my classmates started teasing me and calling me fat, and I lived up to their expectations. I learned early on that if I didn’t show emotion when they picked on me, I wouldn’t get picked on as much, so I pretty much kept to myself and buried the pain deep inside. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I worked like crazy and lost 70 pounds, but I still carried the scars from growing up. I was very dependent on what other people thought of me, insecure in who I was.
My junior year of college I transferred to a different university. Early on I became friends with a guy in one of my classes named Zach, and he’s been one of my best friends ever since. He’s the first person in my life that I would consider a true, close friend.
I ended up joining a group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus and attended their spring conference called Metamorphosis. At Meta, I met a girl from my school named Angie, and over the course of that semester and the following summer, we became close friends as well. I met a number of other Christians on campus as a result of my involvement with IV and friendship with Angie.
My senior year of college, I decided that I wanted to get to know a girl I’d become friends with better, so I started getting drunk and partying with my friends, ditching most of my Christian friends in the process. Needless to say, that didn’t turn out well and by the time I graduated, I had very few friends left.
As a chance happening, one day when I was at work, Angie came in to take a computer test, and we got to talking about life, and I made the comment that I’d like to start going to church again. She said that there was going to be a welcoming reception for the new pastor at her church (where she was the worship leader,) and that I was welcome to join them. She gave me directions to the church, which I conveniently left at the office that evening. The next day I called her and left a message saying that I needed the directions, thinking that I was off the hook, but she called back just in time for me to be able to make it. I started attending that church, and for a couple of years really started growing in my faith. I stopped getting drunk and partying as well. It was at this point that I started actually pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the point at which I first considered myself a real Christian.
However, at the same time, I started going through some really difficult times spiritually. I started dealing with really intense spiritual warfare, where I would dream that I was falling into hell, and would wake up feeling completely surrounded by evil. I would pray for hours before the battle would finally subside. I also became suicidal, and there were numerous times that I wanted to swerve into oncoming traffic in front of a semi. But by the Grace of God, He helped me through those times, and sometimes it felt as if the steering wheel was being jerked out of my hands in the opposite direction. This reached its climax in the fall of 2003. I was driving home from church, and as I neared home, was involved in a spiritual attack so intense that I felt total separation from God. Even though it only lasted a few minutes, it was the darkest, most indescribably gut-wrenching moment of my life. After that afternoon, the intense spiritual warfare started to subside.
The two years that followed were marked by continued growth in my faith. There were of course times where my faith would plateau or stagnate for a period of time, but they were generally accompanied by times of busyness in my life and were short-lived.
Early in 2005, things started to go downhill at the church I was attending. Some of the older members weren’t very enthusiastic about my friends and I, calling us things like “subversive” because of our music styles and how we dressed, and ended up firing the pastor because of his support for us. My friends and I left the same day. This was painful for me, because it brought back memories of growing up, and I had felt comfortable at that church. And so, I was left searching for a church home once again. After attending different congregations over the course of a couple of months, I felt called to start attending the church I still attend to this day. It has been a very welcoming congregation, and has really allowed me to grow and heal from my past church experiences.
I became close friends with several people through the small group I started attending, and really started growing in my faith. I started helping out with the technology needs of the church, as well as got involved with the youth program, becoming a youth leader with the junior high and high school groups as well as the college and young adult ministry.
Around the same time, several of my friends moved to Chicago, so I began making regular trips there to visit, which I love. One of the first things I learned was that you’re supposed to ignore the homeless people on the side of the streets, which I became quite good at. One fall afternoon, I got off of the CTA, and there was a homeless guy sitting near the bus stop. I walked past him like usual, but this time was different. As I walked away, he yelled after me, “Hey! It doesn’t cost anything to talk!” Those seven words cut me to the core, and have echoed through my mind ever since. I realized that, rather than viewing the homeless and poor as people, I was instead viewing them as subhuman, nothing more than the mailbox or the stop sign next to me. I couldn’t imagine how lonely that would be to be overlooked and ignored and marginalized by so many people, just wanting to tell someone your story to and have someone to talk to. I began to notice the disparity in our culture – people with nothing walking past buildings full of million-dollar condos, being passed in the streets by cars that cost more than houses. My view of life and value and priorities was incredibly altered as a result, a growth process that God started and has continued to this day.
God continued to grow my faith and relationship with Him for several more years. In May of 2009 He led me to reach out to one of my friends who was making destructive decisions in his life, which he reacted badly to. This started me on a downward spiral in my faith that continued through until January of 2010, where I hit rock bottom. Rather than go into detail about this here, I want to refer you to my entry called “The Wall,” which talks about the process of discovery and incredible healing and freedom that my friend Brian walked me through. As a result of going through The Wall, God has been able to free me from an incredible amount of emotional baggage – things that I didn’t even realize that I was carrying – that were dragging me down and causing me to have an improper view of myself, others, and God. Through this, He has allowed me to talk to and encourage other people who have been dealing with similar struggles in their lives, which has been really cool.
He has also allowed me to become good friends with a guy named John and a girl named Lore. John and Lore (as well as Brian and Tony and several of my other friends) have been really encouraging to me as I’ve walked through the stirring that God has been doing in my heart for the poor and homeless. They have encouraged me to dig down into the things of life that I had just accepted, asking questions instead of just blindly following my culture and my peers. Through this process, I’ve begun to realize how empty and self-focused the idea of the American Dream is – how people literally give their lives for it, only to end up with nothing in the end, how it consumes us and drives us, and at the same time encourages us to withhold blessings from others so that we can extend our own comfort. I’m hoping to be able to start a small group that will also delve into these issues, and especially the disparity between the early church we read about in the Bible versus the mainstream Christianity we experience in America today.
And so, I leave this as not a “the end” but a “to be continued” story. Because it’s not over yet… :o)